Scripture Reading: Judges 17 - 21 ...
People are so easily deceived into believing that religion is what you and I decide it should be. Such thinking inevitably begins with the rejection of God's Word and goes from there. Any "god" will do, any religion will do ... we'll just make it up as we go. So when people and churches today begin to pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible, and when they want to mix all religions together to come up with something that will not offend anyone and "just bring people together" ... the book of Judges describes in gory detail what happens next.
These chapters describe those who were called to be "the people of God" - Israel. The twelve tribes, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob (whose name God had changed to "Israel"), were nearly settled in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But all was not well. The tabernacle, where the people were supposed to worship the one true God, was tucked away in Bethel (20:26-27), with the Ark of the Covenant, but the people went on about their lives as though God were some lucky charm.
In chapter 17, a man named Micah "bought" a priest, one of the Levites, who were chosen by God to serve at the tabernacle. He accepted the gods of Micah and used them to worship "the LORD," the true God ... the ONLY God. When the men from the tribe of Dan came and discovered that Micah had a priest "all to himself," they took him, along with the idols he had made. They said, "Isn't it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man's household" (18:19). That was like asking, "Isn't this sin better than that sin?" Disobedience to God is just that ... and it is defined by God and not by men. Then the men of the tribe of Dan "set up for themselves the idols" (18:30-31) and claimed to be worshiping the LORD!
What follows in chapters 19-21 is some of the most despicable behavior described in Scripture. The men of Gibeah were like the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we know what God did to them. Some have said that this was what men did in those days and how they treated women, but this is not the case. These men claimed to know God, but they didn't! They had long since substituted religion for the worship of God. When the Levite cut up the woman and distributed pieces of her body throughout all of Israel, the Israelites acted all "holy" and came against them. They said, "Surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel" (20:13). But what followed was a picture of the problem that was taking place in those days.
War broke out between the army of the tribes of Israel and the army of the tribe of Benjamin. The Israelites asked the LORD who should go up to fight against their brothers, the Benjamites, and supposedly the LORD told them, "Judah." So they went to fight against them, but 22,000 Israelites died. The next day they asked the LORD again and He supposedly told them to go fight again. This time 18,000 more Israelites died. Then they went to Bethel and "inquired of the LORD" (20:27) and God supposedly told them, "Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands" (20:28).
So the Israelites defeated the Benjamites and killed 25,000 of their brothers. Then they felt guilty that the men who had survived from the tribe of Benjamin had no wives to become a tribe again, so they killed all the men and women of Jabesh Gilead (the only ones who had not participated in the war), and took the young virgin women and gave them to the men of the tribe of Benjamin. And when they needed a few more, they helped them steal them from the city of Shiloh. And what is even more incredible is people trying to explain this behavior.
God gives the explanation four times in these chapters: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Religion in the place of the worship of God leads to all sorts of sinful behavior that defy explanation, except for the depravity of men who are deceived by Satan himself. God did not tell the Israelites to go up against their brothers. If that had been the case, 40,000 of them would not have been killed in two days. They convinced themselves that God told them to do what they already wanted to do. So it is with most, if not all, of the religious wars of our day. Men want to fight. There are times when governments must fight to defend the lives of those they govern. God has ordained government to punish wrongdoers and to defend the innocent (Romans 13:1-8). But religious wars fought "in the name of 'god'" lead to the type of mass murder that is going on throughout the world today, as it was in the days of the Judges.
As Christians we are not called to be pacifists, but we are called to recognize that as followers of Christ we must know His Word and seek His will in our lives as His people. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." Power and deception make horrible partners. The solution ... the ONLY solution, is the return of the true King, who will destroy all His enemies with His righteous judgment and anger, and usher in His eternal kingdom. Those who claim Jesus as King today must watch and wait, as we serve and work, proclaiming His truth, loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us.
God's plan was unfolding, even during the period of the Judges. These things are written for us as warnings not to do what they did ... not to mix religion with the worship of the one true God ... not to mix the worship of other gods with our worship of the LORD, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Jesus is the King of kings and the LORD of lords; there is no other king. And He WILL reign over the nations, and His kingdom will never end. Worship God today and proclaim the good news of His grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus!
"Our Father in heaven, how horrible to see the depravity of mankind and the foolishness of men who declare that they are worshiping You as they worship idols made in their own image. Give us wisdom for this day in which we live, as we read and believe Your Word and as we seek Your guidance throughout our lives. Give us strength to be ambassadors of a kingdom this world knows nothing about, and to stand firm in the face of adversity. This we pray in Jesus' name, Amen"