Judges 17-21: Anarchy in Israel


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The book of Judges is jam-packed with violence and drama. It is a very dark book which emphasizes the moral depravity and social anarchy that the thirteen tribes of Israel sink into after the death of Joshua. Historically, Judges comes after the book of Joshua, which describes how Moses’ successor led Israel into the Promised Land and began the monumental task of exterminating its current residents one battle at a time. After Judges, there’s a short interruption for the novella of Ruth, and then we get into 1 Samuel in which the Israelites, tired of chaos and corruption, demand a king.

The book of Judges is named after the many judges—or, brief heroes—who rise up as temporary leaders in Israel. Gideon and Samson are two of the better known examples, and Samson is the last judge we hear about. After Samson there are five very disturbing chapters before we reach the end of the book, feeling like we need to go cleanse our minds of sordid imagery. Nonetheless, God has preserved these accounts for our edification, and we mustn’t avoid the grisly sections just because they make us uncomfortable.


The curtains have just closed on the repulsive Samson, a man whose entire life revolved around sexual urges and a lust for revenge. We’re glad to be rid of him, but the characters we’re about to meet aren’t much better. First we’re introduced to a man named Micah (no relation to the prophet Micah who has a book named after him).  This Micah lives with his mother in the mountains of Ephraim [EH-frum]. This is a period of chaos and rampant crime in the Promised Land and Micah’s mother has recently been robbed.  In retaliation, she has cast a curse on the thief.  The ancient Jews were very superstitious people and big believers in the power of the spoken word.  So when Micah hears Mom casting her curse, it scares him, because he was the one who stole from her.

There was a man named Micah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. One day he said to his mother, “I heard you place a curse on the person who stole 1,100 pieces of silver from you. Well, I have the money. I was the one who took it.” (Jud. 17:1-2)

Instead of being furious, Mom is thrilled to have her money back and now she comes up with a real brainstorm.  Even though her adult son has just ripped her off, she decides that he deserves to be rewarded for owning up to his thievery.

Then his mother said, “My son, you are blessed by Yahweh!”

He returned the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, “I personally consecrate the silver to Yahweh for my son’s benefit to make a carved image overlaid with silver.” So Micah returned the silver to his mother, and she took five pounds of silver and gave it to a silversmith. He made it into a carved image overlaid with silver, and it was set up in Micah’s house. (Jud. 17:2-4)

Wow.  So first Mom declares that the silver is set apart for Yahweh, the real God. Then she says the reason she’s dedicating it to God is so that her son can melt it down and use it to create an idol god.  This isn’t an idol of Yahweh–it’s an idol that represents some other god.  And this new god is just the latest addition to a whole collection of idolatrous equipment that Micah has set up in his house.  He’s already made an ephod [EE-fawd] (or breastplate) for himself to worship.  This make-your-own god business is an extremely popular activity in Old Testament times.  We saw Gideon also making an ephod for himself to worship at the end of his story.  And of course once you’ve created a bunch of gods for yourself, the fantasy doesn’t feel complete unless you get a priest to intercede with those gods on your behalf. Micah assigns one of his sons the task of being the household priest who will help the family worship the phony gods.

This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household idols, and installed one of his sons to be his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted. (Jud. 17:5-6)

What a disturbing little story.  What is the point?  Well, our author is trying to shock us with this example of blatant spiritual rebellion.  These people toss Yahweh’s holy Name about at the same time as they invent new gods for themselves to worship, even though it was Yahweh who said:

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex 20:4)

“Do not make any gods to be alongside Me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” (Ex. 20:23)


After giving us a sample of Micah’s character–robbing mom, insulting Yahweh, making his son participate in idolatry–our author introduces us to a new character.  The name of this second fellow is intentionally kept secret at first.  Instead, our author refers to him as the Levite.  The Levites were set apart as Yahweh’s special people.  They were supposed to be spiritual role models for the rest of the tribes, and for this purpose, Yahweh has scattered them throughout the Promised Land.  Each of the other twelve tribes had to give up a portion of their allotted land in order to provide a place for Levites to dwell among them.  This way, all the tribes would have easy access to the priestly tribe.

