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Stuart Chase - 9 Aug 2020

New Sodom (Judges 19:1–21:25)

Previously, we consider the religious chaos that reigned in Israel during the time of the Judges (chapters 17–18). Sadly, the chaos did not remain religious. Religious chaos quickly bred moral chaos, which is the theme of chapters 19–21. In these chapters, the writer records some truly horrifying stories to highlight that Israel had become the new Sodom.

Scripture References: Judges 19:1-30, Judges 21:1-25, Judges 20:1-48

From Series: "Judges Exposition"

An exposition of the book of Judges by Stuart Chase.

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“Jenn Greenberg was abused by her church-going father.” That is the opening sentence on the blurb of Jennifer Michelle Greenberg’s excellent book, Not Forsaken. Part memoir, part theology, Greenberg recounts, without overly gruesome detail, the abuse she suffered at the hand of her church-going father. There were times when he would physically pick her up off the ground, hurl her across the room against a wall, and then sit down calmly in a chair to continue reading Berkhof’s Systematic Theology.

For 23 years, Greenberg suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from the man who, more than any other, should have protected her—all while he maintained a façade of respectability in his church community. The few times she tried to tell people, they assumed that she was exaggerating or describing a crazy, once-off situation.

Greenberg is not alone in her experience. Many who have suffered similarly have completely abandoned the faith. But let’s go back to the blurb on the book: “Jenn Greenberg was abused by her church-going father. Yet she’s still a Christian.” Her book is an excellent treatment of how the gospel of Jesus Christ restores and preserves hope in the darkest of situations. Though she was forsaken by her father, she was never forsaken by God, never forsaken by Jesus Christ.

It is an unfortunate reality, as I have said, that Jenn Greenberg’s story is not an anomaly. Statistics will reveal that gender-based violence is a problem in South Africa but it’s not only “out there.” Scores of women and children in the church have experienced abuse at the hands of those who should have protected them. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo may movements have their out-of-control elements but they have highlighted a very real problem that, for far too long, was swept under the rug. For far too long, men—particularly men in positions of authority—have misused their power to abuse those under their care.

I am persuaded that there is a hint of this in the curse pronounced upon the woman in Genesis 3:16. When God said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” I am persuaded that part of what he was saying is that she would continue to desire to fulfil her God-given role as his suitable helper, but she would experience resistance as he tried to “rule over” her rather than receive the help she offered. That certainly is a reality that has been seen time and again in the history of the world. Rather than respecting women as God-given helpers, far too many men have sought to exercise ungodly dominion.

Judges 19–21 dwells on this particular problem, among others. As we saw previously, chapters 17–21 constitute a particular section of Judges. They highlight the threat within the nation, whereas chapter 3–16 focus on the threat from outside the nation. Chapters 17–21 highlight a twofold threat from within: the threat of religious chaos (chapters 17–18) and the threat of moral or social chaos (chapters 19–21). As we saw last time, the first problem birthed the second.

In chapters 19–21, the writer offers some examples of the moral chaos that pervaded Israelite society during the days of the judges. Prominent among those examples was mistreatment of women. In fact, it almost seems as if the writer is pointing to that as the primary example of a corrupt society. It wasn’t the only problem, as we will see, but it was the most obvious.

As we have made our way through Judges, things have gone from bad to worse. Kat Armstrong calls Judges a “dumpster fire.” At the beginning of the book, we saw that things began to spiral out of control after the death of Joshua. But God intervened and gave Othniel, a model judge. If Israel’s leaders were all of Othniel’s calibre, there was hope. But as you read further, it almost seems as if each judge was worse than his or her predecessor. There were some bright spots after Othniel—brightest among them, perhaps, Deborah and Barak—but the trend was definitely toward darkness rather than light. The stories of the judges end in chapter 16, and chapters 17–18 reveal utter chaos. But the writer has reserved the worst for last. Chapters 19–21 highlight moral and social depravity in Israel that can barely be imagined.

Some sceptics of the Bible argue that the story recorded in chapter 19 cannot possibly be reliable history. In fact, they say, it is evidence of the historical unreliability of the Bible. The reason for this, they say, is that the events recorded here mirror the events recorded in Sodom (Genesis 19) too closely to be a coincidence. The writer of Judges, the sceptics argue, must have been drawing on the earlier legend of Sodom and hoping that his readers wouldn’t notice. Or possibly the two writers were drawing on a common urban legend, unaware of each other’s writings.

