Right in Their Own Eyes

There is a common phenomenon known as “buyer’s remorse.” This usually takes place after a hasty or poorly considered purchase. (Those of us who have bid for an item on eBay have sometimes experienced this shortly after entering the winning bid.) Having purchased a particular item we later wish that we had not been so hasty. “Why in the world did I ever decide to buy this?” We wonder.

Having zealously waged war on the Benjamites, they had succeeded in nearly wiping them out. What would they do now – what could they do now – to keep the Benjamites from extinction? This was unthinkable for an Israelite.

In the course of waging war with the Benjamites, the Israelites made several vows, the first of which they have come to regret. They had vowed that they would never allow one of their daughters to marry a Benjamite. The second vow had possibilities of being used to their advantage. They had vowed that they would execute anyone who did not appear for battle against the Benjamites.

They cleverly devised a plan whereby they would play one vow against the other. They would diligently keep the second vow, which enabled them to circumvent the first. Their second vow was to execute those who failed to join them in their battle against the Benjamites:

The Israelites asked, “Who from all the Israelite tribes has not assembled before the Lord?” They had made a solemn oath that whoever did not assemble before the Lord at Mizpah must certainly be executed (Judges 21:5).

They inquired and found that no one from Jabesh Gilead had assembled for war at Mizpah. In order to “keep their vow,” they assembled 12,000 warriors and attacked Jabesh Gilead (in the tribal region of GAD), killing every man and woman, sparing only the young virgins. This left 400 virgins who could be given to the surviving men of Benjamin. (Technically, this was not breaking their vow since none of the men of Jabesh Gilead had assembled for battle, and thus none of them had vowed not to give their daughters to the Benjamites.)


The Israelites’ dedication to keep one vow has enabled them to circumvent the other. So far, they have succeeded in providing 400 wives for the remaining 600 Benjamite men. But there still remain 200 Benjamites who are without wives, and thus they cannot bear offspring to perpetuate their tribe. The Israelites conclude that something else must be done to provide wives for the remaining 200 Benjamites. They shrewdly concocted yet another devious plan. The Israelite men had vowed that they would not give any of their daughters to the Benjamites as wives. Nothing had been said about any virgin being taken from among their daughters.

An annual festival was soon to be celebrated by the Israelites at Shiloh. At this celebration, there would be dancing by the virgin daughters of Shiloh. The unwed Benjamites were commanded to hide out in the vineyards, and when the Israelite virgins came near to dance, they were to seize one of them for a wife. And so it happened. The Benjamite bachelors did as they were instructed. They each seized an Israelite virgin and “made her his wife.” Two hundred young women were taken, thus providing every Benjamite with a wife. With this accomplished, everyone returned to his home. With this, the book closes with this now familiar statement:

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25).

It is possible that we may read these final verses of chapter 21 with a wink. How clever these Israelites were to provide wives for the Benjamites without technically violating the Law; indeed, while appearing to zealously keep the Law. But such is not the case. I am assuming that these “marriages” would be based upon a text like this one in Deuteronomy 22:

“If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

The cost for this action was 50 Shekels, which equated to 5-7 years worth of salary at that time (similar to what Jacob had to pay to Laban to take Leah as his wife, another 7 years for Rachel in Genesis 29). That means the humbling action of returning to the father of the woman who was raped was to seek forgiveness and payment of debt in order to receive acceptance. The purpose in this was to evaluate the character of the man who had committed the act. Was he willing to seek forgiveness and payment for his act? I don’t know about you, but the average person does not have 5-7 years of salary saved away. In fact, 63% of Americans have less than a $1000 saved away and it doesn’t get any better towards the top brackets. For those making $65,000 a year, they have 13 days worth of savings (based on their debts) and for those making $85,000, they have 26 days worth of savings. According to Ronald and Steven Holmes, "Most rapists tend to be young... with most under age 25. Many come from low economic backgrounds.” So with this profile, we can best assess that the rapists in this case could become the slaves of the father if they were seeking restitution because according to Exodus 22:3-4, if the perpetrator could not pay the debt in full they could become a slave because that individual was a thief and thus would become property of the man he had stolen from until his debt was paid in full, which could be doubled under these circumstances. As a father of a young woman who had just been treated in such a manner, you can only use your imagination of how this individual might be treated in response. After the initial phase of punishment, there would most likely come the assignments that no human would ever want to do – sewage cleanup from humans and animals alike comes to mind.

