Judges Sermon Chapter 19 Judges Sermon # 23
Nov. 26, 2017 “On the Threshold of Healing”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
In recent days our nation has been crushed under an avalanche of ever-increasing mass murders:
26 shot dead in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov. 5
58 killed at a country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1
49 killed at a night club in Orlando on June 12, 2016
These are only the most recent mass murders, on top of the killings in San Bernardino in 2015 (14 killed), at the Sandy Hook elementary School in 2012 (20 dead), and starting with the Columbine High School killing of 13 in 1999.
And whenever such mass murders occur, the public wants to know the answer to the same question: “Why? What made this shooter do it? What were they thinking, that caused them to murder so many innocent men, women, and children, whom they didn’t know? It makes no sense!”
In Judges chapters 19-21 we read of an escalating series of events that resulted in the abuse and death of one woman, which led to a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the other 11 tribes of Israel. In that senseless war over 65,000 men of Israel and Benjamin fell by the swords of fellow Israelites, and the tribe of Benjamin was almost totally wiped out.
So if an investigator back then wanted to know what caused the death of 65,000 people, they would have traced it back to the terrible mistreatment of a woman who should have been protected by her husband. In other words, the deadly combination of some depraved men and the cowardly response of a Levite in chapter 19 set off a chain of events that precipitates the civil war described in chapter 20. Along the way of that investigation, we would find many examples of people doing whatever was right in their own eyes, because there was no righteous king in the kind. Sadly, it sounds a lot like today.
Yet still we find ourselves asking the same questions about these senseless killing in the Book of Judges that we ask about mass murders today, namely: “Why? What makes people do these horrible atrocities to one another?”
The ultimate answer to the mass murders of today and to the senseless killings of Israelites in the time of the Judges is the same. We are given the answer in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” That is, all of us have a sinful and corrupt nature; each of us is totally depraved and more hellish than we imagine.
On top of that, Jeremiah 2:13 adds a further diagnosis of our problem: “My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the Spring of Living Water; and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water!” What a picture! We are all desperately thirsty for the true and living God, but instead of going to Him, the Spring of Living Water, in our self-centered pride, we reject Him and His free grace, and try to save ourselves through our own devices and religions, which ultimately prove to be as broken and empty as a faulty cistern.
You see, when it comes to answering the question of why mass murders happen or why there is so much evil in the world, it is – ultimately – not a matter of gun control, or better police records, or stronger safety measures, or more education, or more laws, or bigger prisons, or any other man-made solution. No. Because the root of all our problems and all the evil in the world begins in the deceitful and corrupt hearts of men and women who have forsaken the beauty and the joy of then Lord, and instead turned to idols that can never satisfy them.
And that, my friends, is the only way to truly diagnose the evil we see in Judges 19, as well as the evil we see all around us… including the evil we see in our own hearts. Contrary to popular thinking, left to ourselves, we are not basically good people. For we inherited a sin nature from our first parents, and we our hearts are rebellious and wicked, apart from the grace of God.
In Judges 19, we can see a number of smaller but significant sins which all set the scene for the major disaster that follows in chp. 20, when 65.000 Israelites are slaughtered in a senseless civil war. Each one of these sins adds to fuel to the bonfire of the mass murder which results.
First, the Levites’ concubine committed adultery. (v. 2). She was unfaithful to her husband.
We should note that a concubine was a secondary wife, often acquired by purchase or as a war captive, and having a concubine was a way for men to have multiple wives in that society. Although the Law of Moses offered protection for these concubines, (Ex. 21:7-11; Dt. 21:10-14), they had a lower legal standing than a wife, and could be more easily divorced. So this whole evil begins with a woman who is unfaithful – and to man who uses her as his slave.
Next, we read of the sin of overindulgence on the part of the concubine’s father-in-law, in vv. 4-10. We are not told what motivated him to continually tempt the Levite from leaving when he should have, but it’s clear that an excess of even something good, such as showing hospitality, when done for self-centered reasons and done to excess, is not beneficial. This shows you how Satan can take a good thing, such as providing food and shelter to someone, and twist it and pervert it so that it becomes a bad thing. Beware of overindulgence and excess!
Then we read in vv. 9-11 of the foolish judgment of the Levite, as he finally begins his journey far too late in the day, in a vain attempt to reach his home in the daylight. There were no motels along the way, and everyone knew that being stranded along the road at night was a sure invitation to be robbed, even to be killed. So the Levite was foolish to leave when he did. A wise person will always count the cost and weigh the potential consequences before engaging in a task or a journey (Luke 14:28-33)
Next we are told of the unwillingness of the Levite to listen to his servant’s advice about stopping for the night in Jebus, that is, Jerusalem. (vv. 11-12) While it is true that Jebus was a pagan city at that time, it turns out that they probably would have fared much better to take their chances with the generosity of Middle Eastern hospitality, even with the pagans, than with the depraved men of Gibeah! The Levite was being stubborn-headed here, blinding him to the wise advice his servant was giving him. [Are you someone who listens to advice, and takes it?]
