Judges 19: Christ the Levitical Concubine
Jdg 19:1-30 In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. (2) And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. (3) Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. And she brought him into her father’s house. And when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him.
Judges chapters 19 and 20 follow on naturally from chapter 17, where “in those days… there was no king in Israel”. This is deliberate, for we are brought to focus on two aspects of this fallen period – the focus on Bethlehem (for the Levite Jonathan, the descendant of Moses, came from there; and the concubine of the upcoming chapters also resided there with her father), as well as the focus on the period when there is absolutely no king – no judge, no king, no ruler, no head. Why did chapters 17-21 of Judges come after the period of the judges, when chronologically this is occurring after the rule of Joshua?
I believe it points us to the emphasis of God’s pattern of creation and redemption: of chaos first, then formation, then filling – then Sabbath; and the process once more repeated, just as the trees die and rise up again from their ‘death-like’ sleep from winter to summer. However, during this Godless and king-less period, Bethlehem is the centre of the attention. Bethlehem is a small place of low repute (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6), and it is from this small place where we find King David and the true King Jesus Christ (John 7:42). Where Jonathan, the heretical Levite, came from Bethlehem in the previous chapters, the concubine of the Levite in chapter 19 also comes from Bethlehem.
What is characteristic of this Levite-concubine relationship at the beginning of the chapter is that this ‘concubine’ is seen by some commentators as a ‘wife’ as well. Adam Clarke postulates that the original languages indicate how this concubine was not necessarily unfaithful to the Levite, and here he quotes an alternative translation:
“who when she was alienated from him, or angry with him, left him”.
Yet, is not spiritual adultery the same as alienation from God? This hendiadys is important for us in drawing the parallel between the relationship of the mysterious unnamed concubine and mysterious unnamed Levite. Unlike the previous stories of Judges, chapters 19-21 include no names, except for names of places.
As such, it should be the joint meaning of concubine and her being from Bethlehem that we understand the character of the Levite’s love. He is unlike Jonathan; this Levite has the law written in his heart (v.12-13, 18), extends his love like that of God with us (Hosea 2), and is not tempted by food nor drink to become slothful or gluttonous. Because his character is so strongly contrasted to Jonathan, the narrator points us to the concubine as the centre of the Levite’s attention. This concubine is redeemed by the Levite who wished to travel from Ephraim to Bethlehem, back to the House of God then to his home in Ephraim. The journey as described in v.3 is purposeful – it is a journey of compassionate love, the love of Christ for his enemies; the love of Christ for his church. This pitiful church, this pitiful whorish bride from the least of the clans of Judah where darkness resides – it is here that light enters into the world and shone the brightest in the form of virgin birth.
(4) And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him three days. So they ate and drank and spent the night there. (5) And on the fourth day they arose early in the morning, and he prepared to go, but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Strengthen your heart with a morsel of bread, and after that you may go.” (6) So the two of them sat and ate and drank together. And the girl’s father said to the man, “Be pleased to spend the night, and let your heart be merry.” (7) And when the man rose up to go, his father-in-law pressed him, till he spent the night there again.
This is a joyful reconciliation – and we see from the taking of the concubine an image of Eden. For God had created Adam and his woman, taking both to His bosom as a shadow of taking Christ, the Father’s true image, to His bosom. Yet, unlike Christ and much to the similarity of the earliest church of man and wife, the concubine leaves the side of the priest and returns to her father in Bethlehem. She would rather return to darkness than to abide in light.
Through the Levite’s compassionate love of his enemy, the prostitute who had alienated herself from Christ is redeemed by His love. There is an unexplained silence between the Levite and his bride for four months, and upon the end of that silence he goes to reclaim her: just as Christ and Israel had a silence for four hundred years between the entrance to Egypt and the great exodus; and between Malachi and Matthew, before Christ’s incarnation into Bethlehem. Even the father of the bride is blessed and it is a picture of temporary joy, of feasting and drinking as Christ was sent into Bethlehem to enjoy communion with us daily until his crucifixion. He is the God who eats with us (Exodus 24), though this be a shadow of things to come, and we are his treasured possession who He wishes to spend more time with (Matthew 13:46). Yet, he cannot remain with us forever (John 20:17), and must return to Shiloh where the House of the LORD is; He must return to the Holy of Holies.
