When I was growing up, I heard a ton of Bible stories. The Creation of the World, Adam and Eve and The Fall, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph and his coat of many colors… But I’ve recently discovered a few that I never really heard in church, Sunday School, or anywhere. They’re weird. Really weird. And they’re hard to stamp a moral on. I’ve never heard them preached on. Not once. So without further ado, I present…
Episode I: Wives For The Benjaminites (Judges 19-21)
Here’s the setting: It’s the time of the judges. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are long off the scene. Moses has been buried by God. Joshua has led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, given his speech about “As for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.” All the cool judges you know about, like Ehud (kills a fat guy with a long sword in a quiet room), Gideon, Jephtha, Barack and Debra… they’re off the scene. Samson has crashed a Philistine party for the last time. We’ll skip (for now) the particularly weird story about a dude named Micah who makes a god and hires a priest but has the Danites swipe both from him and tell him “Shut up and go home.” But we’re skipping that. For now.
Scripture honestly says it best.
In those days Israel had no king. There was a Levite living temporarily in the remote region of the Ephraimite hill country. He acquired a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. However, she got angry at him and went home to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah. When she had been there four months, her husband came after her, hoping he could convince her to return.
Weird, right? Why’d he wait four months? Scripture doesn’t bother to mention it. Maybe he missed her after all that time.
It gets weirder. The Bible makes a point of telling us about how the girl’s daddy kept pressuring the unnamed Levite to hang out in Bethlehem for a few days. But he gets the girl in the end, and they eventually head back north to Ephraim and home. They think about spending the night in Jerusalem, but it’s not owned by the Israelites just yet, and the Levite’s servant is like, “Bad idea, dude.” So they go further north, to an Israelite town called Gibeah. They chill in the square, but nobody invites them in. Then this old dude comes in and he’s like “Hey, ‘sup, where you going and all that?” and the guy tells him their story. The guy’s like, “Cool. Spend the night at my place. Town square ain’t safe.”
So they go inside the old guy’s house and chill and then all of a sudden the town riff-raff surrounds the house wanting to rape the Levite. It’s like a fraternity the poor guy didn’t even wanna join! The old guy’s like “No way, dudes. Here, have my virgin daughter and the guy’s concubine, and it’ll all be okay.”
The freaks outside are like “No way, man!” …And so the Levite slips the door open, kicks his concubine outside, and slams it shut. What happens next is like something from Serenity. They abuse her all night and in the morning, she collapses on the porch. The Levite goes outside and he’s like, “Okay, hun, time to go home.” But she doesn’t move, ’cause she’s dead.
You thought it was weird already, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. He puts her dead body on his horse, takes her home, and cuts her up into 12 pieces. What the crap? As if that’s not weird enough, he sends the pieces all over the country. Craziness. I swear this is in the Bible.
So all the tribes meet at Mizpah. 400,000 armed dudes. The Levite tells ’em what happened. And they’re all like, “This is outrageous. We’re going to Gibeah RIGHT NOW and make ’em pay. And they pledged that none of them would every let one of their baby girls marry a boy from Benjamin. They also make a vow that anybody who’s not at the meeting gets killed.
Now, Gibeah is in the territory that belongs to the Benjaminites, you’ll remember from the handy-dandy Bible maps you looked at during the boring church services where the pastor preached on everything in the Bible BUT this story because those maps were the only thing in your Bible that was colorful or looked cool. Anyway, the rest of Israel sends messengers and they’re like, “Yo, Benjaminites. Hand over those evildoing lowlife scum.”
But the Benjaminites are like, “No way, dudes.” And they gather up 26,000 guys who can fight.
Now here’s the part I’ve gotta quote, because it’s in the Bible.
20:18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and asked God, “Who should lead the charge against the Benjaminites?” The Lord said, “Judah should lead.”
So they’ve checked their battle plans with God. They attack Gibeah. And 22,000 Israelites die that day. The Benjaminites kicked butt.
20:23 The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening. They asked the Lord, “Should we again march out to fight the Benjaminites, our brothers?” The Lord said, “Attack them!”
The next day, the Benjaminites kill 18,000 Israelite soldiers. What in the world is going on here?? But here’s what happens next:
20:26 So all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel. They wept and sat there before the Lord; they did not eat anything that day until evening. They offered up burnt sacrifices and tokens of peace to the Lord. The Israelites asked the Lord (for the ark of God’s covenant was there in those days; Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was serving the Lord in those days), “Should we once more march out to fight the Benjaminites our brothers, or should we quit?” The Lord said, “Attack, for tomorrow I will hand them over to you.”
Next day, Israel lures the Benjaminites out of the town by running away. The Benjaminites pursue… and there’s a trap behind them. The remaining Israelites take Gibeah and burn it to the ground, then they trap the Benjaminites between them. And the Bible says, “The Lord annihilated Benjamin before Israel; the Israelites struck down that day 25,100 sword-wielding Benjaminites.”
Then the Israelites went into revenge mode. They went through the Benjamite towns and burned them to the ground and killed everybody they could find. And when the dust lifted and the blood started to dry, they came to Bethlehem. The story came full circle. They were all like, “What have we done?! We’ve wiped out our brothers!”
…Yeah, good timing on that thought, guys.
They decide the Benjaminite dudes need wives. So they check around. Nobody from Jabesh-Gilead was at the meeting and took the vow… So naturally, they send 12,000 elite commandos to Jabesh-Gilead. They kill all the inhabitants except all the eligible young ladies, whom they give to the Benjaminites who are left. But it’s not enough.
They’re like, “Crap. What do we do now?” They plot and scheme and tell the young single Benjaminite men, “There’s a celebration to YHWH down at Shiloh. Hide in the bushes, and when the girls come out to dance, go grab ya one.” Because if the girls get stolen, then daddy didn’t give them away now, did he?”
So that’s exactly what they did. Those Benjaminite dudes kissed dating AND courtship goodbye. They were just like, “She looks good,” and threw the girl over their shoulder and took off. Then they went home and rebuilt their cities.
Yup. Courtship by Kidnapping.
And the book ends, “At that point there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Now I’ve heard sermons on that verse, saying how bad it was that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. But bear in mind that the verse starts by saying “There was no king in Israel.” And keep in mind that when the kings came around, at first it was cool, but there was a long string of them who did a lot of wicked and evil things.
Ten kudos to the first person who can turn this into a morality tale.