Should the perpetrator flee, then the punishment would increase to the death penalty.

These 200 virgins were seized, possibly raped, and then (“lawfully”) kept as wives – because they had been raped as virgins. Having physically become “one flesh” with these Benjamite men, there was nothing that could be done to reverse what had happened. And so the forced marriages were allowed to stand. The fathers of these virgins were at least consoled by the fact that they had not been a party to this conspiracy before the fact.

Even if they used persuasive tactics and a forceful rape did not occur – you still have a situation described in Exodus 22:

16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and he has sexual relations with her, he must certainly pay the bridal price for her to be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must pay an amount in silver equal to the bridal price for virgins.” Exodus 22:16

There was still the issue of taking something that did not belong to them in a God honoring way while trying to find loopholes in the law to justify it.

In one way, we see rape as more severe than other sins, but truth be told, all sin is sin and the payment for sin is death. This world is a cesspool of sin and we all smell like garbage before the nostrils of the King. So, praise be to God that He has taken the payment of His son on our behalf or the only recourse would be death. Thus, the mercy shown, and I mean mercy because all sin equals the death penalty, in Deuteronomy by Moses is a mercy shown to us that we do not deserve.

Think of how this final episode in Judges began in chapter 19. Some evil men in the city of Gibeah took the Levite’s concubine and gang raped her, which resulted in her death. Rape and murder (accentuated by the cutting up of this concubine) were the crimes which had so incensed the Israelites. And so they went to war with their Benjamite brethren, coming very close to bringing this tribe to extinction. And now, those who were so offended by the rape of this concubine conspire to bring about the rape of 200 Israelite virgins. The irony and hypocrisy of this can hardly be missed. Surely, the Benjamites and the Israelites were all “doing what was right in their own eyes.”

This time period will become a symbol like Sodom and Gomorrah for the generations to come of what happens win we push God out of our lives and we live according to our flesh:

Hosea 9:9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. ESV

Hosea 10:9-10 From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity. ESV

They were certainly not living according to the spirit of the law.

I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. Ephesians 4:17-19 NIV

There is a price to be paid, both here and eternally. If you don’t find someone else to pay the price you will have to pay it yourself. Fortunately we have found someone to pay it: Jesus Christ, who voluntarily gave up His life so you wouldn’t have to. And so then instead of giving into the flesh we put it down!

Paul goes on in Ephesians 4 to say this:

But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV


For the fourth time (17:6; 18:1; 19:1), the writer tells us that “there was no king in Israel;” and for the second time (17:6), he adds that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25).

Today, there is no king in Israel because the nation chose Barabbas instead of Jesus (Luke 23:13–25). They said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Because there’s no king in Israel, people are rebelling against God and doing whatever pleases them; and it will be that way until the King returns and takes His throne on earth. All of this carnage and destruction happened because one Levite didn’t have the courage to stand up for what was right and treat his wife honorably.

The Priesthood was passed down to him and He didn’t know what He was doing. Wisdom was not with him He was moving out of mere duty, not really understanding the purpose or function of his role as a result – he lost his mission.  Wisdom comes only from a relationship with God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

In fact, Proverbs 12:15 says that only fools will do what is right in their own eyes. Which is what sums up the state of affairs in Israel at this time.

The two Levites we read about have lost their focus on God and accepted the duties of going through the motions with no intention of worshiping the one who delivered them from Egypt.


This reminds me of a true story I heard about a couple who went to see the Queen’s guard in London, England. There was a team of six men who were preparing the cannon for the salute. Five of them were industriously going about their tasks, but one stood to attention nearby doing nothing. They later asked why this was so but no one knew, not even the guards themselves. After much study they found out that originally a horse pulled the cannon and the sixth guard’s job was to stand and hold the horse! On that day a vehicle was used to pull the cannon and there were no horses to hold – but still, out of blind duty, the sixth guard stood doing nothing because he was merely assigned to do so! The guard didn’t even know why he was there. So, if we don’t understand our mission and purpose for the living Lord, then you will lose focus and fall prey to “going through the motions.”

So who are we in Christ Jesus?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 NIV 

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, {10} And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

Once again, as with Jonathan, Micah, and the Danites (17:1–18:31), the problem started in the home, among God’s people. When we push God out, everything and anything goes.

Our text is filled with implications and applications for today. Let me conclude this message (and this series) by suggesting a few of them.

