Saturday, February 20, 2010

Judges 17-21: It's All Downhill from Here

Okay, I've received a few comments from people who read this blog on Facebook, since I'm staying off Facebook for Lent, saying "I thought you were giving up Facebook for Lent but you're posting!"  Facebook people, what you are reading is called an RSS feed and it comes from my site on Blogger,  I set the feed well over a month ago, and since I'm not logging in to Facebook, I'm also not going to turn the feed off.  Satisfied?

Okay, we're finishing up Judges, and I have to warn you: it is really chaotic and there is basically nothing good that happens in the rest of the book.  God kind of disappears from the equation, or at least very clearly disappears from people's consciousness.

It starts with a story about a guy named Michah, who steals a bunch of silver from his mom, who doesn't seem to mind when he tells her, and makes an idol with it.  Then a Levite - these are the ones in charge of keeping the people serving God, remember? - comes along and Micah hires him to be the priest of his little idol thing.

Next, the people of Dan - who, if you remember, got run out of their own territory by the people they failed to evict - are wandering around  looking for a place to stay, and they send out scouts who wander into Micah's house.  They keep going and find an area of land that they want to invade so they can live there, so they send for the rest of their people, who also come to Micah's hosue.  The people get Micah's priest to come with him and also steal all his idols.  Then all Micah's neighbors go out after the Danites to fight and get the stuff back, but the people of Dan are stronger so they just go away.  The Danites invade the city and they win because it's really far away from everything else, so there's nobody to come help the people in the city.  They set up Micah's idol and set up a Manassehite as priest of it, and apparently everything stays like that for the Danites until Israel goes into captivity under Assyria.

That's the first story.

In the second story, there's a Levite who has a concubine, and the concubine runs off to have an affair, but he goes and wins her back, so then they go stay at her dad's house.  The dad convinces them to stay way longer than the Levite intended, and finally they start going home, and travel to Gibeah, which is in Benjamin, to spend the night, because the Levite says they should stay with Israelites, so they get there and it's pretty late.  But since it's so late they can't find anywhere to spend the night, so they sit down in the road until a guy comes and invites them home.  So they go, and then they have a party.  While they're having a party inside, a bunch of people from the city (also called "worthless fellows") by my Bible start pounding on the door wanting the Levite to come up so they can sleep with him.  Does that sound familiar?  The host offers his own daughter and the man's concubine as a compromise, but the people don't listen.  Instead they seize the concubine and raper her all night long until she dies.  The Levite doesn't know she's dead until the next morning when he's ready to go home, and when he sees that she's dead he takes her home, cuts her body into 12 pieces, and sends the pieces to each of the 12 tribes of Israel.  And they freak out.

So then men from all the tribes, including the ones in Gilead, come together at Mizpah to have a conference about what they should do.  They decide to march against Mizpah - or rather, for 1/10 of them to march, because there's a lot of them - so they do, but when they get there and demand for the worthless guys to be delivered up, the rest of the people won't listen.  So Israel goes to war with Benjamin.  For the first few days, Benjamin kicks butt.  But finally Israel sets up an ambush, and they win.

Finally, once all this is over, the rest of Israel starts to feel sorry for Benjamin, because they've all decided that none of them can let their daughters marry Benjamites, and they took a vow and everything.  Now, I don't know what happened to the women in Benjamin, but apparently there aren't any, and the people are afraid that there will only be 11 tribes.  So they go attack a random city and kill everybody except the virgin women, but there aren't enough to go around, so they tell the Benjamites who still don't have wives to go to Shiloh, when they're having some sort of celebration and all the women are dancing, and they basically ambush the woman and carry them off so they can have wives, and so that's what they do and everybody goes home happy.

I have three words to say in response to these two stories: What the heck?

These chapters are where we see the famous line from Judges - "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  And that sentence or part of it is repeated throughout these chapters, and these chapters only.

So what do we learn from these stories and why are they even in the Bible at all?  I think we learn that when we take God out of the picture, we screw everything up.  Also, when there's no accountability, no law, there is nothing to prevent rampant crime and vigilante revenge.  It's a bad situation.

I think we can see that the great idea of theocracy is not working, because that can only work when everybody's heart is set on following God, and that has clearly not been the case at almost any time in Israel's history thus far.  And I don't think the problem is necessarily the system - it's the people.  If you think about it, every form of government could work out really well, if only everybody involved was a good person who had everybody else's best interests in mind.  But since that is almost never the case, governments have this tendency to fail miserably, some worse than others.

I think we see God taking a different approach with Israel: letting them do what they want.  Maybe He's waiting for them to hit rock bottom again, or maybe He's waiting for the right person to come along and judge Israel again.  I guess we'll find out.

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