Judges (day 212-232)

Day 212: Judges 1

            1-7: Judges takes up where Joshua left off (but the death of Joshua will be reported again in chapter 2). However, Judges relies on different source material, and there will be a number of scenes presented a bit differently from what we have previously seen. We are told that after Joshua’s death the Israelites inquire of the LORD to resume their conquest of the land. We are not told where the inquiry is made, or how God’s word is imparted — perhaps by casting lots. In any case, Judah is chosen to be first in battle. They ask Simeon to aid them and together they defeat King Adoni-bezek of Bezek. Adoni-bezek’s name is very close to the Adoni-zedek Joshua defeated some years before (see Joshua 10). The details, however, are new. The Israelites cut off his big toes and thumbs — a punishment apparently not unheard of in other literature of the time. He acknowledges the God of Israel’s supremacy, and is taken to Jerusalem, where he dies (although Jerusalem has not yet been captured by the Israelites.

            8-10: Now Judah successfully besieges Jerusalem and takes it. (Jerusalem is in Benjamin’s territory, however, and apparently Judah gives it over to Benjamin – see verse 21). Next, they move west and south, conquering Hebron in the process. Hebron is the town given to Caleb, and in Joshua 15:13-14 we are told that Caleb subdued Hebron. Here, he has been grafted into the broader story of the tribe of Judah. The following verses will make it clear that is the case.

            11-15: These verses are practically identical to the story told in Joshua 15:15-19. Their insertion here underscores the suspicion that Joshua and Judges were ultimately compiled at different times by different compilers who had available to them similar as well as quite different sources of information.

            16-19: These verses illustrate the confusion resulting from the attempt to harmonize different sources of information. Hobab is only mentioned in one other place (Numbers 10:29). Scholars are divided over whether this is another name for Jethro, or whether Hobab is Jethro’s son, therefore Moses’ brother-in-law, not father-in-law. In any case, we are now told that his descendants have teamed up with Judah/Simeon to subdue the southern coastal plains. Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron are Philistine strongholds which never are completely subdued until the time of David.

            20: Caleb is given Hebron, as recorded earlier, long before Joshua’s death. The chronology is jumping forward and backward.

            21: Now we are told that Benjamin can’t hold Jerusalem, taken earlier by Judah/Simeon.

            22-26: Joseph (Ephraim) conquers Bethel with the aid of an informant who later names another city Luz. This story is probably preserved in order to explain the relocation of Luz.

            27-36: We are given a litany of failures by Manasseh (which had territory on both sides of the Jordan), Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali and Dan. Except for Joseph/Simeon, none of the tribes west of the Jordan are successful in subduing the land. Dan, in fact, is pushed back from previously occupied territory.

Day 213: Judges 2 (August 1st, 2010)

            1-5: Things are really getting out of hand, now. The angel of the LORD (which often is simply another way of referring to God) announces that God is going to abandon them to the pagan Canaanite gods because they have not destroyed the pagan shrines and altars. The people seem to be repentant.

            6-10: This account of the death of Joshua is very much the same as we read in Joshua 24:29-31. However, it is added that, after the generation that knew Joshua passes away, the next generation does not know their history as God’s people.

            11-15: The people dessert God, and God desserts them.

            16-23: Here is a summary of what is to follow: the people will turn away from God; their enemies will overwhelm them; God will provide a judge to lead them; they will return to prosperity and security as long as the judge lives; when the judge dies, they will forget God again.

            Oh, what a tangled web!

Day 214: Judges 3(Monday, August 2nd)

            Israel still has many enemies both in the land of Canaan and surrounding it, and these enemies periodically assert control over one or more of the tribes. The book is adamant that each of these oppressions is the result of their having forsaken the worship of God. A series of “judges,” popular charismatic characters who can inspire the people, arise to lead them both to throw off the yoke of their oppressors and to return to the covenant. We will see that some of them are warlords of dubious character.

            1-6: The book of Judges takes a different view of the situation than did the book of Joshua. In Joshua, the Canaanites remaining in the land represented a failure of the tribes. In Judges, they are there so that God can test Israel to see if they will be true to the covenant. They fail the test, intermarrying with the various peoples in the land and worshiping the local gods.

