The Spirit In Which We Judge Evil
Extract from Lecture 12 of Lectures on the Book of Judges and Ruth, by Samual Ridout

Judges 20

They go on to Gibeah, and there they find, after asking for it, a welcome in an Ephraimite’s house, and there occurs the awful crime like that of Sodom and Gomorrah. After the awful crime is committed, the Levite takes the most dreadful way of making it known to the whole nation, cutting in pieces the body of the poor wretched woman and sending it around, one part to each of the tribes. You see the whole nation shocked, as it were, suddenly shocked into a horror against this dreadfuol crime that had been committed in their midst.

I want you to notice what has awakened them. It has been the commission of evil that has awakened them, and they gather together as one man, for what purpose? To take vengeance upon the evil. It is evil that has awakened; it is evil that brings them together; it is the execution of judgement upon evil that nerves their arm and unites their hearts. Ah, beloved, evil will never serve as a tie to hold the people of God together. Have you ever seen in some much more quiet way, people drawn together by occupation with evil? It will draw together for the time being; you may have your indignation meetings over evil, but having indignation meetings over evil is not the way that God would draw His people together. We were singing at the beginning:
“Thou Holy One and True,”

It is the Holy One and True who draws His people together.
“Our hearts in Thee confide
And in the circle of Thy love
As Brethren, we abide.”

It is Christ, the Holy One and True, who attracts us by His love, and who holds us within the circle of His love, and that makes possible the exercise of all care and love as brethren together.

Now that is the first great lesson, I believe, that we are to learn from the next chapter. The people are brought together and held together by only this one thing. Evil has been committed, and until that evil is judged, not a man of them will go to his home. Did you ever read of any gathering together at Shiloh to keep the feast of the Passover like that? Do you read of the Feast of Tabernacles drawing the whole nation together with joy? Ah, beloved, God had been tacitly inviting them year after year to come up and keep the feast, to come up and enjoy the holy fellowship of His things. But they had preferred to dwell amongst the heathen; they had preferred to settle down with their enemies by their side, teaching them their ways, and all that. But it is only when they are shocked out of their lethargy by this upspeakable corruption, that they flow together, drawn, not by grace, not by the attractiveness of love and goodness, and the fullness of blessing, such as you have described in the basket of first fruits in the twenty-sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. None of these things draw them together, but an evil has been committed, and they are galvanized for the time being into wonderful faithfulness to God.

Now I want you to notice something, dear brethren; there is not a single comment upon the deed that was done. It needs no comment. God does not need to characterize it. Even the natural man revolts from the awful details that we have. There is no need to stigmatize it as unspeakably wicked, horribly corrupt. But you do find that what the Spirit of God dwells upon is the state of soul amongst the rest of the people that rendered them utterly incapable of executing divine discipline upon the wrongdoers.

Let us look at it a little in detail. An evil has been committed in Gibeah of Benjamin, one of the cities belonging to that tribe. There was provision in the book of Deuteronomy for tracing an evil to its source, and for dealing with it. Everything was to be done deliberately and quietly, after due meditation, and above all, in the presence of God. It was to be done in the spirit of subjection to Himself. These people take a short cut. They have not been used to the presence of God, they have not been accustomed to dwelling in that holy Presence. And now they think the matter is simple enough. They send a curt message to Benjamin, Deliver over these men of Belial, and we will deal with them.

