Christianity is Not a Spectator Sport
March 1, 1998 Judges 19-21
Scripture: 2Tim. 4:1-8 (2Cor. 11:23-29)
Today’s passage is about another incident during the times of the judges between Moses and Joshua on one hand, and King Saul and King David on the other. You recall from last week’s message that this was when, “Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit?” Last week’s message was about the renegade religion of the Danites who didn’t have the faith to conquer the territory God gave them, and so they escaped to the fringes where their idolatrous tendencies ultimately led to their destruction. They didn’t like dealing with the real God of the universe and so they substituted another made of silver.
This account in Judges 19-21 includes a different kind of idolatry and a different tribe. It is about the Benjamites and the evils of sexual sin run rampant - not much different than the excesses of our own culture today. It involved succumbing to the Canaanite (Cain) culture around them. Sin was entrenched and deep. And those involved defended their right to do it. Any opposition needed to be dependent upon God and committed to the truth that evil will ultimately be defeated by its own pride when God’s people humbly commit themselves to his cause.
The account in Judges 19-21 reads like a headline in today’s newspaper, “Homosexual gang rapes woman to death.” It is a shocker. It was such a shocker in those times that the people got together to do something about it. I wonder if maybe openly blatant homosexuality isn’t the ultimate defiance against God? The shock value of such things today is pretty short lived. Can we really be shocked or outraged anymore? Do we ever feel called to do something about it?
We live in a world of spectator sports and virtual reality. My daughter, Amy, got me this computer fishing game as a present before she left to go back to Ohio after living with us for several months. It is called, “Trophy Bass,” and their is a new version out now called, “Trophy Bass 2” with a Northern Lakes add-on package that increases the number of lakes to 15 and adds 5 new fish species. In a way, it is better than fishing. You can have all the excitement without any of the cost, mess or bother. And you can catch virtual reality fish every time.
Like “Dilbert” we may never have to leave our cubicle. I think we are fast going out of control into a self-imposed bondage of “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes” by losing the impact and accountability of interfacing with one another. Group action costs us something. The commitment is time, money, compassion, sacrifice - basically the commitment is self. But unless there is an investment, there can be no real victory. Unless I buy a fishing license, drive 40 miles to the Naval Base, freeze my hind end, get my lure wet, and try many times, I’ll never really catch another trout out of Lake Michigan like I did last fall. And believe me, that trout tasted a lot better than a microchip - healthier too.
Let’s take a look at the investment Israel made to deal with the shocking reality of sin in their midst.
I. The reconciliation of the Levite and his concubine.
In the opening of the account of Micah and his idols, we saw a Levite from Bethlehem going to the hill country of Ephraim. Here we see a Levite from the hill country of Ephraim going to Bethlehem. Both accounts end with the partial emptying of a tribal area in the Benjamin-Dan corridor between Israel and Judah. In both accounts there are 600 warriors who resettle. In both accounts God’s grace is evident even in judgment because Samson was later raised up as a deliverer from Dan, and Ehud is later raised up as a deliverer from Benjamin. It might also be noted that Israel’s first king, Saul, was a Benjamite from Gibeah, the same city as the one here in which such an atrocity is committed. But it might be noted that God first appointed King Saul as a failure before King David to point to the necessity of the kingship of Judah from which comes the Christ.
The Levite’s concubine, or secondary wife, had been unfaithful and ended up back at her father’s house in Bethlehem. He went to get her and his father-in-law’s persistent hospitality, probably due to his thankfulness that he had come to get her (thereby preventing social disgrace), prevailed upon him a total of 5 days, 2 days longer than he intended. In fact it wasn’t until the afternoon of that 5th day that the Levite and his concubine actually left.
II. The journey to Gibeah.
The late departure ended up to be a severe problem because they could get no further than Gibeah before nightfall. The Levite turned down the possibility of staying in Jebus (Jerusalem) because it was still an alien city at the time and he didn’t trust the residents. Gibeah was 4 miles past Jebus, both in the tribal area of Benjamin. But no one allowed them the normally expected hospitality by taking them in from the city square.
III. The hospitality of the old man.
Finally an old man who was not a native Gibeanite or Benjamite (he was actually from the hill country of Ephraim) who was living temporarily in Gibeah invited them in. He evidently operated on a different set of principles than the native Gibeanites and knew the danger of spending the night in the city square. He gave the normal hospitality and made them welcome. The Levite had explained that he was going the house of the Lord, probably in Bethel or Shiloh to offer a thanksgiving sacrifice for having gotten his concubine back.