            7-11: The “Baals” is a reference to the various gods worshiped by the pagan people of the land. “Baal” is the Canaanite word for “Lord.” The Asherahs is also a reference to local deities. It is hard to know whether “Israelites” here means the whole country or only some of the tribes. Cushan-rishathaim may be at least partially fictitious, as it means “Cushan of Double Wickedness.” Aram-naharaim provides an almost comic rhyme. It means “Aram of Two Rivers,” perhaps a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates. There are as yet no extant records of Cushan-rishathaim outside the Bible. Othniel is the nephew of Caleb who won Caleb’s daughter Achsah (see 1:12-13). He is the only judge from the tribe of Judah in the book of Judges. His efforts result in 40 years of peace in Israel.

            The outline in these verses will be followed throughout the book: 1) The people forsake God; 2) God allows them to be oppressed; 3) the people cry out (as they did in Egypt); 4) God hears, and raises up a “judge” who will lead them to overthrow their oppressors; 5) the land then has peace until; 6) the judge dies, and; 7) the people forsake God.

            12-30: With Othniel dead, the people revert to their old ways of mixing pagan worship with their religious ceremonies. King Eglon of Moab is the next oppressor, with help from allies. He oppresses them for 18 years, and the people finally cry out to God (the last time it only took them 8 years to cry out to God!).

God summons Ehud, a left-handed Benjaminite, to be the next judge. Ehud assassinates Eglon in a story sequence that again has some comedic elements, though rather crudely presented (pretty much like the routines on the TV’s Comedy channel). With Eglon dead, the Israelites rise up and seal their border at the Jordan River. 80 years of peace ensue.

31: Shamgar receives slight mention. Apparently his escapades happen during the 80 years of peace, and involve the Philistines in the western part of Canaan.

Day 215: Judges 4(August 3rd)

            1-3: The stage is set for the next judge to appear. Ehud dies, the Israelites stray from the covenant, and another oppressor arises — Jabin, a Canaanite king in Hazor, who rules over them for 20 years before the people cry out to the Lord for help.

            4-10: Deborah and Barak are introduced, along with Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army.  Again, comedic elements are in play as Barak’s manhood is called into question (he insists that Deborah go with him to “hold his hand”), and we are told that Sisera will fall into the “hands of a woman.” We think at this point the woman is Deborah, but the story isn’t over yet. Deborah, by the way, is an Ephraimite, while Barak is from the tribe of Naphtali. Naphtali and Zebulun are apparently the two tribes most affected by Jabin’s rule.

            Note that from now on Jabin is entirely in the background, as is God. They are the two primary antagonists. Their conflict will be played out by their underlings — Sisera on one side, and Deborah and Barak on the other (along with a late entrant who has not yet been introduced).

            11: The story is interrupted at this point to add a detail that allows for the real heroine to enter later. We meet Heber the Kenite who has moved away from his people and settled in Kadesh (Naphtali territory).

            12-16: Sisera’s army turns out to be no match for Barak’s, and they are utterly defeated. Military strategists point out that Barak led his men down from Mt. Tabor (which some think is the Mount of the Transfiguration in the gospels) to engage Sisera’s chariots, which meant that the terrain Barak chose was great for foot soldiers but not good for heavy chariots. In this, Barak proves to be a wily commander indeed — but Deborah credits God, not Barak, of course.

            17-22: Sisera flees on foot to the tent of Heber the Kenite, whose wife, Jael is home alone. (Jael means something like “Yah(weh) is God,” although she is not an Israelite.) Now the comedy is in full form. Sisera is put down like a baby — given warm milk and tucked into bed. In verse 20 the question “Is anyone here?” is in Hebrew literally, “Is any man here?” Sisera is telling Jael to tell searchers that there is no man in her tent. He has been completely shamed, first by the loss of his army, then by begging a woman for refuge. He falls asleep like a baby.           What happens next reads like a Steven King horror tale, blood and all.

            23-24: Barak/Deborah/Jael’s victory over Sisera is the beginning of the end for Jabin.

            But, I ask you, which one is the “judge” who rescues Israel?

