Flawed Saviors (Judges 17-21)

MOTIVATE

When a jeweler wants to advertise the mesmerizing sparkle and priceless treasure of diamonds, it does so on the backdrop of a dark velvet material. When observing the diamonds, no one remarks about the beauty of the backdrop. The backdrop is dark to remove attention from itself but to reflect and highlight the jewelry.

Likewise, our study in the Book of Judges has laid out a backdrop that is noticeable of the faults and flaws of God’s people. But, hopefully your attention has been drawn to see the beauty of God’s grace against the dark backdrop of disobedient and despairing sinners.

Today we examine the concluding chapters of Judges. These are the most dark and despairing chapters, perhaps of the whole Bible. I’d also suggest they are the most descriptive of our current culture.

  • You say, Pastor, it’s Advent and Christmas season. Why can’t we turn the page and start talking about joy?
  • Beautiful jewelry is best visible with a dark backdrop. The good news only makes sense and is more meaningful when we know the bad news first.

EXAMINE       Judges  17-21                Godless

Samson operated with no self-control and an entirely selfish manner. He didn’t care about God’s design, his parent’s desires, or the defense of others. He uses people for his own gain and ends up losing everything, including his life. He’s the last judge of Israel, and the completion of the Canaanization of Israel. Whereas Israel starts out only being enticed by Canaanite culture, now they are engrossed in the ways of idolatry, immorality, violence, and vile acts.

For those who know their Bible, one cannot help but see the similarities of God’s people escaping the vices of Sodom & Gomorrah, but now, in Judges 19, how embraced those behaviors as virtues. Before we get there, let’s start with Judges 17.

Judges 17 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

If we are not thermostats, we will become thermometers.

This saying comes from one of our core values: Spiritual Growth – We are thermostats. The idea is that thermometers simply read and reflect its environment; it’s impacted by the surrounding culture. Yet, a thermostat transforms its culture. Christians are called to be salt and light having impact on a decaying and dark world.

In the setting of Judges, Israel has treated the worship of God as a wishful genie. In chapter 17 we are introduced to a man named Micah and his mother. Micah overhears his mom cursing the person who stole 1,100 pieces of silver.[1] In a moment, we see Micah offers a job to someone with a salary of 10 shekels annually (17:10); therefore, she had about 110 years’ worth of wages. Micah feels guilty, and likely the weight of his mother’s curse causes him to confess to his wrongdoing of stealing from his own mother. Surprisingly, the mother responds not with reprimand but reward – she creates a carved image out of 200 pieces of silver. Notice the idol is not for a false god but for the LORD. Micah makes a cozy and charming shrine inside his house for the idol and ordains one of his sons to become his priest. Why? Because: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Micah’s family is from the tribe of Ephraim, not Levi, therefore he or his children are illegitimate priests. Further, the place of worship was at Shiloh (later Jerusalem), not self-chosen. Later, Micah encounters random wandering Levite to hire as his personal priest. Micah seems to view God as his personal genie on demand. Micah’s faith had more in common with a pagan cult than biblical Christianity.

  • Thermometer faith tangles with worldliness. It often seeks to interpret Scripture according to its cravings rather than conform to God’s commands. When a person must redefine their beliefs to fit their behaviors, they have revealed their God is in the mirror not the Almighty.
  • Sunday worship is a Saturday night discipline. Worship that stays private (at home) and never public (gathered church) is misguided, if not missing the mark. There are very few instances when a stated Christian should stay home from gathering in public worship; physical health abilities would be primary.
  • Choosing a church is no small matter. C.S. Lewis phrases it uniquely in Screwtape Letters with demons discussing, “the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”[2]
  • Thermometer faith transforms to thermostat faith through repentance. It means you take seriously what it means to own faith and not just rent faith from what you think you know, or others have told you to believe. Get in a group.

Thermometer faith reflects the culture because it tangles with worldliness. It seeks to redefine beliefs to fit their behaviors.

If our faith is not cultivated, then people become objects of competition rather than compassion.

Chapter 18 explain briefly how the tribe of Dan travels through Ephraim looking for land. They encounter Micah’s house and priest, and decide to take over this area, including pillage Micah’s costly idol and personal priest.

Chapter 19 *Content Warning*

  • 19:1 “In those days, when there was no king in Israel…”
“The Concubine” by Kevin Rolly – Kevissimo – found at http://www.kevissimo.com/pr-judges

  • A Levite (different one from previous chapter) takes a concubine from Bethlehem. Bet you didn’t see that coming! See: this little town is not sweet and sanitary for God incarnate.
  • The concubine was unfaithful (possibly abused), and the husband finds out she’s left. She travels home to her father. The husband follows to win back his wife. He eventually succeeds, but on their travel home they must find a place to stay. A stranger from Gibeah welcomes them into his home but warns them about the city square. As you would guess, men from the city, “worthless fellows” (19:22), arrive at the house they’re staying and want to create drama. Actually, the men want to ravage the male guest – not the female concubine but the male Levite. The owner of the house says, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly… do not do this vile thing” (19:23). Further, he offers his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine to be violated instead of the Levite (19:24). Unfortunately, and horrifically, the men gang-rape and abuse the women all night. The concubine was tormented and traumatized, barely able to crawl back to the guest’s home. The Levite wakes and seemingly has blocked out the hours of his wife’s torture that brought him a good night’s sleep. He finds the woman at the door and commands her to get up, but she is limp and lifeless. Rather than giving dignity with burial, he takers her home and with a knife, divides her body limb by limb into twelve pieces, and sends the limbs to all the tribes of Israel (19:29). What is noticeably absent in this story is God. The author of Judges provides no moral lesson or divine judgment; just a final statement:

“And all who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak!” (19:30).

