Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Israel's Compromise = A Concubine's Calamity

Once upon a time there was a Levite. (Bust out the flannel-board here.) We’ll call him Larry. Larry the Levite. Well, Larry the Levite had a concubine. Whether or not you agree with the practice of having a concubine or not (and I don’t know that I want to see any hands on this one), Larry the Levite had one and we’ll say her name was Carol. Carol the Concubine.
There came a time in the life of Carol and Larry that Carol ran away and “played the harlot”, a rather delicate term, I think. But Larry loved his Carol and chased after her in hopes to speak softly to her and return her home.
She was at her father’s house when Larry found her. He and his servant stayed for several days with the father, but were adamant about returning home promptly. I don’t have in-laws, but I’ve heard some stories and I can imagine why Larry wanted to leave. So mid-afternoon on the 5th day of their trip, Larry, Carol and the gang all headed back home.
But because it was mid-afternoon when they finally left, they didn’t make it nearly as far as Larry would have liked (and I think we ALL can relate to that feeling!). They made it to a town called Jebus, but Larry knew the Jebusites (or Jebusses, if you will) were not of the same people – they were foreigners – and he wanted to at least get to a place where his own people were because he could trust them; they would be safe.
So, they pressed on to a place called Gibeah, where Larry’s relatives were. Some kind of 8th cousin twice removed or something. At any rate, they got there, but not before nightfall. Sadly, in many towns once upon a time, it was hard to find someone to take you in after nightfall because the walls of the city would be closed to keep out the creeps and the freaks.
There they were - Larry, Carol and the rest of the convoy – after nightfall, outside in the open town square. Luckily, though, along came a kindly gentleman who had been working in some fields. (Now, I like to picture this guy like Jed Clampett, but you can make him any old redneck guy you want to, but because I’m telling the story, we’re going to call him Jed.) Jed, being the hospitable guy he was, sees these strangers in need of a place to rest and invites them into his home. Come to find out that Jed and Larry are from the same town up north! How about that?! Away the night they went, all dancing and singing and party-hardy-marty. WHEN ALL OF A SUDDEN (you just know something bad is about to happen), there is a HUGE knock on the door. It seems that some of the village folk (worthless fellows they were, really) had heard about Larry the Levite and his group and wanted to abuse him. Just for the sake of doing it. Because they were worthless fellows, I say.
And Jed, dear old Jed, told them that what they wanted to do was wicked and shouldn’t be done because Larry was a guest, not to mention their 8th cousin twice removed. He offered to them, as an exchange for Larry, Carol the Concubine and his own daughter! (She doesn’t have a name.) But they wouldn’t give up; these guys kept beating on the door, threatening to pull it down.
Finally, Larry, in fear of his own life, throws Carol out to these evil mongrels. (At this point, I don’t think we like Larry very much.) And what do wicked people do to not-so-wicked concubines? Yep…they do wicked things. All night long, these jerk-faces beat and abuse her until she is almost dead. When daylight broke, she was as good as dead, lying on the threshold to Jed’s house.
So Larry gets ready to leave; he goes outside and sees Carol, nearly dead from the night before. He told her to get up so they could leave, but she couldn’t. Larry hoists Carol up onto his ride and away they went, back home, after a long, hard journey.
Upon returning home, Larry takes Carol inside and proceeds to chop her into 12 pieces and sends the pieces throughout the land. (Yes, I realize it’s anti-climactic, but that’s the story and I can’t change it.) He tells the people that nothing this terrible has ever been done before and that basically her blood is now on the hands of the whole country because of these worthless men in Gibeah. People from all over the country-side come to discuss what has happened. They choose to avenge her death by arresting the ones who killed Carol. However, the leaders, the fathers of these “worthless fellows” refused to hand them over! They chose to stand with the evil-doers, rather than stand up for Carol.
I know this sounds like a gruesome and Alfred Hitchcock-esque story, but it’s not. This is a true story. One we can find in Judges 19 and 20 of your handy-dandy Bible. Yeah…not one of the ones you heard growing up in Sunday school, huh? It’s weird and gross and has concubines and really, few stories containing concubines turn out well, but even with all that, it’s interesting. Here’s why:
This story isn’t really about Larry and Carol. “What?! Back up off Sarah! I thought it was!” I know, I know…I totally threw you for a loop there. But really, this story is about the tribe of Benjamin. See, it was the tribe of Benjamin that owned the land of Gibeah. Those “worthless fellows” that we are all thinking evil thoughts about were Benjamites. And the tribe of Benjamin was one of the 12 tribes of Judah, Israel, God’s chosen people.
Let me back this story up for you; I’m going to drop some history-knowledge. When the children of Israel moved into the land of Canaan, God commanded that they clear out all the other people living there, aka the Canaanites. Many of the tribes (including Benjamin) refuse to obey the command of God. Instead, they let the people stay in the land with them. With the Canaanites still in the land, the Israelites start worshiping Canaanite gods instead of Yahweh, who gave them the land in the 1st place!
Because God is a just and jealous God, He gets a bunch of other people to conquer Israel. Smite! Then Israel whines and cries and pleads with God to save them, to be merciful. And because God is a just and merciful God, He sends a judge to get the people back in order. They start worshipping God, all is good. But then the judge will die. Or do something dumb and then Israelites go right back to worshipping false gods. This cycle goes round and round for generation after generation, each generation doing more and more wicked than the one before it.