Now because the Levites were selected out as Yahweh’s consecrated tribe, more was expected of them.  Today, when you read in the news that a man gunned down a bunch of kids, it’s quite disturbing.  But if the gunman was reported to be a pastor, that would be doubly disturbing.  Why?  Because you expect more of someone who is associated with the spiritual title of pastor.  In the same way, we’re supposed to find it disturbing that any of Yahweh’s chosen people would be crafting new gods for themselves.  No Jew is supposed to be worshiping idols.  But we’re supposed to find it extra shocking if a Levite were to be caught fussing around with idols–and to ensure that we are properly disturbed by all this new character is going to do, our author keeps reminding us of what tribe he belongs to.

There was a young man, a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who resided within the clan of Judah. The man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah to settle wherever he could find a place. On his way he came to Micah’s home in the hill country of Ephraim.

“Where do you come from?” Micah asked him.

He answered him, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I’m going to settle wherever I can find a place.”

Micah replied, “Stay with me and be my father and priest, and I will give you four ounces of silver a year, along with your clothing and provisions.” So the Levite went in and agreed to stay with Micah, and he became like one of Micah’s sons. Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in Micah’s house. Then Micah said, “Now I know that Yahweh will be good to me, because a Levite has become my priest.” (Jud. 17:7-12)

Wow. Micah thinks that since he now has a Levite in charge of his idols, he’s somehow covering all of his bases. Many people today are applying the same logic as Micah: thinking they can pacify Jesus with a little side homage while they continue worshiping other gods as well. Yet Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are clear that unless we recognize Them as the only true Gods, we are going to end up in Hell. True Christianity cannot be blended with any other religion.


Still feeling disturbed about Micah as we begin Chapter 18, we are greeted with this blunt reminder:

“In those days Israel had no king.” (Jud. 18:1)

The Jewish man who wrote Judges is looking back in history from a point when Israel has a king at her helm.  He is clearly trying to suggest that the lack of a king had a lot to do with why Israelite society was such an amoral mess.  And yet is this really correct?  Would the presence of a human king have made Micah and his mother less idolatrous?  Would it have made our traveling Levite turn down the offer to intercede between humans and idols?  Not hardly.  It seems our author hasn’t lived long enough to see demon worshiping creeps like Ahab and Manasseh take the throne.  Simply changing to a different format of government is not going to solve any nation’s problems.  Whenever we read about societies falling apart, all of the crime, violence, and corruption are only surface symptoms of a core problem, and that core problem is wrong spiritual priorities.  Israel already has a King, and His Name is Yahweh. It is her lack of reverence and submission to Him which is taking her down, and this problem certainly won’t be fixed by trying to put a human in Yahweh’s place.

Moving forward in our story, we’ve now got Micah and his hired priest living in an idol stuffed home.  Along comes a band of Danite warriors who are looking for land that they can seize.  Under Joshua’s leadership, the twelve tribes all received formal allotments of territory, but native demon worshipers already occupied those lands.  Yahweh’s instructions were that every native occupant in the land be killed: man, woman and child.  Well, after Joshua’s death, the tribes got lazy and didn’t finish the extermination project.  Now these wandering Danites are scouting around for some land that they can rip off.

And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah [ZOR-uh] and Eshtaol [ESH-tay-all] to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

“Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For Yahweh is watching over your journey.” (Jud. 18:1-6)

Somehow prophetic reassurance from this demon worshiping priest just doesn’t impress us.  No doubt this guy hasn’t sought Yahweh’s advice at all and he’s only thinking about saving his own neck by telling these warriors what they want to hear.

