James Merritt - Out On a Limb
I want you to turn to Judges 19. Now, let me just warn you of something, 'cause I've seen some little kids in here. I want to just be, I've got to tell you. If you put the story that we're going to read, if Hollywood made a movie out of it, it would definitely get an R rating. As a matter of fact, if it was graphically depicted, probably would get an even worse rating. So let me give you the backdrop of the story and then we're going to dive in. the story takes place in Israel. Now, you need to understand where Israel was at that time. In Israel at this time that we're reading this story, there's no king, there's no kingdom, there's no central government. There are 12 tribes, and each tribe is kind of their own municipality. They're kind of their own state. They're kind of their own jurisdiction. Okay? And they have their own laws.
Now, the truth of the matter is they did have a King, God, and they did have laws, His commandments. The problem was they had kind of discarded God and put God on the shelf and they had totally disobeyed His law. So we're going to pick up the story in Judges 19, beginning in verse one, and this is important. The reason we're going to read so much scripture, you've got to read the story in its context and really get the flavor of what we're talking about. "In those days, when there was no king in Israel..." And that's a big deal. You'll see why in a minute. "...a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine," I'll explain that in a moment, "from Bethlehem in Judah. His concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father's house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. And she brought him into her father's house. And when the girl's father saw him, he came with joy to meet him".
So here's what's going on. This is a Levite. That means he was a priest. Now, supposedly, he was supposed to be a man of God. He was a custodian of the word of God. The problem was he wasn't a very godly man and he didn't really pay much attention to the law. He was a very wicked man. He had a concubine. Now, ladies, I hate to break the news to you, but back in biblical days, men had concubines. And a concubine is what we would call today a legalized mistress. Today, if a man has a mistress, he kind of has it on the side, kind of discreet; you know, out of sight, out of mind. Back then? No. It was a part of the law. You had a wife and then you could have a concubine. She performed the duties of a wife; she just wasn't the wife. Now, God never encouraged it. God never approved it. But God allowed it.
We're in Judges 19:22. "As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, 'Bring out the man who's came into your house, that we may know him.'" That doesn't mean "we just want to get to know the guy;" you know, what's his name, what's his height, what's his weight. They want to get to know him in a very carnal, ungodly way. "And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, 'No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.' But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began, they let her go".
Now, I know you're sitting there going, "Well, say something". Not a whole lot to say. I mean, it just, it is what it is. If you're a woman in this room, you ought to feel your blood pressure going up. It's one of the most vile, wicked scenes in all of the Bible. It gets worse. Verse 26, "And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, until it was light. And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold". He called 911. He called the doctor. He gave her CPR. He tenderly took her into the bedroom to wash her wounds. No, he didn't do that. "He said to her, 'Get up, let's be going.' But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home".
It is what it is. This gutless coward of a man not only allows his concubine to be raped and brutally abused all night long while he sleeps like a baby, but when he finds her lying at the door, not only does he not offer medical assistance, not only does he not apologize for being such a coward, not only does he try to attend to her physical needs, he just says, "Time to go. Got work to do. Get up. let's move". And evidently, he bends down and realizes she's dead. Now he's angry. Oh, wait a minute. He's not angry that she was raped. He's not angry that she was abused. He's angry 'cause he's lost his concubine. He's angry because his property has been taken away from him. The law of hospitality's been violated. His concubine has been raped and murdered and justice had to be done and revenge has to be taken. But he can't do it by himself, so now he's got to get an army to get this thing taken care of. So to make sure that all of his fellow Israelites throughout the land will back him up, he does the following.
Judges 19:19, "And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, 'Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.'" Now, this man has a plan, and it works to perfection. He says, "If I just kind of tell people what happened, they're going to say, 'Well, that's your business. You deal with it.'" So he takes his concubine, cuts her up in pieces, puts it in a box, sends it to the other 11 tribes throughout the land with a note that says, "What are you going to do about this"?