I believe the author has chosen to end this book with a two-part conclusion not only because of his two-part introduction, but so that we can look at these two conclusions side-by-side in order to compare them.

In this second conclusion, we find the sins of homosexuality, rape, and murder. Thanks to the dramatic actions of the Levite, the Israelites were shocked and horrified by his report of what had happened. Their response was so zealous that they went back into battle with their Benjamite brethren even after suffering defeat twice at their hands.


Compare the response of the Israelites to sexual perversion and murder in chapters 19 and 20 to Israel’s response to the Danites’ idolatry in chapters 17 and 18. There, they did absolutely nothing, and yet God’s Word gave very clear instructions about what they should have done:

“Suppose you should hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you as a place to live, that some evil people have departed from among you to entice the inhabitants of their cities, saying, “Let’s go and serve other gods” (whom you have not known before). You must investigate thoroughly and inquire carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done among you, you must by all means slaughter the inhabitants of that city with the sword; annihilate with the sword everyone in it, as well as the livestock. You must gather all of its plunder into the middle of the plaza and burn the city and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It will be an abandoned ruin forever – it must never be rebuilt again. You must not take for yourself anything that has been placed under judgment. Then the Lord will relent from his intense anger, show you compassion, have mercy on you, and multiply you as he promised your ancestors. Thus you must obey the Lord your God, keeping all his commandments that I am giving you today and doing what is right before him” (Deuteronomy 13:12-18).

These two conclusions (the idolatry of the Danites in chapters 17 and 18, and the immorality of the Benjamites in chapters 19-21) reveal Israel’s inconsistency at best, and her hypocrisy at worst. The murder of a young woman was inexcusable; the blatant practice of idolatry was met with a yawn.

Before we begin to look down our spiritual noses at Israel, let us consider our own failures. Arrogance, a Lying Tongue (mentioned twice), Gossipers, - these are just to name a few on the list of 7 Things God Hates (Proverbs 6:16-19) Let’s face it, there are certain sins that we evangelical Christians love to hate – homosexuality (at least until lately) being one of these sins, even though other sins receive a great deal more attention in the Bible.

Those who name the name of Jesus as Savior and Lord need to be very careful not to be hypocritical about sin. God hates all sin, not just those sins we love to hate (because they don’t happen to tempt us). All sin falls under God’s condemnation and makes men worthy of eternal judgment – not just homosexuality, or adultery, or murder. Let us be careful not to be selective about those sins which we hate. Let us hate all sin, especially our own. We must not be like this Levite, who amplifies the sins of others, but overlooks or minimizes his own sins. Let us be as merciless with our sins as we often exhibit with the sins of others.


When people are right with God, they are apt to be hard on themselves and easy on other people. But when they are not right with God, they are easy on themselves and hard on others. – JOHN NEWTON



One of the ways our author exposes the spiritual and moral breakdown of the nation Israel in this period of her “dark ages” is by calling attention to the deterioration of the nation’s attitude and actions toward women. Early on in the book, we are introduced to brave and noble women like Deborah and Jael, women who stood apart from – even above – the men of the day.

But then we read of Jephthah’s folly and its consequences for his daughter.

We see the way in which Samson despises Israelite women and uses (or is used by) Philistine women.

And finally we come to our text, only to be told that the Levite throws his concubine out to the worthless men of the city, to abuse as they choose, and then to die with her hands on the threshold of the house. Her “grieving” husband dispassionately orders her corpse to get up and resume their journey, and when he finds she is dead, he cuts her body into twelve pieces, which he distributes throughout Israel, to the horror of the nation.

In recent days, Bible-believing Christians have been accused of demeaning women. I will regretfully acknowledge that some men have twisted the Scriptures so as to justify the unbiblical and ungodly treatment of their wives or other women. But let me remind you that our Lord elevated women to a position of honor and dignity that the world had never before witnessed. He did not do so by making women apostles or church leaders, but by giving them very significant places of service in the home and in the church. It is not our culture that is enhancing and enriching women; it should be – and often is – the Christian (individually) and the church (corporately). Women are feeling underpaid, under appreciated, sexual harassment in the workplace is growing and women are even hurting other women – so men, defend your wives, their honor, their feelings – give them a safe pasture where their perspectives are heard. In so doing, you will honor God by obeying His instruction to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Have you obeyed that directive?