Moving on from Micah’s house, the five warriors come across a nice, peaceful little community sitting in the middle of lush land. Great. Looks like an easy steal. They go back and report it to their brothers and everyone gets ready for some righteous murdering. The spies tell their brothers:

“Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!” (Jud. 18:9-10)

With their target selected, the Danites prepare for war. As they retrace the path of the spies, an army of 600 battle ready soldiers come across Micah’s place again.  Even though the spies enjoyed hospitality at Micah’s place not that long ago, they decide to rob him blind now that they’ve got plenty of back up.  But they’re nice to the Levite, who gave them the pleasant prophecy.  In fact, they even offer him a promotion: to come be a priest to the whole Danite clan.  Well, it’s not really an offer–it’s more of a command.

As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

“Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

“What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home. (Jud. 18:16-26)

As Micah returns home without gods or priest, we remember his confident claim at the end of Chapter 17 that Yahweh would surely bless him for bringing a Levite into the house. Not so much, Micah.

It’s a bad day for the people living in that quiet, peaceful community. The Danites strike out of nowhere, slaughter the people, and burn down the city. They rename the city Dan and set up the idol that they stole from Micah.

Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom [GIR-shum], son of Moses, as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the exile from the land. So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh [SHY-low]. (Jud. 18:30-31)

Now at last our unnamed priest is identified as Jonathan, a grandson of Moses.  Wow.  So now we’ve got a grandson of Moses functioning as a demon worshiping priest and passing on this great heritage from generation to generation.  Then we’ve got a bunch of Danites worshiping demonic idols.  All the while, the Tabernacle that Moses built for Yahweh is set up in the city of Shiloh, and we get the feeling that no one really cares.


Chapter 19 opens the same way as Chapter 18:

“In those days Israel had no king.” (Jud. 19:1)

Whenever the author underscores this point, we know to brace for trouble. Our author now turns the focus onto a second Levite man who also lives in that mountainous terrain that is part of the territory that has been assigned to the tribe of Ephraim. This second Levite has taken a concubine (or mistress) for himself from Bethlehem but she ran away and returned to her father’s house. After four months, the Levite goes to find her and bring her home with him again. Her father gives him a surprisingly warm welcome, but we quickly learn why when the man keeps urging the Levite to stay another night…and another…and another. Clearly daddy doesn’t want his daughter to be taken away again. After waiting five days, the Levite is tired of stalling around and insists that it’s time to go. He packs up his manservant, his reluctant concubine, and two donkeys and he heads out. Thanks to her father’s manipulative hospitality, he’s starting out very late in the day and since traveling at night is dangerous, the Levite’s servant urges him to stop and stay overnight when they come to the city of Jebus [JEE-bus]. But the Levite recognizes Jebus is a non-Israelite city and he decides to press on, confident that a city full of Jews will be a safer choice.

Our small traveling party then arrives at the Benjaminite town of Gibeah [GIBB-ee-uh]. They sit in the square as was the custom when one was looking for lodging. But here the people are short on hospitality and no one offers them lodging until an old man from the hill country of Ephraim comes along.

That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living in Gibeah, where the people were from the tribe of Benjamin. When he saw the travelers sitting in the town square, he asked them where they were from and where they were going.

“We have been in Bethlehem in Judah,” the man replied. “We are on our way to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim, which is my home. I traveled to Bethlehem, and now I’m returning home. But no one has taken us in for the night, even though we have everything we need. We have straw and feed for our donkeys and plenty of bread and wine for ourselves.”

“You are welcome to stay with me,” the old man said. “I will give you anything you might need. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the square.” So he took them home with him and fed the donkeys. After they washed their feet, they ate and drank together. (Jud. 19:16-21)

Notice how the author points out that this old man comes from the same home area as the Levite and the Levite is happy to accept lodging overnight.  But then, trouble strikes, and we suddenly find ourselves reliving a bad flashback from Genesis 19—the scene where Abraham’s nephew Lot came across two angelic visitors in the city square of Sodom and invited them to stay at his place. As soon as word got out that there were male visitors in town, the men of Sodom began beating on Lot’s door, demanding that he cast his two guests outside so that they could all do some homosexual raping.

