A Culture Gone Mad: Part 2
Topic: Expository Passage: Judges 19-21
Today we are going to wrap up what has become a 16-week study of Judges. I hope you have been challenged and encouraged by all we have seen about the nature of God, the nature of man, and how we should live before him.
I also hope that this study has developed your OT theology and your understanding of how to read the OT. That’s important, because many Christians don’t read the OT, and when they do, they don’t know what to look for. So I hope you are better equipped to see the inspired and profitable message of the OT and that you are motivated to find it.
This morning, I am going to preach part 2 of a sermon I began last Sunday, “Depravity on Display.” We are covering the final story of the book in Judges 19–21. It is one of the darkest stories in the Bible. Remember that the Benjamite town of Gibeah became the new Sodom. A Levite and his concubine stopped there to spend the night, and a large mob surrounded their host’s home demanding that he hand over the Levite so that they could rape him. In a desperate and cowardly attempt to save himself, the Levite threw his concubine to the mob. They gang raped her all night until she was almost dead.
When her husband found her in the morning, he took her home, chopped her body into 12 pieces, and sent a gory message that the 12 tribes must respond to Gibeah’s violence. And they do. 400,000 soldiers gathered at Mizpah, just a few miles north of Gibeah (map). We left off with 20:11, which says, “So all the men…”
And so we might think based on Israel’s response that they are finally going to make a bold stand against sin. But sadly that won’t be the case. Instead, the brutality of Gibeah toward one young lady will now turn into the brutality of an entire nation against hundreds of girls. Depravity remains on display, which again makes the light of God’s will and his kingdom purposes look wonderfully attractive. Let’s pick up in 20:12–48 with…
I. A Bloody Conflict (20:12–48): I’m going to call vv. 12–17…
Blood over Justice (vv. 12–17): After Israel rallies at Mizpah, they challenge the Benjamites to address the sin in their own tribe. Specifically, in v. 13 they say, “Deliver up…the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel.” That’s perfectly reasonable in light of the terrible evil that happened in Gibeah, but the Benjamites refuse.
Not only that, 26,700 Benjamites gather at Gibeah to defend them. It’s just sad. The Benjamites should have been appalled by the violent actions of Gibeah. They should have wanted justice, but instead, they are ready to defend these men.
Humility over Victory (vv. 18–28): As a result, the other tribes prepared for war. First, they went to the tabernacle, which was probably in Bethel at the time (map) to make their token inquiry of the Lord. Notice that they don’t ask God if they should fight or how they should fight; rather they only ask God who should go first. So God doesn’t promise victory, and he doesn’t give his blessing. He only says that Judah should lead Israel into war.
The next morning, Israel makes the short march to Gibeah and attacks. The civil war has begun. Despite Benjamin being vastly outnumbered, they only need to hold their ground in the rough, mountain terrain. As well, they have 700 snipers, so to speak, “who could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss” (v. 16).
When the Israelites charge, the 700 slingers start picking them off. Then the Benjamites came out of the city to fight, and they killed 22,000 Israelite soldiers. That’s surprising, because while neither side is 100% right, Israel is a lot closer than Benjamin. So why does God let Benjamin win?
God doesn’t tell us, but the overall picture in this account seems to be that God has largely withdrawn from the story, because all Israel, not just Benjamin has rebelled against him. Therefore, all Israel must feel the consequences of their rebellion.
But Israel remains undeterred (v. 23). They went back to Bethel and “wept before the Lord until evening…” For the first time, they asked God what to do, and he tells them to attack again. As a result, the next morning they set up their battle lines and attack.
But they suffer the same fate as the previous day. This time Benjamin kills 18,000 Israelites. This really is a head scratcher. Why would God tell them to attack only to let them lose? God doesn’t specifically say, but it seems that he wanted Israel to feel the consequences of their sin. Israel needed one more day of humbling, before God gave them victory. It reminds us that knowing God is really important.