Day 216: Judges 5(August 4th)

            1-11: Deborah and Barak sing the victory song. It is, first of all, a song of praise to the LORD, the God of Israel, then to the judges who led the people in God’s name — Shamgar, Jael and Deborah are the only ones mentioned at this point. The mention of Shamgar here (remember him at the end of chapter 3?) may indicate that his exploits against the Philistines in the west are going on at about the same time as Deborah’s in the north and east against Jabin.

            12-18: The song moves into the action with God calling Deborah, then Barak. Here we learn that some of the other tribes, though summoned, refuse to come and take part in overthrowing Jabin.

            19-23: The battle is engaged. Even the stars fight for Israel, perhaps hinting that Barak’s assault began before daybreak. The horses of Sisera beat a hasty retreat. The inhabitants of Meroz (an unknown town) are cursed for not helping.

            24-27: Jael makes her appearance, putting an end to Sisera. This part of the story is told with unusual relish: “He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead!”

            28-30: The song now imagines Sisera’s mother waiting for him to come home (again painting Sisera as a little boy?), imagining his successes. But notice again how Sisera is put down: “a girl or two for every man,” they say, but “spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera.”

            31: And the land had rest for 40 years. Because of Deborah. Or Barak. Or Jael?

Day 217: Judges 6(August 5th)

            1-10: Midianites move into the land in great numbers and overwhelm the local economy. The Israelites call out to God, but this time God, through a nameless prophet, tells them they deserve what they got.

            11-24: Still, it is God’s nature to respond to his people in distress. The “angel of the Lord” appears to Gideon, of the clan of Abiezer, tribe of Manasseh (see Josh. 17:2). The “angel of the Lord” is a way of referring to God’s physical appearances in the Old Testament — see, in verse 14 it is no longer the “angel,” but the Lord who is speaking to Gideon. Gideon is not of the same caliber as the judges before him. He demands a sign. God gives him one, by providing fire to cook a meal. But we will see that Gideon is not satisfied.

            25-32: God tells Gideon, perhaps in a dream, to pull down the altar of Baal and the Asherah (the physical representation of a baal — a sort of totem pole) as well. Gideon does so, but at night. He is a timid leader at first, isn’t he? The next day an inquiry reveals him as the culprit, but his father Joash defends him successfully by saying that the Baal ought to be able to defend itself.

            33-40: Gideon’s action nevertheless stirs some alarm from the Midianites, who put together an invasion force. At this point Gideon, inspired by God’s Spirit, becomes a more effective leader. He summons help from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, and they respond. Still, Gideon is not convinced, and demands another sign involving a fleece set out overnight to catch the morning dew. And, true to character, he has to repeat the experiment and demand a different outcome before he’s ready to go.

Day 218: Judges 7(August 6th)

            1-23: Gideon leads out his army, but God thins them down considerably in a series of tests. Still, strategically he has the advantage of high ground when he camps that night (verse 8). God wakes him up and gives the go signal. Gideon again needs a sign! So, God provides a sign — the dream of a Midianite soldier. So, using the elements of surprise, flanking movements, noisy distractions and the benefit of high ground, Gideon and his 300 men rout the Midianite army, chasing them across the Jordan.

            24-25: Word is sent to Ephraim, and they respond by securing more of the land and the Jordan River from the Midianites, capturing and killing two generals in the process.

Day 219: Judges 8 (August 7th)

            1-3: The Ephraimites scold Gideon for not calling them sooner, and he sooths their feelings by pointing out that they have captured two Midianite generals, but he has not captured any as of yet.

            4-21: Now we learn that Gideon is indeed still in pursuit of the Midianite generals he has bested in battle — Zebah and Zalmunnah. As he pursues them, he asks for help in Succoth and at Penuel (where Jacob wrestled with God), but is refused. He captures Zeba and Zalmunnah, brings them back to Succoth, and puts to death the 77 leaders of the city. Then he himself kills the Midianite generals when his son Jether balks at the task.

            22-27: Gideon, to his credit, refuses a public attempt to make him the King. He does, however, encourage them to reward him for his services and walks away filthy rich, then retires from public service to his house in Ophrah. There he makes a sacred object (an ephod, a kind of vest worn by priests) out of the jewelry they give him, and sets it up as a shrine which becomes a place of pagan worship. Gideon has thus gone from nobody to hero to villain.