The same graphic sequence unfolds here in Gibeah, minus the presence of angels. Everyone’s enjoying food and drink with their host when the perverse men of Gibeah begin beating on the door, demanding to gang-rape the Levite. Just like Lot, the old man goes outside to confront them. Notice the striking similarities between the two accounts:

Genesis 19:7-8 – Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

Judges 19:23-24 – The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

In both accounts, only the male guests are defended, while women are offered up like so much trash. Such scenes are very difficult for women today to digest, and it is accounts like these which cause many to think God dislikes females. Yet we must remember that the Bible is a historical record which unflinchingly reports man’s brutality to man. The truth is that Yahweh’s Old Covenant Laws forbid all of the sordid behaviors we find going on in this scene: rape, homosexual relations, and the abuse of the weaker gender. Unlike the animals we are dealing with here, God does not view women as disposable objects and there are many accounts in the Bible in which we find Him defending women against their abusers and publicly favoring them over men.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that all of the biblical records were written by Jewish men who grew up in societies where they were taught that it was acceptable to look down on women.  When we promote this guff about the Bible being “infallible, inerrant, and Divinely inspired,” we end up confusing God with human bigots.  No, Yahweh really does not smile on these Benjaminite men acting like perverse monsters.  He doesn’t approve of this Levite having mistresses. He doesn’t approve of men sacrificing defenseless women in order to save their own cowardly hides.  He doesn’t approve of rape under any circumstances.  All of these people are probably idolaters on top of it, and they’re all in hot soup with God.  In fact, all of Israel is royally ticking God off, and in this grisly scene, He is setting in motion a plan that is going to result in a nationwide spanking.  Before you accuse God of being a jerk, remember that you have no idea about the history between any of these individual souls and Him.  You have no idea how long He’s been working with these people to repent out of their rebellion.  You have no idea how much grace and mercy He’s already rained down on their defiant little heads.

Now unlike the situation with Lot, here in Gibeah there are no angelic visitors to strike the raging townsmen with blindness. They won’t leave without a victim, and to keep them from tearing the house down, we’re told the Levite shoves his concubine through the door to save his own neck.  Now there’s a classy guy.

They raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go. Early that morning, the woman made her way back, and as it was getting light, she collapsed at the doorway of the man’s house where her master was.

When her master got up in the morning, opened the doors of the house, and went out to leave on his journey, there was the woman, his concubine, collapsed near the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold. “Get up,” he told her. “Let’s go.” But there was no response. So the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. (Jud. 19:25-28)

It seems the Levite hasn’t exactly been losing sleep over the fate of his mistress, and it’s hard not to feel  disgusted with his utter lack of character.  When he orders her to get up, she doesn’t answer because she’s dead.  So he puts her body on his donkey and returns to his home.  Wow.  But the gore’s not over yet.

When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?” (Jud. 19:29-30)

A human corpse would definitely fall into the category of “unclean” and one wonders about the state of mind of a Levite who sets about chopping up his dead lover. The author withholds any comments about the man’s emotional feelings, so we are left to infer by his behavior that he was actually moved by what happened to his girl back in Gibeah. Though his first reaction seemed terribly indifferent, his subsequent hacking suggests he is actually furious at this bestial attack. The chapter ends with gasps of horror from those who get word of the bloody packages.


Chapter 20 begins with a huge meeting with representatives from all the tribes of Israel. Now that he has an attentive audience, the Levite tells his story, leaving out the part where he shoved his concubine out the door like so much dog meat. He demands justice. The council agrees. We’re told that the Benjaminites know the meeting is happening, but they aren’t in attendance.

After the meeting adjourns, threatening words go out from the council to the tribe of Benjamin, demanding that the wicked men of Gibeah be handed over. But the threats are ignored, and instead the Benjaminites amass to defend their foul city. Despite what their own people have done, they’re not about to be bossed around by the other tribes. We’re now given stats on the Benjaminite army: it’s around 26,000 strong with some extremely skilled fighters.

“Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” (Jud. 20:16)

The attacking army of allied tribes rustles up 400,000 swordsmen but they’re not all planning to fight at once. They go to Bethel to inquire of Yahweh at the designated spot for doing so and they ask which tribe should attack first.

Yahweh replied, “Judah shall go first.” (Jud. 20:18)

So the next day the allied tribes launch their first attack, only to get royally slaughtered by the band of Benjaminites. There are 22,000 casualties on the “good” side—a very discouraging number. It’s time to check with God again, so after weeping at His altar to show their distress, the Israelites ask if they should launch a second attack.

Yahweh answered, “Go out and fight against them.” (Jud. 20:23)

Day 2 doesn’t go much better. Another 18,000 Israelites are chopped down. We begin to understand the Divine plan: God is using Israel to spank Israel.

After such staggering losses, the allied tribes are really losing confidence. The whole army returns to Bethel to cry all over God. This time they fast as well, and then they start revving up the offerings. We’re reminded that this is where the Ark of the Covenant is currently located and that Phinehas, the God-fearing grandson of Moses’ brother Aaron, is functioning as the high priest.  The fact that the Phinehas who was a young man in Moses’ day is still alive now means that all of the events recorded in the books of Joshua and Judges happen in a very brief period of time–less than one man’s lifetime.  Once again the Israelites ask if they should continue to fight.

The Israelites asked Yahweh, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again, or should we stop?”

Yahweh said, “Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you.” (Jud. 20:28)

Now that Yahweh’s given their side a harsh spanking, He’s ready to nail Benjamin. Once again the allied tribes launch an attack, but this time they use a different strategy and lure the Benjaminites away from the city. While the city is unguarded, a special assault unit rushes in and slaughters everybody. They send up a smoke signal to the rest of the army, letting them know the city has been secured. Meanwhile, 25,100 Benjaminites have been struck down (remember they only started out with 26,000). On this day the attacking army only loses about 30 more men. Suddenly realizing they are defeated, the men of Benjamin take flight but the rest of Israel pursues them and keeps chopping them down as they run. At the end of the day there are only 600 men left from the entire tribe of Benjamin. The rest of the people, along with their towns and livestock, have been utterly destroyed. Chapter 20 ends with this last note of carnage:

And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to. (Jud. 20:48)


We now come to the last chapter of Judges. It opens with the men of Israel taking an oath:

“We will never give our daughters in marriage to a man from the tribe of Benjamin.” (Jud. 21:1)

This is a dark day for the nation of Israel. One of her tribes is on the brink of extinction. It’s time to go back to Bethel and weep and wail to God.

“O Yahweh, God of Israel,” they cried out, “why has this happened in Israel? Now one of our tribes is missing from Israel!” (Jud. 21:3)

It’s amazing how consistent this theme is with people who are being Divinely disciplined: they always act like they haven’t the foggiest idea why God is letting things go so south. While everyone was clear on why they were attacking the Benjaminites in the first place—because of their brazen defense of horrible sins—now they are deciding to play dumb. And notice how it’s Yahweh they’re all turning to in this time of crisis.  After all, He’s the national God–the “God of Israel.” Of course we’d never know it by the way these people constantly worship other gods in His place.

Early the next morning the people built an altar and presented their burnt offerings and peace offerings on it. (Jud. 21:4)

The Israelites are showering Yahweh with all kinds of gifts in hopes that they’ll make Him feel coerced into helping them. We do the same thing with our sacrificial giving today.  Notice how much attention God is getting now that the people are in a crisis. Suddenly meeting with God is a new priority, and we’re told that:

Then they said, “Who among the tribes of Israel did not join us at Mizpah when we held our assembly in the Presence of Yahweh?” At that time they had taken a solemn oath in Yahweh’s Presence, vowing that anyone who refused to come would be put to death. (Jud. 21:5)

Notice all the vows that are being made.  The people have vowed not to let their daughters marry Benjaminite men.  Earlier they vowed to kill anyone who failed to show up at the first Mizpah meeting when the grievances of the Levite were heard.  But now there’s a real crisis with Benjamin because there are only 600 men left in the tribe, and men can’t make babies by themselves. If these last survivors don’t get some wives pronto, the tribe will be permanently lost. Yet everyone has already vowed not to share their women with Benjamin. So where on earth are they going to find 600 Jewish brides?

