Judges 21

Judges 21,
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The only thing weirder than the civil war against Benjamin, with its thin pretext, is the repopulation of Benjamin, by permitting abduction of virgins from the Shiloh festival party.  Nope, this is not a good example, or a story with a moral.

Does it help, with the vow of the Israelites ‘I’d never let my daughter marry one’ to remember Jepthah’s vow?  ‘Never say never’ is good counsel.  This whole episode is about morally compromised and weak people doing rash things, rushing to judgment already.  

What do we owe our brother?  From Cain and Abel to Ishmael and Isaac to Esau and Jacob to Joseph and his brothers, the questions is not only one of personal individual family values.  If we say all are children of Adam, all of ‘us’ are children of Avram, and we name our own tribes, clans, and families – what do we owe each other?

Curses and oaths taken in vain, calling on God, should be left as God’s business.  We can rationalize loopholes, like finding a few hundred wives from punishing Jabesh-Gilead for failing to answer the call to rally at Mizpah.  In the end, grown-ups face ‘tragic moral choices’ between bad and worse.

The text of v22 is hopelessly corrupt and untranslatable, evidenced by the range of English translations we read.  Roughly, permission is granted to 200 Benjaminites to abduct wives from eligible virgins attending the Shiloh festival from all 11 tribes. One result is a blood bond renewed with all the other tribes.

How can the abduction be defended?  Killing in battle to take wives did not happen in the civil war, and can’t happen honourably now.  Giving by those who vowed otherwise can’t be honourable.  After the fact, if an offended family tracks down their daughter to Benjamin, and sees her honourably treated, they might acquiesce.  

Compare the ‘rape of Dinah’ at Shechem in Genesis 37. It’s more than an individualized tale of sexual morality, but one of tribes acting justly – or less justly.  The only thing worse than making tragic moral choices in our time and place is making them in the anarchy before Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon.

Now 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,
 ‘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,
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 Benjaminite,
 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.