Thursday, July 13, 2017

Difficult Passages Series: Judges 19 and The Gospel

Identity & the Gospel in Judges 19
Difficult Passages for Women Series



Whenever speakers or expositors read the passage in Judges 19:1-30, they invariably take great care to caution their listeners about the horrific events contained therein. Such is the depth of the concubine’s suffering, degradation, and circumstances of depravity. At the end of the chapter, even the author declares:
All who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!” (Judges 19:30, New American Standard Bible).

Placing the Judges 19 account within the larger context of the book of Judges brings out the doctrine of the depravity of man and the wretched state of the culture in those days, whereby everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes, because there was no king to rule (Judges 17:6, 19-1, 21-25). 


The story of the Judges 19 woman begins with a magnifying glass on her own sinful condition (v. 2), but quickly turns to the sinfulness of those around her and the culture at large. By the end of Judges 19, the concubine's story graphically depicts the reality that in a culture, given over to autonomous self-gratification, the death wages of sin typically pour out on its weakest members.

With that backdrop, I also hope that women will come to see how the truth of the Gospel of Christ can speak into even the dark, hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman. We can and should bring the Gospel message to bear even in these utterly hard passages.


Covenantal Nature of Identity.

First, let’s consider the covenantal nature of our identity. Contrary to covenant, none of the characters in Judges 19 account are named. Each of the participants is essentially an anonymous entity, likely intended to convey meaning on several levels. For instance, the Levite, the stranger, the father, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman,” who in this case ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, when everyone was doing what they saw as right in their own eyes. The collective identity of Israel was indistinguishable from the depraved, Gentile surrounding culture. In those days, Israel's depravity had become as bad -- or worse -- than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29)

In this way, the concubine represents the people of Israel as a whole, individually enslaved by sin, and collectively abandoned to wickedness by the very leaders (represented by the father and the Levite) who were responsible for their well-being. But other layers of meaning concerning the anonymity of the concubine apply here as well. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine derived her identity in the covenant community from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing. Otherwise, she would typically not be remembered by name within the historical covenant narratives.

Individual Nature of Identity.

Similarly, today, women associated with the dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, or perhaps enslaved to sexual sin, suffer greatly with identity struggles, due to inherent objectification in society, along with perhaps finding themselves defined by past sexual relations. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes women to become silent, hidden, or even go underground. They, like the Judges 19 concubine, become anonymous entities whose lives matter little to their depraved masters, or the culture around them.


But…. these deep issues of identity as women in societies where illicit sexual circumstances anonymize and silence its victims are redeemable by our Lord Jesus, who is our true King.

True Identity.

Yes, even in a land where people are selfishly and murderously doing only what they want to do, Jesus really is the true and better Israel. He steps up as King, taking the place of the priest — and the concubine. He became the true Everyman, for those who believe on him.

He is the perfect Husband who protects his bride. He doesn’t treat her as a concubine, but rather as his cherished possession. Jesus, unlike the Levite, doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead, our King, Jesus, leaves his Father's house to reverse the curse. He comes to his Bride and offers his own body to go out in the bride’s stead — to be torn apart for the twelve tribes of Israel.

Instead of allowing her to be given over, without hope or any possibility for rescue and to forever have her name forgotten, Jesus gave himself up on the Cross for her. Now, her name is written on his hands (Isaiah 49:16) and she is his eternally. His body, battered and bloodied, serves as a reminder to the Church, that we are his people, and that he is our true King, Redeemer, and Husband.
 Jesus's broken body calls us to assemble together in unity and piece because of his blood sacrifice, much like the oxen Saul cut to pieces to call the Israelites together for war (1 Samuel 11:7).

Remembering and Reminding.

Likewise he sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a corporate reminder of the reality of Christ’s rescue. We, too, need to individually remind one another of this Gospel truth. The prophet Hosea in chapter 9 and 10 looks back to the days of the Judges in order to warn Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah (Judges 19:15) by going after false gods and idols (Hosea 9:9). They had forgetten who they are; Whose they are; to Whom they belong. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over.

Do we remind each other that we are his bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10), but we too were delivered out of bondage and slavery (Exodus 20:2) -- out of the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13) -- by the One who took our place and has called us by name? 


We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. Our savior Jesus, who has written our names on his hands, has rescued us from the kingdom darkness described in Judges 19 and elsewhere, and has called us, as His cherished bride, unto himself. He calls us to seek refuge in his Father's house; unlike the Levite and the father in Judges 19, our Lord will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).


To be continued...

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