(8) And on the fifth day he arose early in the morning to depart. And the girl’s father said, “Strengthen your heart and wait until the day declines.” So they ate, both of them. (9) And when the man and his concubine and his servant rose up to depart, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Behold, now the day has waned toward evening. Please, spend the night. Behold, the day draws to its close. Lodge here and let your heart be merry, and tomorrow you shall arise early in the morning for your journey, and go home.” (10) But the man would not spend the night. He rose up and departed and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. (11) When they were near Jebus, the day was nearly over, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites and spend the night in it.” (12) And his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah.” (13) And he said to his young man, “Come and let us draw near to one of these places and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.”
It is on the fifth night that the Levite stayed at Gibeah, the fifth day being the day of the filling of the water creatures in Genesis 1 – a sign of judgment as on day two of creation. So here is similarly a sign of judgment on both Gibeah and the church. The reason for the Levite to desist from staying at Jerusalem (Jebus) is because it is a city of foreigners – above all, the city which had persecuted Christ in His final days up to His crucifixion. It is still not yet named Jerusalem, the city of peace, for it is now Jebus – a threshing floor. Yet, the nature of Jerusalem during the time of Christ’s incarnation is like a threshing floor, for it is not a true city of peace until New Jerusalem in new creation. Thus the Levite’s dismissal of Jebus is Christ’s dismissal of Jerusalem as a city of God, because it is filled with foreigners rejecting Him.
This truth is further expanded once the Levite moves to Gibeah, a hill (like Ramah, also meaning “hill”). For the gospel of Christ’s humiliation and ascension is recorded in this narrative, the Levite who left Ephraim, the land of double-fruitfulness where the House of the LORD resided, entered into the dark and unimportant land of Bethlehem to retrieve his concubine-bride, and to return to Ephraim by the hill (be that Ramah or Gibeah) like Christ who is the One who ascended the holy hill (Psalm 24:3).
(14) So they passed on and went their way. And the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, (15) and they turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. And he went in and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night. (16) And behold, an old man was coming from his work in the field at evening. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was sojourning in Gibeah. The men of the place were Benjaminites. (17) And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?” (18) And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord, but no one has taken me into his house. (19) We have straw and feed for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and your female servant and the young man with your servants. There is no lack of anything.” (20) And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.”
And like the story of Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary could not find a place to stay, here a man from Ephraim was also sojourning in Gibeah. Note that he is not from Gibeah, like Lot who was not from Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot stood by the city gates, bowing down when the angels came to visit him; Gibeah, who knew the man to be a Levite going by the way of the House of the LORD (v.18-20) equally provided shelter for he who does the LORD’s will. As Christ has said in Matthew 25:31-46, this is an act of service as if done to Christ himself. Judgment has already been proclaimed onto Gibeah, as no-one in Gibeah seemed to be humbled by the prospect that they wish to know a Levite; just as no-one in Sodom and Gomorrah revered the angels as Lot did. The Levite entered Bethlehem and was merry with the father-in-law and the concubine; the Levite enjoyed himself with the friendly stranger from Ephraim sojourning in Gibeah; and so Christ enjoys fellowship and communion with the minority and those who are outcast and humble in the world. Yet, Gibeah, to become Gibeah of Saul, is presumably a place of recognition – and for its recognition, it fails to recognize the Levite, the Priest, the Christ.
(21) So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank. (22) As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” (23) And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. (24) Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” (25) But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. (26) And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. (27) And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. (28) He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. (29) And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. (30) And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”
It is quite clear that the narrative is not completely unbiased. Given the focus on the righteous Levite who is a type of Christ’s humiliation and ascension; the focus on the stranger from Ephraim sojourning in Gibeah as akin to righteous Lot; and the focus on the worthless fellows (v.22) of the tribe of Benjamin as the culprits of these chapters, the minority party in Christ are pitted against the majority party of Satan in the middle of the land of Israel. It is an internal struggle of the physical against the spiritual church, when there is no king in the land of Israel. This is especially highlighted in contrast to Gibeah of Saul, in contrast to Jebus the true spirit of Jerusalem then, because both are cities hostile to the LORD.
