Judges 21, Acts 28
For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. – Acts 28:27 ESV
These two books each end with rather sad portrayals of the spiritual state of the people of Israel. In the book of Judges, we see a people who attempt to correct a previous wrong by committing additional injustices while justifying their actions with pious sounding oaths. All the events of Judges 21 take place as a result of the rape of the Levite's concubine by the men of Gibeah, a Benjamite city. Their immoral action resulted in a civil war and the near annihilation of the male population of the tribe of Benjamin by the rest of the tribes of Israel. Over 25,000 Benjamites were killed, leaving only 600 men alive. Their cities were burned and their women and children were executed as well. All because of the sinful actions of a few and the stubborn refusal of the people of Benjamin to give up those who were guilty of the original sin. But after Israel had nearly wiped out their fellow tribe, they had regrets. They realized that their actions had left the Benjamites on the edge of extinction, and they had sworn an oath not to give their daughers in marriage to the Benjamites. This decision would effectively result in the eventual loss of the entire tribe of Benjamin. Not hearing from God, they came up with their own plan, and it would prove worse than the original sin of the men of Gibeah. The key to understanding the faulty nature of their plan can be seen in two simple phrases. The first is found in verse 7: “What shall we do?” The second is recorded in verse 11: “This is what we shall do.” The plan they came up with was their own, not God's. They came up with a loop-hole that would allow them to solve their problem in a seemingly righteous way. Since the men of Jabesh-gilead had not shown up when a call went out to all the tribes to gather (Judges 20:1), they decided to punish them by attacking them and taking any of the virgins of the town as wives for the men of Benjamin. Their slaughter of the people of Jabesh-gilead resulted in only 400 potential wives for the men of Benjamin. They were 200 short. So they then encouraged the men of Benjamin to kidnap an additional 200 women from the city of Shiloh. In effect, the rape of one woman resulted in the forcible kidnapping and rape of 600 women.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Nowhere in this passage do we hear the voice of God or witness the approval of their actions. The sins of the people of Israel have increased to such a degree that they have resorted to the killing, kidnapping, and raping of fellow members of their own nation. They justified their actions. They tried to fix their own sins and only created worse problems than when they began. God seems to be silent throughout this entire ordeal. And the chapter ends with the sad and familiar refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). God was not the King of Israel. At least not according to the way the people of Israel treated Him. They did what they wanted to do. They came up with their own solutions to their own problems. God was there, but they treated Him as if He didn't even exist. Yes, the turned to Him when they found themselves in trouble, but when He appeared to be silent, they took matters into their own hands. And God allowed them to do so. He didn't approve of their actions, but He also didn't intervene. Sometimes God allows us to do whatever it is we want to do. He gives us the freedom to act on our own sinful desires and experience the consequences of those actions.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The people of Israel didn't change much over the years. As we shall see, their stubbornness and sinfulness never abated, even after God allowed them to have a king of their own. Their problem was not the lack of a king, but their own refusal to acknowledge God as King. Over in the book of Acts, we have recorded Paul's arrival in Rome for his trial before Caesar. One of the first things he did was call the local Jewish population together to explain what is going on. He wanted to hear from himself before they got swayed by any of his accusers who would surely be arriving any day from Jerusalem to bring charges against him at his trial. Paul finds his Jewish audience seemingly receptive and willing to hear from him. They knew nothing about the events surrounding his arrest in Caesarea but told him, “We desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22 ESV). “From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:23-24 ESV).
Paul's assessment of the Jews is clear. It reflects an understanding of the nature of their hearts. They were willing to hear, but unwilling to really listen. Quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, Paul told them, “this people's heart has become dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Acts 28:27 ESV). Like their ancestors, the Jews of Paul's day had become calloused and cold toward God. They were religious. They were outwardly pious. But they had long since stopped hearing from God. They couldn't see the hand of God operating within their own midst. And as a result, they were incapable of turning back to God. So Paul gives them the sad news that from that point forward “this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
They will listen. Listening was directly tied to turning. Hearing what Paul had to say and what God was offering was not enough. The Jews in Paul's audience heard him clearly, but refused to listen and act on what they had heard. The refused to turn. But the Gentiles would hear, listen, and turn. They would repent. They would see their need for a Savior and accept the offer of forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ. Even as a believer I still have the need to not only hear from God, but listen and obey. I must see what He is doing and not become blind to His actions in and around my life. This passage conveys a sensitivity to God's presence and voice. I must see Him and hear Him. I have to listen to what He is saying to me each and every day of my life. Otherwise, I run the risk of becoming like the Israelites: Dull of heart and hard of hearing.
Father, give me an ever-increasing ability to see You and hear You, but also to listen to and obey You, so that I don't become dull of heart and hard of hearing. Amen