Corruption and Ineffectual Government
Judges 19 — 21.
You remember, we saw that the concluding portion of the book, after the record of Samson's life, is not a chronological sequence to what has occurred before, but that it is in moral sequence. This is particularly true with what is now before us. It goes back to the early days of Israel's occupation of the land, to the time of Phinehas the priest, who came into the land with Joshua. The narrative is in moral order, and is intended to show us the source of all the corruption, that which made all the evil that we have been dwelling upon a possibility. The apostasy of Dan came first in this moral order, and showed us that which is the root of all declension, whether it be moral or spiritual. That which is at the root of it all is idolatry, the substitution of anything for the full revelation of what Christ is.
Idolatry always intrudes a priest between the soul and God in some form or other, and, as we dwelt upon it, I trust we saw in some measure at least that we ourselves are not without our dangers in this regard. For, after all, that is the point we want to get at, not merely to see the scope of the book, and its general application, and to speak, perhaps, in terms of somewhat harsh criticism of others who may not have so much light; but what we want to hear is the voice of God for ourselves, that our own consciences may be awakened to the dangers which confront us in every step of our life, for we may be assured there are such dangers.
Now we have had the root, and here we see the fruit, these two brought together. God brings them together in such a way that we cannot fail to see how they are connected. He brings them together with a divine purpose, to strike horror into our souls at the character of the evil, in order that we may judge the terrible bitter root that produces evil of that kind.
I will not read these chapters. I could not read them before you; they are chapters which give us the record unspeakably corrupt, of the possibilities of the heart of man, and of the life of man. Chapters, dear brethren, which as we read I am sure, if we are to be properly exercised by them, will make us say, Is it possible that this is a picture of my heart? That is the point; it is not a question of what was done in Israel, in the days when there was no king, but it is the possibilities of the heart of man disclosed; for, as our blessed Lord has told us, all these things flow from the heart; "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries," and everything that defiles the man.
To go deeper yet, it is the heart that is alienated from God that produces these things; and, therefore, the idolatry that we have been looking upon is the root which produces this awful corruption. It is the ignoring of God's claims upon us that makes possible the ignoring of man's claims as well. The claims of what is called morality, common decency and honor, and everything else, all go when God is set aside.
That is just what the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans puts before us. You have there a catalogue of crime which brings the tinge of shame to the cheek even to read it, and it is given, not as some exceptional result of man's sin, but as the legitimate fruit of his departure from God. It is given in a way that includes every unsaved person, "Forasmuch as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge." Who that is unreconciled to Him, does like to retain God in his knowledge? Not one. What then is the fruit of it? He gives them over to evil like that which brought the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah; He gives them over to evil which cannot even be spoken of, so horribly corrupt is it. Thus it is as though the Spirit of God put the root and the fruit side by side, and said to men, Cut loose from God, and you give rein to every form of evil that the flesh is capable of.
What a humbling lesson, dear brethren; and let us remember, as we think of this sin that is before us tonight, that it is a sin which comes from the corrupt heart which you and I had by nature, and still have. That is what Israel did not remember, and that, I believe, is one of the reasons why we have the narrative given here.
The evil is of such a glaring character, so unspeakably atrocious, that the nation itself is shocked, shocked out of measure, and forgets that it had its lessons to learn in connection with it. I am sure the lesson would be lost upon us, too, if, like Israel, we simply have our minds occupied by a horrible form of wickedness, and fail to remember the capabilities of the same wickedness in our own hearts. When we think of a holy God, who measures things by the germ, by their possibilities, not by their actual accomplishment; when we remember our blessed. Lord, who said, for instance, that he that looketh committeth the same sin that the Pharisees were ready to stone one for; when we remember that God looks at the heart as much as He does at the outward life, dear brethren, the possibility of thinking evil, the possibility of having evil thoughts chase themselves through our minds, is it as unendurable to us as it ought to be? The soul that is in the presence of God hates the thought of sin as much as it hates the deed of sin. Beloved, ye that fear the Lord, hate evil, His word says, and when there is a true judgment of sin it always looks at the root of it in the heart, just as much as it does at the fruit in the life.
