Any father here who has a daughter understands that no matter what happens, that daughter will always be your little girl. The other thing you know if you have a daughter is that no guy will ever be good enough for her. My apologies to the men out there, but that's just life. That's the way it always has been and always will be.
So you'll understand that when my daughter came back home, I was glad. Oh, I was sad that her marriage had come to an end. It actually wasn't really even a marriage. She was a concubine. You don't have concubines in my day, but back then concubines were really like wives without all the privileges. I know what you're thinking: "Wives have privileges? When did this start?" But believe me, you wouldn't have wanted to be a concubine. They had it even worse. So when my little girl returned back home, I was sad for all that she had been through, but I was also really, really glad to see her.
I wish I could say that my daughter was completely innocent. The truth is that she had done some things I'm not proud of. But if you knew her husband, well he had his issues too.
But anyway. My little girl was back with me for four months. Then one day I looked out and saw her husband show up. He had a servant and two donkeys with him. I didn't know what to think at first. Maybe it was the look on his face, or the fact that he had come all that way to get his concubine back. It could have been the tears I had seen my girl shed. But for some reason, as much as I hated to see my daughter go, I was glad to see her life come together. Again, those of you who are fathers will understand. Although no guy is good enough, and you want to tell that no-good son-in-law a thing or two, you really do want your daughter to be happy. So I saw him and welcomed him in.
He came. We ate and we talked. One day turned into two, and two days turned into three, three days turned into four. I knew the time was coming when my girl would be gone, but I tried to delay it as much as I could. On the fifth day, again, he got up to leave. I stalled, and the day dragged on. But near the end of the day I could persuade my son-in-law no longer. He saddled his donkeys, took my daughter, and they were off. I didn't realize it at the time, but that would be the last time I saw my little girl.
They left, and they headed toward the city of Jerusalem. Not such a good plan. Jerusalem was only nine or ten kilometers from where I lived, but it's not the kind of place you want to spend the night. It was a foreign city, and you never know if you're going to be safe or welcome among people who aren't your own kind. So, they kept on going another nine or ten kilometers until they arrived at Gibeah, a Benjamite city, where they should have been safe. Thus began one of the worst night you could ever imagine, one of the saddest stories that could ever be told.
My daughter, her husband, and the servants went to the city square, just inside the gate, where they couldn't be missed. There were no hotels in my day, but hospitality was a big deal. If you saw someone in the square with no place to stay, it was only common courtesy that you invite them back to your place.
But they waited. People passed by them and took a good look, but nobody invited them to their house. They kept waiting and started to get a little concerned. Eventually this old man came back from working the fields, and he invited them back. He washed their feet, fed the donkeys, and provided everything that they needed. It took a while, but at least somebody came through.
I can barely talk about what happened next.
Everyone was enjoying themselves, relaxing after a day of travel, when they heard a noise outside. I don't know if you've ever heard what a mob sounds like, but if you have, you can picture what they heard. There was some banging on the door, and some shouting. They had seen my daughter and her husband all right. "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him!" they yelled.
Their host would have none of that. He went outside and tried to handle the situation. He rebuked them. You won't understand this, but his honor was at stake. He had a duty to his male guest, by son-in-law. He had obligations.
I can't justify or excuse what happened next. He was so concerned about protecting my son-in-law that he offered his own daughter and mine to the angry mob. "Look!" he said. "Here they are. Use them as you wish. But just don't touch this man."
They wouldn't listen. The crowd got louder. The noise was too much. It looked like they were going to come crashing through the door at any moment. So eventually my son-in-law took things into his own hands. He took his concubine, my daughter, opened the door, and threw her out into the mob. I can't tell you what they did to her. I will never forgive him for throwing my girl to the mob, nor will I forgive those who did these terrible things to my daughter.
You know what really gets me? My son-in-law slept through that night. In the morning he got up and found my girl on the doorstep. She's lying there, and he says, "Get up, let's go" like nothing happened. She didn't answer. So he picks her up, puts her on his donkey, and goes home. I don't even know if she's dead at this point. But when he gets home he takes a knife and mutilates my girl's body, and sends pieces of her body to all the areas of Israel.
I'm not one to make wild accusations, but I'd like to know: was she dead at this point? Is my son-in-law guilty of murder, or did he only - "only" - desecrate the corpse of my little girl? I'm not mad at him for issuing the call to all of Israel to wake them up from their lethargy. Oh, that had to be done. But I can't accept that this man, to whom I gave my daughter, whom I had just fed and entertained in my house, could do this to my girl. As far as I'm concerned, he's responsible for my girl's death. I don't know who killed her - it could have been the mob of people - but as far as I'm concerned, he didn't have to give her to the mob. He certainly didn't have to hack her body in pieces.
