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Lecture 6 (Week 8): The Canaanite Within Us

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How many of you ever watched 24? Well, for those of you who don’t, the TV series revolves around a governmental agency known as CTU, which I think stands for the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit. Year after year the hero, Jack Bauer, has to use his brain and his brawn to defeat a terrorist plot, and amazingly it always takes 24 hours.

One season Jack was out to stop Middle-eastern terrorists from exploding a bomb in Manhattan. CTU was closing in on the bad guys; however, without realizing it, the CTU agents were being outwitted, not by the terrorists on the outside but by a double agent inside. Unless she’s uncovered, there’s little chance of reaching the bomb. And of course it takes 24 hours to uncover the mole and save Manhattan.

Judges 19-21 involved one disaster after the other, just like 24. And like the plot of 24, the problem wasn’t the enemy outside but the enemy within the people of Israel themselves. They had adopted the attitudes of the Canaanites, the views of the culture, and were being destroyed from within. 

Let’s quickly review where we are. Judges 1:1-3:6 was the double introduction, which pointed out that this era involved a number of cycles. Each cycle began with idolatry, followed by God’s response, enemy oppression. But each time Israel cried out in pain to God, he raised up a judge or deliverer to save them. The next division of the book tells the stories of the various judges and is followed by the double conclusion in chapters 17-21. The events in both conclusions actually occurred early in the period; they are flashbacks. The author, possibly Samuel, chose these stories to exemplify the religious and moral decay of this era.

You remember that God commanded Israel to destroy all the Canaanites when they entered their land under Joshua. But Israel didn’t obey; the first conclusion pictures the religious effects of that failure, idolatry. The second conclusion, our story this week, reveals the moral effects of the Canaanite influence.

The theme of the book of Judges is the repeated phrase—each person did what was right in his own eyes. The Canaanite thinking invaded their hearts and their lives; thus, the characters in today’s story did what was right in their own eyes, resulting in murder, kidnapping, rape, and civil war.

Our culture also approves of doing what is right in our own eyes; in fact, it sees no standard of right and wrong. What is right is what seems right. But usually I hear believers blame everything bad on those outside the church when the real problem often lies within. We believers, too, do what is right in our own eyes. Instead of being focused on politics or culture, blaming them for all that is wrong with our country and for the sin that pervades our society, we need to look at our own stuff and recognize that we are responsible as well. We have allowed the Canaanite within; we are our own worst enemies. The Canaanite in the land has become the Canaanite in the heart of God’s own people.

Look at Judges 19:1-3.

In those days Israel had no king. There was a Levite living temporarily in the remote region of the Ephraimite hill country. He acquired a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. However, she got angry at him and went home to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah. When she had been there four months, her husband came after her, hoping he could convince her to return. He brought with him his servant and a pair of donkeys. When she brought him into her father’s house and the girl’s father saw him, he greeted him warmly.

Look at v. 2. If you have the King James, New King James, NIV, New American Standard, or New Living translations, they say the concubine was unfaithful or played the harlot against her husband. However, recent scholarship has revealed that the words here in the original text more likely mean that she got angry. The Levite’s own actions support that: he went after her to get her back and spoke tenderly to her. The Levite was the one acting like the guilty party.

This poor woman, already a second-class wife, was the victim of abusive men. You know what happened. After foolishly partying until late in the day with his father-in-law, the Levite insisted they set out for home, knowing they would be unable to make it before nightfall. They ended up in a town belonging to Benjamin.

Look at Judges 19:15:

“They stopped there and decided to spend the night in Gibeah. They came into the city and sat down in the town square, but no one invited them to spend the night.”

It would have been unthinkable in that culture for the Israelites to fail to take them in for the night; it was scandalous and unheard of.

What is the cultural thinking behind their refusal? (You may want to write down these marks of the Canaanite within.) The first one is I am not my brother’s keeper when it’s inconvenient or costly. Do we have this attitude? I don’t really want to be bothered with people who cost me time, effort, or money. What about you?

Back to the story, a fellow stranger in town did take them into his house, but the townsmen insisted that the host give them the Levite to rape.

Those of you who know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah probably had bells go off here, remembering the story in Gen. 19 when Lot took two angels into his house. In fact, it appears that the writer of Judges deliberately used many of the same Hebrew phrases and words to remind the reader of the previous story and emphasize the contrast. The bad guys in Sodom were unbelievers; the men of Gibeah were God’s people acting just like them. The Canaanite was within, living for their own sexual pleasure, the second mark in our story. Just as we see today, even in the church.

Well, in response to the men, the host offered them his own daughter and the concubine in an effort to protect the Levite. To his thinking—what was right in his own eyes was a principle: hospitality to a man overrode his responsibility to protect women, even his own daughter, who were mere chattel. Third, the Canaanite within sees some people as less valuable. In that day it was women and slaves. Today, it’s the unborn, the sick and aged, the physically or mentally challenged, the immigrant, the poor or the homeless. Too many believers set them and their concerns aside or put them far from their minds. Abuse of women is rampant even within the church. If you are being physically abused by someone, please talk to your leader. You are too valuable in the eyes of God to allow anyone to treat you as property!