At the point of our story, there is no judge. No one is ruling the people in righteousness so that they don’t do wicked things. So really then, in light of that, I guess this story shouldn’t be all that shocking – evil doers simply do evil things.
But we are shocked. Because it IS evil.
The tribe of Benjamin (and the other tribes as well) didn’t obey the commands of the Lord. They didn’t drive out the people that would distract them from worshiping Yahweh. They became hardened and callous to things that were good and right. Luckily the other 11 tribes hear the call of goodness and return to all that is good and right because they chose to stand up for righteousness, no matter the cost.
Did you notice in the story that when the people go to Benjamin to get the bad guys, all the tribe of Benjamin stands together with the bad guys? They had so lost the memory of goodness and truth and kindness and love that whatever evil had been done was just ok.
I am more like the tribe of Benjamin than I care to admit. Over time, things that are unholy, unjust, unrighteous, all over uncool become…just…ok. I don’t get shocked over things that really ought to make me shocked; my heart is hardened to the sin in my life simply because it’s been there for so long.
Are any of you like me? I think some of you might be.
There’s a blog I like to read. It’s called “Stuff Christians Like” and if you want to laugh, read it. But the author makes a comparison to sin. He told a story of a friend of his who has the pansiest gag reflex ever. This guy would chunder every time he smelled something even remotely gross. One day they drove by a paper mill and you know how bad paper mills stink? Well, there they were, driving and this guy has to put his head in a bag of candy corn (because candy corn is highly pungent) to keep the smell out so he won’t chuck.
The candy corn failed. The smell of the paper mill went right through the bag of sugary goodness and they had to pull the car over so that their friend could honk. Awesome…
Wouldn’t it be great if we were like that? Maybe not so much the physical chucking part, but the whole “I’m going to spew if I even smell something gross.” We are so accustomed to the smell/taste/look/sound/touch of gross things around us that we aren’t fazed anymore. Like Benjamin, over a long period of time, our sensitivities have seen hardened to the point where we don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. We have no basis anymore for goodness. Most likely for you it’s not as drastic as getting to the point where you would terrorize a concubine. Or your 8th cousin twice removed. But I’ll bet if you think hard enough you can think of some things that you’ve been desensitized to. I know I can think of some. I’ll even tell you one of mine.
I don’t really hear cuss words anymore.
In fact, more often than not, I love cuss words and I love to cuss.
That may totally change your opinion of me and well, that’s just a risk I’m willing to take. (What’s community without vulnerability?) Since I was little I’ve heard cuss words everywhere. Except from my mother, who’s most vulgar is a “crap” now and again. We weren’t allowed to “darn” anything in our house but socks. =) Yet, over time, I heard words that have been deemed inappropriate by whoever decides what words are curse words or not and I ingested them, I played with them, I figured out new ways to use them, how to make them sound like not-so-bad words under my breath. I know they aren’t appropriate; the Scriptures talk about using words that serve to edify and build one another up, wholesome words that are pleasant and uplifting, and not to offend others with my habits. And I have tried to justify what I’m saying, what I’m thinking. I’ve even gone so far as to say that Jesus and Paul used “vulgar” words in Scripture. (Man, that’s low.) I do it; I know I shouldn’t, but I do anyway.
What’s yours? (Rest assured that you don’t have to tell me.) Maybe it’s cussing like me. Maybe its “little white lies” that seem insignificant but they just keep coming and you just don’t even try to stop it anymore. I know plenty of habitual liars to know this one is out there. Maybe it’s sexuality. This one is a huge one in our culture today and has been for years and years. We are inundated with sensuality and sexuality from shampoo commercials to radio ads for real estate. I would be shocked and appalled if any of you out there could say that you weren’t desensitized to sexuality; I should try to spend more time with you. But do you see where I’m going with this? Like Benjamin, we have traded our obedience to Yahweh for selfish pleasures. And that breaks His heart. He creates us as sensitive beings – in His image. He is a sensitive and emotive God; when we shut down our sensitivities in order to follow things that make us hard and opposed to goodness, we shut Him out. And He doesn’t want to be shut out of our lives, out of our hearts, out of our habits.
God may not have had any lines in the story of Larry and Carol and the Benjamites, but He was most certainly was in the wings. He mourned over Carol, He mourned over the loss of Benjamin, and He mourned over the loss of the children of Israel’s deep hearts of obedience to the covenant. He is faithful – it is His character. When the children of Israel called out in repentance and in faith, He rescued them from their enemies and from themselves. Just like He will do for us when we call on Him. Spend some time thinking about the things that you have become accustomed to; the things that have caused you to loose your sensitivities to goodness, to righteousness and to intimacy with God.
Don’t be like Benjamin. And if you are, remember that while concubines come and go, God is always there. =)


DeliveredJude said...

I must say, I haven't read your blog yet, but I will. You need to go to customize. Under Layout and page elements you should push the "add a page element" box. There you can add links to websites and other blogs.

Travis said...

Sarah, that was much needed. Thanks.

JD said...

mine is negativity, complaining, and impatient annoyance with stupidity. james says that with the same mouth we both curse men and praise God. i have that problem. just this week, jen and i went out to dinner and when we left, the guy next to us had parked his truck with the butt end hanging into my spot. and the worst part was that he was still in the truck and saw my frustration! i did not have a positive word to say about him. but then i thought of that james passage. i need to think about it more often.