Archive for September, 2017

Judges 19:1-30 (Part 3 of 3)
The Levite and His Concubine

One of the things that struck me as I read through this passage was the fact that (1) why did the Levite wait so long to go retrieve his mistress/concubine and (2) why did the passage go into detail about the amount of time it took for the Levite to leave the house of the father of this girl that was his mistress. So much time in this passage is devoted to these two things, there’s got to be something there out which there is a biblical nugget to be mined. What I came up with is the party lifestyle and the pride that goes with it.

First off, even though there are references to multiple references in the Bible of many have multiple wives and or mistresses. It never turns out good. Because God’s design is for one man and one woman to be in a relationship of fidelity and intimacy. The clearest evidence that monogamy is God’s ideal is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matthew 19:3–6. In this passage, He cited the Genesis creation account, in particular Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, saying “the two will become one flesh”, not more than two. Another important biblical teaching is the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:22–33, which makes sense only with monogamy—Jesus will not have multiple brides, only one bride and it His church. The 10th Commandment “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife [singular] … ” (Exodus 20:17) also presupposes the ideal that there is only one wife. Polygamy is expressly forbidden for church elders (1 Timothy 3:2). And this is not just for elders, because Paul also wrote: “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul goes on to explain marital responsibilities in terms that make sense only with one husband to one wife.

It is very important to remember that not everything recorded in the Bible is approved in the Bible. Consider where polygamy originated—first in the line of the murderer Cain, not the line of Seth. The first recorded polygamist was the murderer Lamech (Genesis 4:23–24). Then Esau, who despised his birthright, also caused much grief to his parents by marrying two pagan wives (Genesis 26:34). God put a number of obligations on the husband towards the additional wives (it was another of those regulations that God put in place to regulate a bad situation that already existed such as his rules about divorce – the hardened heart regulations), which would discourage polygamy.

God also forbade the kings of Israel to have “many wives” (Deuteronomy 17:17). Look at the trouble when Israel’s kings disobeyed, including deadly sibling rivalry between David’s sons from his different wives (2 Samuel 13, 1 Kings 2); and Solomon’s hundreds of wives helped lead Solomon to idolatry (1 Kings 11:1–3). In view of the problems it causes, it is no wonder that polygamy was unknown among the Jews after the Babylonian exile, and monogamy was the rule even among the Greeks and Romans by New Testament times.

Since she is called a concubine, it means that she was almost a wife. She was probably a gift to the Levite from a family that could not meet their obligations to him in some way or as a way to seal an alliance between families. For her not to be a full-fledged wife may presupposed that the Levite already had a primary wife, the legal wife according to God’s law. Therefore, it seems to me with my 21st century sensabilities that this Levite was not opposed to wheeling and dealing and playing loose with the interpretation of God’s law. It may have been more important to him to (1) seal a political alliance that gave him more influence in his region of the country or increased his access to wealth or both or (2) have access to additional sexual opportunities without it being frowned upon. If he had two women in his home, it would double the opportunity, ya know.

So we have a guy here that is supposed to be an example of God’s higher standard for His people. He is a Levite after all. But he is no better than the normal Israelites at this point and he is no better than the pagan cultures surrounding Israel. He plays footloose with the standards set by God.

Second, even though we have established that having multiple sex partners at the same time was not God’s intention for the marital home. But having said that, this woman who was part of his home life should have been someone he cared about and took care of. However, the dude waits like four months to even go after her. She got mad at him and left him to go back home to her dad’s house. Yet, the Levite just sits back at home. He must have been like go ahead girl I don’t care. You’ll see. You’ll miss me. You’ll come crawling back to me. It must have been a big deal to the girl because she was not coming back. How prideful this guy must have been to let a woman he cared for to be gone for 4 months without as much of care to go look for her. He must have been a selfish guy with I can replace her very easily attitude.

Third, we see the passage spends a good many words about the hospitality shown him by his mistress’ dad. The Levite was ready to go but he was easily convinced to stay another two days. It was a party I guess. It says that had another two days of feasting. Seems like this guy was easily dissuaded from what he knew he needed to do by the party. He must have had a party attitude about life. Everything can be suspended or forgotten for a party. He probably was the kind who lived his life waiting for the next party. You know, where you can let your hair down. Get blasted. Do wild things. Do things that you wouldn’t normally do. Yep. Fits in with the profile that we are building here. He was a guy who bent God’s commands to suit his lifestyle. He was arrogant. He was self-centered. He was a party boy.

With that in mind, let us read through Judges 19 now with an eye toward the treatment of the concubine in this passage/chapter. We may condemn the Levite for his treatment of her but before we get all morally outraged, let’s then think about our modern-day ways that we treat life in the same way:

19 Now in those days Israel had no king. There was a man from the tribe of Levi living in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim. One day he brought home a woman from Bethlehem in Judah to be his concubine. 2 But she became angry with him[a] and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem.

After about four months, 3 her husband set out for Bethlehem to speak personally to her and persuade her to come back. He took with him a servant and a pair of donkeys. When he arrived at[b] her father’s house, her father saw him and welcomed him. 4 Her father urged him to stay awhile, so he stayed three days, eating, drinking, and sleeping there.

5 On the fourth day the man was up early, ready to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Have something to eat before you go.” 6 So the two men sat down together and had something to eat and drink. Then the woman’s father said, “Please stay another night and enjoy yourself.” 7 The man got up to leave, but his father-in-law kept urging him to stay, so he finally gave in and stayed the night.

8 On the morning of the fifth day he was up early again, ready to leave, and again the woman’s father said, “Have something to eat; then you can leave later this afternoon.” So they had another day of feasting. 9 Later, as the man and his concubine and servant were preparing to leave, his father-in-law said, “Look, it’s almost evening. Stay the night and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early and be on your way.”

10 But this time the man was determined to leave. So he took his two saddled donkeys and his concubine and headed in the direction of Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). 11 It was late in the day when they neared Jebus, and the man’s servant said to him, “Let’s stop at this Jebusite town and spend the night there.”

12 “No,” his master said, “we can’t stay in this foreign town where there are no Israelites. Instead, we will go on to Gibeah. 13 Come on, let’s try to get as far as Gibeah or Ramah, and we’ll spend the night in one of those towns.” 14 So they went on. The sun was setting as they came to Gibeah, a town in the land of Benjamin, 15 so they stopped there to spend the night. They rested in the town square, but no one took them in for the night.

16 That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living in Gibeah, where the people were from the tribe of Benjamin. 17 When he saw the travelers sitting in the town square, he asked them where they were from and where they were going.

18 “We have been in Bethlehem in Judah,” the man replied. “We are on our way to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim, which is my home. I traveled to Bethlehem, and now I’m returning home.[c] But no one has taken us in for the night, 19 even though we have everything we need. We have straw and feed for our donkeys and plenty of bread and wine for ourselves.”

20 “You are welcome to stay with me,” the old man said. “I will give you anything you might need. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took them home with him and fed the donkeys. After they washed their feet, they ate and drank together.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”

23 The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful. 24 Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.”