            28-35: The land has rest for forty years. Gideon settles down, a local hero with lots of benefits, including girls to bear his children – 70 of them at last count, including one named Abimelech, whose tale we’ll read in the next chapter. He is no longer a simple farmer from Ophrah, but is in all but title a king. He has many wives, like the future kings of Israel. His 70 sons echo the 70 sons of King Ahab of Israel (2 Kings 10:1). He names the son of a slave woman Abimelech, which literally means, “My father is king.”

            Upon his death the people revert to their old ways, forsaking God. This time they seem to have officially named a particular pagan god, Baal-berith, as their chosen deity.

            Throughout the book of Judges we see Israel’s situation gradually declining.

Day 220: Joshua 9 (August 8th)

            1-6: Abimelech has himself proclaimed king at Shechem, then kills all his brothers to protect his throne. All but one.

            7-21: Using a clever story, the remaining son of Gideon/Jerubaal challenges Abimelech’s claim, comparing him to a worthless bramble bush elevated to kingship by all the other trees because they consider it a worthless job. He insists that Abimelech’s crime of fratricide (in the extreme) will result in his fiery downfall. And so it does.

            22-57: Abimelech rules for three years. The Shechemites become disenchanted with him. They are fired up by one Gaal, who begins to foment a rebellion against Abimelech that is at first somewhat successful. But the mayor of Shechem, one Zebul, is on Abimelech’s side, and conspires to bring about Gaal’s downfall. Zebul fades into the background as Abimelech presses his advantage and captures Shechem. He moves on to besiege the city of Thebez. But in Thebez he is killed during the siege.

            This stop-gap strategy that God has been using — raising up judges when things get out of hand — doesn’t seem to be working very well any more.

Day 221: Judges 10 (August 9th)

            1-5: The brief careers of two more judges are outlined — Tola and Jair. Some say that these two serve as a sort of summary of Gideon and Abimelech. Tola “rose to deliver Israel,” as did Gideon, but Jair seems intent mainly on solidifying the wealth and power of himself and his family, much like Abimelech’s selfish power grabbing. His ambitions result in the clan of Gilead essentially becoming a separate tribe.

            6-9: The Israelites again gravitate toward the religious practices of the various Canaanite peoples. Astarte (also known as Ishtar) was originally the evening star (Venus) worshiped as a goddess. Her mention indicates an even wider conversion to pagan practices. God turns away, and soon they are oppressed by the people who brought us Baal.

            10-16: Again they cry out to God. This time God says, “Forget it!” but the Israelites will not take “no” for an answer, because they know from past history that God is the only source of help for them. They actually go so far as to “put away the foreign gods from among them” — the very thing they avoided doing when Joshua led them across the Jordan (see the notes on Joshua 24). When they begin again to worship only God, God’s heart is softened, although as yet no deliverer is named.

            17-18: The chapter ends with the Ammonites amassing on the frontier and the Israelites arrayed against them, but still leaderless.

Day 222: Judges 11 (August 10th)

            1-3: Jephthah’s background is given. He is a Gileadite (remember Jair?). The son of a prostitute, his beginnings echo Abimelech’s story. Abimelech was also the child of a consort, despised by his brothers, and an outcast. Jephthah surrounds himself with “worthless fellows,” and raids villages across the border.

            4-11: The Ammonites rise up in arms, and the elders call on Jephthah to lead their defense. He at first declines, but then agrees. The gist of their conversation seems to be to offer him something akin to a kingship. The deal is made “before the LORD” at Mizpah, indicating that Jephthah is seen as God’s chosen one.

            12-28: Jephthah enters into negotiations with the unidentified Ammonite king, who gives his version of history — that Israel came out of Egypt and took Ammonite territory. Japhthah replies with a surprisingly accurate and well-informed account of the real history of Israel’s wanderings and subsequent conquest of the land, ending with the assertion that the land the Ammonite king claims never belonged to the Ammonites, but rather to the Ammorites under king Sihon. He claims the land is occupied by the Israelites as their divine right. The Ammonites, for their part, disagree.

            Perhaps today’s tension in that part of the world can be traced to this very confrontation.

            29-33: Jephthah gathers a volunteer army and prepares for battle. In the process he makes a very foolish vow, one that God surely would not have inspired, that he will sacrifice the first person who comes out of his house when he returns, if he returns victorious.