It is a curt and short message, and it has the effect that you would expect. It arouses Benjamin against his brethren. The whole tribe is summoned before Israel; it is made a matter of tribal pride, and Benjamin is arrayed against all Israel. The men of Belial are done for, they are out of the account. You hear no more of the wickedness done. Do you not think there must have been as much conscience in Benjamin as there was in all the other tribes? Do you not think that if the matter had been dealt with in the fear of God, and in dependence upon Him, that Benjamin would have been as ready to purge himself from the awful shame as the rest of Israel was ready? But ah, this sudden bluntness, this harshness, above all this covert pride, which would say, Such an evil could not take place in Issachar; Ephraim would not have such a state of things in her midst; but Benjamin allows it. Ah, it is the stirring up of all the worst passions in the human heart, of pride, and at once Benjamin forgets entirely the corruption, and says, We will stand out in the face of all Israel, and we will not allow ourselves to be trampled upon. Well, they were wrong surely. We quite admit at once they were grievously wrong. They had no right to array themselves in this way they ought to have united with their brethren in execration of this horrible thing. But then the steps that were taken to deal with the matter at once, and the self-righteous curtness, left out the wrongdoers from their mind. It was not a question of dealing with them, and so it became a question of dealing at once with Benjamin herself. Dealing in that way, stirring up the pride and rebellion of the natural heart, is the surest wasy to produce the very same fruits spiritually, as you have here literally. There is such a thing as taking people by the throat, and trying to shake the evil out of them. There is such a thing as pounding out a man’s sin, sin that he ay be connected with, not personally, but responsibly, in such a way that you touch his pride, and bring out in him the antagonism of his nature, rather than show him the evil which he should judge and abhor. Let us learn that lesson. Let us not be as Israel, just simply trying to stir up opposition, instead of leading people in the fear of God to judge evil with which they are responsibly associated. I need not apply this; I am sure the application is simple enough, and in our own minds we will very easily make application of it to things that we have seen, alas, too often amongst the Lord’s saints.

Well, all Israel come together; they are united at last, as I said. What grace has not effected, judgment seems to do, or the desire for it. You will notice one thing. These people were thirsty for blood. That is what marks them. I do not see any horror at the sin. I do not see in it a spirit crushed at the possibility of such evil occurring in Israel. As a matter of fact, if they were going to hold Benjamin so rigorously to his responsibility, why could they not do it for the whole nation? If they could say, for instance, that it is an awful thing that such evil is possible in Benjamin, why not say it is an awful thing that such evil is possible in Israel, too? Ah, there was the snare. It was pride and self-righteousness in their own heart.

Let us look for a moment at the fifth of first Corinthians, where you have the New Testament counterpart of this evil, to a certain extent. There is moral corruption of a degrading character, as the apostle tells us, such as was not even named among the Gentiles. What was the state of the saints? The second verse shows us. “Ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned that he that hath done this deed among you be taken away from among you.” They are puffed up, not over the sin, but doubtless puffed up that they could thank God that they were not like this one who had fallen into it. In other words, instead of being crushed and broken, on their faces before God, crying to Him, confessing to Him their won moral state that had made such an evil possible, they are puffed up, and go on with their gifts and everything of that kind, and in that way having no power to deal with the evil. You say, Israel over in Judges was better than that. They did, at least, endeavor to deal with the evil, they did not dally with it a moment. Ah, but they were puffed up about their position in regard to it; they would show their zeal for the Lord, and as they gather together there is a thirst for blood, rather than a zeal for the Lord’s honor, that marks them.

Well, God let’s them alone; He does not check that which was so manifest, He does not hinder that, and they are going to bring God into it; but you notice the first question they ask is not even, Shall we go up; but the first thing they ask is, Who shall go up first? They have decided that they will go up against Benjamin, they were going to wreak vengeance upon the whole tribe, and the only think they want the Lord to tell them is who shall go up first. He takes them at their word, and lets Judah go first. There were some 26,000 Benjamite warriors, and some 400,000 Israelite warriors, and you know that Benjamin almost, man for man, killed his own number. Killed 22,000 warriors out of Israel!

Is God on the side of sin? Is He on the side of carefulness about judging sin? Ah no, He is a holy God, but His holiness is farther reaching than ours. His holiness will probe down into the hearts of a people apparently innocent and bring them to a sense of their own guilt, as well as the tribe, and the individual wrongdoers; and so He lets them fall before those who have arrayed themselves in pride against them.

