We have come to the end of our study in the book of Judges, my Fall preaching series “The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, or a Theology of Stupid.” The ending of this very harsh and in-your-face book of the Bible says it all. The Book ends with the verse,
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25; cf. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1).
The book’s conclusion is made up of two epilogues (17:1-18:31 and 19:1-21:25) that are seriously linked together (i.e., Levite stories and women stories and intra-Israel conflicts). These two epilogues do not paint a pretty picture of Israel’s condition at that time in their history. In the second epilogue (chps 19-21), we have two women stories, (1) the gruesome scene of a concubine being cut up in twelve pieces and (2) women being taken forcefully to be married off to the 600 surviving men from the Israel-inflicted slaughter of tribe of Benjamin. These two stories and scenes should shake us, leaving us a little ashamed that we’ve even read them—for none of us, men or women, are guiltless ourselves. There is no closure. No solution to the idolatry–judgment/oppression–cry for YHWH to help–God-sends-a-Judge-to-deliver cycles. No final Judge. No final deliverer. No savior. The end of the Book of Judges is a mess. Perhaps, we’ve heard the stories so many times we’ve become immune; yet, the ending is crafted to leave us speechless.
We should not be surprised by the Ruth story coming right after a storyline of mistreated and used women that culminates in two tragic women stories at the end of Judges—bringing some resolution to the mistreatment of the women in Judges. And in the latter, 1 and 2 Samuel, this makes sequel-sense, for we have the appearance and promises given to David, who will be the first true king of Israel and a type of Christ—bringing a resolution to “there was no King in Israel.” Not to spoil the ending of this blog post—this David points us to Jesus as the true sequel to the book of Judges.
In the scenes of the two epilogues we have one thread that cannot be overlooked, namely tragic stories of women used by men and used for the needs of men. This theme has also been one that has thread itself throughout the Book of Judges, so it should not be that great of a surprise that we are, now, left, at the end, with these tragedies. This is one reason it is not unexpected that our cannon moves us from the Book of Judges right into the book of Ruth, where we are confronted with the tragedy of a young woman, an outsider, a Moabite, who ends up married and gives birth to someone in the line of David. Again . . . you can see the sequel being developed can’t you--Jesus is a descendent of David.
Additionally, it is somewhat serendipitous, meaning I didn’t intend this, but we are starting our Christmas season series of messages with a look at Matthew 1. There is an interesting thread in this genealogy of Jesus that Matthew presents, namely five women: Tamar (Matthew 1: 3; Genesis 38); Rahab (v. 5; Joshua 2), Ruth (v. 5; Ruth 3), Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (v. 6; 2 Samuel 11), and, of course, Mary (v. 16). It should not have surprised us that Ruth is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, linking us to the first sequel after Judges. Is it becoming clearer--Jesus is the sequel to the Book of Judges.
Back to the story of the book of Judges: we are left with such tragedy as we find in these to last stories of a concubine that is abused and left for dead and then horribly mutilated to make a point, and the final scenes of the women who are taken from their homes to meet the needs of the remaining 600 men in the tribe of Benjamin. This is how we are left at the end of the Book of Judges.
How did we get here?
The author of the book of Judges could have chosen any stories to end this book. But as the book ends, we are left asking the question, How did Israel get there?
When we see tragedy or the messed lives all around us, we tend to ask, How did this happen? How did this person wind up so messed up? How in the world did these people end up in place of hurt, despair, tragedy, jail, the streets, rehab, death? Well, it didn’t happen because of their immediate actions just prior to all the mess or tragedy . . . they just didn’t find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . they just didn’t take a wrong turn or have a run of bad luck . . . it all started long, long before tragedy struck.
The tragic stories of these women in Judges didn’t just happen . . . this is where they ended up because there was no King in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In light of the wider, fuller message of Judges, these tragedies happen because there was the absence of true, covenant-obedient leaders. These tragedies happened because Israel didn’t believe and obey God‘s word to them. They didn’t hold to Yahweh as their sovereign King. And, there were no leaders to show them, to model for them, to call them back to loyal obedience to what God had spoken.
Yet, the sequel to the Book of Judges has come. Jesus is the long awaited and anticipated sequel. He is the true Judge, Deliver, Savior that has been longed for. As the women throughout Judges were sacrificed for the needs of men, Jesus has been sacrificed for others. Jesus modeled how to treat women, in his relationships to them and in dying for them. Dorothy Sayers in her book Are Women Human? reminds us that women were the first to respond to Jesus, they were always present at the crucial moments in His ministry, they were there at the cross and the first at the tomb—they had never known a man like this Man. Sayers writes:
Women are still used to meet the needs of men. And these women are also types, for the weak surround us. The concubine is still at the threshold. Yet, the church knows the King, the true and faithful Judge (Savior, Deliverer), Jesus, the Messiah. We do not do what is right in our own eyes, we are not to allow the land, as Israel had, to canaanize us (compromise us, allow Christendom and society mold us). We have Jesus, the Savior. And, we, the church, the local church, are to have leaders who model for us faithful-obedience and call us back to what God has spoken in His Word and through the gospel of His final, true Judge, Jesus, the Messiah.