And thankfully these losses got Israel’s attention. The entire army marched up to Bethel. They fasted and offered many sacrifices. They didn’t have a radical revival. But it’s a step in that direction.
And the Lord responds through Phinehas, the high priest. BTW, Phinehas was Aaron’s grandson, which means this story early in the period of the Judges. That tells us how evil Israel was throughout this entire period.
Revenge over Justice (vv. 29–48): Well, God responds, and this time he promises “I will give them into your hand” so Israel prepares for the 3rd day’s battle. These verses can be confusing because the narrator tells the story twice from different angles. However, the basic details are clear.
The Israelites decide to use Benjamin’s dominance the first 2 days against them, like Joshua used AI’s victory against them. And so the majority of Israel’s army organized for battle in the same location they had the first 2 days. However, 10,000 Israelites hid on the other side of Gibeah.
When Israel attacked, the Benjamites came out against them. The Israelites quickly acted like they were defeated and began to retreat. The over-confident Benjamites took the bait and aggressively pursued, leaving their city defenseless. The men in ambush attacked and (v. 37) “and struck the whole city with the edge of the sword.” Then they set the city on fire, and (v. 39) “a great cloud of smoke (rose) up from the city.”
When the Israelites saw the smoke, they stopped retreating and turned on Benjamin. The Benjamites also saw the smoke, and (v. 41), “The men of Benjamin panicked, for they saw that disaster had come upon them.” And the slaughter was on. Israel quickly killed 18,000 Benjamites. The remaining troops began to flee, but Israel killed 7,000 more of them. Only 600 Benjamites could escape, and they were forced into a series of caves, which are called the “Rock of Rimmon.” God had given Israel the victory.
But sadly, Israel still thought like pagans and did what was right in their own eyes. Therefore, rather than rejoicing that justice had been served, they turned on the Benjamite cities, whose men had all been killed in battle. They slaughtered every man, woman, and child who remained. Folks, that’s not justice; that’s genocide. It’s terrible to imagine how awful that day was.
Therefore, a dark cloud hangs even over Israel’s attempt to bring justice. Their failure to stay anchored to a biblical framework ended in 10s of thousands of deaths. We are reminded again of how broken we are when we aren’t anchored to God’s law and kept by God’s grace. This brings us the next section of the story, which I’m going to call…
II. A Human Scheme (21:1–7): Notice in vv. 1–3 Israel says…
“It’s God’s fault” (vv. 1–3). These verses are a head scratcher. Israel has just slaughtered the entire tribe of Benjamin except for the 600 men who are held up at Rimmon. Remarkably, it suddenly dawns on them that they have effectively destroyed one of the 12 tribes, seeing as the 600 remaining men have no wives with whom they can rebuild the tribe.
So Israel returned to the “house of God” and “wept bitterly” over the destruction of Benjamin. We’re thinking, “Why didn’t they think about that before they murdered the Benjamite women and children. But what’s even more incredible is that they blame God. “(They) said, “O Lord God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?”
Israel slaughtered their brothers, not God, but they want to know why God did this. It’s incredible, and yet we do this too. I’ve seen many believers make foolish or even sinful choices, and when they reap the consequences, they blame God or claim that God’s will was done.
Certainly, God is sovereign, and nothing happens outside of his sovereign control, including the really bad things. But the Scriptures consistently lay the blame for evil and suffering on the curse and on sinners. Israel’s sin was the reason so many were dead. And it’s often the same for us. Don’t blame God when you reap what you sow. And understand that it’s a good thing that God let’s us reap the consequences of our sin and foolishness. It’s necessary to our sanctification.
And when your loved one gets cancer for no apparent reason, rather than demanding to know why God did this, just grieve that life in a sin-cursed world is hard. Blame sin, not God. But at the same time trust that God is in control and that his purpose is always good. So Israel blamed God for the mess they made. But incredibly they turned around and said…
“We can fix it” (vv. 4–7). Israel is rightly concerned about the extinction of Benjamin. If they can’t find wives for the 600 remaining Benjamites, the tribe will cease to exist. Under normal circumstances they would just invite the Benjamites to find new wives among the other tribes.