I must say a word about violence here, for there is a great deal of hypocrisy in regard to this matter. Today I hear many decrying cruelty to animals and also the abuse of women and children. This is rightly so, for the Bible does not sanctify animal cruelty, nor does it justify the abuse of women and children. God has a special interest in the helpless and the vulnerable, and He expects His people to be like Him in this regard. When we defend the defenseless, we model the heart of God who seeks to save the lost.


Isn’t it interesting to observe how many bristle at the violence of our text, and especially the cutting up of the corpse of the Levite’s concubine? It was a terrible thing, and I do not wish in any way to minimize the evil that is so graphically depicted in our text. Remember, though, that it was a dead body that the Levite cut up, and yet it galvanized the entire nation into action. In our world, every single day thousands of living human beings – children – are being chopped up in their mother’s womb in the process of abortion (3 babies per minute in fact). Few dare to call this murder, though it is so in nearly every case. These precious human lives are euphemistically referred to as fetal tissue or the like. And it is all done so that people (men and women) can live an immoral lifestyle and not suffer the consequences. May God have mercy on our nation for legalizing this horrible sin, and on Christians for failing to raise so much as a word of protest against it. May God deal justly with any government that seeks to have its citizens pay for such a holocaust. The other side of this is that there are many women who are hurting and alone and are not seeking to murder a child, but their actions are real and it is up to us the church to minister to them. Legalized abortion is not the answer so the only alternative is for the church to be the church to those who are without hope.

Let us never fall into the epidemic of pointing out the sins in our nation while washing our hands of it and not allowing ourselves to be used by God to bring healing. Get involved.

Why is it so important to our author that several times in our text (and in our text alone) he points out that Israel had no king, and that everyone did what was right in their own eyes? It is because righteousness never comes from the “bottom up;” it can only come from the “top down.” Throughout Israel’s history, the nation was godly only when they had a godly king. If the Old Testament teaches us anything, it is that man is a sinner and cannot live up to God’s standards of righteousness. By human efforts at law-keeping, man will never achieve righteousness; he will only demonstrate his lack of righteousness (sin), and his need for salvation that comes from outside of himself. Salvation can only come from above, from Him who took on human flesh so that He might die in the sinner’s place:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:19-23).

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

How vastly different is God’s way of salvation from man’s! As I reflected on our text, I had to marvel at how the Israelites sought to “save” the Benjamites from their sins. They sought to save this tribe from extinction by circumventing and twisting God’s law. They sought to perpetuate the Benjamites by counseling them to forcibly seize other men’s daughters and then rape them so that they would become their wives. Man’s efforts at achieving salvation (our own, or that of others) are so pathetic, so disgusting.

God’s salvation came about in a very different way. God took pity on fallen men, sending His Son in human flesh so that He might identify with man, live a sinless life, and then die in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment for our sins. God’s promised salvation finally and fully came in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It is Christ alone who is righteous.

It is Christ alone who has lived a life free from sin.

And it is He alone who willingly took the sinner’s place on the cross of Calvary, bearing the guilt and punishment we deserve. Trusting in Him alone is what saves sinners, not self-help programs and human striving after righteousness and God’s approval.

The journey through Judges has given us a summary of the rise and fall of God’s people – giving us both a warning and a promise. That despite ourselves, God is still God and God gives us endless grace.


A woman from Grand Rapids, MI, shared the story of an amazing story of God’s grace. She had fallen asleep on her couch one evening after her husband had gone to bed. An intruder sneaked in through the sliding door, which the couple had forgotten to lock, and crept through the house. He entered the bedroom where the husband was sleeping and picked up the television set. The sleeping man woke up, saw a figure standing there and whispered, “Honey, come to bed.” The burglar panicked, put down the TV, grabbed a stack of money from the dresser, and ran out.

The thief was in for a big surprise! The money turned out to be a stack of Christian pamphlets with a likeness of a $20 bill on one side and an explanation of the love and forgiveness God offers to people on the other side. Instead of the cash he expected, the intruder got the story of God’s love for him. With the stack in his hand, he was being told over and over again that God loved him despite himself.

It is not just the Book of Judges that was given to make man look bad; it is the entire Bible. The Bible shows us how ugly our sin is and how desperately lost we are. It shows us that we cannot be saved by our own efforts, but only by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as the Bible shows us how bad we are, and how much we need to be saved apart from our own efforts, it portrays a beautiful Savior who came to earth to bear the sinner’s guilt and punishment, so that men might be saved and live forever in His presence. Have you trusted in Him? If not, I urge you to do so today.

Next week: We start our new study in Philippians.

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