            34-40: Of course, the first one out of his house turns out to be his only child (what was he thinking?!!!), a daughter whose name is not given. She stoically consents to being sacrificed, but asks for two months to grieve with her friends. The event, it is said, gives rise to the custom (albeit, apparently, a brief one), for Israelite girls to spend a little time in the wilderness in her memory before they are married.


Day 223: Judges 12 (August 11th)

            1-6: Jephthah’s tribe is never revealed — he is of the family of Gilead (same as the judge Jair we met in chapter 10), a territory in both Ephraim and Manasseh. So now the Ephraimites complain that Jephthah left them out on purpose in the war again the Ammonites. The complaint escalates into warfare between the Ephraimites and Jephthah’s Gileadites. Jephthah is again victorious, in a big way according to the numbers given. The separation of the tribes has become so distinct that there is even a difference in local dialects that results in a Gileadite victory.

            7: Jephthah dies and is buried in, no surprise, Gilead. I guess that, in the end, there was no balm for him there.

            8-15: Three more judges are named — Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Of the three, only Elon belongs to one of the original 12 tribes (Zebulun). Ibzan is called a “Bethlehemite,” and Abdon a “Pirathonite.” This is another indication of the slowly collapsing coherence of the tribes as they increasingly turn against the covenant made with God.


Day 224: Judges 13 (August 12th)

            1: The Philistines are the new oppressors.

            2-7: We are introduced to the parents of the famous Samson, Manoah and his wife, who is barren (as was Sarah, and Rachel, and Rebekah). The “angel of the LORD” appears to her and announces that she will have a son. He will be a “Nazarite,” she is told. The Nazarite vows are outlined in Numbers 21, but this case is a bit different. In Numbers, Nazarite vows are intended to be voluntary and temporary. Here it is a lifelong designation from birth. And here it is the mother who is to eschew wine and strong drink rather than the person under the vow!

            8-14: Manoah prays for God to let the angel reappear. The angel does, but again appears to his wife first. (Why isn’t her name given?) Manoah asks for more instructions, but the angel only repeats the instructions his wife is to follow, making no mention of the part about not ever cutting the child’s hair.

            15-18: Just like Abraham, Manoah insists on customary hospitality for the angel, not recognizing him as an angel. The angel refuses, but invites him instead to offer a burnt offering of the proffered kid.

            19-25: A miraculous ascension takes place over the burnt offering, and Manoah and his wife are awed — he with fear, she with the full import of what has just happened. In due time the child is born, they name him Samson, and the “spirit of the LORD” is evident in him at an early age.


Day 225: Judges 14 (August 13th)

            1-4: Samson is no sooner grown than he falls for (what!) a Philistine woman. He, obviously a spoiled brat, demands that his parents get her for him, which they do. We are told that, in spite of how this sounds, God is using Samson’s flaws and foibles as part of the plan to throw off the yoke of the Philistines.

            5-9: The plot of the story is cleverly prepared. Samson and his parents go to Timnah to woo the girl. Apparently they travel separately, for Samson’s bare-handed termination of a lion is not seen by them. He talks to the woman, apparently offering her terms of matrimony, which she accepts. Later, when he returns to marry her, he finds a honeycomb in the lion’s carcass, but keeps it to himself.

            10-20: Samson at the wedding feast, in a good mood, offers a wager to the young (Philistine?) men who have been recruited to serve as his companions, since he has none in Timnah. The wager is to solve a riddle, which has to do with the lion Samson killed. They can’t guess it, but decide to lean on his fiancé to divulge the answer. Under duress she gets Samson to tell her, and passes the information along to them. He goes to Ashkelon (another Philistine stronghold) and kills thirty men and takes their clothes to settle his bet.  He suspects his fiancé of collusion and sulks back home, leaving her to shack up with his best man (probably a Philistine provided for the festivities, but no friend of Samson’s).


Day 226: Judges 15 (August 14th)

            1-8: Hot-headed Samson cools down and decides to forgive his wife. But when he takes her a gift he discovers that she has been given to another man. He reacts predictably — violently, that is. He sets the local Philistine fields on fire, not to mention three hundred foxes! For this act of vengeance his wife and father-in-law are burned to death (thus carrying out their earlier threat), setting off another round of rage on Samson’s part. He kills a number of them, then retreats to a desert refuge.

