Monday, February 28, 2011

Judges series - Judges 21 - Levite and His concubine (final part)

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 21

[A recap of the story thus far, started from Judges 19 - [In this story, a Levite in the Ephraim hill country took a concubine from Bethlehem, Judah. The concubine was unfaithful, and afterward, had left home and gone back to her father’s house in Bethlehem. The Levite went to fetch her back, and the way back, when it was late, they decided to spend the night in Gibeah, a city, controlled by the Benjamin tribe. An old man, probably a fellow Israelite, extended hospitality to the couple. In the night, while everyone was inside the house, some wicked men of the city came to the door, demanding the Levite be given over to them to have sex, sodomy! The old man said that, that would be a vile and disgraceful thing to do, and countered, offering to give his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to the men, but the men refused. The Levite took his concubine and gave her to the men outside. The men raped and abused the Levite’s concubine until the next morning, and she died. Both the old man, and the Levite did nothing until the next morning! The Levite took the body and went back to his own home. On arrival, he cut up the body into 12 parts, and had them sent to the tribes of Israel, all over the place.

When the Israelites received the parts of the Levite’s concubine, they gathered before God in a place called Mizpah. The Levite explained the tragedy to the crowd gathered. He said it was the men of Gibeah who did the hideous act. He, of course, did not say he sent his concubine out, to save his own skin. The crowd decided in one accord that they would form an army and go against the city of Gibeah, a city controlled by the Benjamin Tribe of Israel. After a series of battles, in the end, the Benjamites lost, with only 600 men left, holed up in the desert rock at Rimmon. In addition, the men of Israel went to all the towns of the Benjamites, killed everything and set them on fire. Nothing was left of the Benjamin Tribe except the 600 men at Rimmon.]

Wives for the Benjamites

1 The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: "Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite." [It was not clearly stated when this oath was taken. I tended to agree with some who said that this oath was taken at the time the Israelites gathered before the LORD at Mizpah to hear out the Levite’s case, before the battle against the Benjamites (Judges 20:1). I guessed on hearing the atrocity that happened on Benjamite soil, the Israelites vowed not to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites.

It was no big deal at the time that they were taken; nevertheless it was a vow before the LORD. And it became a big deal, because all the women of the Benjamin tribe had been killed. And there were only 600 men holed up in the rock in the desert. Implication: one of 12 tribes of Israel might perish!]
2 The people went to Bethel, where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. 3 "O LORD, the God of Israel," they cried, "why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?" [They realized the seriousness of what they did: firstly, the vow they made in verse 1, and secondly, that they went into all the towns of the Benjamites, killed everything (including all the women), and burnt down all the towns.

The LORD’s anger was on the Benjamites; if you agree with me, it was because of their failure to care for the Lord’s tribe (Levi) and arrogance, but even so, I believe the LORD did not intend the Israelites to go back to the towns of the Benjamites and wiped off everyone. When the LORD said to wipe out the heathens staying in the land as they conquered the land, they disobeyed, but now they would wipe out an entire Israelite tribe! It was an over-kill!]
4 Early the next day the people built an altar and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. 5 Then the Israelites asked, "Who from all the tribes of Israel has failed to assemble before the LORD ?" For they had taken a solemn oath that anyone who failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah should certainly be put to death. [Some commentators talked about the Israelites not inquiring of the LORD before deciding to war against the Benjamites, or that such huge gathering of the Israelite fighting men were really not needed if the Israelites had inquired of the LORD; I think they were not correct.

In the first place, it was their practice to gather together before the LORD. The LORD gave instructions to Moses, including the use of trumpets in calling for assembly of all people or just the elders of the community. I believe during this period, there was an understanding that they would gather at Mizpah for such gatherings. If you go back to Judges 10, before a war with the Ammonites, the Israelites gathered at Mizpah, too, with the all the fighting men.

