The Downward Spiral (Part 2)

The book of Judges is organized around a cycle of apostasy and repentance that is repeated seven times in the book. The details change, but the cycle is the same.

  1. Israel enjoys a period of prosperity and peace.
  2. Israel leaves God to worship the false pagan gods.
  3. God allows Israel to be enslaved by a pagan enemy.
  4. Israel repents and turns back to God.
  5. God raises up a judge to overthrows the oppressor.

And then the cycle repeats itself-- freedom-to-apostasy-to-repentance-to freedom. Whether its the Philistines or Mesopotamians, Othneil or Gideon-- the story is basically the same.

That is until you get to our reading for the next several days, Judges 17-21. Here the story changes completely. You don’t have any judges or foreign oppressors. What you have is several very bizarre events that took place during the time of Judges but which have nothing to do with the message of the book. Actually, on closer inspection, these bizarre stories are precisely what the book of Judges is all about.

As you skim through this section of Judges, one phrase keeps jumping out at you. It appears four times in five chapters, too striking to be coincidence. You just have to think that this phrase is the organizing principle of these chapters:

  • Judges 17:6- "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."
  • Judges 18:1- "In those days Israel had no king."
  • Judges 19:1- "In those days Israel had no king."
  • Judges 21:25- "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."

Why does the author keep saying this over and over? Well, he seems to really, really want is to get it that Israel had no king. There was no authority, no one to enforce a universal code of behavior. The result was a moral relativism where everyone did as they saw fit.

There are three basic stories told to us in these five chapters. All three are introduced by the expression, “In those days Israel had no king.” All three show in broader and broader brush stoke just how depraved things got because: first, Israel had no central authority and second, everyone did as they saw fit.

  • The first story is of a man named Micah who builds for himself an idol god. He then sets up his own priesthood and establishes his own center of worship to this false god. All of this was, of course, in direct violation of the law of Moses.
  • The second story is of a group of Danites who basically become dissatisfied with the inheritance in Canaan and scout out for themselves new territory in the mountains of Laish. And in the process of doing, they stole both Micah’s new gods and his new priest. So now Dan lives in a land not given them by God and worshipping in a way not commanded by God.
  • The third story is of the rape and murder of the concubine of a Levite, the refusal of the men of Benjamin to hand over the perpetrators and the resulting civil war that all but destroyed the tribe of Benjamin.

It just gets weirder and weirder. These stories tell of a downward spiral among Israel caused by people who did as they saw fit. If you don’t respect a centralized ethical system, then you end up making your own gods, being dissatisfied with the inheritance given you by God, you rape and murder and then go to war with your brothers. That’s what happens when men direct their own ethical steps. That’s what happens when human beings fail to recognize the King of heaven as the master of morality.

Seems like there should be an application somewhere here for us.  It's just fortunate that we don't live in a time and place where everyone does as they see fit!