In fact, there is no reason to doubt the historicity of the events here recorded. But the sceptics are correct about one thing: There is no coincidence. In fact, while he is recording historical events, the writer also wants us to think back to the story of Sodom because he is making a point: Things had gotten so bad in Israel that Israel could be considered new Sodom. Ezekiel did something similar in chapter 16 of his prophecy when he called Sodom Judah’s “sister” (v. 56) and John similarly called first-century Jerusalem spiritual Sodom in Revelation 11:8.

These three chapters are possibly the most disturbing section in all of Scripture. They offend our sanitised sensibilities and we want to distance ourselves from them. There is a lot here, but the author’s primary goal is to show that Israel had become a moral and social Sodom. This is not a story that speaks to us about the wickedness of a godless world; it is a story that speaks to us about wickedness that had crept into the people of God. Don’t read this story thinking that the world “out there” needs to take note; read this story and ask how prevalent these things are in the church.

Here is the point: There was no godly king in Israel, and there was no godly judge in Israel (note that, according to 20:27–28, these events occurred quite early, when Aaron’s grandson was still high priest), and (as we will see) there was no godly priest in Israel. Without godly leadership, the nation had lost its religious moorings and moral and social anarchy followed in short order.

Let’s survey the story of these chapters and see what there is for us to learn.

The Unnamed Concubine

The story of these chapters opens as it ends: “In those days, when there was no king in Israel” (19:1; cf. 21:25). Everything is bookended within this note of the lack of godly leadership.

In chapters 17–18, the no-king formula highlighted a problem. The lack of godly leadership resulted in spiritual chaos. The author now frontloads this final section by reminding us that there was no godly leadership, so we shouldn’t expect things to go any better.

While the author highlights the lack of a godly king, he expects us to read between the lines a little. In the absence of a godly king, one might expect the priests and the Levites to offer godly leadership. Apparently not. The Levite in the previous section had plunged Israel into idolatry. The Levite in this section was no better.

The story is set in the same general region as the previous section: “the hill country of Ephraim” (19:1). This is bad news! This particular Levite “took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah” (19:1), which is where the Levite in the previous story had come from (17:7). The CSB translates “took to himself” in 19:1 as “acquired,” which sounds as though he considered this woman to be nothing more than a mere possession. But we should be careful of drawing that conclusion at this point in the story because while the language of a man “taking” or “acquiring” a woman (rather than, say, “proposing” to her) may strike us as insensitive, it is the normal way that the Bible speaks of two people entering into a marriage covenant.

It is significant, however, that this woman was not a wife but a “concubine.” A concubine in Israelite culture was treated better than in other surrounding cultures, but she still did not have the same social status as a wife. But even if the language of “taking” or “acquiring” a woman does not in itself suggest a low view of women, we will see as the story progresses that this particular Levite did not treat this woman with the respect that should be accorded an image-bearer of God. He was in a privileged position as a male Levite and he ought to have done all he could to protect her but he did the exact opposite.

The writer tells us that the concubine “was unfaithful” to the Levite an “went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah” where she remained “some four months” (19:2). The term translated “unfaithful” does not necessarily imply sexual infidelity. In fact, the text seems to stress that this woman left her husband for her father’s house, not for another man. (Some ancient texts read that she “became angry” with him rather than “was unfaithful” to him.) For whatever reason, she found this relationship intolerable and so returned home to her father. We are not told why the relationship was intolerable, but as you read the story you realise that this Levite was not exactly Prince Charming.

Rather than pursuing her immediately, he waited four months before deciding to go and mend the relationship. At that point, he was in a good head space. (Note that he is actually called “her husband” in 19:3). His intention was the “speak kindly to her and bring her back” (19:3) though, when he eventually arrived, there is no mention of him speaking kindly to her. In fact, when he arrived at her father’s home, he spent all his time with her father as his drinking buddy rather than actually talking kindly to her. She fades into the background completely during this visit.

Still, it seems that her father wanted the relationship to work because he received the Levite “with joy” (19:3). She seems to have been willing to give it another try.