25 But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman returned to the house where her husband was staying. She collapsed at the door of the house and lay there until it was light.

27 When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said, “Get up! Let’s go!” But there was no answer.[d] So he put her body on his donkey and took her home.

29 When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.

30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?”

In this passage, when viewed from a personality profile perspective, we see that…well…for a great number of us, we see ourselves in the Levite. We pride, arrogance, self-centeredness. We see a person who was once probably idealistic about loving God but never to the point of accepting God as Lord. He may have been one of us who started down the slope of oh, this sin is OK and oh, that sin is OK. I am still a Levite. It is ok for me to act like the pagans do by having multiple sex partners in my home. Kind of like how we do in modern times of that it is ok to have sex while single because (1) it feels good and (2) it is OK because I care about this person and (3) God just wants me to be happy. God will make an exception to His rules, just this one time. Here we see a guy that cast the mistress aside for 4 months because of a disagreement of some sort. Apparnetly, he didn’t care. He wanted to win the fight. He was right. She was wrong. Don’t let the screen door hit where the good Lord split, I bet he might have said (if they had had screen doors in the 1100’s BC. How many times have you and I split up with a girl or guy that we have been dating and been having sex with outside the marriage covenant and for pride’s sake and to win at all cost, we toss the relationship aside for pride. Here we see a guy that was a party animal too. It took him two days to leave his mistress’ dad’s house because of the party. How many times, have you and I in the past lived that party girl or party boy lifestyle where you forget your morality and do stuff that you will regret later but at the time it seemed OK? How we lower our moral standards and do stuff that we would normally not do when we live the party girl or party boy lifestyle. Our moral standards lie in a pile beside our clothes near the bed of whomever we went home with.

Then, you add to that the conclusion of this story that we talked about in my last blog. This guy just had gotten so self-centered that he through his woman to the dogs as if she were a piece of meat, a piece of property. How often, in the past, did you and I treat people that way. Use ‘em for what we want and then throw ‘em away when that don’t fit into our plans anymore or there’s a better offer that just walked by. That is how many of us lived our lives before we came to the cross. The self-centered, arrogant, party boy or party girl lifestyle never ends well. We will find our rock bottom one day.

Are you sick and tired of living life in this manner? Are you tired of searching for meaning in life but never finding it? Are tired of seeking value in sexual relationships but always feeling like there’s something missing? Are you tired of ending up alone in your soul and trying to fill it up with parties?

That hole in your soul is designed to be there. That hole in your soul is designed to be filled by Jesus Christ. You know that everything else that you have tried has come up empty and wanting. That is by design. Only God is to fulfill us. Come to the altar now and admit to the Lord that you have turned your back on Him. Admit that you ran from Him because you thought your party lifestyle was better. Admit to Him that you were wrong. Beg for forgiveness and ask Him to come into your heart and make you fulfilled, and new, and vibrant once again. He is slow to anger and He is quick to forgive your sins. Once you accept Christ as Your Savior, it’s not about do and don’ts. It’s about a fulfilling new relationship that changes you from the inside out and changes your perspective. He is the one that fills the hole in our soul.

Amen and Amen.

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Judges 19:1-30 (Part 2 of 3)
The Levite and His Concubine

When I read through this passage, I was struck by the fact that this concubine was a real person but yet she was treated like a piece of property. She was just, and excuse my crudeness, another piece of ass to the Levite man. She was just something to have sex with. She was not really a woman to him. She was a blow-up doll with no mind and no rights. Just a hole. He was willing to toss her out to the dogs to save his own skin from the degradation of homosexual rape. He just threw out the door because she was just sex hole anyway. He represents the ugly side of us. We condemn him for treating her like a piece of meat, or a piece of property that could be tossed away with impunity. She could be tossed away to her violent death because she was just sex to him and she had no rights.

Does this sound familiar? It is the view that I have of the whole abortion debate. It smacks of the same attitude. In order to support abortion as a choice, we must have this Levite’s attitude. We must treat an unborn fetus the same as this concubine. We must treat the fetus with the same as property. Thus, the fetus is comparable to a slave in the old South. Bear with me a minute before you start picketing in front of my house. Let’s logically walk through the argument.

Several months ago, I re-watched for like the third time, the powerful movie, Twelve Years A Slave. In that movie, the repeated phrase of the plantation owner was that a slave was property. That right of property superseded any human rights of a slave. The slave was seen as no better than a barn or the nails that it held it together. No better than the crops from the field. There were laws throughout the South that treated blacks as nothing less than property.

According to theories of John Locke, the great political theorist of the Renaissance, man has a right to enjoy the rights of life and liberty and property and this right is not granted by government but by the nature of universe. Lockean theory was the backbone of the cry for revolutions in Europe and the revolution here in the US. Black slaves were seen as property and slave owners fully believed that they had an inalienable right to use their own property as they saw fit. This position was so pervasive that it was an issue in drafting the Constitution of the country. Laws and court cases upheld the theory of property all throughout the South and it made its way all to the Supreme Court. In the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling of 1857. Dred Scott was a slave who escaped into a slave-free state (Illinois) and who subsequently sued for his freedom.

In the Supreme Court’s decision, the choice to own slaves was an individual decision, a private matter for each citizen to struggle with apart from interference by the state. If a person, in an act of conscience, chose not to keep slaves, that was his own decision, but he could not force that choice on others. Every person had a private right to choose. Dred Scott, as a slave, was declared chattel–human property. He was a possession of his owner, and the owner had a right to do whatever he wanted with his assets. Three of the justices held that even a Negro who had descended from slaves had no rights as an American citizen and thus no standing in the court. It took an amendment to the constitution, ratified by the majority of states in December 1865, that finally gave black slaves equal standing under the law. It is now commonly accepted that all men and women, regardless of color, have a natural right to freedom and it is not subject to laws or governments. It is an inalienable right. It’s taken 100s of years, a civil war, a civil rights movement, and civil rights law to guarantee that we all know this – that no man is property, no man should be seen as subhuman, no man should have his right to life be contingent upon another’s view of that life, that no man should have his right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness abridged. It is a natural human right.

That was the profound thing that struck me this morning in watching this powerful movie for a second time in my life. Watching this movie for a second time (saw it first on DVD about a year ago) was kind of like reading a Bible passage that you have read a thousand times and glossed over it but this 1001st time, it hits you like a brick to the head. That was the thing that I felt like a ton of bricks watching this movie today. It just came to me. It was one of those Holy Spirit things, I guess.

