TODAY’S READING: Judges 19–21
Judges ends with one of the stranger sequences of the Bible: A man stole from his mother. He was rewarded for his confession with an idol. The idol was then used to lure a priest of the Lord (?) into private service. That priest was then forcibly commandeered to serve a wayward tribe. Another priest of the Lord (?) took a concubine and then offered her up to be raped by lewd men to save himself from molestation. She then died and he cut her into pieces. The tribes of God went to war and the good guys got pounded, but then the bad guys were virtually wiped out. Finally, the remaining few bad guys were allowed to kidnap the other guys’ wives. Hollywood writers have nothing on the real events of Judges, and the whole story unfolds because God’s people did not glorify God among the nations. Each one did what was right in his own eyes and no godly leadership called them back to holy glory (Judges 21:25).
The loose confederation of Israelite tribes was only united by God, and when their devotion to God receded, so did their unity and so did their ability to glorify God among the nations. The Philistines, a fierce sea people, rooted themselves in Gaza and along the Mediterranean coast, the very land assigned to the tribe of Dan, and when Dan could not overthrow them, the trouble began. The whole sordid sequence outlined above began when Dan vacated its assignment—failing to bring glory to God by establishing His glory where the Philistines were entrenched –and moved north to attack an undefended, isolated people outside of Sidon (18:28). More glory was forfeited among the nations when the Benjaminites turned out to be more perverted than the Jebusites (19:22). God’s people were meant to live in holy relationship to Jehovah as an invitation to the nations; instead, they fell into sins even more disgusting than their wicked observers. And as is so sadly often needed, even today, the only recourse for God and His glory was for Him to use the wicked to destroy the wicked.
Summoning up some memory of devotion, the Israelites agreed that the men of Gibeah had gone too far. Benjamin defended the wicked (what a shame when our loyalty trumps our integrity), and death reigned. This twisted tale offers us the small redemption of a key missiological application: the sobriety that we will take casualties when we finally decide to do what is right and that we will only glorify God if we can push past our initial personnel losses to the victory on the other side of sacrifice. The Israelites did many things right in this passage and still suffered loss. They united together (20:11), confronted Benjamin, and tried to punish just the offenders (v. 13). They inquired of God as to who should go to war first (v. 18), and then they lost 22,000 of their best men. They pressed on to the right, encouraging themselves to fight on (v. 22), weeping before the Lord and asking counsel (v. 23). They returned to the fray and lost 18,000 more of their finest. Once more they wept, fasted, and sat before the Lord (v. 26), inquired of Him and asked if they should press on (v. 28), and once more God tells them to “go.”
God ever seems to make that request: “Go!” Even when we have suffered unimaginable loss, even when He knows the price of redemption is the death of His Son, even when He knows that the price of the unreached around the throne is the suffering witness of the saints. We are not that different from the Israelites at the end of Judges. We have drifted from our devotion. We have concentrated more on the glory of the church than on the glory of God. We are waking up to that egregious error, and as the body of Christ we are repenting and turning our eyes again to unreached peoples and we are dedicating ourselves to glorifying God among the most difficult places and most resistant peoples of earth. As we press forward in this obedience, many of our missionaries will die, and many of our local partners will be tortured and killed.
The real question is what we will do next. When we have taken unimaginable losses, when some of our best are struck down for doing right, for pursuing God’s glory among the nations, what will we do then? Will we still send when thousands of those we love are cut down for their brave obedience? Do we have the collective will to fight on? When this inevitable cost in these last days is levied, God grant us grace to sit before the Lord, weep, seek His counsel, hear Him once again say “go,” and then let us once again obey.