Yet, God is not entirely silent. The following chapters describe how interpersonal conflict between a husband and wife result in a national civil war.

Judges 20:11-18 11 So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man. 12 And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What evil is this that has taken place among you? 13 Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. 14 Then the people of Benjamin came together out of the cities to Gibeah to go out to battle against the people of Israel. 15 And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. 16 Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. 17 And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered 400,000 men who drew the sword; all these were men of war. 18 The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first.”

The Lord will command the nation four times to bring judgment upon Benjamin for their immoral and violent behaviors (Judges 20:18, 23, 28, 35). Over 25K Benjamite soldiers would die in battle as Israel sought to rid the nation of heinous sin, but 600 would remain (Judges 20:46). All Israel made a vow to not give these 600 men a wife, to erase this tribe from the future of the nation (Judges 21:1). Yet, the people were grieved for Benjamin to be entirely erased. They discerned there was one village: Jabesh-gilead, who did not help in the fight against Benjamin. So, the group who did nothing to harm Benjamin ends up experiencing the harm, and all the inhabitants are sacrificed except 400 women. But they’re still short 200 women. So, they remember one of the tribes up north have an annual “women’s ministry retreat” (Judges 21:19-24). It’s a prime setup for a kidnapping and thus they follow through with detestable acts multiplying upon a depraved nation. Idolatry, bullying, violence, murder, homosexuality, rape, war, sex-trafficking. Israel has radically disconnected from its faith roots. The final statement of the book is one repeated 11x throughout: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (cf. Judges 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1; also 17:6, 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

In all, we can see how Israel’s faith was not cultivated or nurtured. Therefore, they viewed everyone who did not agree with them as the opposition. They divided themselves into tribal categories to compete and cancel one another. They oppressed the weak – weaker tribes, children, and women. They did not view each other as image bearers of Almighty God, nor through the divine mandate of being a blessing to the nations (Gen 12).

When a nation removes God from its conscience, people are viewed as competition rather than for compassion. A Christian is one who does not view themselves as better than others but simply that they have found One who is better than themselves. Grace is an equalizer that removes room for boasting and creates a level ground for love to begin.

When we view those who have opposite values, we have a choice to compete and hate, or create space. Competing against others results in raising our voices and avenging our cause with worldly weapons. Creating space means we are willing to allow differences and fighting our battles with weapons of faith, hope, and love as we trust God to change hearts and minds.

Jesus, when looking at a depraved city, prayed, “O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt 23:37) In other words, followers of Jesus are called to fill up with His grace so we can pour out to others. If we are not pouring out grace and compassion toward others then it is because we are not cultivating our faith in Him.

APPLY/THINK

As we close the book of Judges, we see Israel has grown more depraved than her unbelieving enemies. It reminds us that, when life choices repeatedly dishonor God, the moral corruption multiplies with tragic consequences. The concluding chapters describe a perpetual victim with no one screaming to stop; no one standing up to defend; and no one saving the day. The end of the book is disturbing and dark. We want to read the next chapter for some sort of glimmer of light and hope. But there is silence.

The book of Judges forces us to take a deep look inside and around us to reveal the flawed saviors we rely on. More, the book of Judges forces us to take a deep look at Jesus.

  • Jesus protects His bride and will never allow her to leave His side and be handed over to the enemy to have his way with her.
  • Jesus sees us outside the house of God being taken advantage of and abused by the world. He does not sleep and stay inside His home but leaves His place to offer His own body to shield us from the enemy’s vicious and vile attacks. Jesus’s body is battered and bloodied in our place.
  • When Jesus finds our us suffering limp and lifeless due to the realities of living in a sinful world,
    He does not pull us apart but patches us up. He fixes; stitches; repairs; mends; heals; and resurrects.
  • The world wants to use the story of victims to create more victims. Jesus became a victim so that His story can cease the cycle of war and create healing and everlasting peace.

If you do not have this healing peace, ask the LORD. Today can be a fresh start for your story to close one chapter but allowing God to write the next.

The world wants to use the story of victims to create more victims. Jesus became a victim so that His story can cease the cycle of war and create healing and everlasting peace.


[1] The amount is exorbitant. It is three times the weight of the gold retained by Gideon after his battle victory (Judges 8:26), yet equal to what Delilah received 16:5. Also, comparable to 110 years worth of wages according to Judges 17:10. Daniel Block in NAC: Judges (p.455, 478) gives several comparisons of weights and amounts in the Bible, but simply suggests the amount as considerable wealth.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p.81-82 (1942).

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