At the End of the Cycle
In Judges 19 we are introduced to a Levite who ended up in Gibeah among the Benjamites. He had stopped there for the night with his wife and one of his servants, only to discover that the townsfolk were less than friendly. In fact, the story reads like a page out of experience of the angels who had visited Lot in Sodom before that city’s destruction by God (Genesis 19). Except in this case, the woman died and the Levite, upon his return to his home, committed the bizarre act of dismembering his wife’s body and sending parts to the each of the tribes of Israel. All this serves to remind us just how terrible the situation was in Israel during these dark days when the evil of men was at its lowest point.
The dismembering of the body, as horrific as it was, served to galvanize the tribes into action. In Judges 20, the tribes unite to deal with the sin of the Benjamites. They became the judges that God would use to punish the evil. This chapter illustrates the consequences of sin. Those who had committed the act and those who tolerated such sin were severely punished.
Chapter 21 describes the redemptive stage of this cleansing process. The tribes realized that they had left their brother Benjamites in danger of disappearing forever as part of Israel. They had to come up with a plan to provide for the men of Benjamin even though they had taken a vow that effectively cut them off from being aligned with those they had just punished. They came up with a clever idea that allowed them to keep their vow and yet provide for the men of Benjamin so that the tribe would not become extinct.
Sin. Consequences. Restoration. This cycle is repeated over and over again in Judges, throughout Scripture, and in our own lives as well. As I read these three chapters this morning, it would have been easy to skip over the strange and nasty business of cutting up a woman’s body and sending the pieces in the “mail” to the leaders of the tribes. It felt like something out of Criminal Minds. But then I realized that the Levite probably felt that he had no other way of drawing the attention of the leaders of the nation to the evil that, to that point, was being tolerated. Similar evils are tolerated in our society today and we don’t say much about them (not that I am suggesting the Levite’s solution!). Political correctness, fear, apathy, perhaps even our own sin, keep us from raising a voice against what the Scriptures tell us is offensive to God—sins that brought about the flood in Noah’s day, the destruction of Sodom, and the devastation of a tribe here in Judges.
Eventually there will be consequences, perhaps even to us who say little and do nothing. The cycle of Israel during the time of Judges reminds us that at some point God will give us the “good, swift kick” that we need. The shame is that we have to descend to the point where the kick is required.
The beauty of Judges 21 is the picture of compassion extended to those who, having committed the sin and having suffered the consequences, now needed to be restored. God is always compassionate. David experienced this after the sin he committed with Bathsheba and against God, sins which cost him the life of a child. Psalm 51 is his prayer of repentance.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…Cleanse me with hyssop…wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with in me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” (1-12).
There is mercy with the Lord. We see that illustrated in these last three chapters of Judges and we read it in the words of David. There is a road back when we sin. And for that we, like the Benjamites and David, have much for which to be grateful.