We have read some troubling stories lately in our Chronological Bible readings. In the past month, we have worked our way through the books of Joshua and Judges, which contain no small amount of violence and bloodshed. Some of these biblical stories can make your stomach turn with disgust!

One such story is the death by gang rape of an unnamed young woman in Judges 19. So much of this story is unspeakably disturbing.

Let me summarize: this woman was married to a Levite man, but she left him for unclear reasons. (She somehow had been “unfaithful” to her husband; see v. 2.) The Levite later pursued her and brought her back from her family. On their journey, the couple stayed overnight in a stranger’s home. That night, some “wicked men” from the city demanded that the Levite be brought out so they could rape him. Instead, the Levite pushed his wife outside, and she was then raped all night long. She died the next morning. In response, the Levite carried her home, cut her body up into twelve pieces, and sent those pieces throughout Israel as a call to arms so he could exact revenge on the people who did this to her.

Like I said, it makes your stomach turn. I cannot understand why this story is in the Bible. I have a hard time seeing God at work in this story – and in the chapters that follow it.

Without minimizing the tragedy and inhumanity of how this woman was raped to death, let me suggest one lesson we can draw from this story: It is incredibly easy for us to justify our own actions.

Did you catch how the Levite man made sense of what happened to his wife? Those evil men abused her and killed her. They were to blame. But wait a minute! The Levite himself was the one who pushed her out of the door! Was there nothing else he could do? Is he not at least partly responsible?

Oh, how easy it is to justify our own choices.

But it got, if possible, even worse. In Judges 20, we find the aftermath of this tragic story. In retaliation for the rape and death of the Levite’s wife, the entire nation of Israel fell into civil war. Tens of thousands of people died. An entire tribe was decimated. And all the way through this civil war, the “good guys” asked God for his blessing, which, unsurprisingly, he gave to them. After all, history is written by the victors, right? Surely God was on their side. (See Judges 20:18, 20:23, and 20:27-28.)

I seriously doubt that God actually approved of this situation. I believe the Levite and his friends were so convinced that they were the “good guys” that they convinced themselves that God wanted them to engage in civil war, to kill thousands of their own people, to blame others for the death of one young woman.

Oh, how easy it is to justify our own choices.

The story gets, if possible, even worse in the final chapter of Judges. In order to repopulate the decimated tribe, the “good guys” arrange for several hundred girls – both Israelite and foreign – to be taken forcefully from their homes to become wives and mothers.

The final verse of Judges sums it up well: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25 NIV).

It is incredibly easy for us to justify our own actions, even those actions that are harmful, hurtful, or disrespectful of others. It is easy for us to convince ourselves that God is on our side, because, well, why wouldn’t he be? It is easy for us to agree with acts of violence, discrimination, and abuse, as long as we believe that we are the “good guys.”

Don’t forget, though, that the Levite man was the one who pushed his wife out of the door in the first place.

Friends, be careful with the assumptions you make about yourself, others, what is right, what is wrong, and what God is saying. It could be that the stories we tell ourselves are more complicated than we make them.

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