Summary: Overview of Judges tracing spiritual decline and discussing rock bottom low in horror story of Chapter 19.

Downward Spiral and the Horror of Sin

Series: Lessons from Judges #2

Judges 19[1]


Last week in Judges 1 we saw a trend developing in the people of God. Early in that chapter, they were experiencing wonderful victories. But at about verse 19 the tone of victory subsided and defeat in their lives became common place. Instead of enjoying the full provision of the Promise Land they were settling for only partial victory. Instead of wholeheartedly pressing into their inheritance they were not driving out the enemy in various areas and were in fact accepting that level of living as simply “the way it is.”

In the last part of Chapter 2 we began to see why and how these people were falling into spiritual decline. First, they failed to teach their children the way of the Lord. Judges 2:10 “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” The next verse (11) begins with the word “then.” What followed this failure was more and more compromise. “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.”

This morning I want to share with you an overview of the Judges that will give you a framework for understanding the stories contained in this book. Typically the way this book is taught and preached is to focus on each story and make applications to our own lives. That works if you understand the context of that story in OT theology. But it can be very confusing when you don’t. For example, did Jephthah kill his daughter as a human sacrifice to God? That whole story becomes confusing without first understanding the overall message of Judges. What’s going on in the last story of this book when a Levite dismembers his dead wife and sends one part to each of the twelve tribes? It actually reads more like a horror story than a Bible story unless we see it in the context of the book as a whole.

The book of Judges is a lesson on spiritual decline. What happens when God’s people get half-hearted about their relationship with the Lord? Do they just miss a few blessings but find a way to cope with life’s problems and carry on? Judges is a warning about what will happen when people start compromising with sin. Someone once said, “Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go; it will keep you longer than you wanted to stay; and it will cost you more than you wanted to pay.”[2] That is a good summary of the book of Judges.

When the book opens we are introduced to admirable characters—people of remarkable faith and integrity. Of course, there was Joshua of the previous generation. Caleb is prominent in the first chapter. His daughter, Acsah, is a chip off the old block. She is an outstanding woman of faith and her husband Othniel becomes the first Judge in this book. Judges 3:10 tells us how he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead Israel.

But as the book of Judges proceeds the integrity and spirituality of the leaders continually decline. [3] Ehud, the next Judge, was a godly leader and a man of great courage. Gideon is at the center of the book. He begins pretty well. But toward the end of his life he makes some serious compromises that lead to terrible idolatry with his golden ephod. His son, Abimelech, was a brutal, evil, ambitious man who slaughtered his own brothers for power and position. By the time we get to Jephthah the Scripture is no longer emphasizing God’s work in raising up the leader.[4] Instead we see people worming their way into power and using God’s name when it serves their selfish purposes. When we see that story in its full context it is not surprising to find this man offering his daughter as a human sacrifice. He is obsessed with vain ambition and lust for power and position. He will not lose face; his values are confused and corrupted. So there he is keeping an ungodly vow while breaking covenant law (Deut. 12:31) with Yahweh.[5] Samson is an example of a man who was born into rich spiritual heritage and opportunity. God gifted him and empowered him for service. But most of his energy was spent pursuing sensuality and revenge. [6]

The cycle described in Judges 2:10-19 begins with God’s blessing on their lives. But instead of pursuing the Lord and His will they pursue their own pleasure and the idols of the world. They presume upon the goodness of God. That draws correction from their Heavenly Father. Notice in verse 13 God takes responsibility for their troubles—“He sold them....” It was not the devil’s doing. It was the Father’s chastening. They could have rebuked the devil until they passed out—and it wouldn’t have fixed the problem. What God was looking for was obedience—not some magical, religious activity. God allowed the pressure to come on until they turn back to Him and ask for help. But when they call upon the Lord He graciously answers. He raises up a judge, a deliver, and restores the blessing. Judges 2:18 clearly states why God does this, “for the Lord had compassion on them.” The grace of God is revealed all through the Bible in both Old and New Testament. But in time the cycle begins again.

Judges 2:19 is a key verse for interpreting this book, “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” That is the pattern that puts them on a downward spiral.

