In Judges 20 Israel was doing to Benjamin what it should have been doing to the Canaanites – destroy every last one of them.
Now, Israel had to do what they just did to Benjamin. But what a sad state of affairs that led to the need to almost completely wipe out an entire tribe in Israel.
21:1 ¶ Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh,
When they gathered to fight Benjamin – we didn’t hear about this oath at this time.
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?
So, again, Israel did what it had to. But they’re not happy with the results.
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.
So, we need to solve this missing-tribe problem. Benjamin needs wives. Israel killed all the women of Benjamin, apparently in their zeal.
5 And the children of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up with the congregation unto the LORD [That is, to fight Benjamin]? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up to the LORD to Mizpeh [When Israel gathered together to fight Benjamin.], saying, He shall surely be put to death. 6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day. 7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain [The 600 at Rock Rimmon], seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives? 8 ¶ And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the LORD? [Which is just repeating what they’ve already said.] And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabeshgilead to the assembly. 9 For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there.
Jabesh-Gilead was on the east side of the Jordan. For whatever reason they didn’t show up for the battle against Benjamin.
10 And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children. 11 And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.
Wow, again, if only Israel could have been so determined with the real enemy – the Canaanites. This is what God wanted them to do with those pagan nations around them. And now because they disobeyed him, they’re having to fight Canaanism from within their own people.
12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
13 ¶ And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them.
Just like the Levite did to his concubine.
14 And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead: [So, that’s 400 girls for 600 men of Benjamin.] and yet so they sufficed them not. [200 left.] 15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
16 ¶ Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?
By the way, I don’t really think Israel needed to destroy the women in Benjamin. But that’s a moot point by now. What’s done is done.
17 And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel. 18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.
So, we can’t have a lost tribe. And we can’t give our daughters voluntarily to Benjamin. What to do…
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.
Wow, there are still some people who are observing some of the feasts that the Lord had ordained? Yeah, apparently.
20 Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21 And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
So, target the ones who are actually worshipping the Lord and take them away to be wives for these rebellious Benjamites. Good idea.
22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain,
And you can imagine that they will!
that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: [So, we messed up. And…] for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
Again, the idea is that you men of Shiloh aren’t guilty because you’re not voluntarily giving your daughters to the men of Benjamin. Rather, they’re being stolen. Oh, that’s much better. Right? Anyone?
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.
You say, I just don’t understand. That was so weird. So confusing. What’s the message the narrator wants us to get from this 3-chapter marathon of perversity, sin, and confusion? Verse 25.
25 ¶ In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
You can be assured that when everyone’s playing by their own rules that perversity, sin, and confusion will abound. The narrator paints this awful messy picture for us, then puts it aside and speaks his message right to you – Israel needs a king. He could have said that and saved us this whole section – or really, this whole book. But God wants you to feel the need – not just know that the need existed, but to feel the need that Israel had for a king.
So, Bethlehem has earned a bad reputation. Chapters 17 and 18 had the idolatrous Levite from Bethlehem. Chapters 19 through 21 today had this unfaithful concubine from Bethlehem. You might start wondering if anything good can come from or happen in Bethlehem.
That’s why when you continue on past the book of Judges, the very next book you come to also occurs in Bethlehem. And it happens in the days when the Judges governed. And so you’re expecting more immorality, more carnality, more confusion. But what you get is the story of two faithful loyal godly individuals – Ruth and Boaz. And they end up getting married and bearing a son. His name is Obed. Obed is the father of Jesse. And Jesse is the father of… David. Oh yes, David. The King. Wait a second, is this the king that Israel needs? The one this book we’ve been studying for the last several months has kept calling to our attention that we need? I think so.
And so, next week, we’ll shed this rather discouraging book and move on to a book of four chapters where the characters aren’t doing right in their own eyes. They’re doing right in the Lord’s eyes.