Today's Readings: Judges 19 | Isaiah 41 | 1 John 3-4

Reading 1 - Jdg 19-21

A certain Levite and his concubine were traveling through the land of Benjamin, and as night approached they sought and received shelter in the home of an old man of Gibeah. But when the house was beset by certain "sons of Belial", evoking unpleasant memories of the Sodomites (Gen 19), they realized how unsafe they were. This Levite allowed his concubine to be abused by the Benjamites -- a circumstance which speaks not much better of him than of those who threatened him.

Finding the woman dead in the morning, he took her body and divided it into twelve pieces (like a priest would divide a sacrifice?) and sent the pieces into all parts of Israel. Then all the children of Israel were gathered together "as one man" (Jdg 20:1,8,11) out of revulsion at this hideous crime. By a comparison with 1Sa 11:7 we see that the people did not so act again in unison until the days of Samuel, probably 300 years later.

But their unity of action was unfortunately not preceded by consultation with God. The militia of the eleven tribes, minus Benjamin -- 400,000 strong -- made their plans without prayer. Though they finally asked of God who should go up first to the battle, yet their forces lost 22,000 men at the hands of the men of Benjamin, who defended Gibeah. This certainly implies that guilt in Israel was to be found on both sides, not only with Benjamin.

By various stratagems which need not be detailed now, the tribe of Benjamin was nearly annihilated. Once bloodshed started no one knew when to stop. In cutting off those who were "guilty" by their association, the rest of Israel used highly unsuitable methods and almost totally destroyed one of the twelve tribes. The punishment, because of haste and probably a measure of self-righteousness, was out of all proportion to the crime. In their zeal the men of Israel imposed by an oath a strict isolation upon those few Benjamites who remained, no matter what their degree of guilt or complicity.

The outcome was a terrible feeling of remorse, and some ironic words:

"O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel?" (Jdg 21:3).

The fault was their own, in going too far in their zeal for purity, and the decimation of Israel, on both sides, was their punishment. Finally the leaders of this bitter civil war realized that they had indeed overstepped the bounds of reason. They now took some distinctly unusual steps, involving reprisals and kidnappings, to remedy, insofar as possible, the problem.

By these events the whole nation was disciplined and humbled and made to remember their essential unity as a nation, a unity which even extreme sins on the part of some should not be allowed to violate. Human nature has not changed from that day to this, and we often act still as though there is "no king in Israel". We need as a brotherhood to remember that each of us shares in the same inheritance (Jdg 21:17), and that we must with care and patience remove the defects of the body. Otherwise, the sword we lift up against our brethren may do irreparable harm to the whole house of Israel.

Reading 2 - Isa 41:10

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isa 41:10).

"Think not that the strength of man shall ever be able to overcome the power of God. Whilst the earth's huge pillars stand, thou hast enough reason to abide firm in thy faith. The same God who directs the earth in its orbit, who feeds the burning furnace of the sun, and trims the lamps of heaven, has promised to supply thee with daily strength. While He is able to uphold the universe, dream not that He will prove unable to fulfil His own promises. Remember what He did in the days of old, in the former generations. Remember how He spake and it was done; how He commanded, and it stood fast. Shall He that created the world grow weary? He hangeth the world upon nothing; shall He who doth this be unable to support His children? Shall He be unfaithful to His word for want of power? Who is it that restrains the tempest? Doth not He ride upon the wings of the wind, and make the clouds His chariots, and hold the ocean in the hollow of His hand? How can He fail thee? When He has put such a faithful promise as this on record, wilt thou for a moment indulge the thought that He has outpromised Himself, and gone beyond His power to fulfil?" (CH Spurgeon).

Reading 3 - 1Jo 3:15

"Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him" (1Jo 3:15).

A murderer seeks to deprive someone else of life, but he really, and ultimately, deprives himself of life! And so it may be with every premeditated sin against another: that which the sinner seeks to take from the other party, he is actually taking from himself: the young man seeking to deprive the young woman of her virtue is actually depriving himself of the same; the false accuser seeking to deprive another of his good name is ultimately destroying his own good name. And so forth.

This verse would imply that some people, in some sense, DO have eternal life in themselves! How can that be? Of course, we know that eternal life is not -- literally -- a present possession, and many, many passages prove this (as examples, Mat 19:29; 25:46; Mar 10:30; John 12:25; Rom 6:22; Gal 6:8; Tit 1:2; 3:7; Jude 1:21.) But, in a figurative sense, it may be true: if one may be physically living while being spiritually "dead" -- ie, Rev 3:1; 1Ti 5:6 -- then another may be physically mortal while being spiritually -- or prospectively -- "immortal"!)

How can we be spiritually "immortal"? By living a life which, even now, shows our keen and abiding awareness of and hope in the glorious life to come -- in all that we think and say and do. Thus, as much as we possibly can, we will be living in God's Kingdom right now! In other words, in a world of material, but temporal, things, we must learn to see the invisible, but eternal things (2Co 4:17,18). Or, as Dennis Gillett put it: "In a world which looks horizontally, we must learn to look vertically."


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