The Israelites did gather before the LORD (Judges 20:1), they even made a vow (Judges 21:1), and correctly, all the tribes from all towns had to be present. When the Benjamites, probably did not turn up in the first instance, were subsequently asked to answer to the accusation, which they just did not bother; that I believe, resulted in the infuriation of the people, as well as the LORD.

It must be understood that by then, as opposed to Moses’ time, the Israelites were scattered over many towns in the land, not a blowing of the trumpet would do the trick of having everyone come running to the square. This time, because of the receipt of body parts of the Levite’s concubine, an assembly was called to address the grievance of the Levite – all tribal representatives from all the towns must be present.]
6 Now the Israelites grieved for their brothers, the Benjamites. "Today one tribe is cut off from Israel," they said. 7 "How can we provide wives for those who are left, since we have taken an oath by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?" 8 Then they asked, "Which one of the tribes of Israel failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah?" They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp for the assembly. 9 For when they counted the people, they found that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead were there. [What do you know; the representatives from Jabesh Gilead did not turn up! We have previously, in chapter 5, verse 17, came across these Gilead men. Remember, there I said, I believe they were Manassites (men of Manasseh). I believe some commentators were wrong to say that these men were uncircumcised heathens, some of them may not be pure blood but if they were circumcised they were counted as part of the tribes (there were really much mix-bloods because of the disobedience of the Israelites.). If they were uncircumcised heathens, they would not be required to come to the assembly. The fact that they were required to come, they were part of the Manasseh tribe; the status was probably a clan. In fact, later we will read that their women were taken for provision of wives to the Benjamites. If they were uncircumcised heathens, they would not qualify.]
10 So the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. 11 "This is what you are to do," they said. "Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin." 12 They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan. [A terrible thing again happened – the Israelites killed their brothers of Jabesh Gilead, and took all the virgin women (400 in all) to Shiloh. Luckily, it was only the Manassites of Jabesh Gilead clan who got killed, and not the entire Manassite tribe. Probably, most of the Jabesh Gilead clan of that time got killed. But this Jabesh Gilead, as a people, did survive, and we would read of them in the subsequent time, in the period of King Saul’s reign.]
13 Then the whole assembly sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon. 14 So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them. [The Israelites made peace with the Benjamite remnants at Rimmon, and gave them the 400 women of Jabesh Gilead. Not enough! 600 men but 400 women!]
15 The people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a gap in the tribes of Israel. 16 And the elders of the assembly said, "With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left? 17 The Benjamite survivors must have heirs," they said, "so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out. 18 We can't give them our daughters as wives, since we Israelites have taken this oath: 'Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite.' 19 But look, there is the annual festival of the LORD in Shiloh, to the north of Bethel, and east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and to the south of Lebonah."
20 So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, "Go and hide in the vineyards 21 and watch. When the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, then rush from the vineyards and each of you seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, 'Do us a kindness by helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war, and you are innocent, since you did not give your daughters to them.' " 23 So that is what the Benjamites did. While the girls were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.
[Another terrible thing! To get the balance of 200 women, the Israelites decided that the Benjamites should abduct Shiloh girls. The Israelites, including the elders (verse 16), planned deception – when the fathers or brothers complained about their missing girls, they (the Israelites, maybe, even the elders) would pacify them by saying it was alright, that they should take their loss of their girls as an act of kindness (to the Benjamites), and that they need not worry about the curse on them, claiming that no vows were broken since the girls were not given, they were abducted! So preposterous! But it happened.

