In the last chapter of the book the consequences of the dealings of Israel are shown. The solutions that are devised do not exactly speak of an undivided return to the LORD and a questioning of His will. The results are devastating both for families and other innocent people. And everything serves to avoid having to acknowledge one’s own failure.
1 - 4 Care for the Survival of Benjamin
1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, “None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.” 2 So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3 They said, “Why, O LORD, God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be [missing] today in Israel?” 4 It came about the next day that the people arose early and built an altar there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
It is normal to celebrate a victory. That is not the case here. The victory is ‘celebrated’ with tears, there is a loud crying. More than 65,000 Israelites have been killed. The real enemies can cheer. They have so many opponents less. The enemy laughs in his fist when brothers fight each other. He has nothing to fear from brothers who knock each other out.
When Israel oversees the consequences after Benjamin’s punishment, two things come to light. First of all, an oath has been sworn: no one shall give his daughter to the sons of Benjamin. Secondly, except for only 600 men, the entire tribe has been eradicated. If there was a glimmer of hope of survival for Benjamin, then the Israelites would have made it impossible by their oath.
This brings them to a call to God. What they put forward in their request to God shows that they have not really penetrated to the root of the problem. With all their howling there is only a superficial understanding of what has happened. After all, they can answer their own questions. They themselves are the cause of it.
Also, the Corinthians could wonder why it came that there are many sick and not few sleep (1Cor 11:29-32). This was not primarily due to the sick and those who died, but to the state of the whole. The chastisement is not only for those who experience the chastisement, but must be felt by the whole. Discipline over fellow believers should:
1. not leave us indifferent as if it were only the others; and
2. not to make us angry at God, as if He were acting arbitrarily.
God always has a purpose with His discipline. We may wonder to what extent God, through our own foolishness and carnal actions, has disciplined others in order to reach us.
The Israelites miss Benjamin anyway. Do we also feel it as a loss if someone had to be removed from among ourselves? Do the Israelites suddenly realize that the punishment has gone farther than intended? This gives their oath a threatening character. They can’t get away from it and yet they want to provide Benjamin with women.
Before they come up with a solution, they first build an altar and then offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. They do what they also did in Judges 20 (Jdg 20:26). It seems that they do this because of the good effect the sacrifice has had and not with a heart that is in fellowship with God. It seems like a more or less superstitious act. They may have thought: If it worked then, it will work now. What they forget is that there it happened from a right mind. The sequel here shows that their hearts are not really with God.
5 - 14 Providing Benjamin with Women
5 Then the sons of Israel said, “Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up in the assembly to the LORD?” For they had taken a great oath concerning him who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” 6 And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel today. 7 What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?” 8 And they said, “What one is there of the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah?” And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9 For when the people were numbered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. 10 And the congregation sent 12,000 of the valiant warriors there, and commanded them, saying, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. 11 This is the thing that you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every man and every woman who has lain with a man.” 12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. 13 Then the whole congregation sent [word] and spoke to the sons of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them. 14 Benjamin returned at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had kept alive from the women of Jabesh-gilead; yet they were not enough for them.
In their zeal to fight evil, Israel has proclaimed a rash oath. They should never have sworn that oath. But instead of acknowledging that, they go in search of a solution. This oath must now be undone by a detour. This always happens when oaths are sworn without God’s involvement. The result is a new fratricidal struggle.
They have also sworn another oath: anyone who does not go along to punish Gibeah’s sin will be killed. After investigation it appears that Jabesh-gilead stayed at home. It is decided that Jabesh-gilead, who has shown indifference to evil, must suffer the same fate as evil. Jabesh-gilead argued that it didn’t concern them and acted independently.
For our time we can learn from this that public sin found in one local church cannot leave another local church indifferent. All local churches have the same obligation to remove evil from among themselves (1Cor 5:13).
If a local church refuses to do so, others will have to deal with it. If all attempts to convince such a church to condemn evil fail, such a church can no longer be recognized as a church to which the Lord connects His Name. Such a church is identified with evil, and the Lord can no longer be in the midst of it.
Despite the fact that the Israelites’ conclusion is correct, it appears that they are once again acting on the basis of a useful reasoning. They can make good use of this principle to solve a problem that has arisen through their own fault. They can even call upon Numbers 31 (Num 31:17-18) to keep the girls alive. Thus they believe they can provide for the survival of Benjamin. Unfortunately, the number of girls is insufficient.
