In those days Israel had no king.
Judges 19:1 (NIV)
I observe of late that I live in violent times. Violent crime is on the rise in cities along with snatch-and-grab gang robberies. Political extremists on both sides call for violence against their enemies on social media, and political protests on both sides have turned violent. We are all aware of the latest in a long string of mass school shootings that occurred just a few weeks ago. A few months ago, in Green Bay Wisconsin of all places, a woman high on meth strangled her lover during sex, then dismembered the man and hid the pieces throughout his mother’s basement, leaving his head in a bucket. The murderer appears to have found pleasure in the act. She asked the police officers who took her into custody if they “knew what it was like to love something so much that you kill it.” The first time I read about it, I found the details so disturbing that it was hard to stomach.
That gruesome event was brought to mind as I read today’s chapter. This chapter is another one of the more difficult ones to stomach in all of the Great Story. An unnamed Levite finds himself and his concubine the guests of a fellow Hebrew in the town of Gibeah. In an act that is a direct parallel to what happened to Lot in the city of Sodom in Genesis 19, a bunch of men of the town beat on the door of the host and demand that the Levite be sent out to take part in their ancient version of a rave. The Levite sends his concubine out to appease them. After being gang-raped through the night, he finds her dead on the threshold of the host’s door the next morning. Appalled by what has happened, he cuts her body into twelve pieces and disperses the parts to the twelve Hebrew tribes to shock the nation and explain what had happened.
So, why is this even in the Great Story, and what am I supposed to glean from this? Meditating on this question, I came to a couple of conclusions in the quiet this morning.
First, the author includes this horrific story for a reason and he gives me the clue in the first line of the story: “In those days Israel had no king.” This is a line the author has repeated in each of the last two chapters. This is the theme of his book’s epilogue. He is sharing with his readers the social breakdown that occurred when there was no strong civic or religious authority.
Second, the entire story is about hospitality in the ancient Near East, which was a social expectation of such magnitude in that culture that we can’t really relate to it today. The Levites’ father-in-law in the first half of the chapter exemplifies “go the extra mile” hospitality to his guest. This stands out in stark contrast to his host in Gibeah in the gruesome second half of the chapter who should have protected his guest and not allowed the concubine’s rape to happen.
Finally, the bloody act of the Levite in dismembering his concubine’s body and sending it to the tribes was a call to action. It was meant to shock the nation into doing something about what was happening in their society.
This brings me back to my own times, in which I don’t have to look very hard to find acts of violence not that much different than the ones in today’s chapter. And, in the Levite’s call to action, I hear echoes of what our society is proclaiming right now: “We have to do something!”
So what do I take away from this?
Personally, I’m reminded of the human need for authority in both my social and spiritual life. Being a follower of Jesus means that Jesus and His teachings are my spiritual compass. As I submit to doing my best to follow His example and His teaching, I find myself with spiritual and moral guardrails on my thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. This even includes honoring, and being subject to, my civic authorities. Without those moral guardrails, I can only imagine how my life might cycle out of control.
But also, as a citizen of this representative republic, I play a part in this society and I need to do my part to participate in the civic and social process by speaking out, letting my voice be heard, and voting for strong leaders who will lead by action and example.
By the way, I voted yesterday.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.