Now, with that before us, we need not go into the wretched, awful details for is it not a humbling thing to think that you and I carry about with us that which, unchecked by divine grace and divine holiness, could produce the same evil? You remember the old Christian who used to point to drunkards or criminals as they passed by, and say, There goes myself but for the grace of God. Could you say that this is a record of yourself but for the grace of God, and mean it? actually mean that these things are the things that we might naturally expect to be given up to, unless God, in His sovereign almighty grace, had interposed? I tell you, dear brethren, it would make the heart leap with praise and with joy as we thought of the grace that had snatched us from a corruption which is worse than the punishment for that corruption could possibly be.
Thanks be to God for deliverance from the bondage to sin, as well as deliverance from wrath against sin. Thank Him, brethren, because the wrath against sin is the only mercy that an unbelieving world will allow God to give them. It is the best that they will take for it is better for them to have His wrath than it is to have the sin that brings the wrath. It is better to be shut up in the prison house, where evil is at least restrained, than to run rampant through a world free to sin, free to live on, the slaves of our own awful lusts.
Let us look a little quietly at these things. You have in these three chapters three points. The first is the evil, the second is the dealing with the evil, and the third is the result of that dealing with the evil.
The evil starts just where we might expect, as we have been seeing, from that loose state that characterized the whole people. Here is a Levite, just as we had a Levite before. You remember that God distributed the Levites amongst the twelve tribes, that they might serve as links to hold the people in a common spiritual life, to hold them in a common allegiance to God, to His house and His service. How completely they failed to do it we have already seen in the Levite of the previous chapter, who was the minister of idolatry, leading a whole tribe, as you might say, away from God in idolatry and disregard of Him.
Here you see a Levite, instead of being engaged in the blessed work of knitting and holding the people together; working disintegration. At least, hi a very suggestive way, he is one who, instead of being a minister to others, was himself being ministered to, his own corrupt desires having control of him. Trace the whole history, and you find what marks it is self-indulgence and the ungirded loins. All the way through, a careless, unguarded state of soul makes possible the occasion which gives rise to the awful crime.
His concubine leaves him, returning to her father's house. He goes to get her, and gives himself up to carousal, and passes day after day in eating and drinking. Then, as the evening shades begin to fall, he leaves suddenly, as by caprice, to return now to his place again, his place of service presumably. In spite of all the requests of the father-in-law to remain another day, he goes off, the shades already falling. Surely evening it was indeed, for her, for him, and for the nation too. Evening was closing in.
He comes to Jebus. Why is it not Jerusalem, a city of Israel, in possession of God's people? Benjamin had failed. It was a Benjamite city. He had failed, as we saw in the early part of the book, to take possession of it, and yet Jerusalem was to be the very centre from which all government was to radiate. And Benjamin was typically the tribe that afterwards was to represent Christ in His kingly rule and government over the people, and over the nations too. He is closely connected in that way with the government. Government has failed, Benjamin speaking of that; Christ's authority has failed to be owned, and in the place where Benjamin should have been supreme, you have the wretched Gentile in control. The Jebusites, tramplers down, were there trampling down everything of God and man; but, alas, the Jebusites were in Benjamin, too, and we find a worse trampling down on their part, than even in this city.
They go on to Gibeah, and there they find, after asking for it, a welcome in an Ephraimite's house, and there occurs the awful crime like that of Sodom and Gomorrah. After the awful crime is committed, the Levite takes the most dreadful way of making it known to the whole nation, cutting in pieces the body of the poor wretched woman and sending it round, one part to each of the tribes. You see the whole nation shocked, as it were, suddenly shocked into a horror against this dreadful crime that had been committed in their midst.
I want you to notice what has awakened them. It has been the commission of evil that has awakened them, and they gather together as one man, for what purpose? To take vengeance upon the evil. It is evil that has awakened; it is evil that brings them together; it is the execution of judgment upon evil that nerves their arm and unites their hearts. Ah, beloved, evil will never serve as a tie to hold the people of God together. Have you ever seen in some much more quiet way, people drawn together by occupation with evil? It will draw together for the time being; you may have your indignation meetings over evil, but having indignation meetings over evil is not the way that God would draw His people together. We were singing at the beginning:
"Thou Holy One and True,
It is the Holy One and True who draws His people together.
"Our hearts in Thee confide
"And in the circle of Thy love
"As brethren, we abide."
It is Christ, the Holy One and True, who attracts us by His love, and who holds us within the circle of His love, and that makes possible the exercise of all care and love as brethren together.
