Right in His Own Eyes

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

This morning I landed in Judges 17-21 to read about war and murder and gore. My reading turned up a few interesting thoughts to follow.

All throughout Judges, the reader is reminded that "in those days, there was no king in Israel," and that "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Then it launches into story after story of one Israelite or a group of Israelites who were not looking to God's law to lead and guide them either in their day to day lives or in their large decisions like going to war.

The first story I read was about a man named Micah, who figured if he had his own priest living in his house, of course God would bless him. Then the Danites came to his house and offered the Levite a position as their tribal priest. They proceeded to go out and slaughter a peaceful, unprotected people to take over the good land that "the Lord our God has given." Looked good, though. They won--God must have been blessing it.

The next story was about a man who took a concubine for his wife or something--I wasn't entirely clear on the whole marriage procedure there, but somehow he ended up with an overbearing father-in-law who wanted to keep him around. He decided not to stay, though, and landed in Gibeah, a Benjamite city, to spend the night with an old man. With images reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrhah, the wicked men of the city demanded sex with the guy--and the old man offers (as Lot did) his virgin daughter. Not good enough, so to save his own skin the well-meaning guy hands them his concubine so they can spend the night raping and abusing her.

She dies.


So the guy cuts her up as he thinks is right and sends her twelve parts to the twelve tribes and says, "see what the Benjamites have done--let's destroy them!" Well, most of the Israelites agree that this is a good idea, and after three days of fighting, God finally gives them the victory after allowing thousands of them to be killed by the Benjamites. Then they make a vow not to allow their daughters to marry the Benjamites who had lived.

Then, the Israelites realize what they have done and freak out because they have just destroyed all of their women and children except 400 virgins and there is no one for the Benjamites to marry, and the tribe could drop off the face of the earth and no longer be part of Israel. Remorse hits them, but they can't go back on their vow, so they talk a bunch of dads into letting the Benjamites steal their daughters.

It's hard to believe this is the Bible. These were people who had seen God's work, who had everything available to them to seek Him and know who He was, but they did not obey the law that He had given them, choosing instead to try and make sense out of life and God on their own with no guidance at all from His commands. They moved every way the wind blew and ended up empty and angry with each other. Why was there a civil war in Israel?

I decided to read through Ruth, to try to get some of the images out of my mind.

This book was also set during the period of the Judges, and it tells the story of one family, Mr. and Mrs. Elimelech, their daughter-in-law, Ruth, and a kinsman-redeemer named Boaz. The family leaves Israel and goes to Moab, where sons Mahlon and Chilion marry Moabite women, one of whom grows to love Naomi enough to commit to her that she will go wherever she goes and make Naomi's God her God.

I wonder what they must have talked about on the trip back to Israel after the famine was over and Messrs. Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion were dead. It was enough that Ruth must have learned to trust Naomi, and Naomi and Naomi fell into upsettedness with God.

Then Ruth goes to a field to glean for some food, and has a REALLY good day of it. Boaz sees her, likes her, and tells his workers to be kind to her. He gives food to her, and offers her his protection. Then you have Naomi doing something that is right in her own eyes by sending Ruth to Boaz to ask him to marry her. But Boaz chooses instead to follow the law that God set, and defers to the nearer kinsman-redeemer before agreeing to marry Ruth, as much as he wanted to.

We end the book with Naomi's joy restored, and Ruth, the Moabitess is now in the line of Jesus Christ.

My first train of thought is basically winding around the concept that doing what is right by the statutes and commandments that God has given is a whole lot better than trying to figure things out on your own. Scarily ATI, actually, and I'm not knowing quite what to do with it.

My second train of thought revolves around the treatment of women in the two different sections of Scripture. In Judges 17-21, the women are merely assets, livestock for trading, passeling off, owning, or using. If I continued with the ATI line of reasoning here, you have authority structures in place here--spiritual leaders, tribal leaders, fathers and a mother, husbands, and children.

In the situation with Micah, he honored his mother by returning her money to her--and created an idol against God's commandment.

Micah's Levite priest, a spiritual leader, ended up serving an idol (specifically against God's commands), and getting a whole lot of people killed with his leadership.

The husband in the situation with the concubine left her father's house against her father's desire, and ended up in Gibeah with men wanting to rape him.

The girl obediently went with her husband and she got killed.

The fathers in Israel submitted to the tribal leaders and allowed their daughters to be taken as wives for the Benjamites because they could not break the vow the leaders had taken and allow them to intermarry with their blessing.

Rather interesting twist in authority structure logic, eh?

The way that the authorities treated the women and the other people involved in each of these situations left a LOT to be desired. So the question could be asked, are the authorities always right? They followed the structure. Why was there such pain and emptiness when all was said and done? How many people got used and hurt and broken and killed in the process?

Now look at Ruth.

Ruth honored her mother-in-law.

Boaz honored Ruth and offered her protection, comfort, safety.

Everything worked out, the authority structures worked, etc. Ruth was cherished, Naomi was honored, Boaz received an heir.

I don't really know what to think. ATI authority structures don't pan out with interpretations here--they're inconsistent. So I can't go through that window. Even the idea of following God's commandments doesn't completely pan out to connect these two passages. Is there a larger point than the nitty gritty here?

God, what do You want me to see? Is there something in these passages that You wanted people to see of Yourself? Or are they simply here to teach us lessons about how to live or how not to live in order to be blessed?

If these passages are part of God's revelation of Himself, there is a third way to look at it, I think. During the time of the judges, everyone (I believe that encompassed Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi) did what was right in their own eyes. There was no king in Israel. God appointed people to judge His people and worked through them to defend them. But perhaps that period is a picture of God's continual mercy on His chosen. Ruth seems a picture of grace that was not earned, redemption by a lover that could not be bought.

And here, in the middle of one of the worst times in Israel's history, you see God unveiling a little bit more of His ultimate plan for redemption, for mercy shown to those who were not His people, and for grace to those who have lost everything--even their hope in Him.



Cool, God.

So if I look at it from where I am... I feel right now like I have totally lost my hope in Him, and I don't know how to believe His grace. I feel like I'm walking so many crooked paths right now, like I'm dragging Pete into a past that is going to haunt me forever. I have lost so much--but I begged Him for healing! I feel like He's let me down--not because I wanted to be blessed, but because I just wanted to know Him and learn of Him. I feel like I've let Him down, because I can't be humble enough to kneel before Him.

I wonder what would have happened in any of those situations if His people had turned to Him to seek His face? They wanted the blessings; they wanted things to go right, to figure out how to live and have what they wanted--even Naomi and Boaz.

If they had turned to seek God's face, do you think He would have filled them with a knowledge of Himself? The psalmists talk a lot about how God blessed them--but it seems that they were more concerned with knowing Him than than with talking about what they did and wanted and got. They spend their writing praising His Name, His Person, His Character. They came to know a Person who filled them, who became their portion.

They were people who made a lot of mistakes, but their stay--their hope--was in God, who promised to hear them and deliver them and bless them with Himself. He promised Abraham that He would be his very great reward. Moses got to *see* God. David sought His heart. God promised in Jeremiah that if His people would seek HIM with all their hearts, they would find Him. Over and over He begs the people He chose to just please, look to Him... And they don't.

All of this in conjunction with:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Lord, I guess... can I go back to what I asked you at Christmas to help me do? Please, please help me to acknowledge You in all of my ways...


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