April 4, 2015

Judges 19-21- It was an era when there was no king in Israel.   A Levite, living as a stranger in the backwoods hill country of Ephraim, got himself a concubine, a woman from Bethlehem in Judah. But she quarreled with him and left, returning to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah... Then her husband decided to go after her and try to win her back. He had a servant and a pair of donkeys with him. When he arrived at her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him, welcomed him, and made him feel at home. His father-in-law, the girl’s father, pressed him to stay... 

On the fifth day, he was again up early, ready to go. The girl’s father said, “You need some breakfast.” They went back and forth, and the day slipped on as they ate and drank together. But the man and his concubine were finally ready to go. Then his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said, “Look, the day’s almost gone—why not stay the night? There’s very little daylight left; stay another night and enjoy yourself... But this time the man wasn’t willing to spend another night. He got things ready, left, and went as far as Jebus (Jerusalem) with his pair of saddled donkeys, his concubine, and his servant.

At Jebus, though, the day was nearly gone. The servant said to his master, “It’s late; let’s go into this Jebusite city and spend the night.”  But his master said, “We’re not going into any city of foreigners. We’ll go on to Gibeah.”...The Levite went and sat down in the town square, but no one invited them in to spend the night. Then, late in the evening, an old man came in from his day’s work in the fields....  When the old man looked up and saw the traveler in the town square, he said, “Where are you going? And where are you from?”

The Levite said, “We’re just passing through. We’re coming from Bethlehem on our way to a remote spot in the hills of Ephraim.... but no one has invited us in for the night... The old man said, “It’s going to be all right; I’ll take care of you. You aren’t going to spend the night in the town square.” He took them home and fed the donkeys. They washed up and sat down to a good meal.

They were relaxed and enjoying themselves when the men of the city, a gang of local hell-raisers all, surrounded the house and started pounding on the door. They yelled for the owner of the house, the old man, “Bring out the man who came to your house. We want to have sex with him.”...He went out and told them, “No, brothers! Don’t be obscene—this man is my guest. Don’t commit this outrage. Look, my virgin daughter and his concubine are here. I’ll bring them out for you. Abuse them if you must, but don’t do anything so senselessly vile to this man.”...

Finally, the Levite pushed his concubine out the door to them. They raped her repeatedly all night long. Just before dawn they let her go.... It was morning. Her master got up and opened the door to continue his journey. There she was, his concubine, crumpled in a heap at the door, her hands on the threshold.  “Get up,” he said. “Let’s get going.” There was no answer.  He lifted her onto his donkey and set out for home. When he got home he took a knife and dismembered his concubine—cut her into twelve pieces. He sent her, piece by piece, throughout the country of Israel. And he ordered the men he sent out, “Say to every man in Israel: ‘Has such a thing as this ever happened from the time the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until now? Think about it! Talk it over. Do something!’”

Then all the People of Israel came out. The congregation met in the presence of God at Mizpah. They were all there, from Dan to Beersheba, as one person! The leaders of all the people, representing all the tribes of Israel, took their places in the gathering of God’s people...The Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, spoke:...This vile and outrageous crime was committed in Israel! So, Israelites, make up your minds. Decide on some action!”

All the people were at once and as one person on their feet. “None of us will go home; not a single one of us will go to his own house. Here’s our plan for dealing with Gibeah:... When the troops arrive at Gibeah they will settle accounts for this outrageous and vile evil that was done in Israel.” So all the men in Israel were gathered against the city, totally united.

The Israelite tribes sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin saying, “What’s the meaning of this outrage that took place among you? Surrender the men right here and now, these hell-raisers of Gibeah. We’ll put them to death and burn the evil out of Israel.”  But they wouldn’t do it. The Benjaminites refused to listen to their brothers, the People of Israel. Instead they raised an army from all their cities and rallied at Gibeah to go to war against the People of Israel...

The men of Israel, excluding Benjamin, mobilized four hundred divisions of sword-wielding fighting men.  They set out and went to Bethel to inquire of God. The People of Israel said, “Who of us shall be first to go into battle with the Benjaminites?” God said, “Judah goes first.”...The army of Israel marched out against Benjamin and took up their positions, ready to attack Gibeah. But the Benjaminites poured out of Gibeah and devastated twenty-two Israelite divisions on the ground.  The Israelites went back to the sanctuary and wept before God until evening. They again inquired of God, “Shall we again go into battle against the Benjaminites, our brothers?” God said, “Yes. Attack.”

The army took heart. The men of Israel took up the positions they had deployed on the first day.  On the second day, the Israelites again advanced against Benjamin. This time as the Benjaminites came out of the city, on this second day, they devastated another eighteen Israelite divisions, all swordsmen.  All the People of Israel, the whole army, were back at Bethel, weeping, sitting there in the presence of God. That day they fasted until evening. They sacrificed Whole-Burnt-Offerings and Peace-Offerings before God.

And they again inquired of God. The Chest of God’s Covenant was there at that time with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, as the ministering priest. They asked, “Shall we again march into battle against the Benjaminites, our brothers? Or should we call it quits?”  And God said, “Attack. Tomorrow I’ll give you victory.”...