The ton of bricks was the archaic view of blacks as property is seen as an aberration now but we are perpetuating the view with the current legality of abortion as supported by a Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade in 1972. I know some who might read this and say, how can you compare slavery and abortion…but hear me out, please. In that Supreme Court case, part of its justification for the legality of abortion was that the Court established that the word “person” as used in the due process clause and in other provisions of the Constitution did not include the unborn, and therefore the unborn lacked federal constitutional protection. The court stated that the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action” includes “a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy” and that “[t]his right of privacy . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

What it boils down to is that which is not life is property. When life is considered property then you can do with it what you please. We have the right to enjoy property as we wish. If a person is not considered a person, then what are they? Our nation once saw negroes as not better than the swing on your front porch – to do with what you pleased. As property they had no rights. No more than a lamppost has rights in the court of law. Under Roe v. Wade, a fetus has no legal standing in the court of law. A fetus is not considered a person who has the whole avail of privileges guaranteed citizens under the laws and constitution of our country. Fetuses have the same lack of constitutional rights as negroes prior to the long history of constitutional amendments and laws that won their rightful place beside other persons of our country. Under the reckoning of Roe v. Wade, it had the same impact of the Dred Scott decision of the same court, the Supreme Court of our land.

If it is not life, then it must be property. Roe v. Wade hinged on the issue of viability. In the court’s eyes, a fetus is not viable as an independent human life until after the first trimester of pregnancy. However, like with slavery, because something is legally defined as right, it does not make it a universal truth (the old legal vs. moral issue). If we do not define a human life as viable life, it is then, in a legal sense, property to do with as you please. We once saw negroes as property to do with as we pleased. It was guaranteed by the Supreme Court of the land. That did not make it universally and morally right. In fact that it was so morally wrong that ultimately the law of the land was changed and an amendment to the Constitution was added to guarantee the rights of all citizens to be seen as equal to and have the same rights as all other citizens.

It comes down to what is not considered life is and must be considered property. Under Roe v. Wade, a fetus has to be considered the property of the mother who carries the fetus in her womb. The Christian view is that life begins at conception. That point at which an egg is fertilized and it amazingly begins the reproductive process. Saying that life does begins at a later point under the argument of viability is just mincing words and timeliness. Regardless of whether a fetus is viable, it is life. It is multiplying. It is growing. Unless we stop it growing through abortion, it will become viable. That’s why the courts had to establish the point of viability arbitrarily to allow abortion to be legal. In order for abortion to be legal, there be room to consider a fetus property and thus strip away any constitutional rights guaranteed to all that which is not considered property.

Let us read through Judges 19 now with an eye toward the treatment of the concubine in this passage/chapter. We may condemn the Levite for his treatment of her but before we get all morally outraged, let’s then think about our modern day ways that we treat life in the same way:

19 Now in those days Israel had no king. There was a man from the tribe of Levi living in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim. One day he brought home a woman from Bethlehem in Judah to be his concubine. 2 But she became angry with him[a] and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem.

After about four months, 3 her husband set out for Bethlehem to speak personally to her and persuade her to come back. He took with him a servant and a pair of donkeys. When he arrived at[b] her father’s house, her father saw him and welcomed him. 4 Her father urged him to stay awhile, so he stayed three days, eating, drinking, and sleeping there.

5 On the fourth day the man was up early, ready to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Have something to eat before you go.” 6 So the two men sat down together and had something to eat and drink. Then the woman’s father said, “Please stay another night and enjoy yourself.” 7 The man got up to leave, but his father-in-law kept urging him to stay, so he finally gave in and stayed the night.

8 On the morning of the fifth day he was up early again, ready to leave, and again the woman’s father said, “Have something to eat; then you can leave later this afternoon.” So they had another day of feasting. 9 Later, as the man and his concubine and servant were preparing to leave, his father-in-law said, “Look, it’s almost evening. Stay the night and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early and be on your way.”

10 But this time the man was determined to leave. So he took his two saddled donkeys and his concubine and headed in the direction of Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). 11 It was late in the day when they neared Jebus, and the man’s servant said to him, “Let’s stop at this Jebusite town and spend the night there.”

12 “No,” his master said, “we can’t stay in this foreign town where there are no Israelites. Instead, we will go on to Gibeah. 13 Come on, let’s try to get as far as Gibeah or Ramah, and we’ll spend the night in one of those towns.” 14 So they went on. The sun was setting as they came to Gibeah, a town in the land of Benjamin, 15 so they stopped there to spend the night. They rested in the town square, but no one took them in for the night.

16 That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living in Gibeah, where the people were from the tribe of Benjamin. 17 When he saw the travelers sitting in the town square, he asked them where they were from and where they were going.

18 “We have been in Bethlehem in Judah,” the man replied. “We are on our way to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim, which is my home. I traveled to Bethlehem, and now I’m returning home.[c] But no one has taken us in for the night, 19 even though we have everything we need. We have straw and feed for our donkeys and plenty of bread and wine for ourselves.”

20 “You are welcome to stay with me,” the old man said. “I will give you anything you might need. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took them home with him and fed the donkeys. After they washed their feet, they ate and drank together.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”

23 The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful. 24 Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.”

25 But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman returned to the house where her husband was staying. She collapsed at the door of the house and lay there until it was light.

27 When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said, “Get up! Let’s go!” But there was no answer.[d] So he put her body on his donkey and took her home.

29 When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.

30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?”

In this passage, we see that having a concubine was an accepted part of Israelite society although it is clearly not what God intended (see Genesis 2:24). A concubine had most of the duties but only some of the privileges of a wife. Although she was legally attached to one man, she had her children usually did not have the inheritance rights of the legal wife and legitimate children. Her primary purpose was, of course, was giving the man sexual pleasure as well as bearing additional children for the man and contributing more help to the household or estate. Concubines were often foreign prison, but they could also be Israelites, as was probably the case in this story.

As you can see in this story, the Levite saw the concubine as a piece of property do with whatever he pleased. In his eyes, she was his property so if he wanted to use her for cannon fodder with no regard to her rights, that was his right. That idea that a life can be considered property is not the intention of God. We were created in his own image. Nobody knows what that spark of life is that creates an existence (when a sperm fertilizes an egg) but there is a miracle of creation at that moment that science cannot truly explain. Life begins multiplying as cells at a compounded exponential rate at that moment. Science can explain how it happens but not why. God is in that moment. He creates life in that moment. And He holds each life in high regard. We are the apex of creation whether we are rich or poor, whether we are black or white, whether we are in the uterus or out of it.

So from this story, we see that man has not changed a lot over the millenia. Man has the amazing capability to desensitize himself to the value of human life so as to get a desired result. The similarities of how this man treated his concubine to how we treated slaves in the Old South and now on to the so called modern world with how we treat life in utero.

There is a great similarity between the basis for legalized slavery (my property to do with as I wish) and the basis for legalized abortion (my body my choice). We must blind ourselves to blacks being human beings with a right to life and liberty to make slavery legal. We must also blind ourselves to what life is and when it starts. Saying it starts at specified date is just legal definition. It does not change the fact that at that date cells are multiplying and if left alone will grow into a baby that would be born and live a life outside the uterus. Legal definition does not always match moral definition.