Now that is the first great lesson, I believe, that we are to learn from the next chapter. The people are brought together and held together by only this one thing. Evil has been committed, and until that evil is judged, not a man of them will go to his home. Did you ever read of any gathering together at Shiloh to keep the feast of the Passover like that? Do you read of the Feast of Tabernacles drawing the whole nation together with joy? Ah, beloved, God had been tacitly inviting them year after year to come up and keep the feast, to come up and enjoy the holy fellowship of His things. But they had preferred to dwell amongst the heathen; they had preferred to settle down with their enemies by their side, teaching them their ways, and all that. But it is only when they are shocked out of their lethargy by this unspeakable corruption, that they flow together, drawn, not by grace, not by the attractiveness of love and goodness, and the fullness of blessing, such as you have described in the basket of first fruits in the twenty-sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. None of these things draw them together, but an evil has been committed, and they are galvanized for the time being into wonderful faithfulness to God.
Now I want you to notice something, dear brethren; there is not a single comment upon the deed that was done. It needs no comment. God does not need to characterize it. Even the natural man revolts from the awful details that we have. There is no need to stigmatize it as unspeakably wicked, horribly corrupt. But you do find that what the Spirit of God dwells upon is the state of soul amongst the rest of the people that rendered them utterly incapable of executing divine discipline upon the wrongdoers.
Let us look at it a little in detail. An evil has been committed in Gibeah of Benjamin, one of the cities belonging to that tribe. There was provision in the book of Deuteronomy for tracing an evil to its source, and for dealing with it. Everything was to be done deliberately and quietly, after due meditation, and above all, in the presence of God. It was to be done in the spirit of subjection to Himself. These people take a short cut. They have not been used to the presence of God, they have not been accustomed to dwelling in that holy Presence. And now they think the matter is simple enough. They send a curt message to Benjamin, Deliver over these men of Belial, and we will deal with them.
It is a curt and short message, and it has the effect that you would expect. It arouses Benjamin against his brethren. The whole tribe is summoned before Israel; it is made a matter of tribal pride, and Benjamin is arrayed against all Israel. The men of Belial are done for, they are out of the account. You hear no more of the wickedness done. Do you not think there must have been as much conscience in Benjamin as there was in all the other tribes? Do you not think that if the matter had been dealt with in the fear of God, and in dependence upon Him, that Benjamin would have been as ready to purge himself from the awful shame as the rest of Israel was ready? But ah, this sudden bluntness, this harshness, above all this covert pride, which would say, Such an evil could not take place in Issachar; Ephraim would not have such a. state of things in her midst; but Benjamin allows it. Ah, it is the stirring up of all the worst passions in the human heart, of pride, and at once Benjamin forgets entirely the corruption, and says, We will stand out in the face of all Israel, and we will not allow ourselves to be trampled upon.
Well, they were wrong surely. We quite admit at once they were grievously wrong. They had no right to array themselves in this way; they ought to have united with their brethren in execration of this horrible thing. But then the steps that were taken to deal with the matter at once, and the self-righteous curtness, left out the wrongdoers from their mind. It was not a question of dealing with them, and so it became a question of dealing at once with Benjamin herself. Dealing in that way, stirring up the pride and rebellion of the natural heart, is the surest way to produce the very same fruits spiritually, as you have here literally. There is such a thing as taking people by the throat, and trying to shake the evil out of them. There is such a thing as pounding out a man's sin, sin that he may be connected with, not personally, but responsibly, in such a way that you touch his pride, and bring out in him the antagonism of his nature, rather than show him the evil which he should judge and abhor. Let us learn that lesson. Let us not be as Israel, just simply trying to stir up opposition, instead of leading people in the fear of God to judge evil with which they are responsibly associated. I need not apply this; I am sure the application is simple enough, and in our own minds we will very easily make application of it to things that we have seen, alas, too often amongst the Lord's saints.
Well, all Israel come together; they are united at last, as I said. What grace has not effected, judgment seems to do, or the desire for it. You will notice one thing. These people were thirsty for blood. That is what marks them. I do not see any horror at the sin. I do not see in it a spirit crushed at the possibility of such evil, occurring in Israel. As a matter of fact, if they were going to hold Benjamin so rigorously to his responsibility, why could they not do it for the whole nation? If they could say, for instance, that it is an awful thing that such evil is possible in Benjamin, why not say it is an awful thing that such evil is possible in Israel, too? Ah, there was the snare. It was pride and self-righteousness in their own heart.
