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Judges 19:1-21:25 – Civil War

Summary

Outrage at the rape and murder of a Levite's concubine erupts into the near elimination of the tribe of Benjamin by the other tribes.

Analysis

The repetition of the ominous refrain, "In those days, when there was no king in Israel" (19:1), leads us to expect that the following story will be yet another gruesome example of the anarchy and depravity that Judges relentlessly holds before us.

This horrific story begins with yet another Levite who took a woman from Judah as his concubine, or second wife. Following some undisclosed marital difficulties, the concubine returned to her father for four months, after which time the Levite retrieved her. They decide to spend the night in Gibeah, a town in the territory of Benjamin. In a scene reminiscent of Lot's experience in Sodom (Genesis 19:1-8)--though here, the atrocity actually takes place--the Levite's concubine is viciously gang raped and all but beaten to death (the Septuagint claims that she was dead at this point, mitigating some of the ensuing horror). This part of the story closes with a repulsive depiction of the Levite who leaves the house and coldly informs his concubine that it is time to go. When she does not respond, he throws her on one of his pack animals and takes her home. There, he carves her body into twelve pieces and sends one to each tribe summoning them to battle against Benjamin (vv. 1-30). It should be remembered that the Hebrew text does not specifically state that she is dead before the carving began. The Levite's actions are a dark parody of the function of a judge: a mustering of the tribes for battle.

In chapter 20, "all the Israelites" came together for the first time in Judges. Previously, various tribes had banded together for defensive purposes against Canaanite oppression; here the tribes engage in vengeance and civil war. Benjamin prevails twice, but on the third attempt the Israelite militia succeeds, reducing Benjamin to a mere six hundred male survivors (vv. 1-48).

In chapter 21 the eleven tribes realize what they have done and seek to remedy their near extermination of one of the tribes. An unanswered oracle leads them to consider civil war again, this time against Jabesh-gilead, who had refrained from the previous attack upon Benjamin. Jabesh-gilead was utterly destroyed--all, that is, but four hundred virgins, who were brought to the six hundred surviving males in Benjamin as wives. The remaining two hundred Benjaminite males are instructed to lie in wait in the vineyards outside Shiloh while the virgins of Shiloh dance at the festival. The tribes will settle any disputes Shiloh may bring concerning any Benjaminite male who carries off a virgin from Shiloh. Thus was Benjamin restored (vv. 1-24).

Few passages in the Bible are as distasteful as these closing stories in Judges. Readers are appropriately offended by the callous disregard, wanton abuse, and selfish disposition that are so appallingly presented here. But that is precisely what the editors of Judges want us to experience, the absolutely untenable position that had arisen, because "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes" (21:25; compare 17:6; 18:1; 19:1).

Judges 19:1-21:25

The Levite’s Concubine

19In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2But his concubine became angry with* him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there for some four months. 3Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. When he reached* her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him and came with joy to meet him. 4His father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him for three days; so they ate and drank, and he* stayed there. 5On the fourth day they got up early in the morning, and he prepared to go; but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, ‘Fortify yourself with a bit of food, and after that you may go.’ 6So the two men sat and ate and drank together; and the girl’s father said to the man, ‘Why not spend the night and enjoy yourself?’ 7When the man got up to go, his father-in-law kept urging him until he spent the night there again. 8On the fifth day he got up early in the morning to leave; and the girl’s father said, ‘Fortify yourself.’ So they lingered* until the day declined, and the two of them ate and drank.* 9When the man with his concubine and his servant got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, ‘Look, the day has worn on until it is almost evening. Spend the night. See, the day has drawn to a close. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early in the morning for your journey, and go home.’

10 But the man would not spend the night; he got up and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. 11When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, ‘Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.’ 12But his master said to him, ‘We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah.’ 13Then he said to his servant, ‘Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.’ 14So they passed by and went on their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin. 15They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.

16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) 17When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, ‘Where are you going and where do you come from?’ 18He answered him, ‘We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home.* Nobody has offered to take me in. 19We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.’ 20The old man said, ‘Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.’ 21So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.

Gibeah’s Crime

22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a depraved lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, ‘Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.’ 23And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.’ 25But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

27 In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28‘Get up,’ he said to her, ‘we are going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. 29When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, “Has such a thing ever happened* since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.”

The Other Tribes Attack Benjamin

20Then all the Israelites came out, from Dan to Beer-sheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled in one body before the Lord at Mizpah. 2The chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot-soldiers bearing arms. 3(Now the Benjaminites heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the Israelites said, ‘Tell us, how did this criminal act come about?’ 4The Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered, ‘I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. 5The lords of Gibeah rose up against me, and surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she died. 6Then I took my concubine and cut her into pieces, and sent her throughout the whole extent of Israel’s territory; for they have committed a vile outrage in Israel. 7So now, you Israelites, all of you, give your advice and counsel here and now.’

8 All the people got up as one, saying, ‘We will not any of us go to our tents, nor will any of us return to our houses. 9But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up* against it by lot. 10We will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the troops, who are going to repay* Gibeah of Benjamin for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.’ 11So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one.

12 The tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What crime is this that has been committed among you? 13Now then, hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death, and purge the evil from Israel.’ But the Benjaminites would not listen to their kinsfolk, the Israelites. 14The Benjaminites came together out of the towns to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the Israelites. 15On that day the Benjaminites mustered twenty-six thousand armed men from their towns, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah. 16Of all this force, there were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss. 17And the Israelites, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand armed men, all of them warriors.