In this less well known story from the Bible, it is clearly evident that the Levite has the same view of his concubine as slave holders had of their slaves and that abortion activists have of fetus developing in a mother’s womb. It’s just property. Property that I have an inalienable right to do with as I please – even to the point of destroying the property. It’s my property. You can’t tell me what to do with my property. A concubine, a slave in the Old South, a fetus – it’s all property. Right?

That which is not life must therefore be considered property. When will we come to realize that we have been as wrong about when life begins as we were about whether a human being can be considered property and not really a valid human life. Can we quit the legal dancing just as we did in the days of slavery and as we are doing now with abortion and see life as life? Not a choice. Not a piece of property.

Life is life and it deserve liberty and to be considered a person under the eyes of the law, just as God sees us as persons from the moment of conception, the unique individuals that we all are, and just as God sees all of us as children no matter the color of our skin or what position we hold in society. We are each a glorious creation of the miracle of life given to us by God each with a unique purpose in God’s grand plan for the universe started at Genesis and to be completed in Revelation. Life is not property in God’s eyes!

Can I get an…

Amen and Amen!

Judges 19:1-30 (Part 1 of 3)
The Levite and His Concubine

Sometimes, I surprise myself after studying individual books of the Bible from beginning to end for the last five years. Today, when I was reading in Judges 19, and about the heinous crimes contained therein, I was struck with the feeling that it was just like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I didn’t remember what chapter it was in though. So a quick internet search lead me to find that it was in Genesis 19. The thing that got me was how eerily similar the two stories are in virtually every detail except for the angelic intervention in Genesis 19. Virtually, every detail is the same otherwise but here in Judges it is some 500 years after the God-directed natural disaster that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s go back in time and read that story once again before we read Judges 19:

19 That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”

“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”

3 But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate. 4 But before they retired for the night, all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. 5 They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

6 So Lot stepped outside to talk to them, shutting the door behind him. 7 “Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish. But please, leave these men alone, for they are my guests and are under my protection.”

9 “Stand back!” they shouted. “This fellow came to town as an outsider, and now he’s acting like our judge! We’ll treat you far worse than those other men!” And they lunged toward Lot to break down the door.

10 But the two angels[a] reached out, pulled Lot into the house, and bolted the door. 11 Then they blinded all the men, young and old, who were at the door of the house, so they gave up trying to get inside.

 

Normally, preceding the passage of the day that I am dealing with, I will offer up a story from my personal life or from the lives of others or from current events. But while the story in Genesis 19 is still fresh in your mind, let’s now immediately read through Judges 19:

19 Now in those days Israel had no king. There was a man from the tribe of Levi living in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim. One day he brought home a woman from Bethlehem in Judah to be his concubine. 2 But she became angry with him[a] and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem.

After about four months, 3 her husband set out for Bethlehem to speak personally to her and persuade her to come back. He took with him a servant and a pair of donkeys. When he arrived at[b] her father’s house, her father saw him and welcomed him. 4 Her father urged him to stay awhile, so he stayed three days, eating, drinking, and sleeping there.

5 On the fourth day the man was up early, ready to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Have something to eat before you go.” 6 So the two men sat down together and had something to eat and drink. Then the woman’s father said, “Please stay another night and enjoy yourself.” 7 The man got up to leave, but his father-in-law kept urging him to stay, so he finally gave in and stayed the night.

8 On the morning of the fifth day he was up early again, ready to leave, and again the woman’s father said, “Have something to eat; then you can leave later this afternoon.” So they had another day of feasting. 9 Later, as the man and his concubine and servant were preparing to leave, his father-in-law said, “Look, it’s almost evening. Stay the night and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early and be on your way.”

10 But this time the man was determined to leave. So he took his two saddled donkeys and his concubine and headed in the direction of Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). 11 It was late in the day when they neared Jebus, and the man’s servant said to him, “Let’s stop at this Jebusite town and spend the night there.”

12 “No,” his master said, “we can’t stay in this foreign town where there are no Israelites. Instead, we will go on to Gibeah. 13 Come on, let’s try to get as far as Gibeah or Ramah, and we’ll spend the night in one of those towns.” 14 So they went on. The sun was setting as they came to Gibeah, a town in the land of Benjamin, 15 so they stopped there to spend the night. They rested in the town square, but no one took them in for the night.

16 That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living in Gibeah, where the people were from the tribe of Benjamin. 17 When he saw the travelers sitting in the town square, he asked them where they were from and where they were going.

18 “We have been in Bethlehem in Judah,” the man replied. “We are on our way to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim, which is my home. I traveled to Bethlehem, and now I’m returning home.[c] But no one has taken us in for the night, 19 even though we have everything we need. We have straw and feed for our donkeys and plenty of bread and wine for ourselves.”

20 “You are welcome to stay with me,” the old man said. “I will give you anything you might need. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took them home with him and fed the donkeys. After they washed their feet, they ate and drank together.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”

23 The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful. 24 Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.”

25 But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman returned to the house where her husband was staying. She collapsed at the door of the house and lay there until it was light.

27 When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said, “Get up! Let’s go!” But there was no answer.[d] So he put her body on his donkey and took her home.

29 When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.

30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?”

Wow! The similarities are eerily similar. If we cast our net even further back in Genesis to capture Genesis 18. You will note that the two angels had spent the day with Abraham and Sarah. The differences between that event in Genesis 18 and the beginning of this passage in Judge 19 will be discussed tomorrow. But lets focus today on the events of Judges 18:15-27 in comparison to Genesis 19:1-11. The similarities are so chilling that you would think you were having déjà vu or something. In each case, the main characters start to spend the night in the town square. In each case, a man of the town (in the case of Genesis, it was Lot but here the man is unnamed) offers to get them out of the night air and take them to his home. While, in each case, they were eating and enjoying each other’s company, a mob of men from the town come the home and demand that the host give up the guest males in the house to the crowd so they can publicly have group sex with the men. Make no mistake this was going to be a public homosexual gang rape in both cases. If that sounds gross and ugly and nasty. It should. In both cases, a female is offered up to satisfy the group’s licentious sexual desires.

There are differences also. In the case of the female being offered up to gratify the sexual desires of a gang of men, in the Genesis story, the females are Lot’s own daughters who are virgins. In the Judges story, the female is a concubine. In the Genesis story, Lot defends the angelic visitors but in the Judges story the host and the Levite priest offer up the concubine rather quickly. In the Genesis story, the angels prevent anything from happening to Lot himself or his daughters and the mob is prevented from taking the event to the next level – gang rape, whether it had been homosexual or heterosexual. In the Judges story, there is no angelic intervention or divine intervention by God. In the Judges story, the poor girl is so raped so hard and so long by so many that she is must have had severe internal injuries as well as external ones to the point that she died.