Here’s a plan.  It turns out that the people from Jabesh-Gilead [JAY-besh-GILL-e-add] were no shows at the Mizpah meeting. In keeping with their vow that anyone who didn’t show up for the special meeting would be murdered, 12,000 Jewish soldiers are dispatched to go slaughter everyone in Jabesh-Gilead, including women and children. But in view of the current procreation crisis, one group is excused from dying: any virgin women. So much for keeping vows that were made in the Name of Yahweh.  But hey, it’s just Yahweh.  When the soldiers return with 400 young (and no doubt traumatized) virgins, people see 400 solutions.  No one cares that God is being dishonored by a broken vow.  No one’s even bothering to ask God if He wants the tribe of Benjamin to be preserved. Instead, these rebellious souls are deciding for Yahweh what His priorities should be, and then expecting Him to help them make their carnal plans work out.

Now the time has come to try and patch things up with Benjamin so a peace offering is sent out. The small band of scared Benjaminite men are all too happy to return to their ravaged homeland and receive the 400 virgins. The problem is they’re still short—they need 200 more women to match the number of men. With their gene pool so significantly reduced, this is viewed as a legitimate problem and the other twelve tribes of Israel once again begin brainstorming ways to rustle up more brides for Benjamin.

The people felt sorry for Benjamin because Yahweh had made this gap among the tribes of Israel. So the elders of the assembly asked, “How can we find wives for the few who remain, since the women of the tribe of Benjamin are dead? There must be heirs for the survivors so that an entire tribe of Israel is not wiped out. But we cannot give them our own daughters in marriage because we have sworn with a solemn oath that anyone who does this will fall under God’s curse.” (Jud. 21:15-18)

Don’t miss the arrogance of people deciding for God who He will curse.  And though these elders acknowledge that Yahweh is the One responsible for setting Benjamin up for extinction, instead of seeking His guidance, they set to work trying to make God change course.  In their minds, it’s unacceptable for Yahweh to eliminate a tribe from Israel.  Today we’re also quick to tell God when He’s out of line to kill our loved ones or bring trouble down on our homeland.  We never stop to remember that as the Creator of all life, God can kill whoever He wants whenever He wants.  We never acknowledge that everything we care about in this world is God’s property.  No, like these Israelites, we have the gall to criticize God when He does something we personally disapprove of, and then we pompously decide that we will help Him clean up the mess He has made before things get even more out of control.

Notice how hypocritical these Israelites are being with this guff about not wanting to break vows.  They’ve already broken their vows 400 times by letting those virgins live.  It’s conversations like this that show us how insincere all of this weeping and wailing and crying out to Yahweh has been.  These people aren’t really serious about honoring Him.  They’re making up their own agenda as they go along, and want God to bless it.  Actually honoring God doesn’t even make it onto their priority list.

It now dawns on someone that there’s an annual festival for Yahweh happening in Shiloh. Apparently virgins can be easily identified when they rush out to join the other dancers, so the men of Benjamin are instructed to hide out in the vineyards like creepy stalkers and wait. When the young women come out to join the party, they are to rush out and kidnap them. Of course these women will belong to fathers and brothers who swore not to give their women to Benjaminites in marriage.  What was that about not breaking vows?

They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, “Go and hide in the vineyards. When you see the young women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to the land of Benjamin to be your wife! And when their fathers and brothers come to us in protest, we will tell them, ‘Please be sympathetic. Let them have your daughters, for we didn’t find wives for all of them when we destroyed Jabesh-Gilead. And you are not guilty of breaking the vow since you did not actually give your daughters to them in marriage.’”

