“Stealing Wives”

Judges 21:1-25

Today, we come to the end of the book of Judges, its been thrilling so far.

On from where we stopped yesterday, the children of Israel returned to Mizpeh and were very sad about the war with the Benjaminites, considering that a whole tribe was being cut off from Israel. Though some Benjaminites escaped during the defeat to Israel, there was no way they could continue as a tribe since Israel had killed all their women, and each man had also sworn never to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjaminites, whoever did so would be cursed.

After crying unto the Lord, the first thing Israel did was to see whosoever was not gathered at the meeting to punish such. They found that no one came from Jabeshgilead, so valiant men were sent there to destroy the men and women who were no longer virgins. They went and found four hundred virgings, which they captured to be given to the Benjaminites.

This was however not enough, so as a resolution, it was decided that during the feast of the Lord in Shiloh, which happens yearly, the Benjaminites could hide in the vineyards, and capture of the young daughters of Shiloh who come to dance in the annual dance, and go away with them as their wives. In this scenario, the father would not be cursed as his daughter was ‘stolen’ and not really given out in marriage to the Benjaminites.

So, the Benjaminites did this, took out of the daughters of Shiloh who came to dance annually, and returned with them as wives, and by this were able to rebuild their tribe and cities. God is a God of restoration and reconciliation, he loves his people to dwell together in unity.

As such we come to the end of the book of Judges, an era when brave men and women rose up to deliver Israel, an era when people did as they deemed fit. However through it all we have learnt a lot for all these things were written to teach us and guide us, so that we do not fall into the errors those of old fell into.

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Israel at war with the tribe of Benjamin

 

Judges 20:1-48

After the events of yesterday, all of Israel from Dan to Beersheba gathered to listen to what the husband of the concubine who cut her body and sent the cut parts to them had to say. The man narrated the evil the men of Benjamin did to him and his concubine in Gibeah. All the people unanimously agreed that this was an evil in Israel and had to be punished.

The other tribes then first requested Benjamin to hand over the sons of Belial who did the evil thing, but the tribe of Benjamin refused, therefore both Israel and the Benjaminites prepared to go to war. Benjamin had very skilful men, some who could sling a stone at a hair breadth with the left hand and not miss. So, Israel asked God who should go first to face the Benjaminites, and Judah was chosen.

However, surprisingly though Benjamin was outnumbered, they defeated Israel in battle the first time. Israel went back and asked God if they should go again a second time, they went and were defeated again. After the second defeat, all of Israel went back and cried unto the Lord, they fasted all day till evening, and sought the Lord a third time through Phinehas, grandson of Aaron. They then set out a third time, and using a similar strategy to that used by Joshua when Israel fought Ai (Joshua 8), they defeated the Benjaminites and the city of Gibeah.

The persistence of Israel paid off as they continued to trust God in the face of defeats, the evil committed by the men of Benjamin was finally avenged.

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The Levite and his Concubine

Judges 19:1-30


In Israel’s era of lawlessness, when everyone did as they liked, this is probably the most wicked and saddest event. A Levite went to take his concubine from her father’s house in Bethlehemjudah in a reconciliatory move. Though everything went well while he was there, with merriment and celebrations, things took the worst turn when he eventually decided to leave with his concubine.

It was as though everything worked together against this Levite. His departure was consistently delayed by his father in law, he had the option of staying in Jebus, but he did not, he got to Gibeah and couldn’t find a lodging until an old man kindly allowed him into his house.

However in the night, some men of the Benjaminites came banging on the door and asked the old man to bring out this man so that they might have sex with him. The old man pleaded with them and even went as far as to offer them his own daughter who was a virgin and the man’s concubine to them, but they declined.

Eventually, the Levite brought forth his concubine to them and they raped her till morning. When the Levite got up to go in the morning, the woman was dead hanging to the door handle. The Levite too her on his ass, got back home and cut her into twelve pieces. He then sent the pieces through the coasts of Israel.

It was recorded that since Israel left Egypt no worse evil worse than this had been seen. It was sodomy, a reminder of what the men of Sodom tried to do with Lot when he entertained the angels as guests (Gen 19:1-12). The evil of this sodomy is highlighted in the fact that in both cases, the hosts involved preferred a rape on their own ‘women’ (maiden, daughter) than allowing the men to have sex with their male guests. The Levite was helpless in protecting his concubine, but now looked like he would be sending a message around the whole land and avenging her death.

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A Time of Ignorance

Judges 17:1-13

Another story began today as we read of Micah, a man from Epraim. Micah had stolen shekels of silver from his mother but returned them when she cursed about them. On returning the silver, Micah’s mother made a graven image and a molten image of them and put them in Micah’s house.

Micah then had ‘gods’ in his house, made an ephod and teraphim, dedicated one of his sons to be his priest. This was quickly explained in the passage as we read there were no kings and everyonw did what was right in his own eyes.

Later on, a young Levite from Bethlehemjudah who was journeying to find a place came to Micah’s house. Micah offered the Levite the position of a priest in his house, which he accepted. By this, Micah said unto himself, the Lord will do me good seeing I have a Levite as priest.