However, before the battle, Israel vowed that they would not give their daughters to Benjamin. So like Jephthah they feel trapped by their rash, foolish vow. There’s no obvious way they can provide Israelite wives for these men, while remaining faithful to their vow.
But while they were quick to blame God for the mess they are in, they aren’t quick to ask him for a solution. Instead, they think, “We can fix it.” So they go to work trying to find a human solution to the conundrum. They come up with an awful plan that opposes the heart of God.
It’s a reminder not just to believe in the sovereignty of God when you want to blame someone (like Israel just did in vv. 1–3 and like we often do). No believe in the sovereignty of God when there is no obvious answer and you just have to trust the Lord.
When a big challenge comes, our first thought shouldn’t be, “How can I fix this.” It should be to pray and to say, “God what does your Word say about how I should handle this.” Then obey God, make wise plans, work hard, and watch God work. This brings us to the 6th and final section…
III. 2 Violent Solutions (vv. 8–25): The 1st solution is…
Murder and Shame (vv. 8–15): As Israel searches for a solution, they first ask if any Israelite communities didn’t respond to the Levite’s call to war. After they review the roll call, they realize that no one from Jabesh-Gilead (map) had responded; therefore, they are not bound by the vow not to give their daughters to the Benjamites.
But they don’t check to see if JG got the message or even ask that they peacefully hand over all their eligible brides. Instead, they send 12,000 soldiers with orders to kill the entire community, including women and children, except for eligible virgins.
It’s a tragic scene. The army blitzes the unsuspecting community and starts rounding up all the eligible girls. Some of these girls are very young. They are looking for any girl who has hit puberty but is not yet married. Otherwise, they kill every man, woman, and child in cold blood. It’s bloody, violent, and cruel.
Then they march 400 terrified, grieving girls back to Shiloh. Then they go out to the remaining Benjamites at Rimmon and offer the young women to them as a token of peace. Benjamin accepts, and Israel hands over the young girls to a group of mostly older, grizzled soldiers.
Since these men had defended the criminals at Gibeah, I doubt they did much to gently care for their troubled brides. I imagine most of these young women lived hard lives of abuse and neglect. Like I said last week, women keep reaping the consequences of Israel’s perversion and disregard for God’s design in creation and marriage. But Israel’s not done. They still need 200 more brides, which brings us to a second awful solution.
Backstabbing and Kidnapping (vv. 16–24): The Israelites have to find brides for the remaining 200 Benjamites. But again, like we so often do, they don’t ask God what they should do; instead, they search for a solution that is “right in their eyes” and that doesn’t require trusting God.
In particular, they ask, “Where can we find a bunch of vulnerable young ladies?” They remember that there is a, “yearly feast of the Lord in Shiloh” coming up. This feast included, “the daughters of Shiloh come(ing) out to perform their dances.” The law never describes any sort of female dancing at a feast, so even if this is one of the feasts prescribed in the Law, Israel has probably transformed it into a highly pagan event.
Regardless, part of the ritual was for a large group of young ladies to dance along a road through some vineyards. And Israel’s elders tell the Benjamites to hide in the vineyards. When the ladies come through dancing, they are to grab the unsuspecting women and carrying them off to be their wives.
The elders anticipate that there will be some angry fathers and brothers. Yeah, I think so. Most dads would be furious if their daughters were dragged away like this. But the elders assure Benjamin that they won’t let the desperate fathers fight for them. Sadly, Israel’s leaders won’t fight for justice or to defend the weak. Instead, they take advantage of them.
And Benjamin complied, and it’s just horrible. They hide, and then they pounce like crocodiles and grab 200 startled, unsuspecting, and terrified young ladies. And then they drag them away while they scream fearfully.
This is not much better than sex trafficking. Again, I doubt these men loved their wives like Christ loves the church. Most of these women were resigned to hard lives of abuse and neglect.
