RESULTS OF APOSTASY Judges 17–21
“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Jdg. 21:25).History books seldom provide as much insight into a period as do stories of men and women who lived in it. In three brief slices of life, the author of Judges shows us how dark the era really was.
The material in these last chapters of Judges is undated. It is not associated with any specific judge. It is instead “slice of life” material: cross sections taken from the period to reveal the religious, personal, and social consequences of Israel’s failure to serve God. These stories illustrate the price ordinary people paid for the apostasy of the nation.
An Ephraimite named Micah used stolen silver to make an idol, and recruited a Levite to serve as family priest (17:1–13). The Levite and idol were taken by Danites seeking land. They set up a northern worship center which competed with the tabernacle during this era (18:1–31). When men of one Benjamite town gang raped and killed a Levite’s concubine, civil war broke out between the other tribes, nearly wiping out Benjamin (19:1–21:25).
Understanding the Text
“Now I know that the Lord will be good to me” Jdg. 17:1–13. The simple story of Micah and his idol portrays the religious consequences of the period. The clearest and most important of God’s requirements had been distorted or lost. Under God’s Law (1) making idols was forbidden, (2) Aaron’s descendants only were to serve as priests, (3) sacrifices were to be made only at the tabernacle, (4) and blessing was an outcome of obedience rather than ritual observance. Yet Micah violated each of these basic religious principles—and was convinced that his actions merited God’s favor! Perhaps even more revealing, Micah was able to find a Levite willing to serve as family priest. This despite the fact that Levites were commissioned by God to teach His Law in Israel. This story is told first for a very simple reason. Loss of knowledge of God is the underlying cause of the crumbling of the whole society. “They named it Dan” Jdg. 18:1–31. The story continues as a group of Danites seeking resettlement passed by Micah’s home. This group had abandoned the land allotted to the tribe under pressure from foreign powers. The Danites offered Micah’s Levite a post as priest to the whole tribe. He gladly accepted, and the Danites took him and Micah’s idols with them. Moving north, the Danites attacked a “peaceful and unsuspecting” city and established themselves there. This story is significant. Dan became an important worship site, and after Solomon’s kingdom was divided in 931B.C, Dan was sanctified as an official worship center by the apostate Jeroboam I. Dan’s origin as a worship center is thus traced back to the theft of an idol, and the service of an unqualified priest. It maintained this character throughout its history. When we build for the future, we need to lay a firm foundation of integrity. “Such a thing has never been seen or done” Jdg. 19:1–30. The story of the rape and murder of a Levite’s concubine by Benjamites is intended to give insight into the moral situation in Israel. Not a single actor in this story, and certainly not the Levite, is displayed as a righteous person. “We’ll go up against it as the lot directs” Jdg. 20:1–48. When the tribe of Benjamin refused to surrender the men who had raped and murdered the Levite’s concubine, civil war broke out. Only some 600 men of Benjamin survived. Under the Law, the tribe of Benjamin was responsible to turn the evildoers over for punishment. The Benjamites chose instead to protect them. This final story sums up the author’s analysis of the period. He began with religious decline, moved to moral failure, and now shows the impact of rejecting God on the society as a whole. “The Israelites grieved for their brothers” Jdg. 21:1–25. To preserve the tribe of Benjamin, the other tribes provided wives, by killing the men from a city which failed to respond to the call to war, and by inventing a religious fiction. The tribes had taken an oath not to “give” wives to any Benjamite. So they decided to permit the men of Benjamin who needed wives to catch and carry off marriageable girls who participated in an annual religious festival. Here we see Israel’s tendency to bend rules. There is no suggestion in the text that the people appealed to God for guidance. Instead they relied on the kind of sophistry which passed over intent to emphasize the letter of the Law. Just this kind of thing was later criticized by Jesus when He condemned many of the Pharisees (cf. Mark 7:9–13).
Moral Integrity (Jdg. 19)
Someone suggested that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Jesus made the point by insisting that we should ignore the speck in another’s eye until we’ve dealt with the beam in our own. There’s something of this flavor in the story of the Levite’s concubine. The Levite was unwilling to stay the night in an alien (Canaanite) city. But when he stopped at a Benjamite city, the men of the town refused the couple hospitality (v. 18). Later they attempted to make him the victim of homosexual rape (v. 22). Instead the Levite pushed his concubine, a secondary wife, out the door. The Benjamites abused her all night and she died in the morning. Filled with moral outrage, the Levite cut up her body and sent pieces throughout the other tribes as a call to vengeance. The irony, of course, lies in the fact that the Levite himself showed no concern for his concubine, either when he thrust her outside rather than defend her, or the next morning when he coldly addressed her dead body, saying, “Get up; let’s go.” The story is ironic because Levites in Israel were supposed to serve God. They were, with the priests, the established guardians of the Law and of morality. When a guardian loses all moral sensibility, and abandons others or treats them as objects, society is truly lost. The failure of the Levite is a warning to us. Yes, we do need to stand against injustice and sins in our society. We are to be stone throwers. And even “mote inspectors.” But we can do this only from a position of personal moral integrity.
Our lives even more than our words must witness to righteousness.