            9-13: The Philistines respond with characteristic bullying, and 3000 Israelites go to persuade Samson to give himself up. They bind him with ropes.

            14-17: When the Philistines attempt to take custody of him, he breaks the ropes and attacks them, killing a thousand, we’re told. The story apparently is told to explain a place name — Ramath-Lehi, the “Hill of the Jawbone.”

            18-20: Samson cries out for water after his single-handed defeat of the Philistines, and in a sequence that reminds us of the Exodus stories, God provides water. Another place name is explained, this time En-Hakore, “Spring of the Calling One.”

            At this point, with two major exploits against the Philistines, Samson is accorded the status of a judge, and we are told that he judges Israel for twenty years. But, they are years that pass “in the days of the Philistines.” Apparently the Israelites are not yet free from this latest oppression.


Day 227: Judges 16 (August 15th)

            1-3: The author(s) of the book of Judges has no compunction against openly depicting Samson’s rather loose morals. It’s a woman again, another Philistine (Gaza is a Philistine stronghold). Another feat of strength is demonstrated in the process, though, and perhaps that is the real point of the story.

            4- 17 Samson falls in love with Delilah (the name means “flirtatious”). We are not told if she is Israelite, Canaanite or Philistine. Sorek was in the territory of Judah, so perhaps we are meant to think that Samson has finally chosen a wife from among his own people. In other words, he has grown up and started acting like a leader. The Philistines, who threatened his first wife, now bribe his second one to find out the source of his great strength. The story makes for great drama and comedy, as Samson thwarts their plot not once, not twice, but three times.

            18-22: Finally he tells her the secret — his Nazarite vow never to cut his hair. She puts him to sleep and has a barber come in and shave his head. Now he is weak, because “the LORD left him.”

            It is the story of Israel in microcosm, you see. As long as he keeps his vow, God makes him strong against his enemies. When he breaks the vow, he becomes just an ordinary man and God lets him suffer the consequences. We have to wonder if he knows what Delilah is up to all along.

            They bring him to Gaza, where he had ripped the gates off their hinges at the start of this chapter, and gouge out his eyes, and put him to work grinding at a mill in the prison — perhaps treading grapes to make wine, an added insult to his Nazarite vows.

            23-27: They bring him to the temple of their god Dagon in Gaza, and he “performs for them,” though we are not told what kind of performance it might be. Perhaps “put on display” is a better translation here than “perform,” because the story depends on their not knowing that his strength has returned. He takes advantage of their ignorance to position himself at a strategic place in the building, between the “pillars.”

            28-31: Samson prays, for the first time in his life as far as we are told, for his strength to return so that he can pay them back for the loss of his eyes. In his last act, Samson again takes revenge on his enemies by collapsing the building and killing many of them.

            Samson has become something of a folk hero for many people today, but he clearly represents the moral decline of Israel during the period of the judges. Consider: everything Samson does is done with a selfish motive.

Day 228: Judges 17 (August 16th, 2010)

            The time of judges has passed with the death of Samson, and the moral fiber of Israel continues to decline. A man named Micah sets up his own personal “temple,” complete with his own priest. Then the tribe of Dan slaughters an innocent village, and set up their own worship place. Then the tribe of Benjamin demonstrates how perverted they have become, and commit an outrage that results in an inter-tribal war. Thankfully we pass on to the book of Ruth and meet some decent people!

            1-6: A story to set the stage for what follows: Up in the hills of Ephraim a dishonest man named Micah seems to get religion and give back the money he has stolen from his mother. She, being a religious woman (though not a worshiper of the true God) uses part of the silver to have an idol made, which Micah then sets up as a shrine in his house complete with priestly garments (an ephod), idols (teraphim), and a priest (his own son). “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” No kidding!

            7-13: Now another character enters the story. A young Levite from down south in Bethlehem wanders into the hills of Ephraim looking for a place to stay and winds up at Micah’s house. Micah figures he has a genuine priest on his hands and offers the young fellow a job. The Levite’s name is never given (nor is the name of Micah’s son, who apparently turned out poorly as a priest). Micah thinks having a Levite in employment will secure God’s blessings for him and make him prosperous. As we will see, it didn’t work. It never does.