Like I said last week, this is not how God desires for men to treat women. Men are to love their wives, honor them, and protect them. But without the anchor of God’s Word, Israel’s men used their power to take advantage of women over and over.
And that’s how the story ends. Benjamin went home and rebuilt their cities, and all the other tribes went back to their homes. Yes, Israel persevered Benjamine, but 25 closes the book with God’s brief but very clear evaluation of it all (read).
God despises how Israel handled this. But God put this dark, dark story of violence, rape, war, murder, and kidnapping in the Bible as a sober warning about what happens when a people abandons God’s Law to pursue their own way. While doing it my way sounds so appealing, it always ends in disaster. So stay anchored to Scripture and build your society on God’s Law and righteous leadership. How we should pray that our nation heeds the warning of this text. But what should we take for ourselves from this story?
IV. What’s the Point?
Sin has consequences. Verse 25 closes the story by driving home the fact that all of this pain was the result of sin. We need to feel the impact of Israel’s sin, because Satan is a master salesman. He paints a tempting picture of life in rebellion. He also preys on our fears, and tells us that we have to take matters into our hands. Therefore, we must remember how bogus his claims are. Sin destroys, while God’s will is good and wise. So do right till the stars fall, and trust the Lord that he is faithful and good.
Protect your conscience by always doing what is right. In an article on this story, Paul Miller warns, “When the covenant relationship between God and God’s people is neglected, the faculty of moral judgment atrophies. It not only becomes impossible to do right, it becomes impossible to know what is right.” That sums up so well what happens in this story.
We look at so many details of this story, and we are dumbfounded that anyone could be so cold or dark. But Miller hits the nail on the head. A hardened conscience will become a twisted conscience. Sin doesn’t just lead to more sin; it destroys our ability to even know what sin is.
That’s why we have people arguing that letting a viable newborn die on a table is okay. It’s why people who have lived their whole lives in church will end up justifying adultery, embezzlement, and other sins.
That’s why it is so important that you do what is right every day. Check your actions by the Word. Listen to the counsel of fellow-believers. When you sin, confess it before God and man, and then forsake it. Christian, guard your conscience.
Rejoice in God’s gracious faithfulness. As much destruction as Israel endured, it’s actually remarkable that it wasn’t worse. I said last week that Israel has become the new Sodom, but God doesn’t rain down fire and brimstone. Rather, he showed grace after grace in the days of the Judges. And then he closed this period of history by raising up Samuel, who began putting Israel on a path toward righteousness. God was gracious and faithful.
And remarkably, God extends the same grace to his church today. Daniel Block states, “This book is a wake-up call for a church moribund in its own selfish pursuits. Instead of…letting Jesus Christ be Lord of the church, everywhere congregations and their leaders do what is right in their own eyes. In the meantime Yahweh, the Lord of history and the Lord of the church remains unchanged in character and intent. Because of his bountiful grace he continues to hear the cry of the oppressed and to deliver those who call upon him. In his grace he reaches out to those who claim to be his own, pleading for them to return to him, to abandon their Canaanite ways, and to recommit themselves to joyful obedience to his will. May the Lord of the church continue to lavish his mercy upon an undeserving people.”
And he’s not just gracious to nameless people out there. All of us break God’s law and violate our commitments every day. Lamentations 3:22–23 say, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They arenew every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Praise the Lord for the grace we enjoy through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross. If you don’t know this mercy in Christ, I pray that you will see your sin today, and come to Jesus for the only mercy that can save. And if you are saved, give thanks for God’s mercy, and lean on that mercy to pursue what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
Long for the return of Christ. We’ve seen time and time again in our 16 weeks in Judges that Israel desperately needed a righteous king. And I don’t think there’s any question that we need one today Our culture is a rapidly declining train wreck.
Praise the Lord that one is coming. Jesus is coming again. He will bring justice to the earth. He will reign in righteousness and grace and those who are in Christ will rule and reign alongside him. And so we say, “Come Lord Jesus.”