A Culture Gone Mad: Part 1
Topic: Expository Passage: Judges 19-21
We have reached the final story in Judges, which, Lord willing we’ll cover this week and next and then be done with Judges. I mentioned last Sunday that Judges concludes with 2 stories that shift the focus from Israel’s judges to life within the nation. They illustrate how Israel strayed from doing what is right in eyes of the Lord to doing what was right in man’s eyes. They paint a dark picture of Israel’s spiritual state.
Last Sunday we looked at the first of these stories, and it was filled with idolatry, backstabbing, and violence. Even though God doesn’t judge the characters, you get the sense that things are headed in a bad direction.
Then Judges ends with a 2nd story that is really dark. It’s maybe the darkest illustration of human depravity in all of Scripture. And this time, Israel will feel the weight of God’s judgment, not because God rains down fire and brimstone. Rather, God just takes his hands off and lets a wicked people self-destruct.
So this is not a G-rated story. It is disgusting and scary. But God put it in the Bible because he wants us to come face to face with our depravity, so that we love his Law and run to the light of Christ. This morning, I’d like to cover the first 3 sections to the story. Let’s begin with 19:1–15, which tell how a compromising situation evolved.
I. A Compromising Situation (19:1–15):
Notice that this story begins by repeating the first line of the theme. “In those days when there was no king in Israel.” This is going to be another story that details what happens when a society trades God’s law and righteous leadership for anarchy. This particular story begins with…
A Broken Marriage (vv. 1–2): Verse 1 introduces us to another Levite who is living in the “mountains of Ephraim.” The Levites were supposed to be the spiritual fathers of Israel, but just like the Levite in Judges 17–18, this man is anything but pious. This is evident in the fact that he has a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.
She is repeatedly described as a “young woman,” so the Levite probably had a primary wife, and later in life “took for himself” a concubine or a “second-class wife.” It’s going to be evident that he has little regard for her, and he certainly doesn’t view her as an equal image bearer.
We’re also going to see that his low regard for her is symptomatic of the entire nation. Women are going to be dishonored and abused time after time. As such Daniel Blocks calls this story, “a portrait of patriarchy gone mad.” And egalitarians use this story as an example of the evils of male headship.
And men are going to abuse their power over and over in this story, but we must remember that none of it is how God designed male headship to function. The Bible is clear that men and woman equally bear God’s image. As well husbands are to love their wives and use their authority and physical strength to protect and serve their wives and all women. And the narrator presents this story as a tragedy to be avoided. God condemns the way women are abused in Judges 19–21.
As a result, every time we see woman being dishonored and abused in this story, we should be repulsed at how these men abused their power. And men, we should determine that we will never do the same. God didn’t make you stronger, and he didn’t give you authority in the home because you are more valuable or smarter. Your wife is not a leach who lives in your house, drives your car, and eats your food. God gave you authority to honor, love, and serve. So I hope this story will drive us to hate every abuse of women.
Returning to the story, v. 2 says this marriage quickly deteriorated. “His concubine played the harlot against him” and ran back to her parents’ home in Bethlehem. However, the Hebrew construction is never used elsewhere for adultery, so most commentators believe, based on the details of the rest of the story, that she became angry with her husband for unknown reasons and left. Maybe she was ungodly and immature. Maybe he abused her, which would fit what we learn of the Levite later in the story. Regardless, this is not a model marriage.
Hospitality (vv. 3–9): And so the wife goes back to her parents for 4 months until the Levite decides to “speak kindly to her and bring her back.” So the Levite and his servant head south to Bethlehem. Both his wife and her father receive him warmly. And the father goes to work showing hospitality. For 3 days “they ate and drank and lodged there.” That seems a bit strange to us, but their culture moved at a much slower pace than ours, and hospitality was a big deal.
But on the 4th day, the Levite gets up early in order to make the daylong journey home. However, dad pulls a typical in-law stunt by urging them to stay for one more meal. I’m not saying this has ever happened to me, but it would be comparable to having a 14-hour drive to Detroit and so you plan to leave at 7 am. However, at 6:55 your mother-in-law announces that a large breakfast spread will be ready in half an hour.
The Levite agrees, and by the time they are done eating, it’s getting late and the Levite agrees to stay one more night. On the 5th day the cycle repeats The Levite gets up early to leave, and his father-in-law convinces him to stay for a meal. Probably about mid-afternoon, the Levite “stood to depart.” Again, the father-in-law urges him to spend the night, but this time, he’s too antsy to stay another night. Maybe you know the feeling. Even if it doesn’t make sense, you just want to get going.
Inhospitality (vv. 10–15): Therefore, the small band heads out mid-afternoon. After roughly 2 hours of walking, they come to Jerusalem (map), and it’s getting to be late in the day, so the servant suggests that they stop for the night. However, the Levite is afraid to stop because the Jebusites still occupied Jerusalem. He believes they will be safer in an Israelite city.
However, a sad irony of the story is that he probably would have been better off among Gentiles. We’ll see that the Israelites have actually degenerated to a point that would make the Canaanites blush.
