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Our Own Worst Enemy - Judges 19-21

The Big Story - Judges  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Ross Douthat wrote an op-ed piece for a the NY Times a few years ago, and pointing to the latest pew research, he said this: “In the future, it seems, there will be only one “ism” — Individualism — and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide — and the greatest of these will probably be Facebook.”
We live in the Age of Self. We don’t ask, “Are you cared for, and does my neighbor have what they need?” But, “Have I cared for myself?” It’s not, “What does the church teach on sexuality or abortion or gender?” It’s, “What do I believe, and what are my opinions?” We don’t aim to build companies, but platforms. We don’t want to be a face on a team; we want to be a selfie that stands out. Our goal is not the advancement of society or the redemption of the whole; rather, it’s our own experiences, our own advancement, our own pleasure that we live for.

God’s Word

In fact, as we look at the individualism in the mirror, it’s hard to tell it apart from the book of Judges. God had called Israel to live out the ultimate collective ideal — a nation of people united by the love of the Living God who would bless every other nation on earth. Yet, with each passing story in judges, the nation itself is like a broken spring that’s unwinding more and more until there’s hardly a picture of what God had intended.
The final section, and in fact, the whole book of judges, is summed up in 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Milennial Translation: “Everyone followed his own heart and did what he thought was best for himself.” They did whatever they wanted to do and felt right and justified in doing it.
The point of Judges: To show the misery of individualism. To show the self-destruction of following your own heart. Judges shows individualism as the enemy of human flourishing.
Final section is moral low point of the OT and shows us the inescapable progression of individualism (headline)

Individualism begins with moral “deterioration”.

Chapter 19 begins one of the most tragic stories in Scripture. Levite goes to get his concubine at his father-in-law’s house. FIL proves very hospitable (critical ancient virtue), but his hospitality actually delays the Levite going home so that he has to look for a Motel 6. Press pass Jebus because they didn’t count on the hospitality of the Canaanites and instead go to Gibeah in the land of the Benjaminites, assuming they’d find someone to take them in there. No one does — an immediate sign that things are not right in Israel — and they resolve to sleep on the square. A foreigner from Ephraim finally does warn them of the danger of sleeping on the square. That’s when things go from uncomfortable to zombie apocalypse.
Judges 19:22-25 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 came into your house, that we may know him.” 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 to break, they let her go.
This is meant to cause biblical deja vu. 1/4 of the words used in Judges are 19 are also used in Genesis 19 — when God sends his angels to find righteous men in Sodom. Sodom was a place that lived unrestrained by its lusts. They did whatever they wanted without any concern for its impact on others. Their only concern was: “How will this make me feel? How will this bring me pleasure?” And so, God poured fire and sulfur down upon the people of Sodom, destroying them all. And, here is a tribe of God’s pounding at the door and begging for the opportunity to violate at least three of God’s laws: 1) Hospitality 2) Adultery 3) Homosexuality.
Total moral chaos has come upon Israel. God’s holy people were living like Sodom. The deterioration of their morality was such that they were indistinguishable from the very people that have become synonymous for their sheer passion and creative expression of evil — Sodom. Hospitality has become hostility. Love has become lust. Up has become down, and right has become left. Why? Because everybody is doing what pleases them, what feels right to them.
Necessary path of individualism. Individualism asks, “What do I want?” instead of “What is right?” “What do I think?” instead of “What has God said?” “How does it please me?” rather than “How does it build up others?” When everybody defines truth for themselves and right for themselves and purpose for themselves, the only path is moral anarchy. It’s the overthrow of God. It’s the opposite of human flourishing; it’s human languishing.
APP: Are we — God’s church — more like Sodom than we are Jesus?
The doctrine of Sodom is the doctrine of self. “Happiness is found in me getting what my heart wants.”
The doctrine of Jesus is self-denial. “Happiness is found in me denying my heart until all it wants is Jesus.”

Individualism leads to “dehumanization.”

19:26-30 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, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us 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. 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.”
This is a picture of moral decay and what it comes to. Does not justify the mistreatment of women. Not prescriptive but descriptive. Throughout the author is actually driving home for us how dehumanizing individualism really is.
Chapter 19 - A man’s daughter and another man’s wife is offered to appease the lusts of an evil age. She’s raped essentially to death, like she’s an instrument that only exists for their pleasure. She’s cut limb-by-limb and mailed in a box like a butchered animal by the one who was supposed to defend her honor but instead offered her up to save himself.
Chapter 20 - Benjamin is virtually destroyed by the other tribes who were just as morally corrupt. Israel realizes that basically has severed off one of its own limbs out of sheer vengeance and bloodlust. They totally destroyed their own brothers and heritage.
Chapter 21 - The corrupt plan of Israel to rebuild Benjamin is to steal for their remaining 600 men the wives of others, including their own. The rape of one culminates in the rape of 600 more at the direction of the very people who were supposed to be vindicating the one.
The characters are anonymous. It’s a picture of the dehumanization that has taken place.
Individualism views other people as either a means or an obstacle to what you want. People are not viewed as image bearers worthy of all the dignity God has assigned; they are objects that either help or hinder us. People are not neighbors that we are to love as ourselves; they are means that help us to love ourselves or they are useless to us. It’s the opposite of human flourishing. "Ironically, in a world in which the individual makes himself the measure of all things, the individual eventually counts for nothing." Daniel Block on Judges
ILL: Saw this outside Alexandria Foodland years ago. 30 Hour Famine. Person took back their money when they realized it was to help provide food for children in Africa. Didn’t fit their agenda and denied dignity of others.
There’s a number of ways we can dehumanize others.
Refugees — Political pawns rather than living, breathing image bearers of God.
Employees — They matter to us only in terms of profits, but not as people, not as sufferers, not as immortals.
Waitresses — Unkindness = dehumanization - How much of our unkindness is the result of us seeing people as a means to our pleasure rather than an image bearer of God?
Pornography — The objectification of someone precious in the eyes of God to suit your own pleasures. Don’t miss that the condemning words against Israel are that they live for what pleases their own eyes.
APP: Do you view people for the value they can add to you or for the value that you can add to them? This is the difference between how Sodom views people and how Jesus views them.

Individualism ends in “destruction.”

20:11 So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man.
20:48 And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire.
Judges comes to a conclusion with Israel in a civil war. Israel did not unite to overthrow the Canaanites. They didn’t unite behind Samson to destroy the Philistines. Ironically, the most united we see them is when they choose to attack themselves.
The picture is clear enough. Their worst enemy isn’t the Midianites, and it isn’t the Philistines. They are their own worst enemy.
Benjamin did exactly what they wanted to do and believed they were right to do it. And, it destroyed them. They followed their hearts at every turn until it led them straight off of a cliff.
We’re all born a Canaanite at heart. Enemies of God, living for ourselves, loving what God hates. Your heart never leads you toward God; it always leads you toward death and self-destruction.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
APP: Please don’t follow your heart. Your heart is like a hellbent GPS. It’s giving you turn by turn directions away from the goodness of God. Steadily and surely, it entices you to develop the opinions that suit you to justify the behaviors that suit you so that you can worship the god that suits you — yourself. But, it’s a trap set by your greatest enemy — the enemy within.

Individualism needs a “deliverer.”

21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
We know what should happen to Sodom. We’ve read that story before. Fire and sulphur should rain down on their heads. But, there’s grace in verse 25. “Those days” wouldn’t last forever. A new day was coming. In fact, a king was coming. A King was coming who would save Israel from themselves. A King was coming that make that hellbent heart into something new. A King was coming who stand between Israel and the fire/sulfur their sins deserved.
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