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Bible: What Does Judges 20-21 Teach Us About the Benjamite War?
Do you believe the Levite's dismemberment of the concubine was justified?
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A Disgraceful Deed
The Levite's unforgettable object lesson has a nationwide impact—from Dan to Beersheba (the northern to southern extremities of the land).
As a result, Israel assembles with a large army at Mizpah (perhaps a city near Jerusalem) to discuss what to do [vv. 1-2].
[Four hundred thousand soldiers!
Why is this tragedy so serious that Israel expects to go to war with Benjamin?
This intra-family controversy, however disgraceful and outrageous, should not have evolved into such a widespread calamity].
The tribal leaders interrogate the Levite about the "deed," and he relates the sordid details to them, expecting their immediate counsel (vv. 3-7).
[What would you do if a hoard of uncontrollable sodomites wanted to abuse you?
Would you give them your daughter and your live-in girl friend--Is that what a concubine was in the ancient near East?-- to save your own skin?]
Perceiving the affair as a national disgrace, "all the people," tribe by tribe, resolve to punish Gibeah; they probably consult Yahweh by means of the Urim and the Thummin (the lot?) to know which tribe should go to battle first [vv. 8-11,18].
[The author emphasizes the unity among the children of Israel (vv. 8, 11)].
Representatives from the tribes visit Benjamin's leaders and demand that they deliver up the criminals for execution; but unbelievably, the latter refuse and prepare for war (vv. 12-14)!
[Why do Benjamin's leaders sign their own death certificates like this, for the sake of a group of criminals?]
Benjamin's army consists of twenty-six thousand swordsmen plus seven hundred left-handed, expert sling-shooters from Gibeah (vv. 15-16).
[If this account were not in the Word of God, I would call it hyperbolic and legendary].
Israel, on the other hand, puts together a mighty force of four hundred thousand (v. 17).
Three times Israel attacks Gibeah, each time after inquiring of the LORD (vv. 18, 23, 28).
On the first day, twenty-two thousand warriors from Judah fall to Benjamin (v. 21).
[The text does not report any Benjamite casualties; apparently, Judah killed none]!
After their first defeat, the Israelites' approach and tone change; they now weep and call their adversary "the children of my brother Benjamin" (v. 23).
Eighteen thousand Israelites die during the second battle; again, Benjamin escapes unscathed (vv. 24-25).
Now the people, beside themselves with grief, turn wholeheartedly to the LORD, fasting and sacrificing before Him (v. 26).
Their latest petition, again slightly but significantly altered from the previous two, now receives a favorable response; the LORD will win the next day (vv. 27-28).
Israel's strategy changes: he sets an ambush against Gibeah (v. 29).
At first, Benjamin again "has the upper hand," killing thirty men of Israel on the highways and in the fields away from the city (vv. 30-31).
Overconfident Benjamin falls into Israel's trap, however, leaving Gibeah vulnerable to attack from ten thousand men lying in ambush (vv. 32-34).
All but six hundred Benjamites in Gibeah die in the battles to follow (v. 35).
In a fuller recounting of the strategy and the battles, the author describes how the ambush brigade set fire to the city, causing a great smoke to rise: the appointed signal between Israel's two companies for those fleeing in the field to turn in battle (vv. 36-38).
Seeing the smoke, Benjamin panics, flees from the attacking Israelites, and eighteen thousand perish in the front of Gibeah toward the east (vv. 39-44).
Five thousand more die in the wilderness, and Israel kills the final two thousand in Gidom, making the total twenty-five thousand plus (vv. 45-46).
Only six hundred remain alive, and they hide themselves for four months at the rock of Rimmon (v. 47).
Meanwhile, Israel attacks city after city in Benjamin, killing everything in sight (v. 48).
[The logic escapes me.
Why must all Benjamin die for the misdeeds of a small number?
And how could Israel claim the LORD's permission to carry out such injustice?]
Now that only six hundred men remain to Benjamin, and Israel has vowed not to give him his daughters to marry (v. 1), the latter faces the thorny question: "What can we do to help Benjamin survive as a tribe in Israel?" (vv. 6-7).
While seeking a solution from the LORD, the people wail, offer sacrifices, and inquire about any "disloyal pacifists" whom they might kill (vv. 2-5).
To solve one problem (which they themselves created), they decide to exterminate more Israelites—the men, married women, and children of Jabesh Gilead—because they did not join them in the battle against Benjamin (vv. 8-10).
Only four hundred young virgin daughters survive the massacre; Israel brings them to the camp at Shiloh (vv. 11-12).
Benjamin, at peace with his brethren, now has two-thirds of the potential wives needed, but still two hundred men lack a mate.
The people lament and blame the LORD for making a "void" (vv. 13-15).
[Do they sense any responsibility on their part?]
They remain in a quandary, wondering where they could find Benjamin more wives, yet they are unwilling to revoke their oath (vv. 16-18).
Then someone remembers a feast where the daughters of a certain town (Shiloh) dance (vv. 19-21a).
Israel therefore gives Benjamin directions to the feast (v. 19), and instructs him to lie in wait in the vineyards until he can "catch a wife" for himself (v. 21b).
If any families in Shiloh complain about the kidnapping, then the leaders in Israel would smooth it over (v. 22).
Benjamin succeeds in securing all the needed women and in rebuilding their cities (v. 23).
The rest of Israel returns to his inheritance (v. 24), and all seems right in kingless Israel (v. 25).
1. Why do children of believers turn to other gods?
2. What does the Deborah-Barak episode intend to show?
3. In what ways does God show patience with Gideon?
4. What cycle did Israel repeat throughout the book of Judges?
5. What was a significant feature in the Gideon material?
6. How does Gideon handle his interpersonal conflict with Ephraim?
7. How much responsibility should Samson's parents have for his foolish behavior?
8. What does the phrase "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" mean?
9. What was the cause of the Benjamite wars, and how did the other tribes help Benjamin survive?
10. What do you think about the justice of these times?
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