Monday 15th May 2023

JUDGES 18, 19, 20 and 21

The tribe of Dan was originally allocated (Joshua 19:40-48) an inheritance consisting of an area of land to the West of Jerusalem extending to the Mediterranean Sea, between Judah to the South and Ephraim to its North.  The native inhabitants of this land were the Amorites and the Philistines, and Dan’s task was to destroy and displace them as quickly as possible.  However, in Judges 1:34-35, it says that both these native populations strongly resisted all Dan’s efforts at occupation, and over time the tribe became squeezed into a small area in the region of Zorah and Eshtaol.  It was here, and from this tribe, that Samson was born and became Israel’s last Judge.

The restless Danites appointed five leaders to seek out an alternative homeland and, on their way Northwards, coincidently, they spent their first night at Micah’s home.  Recognising the newly-recruited Levite / Priest from a previous encounter, they were impressed by his quality and godly advice; they also spotted Micah’s expensive images overlaid with silver!  Moving to the very North of Israel, they found a peaceful and prosperous city in a spacious land – and undefended – called Laish and realised that it would be perfect to resettle the tribe in.  They then returned home to report back on their journey.

Soon after that, six hundred armed Danite warriors marched North, stopped at Micah’s home and forcibly stole the silver idols; furthermore, they 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 Laish, they attacked the peaceful and unsuspecting people, and then destroyed and rebuilt the city, settled there, and renamed the place ‘Dan’ after their ancestor.  Idol-worship now clearly played a major role in their spiritual lives from then on.  Perhaps, having already rejected the loving provision of the Lord, they realised that they needed an ‘alternative’ source of guidance instead from these idols.  Later in Israel’s history, Dan become one of the sites for Jeroboam’s golden calves that replaced the worship at the Temple in the divided kingdom (1 Kings 12:25-33).  It might be this kind of idolatrous 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 commitment to 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 a 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?

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