That’s kind of the point here I think. The writers are showing the readers that you just thought Sodom and Gomorroh were depraved, just look how depraved Israel is now. The Sodom and Gomorrah story’s sequence about Lot and the angels seems tame compared to what happened here. This story is disgusting in its depravity. The gang came to the house to have a homosexual orgy and end up killing a girl in a heterosexual one. They apparently just like having orgies and group sex. They were going to get some no matter whether it was a man or woman. How freaking sick were these people? The fact that God did not intervene is significant. Remember, Abraham dickered with God about whether God would spare the towns if He found x number of righteous people. Ultimately, after saving Lot and his family, Sodom and Gomorroh were destroyed. However, there is no such search here by angels. They were that morally depraved there is no intervention. We have a Levite with a concubine. We have a host who is willing to sell out his guests instead of going outside to confront the crowd. We have a Levite willing to sell out a person who is part of his people under his care (the concubine). We have a crowd that was gonna gang rape somebody. We have a crowd that ravaged a woman so hard and so long without a care for her safety that they killed her by having sex with her so much. How morally depraved is this town and this people?

That’s the question we must ask ourselves about our own nation today? Are we becoming Sodom and Gomorrah? Are we becoming the progressively worse Gibeah? We are a nation now that accepts behaviors that are forbidden by God’s law and we glorify them now. We accept sex in all its forms as freedom of personal expression regardless of whether it is condoned by God’s Word or not. We are a nation with no king. Jesus is no longer the central figure in our nation’s collective moral conscience. We are doing what we think is right in our own minds. We have rationalized away sex as recreation whether it be unmarried heterosexuality or any type of homosexuality as my seeking my own self fulfillment. We are just like the Sodom and Gomorrah and we are Gibeah.

Think about it.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 18:1-31 (Part 3 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

Often, we hear people say things like, “got my bonus today. Feeling blessed.” Or “Just got back from my mission trip and realizing how blessed we are in the United States compared to Haiti.” Or “just got our new car and man are we so blessed by God.” Or “Finally closed on our new house today. Feeling blessed!” Why is it that we equate material things with the blessings of God? On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do? Doesn’t God bless those who are faithful to Him? Not that it isn’t God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow earthly financial blessings upon His children but it is not because there is causal relationship between my earthly financial wealth and my obedience to my Lord and Savior.

When we equate the two, we are saying several things. First, we are saying that God is in the behavior modification business. If we do “x”, then God will reward us with “y” from an earthly storehouse. It is similar to the way that we will most likely reward my 14 month old granddaughter here in a year or so from now when she successfully poops in the potty rather than in her pants. God does not work that way. He does not want us to only obey him because we are going to get some kind of reward from it. Second, to say material wealth is an indication of our blessed state from God is just downright offensive to a Christians around the world who get by on wages for a month that we earn in one or two hours at work here in the United States. Does the fact that the average American earns $50k per year mean that we are innately more blessed than some Haitian Christian who works hard to feed his family on the equivalent of $100 per month. Are we more blessed by God than him? He may in fact be more in love with God than you or I but by our measure of blessing we are saying that he is less blessed than you or me. Third, what if I am living like hell and being hypocritical (going to church on Sunday but living unethically and unlike Christ the rest of the week), but yet I have a successful business or a successful career, is my success an indication of approval from God? And finally, if I am suffering and am not being financially blessed, am I hiding some unconfessed sin? That sentiment is an affront to Christians in countries such as North Korea, China, or any predominantly Muslim country. They are often more obedient to the Father’s will and more in love with Jesus Christ than the average American Christian but yet many languish in prison for refusing to renounce their Savior. But yet by the standards of “feeling blessed” because of some financial gain that has happened to us, they by this measure must be doing something wrong. The evidence of God’s blessing is our earthly success, right? We have the same mentality about our nation and it trickles down to us individually. We think that we are in God’s favor as a nation because we have been so richly blessed collectively with a standard of living that far exceeds 95% of the rest of the world. We must being doing something right in God’s eyes, right? Otherwise, we would not be receiving the payback that we are getting in earthly riches compared to the rest of the planet, right? We can allow ourselves to start thinking that as individuals as well.

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the third of three reads through it today. Here, we see that the Danites were successful in conquering the lush and wealthy town of Laish. The question that you must raise when you read this passage is, though they were successful in conquering the region and town of Laish, does it make it evidence of God’s blessing? Let’s think about that as we read this passage:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that just because the Danites successfully defeated Laish doesn’t mean their actions were right. Their idolatry showed that God was not guiding them. Today, many justify their wrong actions by outward signs of success. They think that wealth, popularity, or the lack of suffering is an indication of God’s blessing. However, many stories in the Bible indicate that evil and earthly success go hand in hand. Success does not indicate God’s approval. We should not allow any personal success that we have to become the measuring rod of whether or not we are pleasing God. We should always compare our actions to the commands of Scripture (whether we receive an earthly blessing from it or not) to help determine whether we are doing what is pleasing in God’s sight or not. Regardless of whether there is an earthly blessing or not, we are laying up treasures in heaven when we lovingly obey our Lord’s commands.

I don’t think that it says anywhere in the Bible that there is a direct correlation between our earthly comforts and financial windfalls and obedience to God. There is no direct correlation between earthly success and being a faithful Christ follower. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Blessed are those who receive earthly comforts”, “Blessed are those who own a beach home at Ocean Lakes”, “Blessed are those who have incomes in excess of $100k per year.”, “Blessed are those who have the ability to buy a Lexus”. Quite the opposite is true. The Beatitudes do not promise us earthly blessing. Jesus promised us the kingdom of heaven if we live in a manner consistent with God and not live in a manner by which we measure blessing by earthly standards.

Certainly, God may well give us resources in this life that are far beyond what we deserve or imagine but never should we equate the two – blessing and earthly wealth. If God does give us earthly wealth as Christ followers, it is because He expects us to use our wealth to bless others and use our wealth to be generous in a manner that brings glory to Him not ourselves. With wealth, we have the opportunity not to demonstrate how righteous and holy we are but to use our resources generously to help the less fortunate, the widows and the orphans and so on, and to give Him glory by the eternal things that we invest in with our wealth. We must use our wealth to invest in things of eternal value rather that the temporary trappings of this life that will be gone within a few generations.

So, let’s take a moment to disassociate being blessed financially here on earth as an indication of God’s favor. The Bible clearly demonstrates that mostly the opposite is true. If earthly blessings were the calling card of God, everybody would be Christ followers. However, we are citizens of heaven as Christ followers and our principal idea of blessing should be to please God and trust Him to provide for us here, what we need and not necessarily our wants and earthly desires, on earth but richly bless us in heaven.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 18:1-31 (Part 2 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

Right now, I am working on a research paper for my D.Min. degree and the premise that I was assigned was “what does theology have to do with the everyday life of a Christian?” In that paper, I decided to approach it from the point of view, of course, that theology has everything to do with the everyday life of a Christian. After working with a few ideas, I decided to entitle my paper, “Let’s Bring Hell Back! (And Other Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith)”. The title is intended for shock value and to get the readers of my paper to actually pick it up and read it. The shock value is that there is so much truth in that statement. In this post-modern world in which we live, the doctrine of hell is a forgotten but essential one. It is wrapped up and tied up with the doctrine of man. With these two doctrines of the Christian faith, it creates the basic difference between it and the rest of the religions, which are all man-made, of the world.