Now, there's one thing we all agree on. If you go to your mailbox tomorrow and you open up the mail and you get a head or a hand or a foot, you will pay attention. So he's got everybody's attention. And I want to tell you, their blood is boiling. They are royally ticked off. So these 11 tribes form an army of 400,000 men and they're going to see to it this injustice is going to be rectified. We're going to see that justice is done. Now, here's what's interesting. Before the army leaves, they have to take three vows. They make three promises. And I want you to listen to what they do. They have to make a promise. They say, "Alright, number one, no one will go home until Gibeah is attacked and destroyed. Nobody gets a furlough. Nobody gets an exception. Nobody gets to stay home. There's no excuses. This is not a voluntary army. This is a draft. You will join. You will pick up the sword. You will put on the uniform. And you will not go home until this deed is rectified. Number two, anyone who does not join against Gibeah will be killed". That's a good way to get you to join the army. Okay? If you don't join, they're going to kill you. "I think I'll join". "Okay, great. Glad to have you".
Number three; this is important, "No one will allow his daughter to marry anyone from the tribe of Benjamin". Now, that's going to come back later. You'll see. But just keep in mind, they made all three promises. "You're not going to go home 'til it's done. You will fight or we'll kill you right here. And no one will allow his daughter to marry until, anyone from the tribe of Benjamin". Alright. Keep that third oath in mind. Alright. So the army gets together. They now go to Gibeah. They're confronting the tribe of Benjamin. And they would make what anybody would say is a very reasonable demand. We're going to skip ahead to chapter 20, verse 12. "And the tribes of Israel sent men throughout all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, 'What evil is this that has taken place among you?'"
Now, this is what you would expect. "'Now therefore, just give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.' But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel". This is getting more bizarre by the moment. All they wanted was, "Look...." They come to Gibeah and say, "We don't want war. We don't want to fight you. You know, we don't have an ax to grind with you," no pun intended, "We don't have an ax to grind with you. However, we've got to have justice done here. We can't let these worthless fellows, these evil men, get away with what they did to this concubine. Just give us the men. That's all we ask for. They deserve the death penalty. We're going to put them to death. All the evil will be purged. You'll go your way; we'll go our way. We'll all live happily ever after". They attacked the city twice. They lose 2,000 men in the process. But on the third attack, they're successful and they kill every one of the Benjaminite tribe except 600 men who escaped. But they're not done. They want revenge and they're going to get it.
Now we're in verse 48. "And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men, beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire". They kill everyone. They kill everything. They kill cattle. They kill dogs. They kill cats. They burn down every tent. They burn down every house. They burn down every town. It is a scorched earth policy on steroids. Well, they're finished. They feel like the deed is done. All of a sudden, their conscious finally kicks in and all of a sudden, they realize what they have done. They have almost wiped out an entire tribe, one of God's chosen 12 tribes. And now, their sense of family kicks in and they say, "Wait a minute. We do not want to be responsible for destroying one of the 12 tribes. We didn't choose 12 tribes. God chose 12 tribes. It's not our place to destroy any of the tribes. We can't let them disappear".
So they know that 600 male Benjaminites have escaped, and so they know in order for this tribe to survive, what do those 600 men need? They need women. They need wives to have babies so they can propagate the tribe and the tribe can survive. Well, they've got a problem. Remember the oath they took? "They're not going to have our daughters. We made a promise. They're not going to marry our daughters". Well, they've got a problem. They can't marry Gentile daughters because that's not what Jews can do and that's not how you propagate the purity of a Jewish race. So they say, "Okay, they can't marry Gentile daughters and we can't give them our daughters; what are we going to do"? Well, then they remembered something else.
Now we're over in Judges 21:8. "And they said, 'What one is there of the tribes of Israel that did not come up to the Lord to Mizpah?'" In other words, they said, "Hey, let's go back and check the records. Is there anybody that didn't show up to fight like they were supposed to"? "And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead, to the assembly. For when the people were mustered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there". Okay? So, good news. I don't know how they missed it, don't know how they fell through the cracks, but there was this one tribe and they didn't send anybody to fight whatsoever. So what do you think they're going to do? Here's what I would have done. You think this is the only thing to do. You would think they would go up to the tribe of Jabesh-gilead and they would say, "Hey, look. You know, you guys didn't carry out your end of the bargain, so you're going to have to give us some of your daughters in order for these men to marry".
