Friday, April 13, 2007

A Modern Day Gibeah?

Today's "Read the Bible in a Year" reading (and by the way, if you're still on board, I'd love to hear from you!) includes scripture that impacted me very deeply the first time I read it last summer. In fact, it struck me so much that I wrote about it back then. I apologize up front for the length--I was fueled by some pretty intense emotion--but following is what I wrote about Judges 19 & 20 many moons ago.

A Modern-Day Gibeah?

I was blessed at church the other day to hear from the sister and brother-in-law of our youth minister. Trish and Dave Holabeck are planning a mission trip to Cambodia in the near future. They had already made one visit there so on this visit to our church they shared a presentation about the country and its people. One of the most memorable parts for me was when Dave said that Cambodia ranks highest across the globe for child prostitution, mostly due to American and European men visiting the country who are willing to pay money for a child.

One reason this fact keeps gnawing at me is that I’ve read a little about human trafficking. It is a current topic of interest for my composition students as they complete research projects. I’ve been appalled reading accounts of children as young as three being abused in ways most people can’t fathom. I’ve wept at the unfairness and the robbery of innocence. So, even though I’ve nothing in my personal history that allows me to say, “I know how they feel” (thank you, Jesus), I do have three kids of my own and a vivid enough imagination to be repulsed and bitterly angered by those who perpetuate and participate in this abomination.

Flash backward a few days from the Holabecks’ presentation. In my Bible reading time I had ended up in Judges 19. My NIV labels this chapter “A Levite and His Concubine.” This was not a story I was familiar with, so I proceeded, half-way expecting a “Joseph and Potipher’s wife” or “Samson and Delilah”-type story. Was I ever wrong.

Here’s the summation: An unnamed Levite has an unfaithful concubine from Bethlehem, Judah, who returned to her father’s home. When her husband goes back to get her, they tarry a few days while the father, probably eager for the reconciliation, implores them to stay a little longer to refresh and enjoy themselves. After several days of giving into Dad, the Levite insists on leaving in the late afternoon, putting them near Gibeah at nightfall. They hang out by the city square waiting for someone to offer them a place to stay for the night. Lo and behold, a “good ol’ boy” from the Levite’s area, Ephraim, offers to put them up. Wicked men from Gibeah show up and demand to have sex with the Levite, but the host declines this “disgraceful thing” offering instead his virgin daughter and the concubine. (Yeah, I know—why that’s not disgraceful too is beyond me.)

Though it appears the old man’s daughter is spared, the Levite takes (the Hebrew verb implies force) the concubine and hands her over. Perhaps he was seeking revenge because of her prior unfaithfulness, but even so, the cruelty is striking. She is raped and abused all night and at “daybreak she fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.” Upon finding her crumbled there, her husband tells her to get up so they can go (nice guy!). Getting no answer, he loads up her dead body to go home. Once there, he dismembers her into twelve parts, sending them to all areas of Israel. The people 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!”

I’ll tell you what I thought about it—I was mortified! I cried as I read over and over about the concubine collapsing at the door after facing a night of unspeakable horror and brutality. “God, why is this even in the Bible?!” I vented to Him. “What in the world is worth recording about these evil men and how they so readily betrayed a helpless woman?” I was really angry about the irony, too; the host and Levite regarded the crowd of rapists as evil and vile, but saw nothing wrong about sending a woman out to them?! Come ON! (That “pointing out the speck in another's eye while ignoring your own plank” scripture floods my mind at this point.)

But you know, God reminded me that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 16—17). That’s ALL scripture. So how can even this horrific account of the Levite and his concubine thoroughly equip Christians for every good work?

See, with Dave and Trish’s visit to our church and the mission they have before them in spreading the good news of Jesus among a culture so poor that it sells its children, it dawned on me that a person who is seeking—seeking freedom, peace, purpose—might be able to relate to the horrible story. A precious soul, child or adult, who has suffered at the hands of evil would feel less alone to know that intertwined in God’s wonderful story of history, there have been others who unjustly endured violence and violation. Though the concubine’s life was stolen from her, God used her legacy as a rally-cry to stir the Isrealites into a much-needed war against evil (see Ch. 20). And guess who got to launch the first fight? The Lord said, “Judah shall go first.” (v. 18). The concubine (who was from there) is avenged through this by God! And you can bet he was caring for her soul tenderly in heaven as she had her front-row seat for the battle.

I don’t even pretend to know all the delicate and loving ways that Dave and Trish will be fruitful in showing Jesus to Cambodians—and trust me, they will—but this scripture, especially when coupled with others about child-sacrifices, and how the Lord always seeks revenge, could just possibly provide hope for the victims who have suffered from the trafficking that takes place there. These people are surviviors! They’re champions with a purpose! And with the Lord of all creation on their side, they too, will be well-equipped to fight the battle.