Tag Archives: Judges 21

Series of Unfortunate Events

Series of Unfortunate Events (CaD Jud 21) Wayfarer

The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: “Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.”
Judges 21:1 (NIV)

There was a period of time in our daughter’s childhood when her favorite series of youth fiction was Lemony Snicket which always carried the tag line: A series of unfortunate events.

That tagline “a series of unfortunate events” popped into my mind as I sat in the quiet this morning pondering not only the tumultuous events that are unpacked by the author of Judges in his three-chapter epilogue but also the tumultuous events that we’ve been living through in the past two years. Looking at the headlines and the horizon, I would say that we’re not out of the woods

Today’s chapter is the final chapter of the book of Judges and the third and final chapter in a saga that began with a single Levite traveler traveling home with his wife and servant. One rather isolated local incident blows up into a national tragedy. Emotions boil over and reason gives way. The people become a mob and violence ensues. Tribal instincts perpetuate the violence. The human desire for justice turns into a cycle of vengeance.

As the teacher of Ecclesiastes famously observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

For the ancient Hebrews, the series of unfortunate events are intertwined with a hodge-podge of cultural decisions that only fueled the perpetuation of the unfortunate events. The Hebrew tribes had mingled their worship of Yahweh as prescribed in the Law of Moses with the religious customs of local gods and cultural mores of the region. High on the bloodlust of vengeance, eleven tribes swear an oath not to give any of their daughters into marriage with the tribe of Benjamin.

As often happens with mob violence, it is in the tragic aftermath that “cooler heads prevail” and corporate regret rises. The eleven tribes, however, have placed themselves square in the middle of a cultural dilemma. They can’t give their daughters in marriage to the men of Benjamin without breaking their oath which was an unforgivable act in the culture of that day. Yet, if they don’t find a way for the leftover men of Benjamin to find wives and procreate, the tribe will be wiped out. So, they devise a scheme to help the remnant of men from Benjamin to kidnap Canaanite virgins who were taking part in an annual religious festival. This exemplifies an ancient Near East tradition that holds sway in international relationships to this day:

Me against my brother.
My brother and I against our neighbor.
My neighbor and I against a stranger.

It is quite common for modern readers to balk at the violence and vengeance in this ancient story, but that’s exactly what the author of the book of Judges wanted his readers to feel. In his context, he wanted his contemporary readers to say: “This is awful. Isn’t it so much better to have a king who will provide justice and stability?”

This brings me back to our modern-day series of unfortunate events and a parallel desire for justice and stability. As a follower of Jesus, I am led to a very important and salient contradiction.

Human instinct is for strong human leadership to ensure justice, stability, and safety with top-down authoritarian power.

Jesus taught His followers to change the world with a grass-roots movement in which individual believers transform other individuals with interpersonal Love that changes lives from the bottom up.

Every example from history in which these two paradigms have been confused has ended in its own form of tragic failure.

And so, I enter another day, and another work week, resolved to stick to the plan Jesus gave His followers.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Need of King and Savior

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 21:25 (NIV)

We end the book of Judges with succinct  summary of the situation. There was no King or central authority. The loose confederation of tribes were spread out over hundreds of square miles. Each tribe co-mingled with the peoples and religions in their areas. The carefully prescribed laws and religious procedures that Moses had handed them became almost impossible to follow or enforce as there was no clear center for worship. The ark of the covenant was at Shiloh, but it was seen as a resting place more than a center of worship. It took a national crisis to get all the peoples to gather there.

After the heated battle between Benjamin and the other tribes, there is a frantic effort made to ensure that Benjamin remains a part of the nation. The bad blood, however, would never really go away. In later years when the tribe of Judah broke with the other tribes to form their own nation, the tribe of Benjamin would be the only tribe to go a long with them.

As we wrap up the book of Judges this morning, I’m thinking about the realities of the human condition. When left to ourselves without authority and rule of law, society quickly becomes a scary place. Lord of the Flies comes to mind. The book of Judges is a tough read. It is filled with unspeakable cruelties, violence, and cultural realities that are hard to fathom today. But, I believe that is the point of these chapters in the Great Story. The human condition left the people of Israel (like all of us) ultimately needing both savior and king.

The earthly example would soon show up in the person of a shepherd boy, musician, and poet who was good with a sling. The ultimate provision for the human condition was still a millennia away and would show up in that shepherd boy’s hometown, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

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Chapter-a-Day Judges 21

Crazy.  But the People of Israel were feeling sorry for Benjamin, their brothers. Judges 21:6 (MSG)

In her book, The Artist's Way, Julie Cameron talks about people who can be labeled "crazymakers" and their destructive effect on people around them. Crazymakers are individuals who, by their own self-centered actions, wreak havoc on the lives and family system. She describes them:

Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centers. They are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive, and powerfully persuasive. And, for the creative person in their vicinity, they are enormously destructive. You know the type: charismatic but out of control, long onproblems and short on solutions. Crazymakers are the kind of people who can take over your whole life.

I thought of this description of crazymakers as I read the insanity of the events described in today's chapter. I would suggest that crazymakers can exist on a national level as well as a personal level. The tribes of Israel ostracize the tribe of Benjamin for the shameless act of rape and murder carried out against a woman of Bethlehem a few chapters ago. Then, the whole nation starts feeling sorry for the folks of Benjamin as they turn their scorn on the tribe of Jabesh Gilead for not showing up to the national riots. They turn their anger on that tribe and commit bloody atrocities. By the end of the chapter, they are justifying the kidnapping of foreign women for the men of Benjamin to marry (wait a minute, wasn't this whole calamity started by the men of Benjamin forcibly taking a woman and raping her?!).

As I scratch my head, I'm reminded of how crazy things can get when we walk away from God's path. When, as the end of the chapter describes, people do whatever they feel like doing, then craziness is not far behind.

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