After five days of playing besties with his concubine’s father, the Levite eventually decided that it was time to leave. The concubine, willing to give the relationship another go, left with the Levite and his servant, though she remains a silent character in the story.

Since they had left fairly late in the afternoon, night began to fall quite quickly. The Levite’s servant suggested finding lodging at Jebus, a nearby Canaanite city, but the Levite would not consider defiling himself with accommodation in a Gentile city. He felt certain that they could make it to Benjamin-controlled Gibeah before nightfall and they were sure to find accommodation among their brothers. As at Sodom centuries earlier, however, accommodation was not quickly offered. As the trio was preparing to spend the night in the square, an elderly man—Judges 19’s version of Lot in Genesis 19—arrived to insist that they spend the night with him. It would be far safer in his house than in the town square.

As he had done in Bethlehem, the Levite completely ignored his concubine that night and instead spent his time with the old man, “making their hearts merry” (19:22). As they were doing so, however, a group of “worthless fellows” began “beating on the door” (19:22). (The Hebrew language suggests more than a firm knocking. It is as if they were trying to kick the door down to get inside.) Their intention was clear: “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him” (19:22). They were not interested in the concubine; they wanted to sexually assault the Levite.

The old man’s response was shocking. “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing” (19:23). He was right, of course: It was a “vile thing” they were plotting. Sexual assault—whether same sex or opposite sex—is always a “vile thing.” But we are left gobsmacked at the old man’s proposed solution: “Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing” (19:24). Like Lot in Sodom, this old man considered sexual assault against a man to be a “vile thing,” and proposed instead that the men sexually assault women instead.

Do you see the depth of the moral chaos in Israel at this time? If your sensibilities are shocked at “same sex attraction” in this text, you’re missing the point. That may be a part of the depravity here, but you should be more shocked that a man would offer his virgin daughter and a woman he has just met to these men to “violate” and to do with as they pleased. In his mind, women—whether it was his own daughter or a woman he has just met!—whom God created as necessary allies to men, were little more than property to be traded. You should be sickened. But it’s about to get worse.

The Levite had set out earlier that week to “speak kindly” to his concubine and to “bring her back” home (19:3). So far in the account, he had not spoken to her at all, much less “kindly”! But now he did the unthinkable. When “the men would not listen to” the old man, the Levite “seized his concubine and made her go out to them” (19:25). The men of the city “raped her and abused her all night until morning” (19:25, CSB).

Perhaps you’re thinking that, after such incredible turmoil, “her husband” (19:3) would now finally speak kindly to her. He must have been tossing and turning all night, tormented over what he had done and thinking about everything he must do to tenderly help her deal with the trauma she had experienced.

As day dawned, the traumatised concubine stumbled to “the man’s house where her master was” (19:26). She fell exhausted at the threshold, where she soon succumbed to her injuries and died. When “her master” arose from his good night’s sleep “he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up, let us be going’” (19:27–28). “Stop wasting time. We left your father’s house too late yesterday and that is what got us into this trouble!” Not exactly the kind speaking he had earlier decided on, is it?

Of course, “there was no answer” (19:28) because she was dead. But rather than break down in grief and cry out to God in repentance for what he had done, “he put her on the donkey”—because, after all, she was his property!—and “went away to his home” (19:28) where he took a knife, divided her into twelve pieces, and sent a souvenir to each tribe in Israel.

As DHL delivered the packages, the Israelites were shocked. Remember, they did not have the back story. All they knew was that someone had couriered them a body part. Their disbelief was over the dismemberment of this woman’s body, not over what had transpired before she was dismembered. It was a terrible thing in Israel for a corpse to not receive a proper burial, but that’s hardly the worst part of the story.

The Unnecessary Conflict

Chapter 20 is perhaps one of the most perplexing chapters in all of Scripture. There is so much we can talk about, but there are a few particularly relevant observations that highlight the moral and social chaos of the day.

It is helpful to note that, in 1 Samuel 11, when Saul wanted to call Israel to battle, he carved an ox in pieces and sent those pieces to the various tribes, warning that any tribe that did not contribute would face the same fate as the ox. It seems to have been a cultural way to call people to battle, which may have been what the Levite was thinking—though, obviously, there is a world of difference between carving up an ox and carving up a human body. Regardless, the act had its desired effect and “all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah” (20:1).

