Judges 19-21 and John 13
If you’ve not yet read today’s scriptures, especially Judges 19-21 you should read them now. Right now! Go ahead, I’ll wait patiently while you read this very disturbing story. (Be sure to read it in an easy to read version like the NIV or ESV and not KJV so you don’t get lost). Did you read it? How did you feel while reading it? Disgusted? Angry? Sick to your stomach? To be honest I felt all of those things and I feel all of those things whenever I read it. It is like watching a Netflix docuseries about horrible rapes and murders, only it gets much worse because it goes from rape and murder to all out warfare…a virtual bloodbath. Made worse by the fact that these are cousins fighting each other.
How sick is it to see a bunch of thugs demanding to gang rape a houseguest? How sick is it that a young woman is given to the sex-crazed angry mob who end up raping her and murdering her and leaving her body on the front door? How truly bizarre that the husband then cuts up her dead body and sends it all over the country? How crazy is it that this results in war with thousands of cousins killing each other? And how truly bizarre that the war is resolved by encouraging a bunch of warriors to kidnap virgins and drag them home and force them to be their wives? You couldn’t make up this kind of sick, twisted, debauched behavior… and yet here it is in the Bible? What on earth is going on?
Two verses stand out- the first verse and the last verse. It begins with Judges 19:1: “In those days Israel had no king.” The last verse is Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” Those two verses essentially explain all of the chaos, vile and disgusting behavior that goes on throughout the story. Human beings do not survive very well in situations of complete anarchy. In school you may have read the book The Lord of the Flies. It’s about a group of young boys during WWII in England who are taken away from the country for their own safety to protect them from the war. Their plane crashes on an Island and the boys survive with no adult supervision. What happens when you have a bunch of schoolboys together with no adult supervision? Absolute chaos. What happens when you have a country where there is no leadership, no law and order? Absolute chaos. That is what was going on in Israel at the time of our story in Judges. “Everyone did as they saw fit.” That’s a recipe for lawlessness.
Those of you living in the United States have gotten a little taste of this during the past year. In places where demonstrations and protests turned into riots, in places where all law and order broke down, and for a few minutes at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 we saw examples of what happens when “everyone did as they saw fit.”
After God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, one of the first things that he did to help form them as a community was give them 10 commandments for how they were to live. He also gave them instructions for how to worship, what foods to eat and not eat, and instructions for how to respond to infectious diseases and how to properly dispose of human excrement and dead bodies. He gave them rules about who you could and could not have sex with: you can have sex with your husband or wife of the opposite sex. You cannot have sex with your sister, your mother, your aunt, your neighbor’s wife, people of your own gender or your animals. God did His best as Israel’s king to create order and stability within their communities so that they could be healthy, have strong families and communities and live long and prosperous lives as His chosen people.
Some people followed God’s instructions for their lives and prospered. Others rejected God as King and His instructions. By the time we get to Judges 19-21 we arrive at a place of near anarchy where “everyone did as they saw fit.” And that is how we get the story of the tribe of Benjamin trying to gang rape a cousin, murdering his wife, the man cutting her to pieces and it leading to a civil war that ends only after a bunch of virgins are sex-trafficked (abducted and taken by force to be wives). That’s how lawlessness worked then, and that’s how it still works today and if you don’t believe me just watch a Netflix documentary (or the news every day on tv.)
Jesus shows us a better way in John 13. Jesus is God’s choice to be Israel’s king. He is worthy to be king because he is both humble and loving and also obedient to His father and His God. Jesus shows his humble love by kneeling down and washing the feet of the people over whom he will serve as King. Jesus the king loves his servants enough to wash their dirty feet, and to die for them. That is a king we can follow. That is a king we can love. That is a king who will one day restore order and bring a final end to lawlessness and chaos and make all things right. This is a King whose words and example and life we can follow.