15 - 23 Even More Women for Benjamin
15 And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. 16 Then the elders of the congregation said, “What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?” 17 They said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe will not be blotted out from Israel. 18 But we cannot give them wives of our daughters.” For the sons of Israel had sworn, saying, “Cursed is he who gives a wife to Benjamin.” 19 So they said, “Behold, there is a feast of the LORD from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south side of Lebonah.” 20 And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, “Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, 21 and watch; and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 It shall come about, when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, that we shall say to them, ‘Give them to us voluntarily, because we did not take for each man [of Benjamin] a wife in battle, nor did you give [them] to them, [else] you would now be guilty.’” 23 The sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to their number from those who danced, whom they carried away. And they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the cities and lived in them.
All the discussions and actions in this chapter bear the hallmark of the last verses. Every Israelite is his own law. To God and His will is not asked. The oath they swore must be kept anyway. In order to keep their oath, they tear apart the closest family ties. Their conscience is quiet, but that has long since been blunted.
Everything is done to what is good in their own eyes. Micah does what is good in his pious idolatry. His mother does what is good in her relationship with her son. The Danites do what is good in their wrong ways. The tribes do what is good by judging evil and swearing oaths. Everyone does what is good, but not what is good in God’s eyes.
Now they also need 200 women for the remaining sons of Benjamin, without having to break the oath. A new idea is put forward. Strict ‘oath-keepers’ as they are, they of course can’t give their daughters, but they get the idea to catch girls. A feast of the LORD is an excellent opportunity for this, they judge. They don’t have to get dirty hands, the sons of Benjamin can do that themselves. Here, the Israelites encourage their brother to kidnap people, which is strictly forbidden by law, just to keep their oath (Exo 21:16).
This is reminiscent of the most horrible crime of all time, namely the death of the Lord Jesus. His opponents are also people with a very meticulous, but deformed, conscience. In order not to be defiled and to be able to eat the Passover, the leaders of the people do not enter the praetorium, while they wish nothing but the death of Him of Whom the Passover speaks (Jn 18:28). They deliver him to Pilate, that he may crucify Him (Jn 18:31). Then they do not have to murder Him themselves. In this way, a person can be very precise when it comes to not tainting himself with what he sees as wrong, while he, with the greatest ease, encourages others to commit the most serious crimes.
Benjamin is advised to steal the girls. Then the oath, in which they have sworn not to give them girls, is maintained and they do not have to break it. Benjamin follows their advice, from which we can conclude that they too have not come closer to God through all the events. The immorality found among them may have been punished, but it has not yet been expelled from the hearts.
24 - 25 Everyone Does What Is Right in His Own Eyes
24 The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance. 25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The army is disbanded. All return to their own homes. Whether they have already learned the lesson, will become clear from the rest of their history. Did we learn the lesson? The last verse repeats the gloomy words with which this final part of the book began in Judges 17 (Jdg 17:6). Indeed no ‘happy end’ in this book.
In order to see that God, despite the decay of His people, in grace still carries out His plans and works towards His goal, we must read the book of Ruth. Just like Judges 17-21, that book is also a kind of appendix to the book of Judges, but in the opposite way. The book of Ruth begins with the words: “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was …” (Rth 1:1). What we read afterwards is a beautiful scene of the grace of God. The book ends with the name ‘David’ (Rth 4:22), the man chosen by God to be king over His people. David is a type of the Lord Jesus.
What the Holy Spirit wants to work in us, when we have thus made the book of Judges speak to us, is that we desire to give control over our lives into the hands of the Lord Jesus. He also wants us to look forward to the time when everything in heaven and on earth will be subjected at the feet of the Lord Jesus.
What the Holy Spirit also wants to teach us through this book is that it is precisely in times of decay that we can achieve victories of faith. The author of the letter to the Hebrews cites a number of people who have lived by faith. Among them he mentions the names of people we have met in the course of our study of the book of Judges: “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah” (Heb 11:32). They are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” about which he writes in Hebrews 12 (Heb 12:1). Then, in the same verse, he compares the life of the Christian who lives by faith with that of someone who takes part in a running match in the stadium.
We can have read the book of Judges as a spectator who looks from the grandstand at a spectacle in several parts. Then we weren’t really involved then. What the Holy Spirit wants is that we experience the events. Then the roles are reversed. The grandstands are then populated by those countless believers of whom the writer in Hebrews 11 has mentioned a number and among whom are also the judges. And we are the ones they look at. Now it is our turn to run.
But the ‘believers of old days’ are there to encourage us. Do we see their radiant faces? Look at them and let them stimulate you. They know how difficult the match sometimes can be and what it takes to persevere. They have continued and have already reached the finish line.
That is why they call out to us, as it were: “Continue, persevere, do not give up, it is worth it!’ That they have reached the final goal is the great incentive for us to persevere. This makes our commitment to the race of faith even greater. In doing so, we should not pay attention to the things around us. We should not look back either.
The only thing that matters is to keep our eye exclusively on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3).