This is the written portion of the sermon preached at Albemarle Reformed Church. The audio portion can be hear here.
Confronting the Cultural Evil of the Day
We live in a fallen world. No man or woman can deny that. And as a consequence of our fallen humanity we often encounter the vile and atrocious acts of other men. Just recently, we had a young woman in our area tried and convicted of giving birth to her baby in her bedroom at home, stabbing the newborn to death, and then wrapping the body of the infant in a blanket and hiding it in her closet. What a vile act! We see a tragic incident like this and we shake our heads in disgust. But what of the evil that goes on around us everyday that we remain silent about? All to often we have become a “part” of the culture; not a part in a bad way, necessarily. But a part that has become desensitized to its evil. We move about in our day-to-day lives and never give a second thought or a second glance at what has occurred.
For us Christians this should not be so! We have been commanded by our Lord to be salt and light (Mt 5:13, ff). We have been called to be children of the light and expose the works of darkness (Eph 5:8-11). But if we are too busy with our own affairs how shall we do this? Paul warned Timothy not to entangle himself in the affairs of this world, for one who is a soldier of Christ is concerned about the affairs of Christ (2Tim 2:4). the business of confronting sin is the business of our God. Why? Because Christ came to save sinners. He has instituted the proclamation of His Word, the Gospel, to be the instrument and the means by which He will save souls. The Gospel is good news, but yet it cannot be good news without a person knowing why it is good news. If a person cannot see himself under God's abiding wrath (John 3:36) then he will never know the why of this good news. The only way a person can feel the full weight of condemnation is through the revealing of sin, which comes through the preaching of the Word, which reveals this condemnation.
God gave instructions to Ezekiel to confront the people about their sin (Ezek 3:17-18). If God warned a wicked person that they would die because of their iniquity and Ezekiel failed to tell them then God would hold him accountable for his blood. And if this is true for one man, how much more true would it be for an entire nation? God is merciful and desires to pardon unrepentant and rebellious sinners. He desires to use His own people to confront the evil of their day. In our text this morning we shall examine how the Israelites went about confronting a vicious act of violence. Although their confrontation may have not been perfect, and although their motives may not been pure, they still did what God required; at least in the very minimum of confronting evil.
vv.1-3 1 Then 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. 2 And the chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 men on foot that drew the sword. 3 (Now the people of Benjamin heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the people of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this evil happen?”
These first three verses continue the story of chapter 19. In fact, verse 30 of chapter 19 is an echo of verse 7 of our text, this morning. The first thing we notice about the text is the phrase, “from Dan to Beersheba.” This particular phrase is simply a euphemism to say that all available men rallied themselves at Mizpah.i The entire assembly came together because of the ghastly way in which the concubine had been cut up. It is safe to assume that every available fighting person would indeed gather to find the cause of such a thing. We are also told that they gathered at Mizpah. There are many areas with the name of Mizpah in the Bible, however this particular Mizpeh, according to one source, was commonly used where the people were wont to convene on national emergencies.ii But too, note that we are told that they gather unto the LORD. This suggests that there was still somewhat of a religious influence or leadership at that time. Remembering that Judges is not a chronological book it is not too hard to fathom that after Joshua's death and before the first judge was raised up to deliver them there was still some semblance of Jehovah worship present. The fact that there were Levites among the people make this almost certain.
At verse 3 the author interjects with somewhat of a parenthetical statement that the tribe of Benjamin, the offenders, have gained knowledge of this gathering. By way of this statement, I believe the author to be “setting up” the ensuing battle, so to speak. It is almost certain that they know what is coming and that they should begin to make preparations to meet their kinsmen in battle.
vv. 4-7 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 Behold, you people of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.”
After all are gathered the Levite is given an opportunity to explain his own actions. Why is that he has sent for the people? What ghastly thing has happened to cause such a reaction as this? The Levite explains the situation that precedes us in chapter 19. He tells how he had been in the company of another when the men of the city surrounded them and demanded that he be put out of the house in order to force themselves upon him. Yet, it was not him that they violated; it was his concubine. Verse 6 describes what the motives of the Benjamites had been: murder! We may look at this and think, “surely, it was not intentional. The woman's death was a result of the abuse but they had no intention of actually killing her.” But the Hebrew word, רצח raw-tsakh, makes it very clear. The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible states that the action of this word is intentional murder.iii It is the fact that the men did not care whether the victim lived or died, and that they did nothing to stop it from happening that makes the murder intentional.
Verse 7 then finds the Levite calling for action. The word 'behold' is a word that means to hear and consider of all the things that have been said. In short, he was asking for retribution.
vv. 8-11 8 And all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, and none of us will return to his house. 9 But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot, 10 and we will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the people, that when they come they may repay Gibeah of Benjamin, for all the outrage that they have committed in Israel.” 11 So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man.