You know, Sodom is the low point in the Scriptures. You can't get much lower than Sodom. You may remember the story of Sodom. It's pretty similar to what happened to my girl. But at least that time angels intervened and saved Lot and his family. There would be no salvation this time. Sodom is as low as it gets, but we - the people of Israel - had become Sodom. We could not possibly sink any lower.
I just have to say: nothing like this has ever happened before in Israel. I don't know if anything worse has happened since. This is about as bad as it could possibly get.
Well, there's more. When everyone received the part of my daughter's body, it shocked them as it should have. They all came together. If I take pride in anything, it's that what happened to my daughter brought people together like no judge ever could. I'll give my girl that. Her life counted for something.
They all came together and they realized that this wasn't right. Gibeah had to answer for what they had done. So all of Israel assembled an army; they set up supply lines and got ready for battle. Israel had its battles, but never before had they come together with such unity, not against an enemy nation, but against one of its own cities.
They went to the tribe of Benjamin, and sent out the message that the men of Gibeah had to be punished for what they had done. Unbelievably, the Benjamites refused to hand them over. Unbelievable. So Israel lined up four hundred thousand swordsmen against Benjamin's almost twenty-seven thousand, and went to battle. Battle one: Benjamin won, and we lost twenty-two thousand. Battle two: Benjamin won, and we lost eighteen thousand. Battle three: Israel won. All but six hundred Benjamites were killed. Finally we had won. Justice had been served on the men who committed this horrible crime against my daughter.
You'd think that we would have been happy to finally be rid of the problem. But how can you be happy when you have been fighting against your own people? An entire tribe had been all but wiped out. So Israel gathered again. They came up with these elaborate plans to snatch unwilling wives so that the tribe of Benjamin could be repopulated by these six hundred Benjamites that escaped. There was more bloodshed. As a father, I have to feel for the fathers of the daughters who were snatched away and given to the Benjamites as wives. But you see, everyone was doing what looked right to them. We didn't need a king to lead us into evil. We were capable of finding it ourselves. We had no king; we were just doing whatever appeared to be right in our own eyes.
I guess I have to ask: Where did things go so wrong? Moses had said that we were supposed to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The LORD had promised to bless us, so that we would lend to other nations and rule over them, but they would not rule over us. Moses had said, "And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth" (Deuteronomy 28:1).
I ask you, where did things go wrong? Was it when we didn't take the land that the LORD had promised us? Was it when we, little by little, adopted the customs of the people around us, so that eventually we became just like them?
Where did we go wrong? How did we get to the point where we became our own worst enemy? How did we get to the point where we - God's own people - had become rotten to the core? It was the Canaanites out there that were the problem. It was the Canaanites within our own hearts. We had become the problem.
Where exactly did things go so wrong? Was it the paganism of Gideon, the self-centeredness of Samson, the cowardice of Barak? Was it when we decided that we could be the judges of what is right or wrong in our own eyes?
How did it get to the point in which we don't show hospitality to our own people, where gang rapes take place, where a Levite throws his concubine to a mob, where we can wipe out an entire tribe?
I don't know the answer to these questions, but I know that Moses laid out a path for us that would lead to blessing, and for God to set us as a light to the nations so that he could show his glory, but it's a path we didn't take. We took a different path, and it didn't look so bad at the time, but look where it took us. Look where it took us.
I don't know what the answer is either. We need help. Will God save us from what we've become? It's almost like God himself would have to come down to earth as a man to save us. Nothing else has worked. We need a Savior.
The Book of Judges ends on a depressing note. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. God's people have become rotten to the core. They had sunk to the level of Sodom, which, in the Bible, is as low as you can go.
Scholars believe that this last story happened earlier than some of the other stories we have read. So why was this story placed last? Because the author wanted to make a point: When God's people wander from him, the consequences don't look bad immediately. But if God's people persist in rebellion, this is where it leads. The consequences are worse than we could imagine.
But there's also a note of hope. Despite the great evil described within Judges, God had not forgotten his people. Slowly - through Samuel, David, the prophets, and ultimately Jesus, God's light began to penetrate that darkness. The darkness could not extinguish the light that God sent into the world. The prophet Isaiah wrote:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined...
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
At the end of Judges, the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out. Centuries later, a descendant of this almost-lost tribe, Saul of Tarsus, became the premier interpreter of the good news of Jesus Christ.
When we disobey God, the consequences are far worse than we could imagine. But God is faithful in keeping his promises. God has not abandoned his people. He has sent us a Savior to save his people from their sins.