28 May 2013

The shocking end of Judges

The end of the book of Judges has always bothered me. It covers gang-rape and revenge, with a Levite, God's representative, playing a central role. Yet, when I came to the story in reading through the Bible this year, the story bothered me just a little bit less this time.

The Levite's concubine is still offered by their host and her partner to the raging men at the door, she is still gang-raped and found dead in front of the door the next morning. The Levite still cuts her body up, sending the different parts to the tribes of Israel who then wipe out almost the entire tribe of Benjamin. It remains horrid, cruel and gruesome. Yet, this time one thing struck me differently.

When the various tribes received the message of what had happened to this woman, they all reacted immediately with: this is not how it should be. No questions were first asked about whether the woman, who had been unfaithful to the Levite, deserved what happened. Instead, her death and what happened was seen as a horrible evil. Furthermore, all those involved were punished, not just those proven to have actually committed the crime. All those who lived there and had allowed such things to develop and happen were killed, being considered equally guilty.

Having read and heard so much about human trafficking lately, it was easy to make the link to this story. That is where the shock comes in. What happened to the concubine happens in greater and lesser degrees to different women around the world. And how do we react? We say the women deserved it, or we claim that we know nothing. We talk about how good our justice system is that we make sure that rules are kept well, privacy is guarded and we make sure that people are not punished unjustly for crimes they didn't commit. Yet, where is the reaction found in Judges? Where is our shock and rage, alongside of a desire for justice and willingness to destroy the evil even when it hurts ourselves?

It seems ironic that the book of Judges - where everyone did what was right in their own eyes - has something to say to us today about being appropriately shocked when it comes to evil and justice.

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