Only with this backbone to the final chapters of Judges can we then understand the difficult nature of v.23-30. Two direct parallels can be drawn with respect to the giving of the concubine and the virgin daughter – the story of Abraham in Genesis 12 where he offered his wife as his sister; and Lot in Genesis 19. With respect to Abraham labeling his wife as his sister, he is in fact not far from the truth, for his wife Sarah is indeed his half-sister if we were to trace the line of genealogy. Furthermore, Abraham’s giving of Sarah to the Pharoah is seen as the giving of the church to Pharoah; while the church is protected, unharmed and not violated, Pharoah contrarily is plagued by God’s curses, sending Abraham and his wife away with more riches than they came. This is the story of salvation, that God would create a beautiful bride, only for her to be sent into the world temporarily given over to Satan but the true restoration is the removal of power from this fallen steward into the hands of Christ, who is better than Eden. So also, the story resonates with the concubine whom the Levite conjoined himself with, the concubine who alienated herself from him but he would go the length to humiliate himself into Bethlehem and return by way of the hill to Shiloh in Ephraim. So the concubine is temporarily given over but is redeemed into the faithful hands of the Bridegroom.
Similarly, Lot’s giving of his two daughters to the Sodomites is a sign of rejection, knowing that his two daughters are worthless for they are the source of incest and the source of the tribes against Israel. Lot has changed much after his salvation by the hands of God through Abraham in Genesis 14; and his reverence for Yahweh is noticeable, which means that his actions are led by the Spirit revealing a truth deeper than merely for us to condemn him for giving his two daughters away.
Therefore, with regards to both stories, they are not stories where we investigate the individual morality of the saint; rather, they are stories displaying a greater truth of the giving over of the church into the hands of Satan so that all is restored in Christ. Dev Menon looks at it in this way:
“God gives good gifts to all men in His provision
then He places a famine on these things so that they don’t satisfy (cf. Hag 1). Then a Ruler is raised up that stores good things in Himself, so that at the time of uttermost famine – all good things are found only in One Person, the true Joseph – Chris; so even in creation itself (of course after the church reveals it), we can say:
Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.
Look around you and see the abundant provision of the Lord showing He is good – yet these things are going to be and have now been stored up in Christ and will be completely removed on the day of Judgment.”
Alternatively the giving up of the apostates into the hand of Satan will leave them condemned in him (Romans 1:24-28, especially note the repeated phrase “gave them up”; c.f. Revelation 20:13).
With this understanding, we can now see why the Levite gave his concubine over to the men of Gibeah. She, unlike the virgin daughter, is the body of the Levite; she is the proud church who is sent into the world by the Priest, attacked from each and every direction. She will ultimately die as a martyr, completely consumed by death just as Christ himself died on the cross for us. What we therefore see which is happening to the concubine is also what we saw in Leviticus 17 on the Day of Atonement – the two goats, one killed on the spot whereas the other being left in the wilderness bearing the sins of Israel. So we see here a graphic representation of the same truth, the body of the Head entirely destroyed just as Christ himself was destroyed for bearing the sins of mankind. He was raped, he was abused all night as he was throughout his trials from the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, and teased on the cross by the Roman officials – He is our Priest and we His concubine in Him, as He took on the duty and the experience of the concubine in His incarnation, taking His blood up the hill to the House of the LORD.
So, upon the rising of the Levite on the new morning, the condemnation shall come in the appropriate and righteous vengeance for the murdered church on the Day of Resurrection; for the murdered body of Christ as Christ himself had received punishment on behalf of the believers (v.29-30). Indeed, the separation of the body of Christ into twelve pieces is akin to the separation of the body of Christ into the 12 apostles, the foundation of the New Testament Church; yet one will be the cause of rebellion, he who is from the tribe of the son of the right hand (Benjamin) but is in fact filled with people who fight with their left. He who is like Judas, masquerading as a son of the right hand, as an apostle of Christ, though he is very much following in the spirit of Satan. This is also picked up by Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke:
“… All the forces they could bring into the field were but 26,000 men, besides 700 men of Gibeah (Jdg_20:15); yet with these they will dare to face 400,000 men of Israel, Jdg_20:17. Thus sinners are infatuated to their own ruin, and provoke him to jealousy who is infinitely stronger than they, 1Co_10:22. But it should seem they depended upon the skill of their men to make up what was wanting in numbers, especially a regiment of slingers, 700 men, who, though left-handed, were so dexterous at slinging stones that they would not be a hair’s breadth beside their mark, Jdg_20:16. But these good marksmen were very much out in their aim when they espoused this bad cause. Benjamin signifies the son of the right hand, yet we find his posterity left-handed.” – Matthew Henry
“ולא יחטא velo yachati, and not sin: και ουκ εξαμαρτανοντες; Sept. Here we have the true import of the term sin; it signifies simply to miss the mark, and is well translated in the New Testament by ἁμαρτανω, from α, negative, and μαρπτω, to hit the mark. Men miss the mark of true happiness in aiming at sensual gratifications; which happiness is to be found only in the possession and enjoyment of the favor of God, from whom their passions continually lead them. He alone hits the mark, and ceases from sin, who attains to God through Christ Jesus.” – Adam Clarke
It is especially ironic given Clarke’s analysis that these left-handed men as ‘not missing the mark’ (i.e. not sinning) – such is the pride of Satan that he perhaps believed by delusion that he can sit on the throne of the Father though he is anything but ‘hitting the mark’.
