JUDGES 19, 20 and 21
The final five chapters of Judges (including 17 and 18 from yesterday) are a kind of epilogue to the Book and describe graphically the depths to which human behaviour can sink. An Ephraimite names Micah steals a huge amount of money from his own mother, and only confesses to her when he believes he is under a curse. His mother then gifts him some of it to make a forbidden idol in a shrine at which the household then worshipped. They then pay a young Levite – later identified as Jonathan, son Gershom, son of Moses – to be the resident priest in the home, hoping to ‘buy’ the Lord’s favour upon the household.
Along came about six hundred Danites who had still not settled in their God-given territory and were looking for an easier way of gaining a homeland. On their way North, they chanced upon Micah’s home, and were impressed by the quality of his Levite priest. Having also spotted the expensive images overlaid with silver, they stole the lot and persuaded the priest that he would be financially better off serving them up in the North. These chapters are all about money and idol-worship! Having marched to a prosperous city called Laish, they attacked a peaceful and unsuspecting people, destroyed and rebuilt the city, and settled there, renaming the place ‘Dan’ after their ancestor. Idol-worship played a major role in their spiritual lives from then on. It might be this behaviour that caused Dan to be eliminated from all the other tribes included in the 144,000 ‘sealed’ in Revelation chapter 7.
The final story in Judges (19 – 21) is one of the most sordid in the entire Bible and brings shame upon almost the entire nation. The crime’s location, Gibeah of Benjamin, became a byword for aggressive and heartless sexual excess, rather in the same way the Sodom and Gomorrah had. The story begins with a surfeit of hospitality and ended with a complete lack of it. The Levite and his concubine (wife) and servant are threatened with sexual attack from many of the men waiting outside by their host’s home. The host is so desperate to maintain the city’s reputation for good hospitality, above all else, that he even tries to bargain with the depraved creatures outside his door by offering to allow them to violate the two defenceless women inside instead. Before negotiations could be concluded, the Levite forced his wife outside to the waiting horde and slammed the door shut. The selfishness and cowardice of the two men still safely inside, completely undermines their zeal for good hospitality! In the morning, she was dead, and it was a merciful release!
It is to Israel’s credit that the rest of the tribes took this terrible episode so seriously and assembled their entire army to ensure justice. It is to the tribe of Benjamin’s shame that they defended the indefensible Gibeah citizens, and even went to war against the rest of the nation. It is surprising that the Lord permitted so many innocent men to die at the hands of the Benjamite soldiers, before eventually Israel triumphed. But in the end, it was almost expected – after so many atrocities – that the entire tribe of Benjamin, women, children, and all, would be virtually exterminated. Six hundred men remained to tell the tale.
Remorse – for different reasons – then filled the whole of Israel as they realized that an entire tribe was on the verge of disappearing forever. To make matters worse, Israel had taken a solemn vow to deny the Six Hundred any of their women as wives. Everyone had sufficient grasp of basic biology to work out that this would be the final generation of Benjamin, therefore. So, typical Israelite pragmatism prevailed and an ingenious method of circumventing the vow was put into action. This ‘sleight of hand’ rather sums up Judges for me – and ends the book on an unsatisfactory note. The very last verse (21:25) repeats the comment made previously (17:6) that “In those days, Israel wasn’t ruled by a king, and everyone did what they thought was right in their own eyes”. In an age of idolatry and relative morality, where there is no respect for God’s authority, one person’s opinion is just as valid as the next persons. That was true then, and it is equally true today. Don’t you agree?