Judges 20-21

Good morning! Today’s passage is the remaining two chapters (20-21) of Judges. We continue the story of yesterday, when the Levite sent part of his concubine to all twelve tribes of Israel.

The brutal notification of Israel with a part of the concubine worked—the Levite got the attention of all Israel, who in Judges 20 gather against the residents of Gibeah. The rest of the Benjaminites by turn (including noteworthy warriors) rally there in defense of the town. Her we finally see God consulted, if only to figure out who will attack Gibeah, and how. Judah goes against Benjamin first, but they fail. Despite several attempts, the eleven tribes suffer huge defeats at the hands of the powerful Benjaminites. But on the third day, victory finally comes over the inhabitants of Gibeah, using a stratagem of feigning defeat that worked against the city of Ai in Judges 8. There were such massive casualties of Benjaminite forces that only six hundred men escape the destruction alive.

In Judges 21, the rest of Israel comes to terms with what they have inflicted on Benjamin, but their “solutions” go from bad to worse. Each tribe make a vow earlier that because of Benjamin’s sin they would boycott providing wives for Benjamin, yet this threatens tribal extinguishment because there are no Benjaminite women left. (Presumably all those women were in Gibeah when that was razed to the ground.) By divination, the forces of Israel discover that Jabesh-gilead hadn’t sent anyone to join them in the fighting, as was expected of all tribes and towns. For this reason, they massacre all the residents in that town, except for a few hundred virgins who could be given to Benjamin to help prolong the tribe. Because this was not enough women for the whole tribe, all Israel then counsels Benjamin to go attack women in Shiloh who are on their way to a festival of the Lord. Abducting these women “solves” their problem, at least regarding offspring. Yet the judgment of the narrator is clear in the last verse: This is what happens when “there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

What are we to make of this story, in connection with those of yesterday? I see it as a parable about the escalation of violence. The household fight between the Levite and a concubine morphs into Levite distrust of Jerusalem, which sets up the abhorrent behavior of Gibeah, and then the Levite is all the more harsh in return. Due to his actions, we see today civil war break out against Benjamin, then destruction of another Hebrew city and the “justified” abduction of hundreds of virgin devotees to God. Multiple times along the path of destruction, folks had a chance to claim their piece of the mess and seek a more moderate, less reactive course. However, because they do not choose it, chaos reigns in the land. This effectively argues for the need of centralized authority and governance in a king, and we’ll get there before too much longer. Happy reading!

Read Judges 20-21.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ruth 1-4. Thanks for reading!

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