They go on for roughly 90 more minutes until it gets dark. Therefore, they stop at Gibeah seeking shelter from the wild animals and thieves that would threaten them along the highway. They have no idea that an even greater threat lies inside this Benjamite city.
It’s important to note there are many parallels between the remainder of this chapter and Genesis 19, which tells the story of how God rescued Lot and his family from Sodom. It’s clear that the narrator wants to say that Israel has disintegrated into a new Sodom.
The Levite and his crew go to the town square. That’s where travelers would normally go to find lodging, and it’s where Lot met the two angels. However, “No one would take them into his house to spend the night.” In the ancient world where hospitality was highly valued, this was a serious breach of etiquette, and it’s a hint that something is seriously wrong.
As a result, the Levite, like the 2 angels in Sodom plans to spend the night in the town square. The alert reader, who knows the story of Genesis 19 can see that this is not good. They are in a compromised situation. This brings us to the second major section of the story, which I will call…
II. A Brutal Murder (19:16–25)
As dark as this section is, it actually begins with…
Hospitality (vv. 16–21): The weary travelers are setting up camp in the town square, when an old man comes into the city from his work in the fields. Like Lot, he is an outsider, since he is an Ephraimite, not a Benjamite. He approaches the travelers and asks for their story. The Levite tells him where they headed, and he notes that they have their own provisions; they just need a place to stay.
Like Lot, the old man insists that they stay at his house and eat his food. They agree, and he brings them into his home and generously cares for them. He feeds the donkeys, washes their feet, and feeds them a warm, plenteous meal. Then they relaxed and “enjoyed themselves” (v. 22). We think, “Whew, I thought something bad was about to happen, but the old man saved the day.” But then v. 22 takes a dark turn.
Violent Perversion (v. 22): As they are sitting in the house, they begin to hear commotion outside and it gets louder and louder. And then they hear “beating on the door.” It’s not a gentle tap. The Hebrew verb is intensive and indicates that they are pounding the door, demanding to enter.
When the old man looks outside, his house is surrounded by a mob. And we aren’t talking about 5 or 6 men; we are talking about a massive mob, including many of the town’s elders. Not only that, v. 22 calls them “perverted men,” or literally “sons of Belial.” The phrase describes the vilest of people, and later on came to describe Satan himself.
And this mob makes the same demand as the Sodomite mob. “Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him carnally.” The Hebrew is clea They wanted to rape this man in a disgusting display of perversion and violence. There are no words to describe how awful it is. This is the definition of Sodomy, and it’s happening in Israel.
Shameful Compromise (vv. 23–24): Like Lot the old man goes out to speak with the mob. He rightly begins by saying, “No, my brethren! I beg you, do not act so wickedly! Seeing this man has come into my house, do not commit this outrage.”
But then he makes an appalling offer. Lot offered his two virgin daughters to the Sodomite mob, and the old man offers his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. Notice what he says, “Humble them, and do with them as you please; but to this man do not do such a vile thing.”
It’s just terrible. His daughter is maybe 12-16 years old. And he’s ready to throw her to the wolves along with the concubine in order to protect himself and the Levite.
That’s not how God designed male headship to work. God didn’t make men stronger because they are more valuable or so that they could protect their own skin. He made us stronger to protect women. But this thin-skinned coward would rather sacrifice his daughter to these wicked men than fight for her honor.
And the Levite is no better. There are no angels here to rescue them like there was for Lot, and the Levite is also a thin-skinned coward. He’s not going out to the mob, so when they continue to press, he grabs his wife and throws her out the door.
This so different from what Jesus did when his bride was in desperate trouble. Rather than throwing us to the wolves, Jesus threw himself to the wolves, and he died in our place. He took our punishment, because he had the strength to overcome. That’s what a real man does, when the weak are threatened. But neither the old man nor the Levite is that honorable.
Violent Rape (v. 25): And v. 25 says, “they knew her,” which speaks of sexual relations. They “abused her all night until morning.” And then “They let her go.” They discarded her like a piece of trash. It’s unimaginable what she endured for hours as these perverts took turns with her.
But as terrible as it sounds, our society is not very far from this sort of raunchy violence. God made physical attraction and the sexual relationship to be a beautiful and holy demonstration of marital unity and love.
But we’ve turned them into a massive business built on greed and lust. True, we throw up our arms in disgust whenever someone sexually abuses another person. Otherwise anything goes as long as it’s between consenting adults. That’s like trying to damn up the Mississippi with a rickety wall. The perversion of the human heart will eventually burst through with stunning force, if it’s not anchored to God’s design and selfless love.
Christian, don’t let your heart be shaped by the selfish perversion of our culture. The world packages lust very attractively, but Solomon warned his son, “In the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell” (Prov 5:4–5). Don’t buy the sleazy sales pitch of our culture, and don’t ever be ashamed of God’s design for marriage and family. It is holy, and it is for our good. So embrace God’s good design and pursue God’s good design. Returning to the story, the darkness isn’t over. The next section describes…
III. A Gory Call to Action (19:26–20:11)
Coldness (19:26–28): At dawn, the mob goes homes, and the young lady is left all alone in the quiet city. She is terribly battered and probably close to bleeding out, so she desperately limps or crawls to the old man’s door hoping for help. She makes it to the threshold, but she collapses before she can make any noise.