Day 229: Judges 18 (August 17th, 2010)

            1-6: The story of the resettlement of the tribe of Dan fleshes out in more detail what we were already told in Joshua 19:40-47. There the name of the city they took over was Leshem; here it is Laish, but obviously the same place is meant. It is not that Dan has no allotment of territory. Rather, they are chased out of the territory they are allotted (see Judges 1:34-35) by the Amorites. As in the pre-conquest stories, spies are sent out to reconnoiter the land. In the hills of Ephraim they happen upon the house of Micah and meet his young Levite priest. They ask him to inquire of the Lord as to whether their mission will be successful. He gives them an ambiguous answer: their mission is “under the eye of the LORD.” As the story unfolds, we will wonder if God could have blessed such a thing, but the Levite’s apparent stamp of approval (do you think they slipped him a few silver coins?) is good enough for the spies.

            7-10: The five spies come upon Laish, and observe a peaceful and largely undefended territory. They return and counsel their tribe to attack and conquer.

            11-20: 600 Danite soldiers then set out to invade Laish. They camp in Judah, then move on to Ephraim, and come upon the house of Micah. The spies tell them about the young Levite, and with the soldiers standing guard, they go into Micah’s house and steal the religious objects (idol, teraphim, and ephod). The young Levite is easily persuaded to keep quiet, and being willing to sell his services to the highest bidder, is also persuaded to leave Micah’s employment and accompany the Danite unit.

            21-26: Micah discovers the theft and mobilizes what force he can, but is no match for the 600 armed Danites, so he reluctantly gives up the pursuit and returns home empty-handed.

            27-31: An indefensible slaughter of the people of Laish ensues. The inhabitants are killed, the city is burned, then rebuilt and renamed Dan. The tribe of Dan now worships Micah’s idol, and apparently maintain their separate religion for quite some time — as long as the tabernacle is at Shiloh, which will be until the Philistines capture it during the time of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 3 & 4). The pagan shrine in Dan is an example of what has been happening throughout Israel. In Dan they are worshiping a silver idol and smaller teraphim as gods, all under the guidance of a Levitical priest, which they apparently think lends an air of authenticity to their cult. Later, in 1 Kings, we will see that the shrine in Dan comes to be associated with the worship of the golden calf Moses shattered in the wilderness.


Day 230: Judges 19 (August 18th, 2010)

            1-9: We move on now to another tribe, Benjamin, and another unnamed Levite. We learn that he has taken a concubine from Bethlehem, apparently purchasing her from her father, and brings her to his house in the hills of Ephraim. She runs away and returns to Bethlehem, and the Levite goes after her, “to speak to her tenderly,” but we will learn that he is far from being a tender man, for the story that follows is a case of the most extreme abuse imaginable. All seems well between the Levite and the girl’s father, who practices a demanding hospitality that keeps the Levite from leaving for nearly a week.

10-15: Finally he does leave, late in the day. They head north. His servant wants to spend the night in Jebus (later Jerusalem), but the Levite refuses because the people there are not Israelites. As night falls they arrive in Gibeah, a Benjaminite town, and sit down in the town square. No one offers them hospitality until an old man from Ephraim who is living there comes in from the fields and bids them to spend the night at his house.

16-26: Some of the men of the city surround the house and demand that the Levite be turned over to them to be sexually humiliated. This is an insult to the Ephraimite, who offers to send out his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine to them instead. The similarity to the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 is obvious at this point. The men refuse, but the Levite then seizes his concubine (the word implies a harsh, forceful action) and pushes her out to them. They proceed to rape her repeatedly throughout the night while the Levite and his servant and the Ephraimite man and his daughter are asleep inside the house. They abuse her to the point of her collapse, but we are not told that she is dead when she falls at the door of the house.

27-30: The next morning the Levite walks out the door and sees her body lying there. If you expect any sympathy on his part, you will be disappointed. He speaks harshly to her — “Get up! Time to go!” She does not respond, but again we are not told that she is dead. She may still only be unconscious. The Levite puts her on his donkey and travels on to his house in the hills of Ephraim. There we encounter a grisly scene: he grasps her (the same word used above when he seized her to throw her to the perverts in Gibeah) and dismembers her body. Still we have not been told whether or not she is alive or dead at this point! He sends pieces of her body to the other tribes and demands that they do something.