From the Bible we learn of these doctrines throughout. We come to learn from Genesis to Revelation that man has inherited its sin nature from Adam almost immediately from the creation of man. Christianity forces us to take an honest look at ourselves. We are sinful creatures just by our very nature. On the other hand, God is full of purity, justice and love. He has no sin in him. Sin cannot exist in his presence. He is truth, and light, and justice, and agape love. The sin nature that we have is a time bomb that goes off quickly. Just think of your two year old child or two year old niece or nephew or the 2 year old child of a friend. We learn quickly from birth to preserve ourselves. We learn to throw others under the bus to save our own skin at an early age. We learn to lie at any early age to preserve our rights to the things that we want and desire. We will be mean to our siblings at a very early age to get what we want at their expense. So, to think that man is ever in a pure state or that he can achieve it through a lifetime of effort is a laughable and unrealistic notion. Have you ever tried to go through a day without having a sinful thought – of anger, of lust, of greed, of theft, of … you name the sin. Even if we do not carry out our sins in a physical sense, we commit sins by the hour in our heart and mind. According to Jesus, our thoughts are sinful just as much as our actions are. That which has any tinge of sin in it cannot exist in the presence of God. Just one sin, even if it is a sinful thought, convicts us before the Righteous and Pure Judge that is God. That’s all it takes. Just one sin. No more. One sin committed in a lifetime taints us just as one little drop of ink in a glass of pure water permanently changes the water. It is no longer pure. It is now tainted with the ink. And there is nothing that we can do to remove the ink from the water. The water has been permanently changed. Add to that we keep dropping ink into our water every day with each additional sin that we commit after the first one. Our water is so black with the ink of sin that you no longer can see through. Our water is so black with the ink of sin that it no longer resembles water but rather the ink that was dropped into it.

For our lifetime of sins, we are right to be judged by God to be condemned to hell. Scripture tells us that hell is as the following:

Revelation 14:11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

II Thessalonians 1:9 “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Matthew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Mark 9:47-48 “”And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Revelation 20:10 “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Matthew 13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Scripture is very clear that hell is where we will be conscious of our eternal torment forever is what we deserve on our own merits. Just think about that even our evil thoughts taint us from being in the presence of a pure and almighty God in heaven. Hell is what we deserve for our first sin much less the lifetime of sins that we commit. We deserve hell. We deserve eternal punishment. God does not sentence us to hell. He does not send us to hell. We do it to ourselves and that is what we deserve. Hell is what we deserve.

That my friends is why Jesus is so important. He is first and foremost above anything else our Savior. He saves us from what we deserve. He saves us from our just and correct sentence. A good judge in a courtroom today is considered a good judge because he carries out the punishment that we decide as a society that is fit and right for the crime committed. We would think that any judge who lets criminals off easy or did uphold the just punishment for a crime to be a lax judge and we would call for him to be removed from the bench if he did not execute the punishment that we as a society have deemed as appropriate. So, it is with God, He has commands that we must obey because He knows what is just and right and He is Justice And Rightness. So, we stand accused of violating God’s commands and that is called sin and we deserve the full weight of justice against us for our sins. However, even though God’s justice is there, He is also a loving God who expresses Himself in three ways, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

He loves us so much that He sent the Son to come to earth to live the perfectly sinless life and to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system by becoming the sinless lamb that was to be slain for our sins. He took the punishment that we deserve for our lifetimes of sin – in deed and in thought. He makes us clean. He makes our glass of water pure again. He makes it so that we can exist in the presence of God in heaven by cleansing us of the tainted ink of our sin. We are clear and pure through Him. We cannot do any effort on our own to earn our salvation because of our tainted glass of water. Without Jesus, we deserve the sentence of a habitual sin criminal. We deserve hell. Hell is what we deserve.

Think about how much more we would value our salvation if we really thought about the truth and reality of hell. What if we brought hell back to our pulpits.

However in today’s world, we preach less and less about hell. We talk less and less about hell because it is offensive to our senses as post-modernists. We have a fear of preaching and teaching the truth of hell and what we deserve. We would rather preach and teach a gospel where there is no mention of hell. Jesus just saves us from ourselves. Jesus without hell is our self-help guru. Things going bad in your life. Jesus is the answer. Not having luck in your life. Jesus is the answer. Feeling bad about yourself. Jesus is the answer. Without hell, Jesus is our buddy that helps us live a better life. Without hell, Jesus doesn’t save us from all that much other than our bad mistakes in life.

We preach and teach nothing of hell these days because we like to think that if we do enough of the right things that it will outweigh the bad. We do not think of ourselves as inherent sinners. We think of ourselves as good people that occasionally do bad things. We think that if we do enough good things, read the right books, hang out with the right people, that we can compensate for the occasional bad things that we do. We also equate God’s blessings with how good we are doing in this life. We teach and often preach a prosperity gospel that if we do enough of the right things that we will be blessed and highly favored in this life and if we are not we must have some hidden sins that we must get rid of by reading the right books, doing enough public service at churchwide events, and hanging out with right people. This is not the truth and reality of God’s Word but it sells. Because we don’t like to hear that we are destined to hell on our own merits. We would rather hear about God’s love only and not His justice. Skipping over God’s justice is how you make a megachurch today.

That idea of creating a soft religion that suits our needs is what I thought about today when I read this passage once again. My thoughts were directed at the priest in this passage. He sold out to keep food on his table. He developed a religion personally designed by Micah that met Micah’s needs. The priest was his own personal priest so the religion was set Micah not by God. Real faith in God would have required Micah to change, to admit that he was not the center of the universe. The priest created a soft religion for Micah that would soothe his soul instead of teach Him of his real nature in the presence of God.

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the second of three reads today. Here, we see:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that Israel’s moral decay affected even the priests and the Levites. This man accepted money, idols, and position in a way that was inconsistent with God’s laws. He compromised the man that he was supposed to be so that he could have money and position. He gladly set aside his beliefs as a man of God to get what he wanted. Instead of preaching and teaching about the truths of God, he created a religion that suited Micah’s tastes. Are we not doing that today as Christian leaders, teachers, preachers, and witnesses?

Sure, a street corner preacher with a sign saying “You’re going to hell!” has never saved but a few souls, but we have forgotten the basic truth that we are sinners who cannot wrestle ourselves out of our just and right sentence which is, indeed, hell. We need to bring hell back to the conversation. We need to bring our sin nature that condemns us to hell in the absence of Jesus. We need to make Jesus essential to us again not just our self-help buddy. We must see ourselves as totally dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ again. When we take away hell, we might make our faith more palatable to the non-believer and even to ourselves, but when we do we cheapen grace. Grace is of such great value to us because exactly of the reality of hell. That is what Jesus saves us from when we submit our lives to His authority. He saves us from hell where there is gnashing of teeth and the burning of flesh…forever. That’s the reality of the doctrines of our faith that come from God’s Word. That’s the reality. Even if we quit talking about it, that’s the reality. If it were not for hell, Jesus becomes less of a Savior and more of good buddy. When I think of hell and know, know, know that’s what I deserve, it makes me so so so thankful to God for giving me the grace He has given me through Jesus Christ. In the light of hell, I see the wondrous glory of Jesus Christ. In the light of hell, I see the amazing love that He has for me. In the light of hell, I find it impossible to fathom the great love that He has for me. I don’t deserve it but I got it and that makes me giddy beyond belief. Thank God that Jesus saved me from hell!!!