Let us look for a moment at the fifth of first Corinthians, where you have the New Testament counterpart of this evil, to a certain extent. There is moral corruption of a degrading character, as the apostle tells us, such as was not even named among the Gentiles. What was the state of the saints? The second verse shows us. "Ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned that he that hath done this deed among you be taken away from among you." They are puffed up, not over the sin, but doubtless puffed up that they had not committed the thing, puffed up that they could thank God that they were not like this one who had fallen into it. In other words, instead of being crushed and broken, on their faces before God, crying to Him, confessing to Him their own moral state that had made such an evil possible, they are puffed up, and go on with their gifts and everything of that kind, and in that way having no power to deal with the evil.
You say, Israel over in Judges was better than that. They did, at least, endeavor to deal with the evil, they did not dally with it a moment. Ah, but they were puffed up about their position in regard to it; they would show their zeal for the Lord, and as they gather together there is a thirst for blood, rather than a zeal for the Lord's honor, that marks them.
Well, God let's them alone; He does not check that which was so manifest, He does not hinder that, and they are going to bring God into it; but you notice the first question they ask is not even, Shall we go up; but the first thing they ask is, Who shall go up first? They have decided that they will go up against Benjamin, they were going to wreak vengeance upon the whole tribe, and the only thing they want the Lord to tell them is who shall go up first. He takes them at their word, and lets Judah go first. There were some 26,000 Benjamite warriors, and some 400,000 Israelite warriors, and you know that Benjamin almost, man for man, killed his own number. Killed 22,000 warriors out of Israel!
Is God on the side of sin? Is He on the side of carelessness about judging sin? Ah no, He is a holy God, but His holiness is farther reaching than ours. His holiness will probe down into the hearts of a people apparently innocent and bring them to a sense of their own guilt, as well as the tribe, and the individual wrongdoers; and so He lets them fall before those who have arrayed themselves in pride against them.
How often are God's people discomfited, even those who are on the right side. There is a right and a wrong side, and sometimes you will hear people say, Is not that view wrong? Is not that the wrong side to take? Quite so; one would not dare for a moment to take the wrong side. Well, is not this the right side? Is it not right to reject that evil, and so on? Not quite so fast. There are three sides to a thing, more often than two. People sometimes say there are two sides, and if A is right, then B is wrong. And if A is wrong, then B is right. Is there not another side? Suppose both are wrong. Ah, beloved, that is the point. There is the side of one and the side of the other, and there is God's side; and the point is to take His side, no matter though it seems the slow side at first, rather than the harsh, careless judgment of evil, which by its very severity lessens the sense of sin in the soul.
Now that is what God is to teach the nation. He is to teach them their own sin, and He is going to bring home to them the fact that they are under His judgment for the state of things, just as really as Benjamin is under His judgment for her allowance of the thing in her midst. So they fall before the Benjamites, and are slaughtered in this way.
They go up again the next day (twenty-second verse); they encourage themselves. They needed encouragement. But it is far better to do as David did when the people spoke of stoning him. David encouraged himself in the Lord. Here we read the people encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day. Now that statement is given first, that they encouraged themselves and set the battle in array; then in parenthesis, as a sort of postscript, showing the minor and secondary place it had in their own hearts, — "The children of Israel went up" — you might say, had gone up — "and wept before the Lord until even, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?"
Now there is an evident softening here, an evident recognition of the fact that the Lord must be allowed to come in. At first they did not need the Lord at all. Why, this case you do not need to pray about, some people say. You do not need to trouble the Lord. Is it not a clear case? All you need ask for is the Lord to guide you as to some minor detail; who will do the work, who will write the letter, and so forth. Ah, you do not realize your need of God; then He will teach you your need of Him. You will find that you flee before the wrongdoers, and have no power to judge the evil. Evil will still lift its head, in spite of your indignation against it.
That brings them lower, and here they weep before the Lord, over their loss, weep doubtless over their humiliation, for pride humbled brings tears quicker than grief and sympathy. Yet there is a touching of the chord. It is their brother they have been fighting. He deserves judgment, but he is their brother. "Shall I go up against Benjamin, my brother?" And they weep, and as they weep they begin to realize they are dealing with their brother. God says, Go up again. He is not a cruel God. Surely He is infinite love, but again the people who had wept and prayed, the people who seemed to have been right are worsted, again they flee, and 18,000 more fall in the dust.