As the 12 pieces of His body are sent to the coasts of Israel (v.29 re-translation from the Hebrew), so are these men from the corners of Israel brought together as one under the banner of Christ as we shall see in chapter 20. Yet, if they did not avenge the death of the concubine, then blood of her corpse will literally be on their hand (c.f. Ezekiel 3), just as the blood of Christ will be a result of our own murdering of Him. To re-iterate the truth of Matthew 25:31-46, what is done to the concubine is as done to Christ himself, who is her Head.
Judges 20: The Breach of Israel
Jdg 20:1-48 Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah. (2) And the chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 men on foot that drew the sword. (3) (Now the people of Benjamin heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the people of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this evil happen?” (4) And the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. (5) And the leaders of Gibeah rose against me and surrounded the house against me by night. They meant to kill me, and they violated my concubine, and she is dead. (6) So I took hold of my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel, for they have committed abomination and outrage in Israel. (7) Behold, you people of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.” (8) And all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, and none of us will return to his house. (9) But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot, (10) and we will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the people, that when they come they may repay Gibeah of Benjamin, for all the outrage that they have committed in Israel.” (11) So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man.
The key of the opening verses of chapter 20 lies in v.11 – that they are all united as one against the city using the same Hebrew as Genesis 2:24 – they shall be אֶחָד (echad). The second focus lies in the place where they are united as one – they are united at Mizpeh, the watchtower where a heap of stones were piled up by Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31) on Mount Gilead as a witness to the covenant between them; and similarly this is the watch-tower where the Israelites resisted the Ammonites (Judges 10) and where Jephthah met his daughter in Judges 11. It is aptly named for it is a place where there is either impending judgment or salvation, and it is here that the Trinitarian communion of Israel gathered as one man against Benjamin, a difficult feat unless they were united under the One Man Jesus Christ. And thus, it is effectively this One Man who judges Benjamin, by the word of the Levite.
(12) And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What evil is this that has taken place among you? (13) Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. (14) Then the people of Benjamin came together out of the cities to Gibeah to go out to battle against the people of Israel. (15) And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. (16) Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (17) And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered 400,000 men who drew the sword; all these were men of war. (18) The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Judah shall go up first.”
So finally we see the judgment upon the Benjaminites, the people who attempted to both know the Levite as well as murder him (v.5). What is peculiar is that after chapters of silence, the Israelites finally speak to the LORD and inquire of Him in v.18. Note how he says that Judah shall go up first, for Jesus Christ is the first to conquer, He who is from the line of Judah. However, also see that the LORD does not say that Judah will conquer; Judah will merely go up first. In the words of Matthew Henry, “… this honour was done to Judah because our Lord Jesus was to spring from that tribe, who was in all things to have the pre-eminence. The tribe that went up first had the most honourable post, but withal the most dangerous, and probably lost most in the engagement. Who would strive for precedency that sees the peril of it?” Thus, despite the overwhelming majority of Israelites pinned against the Benjaminites, unless the battle is by the hand of the LORD, the Israelites will still lose.
