Summary: Reading strange stories in the Bible, in search of an answer that will lead us to find some answers in God’s dealing with human despair and suffering. We need to read those stories in the light of the cross - the story of what He has done to set things ri
THOU SHALL NOT BE VIOLENT
(Law and Grace - The 6th Commandment)
There is something in human nature that is drawn to a spicy scandal or by a violent act. Millions will tune in to exclusive interviews with the criminals or buy best-sellers which give people’s inside stories with the dirty details. All this is not unexpected because of our fallen nature. What is disturbing is that we cannot escape its presence, even when we turn to the Bible for refuge.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible’s narrative is not the corrective to the horrors of the world, though its message is. Instead, atrocities fill the narrative pages of the Bible, at times so revolting that even today they create a nauseating sensation. Judges chapter 19 did this to one of my friends. She questioned the wisdom of including it in the Bible: “It is rather awful and perhaps too sickening a story to start with. It turns the stomach. I didn’t want to read on - she said. Every time I read the Bible, I skip those stories…”
Then why, might one ask, were uncensored stories of genocide, murder, rape, and incest allowed to form a part of God’s holy word? Why were they not deleted from the holy book. Why the Holy Spirit didn’t use a marker and black out all crimes and swear words, and sexually language? Can we read the Bible and escape the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, her husband? Then there is the story of Jacob’s sons who murdered a whole village because one of its men raped their sister… Or the command: “Go destroy such and such city and kill them all, men, women, children”…
And something else - God’s apparent silence in the face of those evil atrocities. It is God’s apparent and disturbing inaction that has been most puzzling to me, as it has to many others. It seems inexplicable that God should fail to intervene, even at the expense of scandalizing His own name. Reading strange stories in the Bible, in search of an answer that will lead us to find some answers in God’s dealing with human despair and suffering. We need to read those stories in the light of the cross. The New Testament tells the story of what He has done to set things right.
I have chosen to deal with the tragic story from Judges 19, not because of its sensationalism, but because it best illustrates what has been most perplexing to us: God’s silence. One cannot read it without cringing or asking the age-old question: why does God stand by, while innocent people suffer and die. The fate of that woman from Judges 19 proves that the Bible has not been sanitized. Indeed, God does not look good in this story, mainly because He didn’t appear at all.
THE LONG NIGHT> She spent her childhood in the hill country of Judaea, in the city made famous one thousand years later by the birth of the Child that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
She lived at a time when most men had more than one wife, and when sons had a lot more going for them than daughters. When the time came for her to marry, her future was cemented into the pattern established by tradition.
Her husband had a wife already, perhaps several, making her a kind of a concubine or associate wife, an inferior role with little security and recognition. The arrangement was perfectly legal, as it still is in Muslim countries. Nobody asked her about: she was expected to obey…
Childbearing and daily hard labor were the main ingredients of her life... Somehow things did not work out. A number of Bible versions prefer the translation that ’she was unfaithful to him’ (Judges 19:2, NIV), an unlikely scenario in view of events to come. Marital unfaithfulness by a woman meant death sentence.
If unfaithfulness had been the problem, the husband would have set off to execute her rather than to get her back. The story clearly makes her the hurt party. For that reason, I like better the translation of the Good News Bible, which says that ’she became angry with him’.
We may safely assume that her disappoint¬ment was grave. Few women did what she did. Although her options were limited, she had the courage and independence to match her shattered expectations. One day she slipped away from her new home and returned to her father’s house.
The husband ’decided to go after her and try to persuade her to return to him’ (19:3). We can only guess at his motive. There is nothing in the story to suggest that he was moved by genuine love. Her running away had shamed him in the eyes of the village and deprived him of her services.