Sunday, July 20, 2008

Judges 21

Judges 21: Wives for the Benjamites

Synopsis

In the last passage, the tribe of Benjamin was punished for the brutal rape and murder of a concubine. In fact, the Benjamites were completely wiped out, except for six hundred men. And when I say “men,” I mean men, because the women and children have all been wiped out. This passage goes into the aftermath of the aftermath.

In addition to wiping out the Benjamites, the other tribes of Israel have done something else: They’ve all vowed that they will refuse to give their daughters to the Benjamites in marriage. So not only are there only six hundred Benjamites left, there is not even a hope of the tribe continuing on. After all of the fighting has finished—and perhaps once the Israelites’ blood has cooled down a bit—they gather at Bethel, and sit before God weeping and raising their voices to Him, mourning because one of the tribes of Israel is about to be wiped out. They also build an alter, and present burnt and fellowship offerings to the LORD.

Now the oath that they’d taken, to refuse to give their daughters’ hands in marriage to the Benjamites, took place at a place called Mizpah, and before they met there, the Israelites took an oath that anyone who didn’t come would be put to death. While they’re mourning the loss of the tribe of Benjamin, the Israelites realize that the people of Jabesh Gilead weren’t there, at Mizpah, and they wonder if this might be a solution to their problem: They have to put the people of Jabesh Gilead to death anyway, because of their oath; why not spare any women who are virgins, and then give those women to the remaining six hundred men from the tribe of Benjamin, as wives?

So they do. They put everyone from Jabesh Gilead to death, except for the virgin women, but they only end up with four hundred women. They bring these women to the remaining men from the tribe of Benjamin as a peace offering, but of course there are still two hundred men with no wives. So the Israelites mourn some more, because there will be no heirs for some of the surviving Benjamites; after all, they can’t marry any of the Israelite women, because of the Israelites’ oath.

But then they remember: There is an annual festival that happens in Shiloh. They instruct the Benjamites to go and hide in the vineyards in Shiloh, because the custom at this festival is for the girls of Shiloh to come out dancing during this festival. The Benjamites can then grab the girls and bring them back home as wives. If the fathers and brothers of these girls complain, the Israelites will placate them:

“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.’” (verse 22)

So this is what the Benjamites do, and all of the six hundred men end up with wives. So the Israelites all go home.

And I think verse 25 sums up the chapter—and the entire book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Thoughts

The sexism of the Old Testament often strikes me, and even more than usual in a passage like this. “We’ll kill everyone at Jabesh Gilead except the female virgins, and then the Benjamites can have them as wives. Oh, that wasn’t enough women? Then they can kidnap women from Shiloh.” The women in this passage are being treated no differently than plunder in war! I’d like to believe this is because the Israelites have forgotten the LORD and His ways—because they obviously have!—but is that really the reason? I’m not sure. It’s not like this is the only place in the Old Testament where women are treated as less than human.
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