L M Grant.
Judges 19 and Judges 20
Grievous sin had been committed in Israel, shocking, revolting to every ear that heard it. Nor was any tribe allowed to remain ignorant of, or indifferent to this defiant challenge against the holiness of the God of Israel. It was a matter of so vital consequence as to involve the entire nation.
But let us carefully note the matters that led up to the awful event, for it is these things that manifest the careless, unprofitable state of soul that characterized the nation as a whole, and which is so sadly repeated in the present history of our own dispensation of the grace of God. Evil had been allowed to gradually creep in unchallenged, and senses had become dulled to it, until by a sudden, shocking exposure we learn the essential results of the laxity that leaves the roots of evil unjudged.
1. First of all, the Levite was one particularly separated from his brethren for the service of God, a teacher and example of the people, responsible to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Yet no conscience of the people seems to raise any question as to the unholy alliance of the Levite with a concubine. What shall we say of this indifferent state of the people? Can it be that such example was pleasing to them? Also, what shall we say of the questionable alliances of our own day? — not perhaps with low gross forms of evil, but — with that which is respectable enough in the world's eyes, yet which compromises holiness and manifests a heart not thoroughly faithful to "one husband" — our own faithful Lord and Savior? "Let us search and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord" (Lam. 3: 40).
2. However, we find the concubine adding greatly to the confusion by her sinful conduct (Judges 19: 2). Do we not discern here how our own careless ways may embolden another to stoop to more serious evil still? We may indeed lament it too, but how thoroughly do we judge ourselves concerning it? Would we dare to disclaim all responsibility in such matters? Such cool complacency is the sure forerunner of more solemn disclosures.
3. Let us also observe the mere friendly, gracious spirit in which the Levite recovers his concubine (v. 4). Not that we should object to grace, but where is the salt with which it should be seasoned? — the holiness so necessary in searching the poor woman's soul and restoring her in heart to the Lord, by means of her own true self-judgment? This, sad to say, is painfully lacking. Indeed, we might ask, how could the Levite possibly do such vitally important work when it is evident that he himself was not a self-judged man?
4. Nor is there a shadow of encouragement in the attitude of the girl's father. Instead of showing a broken and contrite spirit as before God, and a seriously humble and quiet state of soul, which in such circumstances was only becoming, he is quite indifferent to the shame of it all, and complacently covers it over with merry-making and false fellowship. The Levite too is fully subservient to this mere social vanity until he could stand it no longer (vv. 4-10). God forbid that we should ever accustom ourselves to indulging in such idle social pleasure; but how much more disgusting on an occasion of serious import! Yet this is not an uncommon thing.
5. Now in Gibeah, where there is no-one to show them hospitality, they are finally entertained by an old man, a sojourner from Mount Ephraim. How much like the wicked city of Sodom this city of Israel had become! Now when determined wickedness raises its head, let us consider how this old man, who has settled down in the evil city, can only think of conciliation as a means of meeting the evil. He is ready to sacrifice his own daughter, thus imitating the faithless folly of Lot (vv. 22-24). But this was not within his rights. Nor is it within our rights to make any compromise whatever with evil. Still, if we are linked with it, it makes cruel demands on us, requiring that we surrender what really belongs to God. "You who love the Lord, hate evil" is the divine decree (Ps. 97: 10). If we hated evil we should not in any way connect our name with it nor show it the least consideration. How can we dare consent to the slightest evil in order to avoid (as we hope) a greater evil? Are we so foolish as to suppose that we can subdue evil by allowing evil? But who does not discern that this is widely practiced in present day Christian profession? Where is our faith in the living God, whose power alone is able to meet the challenge of sin? What can satisfy the holiness of our Lord except our thorough separation from the evil and firm stand against it? If these are lacking, then however we may plan, compromise, and manipulate things, evil will eventually overwhelm us. What salutary, searching considerations for our souls: may they cast us truly upon God in unfeigned humiliation.
6. However, the faithless, craven Levite sacrifices his concubine to save his own neck, and the evil manifests itself in all its horror, breaking out in cruel violence and moral corruption such as even in Sodom had been hindered by the angels, but in Israel is allowed to go to its awful extent of iniquity. At least, if we do not discern in the former things the low and defiled state of Israel, yet none would certainly raise a doubt as to the repulsive wickedness of this act of the men of Gibeah. It is a matter in which all that heard it were of one mind: such evil must be judged.