Has God forgotten? Is He again on the side of evil? Shall we throw it up in disgust, shall we be careless and indifferent to evil? No, beloved. But does it not tell us in tones of thunder that what God wants more than judging evil in another is to judge it in ourselves, and that what He wants, if we are to be ready, whether it be as individuals, to pass judgment upon evil, or whether it be as a company of His people, to execute His own discipline, there must be that self-judgment above everything else that will give us spiritual discernment and spiritual power? It speaks to us in a way that, I am sure, we need to heed.
If there is one thing that is characteristic of the day in which we are living, in Christendom, it is every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. Evil is unjudged. It may not be this glaring corruption that we have here, though we do not know what is carried on in the darkness, and I would not set any limits to the evil that is committed even under the holy name of Christ. Look at the horrible corruption of Rome itself, and you can see the possibilities of the human heart still finding expression in conduct of that kind. But we are living in the time when there is no power to judge sin. Everybody goes and does as he pleases. There is no power to meet sin in the fear of God and to judge it, and to see Himself acting with us in it. Very little power for discipline. You take the average association of Christians, what place has discipline amongst them? If a man did something for which he would be turned out of his club, he would be turned out of church; but not much more. The thing that would take him out of polite society, would take him out of his church fellowship. But not much worse than that. He might do many kinds of things just so he did not get into publicity. There are all kinds of evil done by professing Christians who are in good and regular standing in their churches, and there is no power to deal with them. Surely that is an awful state of things.
There should be as much discipline in the Church of God today as there was in the apostles' day. God's judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira was no exceptional case. God did not mean, as it were, to single out those two people as the only wrongdoers who would be in His Church for all time. He meant to give a sample of His judgment of evil. And, if you look at the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, do you not see in it that which is committed every day by professing Christians, and, perhaps, by true Christians? Do you not see people today that want a reputation for devotedness that they have not got? Do you not find people, as it were, professing to yield up their whole lives to God, who are keeping back part of them? If that is the impression they are desirous of conveying, is not that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? And yet where do you find any judgment of evil of that character, and evil like that would require the most spiritual judgment.
Take other things; take worldliness, take covetousness, railing, backbiting and falsehood, — untruthfulness in dealings; take all these things, and where do you find amongst the people of God the power to deal with them? Does God in His Church want evil like that dealt with? Surely He does; but what is the reason there is no power to deal with it? It is because, first of all, there must be the deepest judgment of self, there must be the sense of my own sin and shortcoming, and the most inflexible judgment of myself, if I am to execute any discipline on my brother. As the Lord says, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye" — No matter what it is, if it is in my eye it is a beam, and no matter what it is in my brother's eye it is a mote until I have judged myself — "and then thou shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye."
Now that was the lesson God was teaching Israel as a whole, and He was teaching them through bitter loss and sorrow. Eighteen thousand fall, and now its effect begins to be felt. You notice they go up again before the Lord, and let us see the state they are in (twenty-sixth verse). "Then all the children of Israel and (as though to emphasize it) all the people." It is universal. It is serious. It is not enough for half a dozen people to be exercised about evil. You take an assembly; it is not enough for a few brethren to be exercised about it, and to endeavor to deal with it quietly as a few; all the people, all the saints must be exercised in conscience about that which has appealed to them. I am not speaking of a secret sin, which may be known only to a few, and they seek to deal with it in the fear of God; but I am speaking of that which is apparent and open. The reason why there is so little power is because all the people, all the children of Israel are not exercised before God about it.
"All the people went up to Bethel," to the presence of God, His house. God, the God of His house, as Jacob had to find Him, not merely the God of Israel, the God who has given me benefits, but God who is over His house as Lord and Ruler, and who will dictate His will. "They wept and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days) saying shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?" And now they get the answer from the Lord that they might have had at the beginning if they had asked aright. "And the Lord said, Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into thine hand."