Day 231: Judges 20 (August 19th, 2010)

            1-7: The tribes are outraged and gather at Mizpah. The Levite tells his story, but not exactly as it happened. As he tells it, it was the lords of Gibeah who committed the atrocity, not the commoners. This makes the deed seem even more terrible, if that is possible. He says that they intended to kill him — it is a crime against him, now! He says that they raped the girl until she died, but do we know that she was dead at that point?  He demands retribution, for he has been offended!

            8-11: The tribes arm for battle and gather outside Gibeah.

            12-17: They send for more soldiers until they have 400,000. The Benjaminites muster also to defend their kinfolk at Gibeah. They have 26,000, 700 of them left-handed sharpshooters. There seems to have been some superstition surrounding left-handedness, that left-handed people were uncommonly agile and physically adept. The judge Ehud (Judges 3:15) was left-handed.

            18-28: The tribes go up to Bethel to inquire of God and are told that the tribe of Judah should go up first (the concubine was from Judah), but no promise of success is given and they are defeated by the Benjaminites fighting for Gibeah. They return to Bethel for instructions and are told to attack again, again with no promise of success, and again they attack and are repulsed by the Benjaminites. They return to Bethel (now we are told that the ark of the Covenant is there) to seek direction, and are once again told to attack, but this time they are assured of success. Many scholars think the two failures represent God’s determination that all the tribes should receive some punishment for what has happened.

            29-35: There are two accounts of the battle. In this first account, the Israelites hide troops around Gibeah, then proceed toward the town as before. When the Benjaminites come out of the town to engage them they retreat, and the Benjaminites pursue, lured into the ambush by their success the previous two times. Now the hidden troops close in behind them and kill 25,100 of them, and Gibeah falls.

            36-47: The second account of the battle adds some details. Here we are told that the Israelites hiding in ambush rush into the town and set it afire when the Benjaminites begin to pursue the main army. The Benjaminites see the smoke rising, realize their mistake, and flee toward the uninhabited country to the northeast. When they try to make a stand, 18,000 of them are killed. The narrative says that all of them are courageous men, making us wonder about the source of this version of the battle. They flee further, losing another 5000 on the way, and still another 2000 before the battle is finished. That makes 25,000 in all. 600 survive and flee to the “rock of Rimmon,” an unknown promontory.

            48: When the battle is over, the Israelites proceed to kill every remaining member of the tribe of Benjamin (except the 600 at Rimmon), including women and children and animals, and burn all the cities and towns of that tribe.

Day 232: Judges 21 (August 20th, 2010)

            1-14: There is no joy at Bethel. The Israelites mourn the fact that the entire tribe of Benjamin has been wiped from the face of the earth. There are 600 men remaining, of course, but they cannot marry and carry on their tribe because the other tribes swore at the original gathering at Mizpah that they will not give their daughters to the men of Benjamin. What to do? Well, it turns out that one city did not respond to the call to arms — Jabesh-Gilead – and so it seems to them to be a fair and reasonable solution to murder everybody in Jabesh-Gilead except the virgin girls, and give them to the Benjaminites. Such impeccable logic!

            But there are only 400 virgins, and 600 guys, leaving 200 without gals.

            15-24: What to do? They finally arrive at a clever solution. They tell the remaining 200 Benjaminites to go hide in the vineyards near Shiloh where a popular festival is taking place. When the young girls come out to dance, they are to spring out of hiding, grab a girl and head for the hills. When the girls’ fathers protest, they will be told it’s alright — after all, they weren’t “giving” their daughters to the Benjaminites, and so their agreement at Mizpah was not being violated. I’m sure the fathers said, “Oh, okay! It’s alright, then!”

            (Al Capp, author the popular comic strip “Li’l Abner,” was inspired by this story to invent his imaginary community’s festival called “Sadie Hawkins’ Day.” But in his version it is the girls who chase down the guys and marry whichever one they can catch.)

            25: After Samson died we were told that “in those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6). Those very words are repeated at the end of the book of Judges. The last 5 chapters have illustrated what happens to a society when all the people do whatever is right in their own eyes.

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