Week Eight: Live Without Compromise
Light for Living
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
And he will make your paths straight.
Are you aware of a situation where one poor decision leads to another and another? Maybe you’ve found yourself unexpectedly living with consequences from a series of bad choices or ethical compromises. That’s the kind of story that we find at the end of the book of Judges. Unwise choices, accommodation of evil and revenge result in civil war and the loss of thousands of lives. Such things happen when everyone does what is “right in his own eyes,” the repeated refrain that describes this period of spiritual and moral failure.
This second part of the double conclusion to Judges involves sexual abuse as well as a lack of concern and accommodation of its evil by Israelite men. This can be a very difficult reading, especially if you’ve been abused and unprotected by those who should have supported you. If you have, you may choose to skip Part One which involves the details. If you haven’t experienced abuse, please pray for those in your group who have. Leaders, I’m sure you’re already aware that statistics reveal that there will be women in your group who have been abused. Discussing the details of the abuse you’ll read about isn’t necessary to understand and apply the larger story, so carefully plan your questions beforehand.
Likely within a few decades after Joshua’s death,1 a series of disturbing events occurred that start with the story of a Levite (not the one from last week’s story). This Levite, a man of the tribe set apart for God’s service, had accepted the world’s way of living instead of choosing God’s best.
“Having concubines was an accepted part of Israelite society although this is not what God intended (Gen. 2:24). A concubine had most of the duties but only some of the privileges of a wife. Although she was legally attached to one man, she and her children usually did not have the inheritance rights of the legal wife and legitimate children. Her primary purpose was giving the man sexual pleasure, bearing additional children, and contributing more help to the household or estate.”2
As you read the entire story, note the contrasts between the two occasions when the Levite received hospitality. The cultural norm of the day required the host to protect his guests (apparently male guests only). God calls his people to give hospitality (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9) but, of course, not at the expense of accommodating evil. Sadly this tragic story was precipitated in part by, first, hospitality’s absence, and, second, its cultural norms being valued over a concern for women.
Part One Study
Read Judges 19, journaling your thoughts as you read these questions:
- Describe the character of the Levite,3 his concubine,4 his father-in-law and the Ephraimite from their words and actions in the story.
- What motivations, compromises and guilt would you assign to each individual and group (don’t forget the other townspeople we don’t see) involved in this story?
“. . . the people of Gibeah abuse in general the Levite and his party passively (by refusing basic hospitality) before the rapists abuse them actively” (19:15,22).5
- What is God saying to you about your passive or active participation in evil by doing what seems to be right through ethical compromise in your business, family, nation or even church? Consider how your actions and words or your inaction and silence may be accommodating evil.
*** Read Genesis 19 in light of this story. Consider who is involved and the apparent norms they valued. Write down your thoughts from the contrasts and comparisons.
Unfortunately many of us are infected with the self-interest cancer. Just like the host in Judges 19 . . . we are programmed by our societal principles to function along the axis of expedience. When confronted with a moral dilemma, too often we function on what is expedient, on what we have been culturally conditioned to do. Thus, we don’t even see these victims, even though they are all around us. At the work place, school, supermarket, and church, they are there. But until we remove the self-interest cancer that diminishes our vision, we won’t see them. We won’t help them. But God’s Word demands much higher standards of ethics and morality.6
Part Two Study
Read Judges 20.
The sins of rape, murder and accommodating evil led to injustice when the tribe of Benjamin refused to turn the guilty men over for punishment. Dr. Chisholm comments: “. . . blood ties were apparently more important to Benjamin than justice.”7
Write down your insights into these questions:
- Compare the story itself in Judges 19 with the Levite’s account of it in 20:4-7. What seems to be his motivation for assembling the entire nation together?
- How did this war differ from the wars led by previous judges?
- Consider each action of Israel in connection with God’s direction. Journal your thoughts.
- Answer at least one of these questions: What do God’s actions toward the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:28, 35) say to the church when it protects the guilty instead of their victims? How does this story apply to division within the church (local and universal) based on political “blood ties” instead of concern for justice, unity and God’s kingdom work?
*** Read John 17, often called Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. Add any additional thoughts it gives you about any current “civil wars” within the larger church.
Part Three Study
After the other tribes of Israel attacked almost 27,000 Benjamite warriors and destroyed their tribe, animals and cities, only 600 men survived by escaping and hiding in the wilderness.
This book and the history of the nation that follows serve as eternal testimony to the grim reality that God’s people are often their own worst enemy. It is not the enemies outside who threaten the soul but the Canaanite within.8
Read Judges 21, and comment in light of these questions:
- How did doing what was right in their own eyes backfire in this story? What wrongs had seemed right to them and who did they blame?
- How do we exorcise the Canaanite within us—both individually and as the church of the Living God?
