Who are ‘worthless men’ and what are you to do if you find one or more of them in your midst?
In his final sermon before his death, Moses reminded the nation of Israel that it would be Yahweh himself who would lead them into a new county – a new kingdom – of which he would be their King. This was the same land that God had promised Abraham five-hundred years prior, but now it was finally to become Israel’s to own in person, a promised gift, an inheritance from the hands of Jehovah to his own children.
But be careful, Moses said, because when you settle in, there will be “certain worthless men” who will slither into your cities and seduce you into having an affair with the local gods and goddesses who still remain in the land (Deuteronomy 13:12-18).
The aim of these “certain worthless fellows” was to recruit the men and women of Israel into another god’s bed. They were pimps for hire, according to Moses, and what was to be their punishment if caught? They were to be flushed out into the sunlight of the city square and condemned as the worst kind of traitors.
Because obviously, to move oneself into another god’s house, to bind oneself to another god’s family, and eat the food at another god’s table, meant that you believed that god to be your provider and king. It was deathly serious.
“OK! We got it Moses!” the Israelites replied. “Roger-dodger. Ten-four. Two-thumbs-up for that important prophetic word…” And off they traipsed towards the vineyards they didn’t plant, and cities they didn’t build, in the kingdom that their God – the King of Israel – had lovingly prepared for them.
First stop: Shittim, a city east of the Jordan. It is here that Balaam, clearly a worthless fellow and also a worthless prophet, suggested to the King of Moab (for a handsome paycheck of course) a sure-fire plan to weaken the nation of Israel who loomed large over his territory.
“Bring in the Midianite women,” Balam whispered to the king of Moab, and that’s exactly what king Balak did. In a political alliance with the nation of Midian, the Moabites and Midianites were sent in to seduce the people of Israel into the dark bedroom chamber of Baal. And it worked.
“And it was there that Israel began to whore with the daughters of Moab, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. The Israelites ate and bowed down to their gods. And Israel yoked himself to Baal.” (Numbers 25:1-3)
Well, that didn’t take very long. And for added emphasis, the reader of Numbers 25 is privy to a graphic image of an Israelite man bringing a Midianite woman, a priestess, into his home, into his bed, and blatantly flaunting the whole of sordid affair in view of the entire Israelite assembly.
And all this even before Israel had even crossed over the Jordan and unpacked their boxes in their new home!
As a result of such an abomination, an Israelite priest followed the couple into the man’s chamber, and while the Hebrew man and the Midianite woman were in the act he impaled them both through the belly with a spear.
We are supposed to remember this grotesque image of two naked bodies staked to the ground as we move along from this point, for in the Israelite’s understanding, this was to be the final fate of anyone who would seduce the people of God into the inner chamber of another god.
Throughout the book of Judges, worthless fellows seem to abound. The Israelites are constantly whoring themselves out to the gods of the Ammonites (Molech), the Philistines (Dagon), and, most attractive and irresistible of all, the Canaanites (Baal and Asherah). Even some of the judges that God raised up to lead Israel during those three hundred years were described as surrounding themselves with worthless fellows, which, for the record, never ends well.
Towards the end of the book of Judges, we are told a dreadfully gruesome and unoriginal tale. A Levite (priest) is traveling through the land of the tribe of Benjamin and is offered gracious and hospitality by an old man in the town of Gibeah.
“And as they were eating, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door, demanding that the old man bring out his house-guest so that they might know him.” (Judges 19)
Sound familiar? Of course it does! This awful scenario is a mirror event to that of Lot, nephew of Abraham, and the holy house-guests that he hosted in the city of Sodom (Genesis 19).
And in the same manner as Lot, the old man of Gibeah offered up the vulnerable women in the house (his own daughter and the priest’s concubine) to appease the violent men outside. “Please don’t do this wicked, wicked thing…” he begged the violent mob, and just like Lot, it was to no avail.
Eventually, the Levite’s concubine was shoved outside the old man’s gate and the worthless men of Benjamin proceeded to gang-rape her all night long, even to death.
The reader is supposed to be horrified at this story. The hearer of this grim account is supposed to feel sick, disturbed, utterly disgusted, and appropriately appalled.