Sadly, no one in the house is waiting for her or looking for her. It seems that everyone just went to bed after they had thrown her to the wolves. So the young woman just lies there either dead or close to death.
Eventually her husband wakes up and prepares to make the rest of his trip. The text implies that he has no intention of looking for his wife; he just wants to get out of there before the town wakes up. And v. 27 makes it sound as if he practically trips over her when he opens the door.
It’s very possible that she is still alive at this point. But rather than rushing her inside for medical care, he coldly says (v. 28), “Get up and let us be going.” “But there was no answer.” Maybe she was dead, or maybe she was too weak to even speak. Regardless, he throws her on a donkey and heads home. What a cold-hearted pig!
Gore (19:29–30): When he gets home, rather than honoring his wife with a proper burial, assuming she is actually dead (the text never actually says that she is), he instead cuts her body into 12 pieces. Then he sends a piece to each of the 12 Israelite tribes, probably with some kind of letter explaining the significance. It’s violent and gory, and it’s certainly not biblical.
His intent seems to have been to say, “May the same happen to whoever does not respond to this evil.” And thankfully, the whole nation is gripped by the awful tale. They go so far as to say that nothing so vile had happened in Israel from the time they left Egypt.
Indignation (20:1–11): As a result, all the tribes from north to south and east to west gathered at Mizpah (map), which was just a few miles north of Gibeah. In all 400,000 armed soldiers meet here, which is sadly ironic considering the fact that none of the judges ever rallied Israel like this.
Once they have gathered, the Levite stands before them and gives what can only be described as highly edited version of the story. He leaves out the part about him throwing his wife out the door and going to bed, but he rightly speaks of the evils they committed against her. He concludes by calling on the tribes to address the evil and to demand justice.
The tribes are rightly indignant. They make a vow to not go home until the sin is addressed, and then they begin making plans to go to war.
However, notice that nothing is said about them inquiring of the Lord about how to respond. And notice as well the irony in the fact that v. 11 says they “united together as one man.” The largest military gathering in Judges is not to attack the Canaanites or Philistines; it’s to attack an Israelite tribe.
They’re right to address the problem, but from a broader perspective it’s just sad that this is where we are. As a result of Israel doing what was right in their own eyes the nation is on the brink of civil war, while their pagan neighbors sit back and laugh. We’ll stop there for today.
IV. What’s the Point?
So what can we take away from this terrible tragedy? I have 3 conclusions, which I admit are very similar to last week’s conclusions, but the Holy Spirit clearly wants to drive us again to these truths. First…
The human heart is terribly corrupt. This ought to be elementary, but our culture wants to believe against all evidence that we are essentially good and that people just need some guidance. And most religions believe we aren’t that bad either. They believe we can earn our way to God by doing some good deeds and avoiding really bad sins.
But the Bible says over and over that we are sinners who will always fall infinitely short of the righteousness God demands to enter heaven. Therefore, this story is not about a few abnormal psychopaths. This story is a picture of every human heart divorced from God’s common grace, which restrains our sin. Therefore, even as we are appalled by this story, we need to see ourselves in it and remember the darkness of our hearts.
God’s Law > Human Pragmatism: Every sinner likes to think that we could make some good tweaks to God’s Word. We also like to think that we can fix our problems a little better than God can, if we take matters into our own hands. But this story is another sober reminder of where “doing what is right in my eyes” ultimately leads. We’re always better off staying anchored to Scripture.
And I’m not just talking about what we do but about what we believe, how we think, and what we love. The downfall of these characters happened long before they did the horrendous things in this story. Their hearts had long ago wandered from a biblical frame of reference, and then they simply acted on the darkness that had been growing.
Therefore, in seeing the darkness of this story, let’s be driving to the light of God’s Word. God’s Word is true, wise, and good. His way is always better than my way. So submit to God’s Word and let it shape your mind, your heart, and your actions.
Christ is the only solution to our depravity and the only means of obeying God’s Law. A story like this is a crushing reminder that sin dwells very deeply in the human heart. We are born sinners, and sin is as natural to us as breathing. Therefore, we have no hope of earning God’s favor or of obeying God’s Law. That’s why we need Christ.
Christ is the only man who ever perfectly obeyed God’s law. He died as the only sufficient payment for sin. He rose again as the only victor over sin and death. Therefore, the only way we can be right with God is to stand in Christ’s righteousness. And the only way we can please God is to walk in the victory Jesus accomplished.
So if you have never received Christ as your Lord and Savior, then repent of your sin and believe on Christ. If you are saved, give thanks for your security in the grace of Christ, and then where travelers would normally go to find lodging in his steps drawing on Christ’s strength, knowing that his will is just and good.