Missing the point on why the early church condemned and abstained from certain pagan and civil practices, prostitution, and entertainment
I don't smoke cigarettes . . . I don't go to the movies or the theater . . . I don't attend secular concerts . . . don't drink coffee . . . go to the beach . . . go dancing . . . fill in the blank.
These lines and words are familiar to most evangelical and, especially, conservative Christians. Somehow these lines have been incorporated as a part of our idea of sanctification and how we take a stand against the world–in reality how we define ourselves and the world we oppose. For most of my Christian life I had understood some certain behaviors and places, some types of entertainment, and of course houses of ill repute were sinful, evil, and down-right ungodly–and no Christian should go or participate in such.
There is a temptation, however, without some careful thought, biblical understanding, and wisdom, to identify certain activities and venues as evil, ungodly, and "pagan" (unChristian) in and of themselves–almost "just because" (and then attach a Bible verse). There is a tendency among us to simply think the early church condemned certain pagan and civil practices, prostitution, and entertainment because, somehow, such places and behaviors were inherently evil and ungodly.
Don't worry, I haven't changed–much–on this thinking, but . . . consider where we might be missing the biblical (i.e., the gospel) point. I won’t dispute the notion entirely, but we need to ask why, what makes them evil and ungodly?
In early Christianity, Nero (54–68) had accused Christians of being haters of mankind. Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian (c. 56 – c. 120), reflecting on Nero's post-Rome-burning activities, wrote in his Annals (c. 116):
Nero's indictment of the church caught on. The gathered-church and Christians were accused of being haters of mankind and antisocial (i.e., did not participate in the approved and appropriate Roman social activities). However, it wasn't just because there was something inherently evil, pagan, or sinful in pagan temples (of course idolatry is bad in any form), Roman theaters, religious brothels (there were no other at that time–really), and after-supper symposium entertainment (which included orgies, dancer-strippers, prostitution, and, as well, sexual encounters between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys). The accusations had more to do with who was welcome at their table (literally), who made up the gathered-church, and how their faith (the gospel and the work of the cross) now defined the concept of being human. These "pagan" practices and venues were antithetical to the nature of the church and who was welcome to participate at the common meal, the Lord's table, and in baptism. The Christian community began to abstain from such activities–and their abstention and their gathering together as church was a challenge and a display of condemnation–because in the gospel and as a result of the cross, the leveling of humanity began to be practiced by the church (i.e., its habitus as a gathered-people). Children (boy and girls), women, slaves, and individuals of differing social, economic, and work classes took on new meaning, new intrinsic value, new dignity to each other "in Christ."
Not all human beings were considered equally human or human at all. There was most definitely tiers of human hierarchies that placed a vertical understanding of people, human caste, occupations, age, gender, and ethnicity. When Christians were accused of repudiating and eschewing religious and pleasure practices and institutions of its day—i.e., the theater, temple prostitution, races, gladiator combat, household symposium entertainment—they did so primarily because these venues supported, displayed, and maintained the social and cultural tiers of human hierarchy (now that was and is evil)—not simply because somehow these things were inherently evil. They were venues and practices that supported and maintained social and cultural habits that were inherently racist, misogynistic, de-humanizing, child-abusive, women-abusive, enslavement (i.e., slavery), and thus maintained the evil and ungodly tiers of human hierarchy. All this was challenged by the gospel revealed in the cross and displayed by the gathered-church. This is why the early church was hated. They were accused of hating mankind and of being antisocial because the gathered-church by its very nature and habitus (i.e., how a church practiced being church and how that translated into daily, mundane life and human associations) challenged the status quo of the tiers of human hierarchy. This scared, frighten, and unsettled the gate-keepers, definers, and powers of the social order.
I think, today, we're missing this element of a church's presence because of our Christendom-dependent, politically-aligning, homogenous, building-centered church experience doesn't create church in the same way the New Testament and early church was formed and acted. Through who we are as church and how we do church (in much of Christendom today), we have no power to challenge the very places and practices of racism, misogyny, child and women abuse, slavery (of any kind), and any form of de-huminzation of any gender, age, class, or person. Perhaps, it is time and appropriate to reconsider how we do church.
For a thread on the nature of the gathered-church as God's platform for addressing and challenging the tiers of human hierarchy >> The Seditious gathered-church.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.