Some Bible commentators said that the girls of Shiloh were referring to girls who followed the men (their fathers or brothers) to the annual festival of the LORD held in Shiloh. They may not be entirely correct. Shiloh is the Levitical city of the Israelites. It was the center of Israelite worship. What does that tell us, it was a city of the Levites – many Levitical families lived here because the Levite men helped in the administration of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, together with the Ark of Covenant was parked there after the Israelites entered the Promised Land (The Ark remained in the Tabernacle at Shiloh until it was removed to the battlefield at Aphek, and from there, lost to the Philistines. After that, the Philistines also attacked Shiloh but the Tabernacle was successfully moved to Gibeon, where it stayed until the time of King Solomon who transferred the Tabernacle to the First Temple of Jerusalem (aka Solomon Temple) which he built.). What I am saying is that, most, if not all the girls (200) taken by the Benjamites were Levite girls.]
24 At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.
25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.
[Like I said at the outset, these last chapters, especially the last 3, of the Book of Judges, are the most difficult ones (even scholarly commentators had problems). I believe I have addressed some of lack in the understanding of the events here, but there are still areas which we really aren’t sure what to made of the narrations given.

Let me recap and draw some conclusions and put up some posers, even as we end this study of the Book of Judges on this most difficult section which all started with a Levite and his concubine:

A certain Levite sojourned in the Ephraim country, took a concubine which became unfaithful, and went back to her father’s house. The Levite went to the father-in-law’s house with the intention of taking her back home.

On the way, they stopped at a Benjamite town, Gibeah. No one took them in, from the public square, for the night except an old man. In the night, some uncircumcised heathens who were scum of the city came to the old man’s house demanding to have the Levite man for sodomy. The old man’s answer to the scum was similar to that of Lot, the nephew of Abraham at the eve of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God – to give to the scum, the women of the house (to save their own skins!). The Levite, who obviously was in agreement with the thinking of the old man, eventually gave his concubine to the scum who violated her until dawn. The old man and Levite, both, did nothing more, and the next morning, the concubine was found dead at the doorstep of the house.

The Levite took the body home, and in full view of the public, cut up the body of the concubine into 12 pieces. He sent the pieces to all the tribes of Israel. The Israelites called for an assembly at Mizpah before the LORD, to address the grievance of the Levite man – atrocity done to a Levite was a big issue as the Levites belonged to the LORD and that the LORD had specific instructions to the children of Israelites to take care of the Levites in their midst.

On hearing the atrocity happened on Benjamite soil, the Israelites vowed that they would not give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites. Those who break the vow would be cursed. The Israelites were unanimous to attack the Benjamites if the latter did not hand over the culprits. The Benjamites, not only did not govern well their cities, in particular the morality of that town, Gibeah, allowing the scum of the town to do what they liked (sexual immoralities, including homo-sexual practices, sodomy – perhaps of the kind previously seen in the twin city of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed by God), and therefore, were indirectly responsible for the atrocity suffered by the Levite man and his concubine.

Not only that they (the Benjamites) were not repentant of their complacency and failure to protect the Levites, they were offended by the hostility of the other tribes of Israel and decided not to answer to the accusation, and instead called up fighting men from all the Benjamin towns to Gibeah, preparing to fight the other tribes. Benjamites were mighty men of war but to go against the entire Israelite army was pride at work. The refusal of the Benjamites to answer the accusation angered the other tribes of Israel, and I believe, the LORD as well. I believe because the LORD viewed very seriously, the harm done to a Levite (Levite being belonging to God directly), the unrepentant stance of the Benjamites and their pride, thinking that they were mighty men of war and could pit against the army of God, He condoned the battles against the Benjamites.

The unfortunate event snowballed into a big matter, no longer a small matter of a man, in trying to save his own skin, allowed his concubine to be violated until death, and then still had the cheek to ask the entire Israelite community to address his grievance against an entire tribe. It led to war!

Indeed, the Benjamites were mighty men of war; in 2 rounds of fighting, even the men of Judah, the other tribe of mighty men of war of Israel, suffered the loss of 40,000 men at the hands of 25,700 Benjamites. Only in the third fight did God deliver the Benjamites into the hands of their brothers, fellow Israelites. 25,100 Benjamites fell in the third fight, the remaining 600 men escaped. It would have been all fine, and it would have been a quite easily accepted, conclusion to the matter – the Benjamites would have been taught the correct lesson; of course, at great cost on both sides, with many lives lost. But the problem was that it did not end there.