So what did the Levite do about the men’s threats? He actually pushed his concubine out and shut the door.

We see his heartlessness in Judges 19:27-30:

When her master got up in the morning, opened the doors of the house, and went outside to start on his journey, there was the woman, his concubine, sprawled out on the doorstep of the house with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let’s leave!” But there was no response. He put her on the donkey and went home. When he got home, he took a knife, grabbed his concubine, and carved her up into twelve pieces. Then he sent the pieces throughout Israel. Everyone who saw the sight said, “Nothing like this has happened or been witnessed during the entire time since the Israelites left the land of Egypt! Take careful note of it! Discuss it and speak!”

Note a couple of things here: first, it says the master got up. His concubine spent the night being raped and abused so badly that she barely made it back to the steps of the home unable to open the door or knock while he slept totally unconcerned. In fact, he was headed home without her. When he did see her, he didn’t reach out for her in loving concern but told her to get herself up. 

Also, note that it never says she was dead. The issue is open as to whether she died from her injuries or whether he killed her himself when he cut her up into pieces. God doesn’t give us the answer, but the Levite was guilty either way.

Culturally, the Canaanite within says “me first,” the fourth mark. Our concern for others only goes so far. If it threatens me or if it’s too difficult, we feel no responsibility. The sacrificial love of Jesus is a cultural oddity in our day. Our relationships are in trouble as we think only of ourselves. “Me first” means that when our marriages become inconvenient or difficult, we can toss them aside just as the Levite did his concubine. What’s best for me takes precedence over what’s right: love, sacrificial giving, and serving others for God’s kingdom. If we truly lived out Jesus’ attitude of sacrificial love by putting others first at home and at work, the world would take such notice that they would come to Christ.

Well, the body parts brought eleven tribes together at Mizpah to investigate what was going on. Once they assembled, the tribal leaders made one foolish decision after another. First, they only heard the Levite’s version of the story. According to the Law, they were to hear two witnesses against someone. (And I am sure you noted that the Levite left out some important information about the crime when he failed to mention his own guilt in sending her out to protect himself.) After hearing the Levite, they asked the tribe of Benjamin to turn over the men of Gibeah to them to be punished for their sins.

But, the Benjamites decided to protect the guilty, so the other eleven tribes were forced to attack not only the men of Gibeah but the entire tribe of Benjamin. The fifth mark of the Canaanite within is minimizing sin and God’s holiness. God called Israel to judge and punish sin, and he gives us the same responsibility for the church. God’s hope is that the person caught in major sinful patterns will repent, but if not, we are to discipline.

Well, once the eleven tribes had won the battle, they didn’t let the stragglers go. Another bad decision! They chased them down; they destroyed their cities; they murdered them and their families; they almost annihilated them. Although they never eliminated the Canaanites as God had commanded, they almost destroyed an entire tribe of their own brothers. The sixth mark of the Canaanite within seeks revenge rather than restoration. Are there people you’ve not forgiven? Have you extended grace to those who’ve hurt you?

Finally, once the Israelites realized that only 600 men of Benjamin were alive, they made immoral decisions to rectify it. First, they murdered everyone in Jabesh-Gilead except the virgins and gave them to Benjamin; then, they gave the remaining men of Benjamin the okay to kidnap and rape unsuspecting young women. God’s people were so confused morally that they tried to bring justice to those guilty of rape and murder by murder, kidnapping, and rape themselves. The seventh mark of the Canaanite within is that the end justifies the means. Isn’t that common in our culture’s thinking? Whatever it takes to get ahead is okay. Whatever time for family and God I have to give up to get stuff I want or do what I want is acceptable. 

As we end the study of Judges, I hope we realize that we, too, live in darkness culturally. Our world is very similar to the world of that day; everyone does what is right in her own eyes rather than what’s right in God’s eyes. However, our biggest threat is failing to see the darkness within ourselves. The Canaanite within says we aren’t our brother’s keeper when it’s inconvenient or costly; the Canaanite within victimizes others; the Canaanite considers certain people as less valuable; the Canaanite within says “me first;” the Canaanite within minimizes sin and God’s holiness; the Canaanite within seeks revenge rather than restoration; and the Canaanite within believes that the end justifies the means.

We must seek out the Canaanite within ourselves or that spirit within us will send us in the wrong direction, just as the mole did in 24. Search out the Canaanite within, ladies. Confess and forsake any of those attitudes you find.  Rather than focus on the enemy outside, look for the problem within.

Judges has shown us that our God is gracious and forgiving. He will forgive you when you confess and forsake the Canaanite you within. Over and over we’ve seen God use weak, foolish, and sinful people. He’s the hero of the book, and he’s the hero of our lives when we follow him, turning from the darkness into the light.

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