IV. The sexual perversion of the Gibeonites.
Just as the events took place in Sodom, so they take place here. The Gibeonites had fallen for the culture of Canaan. The vile men of the city come at night to carry out their perversions with the Levite. They reek with boldness, having come out of their closet. No wonder no one else offered hospitality. In those days, the place of women was lowly, and in order to protect the Levite from disgrace, the old man offers his virgin daughter and the concubine to the wicked men to appease them. They wanted homosexual perversion, but they finally accepted the tribute of the concubine. She didn’t stand a chance and ended up dead on the doorstep by morning. With complete insensitivity, the Levite tells her to get up and go. When she doesn’t respond, he puts her on his donkey and goes home. Their relationship was master/mistress rather than husband/wife. Perhaps this is why she left in the first place. She had surely become a sin sacrifice to lust and corruption. Hosea later recalled the depth of Gibeah’s corruption.
Hos 9:9 They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.
Hos 10:9 ¶ "Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel, and there you have remained. Did not war overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?
V. The crime report to Israel.
The Levite is incensed and cuts up his now dead possession like the carcass of a sacrificed animal, limb by limb, into 12 parts (arm, forearm, hand x 2 : and thigh, leg, foot x 2) and sends them as a message to all 12 tribes of Israel, including Benjamin. It got action and gathered together 400,000 soldiers at Mizpah, a religious gathering place just a few miles from Gibeah. The same method was used by King Saul at Gibeah to gather his first army - only he used a pair of oxen. The message was that if you didn’t respond to the plea, this would be what would happen to you.
1Sam 11:7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, "This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel." Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man.
The Levite then tells his story. But the whole tribe of Benjamin is notably absent, choosing to protect the right of their brothers in Gibeah to express their individuality - not much different than today.
VI. Israel and Benjamin: preparations for war.
The people of Israel stood together for the cause of righteousness, made plans for provisions for the army, and made a last appeal to Benjamin to surrender the Gibeonites in order to purge the evil from Israel. But the tribe of Benjamin stood their ground in defense of degeneracy with 26,000 soldiers, including an additional 700 crack warriors from Gibeah. They were evidently confident, having a good reputation as excellent soldiers, true to Jacob’s prediction.
Gen 49:27 "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder."
Israel sought the counsel of God, and God put Judah at the head of the attack. Here we see a picture of Christ at the head of his army in opposition to evil.
Mt 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
VII. The first battle.
The results of the first battle were devastating. No losses are listed for Benjamin, but Israel has 22,000 men cut down. There is a high cost to opposing evil and standing on the side of righteousness. Evil is persistent and devastating. Israel comes to her knees before God. They want to make sure this is what God wants. He says it is. “Go up against them,” he said. No, they had not misinterpreted God’s will. But take note that the corrupt practices of Canaan had probably also affected the other tribes as well, and some purging may have been necessary across the board. This would not be the first time that such slaughter followed blatant national sin. In our opposing evil, we also come to terms with it ourselves.
VIII. The second battle.
The second battle was not much better. Again, the Benjamites are not listed with any casualties, but the Israelites lose 18,000 armed men. This brings more weeping but with fasting this time. They retreat to Bethel where Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, is ministering before the ark of the covenant. Sacrifices are made and God replies that tomorrow he will give them into their hands. Take note that now the Israelites have lost a tenth of their men. Is it true that God requires a tithe from us? This tithe cost dearly. On a personal level it would mean that we owe a tenth of our lives to the direct service of conscription into the army of God. But wouldn’t you rather be a door keeper in the house of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked?
IX. The third battle.
The third battle is a charm. Thirty Israelites are a give-away. The Benjamites are drawn out of Gibeah in hopes of an easy victory as before, only to discover too late that an ambush has been set and the city burned behind them. Pride becomes their downfall and they lose 25,100 men. Disaster had caught up with them because of their evil deeds. The entire town becomes a burnt offering. It took 40,000 to defeat 25,000 in three battles. How bad must things get before people take action?
