Loophole Theology

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The book of Judges concludes with some of the most brutal and atrocious stories in the entire Bible. A Levite and his concubine travel through Gibeah, while staying the night there the men of the town surround the house where they are staying. They bang on the door, demanding the man come out so they could rape him. Instead, the Levite through his concubine out the door to the angry mob and they abused and raped her until morning. When the Levite woke up the next morning (quite the honorable gentleman, right?!?) and stepped outside, he found his concubine dead on the threshold of the house. So he took her, cut her up into 12 pieces and sent her body parts all over Israel. Needless to say this “Godfatheresque” strategy created quite a stir in Israel. The people assembled and decided to punish Gibeah for this treacherous act. The problem is (as if this is the biggest of their “problems” at this point), the men of Benjamin (the tribe where Gibeah was located) wouldn’t give the men up and so Israel attacked their kinsmen, the Benjamites.

After a bloody and ruthless civil war the people of Israel realize that they had left their brothers, the Benjamites, without much of a lineage (can’t have 11 tribes). So they decided to find wives for them. The only catch was, the people of Israel had made an oath to never “give” their daughters in marriage to the people of Benjamin. So here is what they did to get around their oath to the Lord. First, they asked who missed the meeting. They ask that because they had taken a second oath. That oath said that if anyone missed the meeting they were to be put to death (so happy church staff/elders meetings don’t follow the same protocol). Here is the loophole – The people who missed the meeting also didn’t take the oath so their women could be given to the Benjamies. They realized the people of Jabesh-Gilead missed the meeting so they went and killed them and took their virgin daughters for the Benjamite men to marry.

If that wasn’t bad enough, they still didn’t have enough women for them. So they went looking for loophole #2. This time the definition of “give” was manipulated to produce a way around their oath. A woman isn’t given in marriage if the woman is kidnapped, they reasoned (pretty crazy stuff!). They told the Benjamites to hide out during an annual festival and when the women came out for the party that they were to run in from their hiding spots, grab the women and take them home to marry them. Once again, loophole looking resulted in a way that technically/legally met the obligation of their oaths but showed just how evil their hearts had become in the process.

Once we start looking for loopholes, we live out the core theme of the book of Judges (and it is not a good one) – we all starting doing just what we think is right in our own eyes. Once society, the church or a Christian takes that path God gets pushed to the side and our own will takes priority. Loophole looking never comes from a clean conscience, pure motives, or an upright heart. Loophole looking comes from the manipulator, the arrogant, and the one who thinks they can outwit God. I am sure we have all been tempted to do this at some point in time. Realize just how dangerous it is as it is a reflection of the contents of our heart.

Psalm 51

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

3 Responses

  1. Hi Matt,

    Strangely enough, I was just looking at this incident in Judges before I looked at your blog, and was wondering what the whole meat of the matter was, as it may reflect on the moral revisionist problem faced by the wider Church today. It’s a worrying thought but history tells us that it was matters such as this that fired much of the Puritan revolution that swept through Western Christendom during the Reformation, in response to the corruption loopholes permitted by the religious authorities of the day.

    I know that the last time I looked at this incident in Judges, I’d come to the conclusion that God’s Law required Israel to punish the Gilbeahnites for their foulness of mind and actions, similar to the Lord punishing the Cities of the Plain for unpardonable corruption. However, the amount of attrition involved seemed to be making the points that (1) the imposition of even righteous punishment is never easy when family ties are involved (i.e. Gilbeah being part of the Benjamin clan and Benjamin being one of the twelve Tribes of the Family of Israel) – the innocent become guilty thru allying themselves with and protecting wrong-doers being brought to judgement – and (2) that the loss in lifes etc may have been God’s way (for they asked for God’s direction in their actions) of pointing out that “the wages of sin are death”, and when a society lets things get out of hand, the balancing escalation is likely to be costly, even when one believes one is doing what God requires.

    I note that re the ‘loopholes’, these all look to be expedient plans hatched by the congregations of Israel off their own backs – unlike the policing action against Benjamin, there was no direction from the Lord. It’s possible that with the near-eradication of the Tribe of Benjamin the Lord considered the issue finished and lessons demonstrated (e.g. that family loyalty and valour in combat is no excuse for unrighteous acts).

    Thanks for making me puzzle this matter. It’s outside my usual safe technical mind-set,

    1. Thank you for sharing those thoughts. There is so much sin wrapped up in the last three chapters of Judges it really does seem like God is pulling a Romans 1 on them and allow the full consequences and results of their hearts’ desire to come to fruition. It isn’t pretty but it serves as a powerful reminder of how far God has gone to discipline his people.

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