This is the last chapter in the Book of Judges, and it is the end of perhaps the most chilling story of all, which continues from Chapter 19 and Chapter 20. We saw how Benjamin harbored “sons of Belial” and defended their brethren in spite of the evil they perpetrated. Yet, it took three tries for the rest of Israel to succeed over those of Benjamin. On the third assault, out of 25,100 men, only 600 Benjamites escaped with their lives.
We now embark back towards the really strange, however. We already looked at Dt 13 for what could be a twisted justification for the war. Notice that if it applied, then the result would be utter destruction. Since its application is questionable in this case, we should look to Dt 20 for a guide to the rules of war.
10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
Now, if they had applied the above verses to the situation, then there would have been left women, children and even cattle. However, it is obvious that they applied Dt 13 instead, for we read:
1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
2 And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;
3 And said, O LORD God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to day one tribe lacking in Israel?
4 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
If they had not killed the women, then whether or not anyone marries a Benjamite would be a concern, for there would be enough women within the tribe to rebuild it. However, we see a concern over an entire tribe being wiped out, and the reason seems to be that there are not enough women for wives for the men of Benjamin.
We see the consequences of their pursuing what they thought was right in their own eyes at the time instead of beseeching God first. We see them apparently misapplying Scripture to justify a war that might not needed to take place. At very least, we see them misapplying the rules of war that God Himself laid down, for there was no evidence of idolatry that justified the killing of women (and perhaps children as well).
So, now they appear before God weeping. They ask why this has occurred, when the simple fact is that they helped cause the problem to begin with. Most likely, this was an unintended consequence of their actions, but that is the very reason why we must seek God in all matters first. We cannot see the future. He can.
So, they hatch a scheme whereby those who did not send anyone to war would be killed and the women given to the tribe of Benjamin.
Again, what are the rules of war?
1 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people,
3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them;
4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.
6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.
7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.
8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.
God’s way did not include drafting people into the army. Pretty much, it was a no questions asked affair whereby if you did not want to fight the battle, you were not required to. There was no standing army, and there is not indication that God desired one. They were all volunteers for that moment. If they did not want to volunteer, they did not have to (I realize that may sound obvious, but sometimes “volunteer” is used in a manner these days that actually violates the spirit of volunteering to begin with).
So, they were unjust in how they handled the rules of war, and now they will try to compensate for this by more unjust actions. Are we any better at this today?
After killing all the men and married women (again, how is this just?) in Jabesh-gilead, there still are not enough women for the tribe of Benjamin. Yet, because of their oath to not give any of their daughters to the tribe, they cannot simply give over any maidens to them. In their minds, they are left in a quandary.
So, they cook up a scheme, once again, where during an annual feast in Shiloh, they will allow their daughters to dance somewhere in the midst of the vineyards and allow the men of Benjamin to kidnap one of the maidens and take as a wife.
Now, Israel was commanded to appear before God three times during the year. In those days, the Tabernacle was in Shiloh. We are not told which feast this was, or even for a certainty if it was one of the three commanded festivals. It would not have been far fetched for it to have been one of them, however. What is interesting is the level of detail involved in describing it:
19 Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.
EW Bullinger writes about this:
Shiloh and the house of Jehovah were so neglected that these minute instructions were necessary to enable an Israelite to find it.
He also makes a point of them only specifying “a feast” rather than three. While he may or may not be correct about them neglecting two of the feasts, it is interesting that it is followed up with such specific directions as to assume that it wasn’t common knowledge where the Tabernacle was.
So, they give directions and instructions for the maidens to dance and even the words with which to comfort the families of the kidnapped maidens. Once again, they are not turning to God for the answers, but rather they are relying upon their own ingenuity.
The UCG Bible Reading Program had some material about contravening vows in this section, of which I took down a couple of notes. A father could annul a vow made by a daughter (Nu 30:5). A husband could annul a vow made by a wife (v 13). God, as Israel’s husband could contravene an unrighteous vow as well, but they were not actively seeking His guidance in this affair. Of course, had they been, there would have been no need for all of this in the first place.
You are left wondering why they would make such a vow in the first place. The honest answer is I don’t know. However, it was obviously a rash vow with rash consequences followed by rash actions to attempt to make up for it all.
23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them.
24 And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
And with that, the book ends. It’s not a pleasant ending by any means. If this was intended to be a standalone book from the beginning, then we are left with the repeated two-fold message that there were no internal or external constraints upon the behavior of the people.
What really is missing is the Holy Spirit that would govern each individual to conform to God’s Law without the need of a strong central government. There would be no need because God is the central government to Whom all would be subservient. Yet, this key was evidently not obvious to those of the times. Without the internal and external controls, there was nothing to hinder great evil. It would seem rather hopeless, and people would sooner or later seek a solution to this problem.
The question is whether or not it is really that evident to the Church of God during this time. It seems that many will seek the idol of governmental structure rather than work on controlling their own selves. It seems we have lost sight of the fact that if we cannot control ourselves, then we are not fit to govern once the Kingdom of God is established on the earth. Our allegiance must be to the coming King and not to any man who stands up to claim to be God’s representative/apostle/prophet or any other whacko. We must learn to first govern ourselves with the aid of God’s Holy Spirit and submit to God first in all things and to men only secondarily.
We need to be obedient to those legitimately placed over us, but it is our responsibility to rebel against them if they command things that are against God. That means that if we have a choice, we must choose a church organization that most closely resembles God in doctrines and in attitudes. We must choose, exercise that gift of discernment, by what we read in Scripture both in letter and in spirit.
However, if the Book of Ruth was once part of the scroll with the Book of Judges as part of the same book, then hope is provided through the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. They lived in the time of the judges, and of course David came from the union of Ruth and Boaz, which means it came near the end of that time period. Boaz is a type of Christ figure, as he takes on the role of kinsmen redeemer for the family of Elimelech. Truly, that is the answer to “there was no king in Israel”, for He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Ruth and Naomi had such a close relationship, they were more like mother and daughter than mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and that is an interesting study in its own right.