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Monday, November 26, 2012

Right in our Own Eyes

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction . . .  (Romans 15:4)

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction . . . (1 Corinthians 10:11)

The story in Judges 19 about the priest’s concubine is one of the most grisly, bloody and repugnant stories in Scripture. If it’s been a while since you’ve read it, let me quickly summarize what happened.

The concubine got tired of living with the priest and she left to go back to her father in Bethlehem. The priest followed her and wooed her to return home with him. She agreed, and while they were on their way, night fell and they decided to lodge in the home of a hospitable fellow in a town belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. But during the evening some “worthless fellows surrounded the house” and demanded the homeowner give the priest to them for sex (19:22). Instead, the homeowner threw his own virgin daughter and the priest’s concubine out the door for the mob to gang-rape all night. Meanwhile, he and the priest continue eating and drinking in the safety of the home.

The next morning the priest found his concubine dead on the front door step. Wanting vengeance, he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent them to the twelve tribes of Israel, inciting them to come and attack the Benjaminites.

As I said, it’s a grisly, gory story. One might wonder why it’s even in the pages of Scripture. But read a little longer and a little deeper, and the reason becomes – at least for me – much clearer.

The account that begins in chapter 19 concludes in chapter 21. You can read the narrative yourself, but the last verse of the last chapter provides the key to understanding this incident. Indeed, that last verse provides the key to understanding the entire book of Judges, as well as the entire length and breadth of Biblical and post-Biblical history itself.

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). You’ll find the same refrain elsewhere in Judges – 17:6; 18:1 and 19:1.

Chapters 19-21 in Judges are a fear-provoking picture, a frightful warning of what happens to a nation, and to individuals, who do what is right in their own eyes; who hold to the form of religion, but deny God’s authority over their lives. St. Paul talks about this in the first chapter of his letter to the church at Rome (Romans 1:28-32). He also writes about it to his protégé, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

God warned Israel – and by extension – humanity, including you and me – of the disastrous, grievous and bloody consequences that fall on nations and on individuals who adopt the behavior of those who turn from God.  You can read other graphic examples in places like Ezekiel 16, Psalm 106, and Deuteronomy 28. Child sacrifice. Unrestrained sexual sins. Ruthless murder. Hatred toward parents, spouses, children, neighbors, and others. Even King Solomon, despite his great wisdom and early close relationship with God, descended into the horrific practices of his godless pagan culture (1 Kings 11:1-13).

God called Israel from slavery in Egypt to be His special and prized possession. He gave them rules by which they should live and through which they would prosper. But the whole of old Testament history, including chapters 19 through 21 in Judges, demonstrates how even God’s chosen people can go very wrong when they turn from God. And of this, too, Scripture assures us: What happened to them will happen to any nation and to any individual “who does what is right in their own eyes.”

St. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia words we ought to take to heart: “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh, will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life”(Galatians 6:7-8).

If we ignore his warning, and the lesson of Judges 19, we do so to our destruction.

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