The other pastor and I recently finished teaching through the Book of Judges. We each alternate teaching Sunday School and the morning sermon; switching back and forth each week. It fell to me to teach Judges 19.
I don’t teach narrative verse by verse. Instead, I usually teach the passage by crafting several questions from the text that seem to get to the heart of the matter. I’ll discuss one of those questions here.
What’s gone so wrong in Judges 19?
You could answer this rather simply. The men of Gibeah have consciences seared with a hot iron. Sin can take you farther than you ever thought possible. Yes, and yes.
Is that all there is to say?
I believe the real issue in Judges 19, the root of the problem, is that God is showing us how we can literally cease to be human. We remain human, of course. But, we don’t act or think like humans. I don’t mean our chromosomes change, or anything weird like that. I mean Judges 19 shows us a snapshot of humanity perverting its very nature in the worst way.
We need to take a step back and ask ourselves a series of questions:
- What’s it mean to be human?
- Which really means, once you translate it into scriptural categories, “what’s it mean to be made in the image of God?”
- That prompts the next question; “what’s fundamentally gone wrong with us?”
- This leads us to ask, “what, exactly, is God doing when He brings people into His family?”
The “image of God” is the structural makeup that hardwires us for relationships.1 God made us to want and need a relationship with him (vertical), and with one another (horizontal). We’re the only one of God’s creatures that are made this way. Everything we are, and everything God made us to do, can only rightly exist when those relationships are properly set.
This means that to be human means to be in community with each other, and in community with God … because you’re reconciled to Him and to each other. In the new creation, these relationships will finally be fixed, because all God’s children will finally be holy. There will be perfect love and submission to God, and to one another within the covenant community.
This is what the scripture looks forward to; one combined family of God (Jn 10:16; 17:11, 21-22) united to glorify Him (Isa 43:7). This will only happen because of the restoration of these vertical and horizontal relationships.
Why else, do you suppose, does Peter tell us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God,” (1 Peter 1:22-23)? We must love one another in the church because we’ve been born again. That reconciliation and adoption, that togetherness, family and community, is why Christians must love each other. Repair the bonds. Restore the relationships. Make a community that reflects, however dimly, the happy family all true believers will be in eternity.
So, when Paul explains that Christians, as they behold the glory of the Lord, “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18), he means that God is refurbishing us as human beings to reflect His image.
That image is, in the end, a hardwiring for community.
How is God the image for this hardwiring? The Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit share a divine circulation of eternal life and exist in perfect, symmetrical, and internal communion with each other. Therefore we, as though patterning ourselves after a reflection we don’t even see, want and crave that vertical and horizontal togetherness, belonging, and security in community. We want to be like our archetype, the Triune God.
Until you’re a part of the family of God, through Jesus Christ:
- You won’t be “fully human,”
- because you’re not living the life God intended you to live,
- because you’re alienated from Him,
- and from everyone else
This means the story of scripture is something like this:
- God is making a family to love and serve Him here
- to show, tell and draw people to Him through the Christian story
- so we can all love and serve Him forever there
In other words; because of His great love, God is making a community of people from out of the mad Antifa mob that is humanity; “the people whom I formed for myself, that they might declare my praise,” (Isa 43:21).
This brings us back to Judges 19-21. It’s perhaps the lowest moral tide in scripture. This is an Israelite community. The Levite pushed his party on past Jerusalem because he didn’t want to risk spending the night among pagans (Judges 19:10-13). He felt it’d be safer among his own people. He was wrong.
What he encounters is the antithesis of humanity; more of an imago satan than an imago dei.2 On the horizontal plane, there is no community with each other and no brotherly love; only gang rape. That horizontal bond is missing because there is no real shared community on the vertical axis; there is no true, shared relationship with God.
So, you have no real covenant family, because there’s no real community, because there’s no shared reconciliation with God binding them together.
But, make no mistake. They do have a community. They have shared values and passions. They’re united together in a common vision; an answer to the multiple choice of them. The glue that binds them together is their rejection of God and His law; a re-direction of ultimate allegiance to themselves. In their rebellion they’ve ceased to be human, in a sense.
The passage is a flashing red light to the world. It tells us we’re hardwired to want community, togetherness, and belonging. So we make up shared dreams to coalesce around. We do it because the real community, the real relationships we crave are closed to us; “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Cor 4:4).
It takes a specific, individual, divine intervention in our lives to rip away that veil. That’s the Spirit, as He draws people to the Father and applies the Son’s finished work to hearts and minds. And then, once He opens our hearts and rescues us, He begins making us human again by re-establishing then refurbishing those broken relationships.
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven,” (1 Cor 15:49).
1 See the discussion by Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013; Kindle ed.), 469-471.
2 I know “Satan” isn’t in Latin. You’ll have to get past it …