Saturday, May 17, 2008

How the Benjamites got their wives.

You may remember the peculiar story in Judges 21:20ff of how the men of the tribe of Benjamin once obtained wives by hiding in the bushes at a religious festival, and then jumping out and grabbing themselves each a wife when the girls began to dance. Think "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," and the Roman tale of the Sabine women. Ew. Anyway, it made a list that has circulated blogs and emails of weird Bible ways to get a wife. I remember this story, but I had forgotten the horrid details that brought this about.


In Judges 19, a Levite (man from the priestly family) was traveling with his concubine. (Already... ew!) He stops for the night in Gibeah, a city belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, accepting the hospitality of someone living there.

Well, during the night, some troublemakers come to the house and decide to (last warning. turn back now!) go all Sodom on the guy's guest. (In fact, a lot of this sounds like Genesis 19!) The owner of the house refuses, but the locals won't go away. Finally, the Levite offers them his concubine, and (I did warn you!) they rape her, and she turns up on the doorstep in the morning dead.

The Levite (did I not warn you?) cuts the girl into 12 pieces and sends them around to the 12 territories of Israel, calling them to battle. The Benjamites, confronted with the story, refuse to even apologize, and so the rest of the nation attacks Gibeah, and kills off most of the population of Benjamin. Additionally, they swear not to give their daughters as wives to any of the men of Benjamin.

After the battle, they calm down a bit, and realize what they've done. They've not only killed off many of their fellow Israelites--men and women--but they've also doomed them to near extinction by refusing to help them repopulate their tribe. So, they ask around, and find out that nobody from the city of Jabesh-Gilead came down to join in the fight against Gibeah. Well then, they figure, if they didn't come down to join us, they didn't vow to not give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites! So, (if you haven't heeded the warning so far, it's too late now) they go to Jabesh-Gilead and kill off everyone whose not an eligible young woman. They then take these 400 girls and offer them to the Benjamite survivors as potential brides. 400 is still not enough to cover their losses. Where else can they find good Israelite women for these guys to marry, since all the rest of the nation has already made an oath before God not to let the Benjamites marry any their daughters?

Here is their solution: During a religious festival at Shiloh, (we're in chapter 21, for those trying to follow along at home and got hung up in the battle descriptions of chapter 20) when all the young women will be joining in the folk dances, the Benjamites were invited to come up and kidnap the girls they still needed for wives. See, while they had vowed not to GIVE their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites, they weren't technically GIVING them. They just weren't stopping the guys from TAKING the girls!

In other words, the whole thing was a legal loophole to salve their consciences about breaking their vows to God!

And the story concludes the way it began, with the apt description of this lawless era: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." - Judges 21:25 When the laws aren't enforced (or are reinterpreted in such a way as to have the same effect), and people have no regard for the Law of God, this is the kind of junk that goes on! An apt warning for our world, I'd say.

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