(19) Then the people of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah. (20) And the men of Israel went out to fight against Benjamin, and the men of Israel drew up the battle line against them at Gibeah. (21) The people of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and destroyed on that day 22,000 men of the Israelites. (22) But the people, the men of Israel, took courage, and again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day. (23) And the people of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until the evening. And they inquired of the LORD, “Shall we again draw near to fight against our brothers, the people of Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Go up against them.” (24) So the people of Israel came near against the people of Benjamin the second day. (25) And Benjamin went against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed 18,000 men of the people of Israel. All these were men who drew the sword. (26) Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. (27) And the people of Israel inquired of the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, (28) and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.”
Here, we finally see that the victory at judgment is achieved only through burnt offerings and peace offerings, on the second day of their battle against Gibeah. Their first inquiry of the LORD indicated that Christ shall lead the battle through Judah; their second inquiry of the LORD on the second day indicated that Christ must die for the battle to be won; and so the LORD will achieve this victory on the third day, just as the death of Christ who took on the flesh of the concubine is equally avenged on the third day:
(29) So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah. (30) And the people of Israel went up against the people of Benjamin on the third day and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times. (31) And the people of Benjamin went out against the people and were drawn away from the city. And as at other times they began to strike and kill some of the people in the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, and in the open country, about thirty men of Israel. (32) And the people of Benjamin said, “They are routed before us, as at the first.” But the people of Israel said, “Let us flee and draw them away from the city to the highways.” (33) And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place and set themselves in array at Baal-tamar, and the men of Israel who were in ambush rushed out of their place from Maareh-geba. (34) And there came against Gibeah 10,000 chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was hard, but the Benjaminites did not know that disaster was close upon them. (35) And the LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. (36) So the people of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. The men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin, because they trusted the men in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah. (37) Then the men in ambush hurried and rushed against Gibeah; the men in ambush moved out and struck all the city with the edge of the sword. (38) Now the appointed signal between the men of Israel and the men in the main ambush was that when they made a great cloud of smoke rise up out of the city (39) the men of Israel should turn in battle. Now Benjamin had begun to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel. They said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.” (40) But when the signal began to rise out of the city in a column of smoke, the Benjaminites looked behind them, and behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. (41) Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them.
Thus the defeat of the Benjaminites came from Baal-tamar, aptly named the “Lord of palm trees” (v.33), for the true LORD of palm trees, the true husband of palm trees (Exodus 15:27; Leviticus 23:40; Numbers 24:6; 1 Kings 6:29-35; Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 41:18; Revelation 7:9) is the Christ who judges the physical church who is part of the world outside of Noah’s ark.
However, the true glory of the prophesied Christ in these verses is that the Benjaminites had thought they were victorious. When they violated, abused and martyred the body of Christ, they had not thought of the repercussions. They merely satiated their lustful desires, and arrogantly believed that victory is in their clasp. Yet, whilst our LORD was humiliated and received beatings, which discouraged even those closest to Him and discouraged others to the point of questioning whether there is true victory after all, we finally see the light shine the brightest in the midst of darkness. We truly experience light greater at noon than it is at dawn, which entered not merely in Bethlehem, but could shine fear into the hearts of the depths of Babylon. After the imminent victories of Israel on the third day, we see a turn of the tide. Where it has always been clear that Benjamin is under judgment the day they dedicated themselves to abuse and violate the Levite’s wife, it is also clear that Christ’s humiliation is but temporary. His victory is already gained, and we are victors in His Name.
How much similarity there is therefore between the gospel, which seemed first so tragic and yet so astounding? V.41 sums up the case for all those who mocked Noah; who patronized him into believing that there is no rain to come – and yet, like Satan, all these non-believers will be “dismayed, for they [will see] that disaster [is] close upon them”. This phrase will be especially fitting on the Day of Resurrection, for while Noah sails away in the Ark of Christ, everyone outside will only feel the rain drop heavier and heavier on their shoulders.
(42) Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness, but the battle overtook them. And those who came out of the cities were destroying them in their midst. (43) Surrounding the Benjaminites, they pursued them and trod them down from Nohah as far as opposite Gibeah on the east. (44) Eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of them men of valor. (45) And they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon. Five thousand men of them were cut down in the highways. And they were pursued hard to Gidom, and 2,000 men of them were struck down. (46) So all who fell that day of Benjamin were 25,000 men who drew the sword, all of them men of valor. (47) But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon and remained at the rock of Rimmon four months. (48) And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire.