The decline hits rock bottom by the end of the book.[7] Here is an outline with comments about its message.

Basic Outline of the Message of the Book of Judges:

I. 1:1-3:6 Prologue

a. 1:1-2:15 God’s people fail to fully

appropriate His provision for them

b. 2:16-3:6 God remains faithful to His covenant

even when His people are unfaithful.

II. 3:7-16:31 Cycles of Judges[8]

(Warning from Israel’s example of spiritual decline characterized by cycles of:

Disobedience—Trouble—Crying out to the Lord—God’s gracious deliverance.)

a. (3:7-11) Othneil

b. (3:12-30) Ehud

(3:31) With mention of Shamager

c. (4:1-5:31) Deborah/Barak

d. (6:1-9:57) Gideon/Abimelech

10:1-5) With mention of Tola and Jair

e. (10:6-12:7) Jephthah

(12:8-15)With mention of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon

f. (13:1-16:31) Samson

III. 17:1-21:25 Epilogue

a. (17:1-18:31) Corruption of worship that

results from syncretic absorption of

worldly idolatry into pure religion.

b. (19:1-21:25) Moral degradation and conflict

that follows spiritual decline.[9]

Notice that chapters 17-21 are a two-part epilogue to the collection of stories. These chapters are here to emphasize just how backslidden God’s people had become. Turn with me in your Bibles to Judges 19:1. The story begins with these words, “In those days Israel had no king.” That statement begins to define the problem which is more fully defined in the last verse of the book. The author does not want us to miss this point so he drives it home at the end of the book. Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” It is this insistence upon doing their own thing; it is this lack of moral accountability that is behind all the chaos and confusion reported in Judges.[10]

The story in Judges 19 is about a Levite—a man called to spiritual leadership and priestly ministry. God had given a special place to the Levites in His relationship with Israel. It was a place of privilege and anointing. But this man is an example of how far these people had drifted from God. The fact that he is unnamed indicates that the issue is not some much this specific person as the general condition of things that his story exemplifies.[11] Judges 19:2 tells us there was conflict in the marriage and his wife left him and went back home to her parents. It is difficult to determine whether the text is saying that she was unfaithful to him (as the NIV and KJV has it) or whether it is saying she was angry at him (as the RSV and TLB has it).[12] After 4 months of separation the Levite travels to her parents home and persuades her to return with him. On their way back home they come to Gibeah, a town in Benjamin territory. They are taken in to spend the night in the home of an old man there which was according to the custom of that day. During the night an incident occurs very similar to one that occurred in Sodom in the days of Lot.[13]

Judges 19:22-20:1

“While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him." 23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing." 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. 27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, "Get up; let’s go." But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. 29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!’”

Why would such a horror story be in the Bible? It is there to tell you and me where sin will take us if we compromise with it. Remember how the book began—just a little apathy toward God’s command to take the land—a willingness to compromise with the enemy and settle for less than God had called them to do. Look where sin has taken these people of God. This is not Sodom. This is happening in Israel—unbelievable wickedness and brutality. Sin will take you further than you want to go. Sin is a slippery slope that gets steeper the further you slide down it.

First, consider the wickedness of these townspeople. Nowhere in Scripture is homosexuality presented the way our media presents it. It is not funny. It is not normal. It is more debased than heterosexual sin because it is farther from God’s intended purpose for human sexuality.[14] These people are so consumed by their inordinate lust that they have no concern whatsoever for this woman’s life. Evil has taken over the minds of these reprobate people.[15] But do not miss the difference between this story in Judges 19 and the one in Genesis 19. Sodom and Gomorrah were never God’s covenant people. The tribe of Benjamin was! The horror of this incident is that there are people who were called into covenant relationship with God. The book of Judges is the story of how they came to this debased condition.

But the Levite is not a whole lot better. What kind of man would hand his wife over to a crowd like that just to protect his own skin? What kind of man could coldly dismember her body after she had been brutally killed this way?[16] Look at his indifference toward her as he walks out of the house that next morning.[17] Judges 19:26 “At daybreak the woman went back to the house where here master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.” 27 When her master got up in the morning (how could he possibly sleep with all that going on?) and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up; let’s go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.”