But is this all? It is to be feared that too often the people of God regard it so; and the prevailing feeling here is simply that of indignation against the offenders. Yet in reality how much deeper does the whole matter go. We may in fact regard it as an undeviating principle that every such shocking exposure among the people of God should bring us all to our knees in sober, real self-judgment, before ever we take part in judging the evil. Can we, for instance, wink at those things that preceded this outbreak? Could the nation Israel rightly regard itself as clear of evil when they were required to act in this solemn case? Not by any means: the sin was Israel's sin, and it manifested a corrupt internal state that also required judgment. The nation must be brought to feel it as the guilt of the nation, not merely of the individuals. So too, in the Church of God, an occasion of such guilt is an occasion demanding the self-judgment of the Church as a whole, the self-judgment of all who may have any knowledge of, or connection with it. Compare 1 Corinthians 5: 2.
But a still darker complication arises (Judges 20: 12-17). When the tribe of Benjamin is asked to deliver up the guilty for judgment, they ignore the demands of righteousness and take up arms to defend the wicked offenders. Such is the awful power that evil wields that complicity with it is quite unhesitating and bold. Let us not underestimate the formidable power of evil, which it has gained by being tolerated, harbored and cherished in secret over a period of years. It may lead many unwary souls with it, perhaps many unwilling to believe or investigate the actual facts. Let us take care that our sympathies are not linked with the wrong camp.
Israel must act: there is no alternative. Yet twice they are defeated, with a great loss of men. True, at first they had inquired of God as to what tribe should lead in the battle, and God had answered, "Judah," which speaks of the spirit of praise in contrast to mere indignation. But it was not a real waiting on God for complete guidance. How serious a lesson for our own souls! The second time they weep before the Lord, and ask, "Shall I go again to battle against the children of Benjamin, my brother?" The Lord answers, "Go up," for there could be no altering the fact that they must judge the evil. But they lacked the consideration of "how" to go up, that is, in what spirit, and with what resources. Hence, when beaten the second time, their weeping now is attended by fasting and offering burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord (vv. 26-28).
There is nothing like a humble, proper appreciation of the offering of the Lord Jesus Christ to give us a right perspective of what evil is, and to enable us to judge it rightly as before God. The burnt offering reminds us that it was the glory of God supremely involved in this matter, glory which can only be rightly vindicated by the sacrifice of the holy Lamb of God. The peace offering speaks of communion with God and with one another, which had been so rudely violated, and which is secured only by the same blessed sacrifice of Christ. Why do we forget this most vital of all touchstones when faced with matters of so great consequence? This is God's resource for meeting evil, and we must seek grace to share God's thoughts if we are to know the victory which He gives "through Jesus Christ our Lord." Along with this the fasting would speak of the simple, real judgment of the flesh in ourselves, which is only properly accomplished as we view ourselves as in the light of the death of our Lord. Self-confidence invariably forgets such resources, and will invariably fail. May we turn from our pride and cling to Him whose grace and power are blessedly manifested at Calvary: He cannot be supplicated in vain.
Yet the solemn work of judgment must be finished. Evil is determined to fight to the end, and before Benjamin is subdued, thousands have fallen, both in the guilty tribe, and in Israel. Terrible was the cost of securing righteousness, but it must be done. Can we dare to be less firm with manifested evil today, under the specious plea of how many may be adversely affected by a definite, unequivocal stand against wickedness and complicity with wickedness? True indeed that God will require of us a chastened, broken spirit in dealing with it, and specially since our own low state of soul, our careless indifference, is all too sadly involved, but God's glory is far more important than the outward peace of His people. If we are broken for a reason of this kind, it is evident we need to be broken.
Again, however, let us press the fact that this was no mere isolated case of evil, but one which revealed the downward trend of the nation Israel, and God would have the conscience of all the nation in exercise, not merely to judge the grossly guilty, but to judge the deep roots of evil in their own hearts. No mere angry retribution is allowed, and before judgment they must be made to feel the reality of their own link with the evil, in speaking to God of "my brother Benjamin."
Shall we not today seek grace from our holy Lord and Savior to let these things burn into our hearts, that we may be fully with God both in the stand we take, and the becoming spirit of humiliation with which we take such a stand?
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