It is difficult to imagine a more sordid period in the history of Israel than that which is described in the closing five chapters of the book of Judges. The sixth verse of that section reads: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (17:6). That fact is repeated in the first verse of each of the next two chapters. And in the final verse of the last chapter, closing out this sad account we read the same observation. The nation had rejected the theocracy and with it godly authority and principle. The result, interestingly enough, was not that they abandoned a sense of religion and righteousness, but that they were governed only by what seemed right in their own eyes, which in every case was disastrously wrong. As a consequence, the sin and carnage became horrendous.
False worship. The account really begins with Micah, an Ephraimite; adopting his mother’s idol in the name of Jehovah, he finds a corrupt Levite, and makes him a priest in his own corrupt household worship. “Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest” (17:13). Sin and compromise, once embraced, always multiply. And so the next chapter recounts the discovery of this idol and personal priest by a group of men from another of the tribes, Dan. They are so enamored of Micah’s religion that they take his idol and his priest by force, “And they set them up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (18:31). Once again, we note the false sense that their worship, which violated the second commandment, was pleasing to God.
Immorality and murder. The next chapter suggests the universal moral declension that follows spiritual declension. A Levite takes a concubine (in itself not sanctioned by God). On his journey home, he stops in the city of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin. His host for the night, gives the concubine to the wicked men of the city who abuse her to the point that she dies at the threshold of the door to the house in which she had been staying. In grief and fury, the Levite dismembers her body and sends a part to each of the twelve tribes.
Genocide. In indignation, the twelve tribes arise in retaliation and annihilate the tribe of Benjamin with the exception of six hundred men. Then in a fit of remorse for nearly destroying one of their twelve tribes, they turn and slaughter the men of Jabesh-Gilead (who had not sent a contingent to fight against Benjamin) in order to provide wives for the remaining Benjamites. And when that remedy does not provide sufficient wives, they instruct the Benjamites to sneak up to the city of Shiloh and when certain young woman come out to dance to kidnap them for wives. All of this in the name of rectifying a wrong!
As stated in the first paragraph, it is difficult to imagine a much worse scenario—all done either in the name of Jehovah, under the guise of religion, or under a sense of morality and righteousness. It is difficult to imagine, I say, unless we realize how closely the religion, righteousness, and morality of our nation coincide with this portrait. As with Israel during the time of the judges, we have not forsaken the practice of religion, a sense of righteousness, or a belief in morality. But all have been so corrupted by our departure from the standard set forth in the Word of God and so mutilated by every man doing what is right in his own eyes that they bear no semblance of truth. As with Israel, the nearly universal immorality and the prevalence of bloodshed are beacons of the fact that we have forsaken the Lord. Sin lieth at the door. Judgment awaits. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” (II Cor. 6:17)
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