This is an era of delusion, ignorance and superstition as noted by many commentators. It is clear that neither Micah nor his mother, nor the Levite knew the true God of their fathers nor the way they should worship him. In truth, everyman did as it seemed right to him.

Where does all these lead? We will see as we continue the study.

Some verses to remember

Vs 6:  In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

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Samson – The final chapter.

 

Judges 16:1-31

We continue the unique story of Samson today. This ‘annointed’ judge went to Gaza and went in unto an harlot. The Gazites heard this and waited at the gates to kill him in the morning. Samson however woke in the mid of the night and took the doors of the gate of the city and put them on his shoulder.

After this escape, he loved another woman in Sorek by the name, Delilah. It was through Delilah that the chiefs of the Philistines sought to unravel the mystery of the strength of Samson. When asked about the secret of his strength, Samson initially lied to Delilah three times, but he gradually was getting closer to revealing the secret. This he eventually did after she wearied him to death with her persuasion.

Samson revealed a secret which had abounded from before his birth when the angel appeared to his parents and told them he would be a Nazarite. So she called to have a man cut his hair, and his strength departed. The mighty became weak at the foot of this treacherous woman. He thought he would arise as usual against the Philistines but he knew not that the Lord, the real source of his strength has departed from him. Samson was thus captured by the Philistines, his eyes were plucked out, and he was put in prison.

Samson’s hair however began to grow again. When the Philistines had a feast for their god Dagon, celebrating the capture of the destroyer of their nation, they decided to bring him out to mock him. The buiding had many of the Lords of the Philistines in it, and more than three thousand people on top. Samson asked for strength from the Lord, and as he held the pillars of the building, pull them off, crashing down the building and killing everyone in it along with himself.

Thus Samson killed more at his death than during his life. The Lord helped him to achieve more at death than he tried to achieve by himself when he was alive.

Some verses to remember

Vs 20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.

Vs 28- 30: And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

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Samson and the Philistines

Judges 15:1-20

Continuing from yesterday’s events, Samson returned later to visit his abandoned wife with a gift. His father in-law would however not allow him in, he told him he though he had deserted her and giver her to his companion, he advised Samson to marry her younger sister. Samson was very angry with this development and the proposition, he went ahead to set fire on the fields of the Philistines using foxes tied together at the tails.

When the Philistines saw this and discovered that Samson’s action was due to the betrayal of his wife’s family, they went and burnt the girl and her father. This action further infuriated Samson and he smote the Philistines with a great slaughter.

The Philistines later gathered in Judah, and when the men of Judah asked why, they replied it was to do to Samson as he did to them. The men of Judah then went and tied up Samson and delivered him to the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord however came upon Samson, he easily tore the rope he was bound with, and picking up an ass jawbone, slew a thousand men of the Philistines. Samson had victory this day by the power of God, who also provided him with water when he was very thirsty after the victory.

Samson continued to judge Israel for twenty years during the time of the Philistines.

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Samson Begins!

 

Judges 14:1-20

We begin to read about the life and exploits of Samson, Manoah’s promised son. The first thing we learnt was that he went to Timnath and saw a Philistine woman he desired as wive. Despite his parent’s counsel that he could marry an Israelite instead of the uncircumcised Philistines, Samson insisted he wanted the Philistine. It was however God who was at work seeking an occasion against the Philistines who had dominated Israel.

While he and his parents went down to Timnath, Samson met a lion that roared at him. The Spirit of God came upon Samson and he tore the lion easily, but his parents did not know about this. After speaking with the Philistine woman, Samson was pleased to have her. He later returned to take her, and while on the way saw that the carcase of the lion he killed the previous time was filled with bees and honey. Now a Nazirite should normally not touch a dead body, Samson however took honey from this dead body and ate it, and also gave his parents without telling them where it was from.

Samson then took his wife and had a feast as the custom was for seven days. During the feast he gave a riddle and made a bet with the men in the feast. The stake was thirty sheets and thirty change of garments if they got the answer, if not, they would give him the same.

The men did not know the answer, so by the seventh day, they sought help through Samson’s wife, threatening to burn her if she did not help them get the answer. The woman then tricked Samson into giving her the answer by crying all through the seven days of the feast. She told the men the answer, and of course they won the bet.

Samson did know they got the answer from his wife. He went to Ashkelon by the Spirit of God, slew thirty men there and took their spoil to pay the men who won the bet. He then left and abandoned his wife, who was given to his friend.

This story seems so mixed up. A man with the Spirit of God, married to a gentile, making bets, losing, killing others to pay his debt. However, through it all, we learnt God was at work. In this life too, nany things that seem weird and beyond our understanding are still under God’s control. Do we trust him.

Some verses to remember

Vs 4: But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

Vs 19: And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house.

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The Promise of Samson

Judges 13:1-25

Israel regressed back into their sinful habit, and they were handed over to the Philistines who oppressed them for forty years. In order to deliver them again, the angel of the Lord paid a visit to Dan and met with Manoah’s wife, who had been barren up till this time. The angel told her she would have a son who would deliver Israel, he then gave instructions about how the son should be dedicated to the Lord even from the womb, for he would deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Manoah’s wife was to ensure she did not take any wine or strong drink, eat any unclean meat, and must not allow razor to touch the child’s hair, as he would be a Nazirite to the Lord from the womb. Then she came and told her husband what she had been told, and also told him the man refused to tell her his name or where he came from.

