When civil and moral order disintegrate, chaos ensues. We see this happening today, but it’s not new. It shows up in an Old Testament story presented in Judges 19-21. Here are some thoughts for us to consider.
There are two key statements that drive the story.
- In those days when there was no king in Israel
- Everyone did what was right in his own eyes
They are like bookends. The first appears as the first verse in chapter 19 and the second as the last verse in chapter 21.
And the unfolding story between them reveals the most horrible acts that humans can inflict on one another. It demonstrates the moral degradation and evil capacity of a sinful heart with no civil or moral restraint.
When civil and moral order disintegrate and no one is in charge
During the period of the Judges, the 12 tribes of Israel were essentially 12 independent clans surrounded by enemies who raided and oppressed them. The Judges were military leaders that God raised up to unite the tribes during this time to fight these enemies. Essentially, the Judges kept the nation together enough so it wasn’t wiped out by its enemies.
But there was no civil law or governing authority except within each tribe. Or a consistent, moral standard guided by the Jewish religion.
Within this context is the story of a Levite man who takes a woman as a concubine. But when she leaves him and returns to live with her father, he follows to win her back. And during the return trip home, they stop for the night in the town of Gibeah in the region inhabited by the tribe of Benjamin.
When civil and moral order disintegrate and there’s no moral conscience
There weren’t many accommodations for travelers during this time. So the Jewish people had a hospitality custom. When you were in Jewish town, you waited in the town square and it was custom for a town resident to take you in for the night. So the Levite and his concubine waited in the square and finally, a man returning from working in the field offered to put them up for the night.
But worthless men of the city surrounded the house with evil intent for the Levite. Hospitality rules made the resident personally responsible for his guest’s welfare. So he pleaded with the evil men to stop, but they refused. And there was no one to call for help.
From here, the story recounts a list of moral atrocities.
- Evil men from Gibeah ignored a time honored, moral custom
- The sexual abuse and murder of the Levite’s concubine
- Dismemberment of a dead body
- The tribe of Benjamin refused to hand the perpetrators over to Israel for justice
- A war is fought between Israel and tribe of Benjamin that cost thousands of lives on both sides
- After the war, Israel had to make an unethical provision to keep the tribe of Benjamin from extinction
When civil and moral order disintegrate you are primed for destruction
Throughout the Old Testament Israel had a hot and cold relationship with God. When they morally disobeyed, God let enemies conquer and place them under subjection. But when Israel turned back to God, he delivered them.
Rome is another example of how immoral behavior weakens a culture. And many historians cite the increase of immorality in Roman society as contributing factor in its fall. Certainly, the growing level of unrestrained moral and criminal behavior in our nation makes us weaker and more vulnerable to our enemies.
Wonder why God left such a gruesome story in the Bible? Maybe so we can see where our current course is headed.
The Gospel writes a new story
The story in Judges 19-21 is tragic. But it’s not the end. Because a thousand years later, the gospel story brought hope. It’s the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who sacrificed himself for our sin. He redeems us, spiritually transforms us, and empowers us to walk in righteousness. The gospel writes a new story for every person who chooses to follow Jesus.
And as people change from the inside out, heart by heart, society changes for the better. And for a much happier ending.