The final accounts in the book of Judges are not about the people God used to save Israel, but what happens when people do what is right in their own eyes. In Judges 17-18 we learned that doing what is right in our own eyes means that worship will no longer be God-centered, but will be corrupted into fulfilling our desires. We read about people attempting to worship God in every way but the way God had commanded. Worship is not worship unless it is offered the way God says. Further, we learned that when people live according to what is right in their own eyes that freedom is lost. Might makes right and the weak and innocent are devastated. Living God is our freedom. Everyone living for themselves brings the harm and destruction of all people. The final three chapters of Judges continues to show what happens when people live by what is right in their own eyes. As we read this account please think about how we see these truths practiced in our society currently and how this thinking may have infected our own hearts also.
The final narrative opens with a Levite who is unfaithful to his concubine. The Hebrew is uncertain here so translations like the NRSV, NET, and NLT render that she was angry with him and left him. Her unfaithfulness makes more sense of this account because when the husband goes after her, to speak to her kindly, and bring her back, the father of the concubine is very excited to see him. There is a greater likelihood that the father is happy to see the husband because she has done something wrong, rather than the husband had done something wrong. Either way, the husband comes to bring back his concubine. For three days they ate and drank at the father’s house. Every time he is about to leave with her, the father pleads with them to stay one more day. Finally after five days, the husband is determined to go home, but the father delays them so that they do not leave until the afternoon.
With this late start on their journey, they are not going to be able to make it home before evening. With the day nearly over, the servant says to the Levite husband that they should stay here in this city of the Jebusites. He is fearful about staying in a foreign city and wants to go to a city that belongs to the people of Israel. So they make it to the town of Gibeah which is in the borders of the tribe of Benjamin. But something strange happens. When they come into the town, no one took them into to spend the night. This is the hospitality that should have been extended during that time. If a stranger came through town, someone would give them a place to stay for the night. No Benjaminites offer a place to stay or greet them. A man from Ephraim happens to be staying in Gibeah. This old man offers them a place to stay and will care for their needs. But he says something rather ominous. “Only, do not spend the night in the square” (19:20). So he brings them into his home, caring for them and their animals. But then things go badly.
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.” (Judges 19:22 ESV)
The man of the house begs the people of the city not to do this. He even offers his virgin daughter and the concubine that they could violate them. But the people of the city do not listen. They want the man. Israel has become Sodom. The language and the descriptions are similar to the descriptions given concerning Sodom in Genesis 19. Living according to what is right in our own eyes means we become like Sodom.
By the way, it is important to note that the man of the house offering his virgin daughter and the concubine is not noble or virtuous. While hospitality was held in high regard, it was not held in such a regard to allow for throwing the women out to the masses. Yet this is what they do. The man of the house seizes the concubine and made her go out to them. Verse 25 records simply horrific words. They knew her and abused her all night long until the morning. She returns to the house and falls down at the door, presumably dead. Meanwhile, the husband (notably called the master rather than her husband) apparently has been sleeping all night. He going out the front door, sees her lying at the door of the house, and says, “Get up, let us be going.” She has been literally physically abused to death. Then we read about the husband’s incomprehensible callousness toward her. He simply views her as property. When she returned to the house there was no rescue or help available. Neither of the men were waiting for her return. We continue to see that when people do what is right in their own eyes, the strong abuse and destroy the weak.
But we learn something else about what happens when people do what is right in their own eyes: women become property and sex toys for men. This is exactly what we see occurring in our society right now. Women are not honored. Women are not treated with respect. They are treated as objects for selfish purposes. Men are bound in honor, duty, and affection to protect the weaker and more vulnerable. God has made us this way. This is why we intrinsically know that it is honorable to protect a woman, even if it is to the man’s own harm or death. Living by what is right in our own eyes moves away from this so that equality means saving my own life, not yours. People too often today suggest the scriptures are against the equality of men and women. They are right for the scriptures uphold the honor and respect of women so that men would care, protect, and provide for them. Living right in our own eyes destroys this respect and honor, causing men to see women as nothing more than toys for their personal pleasure. Living by what is right in our own eyes means we only care about ourselves and our desires, rather than the needs of others. All that people care about is self-preservation which results in the innocent suffering. The husband only cares about his own safety and does not care about his concubine. The man of the house does not care about his own daughter and is ready to toss her out to these men. The callousness continues as the husband cuts the concubine into 12 pieces and sends to them throughout the land of Israel.