The Israelites went back to all the Benjamite towns and killed everything, and burnt the towns, leaving behind only 600 Benjamite men who had escaped during the battle earlier on, and were still holed up in the desert at the rock of Rimmon. So, the entire Benjamin tribe was left with only 600 men, with no women and children, giving rise to the certain demise of the tribe if nothing was to be done to provide women for the men to continue with the tribe. The other Israelite tribes had gone too far, and they realized it, at last too, and they began to consider what to do.

It dawned upon them that, the earlier assembly they had at Mizpah was not attended by the men from Jabesh Gilead, a town belonging to the Manasseh sub-tribe. It seemed that all the Israelites had previously vowed that if there was a call for an assembly, in keeping with the practices from of old, representatives from every Israelite town must be sent to the assembly. Failure to do so would incur death penalty for those who did not attend. We were not told why the men from Jabesh Gilead did not attend. Whether they were informed or not, we do not know. The Israelites decided to correct their wrong of killing all the women and children of the Benjamites, with another wrong, to kill the Gilead clan in Jabesh Gilead except the virgin women whom they would gave to the Benjamites as wives. The oath only said death to those who failed to assemble, not everyone of the town they represented! Yes, the Israelites went overboard a second time. I believe both the extreme actions of the Israelites were not sanctioned by the LORD, but it happened. You have to draw your own conclusions.

But that was not all. The Jabesh Gilead women were not enough; there were only 400 of them, whereas the remaining Benjamite men numbered 600. 200 short! And the Israelites still wanted to address this. So, they came up with this idea of having the remaining Benjamite men abduct Shiloh girls during the annual festival of the LORD celebrated in Shiloh, the levitical city of the Israelites, then. There was no mention of the LORD being consulted, or the sanctioning by the LORD. In fact, it was a wicked thing to do, in my opinion. It was a snare, a trap. Things of these sorts are detestable to God, especially, snares with intention to cause death or destruction to people – wicked. The elders would even be involved to deceive the fathers or brothers who would lose the girls.

Things to ponder:

1. I am of the view that, most, if not all, the girls (200 of them) were from the families of the Levites, staying and working there in the Levitical city, Shiloh. God did not sanction the abduction but why did God lift off his hand of protection for the girls?

2. Could it have been God, also, was not pleased with actions of the first Levite, who started this whole matter by sending his concubine out to the scum of the city of Gibeah?

3. If it were the case, wouldn’t it be unfair to the girls even though they came from Levite families?

4. If it were unfair to them, it was even more unfair for the many Benjamites, men, women or children who had died? Many men from the Judah tribe died also, fighting the Benjamites, not fair to them either!

5. Perhaps, the LORD was in this instance, looking at people groups collectively, the Benjamites, and the Levites (Are we responsible for the atrocities in our own cities? Can we say,”I did not do it. It got nothing to do with me, and I just did not want to be a busybody”? What if God punishes your city, how?).

6. Also, what about the rest of the Israelite tribes? They did no wrong in these events? Maybe, they would suffer separate punishments in later events, who know!

7. Sometimes, we just have to accept we do not have all the information or knowledge; neither can we know all the thoughts of God behind events, unless He chose to reveal them. I believe there are already some revelations here, for the rest, just accept them for the time being, until God reveals more, maybe, through another!

Often times, very simply, the culprit is the workings of the fallen world, bad things happened because we are living in a fallen world. God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). It is the prerogative of God to punish when punishment is due, and it is not bad; holiness and righteousness of God have no meaning if there cannot be punishment. God acts for a good reason, even if that reason we do not know or can understand. Our role is to do our part (do not listen to those who preach there is no man’s part), and that includes not doing evil, and we are to try not to be outside of God’s hand of protection/blessings. We are to love God, and stay in His call so that Romans 8:28 will hold true for us.

Anthony Chia - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

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