If you are into weird bible stories then Judges is probably the book for you. In some ways it reminds me of the classic book and film ‘The Princess Bride’. For two main reasons really, one it’s so entertaining, you never know what is going to turn up on the next page and secondly because it is kind of hard to describe.
Heroes. Giants. Villains. Wizards. True Love. Adventure. Horror. Romance. Satire.
Sorry, that’s Princess Bride I’m describing there… but then again it’s close enough to a description of the book of Judges. The biggest difference between them (maybe not the biggest difference!) is that while the film version of ‘The Princess Bride’ is rated PG, if a film of Judges was ever made, it would definitely be on the banned list of even the most liberal societies[i].
Anyway, Judges has some crazy stories and I have a feeling it’s a book I might be returning to time and again while writing these blogs! Though for now, let’s look at, probably, the worst story of all. Judges 19.
If you haven’t read it (and can’t or won’t click the link above) here’s the summary with a little artistic licence. A Levite is sleeping with a woman[unnamed] who runs away. Clearly something’s amiss in the relationship. But he goes after her, finding her with her family. Rather than letting the woman have a say (inconceivable!), the Levite and the father weigh up what would be a fair price and eventually she is forced to go with him.
On their way back home, they stop in a town in the midst of the tribe of Benjamin’s territory and intend to stay in the town square. One person in the town knows most of the citizens are up to no good and offers them shelter. The Levite accepts, but that night, the townspeople crowd around the building they are staying in.
In an episode clearly reminiscent of Sodom, the townsfolk show up at the door and demand to rape the visiting Levite, suggesting they’ll break down the door if he’s not let out. The host goes outside to try and reason with the men. He explains how this would be a despicable thing to do and casually suggests they can rape his daughter instead (wait…what?!). Meanwhile the Levite, without saying anything puts the women[unnamed] outside their shelter with the men.
The men, as is expected by this point in the story, rape the woman[unnamed] all night before letting her go and leave. Exhausted, violated, abused, exploited, betrayed, she collapses on the doorstep of the house.
In the morning the Levite wakes up, gets ready to leave and upon opening the door politely barks ‘Get up! Let’s go!’. He’s really very short on charm. She doesn’t respond. Notice that the Levite does not mourn. He does not seek medical aid. He does not speak to her like a human. He throws her on his donkey, takes her home, cuts her into pieces(!!), and posts bits and pieces of her all over the country.
What do you do with that? What can our response be to this passage?
Anger. This passage should make you angry. Angry at injustice. Angry at sin.
Angry at how a woman’s life can be flung into the depths of darkness.
Angry at how casual it all seems. Almost like it’s normal.
Anger is an appropriate response. But it is not the only response.
You should mourn.
Mourn the woman[unnamed]. Mourn her needless death and abuse.
If ever a human being has endured a night of utter terror, it was her.
Mourn the sinful nature. So engulfed that a whole town cannot see sense.
Mourn that this is not just a story. But this happens today. Women are still treated like nothing more than property around the world. Mourn that sin has such a grip that women, children, and men around the world are engulfed by it, seeing no path to freedom, and effected by it, seeing no road to justice.
Mourn for yourself. Are you better than the worst of them?
One of my favourite songs is by a guy called Sufjan Stevens. It’s a song about a serial killer. And the last line gets me.
‘And in my best behaviour, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floor boards. For the secrets I have hid’.
And Breathe. Breathe because this passage is so intense. Breathe because this passage should bring up such anger and mourning that you struggle to hold the tears back from your eyes.
Finally, breathe a sigh of relief.
Breathe a sigh of relief that this is not the end of the story. It may be the worst of ends for the woman[unnamed] but it is not the end for humanity. Her pain, her torture, her torment need not be ours. Need not be a common tale.
Judges 19 starts with a line that is repeated often in the book ‘In those days Israel had no king’.
In Jesus though, we have a king. We have a ruler who is good. We are part of a kingdom that is not destined to be engulfed by sin but that has been set free.
Jesus has set us free from slavery to sin so how can we live in and with it any longer? We should consider ourselves dead to sin. Not mostly dead, because mostly dead is still slightly alive. No, we are told we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we do not let sin control us. We do not offer any part of ourselves to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather we offer ourselves to God… For sin is no longer our master because we are not under the law, but under grace.
[i] That and, Columbo and the kid from the Wonder Years aren’t in the book of Judges, unfortunately.
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