X. The flight of Benjamin.
Only 600 Benjamite warriors are left who take refuge in caves at the rock of Rimmon. They are under the siege of quarantine there for the next 4 months. Israel puts absolutely everything else in all of Benjamin to the torch and to the sword. According to De. 13:12-18, any Israelite city that harbored idolaters was to be burned. To stand in support of sin was as serious as performing it. The sin of Gibeah was considered as serious as idolatry. In fact, homosexuality went hand in hand with idolatrous worship. Just what are we thinking about here in America when we teach homosexuality to school children?
XI. Concern for Benjamin’s survival.
The people weep over what appears to be a permanent loss of one of the tribes of Israel since they had all given oath that none of their daughters should ever marry a Benjamite. We should never gloat over retribution for sin. It could be us. We should grieve over the cost. This was no cause for celebration. The people build an altar and offered burnt sacrifice to God.
XII. Wives from Jabesh Gilead.
Here we see two more principles. In trying to solve the issue of wives for the 600 left-over Benjamites, the Israelites inquire about any city that did not support this inquisition against evil in the land. Jabesh Gilead gets put to the sword, all except for the 400 virgins living there, which are then given to the Benjamites for wives, even though there aren’t enough. It was permissible in a war of revenge to save the lives of the virgins. We see the grace of God in wives for the Benjamites, and we see the cost of being called the people of God without the courage or obedience to be a part of the program. Recall when the limbs of the concubine were sent throughout the land, that any who did not respond were subject to like fate. Perhaps the residents of Jabesh Gilead in Manasseh refused to oppose a tribe related to them through Rachel. Later on Saul of Benjamin rescued Jabesh Gilead from invaders, and they in turn risked their lives to save his body from disgrace. These close ties probably came as a result of this intermarriage. The sole survivors of a city were married to the remaining refugees of a tribe.
XIII. Wives from Shiloh.
Two hundred men were still left without wives so another scheme was put in place to get around the oath that was taken not to let any of the Israelite daughters marry a Benjamite. They decide that theft isn’t giving and so they let the remaining 200 Benjamites snatch a girl apiece as they dance in the vineyards at Shiloh during the annual festival of the Lord. Here too, grace is evident in ‘bending the rules’ in order to keep the tribe of Benjamin alive. God has always promised a remnant. We must keep in mind that God also bent the rules for us when he saved us from the death penalty for sin by faith in Christ in order to keep us alive for his purpose.
So what is the point? I want to stir you out of any misplaced encroaching ideas that armchair Christianity will really accomplish anything. Christianity is not a spectator sport. I’d rather bleed on the battlefield of righteousness than cower in the tent of timidity, wouldn’t you? Sure, we can pray. That takes some investment, but not enough. Adrian Rodgers offers this wisdom, “We can do more than pray after we have prayed, but we can do no more than pray until we have prayed.” Prayer and seeking God comes first. But then we need to put feet to our prayers.
The idea may be that we should have some ministry beyond these walls. And some of us do. If you honestly are not able to do more than that, then I do not want to lay a guilt trip on you. But we need to get in the trenches and get our hands dirty. That’s how Jesus got us, isn’t it? We get an evangelistic mindset and look for ways to talk to people about the good news of salvation. We go out and make a difference and confront evil where it is and make ourselves God’s agents of redemption. We pass out tracts. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the building of Christ’s church, the kingdom of God, by taking it to the streets.
Two things are beginning regarding this. For the 40 days beginning today, March 1st, until Maundy Thursday, April 9th, there is the Pray USA! initiative to pray America back to God. I invite you to fast with me one day a week (I’ll be fasting on Wednesdays) on the ‘battlefield of prayer’ for that time, and focus on prayer to redeem our nation, and the church in our nation, from the evil of insensitivity to God. Then beginning in April, we will have a series of 8 sessions on evangelism taught during the Sunday evening services that will take us into June. This is a course by Bill Hybels called, “Becoming a Contagious Christian.” It promises to be excitingly practical. In other words, we pray, we get equipped, we go do it, we gain victory. And that glorifies God.
Remember that once a little over a century ago, there was a civil war in America for a righteous cause. It was the bloodiest war in U.S. history, and that cause was won. Even though the cost was great, the victory was worth it. All of God’s children were set free. There is another bondage in our land to sin. God has other children that need to be set free. He wants our help to do it. What happens when God is part of the culture but not part of the consciousness? I think that maybe God is even slipping away from our culture. We need to make a difference.