How often are God’s people discomfited, even those who are on the right side. There is a right and wrong side, and sometimes you will hear people say, Is not that view wrong? Is not that the wrong side to take? Quite so; one would not dare for a moment to take the wrong side. Well, is not this the right side? Is it not right to reject that evil, and so on? Not quite so fast. There are three sides to a thing, more often than two. People sometimes say there are two sides, and if A is right, then B is wrong. And if A is wrong, then B is right. Is there not another side? Suppose both are wrong. Ah, beloved, that is the point. There is the side of one and the side of other, and there is God’s side; and the point is to take His side, no matter though it seems the slow side at first, rather than the harsh, careless judgement of evil, which is by its very severity lessens the sense of sin in the soul.

Now that is what God is to teach the nation. He is to teach them their own sin, and He is going to bring home to them the fact that they are under His judgement for the state of things, just as really as Benjamin is under His judgement for her allowance of the thing in her midst. So they fall before the Benjamites, and are slaughtered in this way.

They go up again the next day (twenty-second verse); they encourage themselves. They needed encouragement. But it is far better to do as David did when the people spoke of stoning him. David encouraged himself in the Lord. Here we read the people encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array the first day. Now that statement is given first, that they encouraged themselves and set the battle in array; then in parenthesis, as a sort of postscript, showing the minor and secondary place it had in their own hearts,- “The children of Israel went up”- you might say, had gone up- “and wept before the Lord until even, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?”

Now there is an evident softening here, an evident recognition of the fact that the Lord must be allowed to come in. At first they did not need the Lord at all. Why, this case you do not need to pray about, some people say. You do not need to trouble the Lord. Is it not a clear case? All you need ask for is the Lord to guide you as to some minor detail; who will do the work, who will write the letter, and so forth. Ah, you do not realize your need of God; then He will teach you your need of Him. You will find that you flee before the wrongdoers, and have no power to judge the evil. Evil will still lift its head, in spite of your indignation against it.

That brings them lower, and here they weep before the Lord, over their loss, weep doubtless over their humiliation, for pride humbled brings tears quicker than grief and sympathy. Yet there is a touching of the chord. It is their brother they have been fighting. He deserves judgment, but he is their brother. “Shall I go up against Benjamin, my brother?” And they weep, and as they weep they begin to realize they are dealing with their brother. God says, Go up again. He is not a cruel God. Surely He is infinite love, but again the people who had wept and prayed, the people who seemed to have been right are worsted, again they flee, ansd 18,000 more fall in the dust. Has God forgotten? Is He again on the side of evil? Is He again on the side of evil? Shall we throw it up in disgust, shall we be careless and indifferent to evil? No, beloved. But does it not tell us in tones of thunder that what God wants more than judging evil in another is to judge it in ourselves, and that what He wants, if we are to be ready, whether it be as individuals, to pass judgement upon evil, or whether it be as a company of His people, to execute His own discipline, there must be that self-judgement above everything else that will give us spiritual discernment and spiritual power? It speaks to us in a way that, I am sure, we need to heed.

If there is one thing that is characteristic of the day in which we are living, in Christendom, it is every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. Evil is unjudged. It may not be this glaring corruption that we have here, though we do not know what is carried on in the darkness, and I would not set any limits to the evil that is committed even under the holy name of Christ. Look at the horrible corruption of Rome itself, and you can see the possibilities of the human heart still finding expression in conduct of that kind. But we are living in the time when there is no power to judge sin. Everybody goes and does as he pleases. There is no power to meet sin in the fear of God and to judge it, and to see Himself acting with us in it. Very little power for discipline. You take the average association of Christians, what place has discipline amongst them? If a man did something for which he would be turned out of his club, he would be turned out of the church; but not much more. The thing that would take him out of polite society, would take him out of his church fellowship. But not much worse than that. He might do many kinds of things just so he did not get into publicity. There are all kinds of evil done by professing Christians who are in good and regular standing in their churches, and there is no power to deal with them. Surely that is an awful state of things.