Manoah the asked the Lord to send the man to them again so that they could receive more instructions on how the promised son should be brought up. The Lord answered this request as the angel appeared unto the woman again a second time. This time around she ran to call her husband and both of the listened to the instructions on how she should handle herself while pregnant with the boy.

Manoah then asked the angel to stay for meal, to which he replied he would not have the meal, but the couple could offer a burnt offering unto the Lord. While the offering was made the angel went up in the offering smoke. On realizing he was an angel of the Lord Manoah was afraid and thought he and his wife would die for they had seen the Lord. His wife however thought otherwise, reassuring him that the Lord would not have received the offering nor revealed all he did if he wanted them dead.

Manaoh’s wife eventually became pregnant and delivered the son as God promised them. The son was named Samson. The child grew and God blessed him, and the Spirit of God began to move him. We will continue with the exploits this promised child had in Israel as a judge tommorow.

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Shiboleth or Siboleth?

Judges 12:1-15

In today’s passage, we saw the Ephraimites confront Jephtah the Gileadite questioning why he did not ask them to war when he fought the Ammonites, they threatened to burn him with his house. This bears some similarities with the same thing the Ephraimites did when Gideon went to war without them. At that time Gideon resolved the issue peacefully, however this time around the confrontation had a different outcome.

Jephtah was angry with the Ephraimites for he indeed asked for their help but they refused, and he had to go to battle by himself and his men. He then gathered the Gileadites and fought the Ephraimites. Gilead had the upper hand and took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites. When the Ephraimites who escaped tried to go over the Jordan, they were asked are you an Ephraimte? With a ‘no’ as an answer, the individual would be tested by being asked to pronounce the word “Shiboleth”. Ephraimites were unable to say this word properly, calling it “Siboleth”. Once that test was failed, the Ephraimite would be killed, and up to forty two thousand of them fell.

Jephtah then died after judging Israel for six years. After him was Ibzan from Bethlehem who judged for seven years. After Ibzan was Elon, who judged for ten years, and after Elon was Abdon who also judged Israel for eight years. Not much was said about the three judges than about the number of their sons, daughters and nephews.

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The Vow- Jephtah and his daughter.

Judges 11:1-40

From yesterday, we learnt of  the preparation of the children of Israel (through the tribe of Gilead) for war against the Ammonites, and their requirement for a leader. Today begins with an introduction to Jephtah, who was declared as a son of a harlot and hated by his brothers. Jephtah was actually sent off so as not to partake in their father’s inheritance.

Jephtah was however described as a man of valour. He was able to gather ‘vain men’, and was strong enough to be considered as a captain for the battle Gilead was to face. The same people that rejected him came back to make him their captain.

Jephtah first approached the situation trying to resolve the issue peacefully with the king of the Ammonites, providing historical evidence that the Israelites were rightful owners of the land the Ammonite king was fighting them over. However, the Ammonite king did not consider Jephtah’s letters and explanations and went to war with Gilead all the same.

The most interesting part of the story came when just before Jephtah went to war, he made a vow that when the Lord gives him victory, whatsoever comes out of his door first on his return would be offered unto the Lord as a burnt offering. Indeed Jephtah went to war and was victorious, however on returning the first person to meet him was his own daughter.

Here is the big question: Did Jephtah offer his daughter as a burnt offering? The passage told us he rented his clothes, and that was a sign of sadness. His daughter also asked for some time to go up the mountain and bewail her virginity with her friends for two months. After this she returned and her father fulfilled his vow. We later learnt that there was a yearly four day lament by the daughters of Israel for Jephtah’s daughter.

Where do all these leave us?

A lot of historian and very notable bible scholars believe that Jephtah did not burn his daughter, but offered her unto the Lord’s service as a virgin for the rest of her life. The argument was that the Lord was against human sacrifice as seen in his warning about the practices of the pagans of the land he gave Israel (Deut 12:31). It was also argued he did not allow Abraham to offer Isaac, and he allowed for the redemption of first-borns (Lev 27:4).

I will however argue that it is not easy to jump into conclusions on either premise i.e. that the daughter was offered as a burnt offering or just in service to the Lord. It would be difficult to insinuate more than exactly what was said in a scripture passage when we give it interpretation. The arguments look sound, but let us remember this was a period when Israel was strongly influenced by the people they lived with, and human sacrifice might have just been one of the possible influence. Also, God himself offered up his own Son, and countless disciples willingly offered to die for the gospel’s sake. In addition, nothing was mentioned of the life of Jephtah’s daughter as a ‘nun’ and neither was the word temple or service mentioned at all in the whole passage.

So, for me, at best, I would leave this argument as a hard subject in the book of Judges. Clearly there was an offering, there was a feeling of sadness, and something was given up to redeem Jephtah’s vow. His daughter’s life never remained the same again, whether she died or became a nun.

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