The Book of Judges ends with some increasingly odd and disturbing stories. Chapter 17 chronicles the story of Micah, a man from Ephraim who steals money from his mother and when his conscience gets the best of him he confesses and she uses some of the money to make them an idol because she is so happy. Micah then creates a shrine and finds a Levite to serve as his personal priest. Chapter 18 tells the story of the Tribe of Dan who was unable to secure their inheritance in the land and so was still searching for a place to live. They finally found an unsuspecting and peaceful city and set out to destroy it and claim it as their inheritance. While on a killing rampage they came across Micah and his Levite and convinced the Levite to become the personal priest for the entire tribe of Dan thus supposedly securing their standing before God. If those stories aren’t strange enough, chapters 19-21 chronicle the story of a Levite and his concubine. While on a journey this Levite spent the night in the city of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin. That evening, the men of Gibeah surrounded the house the Levite wanting to have relations with him. He turns over his concubine instead and they rape and murder her. Reacting to this murder, the Levite cuts his concubine into 12 pieces, ships one piece to every tribe in Israel and asks, what should we do. Israel comes together and attacks the tribe of Benjamin, almost completely wiping them out in the process. War leads to sorrow as Israel mourns these horrendous sins.
If these summaries alone are bad enough, the full stories are even worse. How could Israel ever come to this point when such blatant sins became rampant? What circumstances could ever lead to such a time? It is interesting that throughout these final five chapters there is one phrase that keeps being repeated, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” The phrase is stated in 18:1, in 19:1, and again in 21:25, only the last time it is followed with the line “all the people did what was right in their own minds.” It is interesting because Israel will soon be calling for a King, no longer wanting judges or priests to help lead them but to be like the nations around them. But this repeating phrase has nothing to do with a physical king and everything to do with no longer having God as King. The only way one falls into such blatant sin is to forget or ignore the King of Kings. Israel was committing atrocious sins not because they failed to have an earthly ruler but because they no longer recognized God as their true king.
If sin becomes blatant in our lives there may be multiple causes which lead to this step but there is only one main reason, because Yahweh God is no longer King. God created the world and set it up to work a certain way. If we live as God intends us to live, while not always easy, life will work out. However, when we deviate from God’s will, when we quit following God as King, when we honor ourselves and our desires above all other things, then life becomes more complicated and we find ourselves doing things and participating in activities that are abhorrent and wrong and not as Christians should act. While these stories present horrendous atrocities, our lives will also spiral into sin if we fail to maintain Yahweh God as our true King.
The end of the Book of Judges is a warning worth listening to. May we always have God as King.