When I was a senior in high school, I got my first job with a cleaning company in Kilgore, Texas. We went from business to business cleaning at a rapid pace with a team of about five or six of us. We cleaned some filthy places. The banks weren’t too bad, but one of our clients was an old field company. Their floors were usually caked with mud, sometimes even in the offices. Once my boss caught me mopping with dirty water, and he wasn’t too pleased.
“You cannot clean anything with that water,” he said.
To be able to clean something that is dirty, you must first begin with a cleaning agent that is pure.
Recently, our church has finished a study in the book of Judges. The last three chapters of that book tell a tale that is quite gruesome in parts. The story begins by saying that there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. This phrase is repeated several times throughout the last three chapters. A Levite having a concubine is the first shocking thing we read in the story. A concubine was usually in those days a second wife that was used as a slave. It was and is a horrible thing to do to someone, and human trafficking and sex slavery is still something that hasn’t disappeared. What makes matters worse was — he was a Levite, a priest! He knew better, and when God’s people are involved in such a sinful situation it brings corruption to an institution that should be holy.
The story gets worse as we find the Levite saving himself from a group of perverse men bent on raping him, and he saves himself only by sending his concubine out to them. In the night the men rape her, and leave her for dead. She crawls to the doorway of the house where her master is staying, and dies on the welcome mat. The Levite then picks her body up, throws it on a donkey, returns home, cuts her body into twelve pieces, and sends all twelve pieces separately to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes can’t believe what has happened, and they all assemble to hear from the Levite the whole story. He does retell the story in chapter 20, but of course he leaves out many of the parts of the story that reveal his own sins. Israel decides to do something about these men, and they send a delegation to Gibeah, and essentially require them to give these men up to be killed. The tribe of Benjamin living in Gibeah is unwilling to give them up, and a battle begins.
Chapter 20 is a three-day battle that shows just how angry the rest of the eleven tribes of Israel got with the tribe of Benjamin. In the first two days of battle it looked as if the Benjaminites might win, but on the third day the Lord gave Israel the victory. But in their anger and bitterness they slaughtered not only the armed warriors of Gibeah, but they burned down the city, and killed women and children too. They annihilated them until only 600 men were left.
In chapter 21, we find the people crying unto God, asking Him: “How did this happen?” They knew very well how it had happened. They had let their anger get the better of them, and they almost destroyed a whole tribe of people that they called their own. Then, the problem became how will we make sure this tribe doesn’t fade away.
“We killed all their women. These 600 men need wives to carry on the tribe of Benjamin.”
They looked around, and realized that one city had not come to help them fight — the town of Jabesh-gilead. They had already vowed to kill anyone who didn’t participate in some way, and so they dispatched an army to slaughter them, and carried back 400 virgins. Yet they were still short 200 wives for the men. Their solution was to tell the remaining men of Gibeah to abduct and kidnap young women who were dancing at a nearby festival. In their anger they had vowed not to give the men any wives from their people, but if they kidnapped them then they were released from the vow, and they wouldn’t be punished. What a horrible way to make something that was wrong right! Just like we tell our children: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” The last words of the book of Judges is, “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
In our current political climate, in our world, and in our local community, sometimes we try to purge evil, but we only end up committing sin while doing so. Our hands are dirty, our mop buckets filled with the detestable. How can we clean anything? The great need of the day is for revival in the church. We cannot hope for an evangelical savior in the White House. We cannot hope for a sinner to purge us from our sin. Our only hope is in a sinless savior named Jesus.
Brian Taylor is the full-time pastor at Forest Avenue Baptist Church. he began his ministry in the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa, serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the panhandle of Texas.