There should be as much discipline in the Church of God today as there was in the apostles’ day. God’s judgement upon Ananias and Sapphira was no exceptional case. God did not mean, as it were, to single out those two people as the only wrongdoers who would be in His Church for all time. He meant to give a sample of His judgement of evil. And, if you look at the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, do you not see in it that which is committed every day by professing Christians, and, perhaps, by true Christians? Do you not see people today that want a reputation for devotedness that they have not got? Do you not find people, as it were, professing to yield up their whole lives to God, who are keeping back part of them? If that is the impression they are desirous of conveying, is not that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? And yet where do you find any judgement of evil of that character, and evil like that would require the most spiritual judgement.

Take other things; take worldliness, take covetousness, railing, backbiting and falsehood,- untruthfulness in dealings; take all these things, and where do you find amongst the people of God the power to deal with them? Does God in His Church want evil like that dealt with? Surely He does; but what is the reason there is no power to deal with it? It is because, first of all, there must be the deepest judgement of self, there must be the sense of my own sin and shortcoming, and the most inflexible judgement of myself, if I am to execute any discipline on my brother. As the Lord says, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye”- No matter what it is, if it is in my eye it is a beam, and no matter what it is in my brother’s eye it is a mote until I have judged myself- “and then thou shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Now that was the lesson God was teaching Israel as a whole, and He was teaching them through bitter loss and sorrow. Eighteen thousand fall, and now its effect begins to be felt. You notice they go up again before the Lord, and let us see the state they are in (twenty-sixth verse), “Then all the children of Israel and (as though to emphasize it) all the people.” It is universal. It is serious. It is not enough for half a dozen people to be exercised about evil. You take an assembly; it is not enough for a few brethren to be exercised about it, and to endeavor to deal with it quietly as a few; all the people, all the saints must be exercised in conscience about that which has appealed to them. I am not speaking of a secret sin, which may be known only to a few, and they seek to deal with it in the fear of God; but I am speaking of that which is apparent and open. The reason why there is so little power is because all the people, all the children of Israel are not exercised before God about it.

“All the people went up to Bethel,” to the presence of God, His house. God, the God of His house, as Jacob had to find Him, not merely the God of Israel, the God who has given me benefits,but God who is over His house as Lord and Ruler, and who will dictate His will. “They wept and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas, the son of Eleazer, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days) saying shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?” And now they get the answer from the Lord that they might have had at the beginning if they had asked aright. “And the Lord said, Go up, for tommorrow I will deliver them into thine hand.”

You notice what exercises they pass through. They go up to the house of God, to Bethel, into His presence. Ah, brethren, you cannot be merely indignant against sin in the presence of God. Do you know what the presence of God always does? It makes you judge sin in yourselves; that is the first thing. Thus they go up into that holy presence, they weep. Ah, the very springs of their hearts have been touched, and they can weep before the Lord. Further than that, they fast. It is not a question of some light thing. They will deny everything else, they will take no refusal from God, their hearts are so absorbe that they neglect to take their necessary food; they are in desperate earnestness to get His mind.

The next thing is that they sit there. They do not go up and stand, as though saying, We have got to be about this business, and it has to be done; we woul like to have an answer, but if we cannot get the answer we have got to go ahead and do it. People need to learn that lesson too, that you have got to go before the Lord, not only to weep or fast, but to sit before Him and wait until He sees fit to answer the desire of your hearts. Now all that is for us today. I am persuaded that there would be more power in discipline amongst the saints if there were this exercise that we are seeing here. How little of that sitting before the Lord there is. Not sitting, dear brethren, to get a due sense of the evil. They had that at the very beginning, but sitting to get the mind of God, for God has His mind. He not only has His mind as revealed in His word, but He has that mind as applying to the special case in point. And to get that mind we must wait on the Lord. An unseemly haste is never the way to get His mind.