*** Once again in the book of Judges God’s people mistreat women. Read Genesis 1:26-28, Romans 12:3-8 and Galatians 3:27-29 to be encouraged with the truths that women are equal image-bearers to men and workers in his kingdom. All of us are to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34), even if the culture or the church fails to adequately value all who are made in God’s image. Write down your thoughts.
We’ve spent eight weeks in God’s Word reading stories that serve as warnings about the results of failing to see clearly through the darkness that lives within us and among God’s people. Before we complete our study, let’s review what God has taught and shown us.
Review the cycle on p. 58 and as much of your journal as time permits. Be prepared to share your answer to ONE of these questions with your small group:
- What message stands out to you as you think through these stories?
- What have you understood more clearly about God through these stories?
- What have you changed in your life or attitudes as you have applied the scriptures week after week?
Judges reveals how easily we substitute our own thinking for God’s when we don’t stay in Scripture. God’s own people incorporated idolatry into their worship and adopted cultural norms, all the while believing that they were right and God was fine with it. Although God raised up judges to deliver them, overall the judges proved to be less than heroic in character. Despite the problems with Israel and the flaws of the judges, God still moved as the true hero in every story, using these sinful people along the way as shadows of the Savior who would come from heaven to live among us. By his death he would achieve the ultimate victory over sin that humankind is unable to overcome alone. And someday he will usher in a perfect world free of oppression and sin that lasts forever.
The book of Judges may feel depressing because of the final two stories, but let’s focus on its overall message of a powerful and merciful God who loves us despite our sins. Because of that love, he disciplines us to turn us from idolatry and accommodating evil to faith in him alone.
We are surprised by a God who finds ways of working in, with, and under very compromising situations in which people have placed themselves in order to bring about good. In the midst of unfaithfulness, the faithfulness of God is revealed, a God who never breaks covenant.9
Our final story in this study is from a former college tennis coach’s wife who shares her husband’s account of being presented with a not-so-subtle “win at all costs or be fired” message. Compromising would have allowed him to stay and continue impacting his players for Christ. After all, doesn’t a godly end justify the means?
When my husband Dave was a college tennis coach, he was called into the office of the president one day. He had been the coach for over six years, and his team had been ranked in the Top Twenty of NCAA Division I. But this particular year several players opted to leave school in the middle of the year to join the pro tennis circuit. That left him with a greatly weakened team that had to play a very strong schedule. Although they had less successful results than in previous seasons, that year was Dave’s personal best because of the many meaningful spiritual discussions he had with team members.
On his arrival in the president’s office, Dave was shocked when the president said, “Well, Coach, it looks like that we may have to re-assign you. It appears that you’re just not getting the job done with the tennis program.”
Dave responded that he didn’t realize that one losing season out of six—and the previous ones being ranked in the Top Twenty—was “unsuccessful.” He explained the circumstances, but the president said, “You don’t seem to be able to get the job done.”
Dave stated that if it meant breaking the recruiting rules or violating any NCAA policies, then the president was right—he was not the man for the job. Dave stated that he believed that a coach didn’t have to cheat or break rules to have a winning program.
The president responded, “Well, you go talk to your people and I’ll talk to mine. But I think that we will be re-assigning you. Come back and see me next week after I meet with the Board of Regents.”
Dave showed up at home unexpectedly and shared what had just happened. He said, “The only people that we can talk to are our Christian friends who will join us in prayer.” As we shared with them later and prayed, God gave us complete peace.
Three days later, Dave got a call from the Sports Information Director saying, “Dave, we’ve got it! We’ve got just what you need to convince the president that you are the man.” It had just come over the wire that Dave had been selected as the Host/Director for the next NCAA National Tennis Championships. The miracle of this is that Dave hadn’t even applied for the position and was totally taken by surprise.
The very next day, the top Canadian tennis player he had been recruiting sent his letter of acceptance for the fall. Both stories hit the area newspapers and TV stations over the weekend while we were talking to our people.
At the Board of Regents meeting that Monday night, there was much affirmation of my husband being “the man.” Two days later the president met with him, and his line was totally different: “Now, just what can we do for you? Courts need resurfacing? Got it! Need a graduate assistant? Got it! Anything else?”
We truly saw God turn the heart of the president (Proverbs 21:1) and honor Dave’s commitment to obey God (I Samuel 2:30b).
1 Block, 517. This conclusion is based on the biblical note that Phinehas the priest is the grandson of Aaron, the brother of Moses (Judges 20:28).
2 Note in Life Application Study Bible, 420.
3 It is unclear as to whether the concubine was killed by her rapists or the Levite when he cut her up.
4 Note on Judges 19:2 in NET Bible concerning their translation of the word “angry” regarding the concubine: “Or ‘was unfaithful to him.’ Many have understood the Hebrew verb (vattizneh) as being from (zanah, ‘to be a prostitute’), but it may be derived from a root meaning ‘to be angry; to hate.’”
5 Younger, 355.
6 Younger, 366.
7 Chisholm, 501.
8 Block, 585.
9 Terence Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), 98.
Related Topics: Christian Life