Friday, 15 September 2017

Gibeah: the bad place in the church

There are bad places.

Something evil happens somewhere, and a shadow hangs over the name of that place.

Say Rwanda and we remember the one million Tutsis hacked to death by the Hutus.

Say Auschwitz and the mass gassing of the Jews comes in front of our eyes.

Say Ground Zero and we recall the grim attacks of 9/11.

Bad countries; bad cities; bad villages; bad streets; bad houses. Bad places.

There is such a place in the Bible. It’s called Gibeah.

Gibeah was the scene of barbaric animalistic unrestrained lust. When a travelling Levite stayed there for the night the men of Gibeah wanted to sodomise the visitor. The man was protected – but they gang raped his wife till she died. (Judges 19)

News of the rape caused outrage; but the men of Gibeah refused to give themselves up to justice. So Gibeah was the cause of war. (Judges 20)

Gibeah was also the home of a weak king. King Saul came from Gibeah. (1 Samuel 10:26) Even when enemies were pressing in on every side, we find Saul sitting under a tamarisk tree in his home town with a spear in his hand surrounded by his cronies (1 Samuel 22). It’s the pose of action – but nothing happens.  

Gibeah was a place of intense murderous bitterness. Saul is eaten up with jealousy against the popular David – but he isn’t prepared to fight him himself. Instead we find him gossiping and whining and then sending out orders to kill – firstly, the priests who helped David (1 Samuel 22), and then David himself (1 Samuel 23; 26). And the post-mark on these missives of murder? Gibeah.

Lust; civil war; cowardice; bitterness, thousands of wounded lives and the stench of death. That’s Gibeah. A bad place.

Now get ready for the twist in this story.

In our Christian mind set we might easily think: ‘Well this is a place that needs to be reached with the Gospel; that is why its reputation is so terrible. Once the church is established in Gibeah, the healing will begin’.



Gibeah is in the church.

Gibeah was an Israelite city. The story in Judges 19 about the Levite whose wife was gang raped underlines this. His servant wanted to stay somewhere else that night, but the man said, ‘No, we should not stay with foreigners, we should stay with our own people.’

Israelites in the Old Testament are the people of God; today the people of God is the church. This is where the Christian will find his or her 'own people'. 

And Gibeah was not just any old town in Israel. It was a town with a mega religious reputation: none other than Aaron’s son was buried there, and it was the town allotted to his grand-son, Phineas, whose zeal for God is famous in the Bible. (Joshua 24: 33) And Gibeah had more to bolster its claim to being a religious place: it was here that Saul first prophesied (1 Samuel 10:10)

Gibeah was like Charlotte, South Carolina, Billy Graham’s home town, combined with Azusa Street, Los Angeles, where the modern Pentecostal movement was born: in other words a great place for Puritans and Pentecostals alike.

This story isn’t about bad places in liberal churches that don’t believe in the Bible and miracles. It’s the opposite: this story is about bad places in seemingly good churches, churches founded by giants of the faith, churches where miracles happen.

And that’s the warning. Just because your church has a name; just because your church has seen the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this does not mean Gibeah is not in your church. Examples spring readily to mind: Nazism was born in the nation which gave birth to the Reformation, and where well over 60% of the people were church-goers; apartheid was blessed by the Dutch Reformed Church which was sending out missionaries all over Africa; child abuse has been rampant in the Roman Catholic Churches. Greed and adultery is found in all churches. And now in the West, with the rainbow religion on every side demanding trans-gender toilets for primary school children, many a Christian leader is sitting in their comfort zone with a spear in their hand – doing nothing.

What is the answer to Gibeah in our churches?

Strangely and beautifully the answer lies in Gibeah.

Towards the end of David’s reign there is a famine and when the king has the wisdom and the humility to ask God what the cause and reason for this was, the Lord says, “It is because Saul broke a covenant with the Gibeonites.” (2 Samuel: 21).

There is no need to go into the details of that story, but it is important to focus on the fact that the covenant had indeed been broken. (Joshua 9) 

Gibeah is a bad place because of a broken covenant – and the fruits of this are plain to see: lust instead of love; war instead of peace; cowardice instead of courage; bitterness instead of forgiveness.
That broken covenant is also in the dark places of many churches.

A broken covenant means no rain. God’s anointing and presence is withdrawn. Yes, plenty of preaching, plenty of meetings, and plenty of music – constant music, festivals of music.

But no rain.

And no rain means no food. There is famine in the land.


There is an answer for the broken covenant. And it happens in ‘Gibeah of Saul’ (2 Samuel 21: 6). However it requires radical action: Saul’s sons had to be executed. .

Saul had broken the covenant; and it was for his sons to make atonement. They themselves were innocent of the crime they were giving their lives for. There were seven of them; the perfect number. This is holy innocence here, pointing to another son, the perfect and innocent Jesus Christ, the son of Adam, his ancestor who broke the covenant.

The name Gibeah comes from a Hebrew word meaning a ‘hill’. And it was on this hill, where the seven were executed that our story ends.

The hill of the bad place, Gibeah.

And there is an epilogue that draws us all in.

The sons were ‘hanged on the mountain before the Lord’ and their corpses were left on that hill. Most people did not care – but one of the mothers of one of the sons who had been executed did care. Her name was Rizpah. She took sackcloth and spread it over the bodies of the dead to protect them from the birds of the air and the wild animals. She did this, ‘till the rain came’. (2 Samuel 21:10–13)

She mourned till the rain came. She stayed with the horror of what had happened till there was an answer from heaven. The brutal transaction of the blood of the sons for atonement was there, but in a mystery no one can fully understand, this covering of sackcloth was needed, and this waiting.
Then the rain came.

How then do we respond to Gibeah in our churches?

We have to follow in the steps of Rizpah, we have to go to the cupboard and for once ignore all the plastic trinkets of our endless celebrations and festivals and find the sackcloth and go and wait on the one hill in the world where God will send the rain. The hill of Cavalry.

There must be a mourning over the sin that brought Jesus to that hill, not just intellectual assent to book a place in heaven. There must be weeping, sackcloth, overwhelming sadness at what has happened at Gibeah: the unrestrained lust, the hatred, the bitterness, the hypocrisy that has sent Jesus Christ to the cross.

Then there will be rain. That is the promise of the story.

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