Amen and Amen.

Judges 18:1-31 (Part 1 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

How many people would be in church on Sundays in the South if we would be persecuted for having gone? What would our churches look like if there were a real consequence for us claiming to be Christian and going to church? What if going to church on Sunday could cost your life, or even just your job, or cost you contact with your entire family? What if being a Christian really cost us something? How many of us would risk being seen at church? Think about it.

In China, in North Korea, in predominantly Muslim countries, that is the case. For Chinese and North Korean Christians, they meet in secret in house churches. According to one news article, “The Chinese government’s persecution campaign included forced demolition of churches and crosses, the detention and imprisonment of pastors and church members on criminal charges, forcing churches into bankruptcy by confiscating church property and imposing fines, and manipulating state-run media to label house churches as ‘cult’ organizations.” Although China is easing its persecutions of Christians as China tries to modernize its culture to stay competitive in the global marketplace, it is still no easy thing to be a Christian there. In order to become a state-sponsored religion, Christianity would have to submit Jesus to the authority of the government so it is inevitable without a government change in China that persecution will continue with varying levels of intensity (depending on who is in power in Beijing).

North Korea is probably the worst current offender of Christians right now outside of the Middle East. Human rights groups are reporting on new grim statistics from North Korea and its treatment of religious minorities, including Christians, revealing that more than 75 percent of those subjected to torture, imprisonment, and other punishments do not survive. International Christian Concern, Open Doors USA, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) are just some of the persecution watchdog groups that have documented the horrific treatment of minorities in North Korea. CSW’s report on the North Korean regime released in September noted that the government tortures, mutilates, and kills Christians. The report added that some of the documented incidents against believers include “being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.” As the watchdog group also explained, religious belief is seen as a major threat to North Korea’s leadership, with Christians often accused of being imperialists seeking to undermine the rule of the ‘supreme leader,’ as Kim Jong-un is known.

The most persecution historically has occurred in Middle East where the majority of countries are predominantly Muslim. The top country where Christians suffer, for the 12th consecutive year, remained communist North Korea, though the nine following countries in the top ten were Islamic: Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen. Open Doors said earlier this month that it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings over the year, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year, it said. In predominantly Muslim countries, those who die may see it as a welcome relief. Because in many cases, Christians are excommunicated from their families, cut off from the social fabric of their communities so it is difficult to have any semblance of family or home life. Christians are forced to pay a higher tax rate than Muslims. That is, if they can find work. Often Christians are forced into a lifestyles of begging for food on the street. Just a politically incorrect statement here – Why are not the people you clamor against Islamophobia here in the US as equally outraged at the more severe treatment of Christians in the home countries of many Islamic Americans? Back to the Middle East though…recent news footage of Christians being raped, tortured and killed by ISIS in the Middle East brought the plight of Middle Eastern Christians to the national news.

It’s tough being a Christian out there? It just begs the question of myself and of my friends and American Christians in general. What if there comes a day when being a Christian here in the United States really, really costs us something? Sure, we complain about how our culture has changed and how we are often marginalized and vilified by the liberal leanings of our culture. We may complain about being seen as archaic and out of step with the current state of our cultural values. But, as of yet, we still can go to church on Sunday without it costing us a daggum thing. We might be seen as square but it does not cost us anything…really….other than maybe some hurt feelings and maybe it will cost us a few friends. But that’s peanuts folks. That is not real persecution. Will we have what it takes when the time comes to stand up for Jesus Christ in the face of death, imprisonment, or being a complete social outcast. Will we stand up for Jesus if it will cost us our jobs? How willing are you and I to go the mat for Jesus?

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the first of three reads today. Here, we see the tribe of Dan taking the easy way out. They did the easy thing instead of the God thing. God called them to something difficult but they whiffed. God called them to something hard and they chose to go against God’s will because it was too hard:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that the Danites had been assigned enough land to mee their needs (see Joshua 19:40-48). However, because they had failed to trust God to help them conquer their territory, the Amorites forced them into the hill county and wouldn’t let them settle into the plains (Judges 1:34). Rather than fight for their allotted territory, they preferred to look for new land in the north where resistance from the enemy would not be so tough. How often do we live our lives in this manner – doing the easy thing instead of the God thing? Sometimes, God calls us to work that will be hard (going against cultural norms) and we would rather not stand out but rather fit in and do what is easiest.

How do we develop that North Korean or Middle Eastern Christian toughness? How do we develop that willingness to die rather than renounce or compromise our Christian faith? It starts in the small things. Instead of being quiet when Christian bashing begins at the water cooler, speak up for Jesus. Instead of compromising our values just to fit in at work, or in our neighborhood, etc., stand up for Jesus. Instead of being quiet about our faith, share it. Instead of fearing rejection for sharing your faith, overcome it. We start by crediting Jesus Christ’s grace in our lives for when we act with integrity. We start by showing uncommon love to people that have screwed us over so that people will ask us why we did that. We start by being sacrificial with our money – eschewing the need for the newest and best toys, cars, and homes so that we can be a generous people. We start by giving to others when they are in need without any real reason to do it than show them love. We give without expectation of payback. We start by not taking shortcuts around biblical values. We start by loving those who make fun of us.

There will be a day in America when we have to choose the easy way out or being Christian. Will you have the guts to stand up for Jesus with your last dying breath or will you take the easy road and compromise your values just to preserve this earthly existence? Will I have the guts? Will you?

Amen and Amen.

Judges 17:1-13
Micah’s Idols

One of the most famous lines from the Old Testament is Judges 17:6 which states, “In those days, Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” When you read that and if you are a student of the Bible, you go, “Yeah, man, those Israelites were really a screwed up bunch.” They generally became a more and more depraved people even though God had made them His own people. Today, we call the essence of Judges 17:6 moral relativism.

What is moral relativism? In moral debate in the United States today, many people resort to moral relativism. They argue that there are no objective moral values which help us to determine what is right or wrong. They claim “everything is relative.” In order to defend this position, the relativist puts forth two arguments: (1) Since people and cultures disagree about morality, there are no objective moral values; (2) Moral relativism leads to tolerance of practices we may find different or odd and celebrate that the person has to beliefs. In moral relativism that are not universal truths, no moral absolutes. In moral relativism you can be both a claimed affirmer of life but yet support abortion. We can claim to be anti-slavery but yet we treat our unborn fetuses as if they are our own property to do with whatever we please. We can support gay rights and transgenderism but fail to give a beating but as yet unborn life as if the fetus has no rights. Doing what we feel is right and justifying it as OK is the essence of today’s culture.

