I find myself reading through Judges 19 this morning and my heart absolutely breaking. The story is one of the inhospitality and wickedness of the men of Gibeah. Just as in the story of Sodom the men of the city desire to have sexual relations with a male visitor of the city. Instead of allowing them to devour his guest, the Levite, the hospitable sojourner throws out the Levites concubine and “they knew her and abused her all night until the morning”.
The story ends with dead concubine grasping at the threshold of her masters door. Actually, though her life ends there her story does not. This Levite proceeded to take her body and cut it up into twelve pieces—one for each of the tribes of Israel. This provoked a great civil war against the tribe of Benjamin.
I cannot read this story without using a little imagination and thinking through the horrors of that night for this concubine. Just days before she was in her father’s house enjoying his hospitality. Now she endures the horrors of a world gone bad. She is the victim of “everyone did what is right in his own eyes”.
After reading through the story I had a chilling thought. How would I preach this text? Even more difficult of a question—how would I preach Christ from this text?
Where is Jesus in Judges 19?
Nowhere. And that is the problem.
The book of Judges is a massive downward spiral of rebellion. The books major theme is that “there is no king” and so “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. Even in Judges 19 we see the sojourner telling these “worthless men” to “violate” and “do with [my virgin daughter and this concubine] what seems good to you”. Apparently, what seemed good to them was a night of rape and abuse.
The purpose of Judges is to show how desperately the people needed a king. Better still, the people needed a righteous king that would lead people into true worship of Yahweh. The immediate context of Judges 19 shows that the people have committed horrible religious apostasy. This is reflected not only in this cruel case of rape but also in the lack of hospitality. God created man to live in a loving community that reflected the Trinitarian unity. This is the exact opposite of that. Rather than experiencing the self-sacrificial love of the Trinity--what Tim Savage calls a “perpetual flow of boundless affection”--people in the book of Judges were self-centered and did what they figured would benefit themselves.
Judges shows what happens when man is left to do what is right in his own eyes. As the book of Judges closes the reader is left longing for this righteous king. Where is the King?!?!
We know through the rest of the Old Testament that the Israelites were eventually led by kings. Some of them righteous and some of them worthless. David was the best king that was a man after God’s own heart. But even David had failures. David was but a pale image of the glory that would be found in one of his sons; namely, King Jesus.
Dominated by the Empty Chair
In his book, Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson makes the argument that the husband finds himself in “inescapable leadership”:
He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly. But no matter what he does, or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife.
Some homes are “dominated by the empty chair at the table”. In the same way Christ holds a position in the Scriptures of “inescapable leadership”. Please do not read more into my point than I am attempting to make. What I am saying is that everything in the Scriptures are about him. When you see him present in the Gospels it is obviously about Jesus. But even in places like Judges 19 the passage is dominated by the “empty chair”.*
The text screams out for rescue. The dead concubine, with her hand grasping the threshold, cries out for rescue as well as justice. That will not come through an earthly king. Only when Christ the King comes will Judges 19 find an answer. For he is ushering in a kingdom not only of perfect community (marked by hospitality) but also a kingdom that protects and cares for women instead of throwing them into the hands of worthless men.
*I am not for one second attempting to say that Christ has some how abdicated his leadership and that he is as a deadbeat father or husband. I am only using the power of the “empty chair” to show how even in his absence the Lord Jesus dominates the Scriptures.