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July 21, 2017 | Judges 21:1-25

Judges 21:1-25

The story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19) erupted into civil war in chap. 20. Now in chap. 21 we see the war’s aftermath. The majority of the tribes of Israel have been so successful in defeating Benjamin that this tribe risks total obliteration. In order to save it, another group of Israelites is killed, ostensibly for having neglected to participate in the civil war. Their virgins are kidnapped and given to the remnant of the tribe of Benjamin to ensure progeny sufficient for its survival. Then, because that wasn’t quite enough women for them, Israel encourages the remaining Benjaminites to kidnap other young women participating in an annual celebration to God at his shrine in Shiloh. If this seems obscene, that’s because it is. The text never hints that God is involved in these plans. (Note his silence in response to Israel’s persistent prayers, offerings, and weeping as the chapter begins.) On the contrary, the chapter’s concluding verse suggests that the “solutions” Israel comes up with to solve the problem of Benjamin’s near decimation as a result of chap. 20’s civil war is itself a product of godless anarchy. (As mentioned yesterday, God’s involvement in that civil war is a more complicated issue, and this complexity may resurface in 21:15, which perhaps holds God responsible for the breach in Israel’s tribes, though there are different ways to read that verse.)

It seems to me that we Christians sometimes too blithely speak about the universality of sin, in the sense of all sin amounting to an analogous falling short of God’s standards and therefore being equally displeasing to him. I believe a careful reading of the Bible would challenge such claims, unless they are formulated with extreme precision. But leaving that aside, the Bible far more provocatively declares that all of us are capable, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, of sin more outrageous than most of us would dare imagine. If we are too confident in our righteousness and probity apart from reliance on God’s grace and recognition of his authority, we are liable to fall.

Judges 21, completing the narrative section beginning in chap. 19, shows how a community, simply by following leaders (e.g., the Levite) who stir up its basest instincts, comes close to destroying itself and only succeeds in surviving intact by, paradoxically, plundering its most vulnerable citizens. Whatever else Judges 21:25 is getting at, it certainly seems to insist that godly leadership and submission to it is healthier than anarchic independence. Those called to leadership should be prepared to serve by leading, even at the risk of not being followed or of being actively rejected. A vacuum of godly leadership makes space for irreverent leaders who rely on people’s fear and anger (cf. Judges 19:29-30). And when emotions like those are given free reign, chaos results. We all need God and his agents, and we must be responsible to step up and be his agents when invited and called. To reject either that need or that responsibility—and most Christ-followers experience both, according to the context in which they find themselves at any given moment—is to invite the spiritual equivalent of Judges 19-21 in our community and our lives.

Written by Austin Busch - Professor at Brockport and Elder at Browncroft

Prayer of the Week

This week we are praying for Joel Smith, who is Senior Director of the Field Department of Youth For Christ/USA, an organization that aims to raise up lifelong followers of Jesus from among the youth. In this role, Joel oversees directors in several geographic regions of the US and assists local YFC chapters with day-to-day operations.

Joel, who grew up at BCC, was exposed to Rochester Youth For Christ (RYFC) at a young age, due to the deep involvement of his parents, Jim and Peg Smith, and their friends. After his college graduation, Joel worked at RYFC, eventually becoming Executive Director and serving for six years before his transition to the position of Field Director for the Eastern Region of YFC/USA.

According to Joel, being onsite at local chapters and YFC camps “where kids are saying yes to Jesus” is the most fulfilling aspect of his work.

  • pray for the thousands of unsaved kids that will attend Youth For Christ camps across the country this summer
  • pray that these kids will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings
  • pray that God will be glorified as local YFC chapter leaders refocus and strategize for the next school year
  • pray that the Lord will give Joel wisdom as he guides all Regional YFC Directors

You and I live in a world of competing values and idols. Not just idols of other religions, but of wealth, achievement and celebrity. The book of Judges, though written thousands of years ago, presents us with the same issues and challenges we face today. Like the Israelites in the story, instead of influencing the world around us we are often influenced by it.
The real central character in Judges is God himself. It’s the story about how God’s faithfulness meets our unfaithfulness. About how God in his mercy and grace delivers us from the mess we create of our lives. It is not a book of virtues or even a book of inspiring stories. There is only one moral example we are called to follow in Scripture and that is Jesus.
Judges communicates the gospel. A God who pursues us even when we’re not seeking him. A God who wants all of us, not just the parts we want to give him. God calls us towards spiritual renewal in a world where spiritual decline is inevitable.