I have been reading the book of Judges. It is one of those Bible books I like to ignore because I think I know all bout the story of Samson and of judge Deborah. But lately this book has been capturing my attention and imagination.
First I am confused by the Israelites – why they expressly chose to ignore God’s commands of conquering all the land. Why would one choose to leave an enemy when you were guaranteed of victory? They failed to remove some tribes among them the Philistines , Jebusites, Hivites, Sidonians, Canaanites, Amorites among others. Did they become lazy? Contented? Told themselves they have “arrived”? They intermarried with these nations and served their gods. They became as bad as the heathen nations God was removing from the land for their wickedness. This became their undoing.
Secondly, I find it interesting how quickly they forget the God who fought their battles and gave them a land they did not own and how they easily served Baal and other idol gods. God had done mighty things among them, no doubt. What made Baal so worth worshiping? But don’t we fall in the same trap, that of forgetting what victories God won for us last year, the diseases he healed; the hospital beds he got us from; provision; breakthrough; salvation? Don’t we forget who our true king is and prostrate ourselves before mighty men, money, media, influence?
Then there is this woman called Jael in Chapter 4. She was the wife of Heber the Kenite, who sympathised with the enemies of Israel. Sisera, an army general fighting against Israel, was fleeing battle and ran to Heber’s tent for refuge. Jael welcomed him into her tent, fed him and when he fell asleep she drove a tent peg into his skull delivering Israelites. Smart but brave woman who knew to fight the Lord’s battles not just going with status quo.
Gideon is the other page turner in Judges. He’s timid to the point of being annoying; but God calls him and sends him out on a major job he is underequipped for with assurance of victory. Clearly when God calls he qualifies. He calls even the unqualified.
Israel was living subdued by the Midianites who would burn their fields and harvest leaving the Israelites to starve. Gideon was hiding in a wine press, threshing wheat, afraid of the Midianites. An angel appears to him and tells him. “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you.”
Gideon must have looked up at him and rolled his eyes while wondering who this man was who was mocking him. Mighty hero indeed, hiding in a wine press. But God saw him in the future, not timid self and God-doubting Gideon.
The Lord told him, “Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you.”
I would love God to tell me that: “ Brenda, go as you are and do what I have told you to do. I am sending you.”
But doesn’t he? Do I obey? No. Like Gideon I start giving excuses. Gideon said, “How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh and I am the least in my entire family.”
God reassured him: “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”
At this point I am expecting Gideon to march forth bravely. Most of us have embarked on major projects or battles with less assurance from God. Surely Gideon, God is calling you mighty warrior.
But Gideon asks for a sign. I like his guts. He gets the sign.
Gideon goes ahead to bring down the altar to Baal put up by his father and the poles to the goddess Asherah and to instead build an altar to God but he is so scared of his family he does this by night.
But he doesn’t mobilise for war as yet. He asks God for a second sign. God honors the request. Gideon asks for another sign the next day.He must have looked from his outpost to the Midianite army camped in the valley and remembered who he was – the least in his family, from the weakest clan. He told himself, “Nah, I need to be really sure this thing is gonna go as I was told.” Again God honors his request.
Finally he sets out for battle with 32,000 soldiers. God tells him he has too many warriors. “If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.” 22,000 men leave the army leaving 10,000. Finally Gideon goes to battle with 300 men.
Gideon must have sat in his tent with his 300 men thinking: “I am kidding who! 300 men to war against an army of fighters?”
The Lord knows Gideon is afraid so he sends him to the Midianite camp at night to overhear a conversation that stirs up courage in him and he goes forth to win a battle for the Lord’s people. God is patient with’ wuss’ Gideon and uses him despite himself.
Then we get to the clincher- the story of Samson. A man born dedicated to the Lord but who couldn’t keep off Philistine women. Apart from growing his hair and keeping him off liquor, did his parents do enough to prepare him up to be the Nazarite that he was called to be?
Samson strikes me as someone who is careless with his anointing and calling. The women of course were his undoing, especially Delilah. He gets tricked by a woman over and over, knows he is getting tricked but still entertains her and the trickery! Hands up for someone who is toying with, entertaining and feeding a Delilah, knows it but still continues to visit her tent? Watch out. Ask Samson about being left bare, blind, humiliated and separated from your destiny.
“Ananyoa nyoa, Delilah ananyoanyoa aa”
The amazing thing is that God still uses Samson to avenge Israel against her enemies, despite his personal failure. God’s plans prevail in spite of and because of ourselves.
Judges 19 is one of those stories I have never heard preached. May be no pastor wants to preach about a concubine being used, raped and dismembered.
That story disturbs me. Here is a Levite, a man who is supposedly consecrated to serve God at his altar who is as lost as the rest of Israel. The man has a concubine, whom he doesn’t seem to give too much regard to. She leaves him, he goes after her in her father’s house. He is in her father’s house eating and drinking for several  days and there seems to be a sort of power struggle between the Levite and his father-in-law. He went to get his woman but seems more concerned with partying and pleasing his father-in-law. Doesn’t speak much of the Levite’s character either.
Finally the Levite leaves for his home but an unfortunate thing happens along the way. Because he was not principled enough to set early on his journey, he has to spend the night in a town called Gibeah along the way. The men of Gibeah are so wicked they want to rape the Levite but his host offers his virgin daughter and the concubine to the marauding crowd and tells them to do whatever they wish with them but to leave the Levite alone. Hold on there. Is it that two women would rather be raped than a man? Is it okay to sacrifice a woman that a man who called himself husband and father may live?
The Levite pushes his concubine out of the door where the men abuse her all night. He protects himself. No one goes to look for her and when she finally collapses at the door, no one notices. At daybreak the Levite finds her lying at the door face down and tells her: “Get up! Let’s go.” Who does that to a woman who was gang raped all night Did he even expect her to make the journey? Unfortunately the woman is dead.
Yes, that’s a story in the Bible and not about Sodom but about the tribe of Benjamin.
He takes her body home, then cuts it into 12 pieces and sends a piece to each tribe of Israel. Such a horrible story. Why didn’t the men protect the women even at the expense of their own lives? Couldn’t they have trusted in God’s protection? There was no godly man/woman in Gibeah to stage a rescue? Were there no leaders to speak out? Why doesn’t the Levite claim personal responsibility for the part he played or failed to play in the whole saga?
The chapter ends with these words: “Everyone who saw it said: “Such a horrible crime has not been committed since Israel left Egypt. Shouldn’t we speak up and do something?”
Phyllis Trible in her book Texts of Terror writes: “The betrayal, rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment of an unnamed woman is a story we want to forget but are commanded to speak.”
Trible adds: “Of all the characters in scripture, she is the least. Appearing at the beginning and close of a story that rapes her, she is alone in a world of her own. Neither the other characters nor the narrator recognizes her humanity. She is property, object, tool, and literary device. Without name, speech, or power, she has no friends to aid her in life or mourn her in death. Passing her back and forth among themsleves, the men of Israel have obliterated her totally….In the end, she is no more than the oxen that Saul will later cut in pieces and send throughout all the territory of Israel as a call to war (1 Samuel 117).
The Israelites do avenge the nameless woman by almost annihilating one of their tribes in Chapter 20 after gross exaggeration by the Levite of what happened.
The book of Judges ends with a verse that is quite common at the beginning of the chapters: “In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”
I’m hoping to hear a sermon on these last two chapters of Judges soon.