It is really sad to note that this is the most unified Israel is at any point in Judges. No judge was able to muster a fighting force of “400,000 men on foot that drew the sword” (20:2). The text emphasises time and again that the people had gathered “as one man” (20:1, 8, 11). What unfolded when the people gathered “as one man” is very disappointing, however.

The Levite suddenly found himself with a captive audience and so he began spinning his tale. It was, however, quite the spin, because the author’s account and the Levite’s recollection do not exactly align.

And the people of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this evil happen?” And the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. And the leaders of Gibeah rose against me and surrounded the house against me by night. They meant to kill me, and they violated my concubine, and she is dead. So I took hold of my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel, for they have committed abomination and outrage in Israel. Behold, you people of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.”

(Judges 20:3–7)

Observe the Levite’s shading of the truth. In the account of chapter 19, “worthless fellows” beat the door down (19:22); in the Levite’s version, “the leaders of Gibeah” were the culprits (20:4). In the author’s account the men’s goal was to “know” the man (19:22); in the Levite’s account, “they meant to kill me” (20:4). The author recounts that the Levite “seized his concubine and made her go out to them” (19:25), but the Levite’s version claims that “they violated my concubine” (20:4) and that “they [had] committed abomination and outrage in Israel” (20:6). In short, he portrayed himself as the innocent victim of a terrible crime.

It wasn’t exactly the whole truth. But it was very effective because the people, “as one man” committed to taking revenge on Gibeah (20:8–11).

Before we proceed, we should pause to consider the biblical principle known as lex talionis: the law of just retribution. This law is set out for us in Leviticus 24:17–22:

Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbour, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.

(Leviticus 24:17–22)

God commanded that the punishment for a crime should fit the crime: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, etc. God’s law did not allow for unjust retribution. In biblical law, a slap in the face, for example, may not be repaid with capital punishment. In keeping with that law, the “worthless fellows” who had gang raped and murdered the concubine ought to have paid with their lives: life for life. To go beyond that (by, for example, punishing those who were not guilty for that particular crime) was an overreach. Everything in the remainder of the story screams of overreach.

The people, “as one man,” called for the leaders of Benjamin to hand over the culprits for punishment. The Benjamite leaders refused (20:12–16) and instead waged war against their brothers. Three skirmishes followed in which massive loss of life occurred: 22,000 Israelites in the first skirmish (20:18–23); 18,000 Israelites in the second skirmish (20:24–28); and 25,000 Benjamites in the third skirmish (20:29–46). Note that the third skirmish is described twice (20:29–36a and 20:36b–46), so the 25,100 of 20:35 is the same as the 25,000 of 20:46.

God is, for the most part, left in the background during these skirmishes, except for a brief, going-through-the-motions nod in each case. In the first raid against Gibeah, the people assumed the rightness of their action without asking God, and only asked which tribe should attack first. Before the second attack, they paused to ask whether they were doing the right thing but the fact that they even asked the question leaves us wondering what they were thinking. Should they attack their brothers while there are still Canaanites in the land to drive out? Surely everything should be done to resolve the matter without more bloodshed than was necessary? It was only at their third enquiry that God assured them of victory and Benjamin was punished for its aggression against Israel (20:35).

By the end of it all, 65,000 Israelite soldiers lay dead. And the Canaanites, we can assume, were looking on in absolute bemusement. These Israelites, who had filled the Canaanites with dread, according to the early chapters of Joshua, were now turning on each other. Israel’s finest moment of unity resulted in the greatest Israelite death toll in the entire book. How tragic that God’s people would rather unite to fight each other than to fight their enemies. Do you sense the loss of ethical and social moorings? God’s word was not guiding them. It was tragic. And yet how often this has been repeated! (But more on that in a moment.)

Israel was not finished. Blood was still boiling and so, leaving six hundred Benjamite soldiers who had escaped (20:47), “the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire” (20:48). We are not told how many tens of thousands more were killed in this mop-up operation, but Benjamin was left with nothing but six hundred men cowering at the rock of Rimmon.

