Have you ever read some of the stories in the Bible and thought, why did God put THAT in HERE?
Reading through the first part of Judges in this last week, I found myself asking just such a question more than once. Let’s face it, if you are looking for action, adventure, drama, and pictures of humanity both poignant and repulsive, Judges is a roller-coaster ride of reading that will take your breath away.
In the course of just a few pages, we are introduced to strong lead characters (like Deborah or Samson), confused anti-heroes like Micah who hires his own Levitical priest, creates his own idols to worship and thinks he is setting things right with the Almighty God.
Samson kills a thousand (a round number often used in Hebrew writing to indicate a very large amount) of the Israelites’ oppressors with the jawbone of an ass but succumbs to the wiles of a pretty face, easily giving away the special gift of power that was his alone through the grace of God.
Another story tells about a man, Jephthah, who has been told to go away by his brothers because his mother was a prostitute. Not one to be put down, Jephthah found a new life in the mountains, becoming the leader of a group of desperadoes who gain such a reputation for their ability to defeat enemies and hold on to the land they claim as their own that the brothers who had once rejected Jephtha decide he is just the man they need to help save them.
The exchange that follows would make a great scene in a Western. “Let me get this straight,” says Jephthah. “I wasn’t good enough for you before, but now that you are in trouble, I’m suddenly worth talking to?”
After striking a deal that satisfies his need to feel vindicated, Jephthah uses his band to defeat his people’s enemies, all the while acknowledging that his success is dependent on God.
But, the roller coaster soon dips to an all-time low. A certain Levite takes a concubine who runs away and back home to Jerusalem to her father. The Levite goes after her. For five days, the girl’s father manages to delay the Levite from heading back home, but on the fifth day, the Levite says it is past time to go.
All of this lolly-gagging creates a situation where the Levite with his concubine and servant have to travel a little farther in one day than they might have liked in order to reach the Jewish village of Gibeah. (The servant wants to stop sooner at a non-Jewish village, but the Levite assures the servant that they will be safer among their own kind).
Hours later, as the Levite, his concubine and his servant languish in the town square of Gibeah, an Ephraimite (non-Jew) who lived in the village and had been out tending his flock comes across the traveling band and asks them what they are doing out in the open.
“We have enough food for ourselves and our animals,” the Levite explained, “but no one will give us a roof for the night. We will be OK out here in the square.”
The Ephraimite responds, “You will not be out in this square overnight. Come stay with me. You will eat my food and save your own.”
Not long after the travelers and their host settle into the latter’s home, a pounding starts at the door. The men of the town want the Levite given to them so they can abuse him. Instead, the Levite throws the concubine out the door.
After being used by the men in the town, the concubine manages to crawl to the doorstop of their host, lay her hand on it, and die. The Levite opens the door the next morning, finds his dead concubine and throws her onto his horse to complete the journey home.
Once he gets there, the Levite chops his concubine into twelve pieces that he sends to the rest of the tribes of Israel. Upon getting the message, the tribes gather and decide to go to war against the tribe of Benjamin, which is the people who were in the village where the murder took place.
In this civil war, the people go to God, who sends them into battle. In wave after wave, thousands of the Jews are killed by the Benjamites before the conflict is finally settled.
But then, the Israelites have another problem. They figure out they have wiped out one of their own tribes! Solution? Since they have vowed that none of their daughters will marry a man from the Benjamin tribe, they scramble to find ways to get brides for the remaining men of Benjamin so that the tribe is not completely lost. First, they figure out which clan had not been to the initial meetings about the Benjamites and go to their village to slaughter everyone except the 400 virgins who had never laid with a man.
When that solution still does not provide a way to give the remaining Benjamites enough brides, they scheme to find a way for the men of Benjamin to kidnap enough women from one of the tribes that had vowed not to marry their daughters to the Benjamites. Since the women will have been kidnapped, the Israelites will not be seen to have broken their vow not to allow marriage with the tribe of Benjamin!
In the fantasy classic, The Princess Bride, the outer story, where the grandpa is reading the fable to his sick grandson, there is a point where the grandson questions his grandpa in complete exasperation, “Grandpa, why are you reading me this?”
When I found myself asking God, why are these stories in Your Bible, I was happy to find that He showed me a very plausible answer.
Last week, I wrote about Jotham’s parable of the trees. But also, throughout the book of Judges, the author tells us that
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. (Judges 17:6 NLT)
It struck me as I read Judges that the king that verse is referring to is not a human one. Especially when you keep in mind the truth of Jotham’s parable, you realize that the one and only King God intended man to have was Himself.
As if to underscore this point, the book of Judges ends with the ominous truth it has repeated throughout the book:
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25 NLT)
Taking stories in the Bible out of their full context is easy to do, especially when we are looking for ways to validate our own ill behavior. But, as the book of Judges teaches us, this is a dangerous practice that violates the will of God. For, if you find yourself excusing your own bad behavior by comparing it to some of the valleys of the Israelite story and bypass the point that God was not approving of these actions, you miss the vital key to walking in Christ’s shoes as you live this life.
God shows us the good, bad and ugly in humanity through the stories in Judges to prove the very important lesson that at any time we make a King out of anyone or thing instead of making God our King, we are doomed to misery and failure. Worst of all, we will have disappointed God.
It seems much wiser to begin and end each day by reminding ourselves that God is our King. The Israelites would have done a far sight better had they remembered to do so. And that is the lesson we should be taking away from any reading of the book of Judges. God is not only good. God is our only King.
In the roller coaster ride of Judges, what we see is a people who have NOT made God their King.