Tragedy in need of a sequel: The end of the Book of Judges and the shame of its final scenes
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 the 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 the two 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 here?
When we see tragedy or the messed up 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 a 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 sacrificed himself for them. 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 what is right in our own eyes, yet 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.
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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.