Judges Sermon Chapter 20 Judges Sermon # 24
Dec. 3, 2017 “Purge Me…and I Shall Be Clean”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
What would you do if you had a splinter in your finger and it was infected? You would have someone remove the splinter, right?
What would you do if you opened your refrigerator, smelled something rotten, and discovered some moldy broccoli way in the back? You would remove the offending object, right?
What would happen if a cancerous tumor was discovered in your body? If it’s possible, the doctors would remove it, right?
So let me ask you this: what should the church of Jesus Christ do when they discover some wicked, obstinate, and incorrigible sinner, who refuses to repent, in their congregation? Should the church tolerate this person, or discipline him, and if need be, remove him from their midst?
Judges 20 is the story of the people of God discovering that there are vile and abominable men in their midst, and the steps –and great cost – of purging them.
I confess that my understanding of this chapter has changed and deepened as I studied it more intensely over time. I had thought that the eleven tribes of Israel – that is, everyone except the tribe of Benjamin – were being self-righteous in calling out the men of Gibeah (from the tribe of Benjamin) for their wickedness (for what they did to the Levite’s wife), when they themselves were tolerating gross idolatry in the tribe of Dan (see chapters 17-18). Now there is truth in that perspective. But as I studied this chapter more and more, I came to realize that Israel was doing exactly what they were supposed to do, according to God’s laws. Let me explain.
God had previously told Israel, His redeemed, covenant people, that they were to be holy, as He is holy (Leviticus 19:2), and therefore they were not to tolerate unrepentant sin in their midst. Now before you think of God as a grouchy and demanding old man, remember that the Lord had graciously provided sacrifices for sin, so when people sinned, they could confess and turn from their sins, and be forgiven through these substitutionary sacrifices, such as the scapegoat and the sacrificial lamb on Yom Kippur, the sacred Day of Atonement. God is full of grace! And this sacrificial system all points us to God’s final atoning sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! Are you trusting in Him for forgiveness?
But if any of God’s people hardened their hearts and refused to listen to God; if they refused to repent of sin and did not trust in God’s means of forgiveness, then such stubborn and wicked people were to be purged out of Israel.
The Lord’s command, “You must purge the evil from among you,” is recorded 11 times in Deuteronomy. The Hebrew word for purge means to burn up, to consume by fire, so as to completely eliminate. It is the divine punishment for false prophets (Dt. 13:5), for those worshipping other gods (17:7), for anyone who shows contempt of the judges or priests of the Lord (17:12); for the man who intentionally murders his neighbor (19:13); for a false, lying witness in a court case (19:19); for a stubborn and rebellious son who refuses to listen to his parents and to the town elders (21:21); for unfaithfulness in marriage (22:21, 22); for fornication (22:24); and finally for kidnapping a fellow Israelite (24:7). God wanted all Israel to hear of such purging, so that they would be in holy awe of God and His perfect righteousness… similar to how you want your kids to be in awe of looking at the sun.
So when we read in Judges 20 about the uproar of all the Israelite tribes when they hear the story of what the men of Gibeah did to the Levite’s wife, we need to understand this in light of God’s demands for holiness in His people and His command that any such stubborn and unrepentant wickedness be purged from their midst… just as you would remove that infected splinter, that moldy broccoli, or that cancerous tumor.
For this is what Joshua did when Achan acted unfaithfully and violated the Lord’s covenant (Joshua 7:1-26) so that Achan and his family were stoned to death, and the evil was purged.
This is what the Lord said He would do to His own people, in Jer. 29:21-23, purging the land from all their idolatry and immorality, by handing them over to Nebuchadnezzar, for the outrageous things they did in Israel.
This is what the Apostle Paul commanded be done in 1 Cor. 5:1-13 to the professing Christian who was committing gross sexual immorality. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (v. 13)
And this is what Jesus Christ did in John 2:13-17, when zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him, and he purged the money-changers out of the temple, with a whip.
All of that was to demonstrate from God’s Law and from Biblical examples that the tribes of Israel were right and just in their initial desires and actions, as seen in vv. 8-13, when they said to the tribe of Benjamin: “Give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” (BTW: “worthless fellows” or ‘wicked me” is literally: “the sons of Belial” that is, the sons of Satan – see 2 Cor. 6:14-18 – “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” “Therefore come out from them and be separate… I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”)
Now admittedly there were a lot of things that were not done right in this story:
It is true that the Levite, when he told his story, failed to tell of his own sins. (20:4-5).
It is true that the tribes of Israel failed to see the gross idolatry in their own hearts, and focused instead on the wickedness of Gibeah.
And it is also true that the tribes of Israel did not seem to really seek the Lord’s face on the matter of attacking the tribe of Benjamin, until they had been defeated twice, at the cost of 40,000 soldiers. All those things are true and they are without excuse.
But the tribes of Israel were 100 % correct in seeking to purge the wicked men of Gibeah from the midst of Israel. And if the men of Benjamin had not been so stubborn and had not put tribal unity above God’s laws, then only a few guilty, unrepentant sinners from Gibeah would have been justly put to death for their vile crime, and no one else would have died.
But the sad truth was that the men of Benjamin refused to listen to the other tribes of Israel; they refused to allow Israel to carry out God’s just and righteous punishment upon the men of Gibeah. And because of their refusal to listen, a civil war broke out; 65,000 men were killed in battle; the whole town of Gibeah, including women and children, was put to the sword, and the tribe of Benjamin was nearly wiped out. All because the men of Benjamin refused to listen to God’s truth concerning how to deal with the wickedness in their midst. All because they would not purge the evil that was festering among them. They chose to keep the infected splinter in their finger. They kept the stink of that moldy broccoli in their fridge. They refused the doctor’s plea to save their lives by removing that cancerous tumor. How tragic!