What was God doing in all of this? Why did he allow such bloodshed? The text does not answer all our questions, but we should come away with a tangible sense that things had gone horribly awry. Even if we grant that the Benjamites should pay for instituting war against Israel, surely we cannot condone the widespread slaughter of men, women, children, and animals throughout Benjamin? This started with a demand to punish the men who raped and murdered the concubine. It ended in genocide. There seems to be a clear overreach. This was not an eye for an eye. This was the lives of tens of thousands for the life of one. Israel’s moral compass had gone haywire. And now we are set up for one final moral atrocity. If you are tempted to think that the misogyny recounted in chapter 19 was an isolated incident, buckle your seatbelt.

The Unexpected Consequences

Having decimated the entire tribe of Benjamin, save for six hundred men, Israel realised they had created a problem. Four months had passed (20:47). Emotions had settled but a new dilemma presented itself: The six hundred remaining Benjamites had no wives and all Israel had made a vow when they first heard the Levite’s story that they would not give their daughters in marriage to a Benjamite (21:1). There seemed no way for Benjamin to repopulate. There were no Benjamite women left, and no matter how capable their warriors were, they could not repopulate without women. What could be done?

The first thing that could be done is that they could blame God for this mess. “O LORD, the God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel, that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?” (21:3). They had created a mess and now they lamented that God had not magically delivered them from the consequences.

As cathartic as blaming God might have been, it didn’t actually solve the problem. A concrete solution was needed. They could not escape their solemn oath but perhaps if a particular clan had not been present when the oath was made, they could create a loophole. A quick survey of the attendance sheet revealed that nobody from Jabesh-gilead had been present when the oath was taken. They sent 12,000 of their bravest soldiers to Jabesh-gilead to slaughter the entire city, except for any virgins they might find. The grieving virgins would then be forced into marriage with the Benjamites. Problem solved!

Problem solved, that is, except that only four hundred virgins could be found. They were two hundred women short. But then someone had another ingenious idea. There was an annual feast at Shiloh (not to be confused with any of the annual feasts commanded by Moses) and during this feast, young women went into the vineyards to dance. The two hundred single Benjamites were encouraged to go hide in the vineyard. Each should look out for a particularly attractive young dancer, rush out to kidnap her, and force her into marriage. They would then persuade the young women’s fathers that this was necessary. In the end, all two hundred kidnapped a new wife.

Are you sickened yet? The entire drama started with the grave mistreatment of one woman and ends by noting that this was pretty much standard fare. No #MeToo movement needed to uncover the problem. Women, created to be man’s equal—created as man’s necessary ally—were treated as nothing more than possessions throughout this story. The fallout was mass slaughter in a senseless civil war and self-righteous blaming of God for the problems that the people themselves created.

The Unchanging Chaos

There is a note of hope in our text, but we will get to that in a moment. Before we do that, let’s pause to consider the negative lessons we should learn from this story.

We must remember that the events recorded here were recorded among the people of God. This is not the story of a pagan people, as it was in Genesis 19 with the story of Sodom. This is about new Sodom. This is about the people of God, lacking godly leadership, becoming just like Sodom. And it is a temptation that we all face if we do not guard our hearts. Dale Ralph Davis captures it well:

The ultimate perversity of every man is demanding the right to be his own lord, insisting on following the dictates of his own glands. The problem is not sins but sin, that declaration of independence—whether stated viciously or politely—which says, “Yes, I do want to be like God, calling my own shots.”

That attitude is at the root of human sin. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5–6). We all want to be like God, calling our own shots. Judges 19–21 serves as a cautionary tale, showing us exactly how things turn out when we ignore God’s authority and call the shots ourselves.

The terrible sadness in this text is that it still happens so much in the church of Jesus Christ. I cannot help but see echoes of the contemporary church in this story.

The Me Too movement began quite inconspicuously in 2006 when Tarana Burke began using the phrase to help women who had experienced abuse to stand up for themselves. It gained traction very slowly until Alyssa Milano began using it in 2017 as a hashtag on Twitter. Suddenly, stories began crawling out the woodwork and it became obvious that this was a far more widespread problem than we had liked to think.

It was not terribly long before the #ChurchToo hashtag started trending, as Christian women began speaking out about abuses they had faced in the church. Again, things burgeoned to make it clear pretty early on that this was a far wider spread problem in the church than Christians liked to think. Sadly, it hasn’t always been handled well.