You notice what exercises they pass through. They go up to the house of God, to Bethel, into His presence. Ah, brethren, you cannot be merely indignant against sin in the presence of God. Do you know what the presence of God always does? It makes you judge sin in yourselves; that is the first thing. Thus they go up into that holy presence, they weep. Ah, the very springs of their hearts have been touched, and they can weep before the Lord. Further than that, they fast. It is not a question of some light thing. They will deny everything else, they will take no refusal from God, their hearts are so absorbed that they neglect to take their necessary food; they are in desperate earnestness to get His mind.
The next thing is that they sit there. They do not go up and stand, as though saying, We have got to be about this business, and it has to be done; we would like to have an answer, but if we cannot get the answer we have got to go ahead and do it. People need to learn that lesson too, that you have got to go before the Lord, not only to weep or fast, but to sit before Him and wait until He sees fit to answer the desire of your hearts.
Now all that is for us today. I am persuaded that there would be more power in discipline amongst the saints if there were this exercise that we are seeing here. How little of that sitting before the Lord there is. Not sitting, dear brethren, to get a due sense of the evil. They had that at the very beginning, but sitting to get the mind of God, for God has His mind. He not only has His mind as revealed in His word, but He has that mind as applying to the special case in point. And to get that mind we must wait on the Lord. An unseemly haste is never the way to get His mind.
Now they are in a proper state for God to speak to them, but that is not all. They not only weep, fast, and wait before God, but they offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. How appropriate. I suppose we would think of their offering sin offerings. In one sense it certainly would seem to be a case where a sin offering was called for. The whole people of Israel had sinned, and yet the whole people of Israel did not realize their sin. If the whole congregation sinned they were to bring a bullock for a sin offering, but they do not seem to be up to that, to their confession of national sin. But they are up to one thing, that if there is to be any relation with God, it is to be in connection with the sacrifice which He had appointed as the ground of fellowship with Himself. They offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. The burnt offerings, you know, speak of the infinite preciousness of Christ, and of His death, to God and the peace offerings speak of fellowship, the participation in that preciousness. So that in the peace offering part was offered to God and part the worshiper had. They offered to God typically the preciousness of the death of Christ.
There was a day when Aaron stood in between the living and the dead, when the priest came in in intercession he brought his censer, that which speaks of the preciousness of Christ, and waved it in between the living and the dead, as though to intercede with God on the basis of the preciousness of Christ. And I am sure that in this burnt offering we have a suggestion at least of that. They are offering to God. It is as though they said, We are helpless, we are at the end of ourselves, we are at the end of our wisdom and strength. We do not know what to do. This evil still looms up in its horror. At any rate, here is something that God appreciates. He is judging us, He is chastening us. Ah, here is something that ever is a sweet savor to Him. It is Christ. And, dear brethren, if the Lord's people will go there in self-abasement, where they can offer to God the sweet savor of what Christ is, they will have communion with Him you will find the peace offering, and they will get some answer from Him, just as these do here. They get His answer, and it is an answer of peace. He is going to help them, and He is going to be with them at last. For Benjamin, be it remembered, has not learnt his lesson. Benjamin had his lesson to learn. God must teach him, and He will use His people to teach him. He will show that He is not on the side of wrong, that He is not on the side of those awful corruptions but first, as I was saying, He must teach the people to judge themselves.
Now they go out and overthrow Benjamin, but they have to do it in a way that emphasized the very lesson they had learnt. They have to do it by their weakness. They have to do as they did at Ai. They retreated before Benjamin, as they had before the men of Ai. An ambuscade was laid, and they came in behind and burnt up the city in which the Benjamites were harbored. Thus the whole tribe of Benjamin was at their mercy. I hardly think that God would have blotted out a tribe in that way. It was at their mercy, and there was still enough of vengeance to execute it to the very last dreg.
Now what is that ambuscade and retreating, retiring before the Benjamites? I believe it is that spirit of prayer which realizes our utter weakness and helplessness. Just the lesson that is all through Judges in other connections. If we are to deal in discipline, there must be a sense of our utter helplessness. Anybody who is going to act as a lawyer or a judge amongst the people of God will have no spiritual power. To have spiritual power there must be that spirit of prayer which looks in the enemy's eyes like running away. Let the wrongdoer think that he has too much power for us to deal with him. If our weakness is shown by being on our knees and in prayer, we will soon find that God gives the opportunity for executing the discipline and the government that He would have us perform.