18 The Israelites proceeded to go up to Bethel, where they inquired of God, ‘Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?’ And the Lord answered, ‘Judah shall go up first.’

19 Then the Israelites got up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. 20The Israelites went out to battle against Benjamin; and the Israelites drew up the battle line against them at Gibeah. 21The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah, and struck down on that day twenty-two thousand of the Israelites. 23*The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until the evening; and they inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall we again draw near to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites?’ And the Lord said, ‘Go up against them.’ 22The Israelites took courage, and again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day.

24 So the Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites on the second day. 25Benjamin moved out against them from Gibeah the second day, and struck down eighteen thousand of the Israelites, all of them armed men. 26Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt-offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the Lord. 27And the Israelites inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28and Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, ‘Shall we go out once more to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites, or shall we desist?’ The Lord answered, ‘Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.’

29 So Israel stationed men in ambush around Gibeah. 30Then the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites on the third day, and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as before. 31When the Benjaminites went out against the army, they were drawn away from the city. As before they began to inflict casualties on the troops, along the main roads, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, as well as in the open country, killing about thirty men of Israel. 32The Benjaminites thought, ‘They are being routed before us, as previously.’ But the Israelites said, ‘Let us retreat and draw them away from the city towards the roads.’ 33The main body of the Israelites drew back its battle line to Baal-tamar, while those Israelites who were in ambush rushed out of their place west* of Geba. 34There came against Gibeah ten thousand picked men out of all Israel, and the battle was fierce. But the Benjaminites did not realize that disaster was close upon them.

35 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel; and the Israelites destroyed twenty-five thousand one hundred men of Benjamin that day, all of them armed.

36 Then the Benjaminites saw that they were defeated.*

The Israelites gave ground to Benjamin, because they trusted to the troops in ambush that they had stationed against Gibeah. 37The troops in ambush rushed quickly upon Gibeah. Then they put the whole city to the sword. 38Now the agreement between the main body of Israel and the men in ambush was that when they sent up a cloud of smoke out of the city 39the main body of Israel should turn in battle. But Benjamin had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites, killing about thirty of them; so they thought, ‘Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.’ 40But when the cloud, a column of smoke, began to rise out of the city, the Benjaminites looked behind them—and there was the whole city going up in smoke towards the sky! 41Then the main body of Israel turned, and the Benjaminites were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them. 42Therefore they turned away from the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them, and those who came out of the city* were slaughtering them in between.* 43Cutting down* the Benjaminites, they pursued them from Nohah* and trod them down as far as a place east of Gibeah. 44Eighteen thousand Benjaminites fell, all of them courageous fighters. 45When they turned and fled towards the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, five thousand of them were cut down on the main roads, and they were pursued as far as Gidom, and two thousand of them were slain. 46So all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty-five thousand arms-bearing men, all of them courageous fighters. 47But six hundred turned and fled towards the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and remained at the rock of Rimmon for four months. 48Meanwhile, the Israelites turned back against the Benjaminites, and put them to the sword—the city, the people, the animals, and all that remained. Also the remaining towns they set on fire.

The Benjaminites Saved from Extinction

21Now the Israelites had sworn at Mizpah, ‘No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.’ 2And the people came to Bethel, and sat there until evening before God, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3They said, ‘O Lord, the God of Israel, why has it come to pass that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?’ 4On the next day, the people got up early, and built an altar there, and offered burnt-offerings and sacrifices of well-being. 5Then the Israelites said, ‘Which of all the tribes of Israel did not come up in the assembly to the Lord?’ For a solemn oath had been taken concerning whoever did not come up to the Lord to Mizpah, saying, ‘That one shall be put to death.’ 6But the Israelites had compassion for Benjamin their kin, and said, ‘One tribe is cut off from Israel this day. 7What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the Lord that we will not give them any of our daughters as wives?’

8 Then they said, ‘Is there anyone from the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the Lord to Mizpah?’ It turned out that no one from Jabesh-gilead had come to the camp, to the assembly. 9For when the roll was called among the people, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. 10So the congregation sent twelve thousand soldiers there and commanded them, ‘Go, put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword, including the women and the little ones. 11This is what you shall do; every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.’ 12And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man and brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.

13 Then the whole congregation sent word to the Benjaminites who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them. 14Benjamin returned at that time; and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead; but they did not suffice for them.

15 The people had compassion on Benjamin because the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. 16So the elders of the congregation said, ‘What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since there are no women left in Benjamin?’ 17And they said, ‘There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin, in order that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel. 18Yet we cannot give any of our daughters to them as wives.’ For the Israelites had sworn, ‘Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to Benjamin.’ 19So they said, ‘Look, the yearly festival of the Lord is taking place at Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.’ 20And they instructed the Benjaminites, saying, ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, 21and watch; when the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and each of you carry off a wife for himself from the young women of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22Then if their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, “Be generous and allow us to have them; because we did not capture in battle a wife for each man. But neither did you incur guilt by giving your daughters to them.” 23The Benjaminites did so; they took wives for each of them from the dancers whom they abducted. Then they went and returned to their territory, and rebuilt the towns, and lived in them. 24So the Israelites departed from there at that time by tribes and families, and they went out from there to their own territories.

25 In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

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10 February 2011

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