I don’t want to take a deep dive into allegations of abuse in the church today, but I will say this: Our text should remind us that it should come as no surprise when widespread allegations of abuse take place in a professing church that increasingly wants to cast off God’s authority and allow every man to do what is right in his own eyes. When godly leadership is not exercised or acknowledged, religious chaos soon turns into moral chaos.

Let me just state the obvious: Women were created in the image of God as necessary allies to men. When Genesis describes the woman as man’s “helper” (Genesis 2:20) it uses a word that is most frequently used to describe Yahweh as Israel’s helper. As Israel could not do what God expected of it without divine help, so men cannot fulfil their God-given calling by ignoring the help of the women that God has given to them. To correctly image the glory of God in this world, we need both men and women. To properly fulfil God’s mission as a church, we need the ministry of men and women. There is no excuse for men to abuse positions of power over women.

But that’s not the only moral failure we see in our text. The second major ethical failure of God’s people was inexcusable and bloody infighting. The land remained to be conquered. Instead, Israelite turned against Israelite and tens of thousands of Israelites were killed by fellow Israelites while the Canaanites looked on in bemusement.

If you think this doesn’t happen in the contemporary church, you’re not on social media. The dumpster fire of Judges finds strong competition in the dumpster fire of “Christian” Twitter. It’s so easy for Christians to hide behind their keyboards and smartphones and to viciously attack one another while the world, which needs to be reached with the gospel, watches on in bemusement. It’s tragic how Christians will so often unite into camps to fight each other but will not unite to reach the lost with the gospel.

Sadly, Christians also fall prey to a third moral failure in our text: the tendency to blame God. Far too often, Christians make a mess of things and then expect God to magically intervene and solve the problem. And they get angry when he does not. Perhaps you have spent wastefully and now complain that you lack financial security. Perhaps you failed to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord but now you blame God for not saving your children. Perhaps you’ve neglected the ordinary means of grace—regular church attendance, Bible reading, prayer, Communion, etc.—and now complain to God and to others that you feel so unprepared for the trial you are undergoing. God is gracious, but he is not a God to be used and blamed at will.

In so many ways, the contemporary church shows glimpses of living in a Judges 19–21 world. It’s tragic.

The Undying Covenant

But I said that there is a hint of hope in this text, and there is. As messy as things were here, look at the closing verses:

And the people of Benjamin did so and took their wives, according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried off. Then they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and lived in them. And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

(Judges 21:23–25)

As we have said a number of times in our study in Judges, lack of godly leadership was a problem. But even the godliest of leaders couldn’t fully solve the problem. When we read about “no king in Israel” we immediately begin thinking of David. Indeed, the very next book in the Bible—Ruth—points us to David. There was no king, but a king was coming.

And yet consider David’s story. Did David not fall into the very sin that is so obviously highlighted here? Did he not use his power as king to get what he wanted out of a woman (Bathsheba), and then to kill her husband? If the hope here lies in a human king, things are not looking up.

I want to point your attention to something else in this text: not the king (or lack thereof), but to “the inheritance” that is twice mentioned here. Isn’t it incredible that, despite the awful mess we have seen in this chapter, Israel still had an inheritance? And why? Because God had made a promise and he was faithful to his promise.

The hope in this text lies in the faithfulness of God, not the leadership of a human king. There was a promise that a particular offspring of a particular woman was coming to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). The channel of that offspring had been narrowed to the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). Later, it would be narrowed to the family of David and despite David’s great sin and Solomon’s idolatry after him, God remained committed to his promise. The faithlessness of his people could not derail his faithfulness.

God remained faithful until godly leadership—the ultimate godly leadership—eventually came to Bethlehem in Judah. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He lived a perfect life—always treating women as God intended, being a source of peace rather than infighting for his people, and not accusing God of any wrongdoing. He died to save his people from their sins and now promises that, despite its failings, the church is destined to become new Jerusalem, not new Sodom

Israel lacked godly leadership and their religion and their morals spiralled into chaos. We need to do better. And we can do better because the God who promised Israel an inheritance has made great promises to us in Christ. Let’s embrace those promises and live lives that are characteristic of new Jerusalem rather than new Sodom.