Amazing isn’t it? The Bible didn’t have to include stories like this one. It could’ve just included heroic stories of godly men and women. It could have scrubbed out the shadier episodes of important people in Israel’s history, but instead it gives us unvarnished truth — the good and the bad — as it applies to our lives and spiritual health. Today’s reading is brutally shocking and seems to layer shocking behavior on top of shocking behavior. But I think it demonstrates how terrible life can be and is without the Lord’s guidance, commands, laws, and principles in place.
We don’t really appreciate the Christianized culture that we live in. I’m not talking about how our culture is a Christian one, it’s not; but it has been Christianized by centuries of Christian influence. And now it’s hard to imagine behavior like we read in Judges 19, where men are so wickedly without restraint that such a homosexual attack could be initiated, that a man would offer his own wife (slave or not) as a rape alternative, that this would go on all night, or that after her death the Levite would virtually butcher his dead wife to circulate her parts as a call to arms. Christianity has radically changed the world to be more gentle and civilized. Because of the general adoption Christian values we recoil at acts of brutality, even if we claim atheism, that were considered fairly common in ancient times.
But the tide of worldliness is changing the definition of what is acceptable these days. Tolerance of sin is a slippery slope, greased by the lie that tolerance of this one sin certainly won’t lead to anything worse — it always does. I’ve a friend who was altogether certain that I was crazy to say, in the 1980’s, that tolerance of homosexuality would ultimately lead to same sex marriage — “It’ll never happen. You Christians are such alarmists!” It seemed so incredible. But now, some of us are flabbergasted that same sex marriage is not only legal in a number of states, but it has even become impolitic to speak against it too strongly. Who knows what new, unthinkable sin waits around the corner to become the poster-child for tolerance and inclusiveness. We don’t believe that people could get “that depraved”, because we live in a Christianized world. But a little reading in the Bible about where the morality of ancient people used to be and we can suddenly begin to appreciate both what Christianity has done for the world and how low it really could go — much lower than even the most progressive (boy, there’s an oxymoron) would want to see.
The story in our reading today, of course, doesn’t get a whole lot better with time — it descends into a terrible fratricide of a civil war, that leads to the slaughter of everyone of their brothers in Jabesh-gilead to supply the surviving men of Benjamin with wives and even a sanctioned kidnapping of women for the same purpose. The point of this whole sad story seems to be simply that ignoring the Lord’s commands leads to a descent into Hell — both here and hereafter. Notice the chain of events. Have you ever found yourself drawn into a chain of sin — one bad decision made to cover another after another. Ample reason to repent after the first sin, don’t you think?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.