OT: Judges 19:1-20:48
Oh, geez. Stories like these remind me that the Bible is rated R. And a hard R, too. Some parts are just not for children.
Hmmm...what to say about this passage?
As a Westerner living in the late 21st century, it is hard to fathom a world with no hint of chivalry. Best I can remember, the idea of chivalry came about during the time of the lords and knights and all that in England. Not the Dark Ages, but the Middle Ages? (Wow--I have forgotten so much since having kids!) Regardless, it definitely wasn't present at this time in Israel. After all, the Levite is just incensed that his concubine is raped to death (shudder), and yet, he is the one who threw her to the wolves, so to speak. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Lot and the angels, a crowd gathers at the Ephraimite's house (in the land of Benjamin; let's not get confused) and demands for him to send out the man staying with him. As in the earlier situation, the appropriate response to a sex-crazed homosexual mob is apparently to throw out whatever women you have in the house. It is just so anathema to me to think of men sacrificing a woman to save themselves, but that seemed to be culturally acceptable back then. Even when the Levite later explains it to the rest of Israel in 20:4-5, no one seems taken aback by his actions; they are only mad at the Benjamites. Furthermore, the Levite certainly doesn't seem too concerned the next day when he finds her collapsed on the doorstep. He simply says, "Get up; let's go" (28). Good lands!
The gang-rape is what gets me about this story. Cutting the woman up, not so much. It's gory, but at least she is already dead! It's what happens before she dies that is truly horrifying. The dismemberment does make a powerful point, though. And it also shows us that in a culture that is so far gone, there are some things that are still just plain shocking. It's oddly reassuring that the rest of Israel was so stirred up by the Benjamite's actions.
And yet, even though their fight against Benjamin made sense to me in light of what we have learned about God's OT methods of punishment, I still didn't like the rest of the story. It seems like the true losers in Israel's history were the women. Let's recap: in order to save themselves, two men throw out a concubine to be raped and abused. When she dies afterward (oops), her husband stirs up the rest of Israel to punish the town. And somehow, that leads to all the women of the town getting killed. Even though the women didn't fight and the men did, there are still plenty of Benjamite men left over. How do ya figure?
And b/c those poor men don't have anyone to marry, Israel decides to attack another city, kill all of their men (which, granted, is an example of the men being overly punished, too) and give their women to Benjamin. Then, Israel lets Benjamin way-lay and kidnap some more women, b/c God forbid they don't have wives! After all, without wives, who would they have to throw out to an angry mob???
The one good thing about this story is that it doesn't confuse me about God. The only thing that God can take credit for is the vengeance against Benjamin. His instructions to the rest of Israel there are totally within his character, and I can fully understand why He said to wreak havoc. That's it, though. Everything before and after seems clearly to be the product of a demoralized culture that has completely lost its way.
NT: John 3:22-4:3
My favorite part of this passage was John's words in verses 27-33. Here, John gives a great example of what it means to die to oneself. John has laid down whatever ambitions and selfish desires that he might have had and instead seeks for his life to glorify God. I especially love that he embraces his position in life: "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven...The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice." Many people would not be satisfied for their lot in life to be "the friend of the bridegroom." They want to be the hero of their own stories. I love John's assessment of his task: "He must become greater; I must become less." Wow. He really sums up the life of a Christian with these words.
John's words remind me of a song I love by John Reuben. It is all about being content with your lot in life, and the last lines of the chorus go, "All I have is what God gives/And that's all the life that I was meant to live." Those words can be hard to swallow in our culture, which so values raw ambition and the single-minded pursuit of our own dreams and personal happiness. Yet, I do believe that the Bible teaches us to lay all of our selfish pursuits down and instead focus on the tasks God has given us to further His kingdom.
This is another happy, simple psalm, which joyfully acknowledges that everything comes from God. I like it.
"All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." This verse goes well with I Cor. 4:20 ("For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.") The proverb is a great OT corollary; it's not as deep, but the underlying message is there. I cannot stand saying that I am going to do something and not doing it. It is such an awful feeling. I want to be hard-working, trustworthy, and dependable. As such, I am always drawn to verses that elevate actions over words.