So the men of Benjamin did as they were told. Each man caught one of the women as she danced in the celebration and carried her off to be his wife. They returned to their own land, and they rebuilt their towns and lived in them. (Jud. 21:19-23)

It’s tough to be the wife of a Benjaminite at the end of this story. You’ve either been dragged off by a soldier after having your entire family slaughtered before your eyes, or you’ve been kidnapped in the middle of a party and dragged away without getting to say goodbye. We have to hand it to the Israelite women for their stamina in the midst of such traumatic circumstances.

Now that the crisis is over, the Benjaminites settle back down and start to rebuild. This very disturbing story ends with yet another reminder that:

“In those days Israel had no king, so everyone did as they saw fit.” (Jud. 21:25)

By now we should be quite annoyed with this lame justification our author keeps handing us.  Since when does not having a king excuse anyone from having to respect God and conform to His moral code?  Not having a king has nothing to do with why these people are brutalizing each other, worshiping demonic idols, and treating Yahweh with such disrespect. The Israelites hate their national God: they always have, and they always will.  Apart from a few rare exceptions, none of these people are really serious about honoring God with their lives.  They’re just living for themselves and doing whatever they want–not because they have no king, but because they’re depraved human beings who have made a willful decision to spit in the face of their Maker.

Decades before the Benjaminite men started kidnapping young women from a party, Yahweh said to an elderly Moses:

“You are about to die and join your ancestors. After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will blaze forth against them. I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured. Terrible trouble will come down on them, and on that day they will say, ‘These disasters have come down on us because God is no longer among us!’ At that time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by worshiping other gods.” (Deut. 31:16-18)

Moses then said to the people of Israel:

“Now summon all the elders and officials of your tribes, so that I can speak to them directly and call heaven and earth to witness against them. I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt and will turn from the way I have commanded you to follow. In the days to come, disaster will come down on you, for you will do what is evil in Yahweh’s sight, making Him very angry with your actions.” (Deut. 31:28-29)

So then, should we be feeling sorry for the nearly extinct tribe of Benjamin?  Should we be condemning God for slaughtering scores of men, women and children?  No, we should not.  Whenever you find yourself tempted to side with any humans against your Creators, you’re not being Christlike.  You’re not being more loving, kind, or gracious than They are.  You’re not proving yourself to be wiser than Them.  You’re just demonstrating that, like these Israelites, your devotion to God is a lot shallower than you pretend it is, for you rush to assume the worst about Him whenever He does something that you disapprove of.

Yes, Yahweh most certainly did arrange for a woman to be gang raped to death in these chapters.  He also butchered countless men, women and children during the tribal wars.  He turned the Promised Land into a hellhole of violence and depravity.  It’s called Divine discipline.  If you think that God is going to sit back and smile while entire nations spit in His face, you need to think again.

Check out modern day news headlines and you’ll discover that our Gods are continuing to do horrendous and shocking things all around you today–things that are every bit as sick and twisted as a bunch of bisexual men gang-raping a woman to death just because they can.  But before you dare to cast judgment on your own Creators, you would be wise to remember your place as a mere created being and respectfully ask Them to help you view Their actions in the proper light. You would also be wise to remember that Gods don’t have to justify anything to you.  Yahweh, Jesus, and the magnificent Holy Spirit hold your atoms together.  They call the shots.  You will bow to Their Authority, or you will reap horrific consequences for your rebellion.  This is how it works in Their universe because They are Kings who rule with absolute sovereignty over all created things.

There’s nothing more foolish than trying to war against the Ones who are sustaining your very existence and controlling every aspect of how you experience that existence.  This is what the ancient Jews did, and as a result, their society was a miserable mess.  As an individual Christian, you can’t control the choices your nation makes, but you can certainly control the choices you make.  So choose wisely.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you improve the way that you treat your Gods.

The Last Straw: Israel Refuses to Enter the Promised Land
Too Many Quails (Numbers 11)
Revere Yahweh or Die: Lessons Learned when the Philistines Stole the Ark
Korah’s Rebellion
Understanding Yahweh: Why Moses & Aaron Were Banned From The Promised Land