In My Own Eyes

Judges 21:1-25
1Now the men of Israel 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 till evening before God, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3And they said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel, that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?” 4And the next day the people rose early and built there an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. 5And the people of Israel said, “Which of all the tribes of Israel 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 to Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” 6And the people of Israel had compassion for Benjamin their brother 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 for wives?” 8And they said, “What one is there of the tribes of Israel that did not come up to the Lord to Mizpah?” And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead, to the assembly. 9For when the people were mustered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. 10So the congregation sent 12,000 of their bravest men there and commanded them, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also 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 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. 13Then the whole congregation sent word to the people of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon and proclaimed peace to them. 14And Benjamin returned at that time. And they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead, but they were not enough for them. 15And the people had compassion on Benjamin because the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. 16Then 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?” 17And they said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe not be blotted out from Israel. 18Yet we cannot give them wives from our daughters.” For the people of Israel had sworn, “Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin.” 19So they said, “Behold, there is the yearly feast of the Lord 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 commanded the people of Benjamin, saying, “Go and lie in ambush in the vineyards 21and watch. If the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and snatch each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22And when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Grant them graciously to us, because we did not take for each man of them his wife in battle, neither did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.’ ” 23And the people of Benjamin did so and took their wives, according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried off. Then they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and lived in them. 24And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance. 25In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

At this point in the rather detestable story of Israel’s behavior at the end of Judges we find a mixed bag of behaviors, all of which are bizarre in their own way. The war has devastated the Tribe of Benjamin. Israel is faced with the deaths of over 65,000 of her countrymen. The nation is a mess. Benjamin has only 600 men left living (those who had fled the battle) and no women. And, to add insult to the injury, the rest of Israel has sworn that they would not give any of their women over to Benjamin so that they could survive. Sheesh.

Two practical problems faced the tribes. First, they had to find a way to avoid the extinction of a tribe that had six hundred surviving males, but no females. Second, they had made a solemn oath before the Lord not to give any of their daughters in marriage to the men of Benjamin. In respect to the second problem, we may scratch our heads at what seems to be selective morality on the part of Israel. They could forget their sacrifices of faith and hoped-for reconciliation at the cost of thousands of lives, yet they refused to break an oath made in the heat of self-righteous anger. Sinners, even those whose sins have been forgiven, are by nature prone to selective morality. Because sanctification is incomplete, each act of love is soon followed by a contradictory act of lovelessness. We see the contradiction in others, but not as easily in ourselves. This is why Jesus admonishes us to refrain from judgment. This is why Jesus encourages us to look for the plank in our own eyes first.
Lawrenz, J. C. ©1997. Judges, Ruth (pp. 211–212). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

Israel decides to give women to Benjamin through two questionable solutions. First, they go into Jabesh-gilead and kill everyone who is not a virginal female. This leaves them with 400 women eligible for marriage. They need 200 more. Since they have sworn not to give their daughters in marriage to the Tribe of Benjamin, they decide to circumvent that vow by allowing the 200 remaining bachelors to “seize” young virgins as their brides. This is playing fast and loose with the vow but at this point, who cares. So, Benjamin survives and the nation of Israel limps into the future. The last line of the book of Judges is the most telling of all:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

There was no king, either divine or human. The people were living by their own shaky moral standards and God had been long forgotten. This is the historical platform upon which the crowning of Saul as the first king of Israel is built. And Saul – he’s from the Tribe of Benjamin. The mind reels.