And this is the nature of the sinner, that instead of turning to Israel for solace, one would rather escape into the direction of the wilderness. What idiocy! As if the death of an entire generation of Israelites in the wilderness did not already teach them of the lack of shelter in the wilderness! Not only do they run aimlessly, but it is made clear by the narrator that they are running to the rock of Rimmon from Nohah – from calmness and tranquility to Rimmon, bearing the same name as a deity of wind, rain and storm worshipped by the Syrians of Damascus, and finally to Giddom, a placing of cutting down.
Revelation 6:15 clarifies this entirely – that these self-proclaimed kings of Gibeah, of Gibeah of Saul, are nothing but false rulers, hiding in clefts of rocks but not hiding in the cleft of the Rock. These false liars can only turn to more lies for comfort for that is what they do best, and they turn instead to Rimmon, another man-made God. In the words of Matthew Henry:
“…the Benjamites, in the beginning of the battle, were confident that the day was their own: They are smitten down before us, v. 32, 39. Sometimes God suffers wicked men to be lifted up in successes and hopes, that their fall may be the sorer. See how short their joy is, and their triumphing but for a moment. Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast, except he has reason to boast in God… Evil was near them and they did not know it, v. 34. But (v. 41) they saw, when it was too late to prevent it, that evil had come upon them. What evils may at any time be near us we cannot tell, but the less they are feared the heavier they fall. Sinners will not be persuaded to see evil near them, but how dreadful will it be when it comes and there is no escaping! 1 Thess. v. 3… Though the men of Israel played their parts so well in this engagement, yet the victory is ascribed to God (v. 35): The Lord smote Benjamin before Israel. The battle was his, and so was the success…”
Although this success seemed to indicate that Israel has restored itself of a true ruler, a true King – Yahweh – the following chapter immediately connotes otherwise, for the final verse of the book of Judges still rings true as a theme of the latter chapters of Judges:
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Judges 21: Spiritual Famine before Recapitulation
1 Now the men of Israel had sworn at Mizpah, No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.
2 And the people came to Bethel and sat there till evening before God, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.
3 And they said, O LORD, the God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel, that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?
This is a question asked also upon the death of Judas. Who can replace him? Who shall be the 12th apostle? It is important for us to see, indeed, that the missing tribe and missing apostle would not inherently affect the unity of Israel, of the church. Yet, the missing tribe and the missing apostle is equivalent to a missing representative head – for the number 12 represents theocracy, represents true Christocracy, then the instituted 12 leading men and tribes should be upheld to represent the eternal government of God in creation.
Such is the propensity of man’s hurriedness that they make such hasty oaths as to not marry any of their daughters to Benjamin as an act of glory to God, for God himself caused a ‘breach’ in the House of Israel (v.15). This will be an important theme throughout the chapter.
And like the book of Acts where the choice of Matthias (Acts 1:23-26) is indicative of the hurriedness in replacing Judas, so this is shown equally in this chapter. Paul is the new 12th apostle, and what an apostle he became – effectively sent to the Gentiles though he still had a yearning for the Jews. Instead, Israel did not inquire of the LORD and looked to restore Benjamin’s inheritance through robbing the virgins of Jabesh-gilead who were placed in Shiloh.
4 And the next day the people rose early and built there an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
5 And 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.
6 And the people of Israel had compassion for Benjamin their brother and said, One tribe is cut off from Israel this day.
7 What 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?
8 And 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.
9 For when the people were mustered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there.
10 So 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.
11 This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.
12 And 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.
It is immediately apparent as to the selfish nature of Israel’s worship – they would rather build another altar besides the brazen altar of the tabernacle, which intimates prayer and worship through Jesus Christ alone in the House of God. Adam Clarke suggests that this is due to the recurring refrain between chapters 17-21: “This affords some evidence that this was not a regular place of worship, else an altar would have been found in the place; and their act was not according to the law, as may be seen in several places of the Pentateuch. But there was neither king nor law among them, and they did whatever appeared right in their own eyes.” Instead, what we find here are hasty oaths – the first one in v.1, and the second one in v.5. v.6 moves on to say that Israel (not, not the LORD) had compassion for Benjamin, despite their first oath which would have effectively cut off the inheritance of Benjamin. V.7 seems to suggest that they are not restoring the inheritance because of God’s leading (for they did not provide offerings by the brazen altar but by the altar of their own choosing), but because of their own desires.