You think that's what they would have done... but that's not the way it worked out. We're in Judges 21:10. "So the congregation sent 12,000 of their bravest men there and commanded them, 'Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones. This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.' And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan".
Now, here's what they do. They're going to one of their own cities and they kill every man, every woman, every child, except for 400 virgins. And then they force the 400 virgins to marry 400 of the Benjaminites. Okay? But there's still another problem. Remember how many Benjaminites escaped. Six hundred. Six hundred minus four hundred is? Jack, what is it? I know you're struggling. Two hundred. Jack's a Florida fan. He's just slow. Jack, six... two; got it? Two hundred. Alright. There are 200 men leftover. They don't have wives. Okay; well, they're out of daughters, so what do they do? Well, all of a sudden, they remember something else. They remember in one of their cities called Shiloh, there's an annual festival that takes place every year. It was kind of like a Jewish Mardi Gras. And they knew there would be a lot of young virgin women at that festival.
So they take these other 200 Benjaminites and they say, "Here's what we're going to give you permission to do. We're going to let you go up to the festival and you can kidnap any woman that you want. You can forcibly take her, kidnap her. Take her away from her home and force her to become your wife and force her to marry you". Well, the Benjaminites say, "Well, wait a minute. We just got one problem". "What's that"? "How about dad? I don't think dad's going to be too happy with that". So the Israelites said, "Well, we'll take care of dad". So the Israelites, they go up to Gibeah and they get these dads together. They're going to have all these daughters, and they say to them, "We want to make you an offer you can't refuse". "Okay, what's that"? "Well, we've got some men coming from Benjamin and your daughters are going to be at this festival, and they're going to kidnap your daughters and they're going to take them and force them to be their wife and you're going to let them and you're going to do it with a smile on your face". And they said, "Well, what if we don't"? And they said, "Then we will kill you". And they said, "Well, what time is the wedding"?
And so they allowed them to go up there and they take these 200 women and they force these women to marry them. So all the fathers gladly give all these brides away. And the story mercifully comes to an end. Now, watch this. Judges 21:24, "And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance". Time out. You mean to tell me after the rape and the brutality and the genocide and the mutilation and the kidnapping and the forced marriage, everybody just goes back home? It's just business as usual? Everybody gets a good night sleep? It is well with their soul? Yep.
Now, the question. So Doc, how do you explain that? The explanation is mind-boggling. You ready? Buckle your seat belt. "In those days there was no king in Israel. And everyone did what was," say that word, "right in his own eyes". And all I can say is... wow. You have got to be kidding me. You cannot have real, objective, true, morality without God. And here's why. Here's the key takeaway. When God goes, anything goes and everything goes. When God goes, anything goes and everything goes. See, here's the problem. When you try to make right and wrong a matter of human choice, human reason, human decision, and you take God out of the equation, you just put yourself out on a moral limb that will break every single time, because look, one of two things is true. They both can't be true.
Now, they can be true at the same time in limited circumstances, but universally, one of two things has to be true. Either what is right is right because we say it's right, or what is right is right because God says it's right. One of two things has to be true. Either it's right because it's right in your eyes, or it's only right because it's right in His eyes. Now, what I want to do and just wrap this up, now we're going to be real brief, I just want to give you three reasons why I believe that only with God can you have morality. Only with God can you know what is right and what is wrong and what never changes from being right and wrong and only with God can you tell the difference. Alright? Here we go. Number one, real short; there are moral values we should believe in. there are moral values that we should believe in.
Now, before I go any further, I don't want to be misunderstood in what I'm saying. so if anybody's out there listening or maybe you'll be listening to this on television somewhere around the world or you'll get this on our website or you'll get it on a podcast or whatever, I want you to understand what I'm not saying. This is important. I'm not saying that you have to believe in God in order to believe that something's good. I'm not saying that you have to believe in God to do good things. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying you cannot formulate a standard of values that may be good, that you ought to live by without believing in God. I don't believe that's true. Nor am I saying that you have to believe in God to even believe that such a thing as right and wrong exists. I don't believe any of that whatsoever. The question that I'm trying to raise this morning is not the fact of goodness. We all know that there's good things and bad things. We get that. My question is not the fact of it; my question is the foundation of it. That's the question before us.