We expect justice for what the men of Gibeah have done. All the people of Israel from Dan to Beersheba gather at Mizpah because of the 12 pieces of this woman being sent throughout the land. They want to know how this evil happened. The husband retells what evil occurred, changing the details a little to make himself look better than he should. Capital punishment was clearly prescribed by the Law of Moses for the men who did this evil (Deuteronomy 13:5; 21:21). Shockingly, the tribe of Benjamin would not turn these evildoers over. Rather than bringing these men to justice, the Benjaminites protect the men of Gibeah. The tribe would rather defend Sodom than practice justice. We see this in our society today. Rather than seeking justice no matter who it is, family protects family and culture protects culture. It is despicable. Yet this is what happens when people live by what is right in their own eyes. All that we see in our nation about justice should have nothing to do with culture and race but with justice. It must not matter to us what the color of a person’s skin is, there should be justice for all people. Living by what is right in our own eyes means we will protect the guilty simply because we can identify with them. This is sinful and wrong.
Justice must be served and the tribe of Benjamin is standing in the way of justice. The people of Israel inquire of the Lord for who will go up and fight against the people of Benjamin. This is the same inquiry in Judges 1:1 when Judah was selected to go up and fight for Israel against the Canaanites. This time, rather than fighting God’s enemies, they are fighting God’s people. After a couple unsuccessful attacks, the Lord defeats Benjamin (20:35). Sadly, the people of Israel attack Benjamin with greater ferocity that they did against the Canaanites when God was with them and instructed them to drive them out of the land. But the people of Israel do not stop. Justice turns to genocide. Gibeah is to be the target, yet they go through all the towns of Benjamin, destroying humans, animals, and everything else they found (20:48). Not just the men of Gibeah and not just the men of Benjamin are killed. All humans and animals in the tribe are killed.
As we move to chapter 21 we see that another rash vow has been made. They blame God for the massacre of the tribe of Benjamin but had sworn that they would not give their daughters to the men of Benjamin as punishment. Therefore, the tribe of Benjamin is going to be extinguished in time. Let us note again what happens when we live by what is right in our own eyes. When people live by what is right in their own eyes, they blame God and put him as wrong rather than engage in self-reflection and noting their own failure and sinfulness.
So now the people of Israel do not know what to do. Now they have compassion on the tribe of Benjamin that they have annihilated. But they have made a vow not to give their daughters to the tribe. So how can the tribe of Benjamin be restored? The people do not consult the Lord. Instead, they come up with their own plan. They determine that the people of Jabesh-Gilead did not come to the assembly to bring justice against Gibeah. So they kill everyone of the inhabitants except the virgins. This leaves 400 virgin women to give to the men of Benjamin. But there are 600 men of Benjamin left. So we need 200 more women. Their solution is to tell these men of Benjamin to ambush the daughters of Shiloh when they come out for the yearly feast. This way the people can keep their vow of not giving their daughters to the men of Benjamin, because the men forcibly took them. Notice the concern is not that these girls have been abducted. The concern is that they keep their vow. Justice is completely perverted. These events are so sick to God that it would still be remembered about 500 years later.
They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. (Hosea 9:9 ESV)
Israel has become its own worst enemy. Living by what is right in our own eyes means that justice becomes warped and depraved. Think about how far we have fallen in the sinfulness of this book. Women, who at the beginning of the book, inspired great acts and played key roles in the deliverance of the nation are now raped, kidnapped, and slaughtered by their own people. In Judges 5:30 we saw that Sisera and his army was raping the women of Israel. Now the people of Israel are just like the nations around them. Therefore, the book ends with the words: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” We need a king who will rule in righteousness and show us how to live. We need a king who will deliver us from our wicked ways. We must adopt God’s standards of right and wrong or this will be our destiny as a nation. God’s ways set us free to enjoy life, not be destroyed in this life.