Thus, the extermination of the camp from Jabesh-gilead, again, is not a leading from God but from their oath, some commentators calling this a ‘criminal excess’, others noting that the Israelites now have strayed from God after devoting Benjamin to destruction for they are supporting their own authority, following their own lead, their own theology of worship. The Pharisaic heart began in the garden of Eden, and this treacherous vine has spread to Israel in the time when there was no king; when they would rather, by initiative, follow their own hearts, try to avoid the spirit of the law, of the oath, by conjuring up a plan of destroying the men and married women of Jabesh-gilead, and by stealing the girls of Shiloh to fill the tribe of Benjamin. Is this the way of creating a new foundation for the 12th and youngest tribe? By hasty oaths, misled compassion, murder, thievery? The breach occurred for it was necessarily, and now we understand the extent of Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49:
Gen 49:27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.”
Note that both King Saul and Apostle Saul are from this tribe; the latter having changed his name from that of the faithless king, of the old order – yet what is important is that we note how the book of Judges, chronologically, is placed before the period of the first king Saul. To take Saul out of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:21), rather than David out of Judah, is indeed a prophetic implication that Saul was never meant to be the king after Yahweh’s heart. Saul may be from humble Benjamin, but only because Benjamin was humbled in this inter-tribal war and because God deliberately humbled the tribe by cutting off its inheritance; but David is from humble Bethlehem, because it is virtually unknown and is also a place where Jonathan the Levite and the concubine originally came from.
13 Then the whole congregation sent word to the people of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon and proclaimed peace to them.
14 And 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.
15 And the people had compassion on Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
16 Then 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?
17 And they said, There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe not be blotted out from Israel.
18 Yet we cannot give them wives from our daughters. For the people of Israel had sworn, Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin.
v.15 in particular is revealing of the heart of Israel – the people had compassion on Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel? The word for “because” in Hebrew bears many different meanings, and it could also be aptly changed to when, except that, surely and so forth – given the context. And the context here calls for a direct contention between Yahweh’s intention to deprive Benjamin of its inheritance and Israel’s compassion by repopulating Benjamin as a direct contradiction to the LORD’s destruction in the previous chapter.
19 So 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.
20 And they commanded the people of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in ambush in the vineyards
21 and 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.
22 And 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.
Such is the fallenness of Israel when they are not led by the king, that they would encourage this essential rape of the women of Shiloh, a direct parallel to the act of the sin of Gibeah by raping that poor concubine. Israel effectively restored the fall of Benjamin, and though Benjamin rebuilt the towns and lived in them, their hearts were essentially still not circumcised; the 400 virgins from the tribe essentially corrupted like those who were devoted to destruction.
23 And 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.
24 And 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.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The end of Judges begs the question: surely it would have been wiser to end on chapter 16, at least by the end of the period of the Judges? However, what the narrator aims to do is not to put our faith in the judges; rather, to put our faith in the Judge who will rule forevermore. The death of the judges always lead to years of spiritual famine that persecution would not come from the outside but even from the inside; and to end the book of Judges on famine is to suggest that the following books will cover a restoration, a great restoration, fitting of the famine.
Is this book therefore followed up with the story of Saul? No. Story of David? No. Of Solomon? No – but of Ruth. What a peculiar placing of the books of the Old Testament, that Ruth, this woman from a cursed non-Israelite tribe would be the focus of the next book. Yahweh will use her as the true restoration to come after the period of the judges, for the judge may be like a ruler, these humble men who are anointed with the Spirit; but only the Anointed One can carry the title of the true king and true judge. The foundation for that understanding must come firstly through the joining of the Moabite and the Israelite, of Ruth and Boaz, for us to understand the global nature of the spiritual church which both David and Solomon were merely a typical kings of. It is thus fitting for us to remind ourselves of the end of Joshua chapter 24 – that the land of Gibeah in the hill country of Ephraim was meant to belong to the High Priest Phinehas. The treachery of Gibeah and their subsequent devotion to destruction should have implicated a restoration of the land to the High Priest; but soon Israel fell into false altar worship, fell into religiousness of vow-making, and fell deeper and deeper into Pharisaic religion – and although this is temporarily remedied throughout the period of judges, only through the progeny of Ruth can true healing be achieved.