While every section of the Bible is relevant for people living in every period of history, sometimes a particular section of Scripture takes on special relevance for people in a specific place and time. Through studying Judges with a small group at my local church, I have come to wonder whether the final section of that book, chapters 17-21, may have such special relevance for modern America. A postscript of sorts to the entire book, this section illustrates the extent to which Israel had come to resemble the pagan Canaanites around them. The parallel between some of Israel’s actions in Judges 17-21 and news headlines in modern America is striking. Consider the following:
1) In Judges 17-18, a man who called himself a priest of the Lord performed forbidden services for God’s people in order to gain money and, more importantly, social acceptance. An obvious comparison can be drawn to so-called Christian ministers today who perform same-sex weddings for the same reasons.
2) Judges 19 and 21 reveal an Israelite cultural milieu that contributed to sexual assault. Chapter 19 recounts the gang rape of a Levite’s concubine while drawing an implicit comparison between Israel’s city of Gibeah and ancient Sodom. Chapter 21 recounts the kidnapping and forced marriages of more than 400 women with the approval Israel’s leaders. Though the parallel is not exact, this calls to mind the situation on some US college campuses, where a culture awash in sexual immorality also seems to contribute to sexual assault. A National Institute of Justice report says as many as 18-20 percent of female college students may experience some form of sexual assault.
3) In Judges 19, a human being is dismembered with various body parts sent to different sections of the nation. It’s difficult not to relate this to the series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal body parts obtained through abortion. Apparently baby remains routinely are shipped across the country in the name of fostering scientific research. One unfortunate difference between ancient Israel and modern America though is that such violence sparked universal outrage among Israelites while too many Americans seem to yawn and move on.
The author of Judges was intent to illustrate that things previously thought to occur only among Canaanites were now occurring in Israel. Without too much imagination, one can see a parallel “Canaanization” occurring in America.
This bleak picture should, first of all, lead the Church to sound a call for national repentance. As the author of Judges notes more than once, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Indeed, without godly leaders pointing a nation in the right direction, moral chaos will prevail. The present is an opportunity for Christians to provide such leadership—which brings us to a hopeful note, for Israel eventually turned back to God under Kings David and Solomon, with the author of 2 Samuel observing, “David administered justice and equity to all his people” (8:15). God’s people should take the present darkness as a call to action. Though America has descended into a striking parallel with Israel’s decline, we must pray and work for a parallel revival.