A godless world (Judges 19) – part one

Last week, we looked at one of the most difficult-to-come-to-terms-with stories of the Old Testament. This week, we continue in the same vein. Possibly the worst story in the Bible. I think just about everyone would find it shocking and distasteful. One to avoid, really. I mean, who wants to pick up their Bibles and read a story about sexual abuse, violence, and corpse dismemberment? (That’s what TV is for.) When you settle down with Scripture, I’m sure for most of us we’d find the Psalms more appealing. Or a nice story about Jesus healing someone. Or the apostle Paul at his eloquent best.

And yet here we are with (I hope) this stubborn insistence that all Scripture is inspired by God, and is somehow useful for us today. So this week, we’re going to put that belief to the test. We’ll be looking at this story in Judges 19 full of horrific attitudes and gruesome deeds. To find out what on earth this has to do with us. 

(If you’re squeamish, or dealing with issues of sexual abuse, it might be good to sit this week out.)

Read it now – Judges 19 – and sit with it for a while.

I ask again, what has this got to do with us? As I looked into this question , I discovered two answers. Two ways in which this story relates to us. One that’s reasonably obvious, and one that came as a bit of a surprise. And as it turns out, it’s designed to be surprising. But we’ll start today with the more obvious one first.

The world without God

I call it obvious, because the narrator of Judges pretty much tells us up-front. This story is part of a longer narrative made up of similarly ugly material. And the narrator introduces and concludes it all with the following observation:

Judges 17:6 & 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

And sandwiched in between is a series of stories about a world that’s out of control. Where there was no rule of law to control human desires & behaviour. Where everyone did as they saw fit. A world without God.

Now some think that it’s the king bit that’s most significant; that the history we read in Judges was compiled in a later era as kind of an argument for the monarchy. It’s an explanation to Israel as to why we needed to get a king, particularly because most of Israel’s kings had failed to live up to expectations. The message of Judges is, at least in part, ‘yeah, but it was even worse before’. (Could well be the strategy Tony Abbott takes to the next Federal election.)

But this view misses the point about kingship in Israel.  Israel’s king wasn’t supposed to be just like all the other human kings. He was supposed to be God’s representative; exercising God’s rule. In other words, Judges isn’t just the story of what life’s like without a king. It’s really about how the world is when God isn’t king; when people reject his rule, in favour of their own. That’s why everyone did as they saw fit – because they’d abandoned God.

The whole book of Judges is about this. In the book of Joshua, we read how they’d been given this land by God. But they’d failed to drive out fully the influences of the previous inhabitants like they were told. And this began a cycle of rebellion against God, which opens the book of Judges. Every time they rebelled, God allowed them to reap the consequences. He withheld his protection, so that bad stuff happened. They were oppressed by other tribes, and pillaged by foreign armies. So that eventually they cried out to God in repentance. And each time God responded and raised up a leader, a judge, to rescue his people. But pretty quickly, the Israelites forgot and went back to their rebellion. And the cycle began all over again.

This week’s story in Judges 19 is there, at one level, to show us how bad things can get when we reject God’s rule. It’s a specific illustration of the general principle that introduced this section:

Judges 17:6 & 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

It shows life not as it should be, but what it becomes when everyone does as they please.

We’ll look more at the story itself tomorrow.

To think about

To what extent is the world portrayed in Judges 19 like our own? And to what extent is it different?

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