Might makes right? Judges 19-21


Today’s reading: Judges 19-21.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” So ends the book of Judges and its downward cycles of abandoning God, suffering oppression, crying out to God for release, and finding deliverance. If you’re wondering what it looks like to live without a moral standard, the final chapters of Judges give a good example. When everyone does what he thinks is right, rather than following a divine standard, the strong determine what is right and the weak suffer for it.

A Levite man travels to reunite with his concubine who has left him and gone back to her childhood home. A concubine was like a wife except that her children would not receive any inheritance from their father. The Levites were the overseers of the religious activities of Israel, but nothing about this man hints at any religious devotion or activity. After days of socializing with his wife’s father, the Levite, his wife, and servant head towards home. They seek shelter in the town of Gibeah among the tribe of Benjamin. Rather than providing hospitality, the Benjaminites ignore them. A man from the Levite’s country finally provides a place to spend the night, but then a group of thugs demands that the Levite be sent out so that they can sexually abuse him. The host offers to send his own daughter out, and the Levite ends up sending his wife. The thugs rape her and leave her dead on the door step. The Levite returns home with her body, which he then cuts into pieces and sends to the tribes of Israel, asking them to avenge his loss.

When everyone does what seems right in his own eyes, it seems no one does what is right. Look at the tally of abuses in the first part of this story:

  • a religious leader who shows no signs of devotion to God
  • a people that show no hospitality to a stranger
  • continual discrimination against women, treating them as objects
  • rape
  • sexual perversion
  • misuse of a dead body for emotional effect

The Levite’s action enrages the nation, as he wanted, and leads to war between the Benjaminites and the other tribes. The Benjaminites are given a chance to turn over the guilty men who murdered the concubine, but they refuse. In the ensuing battle 40,000 Israelites and 25,000 Benjaminites die. Only six hundred Benjaminite men out of the whole tribe survive. All the women and children are killed.

Who do we blame for this horrendous loss of life? The Levite who did nothing to foster devotion to God, who failed to protect his wife, and who stoked the anger of his nation? The men of Gibeah who threatened the Levite and then raped and murdered his wife? The tribe of Benjamin who would not hold the murderers accountable? There are plenty who share responsibility, and in each case the guilty party did what seemed right to them rather than following God’s standard. Each one used their position of strength to force their will on the weaker party. Might determined what happened, rather than right guiding their action.

Our time seems more and more like the time of Judges. Objective standards of any sort are criticized as oppressive and outdated. Each man is given liberty to judge what is right and wrong. Absolutes are denied; only the internal feelings of the individual matter. Look around you then, and see how strength and power determine what happens. It may be physical strength that allows one person to abuse another, or political strength that determines what activities are allowed, or economic strength that says who will have opportunity, or the strength of the media that teaches what the current generation will believe.

But we are hopeful, because the philosophy of Judges is not the final word. Grace is coming. Redemption draws near. The book of Ruth will show a better way.

Image by AlphaBetaUnlimited on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

13 thoughts on “Might makes right? Judges 19-21

  1. An interesting discussion at dinner tonight: is man’s worst behavior a proof of God’s existence? Is the behavior of nonbelievers (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) compared to believers (Spanish Inquisition, slavery) an example that the Godless resort to worse behavior than Christians, thereby proving the existence of God. It is certainly an interesting question, but probably in the end not a proof. What this might prove is that we are an imperfect and broken people, stained by the taint of original sin, and badly in need of redemption. So perhaps rather than looking at our worst behavior, observing the negation of original sin by grace might be the ultimate proof of God. But I am still thankful for St. Thomas for laying out his five proofs.

    • Christians have no monopoly on bad behavior, but the world holds us to a higher standard. Perhaps they should. God should also be given glory for the good we do.
      As for proofs, I think the most convincing argument is our own testimony, giving reasons for the hope that is within us.

    • ____

      I’m not looking for a fight; I’m just a fellow Christian looking for the truth.

      Adolf Hitler was a Catholic.
      Slavery is defended in several OT text.
      The Spanish Inquisition was all about trying to convert people TO Christianity.

      Christains have committed abominable acts, too.

      • Christians have done bad things. When they do those bad things they are usually giving in to their own personal demons – prejudice, greed, lust, etc. Surrendering to God’s leadership brings the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome those demons, but many in the church haven’t surrendered. They are just attenders.

  2. Yes, St. Peter charges us to be prepared to give that when needed. But to the atheist that is likely to be unconvincing. St. Thomas lays down arguments that appeal to anyone capable of basic logic. Not that they will convince all. Consider Emile Zola who stated should all the ailing be healed by the waters or Lourdes, he would still not believe in miracles. There is no cure for a mind that closed.

  3. So true. But the Spirit is not going to force His way in, there has to be an opening and an invitation. Jesus may be at the door knocking, but we have to open the door. We have to say, “Come in, Lord”. The Thomist arguments can be that opening for some. For others it could be an act of Charity, For one young atheist, now a priest, it was the simple gesture of the sign of the cross at the university mess hall. I find it comforting that for all the highly intellectual proofs against God being taught in our ivory towers today, Thomas had them defeated with his profound logic long ago.

  4. I believe the two go something like this: 1) if there were a God, He would not allow bad things to happen to good people, and 2) a good God would not create evil, and since evil exists, there cannot be a good God. The five proofs are the arguments set down by Aquinas. Here is one of them:

    The First Way: Argument from Motion

    Our senses prove that some things are in motion.

    Things move when potential motion becomes actual motion.

    Only an actual motion can convert a potential motion into an actual motion.

    Nothing can be at once in both actuality and potentiality in the same respect (i.e., if both actual and potential, it is actual in one respect and potential in another).

    Therefore nothing can move itself.

    Therefore each thing in motion is moved by something else.

    The sequence of motion cannot extend ad infinitum.

    Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

  5. Perhaps this is what you were getting at:

    The apologetic task cannot be limited to developing arguments. In some way we must realize that apologetics involves enabling people to glimpse something of the glory and beauty of God. It is these, not slick arguments, that will ultimately convert and hold people. True apologetics engages not only the mind but also the heart and the imagination, and we impoverish the gospel if we neglect the impact it has on all of our God-given faculties.
    – Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect, p. 88.

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