This time Israel placed men in ambush all around Gibeah.... The Benjaminites started bragging, “We’re dropping them like flies, just as before!”  But the Israelites strategized: “Now let’s retreat and pull them out of the city onto the main roads.” So every Israelite moved farther out to Baal Tamar; at the same time the Israelite ambush rushed from its place west of Gibeah...The Benjaminites had no idea that they were about to go down in defeat—God routed them before Israel. ...The men of Israel acted like they were retreating before Benjamin, knowing that they could depend on the ambush they had prepared for Gibeah.

The ambush erupted and made quick work of Gibeah. The ambush spread out and massacred the city. The strategy for the main body of the ambush was that they send up a smoke signal from the city. Then the men of Israel would turn in battle. When that happened, Benjamin had killed about thirty Israelites and thought they were on their way to victory, yelling out, “They’re on the run, just as in the first battle!” But then the signal went up from the city—a huge column of smoke. When the Benjaminites looked back, there it was, the whole city going up in smoke.... The men of Israel came back and killed all the Benjaminites who were left, all the men and animals they found in every town, and then torched the towns, sending them up in flames.

Back at Mizpah the men of Israel had taken an oath: “No man among us will give his daughter to a Benjaminite in marriage.”  Now, back in Bethel, the people sat in the presence of God until evening. They cried loudly; there was widespread lamentation. They said, “Why, O God, God of Israel, has this happened? Why do we find ourselves today missing one whole tribe from Israel?”...

But the People of Israel were feeling sorry for Benjamin, their brothers. They said, “Today, one tribe is cut off from Israel. How can we get wives for those who are left? We have sworn by God not to give any of our daughters to them in marriage.”  They said, “Which one of the tribes of Israel didn’t gather before God at Mizpah?”

It turned out that no one had come to the gathering from Jabesh Gilead. When they took a roll call of the people, not a single person from Jabesh Gilead was there. So the congregation sent twelve divisions of their top men there with the command, “Kill everyone of Jabesh Gilead, including women and children. These are your instructions: Every man and woman who has had sexual intercourse you must kill. But keep the virgins alive.” And that’s what they did.
And they found four hundred virgins among those who lived in Jabesh Gilead; they had never had sexual intercourse with a man. And they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.  Then the congregation sent word to the Benjaminites who were at the Rimmon Rock and offered them peace. And Benjamin came. They gave them the women they had let live at Jabesh Gilead. But even then, there weren’t enough for all the men.

The people felt bad for Benjamin; God had left out Benjamin—the missing piece from the Israelite tribes.  The elders of the congregation said, “How can we get wives for the rest of the men, since all the Benjaminite women have been killed?.. Then they said, “There is that festival of God held every year in Shiloh.... So they told the Benjaminites, “Go and hide in the vineyards. Stay alert—when you see the Shiloh girls come out to dance the dances, run out of the vineyards, grab one of the Shiloh girls for your wife, and then hightail it back to the country of Benjamin.... And that’s what the Benjaminites did: They carried off girls from the dance, wives enough for their number, got away, and went home to their inheritance. They rebuilt their towns and settled down.

At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.

Mark 12 - Then Jesus started telling them stories. “A man planted a vineyard.... At the time for harvest, he sent a servant back to the farmhands to collect his profits. “They grabbed him, beat him up, and sent him off empty-handed. So he sent another servant. That one they tarred and feathered. He sent another and that one they killed. And on and on, many others. Some they beat up, some they killed.  Finally there was only one left: a beloved son. In a last-ditch effort, he sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’  But those farmhands saw their chance. They rubbed their hands together in greed and said, ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him over the fence.

“What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? Right. He’ll come and clean house. Then he’ll assign the care of the vineyard to others. Read it for yourselves in Scripture: That stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone! This is God’s work; we rub our eyes—we can hardly believe it!”

They wanted to lynch him then and there but, intimidated by public opinion, held back. They knew the story was about them. They got away from there as fast as they could.

They sent some Pharisees and followers of Herod to bait him, hoping to catch him saying something incriminating.... “Teacher, we know you have integrity, that you are indifferent to public opinion, don’t pander to your students, and teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

He knew it was a trick question, and said, “Why are you playing these games with me?... Jesus said, “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” Their mouths hung open, speechless.

Some Sadducees, the party that denies any possibility of resurrection, came up and asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote that if a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to marry the widow and have children. Well, there once were seven brothers. The first took a wife. He died childless. The second married her. He died, and still no child. The same with the third. All seven took their turn, but no child. Finally the wife died. When they are raised at the resurrection, whose wife is she? All seven were her husband.”

Jesus said, “You’re way off base, and here’s why: One, you don’t know your Bibles; two, you don’t know how God works. After the dead are raised up, we’re past the marriage business....all our ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God... How God at the bush said to Moses, ‘I am—not was—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? The living God is God of the living, not the dead. You’re way, way off base.”

One of the religion scholars came up.... “Which is most important of all the commandments?”  Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”  When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.”  After that, no one else dared ask a question.

While he was teaching in the Temple, Jesus asked, “How is it that the religion scholars say that the Messiah is David’s ‘son,’ when we all know that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said,  God said to my Master, “Sit here at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” “David here designates the Messiah ‘my Master’—so how can the Messiah also be his ‘son’?”

He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars.... basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they’ll pay for it in the end.”

Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”