That is the end result of compromise with sin. That is the lesson of this story. Sin is not pretty and it gets uglier and uglier and uglier—until you become something you never, never wanted to be. One horror of hell is to be forever that kind of being. We are all being shaped—either into a creature fit for heaven or one fit for hell. The horror you feel toward this story is the horror God wants you to have toward the slightest suggestion of sin and iniquity.[18]

When Satan is tempting us toward sin he minimizes the consequence of our disobedience and maximized the promise of pleasure from the sin. But in Judges God has shown us the true nature of sin. “Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go; it will keep you longer than you wanted to stay; and it will cost you more than you wanted to pay.” Let us pray.


Richard Tow

Grace Chapel Foursquare Church

Springfield, MO


[1] Text read at beginning of service. All quotes are from New International Version unless otherwise indicated.

[2] This wording is the way I remember hearing it many years ago. In his sermon, “Frustration and Disappointment...A Part of Christian Life, Dean Kennedy quotes Kay Arthur with a slightly different wording. Kennedy’s message may be accessed at

[3] J.R. Vannoy, Judges: Theology of in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Vol. 4. ed. W.A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 829, 835.

[4] K. Lawson Younger, Jr., Judges/Ruth volume 6, The New Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 247, 253.

[5] Younger (p. 265) also points out that he could have redeemed his daughter (Lev. 27:1-8) had he known and lived by the law of God. Years ago I was erroneously taught that Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a human sacrifice but simply that she had to live out her life as a virgin. Appeal to Judges 11:39 was made with this interpretation. However, the natural sense of the story is otherwise and this explanation seems to come out of failing to grasp the overall context and message of Judges. Also see Josephus, Ant. 5.7.8-11.

[6] This is said with recognition that he did great feats of faith (Heb. 11:32) and was used of God. However, when God sovereignly uses a person it is not always a validation of that person’s character.

[7] This statement is based upon the way the author of Judges has arranged the material since we don’t know chronologically when these events in the epilogue occurred.

[8] There are 12 judges. Six are considered major simply because the author gives more information about them. These judges functioned somewhat like tribal leaders. Joshua has led the major invasion so now it’s up to each tribe to complete occupation the land.

[9] Modified from K. Lawson Younger, Jr. outline found in Judges/Ruth volume of The New Application Commentary ed. Terry Muck published 2002 by Zondervan p. 49.

[10] This is more than a political statement although it does let us know that the book was compiled after the monarchy was established. But these people are not recognizing their eternal King. God is their ultimate ruler and instead of hearing His commandments and ordering their lives accordingly—each one is just doing what he wants to do.

[11] Daniel Block, Judges/Ruth, Volume 6 in The New American Commentary, ed. E.R. Clendenen, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2002) 522.

[12] Leon Morris and K.L. Younger, Jr. lean toward “she was angry with him” rather than “she was unfaithful to him”. Daniel Block indicates that she may be designated as unfaithful simply because she left her husband.

[13] Genesis 19

[14] This is not to minimize the seriousness of heterosexual sin since the Pentateuch demanded the death penalty for that as well. But God designed human sexuality for a monogamous relationship for a husband and wife. The further one deviates from that the more serious the sin.

[15] Romans 1:18-32

[16] There is not space in this message to deal with the dismemberment and all that followed in Chapters 20 and 21. It is however a gruesome picture of the confusion and disunity that had settled upon God’s people at that dark time.

[17] Were there time I would show how the attitudes toward women degenerate as the spiritual decline occurs. Compare the attitudes in Judges 19 to the honor given to Acsah and Deborah at the beginning of this book.

[18] In our first service we used a video clip from Illustrate Vol. 2 (>Secret Sin>Jim: embezzled money) to address how a professed Christian (even one leading a successful adult Sunday school class) could be living a double life and find himself on a destructive downward spiral of sin. Illustrate is produced by BlueFish TV, PO Box 869100 in Plano, Tx (972-423-3800).