The problem for the moral relativist (who is often a secular humanist who rejects God) is they have no good answer to the two-part question: Is there anything wrong with anything, and why? A proper answer to the question necessitates that an individual have: (1) an unchanging standard they can turn to, and (2) an absolute authority that has the right to impose moral obligation. Absent these two things, and morals or ethics simply become personal preferences rather than universal absolutes. Rape, for example, could never be deemed wrong; the strongest statement that could be made about rape would be, “I don’t like it.” Abortion is a choice because turning a life into property which I can dispose of as I please cannot be wrong if there is no moral standard to measure it against. If we do away with God, anything is fair game and everything is relative. Is there anything wrong with nothing being wrong? Our culture now celebrates its so called enlightened freedom from Christianity. We celebrate that the old moral standards that governed our nation up through the 1950s are no longer valid for society. We are now free to be identify today what I want to be – a man or a woman. We celebrate alternative sexual lifestyles as a freedom of personal expression. We celebrate a woman’s right to choose to treat a beating heart as a piece of property to be tossed away like yesterday’s leftovers. We celebrate that we have freed ourselves from conformity to mutually accepted social norms. We now celebrate and protect fringe behaviors as a right that must preserved even at the expense of the prevailing desires of the general society. We even vilify those who pushback against elevating the rights of a few over the rights of the many.

This is the world in which we live and how little it is different from the world described in Judges 17:6 in this passage of Judges 17:1-13. Right smack in the middle of the passage is the crux of the problem of the people of Israel and so it is with us today. We have effectively in the 21st century wrestled control of our lives from God. We are now our own gods. We decide that which is right and that which is illusion (sorry…that Moody Blues reference just jumped onto the page). We decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. I can decide today that I can ignore hard coded and obvious genetics to say that I identify at least for today that I am a woman when it is naturally and anatomically obvious that I am a man. This is the height of today’s self expression. When we say an elephant is a zebra and everyone supports your right to believe an elephant is a zebra then we can begin deluding ourselves as to what is right and what is true. When we start calling things to say that they are when they are not, we begin to accept lies as truth. Thus, then truth becomes what I perceive it to be. The inevitable conclusion for all this moral relativism will be that there will be no rule of law because there will be, eventually, no universally accepted moral standards. Laws are based on moral standards with everyone determining for themselves and even having the courts defend that it is right for my rights to be held in the highest of esteem even at the cost of problems in society, there will be a decay of law. There will be a decay of knowing or even caring what is right and wrong. Courts are already on their way there. Courts no longer weigh the rights of the few against the rights of the many – what is best for society as a whole. Courts now see individual rights as sacrosanct and what is right and good for society must take a back seat to the rights of individuals. Therefore, when we make the individual the locus of morality at all cost, we are destined to lose any corporate sense of what is right and wrong. I am my own god. I determine what is right for me. It’s been tried, folks, right here in the history of God’s people. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

Let’s think about Israel’s desire to pursue individual self-interest at the cost of the good of society and at the cost of their relationship with the Creator God as we read this passage:

17 There was a man named Micah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 One day he said to his mother, “I heard you place a curse on the person who stole 1,100 pieces[a] of silver from you. Well, I have the money. I was the one who took it.”

“The Lord bless you for admitting it,” his mother replied. 3 He returned the money to her, and she said, “I now dedicate these silver coins to the Lord. In honor of my son, I will have an image carved and an idol cast.”

4 So when he returned the money to his mother, she took 200 silver coins and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into an image and an idol. And these were placed in Micah’s house. 5 Micah set up a shrine for the idol, and he made a sacred ephod and some household idols. Then he installed one of his sons as his personal priest.

6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

7 One day a young Levite, who had been living in Bethlehem in Judah, arrived in that area. 8 He had left Bethlehem in search of another place to live, and as he traveled, he came to the hill country of Ephraim. He happened to stop at Micah’s house as he was traveling through. 9 “Where are you from?” Micah asked him.

He replied, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am looking for a place to live.”

10 “Stay here with me,” Micah said, “and you can be a father and priest to me. I will give you ten pieces of silver[b] a year, plus a change of clothes and your food.” 11 The Levite agreed to this, and the young man became like one of Micah’s sons.

12 So Micah installed the Levite as his personal priest, and he lived in Micah’s house. 13 “I know the Lord will bless me now,” Micah said, “because I have a Levite serving as my priest.”

Here, in this passage, we see that Micah and his mother seemed to be good and moral people and may have desired to worship God, but they disobeyed God by following their own desires instead of doing what God wanted. The attitude that prevailed in Micah’s day was this” “The people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (17:6). How remarkably similar is that attitude to today’s world. However, God has given us standards. He has not left our conduct up to us and our opinions. We can avoid conforming to the standards of our day by taking God’s commands seriously and applying them to our daily lives. Independence and self-reliance are positive traits but only when such traits are displayed within the framework of God’s standards.

Today, as in Micah’s day, everyone seemed to put self-interest first. Time has not changed human nature. Most people still reject God’s right way of living. The people of Micah’s time replaced true worship of God with a homemade version of idol worship. As a result, God’s unchanging, equally applied justice was replaced with chaos. Ignoring God’s standards for living led to confusion and destruction. Morality was on a sliding scale. People who do not live by God’s standards will end up doing whatever seems most expedient to support their own self-interest at any given time. This tendency is present in all of us. God’s Word provides us with the consistent and universal truths by which we should govern our lives. It is the way by which we can tell the difference between right and wrong.

In the end, the moral relativist has no satisfying answer in his attempt to respond to the question, “Is there anything wrong with anything, and why?” There is no standard to turn to and no authority to recognize and respect. In contrast to the moral relativist whose worldview is secular humanism, the Christian worldview provides a solid standard and authority that can be confidently referenced and followed. The Creator God, Who has revealed Himself in His Word is both the standard and authority for morals. From God’s nature comes pure good that serves as the straight line by which all crooked lines can be measured.

God’s image has been impressed upon humanity (Genesis 1:26-27) so that human beings instinctively know God’s moral law and what is right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15). People don’t have to believe in God to know His moral law, but in denying Him, they lose the ability to ground an objective moral law. It is then that we descend into the chaos of calling an elephant a zebra and defending my right to call it a zebra. It is then that everything is fair game and there is nothing to cling to as universal truth. Nothing to compare behaviors against. Nothingness. Everything is OK and nothing is the result. There is no meaning to life. There is no greater good only what I perceive. There is no God. I am my own god. There is no heaven and there is no hell. There is no need for it because nothing can be said to be wrong. We are elephants believing that we are zebras.

The funny thing is…is that one day when our individual deaths occur and/or when Jesus returns, we will learn that there will be no moral ambiguities. We will realize that God really does exist. That there are actual moral absolutes and they we had deluded ourselves by thinking we were zebras when the reality, the universal and unmistakable truth is that we were elephants all along.

Amen and Amen.