Now from all this I would not want to leave with you the impression that the exercise of discipline is an impossibility in these days. I am sure it is not. I would not want to leave you with the impression that I am criticising every earnest and honest effort to judge evil. God forbid. Thank God for every particle of faithfulness, and for every one who wants to be faithful to Him. But if we are to be guided by these chapters; if we are to be guided by the lesson that speaks to us so eloquently from these chapters, if we are to be guided by the burnt villages of Benjamin, and by the bereaved households of all Israel, I am sure that the lesson we are to learn is the lesson, first of all, of personal humiliation before God.
Is it not true, have you not found it so in your own experience? What gives a parent power in dealing with his children? Is it not the power which he gets from self-judgment in the presence of God? What is it that gives an assembly power to judge evil in their midst? Is it not that which brings them down on their faces crying to God in their helplessness, with a confession of their own failure and their own sins? Ah, beloved, God speaks from that sense of helplessness. He speaks to us and bids us, as it were, rise out of the dust from before Him, and He will go before us, as we seek to obey His holy will.
But let us be assured of one thing. He would never have us condone sin. He would never have us allow sin amongst us; He would never have us careless about the honor of His holy Name. We have the name of Christ upon us. We dare not, as much as our lives are worth, we dare not be careless as to the existence of evil. But, oh, if we are to have power over evil, if we are to have spiritual power that will purge the saints of God from that which holds them down, and which dishonors Christ, it is to be the power that you find in the house of God, in fasting and in the sacrifices of God. The sooner that place is taken, the quicker we will find the power.
This is something that we are all concerned in, that which is so much lacking today everywhere. The thing that is characteristic of Christendom today is this absence of government. It should characterize any testimony that there is for God. People sometimes say, We are to be characterized by our great knowledge of truth. Very blessed to be so. I am sure it is a mercy when God uses us as vessels to have His truth conveyed to others. But I believe that the one thing that is a testimony for God in this day of ruin, is a testimony to the government and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ amongst His people. Look at Philadelphia; what do you find there? What is it that marks Philadelphia? It is loyalty to Christ and subjection to His word. It is not great strength; it is the very opposite of that; it is a little strength. It is not brilliant pyrotechnics of truth flashing out and dazzling people — that is what Laodicea boasts in; her knowledge, acquirements and gifts. But what marks Philadelphia is that brokenness and subjection to the authority of Christ, and, at all hazards, carrying out obedience to Himself. Philadelphia, as you know, means brotherly love. True brotherly love, as the apostle of love tells us, is when we love God and keep His commandments. That is how I love my brother, by subjection to God Himself.
I will say very little about the recovery, the third and last chapter. There is very little to be said. It shows that the recovery, of which we have a glimpse, was only partial. I do not believe, as I have said, God would have required such action as the complete destruction of the tribe. I do not believe that it was necessary. Had they proceeded in the right way, there would have been no reason for that.
So when they have done, they sit down and weep again; they weep over what they have done; they have blotted a tribe out of Israel. Their pride is broken; their national integrity is gone. Instead of twelve tribes there are but eleven, and only a few fugitives hiding in the Rock Rimmon are left to tell where Benjamin is gone. And now they are going to bring it all back. How? In righteousness? They are going to restore Benjamin. They say, as it were, Here is a nucleus for a new tribe, 700, but where will they get wives? Where shall we get wives for them? We swore before God that not one of us would allow any of our daughters to marry into Benjamin. That was their oath. It is a very strange proceeding. It is a strange way of reasoning around in a circle. They had sworn not to give them wives, and the first thing they do is to go to Jabesh Gilead, and kill everybody in the place except those whom they could give as wives to Benjamin, and yet they said they would not give them wives! That was a violation of their oath. Still there were not enough wives to go round. They have a feast to the Lord, and while they are engaged in the festivities they invite the men of Benjamin — they won't do it themselves — to go and snatch them wives for themselves. So they get around their oath in that way.
It only shows us that they had not really gone to the bottom of the sin yet, and, therefore, you would expect some similar outbursts, showing that they were not before God. That is why I believe that it was not of God that the whole tribe should have been annihilated. Benjamin surely had arrayed himself in this way, but just as in Jephthah's case, he had no right to destroy such an enormous number of his brethren; so it seems very clearly that there was not full spiritual power yet to exercise God's government over these people. This state of moral carelessness, which is shown by the way they restored this little handful of the tribe, would not have existed, had the people been to the bottom with God.