Then comes the inexcusable sin of inhospitality on the part of the people of Gibeah, as no one offers to take the Levite, his concubine, and servant, in for the night. (vv. 14-15; 17b.) Remember that in that culture, in a day without motels or Air BnBs, it was expected that you would open your home to strangers and provide for any guests. So this lack of hospitality is the first sign that something is wrong in Gibeah, even though it was an Israelite town.
This is further compounded by the fact that when they are finally offered hospitality for the night, it is a non-native who does so. (vv. 16-21) It was an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, where the Levite was from, who took them in. This was the second strange thing about the town of Gibeah.
Then, while they are all enjoying a meal together at the old man’s house, some wicked men of Gibeah come pounding on the door, demanding that the old man bring out his visitor so that they can have sex with him! (v. 22). The word has spread that there is a visitor in town, and this group of vile and depraved men want to sexually abuse him. The author of Judges clearly wants us to see a connection here with what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, when the evil men of that town demanded to have sex with Lot’s visitors, who were actually angels.
The point of this connection with Genesis 19 is to graphically show us, the readers, that Israel has now become so influenced by the evil practices and thinking of the pagan Canaanites that some of them are acting like the citizens of Sodom or Gomorrah. The horrible sin of Sodom is now a sin within Israel. This is what happens when people do whatever is right in their own eyes: idolatry and immorality spread like a virus, and before long, men and women are committing atrocities that would have been unthinkable just a few year before.
Isn’t that what we see in America?
Next we see the cowardly and vile decision by the old man and by the Levite to offer, respectively, his daughter and also his concubine, to these violent, depraved men, in order to save their own skins. (vv. 23-24). Now granted, it must have been a terrifying thing for the Levite to have these men pounding at the door, demanding that you come out to them, so that they can have their way with you. It must have been a horrifying experience to be that close to such abuse! Nevertheless, what the Levite does is unforgivable! “So he took his concubine outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.” (v. 25)
This is such a hard thing to read about and to picture! My heart goes out to those who have suffered this way. May the Lord bring healing, and may His presence and love surround you.
What made this even worse was that a Levite was supposed to offer sacrifices on behalf of people, to rescue them from the guilt of their sins… but here was a Levite offering his wife, in his place, in order to save his own skin! He is a coward who has miserably failed to protect his wife. Instead of sacrificing himself, he offers up the one he should have laid his life down for.
He shirked and abused his offices and responsibilities, both as a husband and as a priest, even as some husbands, fathers, and clergy have tragically done in our culture.
But in great contrast to the Levite’s shameful and wicked actions, we can look to our Lord Jesus Christ, who as our King and Priest and Husband, willingly offered Himself to be abused, to be shamed, and to be crucified – in our place. He laid down his life (John 10:11) in order to protect us from God’s wrath and to save us from the punishment we deserved. He faithfully and lovingly fulfilled the offices and the responsibilities the Father in Heaven gave Him, and in Him we can find help, healing, and restoration!
But perhaps some of you are thinking: “If that’s true, then why did God allow me to be abused? Why didn’t He rescue me from all that shame and hurt and torment when I was younger? Didn’t God see what was happening? Didn’t He care? Why was God silent when I screamed out to Him?”
I don’t have a simple answer for you. We could reflect upon God’s sovereignty and God’s wisdom and love, and how His ways are higher and better than ours. We could meditate on how the Lord often uses the worst things and turns them upside-down into the most glorious things, as He did with the crucifixion of His Son… but those truths don’t automatically heal us, do they?
I commend to you Isaiah chapters 40-66, as they speak of God’s amazing character (40-41), of His gentle Savior for us (42-45, 49, 53), of His uplifting care for the needy (54-56), and of God’s coming vindication of justice (60-66).
It may also be helpful to meditate on the sufferings of Job, and what God showed him in those final chapters (38-42). It can help to live in some of the Psalms, especially Psalms 23, 59, 62, 69-71, and ask God the Holy Spirit to use those cries of pain and abandonment to become your personal meditations of healing and renewed trust in God’s goodness. We can think of the abuse and shame that Jesus the Suffering Servant endured for us, as He fulfilled those psalms.
You might also find solace in the words of Hebrews 4:14-16, where we read of Jesus as our Great High Priest, who sympathizes with all our weaknesses, because He Himself endured everything that we have been through. Therefore we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need, as we come, confidently, before His throne of grace!
