The Levite of Ephraim
Judges 17 and Judges 18 have shown us the religious condition of Israel and the influence exercised over them by the pseudo‑sacerdotal class. This self‑styled priesthood, religiously corrupted, kept up religious corruption among the people. If the scenes with which chapter 17 commenced, belonged as we have seen to the times preceding the Judges, their transmission was necessary in order to set before us a picture of the solemn gradation of evil in Israel. It is somewhat the line which the Spirit of God follows in Luke's gospel, where the facts are grouped out of their chronological order, for the purpose of giving effect as a whole to certain moral truths.
Samson, the last of the Judges, still invoked Jehovah on certain memorable occasions of his life. The Levite of Judah only invoked Him over the head of his images and seraphim. The Levite of Ephraim, whose history we are about to consider, did not, alas! invoke Him at all. As far as he was concerned it seemed as if Jehovah no longer existed, and yet this man belonged to a class set apart to the service of Jehovah, for that of the priesthood, and of the house of God.
In Judges 19, we have the Levite of Ephraim in his connection not with the religious, but with the moral, state of the people. The latter was even worse than the former. The woman that the Levite had taken, left him, after being unfaithful to him. He went after her, following the bent of his own heart, and united himself to this degraded women, doing just what pleased himself. This satisfied the woman's father, who saw therein the reinstatement of his daughter. Alas! this act was also, without his being aware of it, the justification of the evil and a sanction to the defilement - all the more serious, carrying with it, as it did, the weight of the sacred position of this man. The father detained his son‑in‑law, for the longer he remained, the more public and conspicuous did the reinstatement of his daughter become. The kindness of the world is manifested toward us in proportion as we serve its interests; it does not object to alliance with the family of God. The Levite allowed himself to be belated on his way. Having only his conscience, instead of God, as his guide, he yielded to the influence of others, missed his opportunity, and fell into evil.
This man, who had allied himself to a prostitute, would not turn in to the Jebusites. It is sometimes thus with Christians. They shrink from open association with the world, whilst at the same time the hidden springs of their own lives are impure. It is possible to be very strict as to one's public walk and yet very lax as to personal holiness.
"We will not turn aside hither into the city of a stranger, that is not of the children of Israel" (v. 12). The Levite was more attached to his people than to Jehovah, or rather, he did not take the latter into consideration at all. Avoiding the Jebusites from national pride rather than from piety, he seemed to imply that whatever came from Israel must necessarily be all right, when Israel had already outrageously abandoned Jehovah. These principles remain unchanged, and the ruin of our day is as much characterized by them as that of God's ancient people. Every sect in Christendom is boasted about in contrast with the heathen nations; when, as to matter of fact, Christendom itself has become the haunt of every sort of corruption, moral and religious.
The Levite soon perceived that he was not received in the midst of a people whom God had expressly commanded not to forsake the Levite (Deut. 12: 19). Corrupted profession did not offer a shelter to the servant of Jehovah. (I do not speak here of the moral character of this man). We see in verse 18 the feelings which such treatment produced in his heart: "I am now going to the house of Jehovah; and there is no man that receiveth me to house." An isolated stranger who sojourned amid the corruption of Gibeah, and like Lot in Sodom, aware of it, for he said: "Only lodge not in the street" (v. 20), received the traveller into his house. A frightful thing ensued. The impure passions of men who bore the name of Jehovah equalled in horror those of the accursed city. Such things, taking place in Israel, were worse than the history of Lot, for, as dead flies cause the ointment to stink, so the corruption of the people of God is the worst of all. Moreover, we do not see any intervention of angels to deliver the just. Like Lot, the host of the Levite speaks at the door, accepting one evil to avoid a worse, and this is necessarily the principle of action of believers who go on with the world. God preserved this man from seeing his house defiled by these infamous wretches, but for him there was no other way visible. The Levite gave up his wife to dishonour. This issue might have been avoided by an appeal to God, remembering His protection in former days. Could He not, as formerly, have smitten the people with blindness? But no cry of anguish went up to Him; from the heart of the Levite to Jehovah the passage was barred.
The wretched woman, recovered from her earlier course of prostitution, without repentance or exercise of conscience, died from the dreadful consequences of what she formerly hankered after. God allowed the evil to run its full course, but, as the succeeding chapters will inform us, out of this frightful evil He brought glory to Himself.
The word of God presents two great subjects to us. What God is on the one hand; what man is on the other. God never attempts to cover up man's actual state, for, if He did, He would not be the God who is light; and His word would be false in both its presentations. As to man, God depicts him as indifferent, amiable, or religious according to nature, violent or corrupt, always selfish, hypocritical, ungodly, apostate; without law, under law, under grace, and that in all circumstances and in every degree‑-while God also shows us the work of His grace in the heart of man under all its forms and in all its gradations. We obtain thus a divine picture of our state, and are forced to the conclusion that we have no resource in ourselves, and that our only resource is in the heart of God.