THE LAST WRETCHED STEP in the violence precipitated by the rape and murder of the Levite's concubine now plays out (Judg. 21).
In a fury of vengeance, the Israelites have swept through the tribal territory of Benjamin, annihilating men, women, children, and cattle (Judg. 20:48). The only Benjamites left are 600 armed men who have holed up in a stronghold at Rimmon (Judg. 20:47). But now the rest of the nation is entertaining second thoughts. As part of their sanctions against Benjamin, they had vowed not to give any of their daughters to a Benjamine. If they keep their vow, Benjamites will die off: only male Benjamites are left.
Their solution is as nauseating, cruel, and barbaric as anything they have done. They discover that one large town in Israel, Jabesh Gilead, never responded to the initial call to arm. Partly as punishment, partly as a way of finding Israelite women, the Israelite forces destroy Jabesh Gilead, killing all the men and all the women who are not virgins (Judg. 21:10-14). This tactic provides 400 wives for the 600 surviving Benjamites. The ruse for finding a further 200 is scarcely less evil.
The remaining 200 Benjamites are given sanction to kidnap suitable women at a festival time in Shiloh, their fathers and brothers being warned off (Judg. 20:20-23). So the tribe of Benjamin, greatly reduced in numbers, survives. One can scarcely imagine the multiplied levels of bitterness, grief, fear, resentment, loneliness, retaliation, furious rage, and billowing bereavement that attended these "solutions."
By now it is clear that the Israelites face two kinds of problems in the book of Judges. The presenting problem, as often as not, is enslavement or repression from one or other of the Canaanite tribes that share much of the land or that live not far away. When the people cry to him, God repeatedly raises up a hero to rescue them. But the other problem is far deeper. It is the rebellion itself, the chronic and persistent abandonment of the God who rescued them from Egypt and who entered into a solemn covenant with them. This issues not only in more cycles of oppression from without, but in spiraling decadence and disorientation within.
For the fifth and final time, the writer of Judges offers his analysis. "In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit" (Judg. 21:25). How this nation needs a king — to order it, stabilize it, defend it, maintain justice, lead it, pull it together. But will he be a king who solves the problems, or whose dynasty becomes part of the problem? Thus a new chapter in Israel's history opens. A new, royal institution soon becomes no less problematic — until he comes who is King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).
Judges 21; Acts 25; Jeremiah 35; Psalms 7-8