The most violent story in the Bible, and the least violent story in it are laid side by side, connected by the clasp of the phrase, “In the days when the Judges judged.” The book of Judges ends with a series of bloody events directed at women – there is gang rape, dismemberment, genocide, kidnapping, more genocide, and more kidnapping. I’ll not go into details, you can read them yourself in Judges 19-21 – but not too often, for they cause nightmares. More jarring in the text than the acts of violence are the acts of heartlessness. A Levite offers his concubine to a crowd of men to rape, so that they won’t rape him. When he finds her lying at the doorstep the next morning he says “Get up and let’s go!” Then the text eerily reports, “there was no answer,” (Judges 19.28). This is the first in a series of events that will result in the death of tens of thousands, and the snatching of hundreds of young women. I find the whole ordeal a nauseating (literally) thing to read. But there it is, in the Bible.
This account is followed by the book of Ruth, which takes place “in the days when the Judges judged” (1.1), and which has no villains, although there is plenty of sorrow, and heartbreak early on. In this book women are protected and cared for, people are kind to each other, goodness is appreciated, prayers are answered, and there is not one, but three happy endings. It is a wholly satisfying and comforting book to read from the first verse to the last.
I have never taught the book of Judges in an adult Bible class – as I have been the adult education guy at the congregations I have served, and have conveniently not scheduled myself to teach this book. I am teaching Ruth this quarter, on Wednesday nights, and am giddy with excitement at the prospect of spending 13 weeks in Bethlehem with all these good people.
There are many ways to read Ruth, as a woman’s story, as a love story, as a slice of life, as a theodicy, as royal history, just to name the first few. I hope to cover these and other angles on this sublime book in our class, but the one question we will not ask in class that I’d like to ask here is “why?”
There is no doubt that Ruth and Naomi are under the protective wing of Yahweh (2.12). Although they are without a protector, far from home, and impoverished they find a redeemer and husband, receive a son, and are found in the lineage of King David. The three happy endings that conclude the book could not be more complete.
Why were the Levite’s concubine, so viciously raped, the 400 kidnapped virgins of Jabesh Gilead, or the hundreds of kidnapped virgins at Shiloh not under the same protective wing? I f we are scoring purely on the basis of mathematics, where is the glory in saving two, when hundreds were so abused and unprotected?
I don’t know that I have a satisfying answer to that question. I do know some Bible facts. I know that God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all (I John 1.5) – and so God is not the source of any evil. He did not intend or determine that any of the awfulness of the book of Judges should happen. I also know that “every good and perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, in whom there is no shifting, shade, or shadow” (James 1.17). God is the only source of the goodness we find in the book of Ruth.
I know that from the moment God told Adam and Eve about the tree they were NOT to eat from, He gave us free will, which He does not violate, and which we use for destructive purposes. Those terrible events at the close of the book of Judges are ended with the comment, “In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 21.25). We do not exercise free will in a vacuum. Often the exercise of free will produces victims. As our elder, Mike Hickman said last Sunday evening, before his closing prayer, “There is evil in the world, and God is not the source of it.”
I also know that Ruth and Naomi exercised their free will to go home to God’s people, to be obedient to His laws, and trust in His provision.
Finally, I know that the only way to find similar provision is to pursue a similar path of trust and obedience. In those days, when the Judges judged, as well as in these days, when most still “do what is right in their own eyes,” this is the only safe path to take.