The people agree that action must be taken! While we may ask of the motives of the actions taken we still keep in mind that there was some form of justice and religion in the land. Dr. R. A. Watson, one of the contributors of The Expositor's Bible, states this:
It may be asked how, while polygamy was practised among the Israelites, the sin of Gibeah could rouse such indignation and awaken the signal vengeance of the united tribes. The answer is to be found partly in the singular and dreadful device which the indignant husband used in making the deed known. The ghastly symbols of outrage told the tale in a way that was fitted to stir the blood of the whole country. Everywhere the hideous thing was made vivid and a sense of utmost atrocity was kindled as the dissevered members were borne from town to town. It is easy to see that womanhood must have been stirred to the fieriest indignation, and manhood was bound to follow. What woman could be safe in Gibeah where such things were done? And was Gibeah to go unpunished? If so, every Hebrew city might become the haunt of miscreants. Further there is the fact that the woman so foully murdered, though a concubine, was the concubine of a Levite. The measure of sacredness with which the Levites were invested gave to this crime, frightful enough in any view, the colour of sacrilege. How degenerate were the people of Gibeah when a servant of the altar could be treated with such foul indignity and driven to so extraordinary an appeal for justice? There could be no blessing on the tribes if they allowed the doers or condoners of this thing to go unpunished. Every Levite throughout the land must have taken up the cry. From Bethel and other sanctuaries the call for vengeance would spread and echo till the nation was roused. Thus, in part at least, we can explain the vehemence of feeling which drew together the whole fighting force of the tribes.iv
So we see that the situation was definitely one that needed to be dealt with. The people refuse to go back to their homes. They have come gathered and made themselves ready for war. And in making preparations, all the elders gathered send out the battle call to muster the fighting men. And we are told in verse 11 that all the men were united as one man against the Benjamites.
vv. 12-17 12 And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What evil is this that has taken place among you? 13 Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. 14 Then the people of Benjamin came together out of the cities to Gibeah to go out to battle against the people of Israel. 15 And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. 16 Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. 17 And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered 400,000 men who drew the sword; all these were men of war.
The fighting men begin their march on Gibeah. The elders do what is expected. They first appeal to the Benjajmites' sense of justice. They demand that the violators be handed over in order that the would purge evil from Israel. This phrase is in keeping with the Law of God as it is used 11 times throughout the book of Deuteronomy outlining the form of capitol punishment that was to be imposed for certain crimes. The idea behind this type of punishment was that those who witnessed the deaths would fear the LORD and know that the same fate could come upon them if they committed the same crimes. The Israelites' demand is noteworthy of two things:
- The word translated as 'worthless fellows' in the ESV is actually 'sons of Belial.' The Hebrew word itself means to be worthless, however it has a little stronger connotation in this context. What the Benjamites did went beyond worthless and into the realm of complete and utter ungodliness. In 2 Corinthians 6:15 the apostle Paul connects this same word with one of the characteristics of Satan. The strongest sense of the word in this context, then, should be the proper rendering.
- The Word 'purge' in verse 13 is a Piel verb. A Piel stem actually intensifies the verb's meaning. It is the difference between 'run away' and 'flee.' The idea here, is that the Israelites plan on carrying the Law to its full extent. We can easily see this motive when they tell the Benjamites that they offenders must be punished by death, as the Law required. (Deut 22:25-27).
Even after being reasoned with, the people of Benjamin, as we are told, would not listen to the voice of their brothers. This ties in with verse 3 as the author now reveals the motives of the Benjamites upon their hearing that the people were gathered at Mizpah. It seems that they had suspected this very thing, which makes this incident all the more tragic. Instead of dealing with the offense in the proper way they chose to harbor and even protect the guilty parties. And so the end of our text finds the two opposing forces squaring off against each other. The Benjamites with 26,000 men and 700 who were proficient with a sling; and the rest of Israel with 400,000 men, all who are said to be men of war; that is, they were experienced warriors. They had seen battle before and they were going to see it again. Sad indeed that this confrontation of sin would result in a full-blown blood bath!
The Israelites confronted the evil of their day. I reiterate the point that their motives may have not been perfect and their methods may have been less than ideal. But they did do something. We too, are called to confront the evil of our day. There is no shortage of it as we see it all the time. However, how do we go about it? What is the best way to do this. I can only point to two things this morning that we should keep in mind:
- Expect resistance. Just as the Israelites met with resistance when they confronted the evil of the Benjamites, we too should expect no less. Sin is always ready to justify itself and those who practice it will, like Benjamin, harbor and protect it. They will revile you, and curse you, and mistreat you. Just as our Lord said, If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign5 those of his household. (Mt 10:25) Too often, we flee in the face of resistance. But there are times when we must stand our ground, stand firm, and not waver in order that God's will be accomplished.
- Our battle is spiritual. While the Isrealites were about to fight a physical battle, Christians will always be engaged in the spiritual war. We have been given the Word of God which is mighty to tear down strongholds (2 Cor 10:4). Spiritual wars call for spiritual tactics. The tactic we have is the gospel. The gospel is, as Romans 1:16 states, the power of God unto salvation. I think that we often times overlook or brush over that statement. It is the POWER of God. The pure gospel has the power to raise a dead soul to life! You don't get much more powerful than raising the dead. So many people are so wrapped up in the physical side of miracles that they completely forget that, as believers, God has given them the mandate to raise the spiritually dead through the power of His Word! And the reason we have that power is because it is the only thing that can break the resistance of sin.
Let us, as the Israelites, muster ourselves together under the banner of the gospel. And let us boldly go forth and confront sin in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.
ii McClintock, John, and James Strong. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol 6, pg. 389.
iii Benner, Jeff. The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, pg. 448. Jeff A. Benner, 2005.
iv An Exposition of the Bible: A Series of Expositions Covering All the Books of the Old and New Testament, vol 1, pg. 830. S. S. Scranton, 1907.