There is so much that we could benefit from in this chapter that I can only mention briefly this morning, because of time constraints:
First, as King Saul was a Benjamite from Gibeah, and King David was from Bethlehem in Judah, this chapter would become fodder against Saul’s supporters when he was against David.
Second, we could look into the parallel story in what King Saul did in 1 Samuel 11:1-11, when he cut a pair of oxen into 12 pieces and sent them to the tribes of Israel, after the Ammonites disgraced the men of Jabesh Gilead, and the tribe of Israel were stirred into action.
Third, we might notice that this action of all Israel coming together as one man and finding out that the Lord wanted Judah to go first is a déjà vu scene from the early chapters of Judges, when Israel was to conquer the land and wage war on the pagans, and not on themselves.
Finally, we might see that this incident in Judges 20 is a companion piece to what happened in Joshua 22:10-34, when the two and a half tribes who settled on the east side of the Jordan River built an unauthorized altar there, and the other tribes gathered together and prepared to go to war against their fellow Israelites, thinking that they were worshipping idols. It was the same zeal for the Lord’s glory and to purge such wickedness from their midst. In that case, Israel eventually realized that this altar was simply to remind them of the one true God and the altar on the other side of the Jordan, and war was averted. But it shows us that Israel valued zeal for the Lord… even over the bonds of kinship. (Luke 14:26-27 – The cost of following Jesus)
I mention these things so that some of you will be prompted to examine them further, on your own, and also to show you how deeply intertwined and how wonderfully connected all of scripture is! [Psalm 119:18 “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in your law.”]
But our time is limited this morning, I want to focus on three final applications:
The first application concerns church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18.)
From time to time there arises a situation in our church –and in every church – whereby a professing Christian, a member of the congregation, commits some sin, and keeps sinning and breaking God’s commands, and thus brings dishonor to the Lord’s reputation. At that point, God’s Word instructs another believer to speak to that brother or sister in the Lord, and to show him his fault, so that he might repent of his sin. But if that brother refuses to listen to the other Christian, then the matter needs to be brought to 2 or 3 addition believers, who can act as witnesses, and also urge the erring brother to repent. And if he still will not listen to these believers, then the matter needs to come to the church, that is, to the elders of the church. And if he will not listen to the church leaders, then it is brought to the whole church, and disciplinary action must be taken. This could mean excommunication, which declares that this person, behaving as an unbeliever, must now be treated as a pagan, until they repent. Please note: it is not the seriousness of the sin that determines this; rather, it is the person’s refusal to listen to God, through His people, which is the cause of such discipline. And that is what Benjamin failed to do: they were unwilling to listen to their brothers about the unrepentant sin of Gibeah. So remember this if and when the church has to exercise Biblical discipline.
The second application is learning from Israel’s sins. (1 Cor. 10:1-13)
Like the tribes of Israel, we can get worked up over some injustice, some outrageous act, and we pour ourselves into attacking that sin or those who are the offenders. Right? And when we do that, we can become self-righteous as we push for justice and for punishment for the guilty. We become blind to our own sins. (See Matt. 7:1-5 Take the log out of your own eye, you hypocrite, before you call attention to the speck in someone else’s eye!)
So how could Israel have done things differently, in ways that would have honored god better and kept them from a self-righteous indignation? Let me suggest two ways;
First: Israel could have declared three days of prayer and fasting, before they mustered their army and attacked Benjamin. That would have humbled and cooled off Israel, and it would have allowed them to pray fervently that God might soften Benjamin’s stubborn hearts. Let’s remember this when we are tempted to get on our high horse and rail against our favorite injustice, so that we feel good about ourselves!
Second: Israel could have appealed to Benjamin that the Lord’s reputation and glory among the nations was at stake here. After all, what would the pagan nations think if God’s redeemed people were killing one another? We too need to examine our motives – and make sure we are appealing to the highest motive, God’s glory – before we speak, before we act.
The third application deals with the purging of our sins. (Psalm 51:7)
Like the vile men of Gibeah, every individual and every people group will face God’s wrath for their sin and rebellion. Each of us will face God’s white-hot anger toward sin in one of two ways. Either you will be like the men of Benjamin who tried to deal with it their own way, and faced annihilation for doing so, or you will face God’s wrath through the one and only approved Substitute, Jesus Christ, who took God’s wrath upon Himself, and died in our place.
What answer will you give to Jesus Christ when you stand before the Judge of the World, (Malachi 4:1) and you have no excuse for all your sin, all your self-centered rebellion, and all your self-righteousness? Will you be like Gibeah, which was purged from the earth by fire?
Or will you say to Jesus, “I am the chief of sinners, but I trust that You came into the world to save sinners, and I am standing on your sacrifice for me; I am clothed with your righteousness. Thank You, Jesus, that you purged my sins on the cross, and therefore I stand before you forgiven, clean, and washed whiter than snow! Hallelujah!” For Jesus Christ did listen and He did obey the Father’s voice! He showed His zeal for the Father’s glory, by laying down his life for us, at the greatest cost to Himself. (Hebrews 9:12-14)
The Warning: Psalm 2:11-12 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you be purged, for His wrath is quickly kindled.”
The Promise: Isaiah 43:2-3 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. The through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume (purge) you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”