There is one verse at the close, the same verse that we had at the beginning of this portion. It is very striking. "In those days when there was no king in Israel." That is at the beginning of the nineteenth chapter, and here at the close of the book the twenty-fifth verse of the last chapter, "In those days there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes." And what awful confusion and utter chaos was brought in by every man doing what was right in his own eyes.
But, beloved, what a world of yearning there is in that expression, "there was no king in Israel." How it tells of the only hope there could be for God's people. It was to have His King. God Himself surely wanted to be their king, would have been their king, but they refused Him. There was no subjection to Him. Later on they desired a king like all the nations, and He gives them a king after their own heart, King Saul; and they find in him not a deliverer at all. But at last God gives them, in figure, the man after His own heart, a king after His own heart, and David in that way is a type surely of the coming king for Israel, the King for whom the nation still waits, though not consciously. He is the King in another sense for whom the people of God everywhere wait, and for whom, all unknown to itself, this poor world is groaning and sighing today.
What means all the sorrow and all the lawlessness and injustice that makes the heart burn with indignation; what does it all speak of? Within the past few weeks the eyes of the whole world have been turned to one nation in the hope of seeing justice at last administered in a gross case of the violation of it, and looked and waited, only to be disappointed. Now I assure you that we will fail to learn the one thing that God has to say to us in all this, if we simply have our indignation stirred against that people, or any one in that nation. I am sure that what He has to say to us is that the government of this world will never be worth aught until the King comes whose right it is to reign. What we see in France, the yearning cry, the longing cry that is going up inarticulately from France is the cry (alas, which they cannot interpret) for the coming of the true Ruler, the One who shall reign in righteousness, and who shall abundantly protect the humble, the meek,the poor, and those who are downtrodden by the great of this world. That is what the world is sighing for, if it only knew it. What all creation is groaning for, and never will be satisfied until it gets it, is the coming of the King who shall tread down evil, but who shall lift up in grace the poor and afflicted people, and who shall extend peace and blessing to the uttermost ends of the earth, and who alone can do that.
But, beloved, for us, too, is it not true that, as we have been speaking of our responsibility in discipline and all that, and as we must execute that, is there not a feeling in our hearts, that, after all, we are only seeking to hold together a few little remnants of things for a little while? But what is it we are waiting for? Is it the re-establishing of the Church as it was at Pentecost? We shall never see it in this world. Are we waiting, dear brethren, to see the scattered fragments of Christendom all coming together in one harmonious whole, to be subject to the word of God, and to walk to the praise of Christ in this world? We shall never see it.
What is it we are waiting for? Ah, beloved, not in helplessness, not in despair. No rather, Who is it that we are waiting for? Is it not the coming of our blessed Lord to take His Church, the Bride of His bosom, out of this filthy scene, where she is a stranger and a pilgrim, and must be that, to take her with unsoiled garments in light to be with Himself? Then will He come to sway His sceptre over a world which will have to own that the only government, the only sceptre is the sceptre of righteousness, and the only hand that can sway that sceptre is the hand of God's Christ. It is He whom He has made King in Zion to rule to the ends of the earth.
So as we close our book of Judges, that is what is before us, the desire for the coming of the Lord. It has been a sad book, as I was saying at the beginning, a gloomy book, a book of failures, increasingly dark and closing in this picture that is so utterly discouraging, as you think of man. It is a book that people would speak of as very pessimistic, something to discourage you. Not at all. It is something to cut you loose from everything in this world, something to give you no confidence in yourself, no confidence in your brother, no confidence in the spirit of progress that the world talks of. It is something to shut you up to one thing, and that is to look, to long, to wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus.
But more, while we wait, and look and long for His coming, it is a book that teaches us that we are to learn to judge ourselves now, and that we are to learn in the obedience of faith to walk here just as though the whole Church were united. To be as obedient with a little remnant, as we would if all Christendom were one, and to thank God for the day of small things, which gives an opportunity for faith and obedience to show itself as much as in the brighter days of the Church's history, when the multitude were all of one heart and one soul.
Thus, dear brethren, we have these two thoughts to close with. First of all, the desire for the coming of our Lord as the only thing that can ever bring peace and holiness and blessedness; and secondly, while we wait, the desire to obey Him in weakness and helplessness, but to obey Him, to honor Him.
Blessed is that servant whom when his Lord cometh, He shall find so doing.