An Awful Story with a Hopeful End
And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first” (Judges 20:18).”
In three places (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1) we’ve read the same statement of the problem in Israel during the period of the Judges: there was no king. Today’s passage is perhaps the clearest example of our need for Christ to rule in our midst as king—and what happens when He doesn’t.
We see for a second time (cf. Judges 17-18) a minister of God—called to lead in worship and embody truth—failing to do so. Two observations come to mind. First, he’s “sojourning in remote parts”, which suggests he either can’t find support for his calling among other tribes or refuses to engage in the work. We see another bad sign: “he took to himself a concubine” (v.2) who “was unfaithful to him” (v.3). It’s almost certain he treated her badly since she was not only unfaithful to him, but fled from him (v.2-3).
Having convinced her to return with him from her father’s house, they depart and are confronted with a typical ancient world problem for travelers. Where would they spend the night? The Levite says, in v.12 “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel.” But, as the Levite reasoned, the Lord’s people would treat us well—boy would he be wrong—so he journeyed on to “Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin (v.14).”
There’s an interesting interaction as the Levite and his party arrive in Gibeah that reveals a few things. First, we read again that “the men of the place were Benjaminites (v.16).” We also read the place was very inhospitable—a flaw that would only be magnified as the night unfolded. Verse 18 reports no one had taken them into their house, despite their abundance of provisions. In an act of mercy, a sojourner who met the Levite invited them into his home for the evening.
What follows sheds light on why she left him in the first place. We see depravity in every direction we look: a father offering his own daughter to their brutal desires; leaders of Gibeah ravishing a concubine in place of the Levite; and the Levite’s unspeakable brutality that continues throughout the narrative (so much for the Levites providing order and stability).
It all came to a turning point after the Levite’s concubine died. He divided her remains in a bizarre call to arms. Every tribe gathered and demanded that Benjamin turn over the men of Gibeah. Why Benjamin refused this demand is shocking and callous, yet typical of the time. What we see in this section is the subtle connection between the need for a king to promote justice, and the lack of justice in Benjamin’s tribe.
Where would the nation find justice? In Judges 19-20, it would come from the tribe of Judah (20:18) as they’re chosen by God to lead the nation in war against Benjamin, the tribe identified with sin and injustice. The writer of Judges wants his readers (who read this during and after King David’s reign) to connect the tribe of Benjamin with King Saul, the most famous of all Benjaminites.
The meaning of Judges is not simply that a king was needed to bring order. Not just any king would do: the right king was needed. And the right king would not be Saul, the Benjamite; it would be David, the Judahite. Those reading Judges for the first time would see this clearer than we can because it was written in their period—a time when the nation was torn between David’s house and Saul’s.
But a more important connection for us reading Judges would never occur to them. We need to trust not David, but the Son of David as our king. He not only will bring order to our nation and world, He is currently “making all things new (Rev 21:5).”
While injustice still threatens our world and culture, while petty kings still rise and fall, join God’s people this week in celebrating what will never change: the eternal King and His resurrection from the greatest injustice in human history.