And the nation of Israel also felt all of those dreadful emotions because this book was written to them.
These ‘certain worthless men’ were not Hittites, or Jebusites, or the wicked, wicked Ammonites who worshiped Molech and had a special affinity for perverse rituals and human sacrifice.
No, these worthless men likened to those of Sodom were Israelites. Clearly, the villains in this hellish scenario, a scene worth every ounce of righteous judgment, were of the tribe of Benjamin. They were sons and daughters in the house of Yahweh.
The writer of Judges wanted to make sure that his audience understood that the family God had selected for his inheritance; the nation God had chosen to be a blessing and a balm to the nations; the people who God had determined would be a ‘city on a hill’ to all the peoples on earth, had become just as depraved, violent, blood-thirsty, and beast-like as those who worshipped Baal, Molech, and Dagon.
How can this be? And so all of Israel was ‘summoned as one man’, and the elders of Benjamin were told to immediately give up those responsible for the evil in Gibeah.
How can this be? And so all of Israel was ‘summoned as one man’, and the elders of Benjamin were told to immediately give up those responsible for the evil in Gibeah. “What has happened in your tribe is from the pit of hell” they unanimously agreed, “and these worthless men must be removed immediately from the assembly.”
And the tribe of Benjamin said, “Nope. We won’t give them up.”
I encourage you to go and read Judges 20 to find out what happens next, but to make a rather long post a tad bit shorter, the entire tribe of Benjamin, save a small remnant of only four-hundred men who barely escaped, was utterly destroyed.
What is the meaning of this historical account then? What does the biblical writer want to make clearly understood to his original audience? Because only once we’ve determined the author’s meaning to them, then, there, can we can apply the meaning to us, here, now.
Here is what that story doesn’t mean: The men in the Bible generally treat women badly… so don’t be like those worthless men. No. The moral of the story is not primarily about the mistreatment of women, or gay sex, or the perils of gang violence. There is no moral to this terrible story, but there is a meaning.
Here’s what the Biblical writer wants to make sure it clear-as-the-noon-day-sun to Israel.
“My daughter, Israel, I gave you this garden-kingdom and all that was in it. It’s a land-garden full of beauty, variety and abundance. The soil is rich, the hills and valleys are verdant, and the climate is perfect for sowing and reaping and all you might need for a very good life.
My son Israel, it wasn’t because of your righteousness that I brought you to dwell here, but because of my unchanging desire to be present with my family on earth.
I have blessed you Israel, and now I task you with stewarding this Edenic place I’ve created for you and me to call home. Rule righteously and fairly, like I do, in consideration of all that I’ve made, male and female, great and small.
I have blessed you Israel, and now I task you with conducting your affairs in a manner that reflects the rule of your just, generous, and good King.
I have blessed you Israel, and now I ask you to do likewise: Go forth and bless those who inhabit this place with you. Bless them by walking in my ways.
Now Israel, look at this woman lying dead on a threshold in Gibeah. Don’t turn your eyes away. Does this look anything like Eden? How did you get to this place – a place that looks and feels like it’s under the rule of Molech or Baal? It appears that Israel has been cut from the same cloth as Sodom? What say you? What should be your fate?
The writer of Judges wants Israel to see that she’s has been successfully seduced. She has chosen to live under the rule of worthless gods, and so she’s become worthless herself.
This story repeats itself Israel’s history until it’s impossible to miss the point: Who can resist the seduction? What man will show no favoritism or seek his own gain at the expense of another? What man will be offered every temptation to please himself and yet remain faithful and obedient to the King all his days?
And so God himself will do what no man on earth can do. The generous host of heaven and earth – the King – will offer his own innocent and perfect son to the perverse and violent mob. Why? So that the beloved ones in his house might live.
Jesus will willingly step across the threshold of heaven and die at the hands of worthless men in the unholy service of other gods. Why? Because he trusts that his Father has the power to raise him up, and all those he came to save, from the dungeon of death into the kingdom of life forever.
Shalom to you and yours, for today you are free to choose in whose house you will serve.