But as we return to Judges 19 we see still more shameful and hard-hearted sin. We read of these depraved and violent men who abuse this helpless woman all night long. (v. 25b) We read of the seeming indifference and callousness on the Levite’s part to his wife’s condition when he opens the door in the morning and practically walks over her dead body. (vv. 27-28). We wonder, if he cared for her at all, why didn’t he at least open the door earlier and see how she was? Could he possibly have saved her life, if he opened the door sooner, while she was still alive? But the Levite seems more interested in starting his journey home than he does in whether she’s alive or not.
And then when he gets home, after carrying home her dead body on his donkey, he makes a big show of the awful thing that the men of Gibeah had done to his concubine! He takes a knife and actually cuts up her dead body into 12 parts, and sends one part of her body to each tribe in Israel, as a dramatic notice of what these depraved men have done.
I have to think that this awful, over-reacting, and desecrating action on the part of the Levite was likely designed to cover up his own guilt (for failing to protect her and sacrificing her instead of himself). It was also likely a means of transferring his fear, his anger, his trauma, and his cowardice as to what the men of Gibeah almost did to him, instead of coming to grips with his own deep feelings. (v. 29). I am not excusing the Levite, but I am seeking to understand what might have been motivating him, after this horrifying experience, in which he failed under pressure, and also came that close to being sexually abused, repeatedly.
This leads me to say something that may seem insignificant compared to those who are victims of abuse, but I believe God would have me say a word to those who have been the abusers, the offenders, like the men of Gibeah, and to those who stood by, silently, and let it happen, like the Levite:
What you have done is horrible and it has scared others deeply. Perhaps you have kept this your secret for years, and you have tried to bury it. But you need to confess your sin. [I encourage you to meditate on Psalm 51.] Your need to acknowledge your guilt before God and, if possible, before those you hurt or failed to protect. You need to own up for your actions and be willing to pay the price for what you have done. And most importantly, you need to find forgiveness and healing in Jesus, in what he has done for you at the cross. There is deep forgiveness and healing in the blood of Jesus Christ- even to the chief of sinners! (1 Timothy 1:15)
Lastly, I want to return to the victims, to those who have been abused, like the concubine in this story. Notice a few things about her.
First, she was not to blame for what happened to her that evening. Her earlier sin of adultery had apparently been forgiven, and she was in no way responsible for the evil done to her. Likewise I must stress that the victims of abuse must not blame themselves for the sins of others. That false guilt and false shame is a lie of Satan which the Holy Spirit wants to free you from.
Second, the position in which her husband found her in the morning was significant: “”There lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with (both of) her hands on the threshold.”
Dr. Diane Langberg is a Christian psychologist who works in our area, and she has written a very helpful book based on this text. It’s called “On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse.” (Tyndale House; 1999.) I highly recommend it to you. I also recommend a book that Jill Page uses at Every Good Gift called “Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church can Help” (Co-authored by four people; American Bible Society; 2104). Furthermore, if you have been a victim of such abuse, I encourage you to seek help. There are people in the church who are willing to help you, and would do so in the strictest confidence. We are available to help you and to pray with you, whether that is after the service or later in the week.
Let me conclude by returning to this image of the concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with both of her hands on the threshold. A threshold in a doorway is a raised plank or a stone at the bottom of the doorway which keeps water, dirt, and other unwanted objects from coming into the house. This concubine made it to the doorway, and placed both her hands on this raised threshold, perhaps having nowhere else to go. Was she hoping that her husband might open the door and see her and have pity on her, and gently lift her up and take her inside and care for her? More likely she just wanted to die, as she could never trust her husband again… but where else did she have to go?
But while her cowardly and uncaring husband didn’t love her or care for her, we do have an amazing husband – the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the church – who comes to us when we are on the threshold; and He not only opens the door – He is the Door! And he lifts us up and binds our wounds and tenderly loves us and cares for us, and He renews us and makes us alive again! Unlike the Levite, who offered up his wife in his place, we have a Lover of our souls who offered Himself in our place, on the cross, that we might experience forgiveness, new life, and complete renewal by the Holy Spirit!
Come to Jesus. Cast all your burdens on Him, for He cares for you.
The world is a crazy and wicked place. Our hearts are deceitful. And we foolishly turn away from Jesus, the Spring of Living Waters, in order to drink polluted waters from our broken man-made cisterns. But God the Father invites us to find new life and a new heart and a hope and healing for our broken bodies and our broken souls… by coming in faith to His Son, Jesus Christ. Come to Him today. Come and find hope and healing at the threshold of His doorway. He will save you! He will love you! And you will find that He is your all in all, forever. Amen.