See, to say that there is right and wrong, that is always right and always wrong... If you believe there's anything, if you can think of one thing right now and you would say to yourself, "I can honestly say I think that's always right," or if you can think of one thing that you would say, "I think that is always wrong". And all of us in this room can do that. Let me tell you what you just did, whether you want to admit it or not, accept it or not; doesn't matter. What you just said was, "If I believe there's a right that's always right, if I believe there's a wrong that's always wrong, therefore, there must be someone with universal authority that declares it to be right and declares it to be wrong, regardless of what other people may think or what I may think".
So without God, anything goes and everything goes. If there's no God, I can never tell you what is always right and you can't tell me what's always wrong. It just becomes a matter of opinion. There can be no final, no ultimate, no objective right or wrong. Well, if there's no ultimate, final, objective, right or wrong, that only leaves one other option. You do what is right in your own eyes. There are moral virtues we should live by. Now, I want you to take my word for what I'm saying. Over about the last 40 to 50 years, anthropologists have done an exhaustive study of all the various cultures of the world, and let me tell you, one of the most fundamental things they found. It really amazed them, but it shouldn't have. You know what they found? They found that morality is universal. They found that no matter what culture you go into, what remote tribe you go to, what group of people that you find, they have found throughout the beginning of time, go to any group of people, every group had certain things they considered right and every group had certain things they considered wrong. Every group had standards of morality that they chose to live by.
Now, the standards may differ from one culture to another. They might even differ within a culture. But every culture that's ever existed says, "Yeah, there is a right and yes, there is a wrong. There is things we ought to do and there are things that we ought not to do". As a matter of fact, you know what Jesus said? Jesus came along and said, "Hey, not only are there moral virtues that we all ought to live by," Jesus said, "I can even summarize all those moral virtues up in one word". You may remember what that word is. That word is love. Jesus said, "I can't tell you why you to live. It's real easy. There's a horizontal virtue and there's a vertical virtue you ought to live by. They're both love. Virtually, I mean vertically, here's how you ought to live. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body, and strength. Horizontally, here's how you ought to live. Love your neighbor as yourself". That's it. Jesus said, "That's how you ought to live". There are moral, we all know that.
And here's what Jesus said. This is the beautiful thing. Jesus said, "You know what? When you finally make up your mind, I'm going to live this way, I'm going to live by loving my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and I'm going to live the rest of my life loving other people as I love myself," He said, "guess what you'll find in the process. You'll find loyalty and you'll find honesty and you'll find kindness and you'll find generosity and you'll find goodness". In other words, you'll find out what is good and you'll find out what is right when you live according to what God says is good and what God says is right. So there are moral virtues that we should live by. There are moral values that we should believe in. But here's the last thing I want to show you. There is a moral vision we will be judged by.
Now, this is why this is all a big deal. Let me tell you a final reason why I absolutely believe and don't apologize that you've got to have God if you're going to have true morality. Here's why. Let's just assume that we all believe, whatever your reason for believing it, but we all believe, and I think we all do, that yeah, there's such a thing as right and there's such a thing as wrong and there's such a thing as moral and there's such a thing as immoral. Alright, let's just say you believe that. Here's what I want you to hear. Only if there is a God will people be held morally accountable. So you can choose to go along to get along.
"Well, they say it's right. I guess it's right. I guess we were unenlightened. I guess we were wrong. I guess we didn't, you know, I guess we were confused". You can do that. I'm just simply tell you this. For me, we have a Controller and His name is Jesus. He's in a control tower. It's called the throne of the universe. He's given us a flight manual to fly by that's guaranteed to land us safely every time and it's called the word of God. And when we look to Jesus and we live by His word, we will not only know what is right, we will do what's right. And we'll do what's right in the only eyes that matter, and that's His eyes, the eyes of the God who alone has decided what is right and what is wrong for everybody, at all times, at all places. And it's found in the word of God.