In the Occidental mind, rule is best when spread among many individuals, either in a parliament or congress. On the other hand the truly ridiculous is only possible with a group mentality. Individuals are rarely this creative or destructive. Once body parts have been sent as invitations, anything becomes possible for the resulting assembly.
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, “None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.” (Judges 21:1 NASB)
Considering the problem, that Benjamin seems to persist in defending repulsive transgression, this seems like an acceptable oath. Which father wants his daughter mixed up in a such a group. But they are there to fix the problem, not avoid being mixed up in it. So, actually the oath is truly ridiculous. Once “repaired”, and Benjamin restored, this might be an important element in restoring the tribe and mitigating further transgression. But, just as on TV, wait, there’s more!
Then the sons of Israel said, “Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who 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 at Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” (Judges 21:5 NASB)
Of course, anyone not answering the summons of a severed body part, that should be a capital offense. Where is the sense of that? The sense to them was that something detestable to God had been done (technically twice), and refusing to come deal with it was like approving of the behavior. On the other hand, this particular oath also put the entire tribe of Benjamin under the ban. There was no other option with this oath than to leave no survivors in Benjamin since no one from that tribe showed up to the assembly. So, even before starting out on this expedition, the end was already determined, not by God, but by the ridiculous mob mentality of the assembly.
So, off the people go to battle, and then return, leaving 600 men of Benjamin alive at a rock. That’s all that’s left of Benjamin. The other 11 tribes sacked and burned all the cities, all the people were killed, men, women, children, and animals in Benjamin, except for these 600 at the rock. Then Israel mourns for the lost tribe. A bit late, somewhat of an afterthought, but they mourn all the same. The senselessness of their oaths begins to settle on them. But wait, can they somehow use these oaths to their advantage? No, not really.
The first oath mentioned, no one gives their daughters to Benjamin, that one causes a problem of the remnant of Benjamin surviving. There’s really no advantage there. So, the next oath, kill anyone who didn’t show up to the assembly, they try to use to fix the first one. They kill the people of Jabesh-Gilead so they can take their virgins to give to the remnant of Benjamin as wives. The “solution” only nets 400 wives for 600 men, not enough. The destruction of Jabesh-Gilead is a “sacrifice” because they put the city under the “ban”, like Jericho. I just don’t think this is the sacrifice God was looking for.
So, what is the perspective of God in all of this? In the previous chapter, Yahweh gives Israel marching orders, but still they fail twice against underwhelming odds. Finally the 360,000 men are able to defeat 26,000 men of Benjamin, leaving only 600 alive. God seems involved at least, but why the first two failures? The people offer sacrifices, they seek His face, they cry out to Him. But then there are these oaths? They are made before Yahweh, and they do keep them. But, was all that was said before God at this sacred assembly really the will of God? I think it’s safe to say no, not all that was said was of God. On the other hand, some was according to His will, and even according to His commandment.
We, the modern scientific human, want consistency, our favorite litmus test of truth! As our Master reveals Himself in Scripture, He seems to want relationship. Relationships are messy, don’t follow consistent rules, and even seem chaotic at times. The way that Yahweh reveals Himself in Scripture, He sets out on a relational adventure, adds some laws, and then tends to ignore or break these rules while holding His chosen people to account for them. He’s bewildering. And He does break the covenant obligations: He tends to be more forgiving than the covenant stipulates, shows more compassion than promised, and is more persistent in His presence among His people than expected.
That’s my view through the fence this morning. What do you see through your knothole?