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Bad things in God’s word 


What are we, as followers of Jesus, to make of the horrible passages of the Bible? Colin Sedgwick offers a reflection on Judges 19


My friend Chris has been reading the Old Testament book of Judges for the first time. When he got to chapter 19 he declared himself “pretty dismayed” and “quite shocked”. And I can’t say I blame him. In fact, I would be quite shocked if he wasn’t. It’s the truly horrible story of “the Levite and his concubine”, and you really do need a pretty strong stomach to digest it.

The events described invite all sorts of extreme adjectives – appalling, atrocious, vile, disgusting, just for starters. But pile up as many as you like and they still don’t do justice to the utter wickedness of what happens. 

If there’s any crumb of comfort to be had, it might be that even the people living in those degenerate times were shocked when it became known – “Everyone who heard about it was saying to one another, ‘Such a thing has never been seen or done… Just imagine! We must do something!’” (verse 30).

What are we, as followers of Jesus, to make of passages like this, bearing in mind that this one is by no means alone in the Bible? If we believe that the whole Bible is God’s inspired word, then presumably we are meant to get some benefit out of it. But what might that be?

Two things come to my mind…

First, and most obviously, this passage sounds a serious warning.

The final verse of Judges says: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 20:25). In other words, anarchy ruled. Israel had, in effect, rejected their heavenly king, God himself, but had not yet got to the point of submitting to an earthly king – Saul, David, Solomon and the rest were still to come.

So the story of the Levite and his concubine virtually screams at us: “This is the kind of thing that happens when a society or nation cuts itself adrift from its spiritual and moral moorings.”

There are countries today where precisely this appears to have happened. Law and order have broken down and petty warlords rule the roost – though they are at war with one another. The result is death to any hopes of security and prosperity for ordinary people trying to live their lives.

Nor should we be complacent. Are we in Britain and in the western world generally heading in the same direction? Horrific crimes are reported daily in our news media; we read of violence, stabbings and gun crimes in schools and town centres; the police, probation and social services are close to overwhelmed; vile things like “revenge porn” and other abuses of social media are commonplace, even among children.

Is it “alarmist” to talk like this? True, we mustn’t exaggerate, or overlook the good features of our society. But still, there seems to be plenty to be troubled about. The stark fact is that there are no depths to which human nature can’t sink.

We often grumble and complain about those who govern us. But perhaps it would be better to be thankful for such stability and order as we do have – and, of course, to pray for our nation, asking God to give us leaders of honesty, integrity and principle.

The second value of this shocking passage is simply described: it shows us that the Bible is an honest book.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was for a time the most powerful man in England. When the time came for his portrait to be painted, he told the artist to give a true representation of him, “warts and all”. All credit to him for his humility – no photo-shopping, thanks.

The Old Testament is, among other things, a portrait of God’s earthly people. And God has certainly painted it for us “warts and all”!

In a strange way this can even be an encouragement to us who seek to be God’s people today, for it reminds us that God has used some pretty shoddy human material in unfolding his purposes. Moses was a murderer, David a murderer and an adulterer, Solomon a serious compromiser in various respects, even the great Elijah could be a coward.

No plaster saints there! Nor, come to that, in the New Testament. While we don’t read of atrocities remotely on the scale of Judges 19, we do read of the disciples’ cowardice and lack of faith, of Peter’s denial of Jesus, of Paul and Barnabas having a major bust-up. No plaster saints there either.

This shouldn’t make us complacent, as if moral and spiritual failings don’t matter. They certainly do, for God is a holy God and calls his people to be pure and holy.

But it reminds us that God is a gracious and forgiving God, who will not allow his will to be ultimately thwarted even in spite of the failings of his people.

We may, like my friend Chris, turn away with some repugnance from passages like Judges 19. All right. But let’s not fail to grasp the lessons – and make sure that we then turn to the only one who ultimately matters: Jesus himself.

I think this little prayer song by David Bryant might be an appropriate response...

Jesus, take me as I am, I can come no other way. 
Take me deeper into you,/ Make my flesh life melt away. 
Make me like a precious stone, Crystal clear and finely honed, Life of Jesus shining through, Giving glory back to you. Amen!


Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.

He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com


Image | Jonathan Faint | Freely

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Baptist Times, 01/08/2019
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