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We saw that in the war against Benjamin, the Israelite nation was overtaken by a catastrophe of the first magnitude. The number slain and wounded, both Benjamites and Israelites, reached the staggering sum of 65,130, and this number does not include the slain women, children, and old men of the tribe of Benjamin. As was pointed out, it was in that period concerning which it was said that the people served Jehovah all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders that saw the great works, which Jehovah did for Israel. It was in that period of covenant fidelity that the nation was scourged by that catastrophic war with Benjamin. Why should the hand of God have rested so heavily upon the nation in such a period? As was said, the question is pertinent in view of the fact that, according to God’s promise to Israel, national well-being and covenant fidelity had to go hand in hand. We found that the only explanation of this is that, though the people of Israel were still serving the Lord and were not prostrating themselves before the shrines of idols, their hearts were not right with God. Several examples were given of this lack of true zeal and love for the cause of God. It became plain that the nation deserved that stroke, for it was carnal. This also accounts for it that before taking action against Benjamin, the men of Israel neglected to offer the required burnt and peace offerings to thereby confess that they, too, were undone sinners as ill-deserving as their brethren—the Benjamites—and thus spared solely for the sake of the blood of their sacrifice. But they had no need of the atonement, for they were righteous in their own sight. Therefore the battle first was turned against them so that 40,000 of their number were destroyed before the Lord gave Benjamin into their hands.

Following this history to the end, we come upon still more evidence that the men of Israel were carnal and that the amazing zeal with which they prosecuted that war against Benjamin rose largely from sinful flesh. Firstly, the sword was not returned to its scabbard until the whole tribe was nearly exterminated. The fleeing Benjamites were pursued, overtaken, and killed and only six hundred of their number were able to save themselves by hiding in the rock Rimmon. Benjamin’s cities were burned and their inhabitants —men and beasts—put to the sword. Though the law demanded the taking of these extreme measure, though Benjamin deserved this stroke, the men of Israel might have tempered their zeal with mercy. The Lord Himself had set them several examples in the ages of the past. That the nation still existed was due solely to the mercy of the Lord. For over and over it had made itself worthy of complete extermination through its spiritual whoredoms and rebellions against the Lord. And even now, as was shown, the men of Israel were just as worthy of the severe punishment that was inflicted upon the brother tribe. True, they had brought the burnt and peace offerings and thereby bewailed their sins before God and sought His forgiveness but only after 40,000 of their number had been destroyed. This should have disposed them to consider that there was also forgiveness for Benjamin in the way of repentance in that Christ was among them. That Benjamin, too, now that it had been defeated on the field of battle, might have turned his thoughts to God,. and if so could be spared as well as they had been spared, seemed not to occur to them. And so the carnage continued. The sacred narrator frowns upon their doing, for this whole terrible history he encloses between the statement as twice made, “And in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

When it was all over, the men of Israel stood aghast at their own doing. But they seemed to stand firm in the conviction that this was precisely what the Lord had required, namely that they obliterate the whole tribe of Benjamin, and not that they forbear after having inflicted punishment upon the tribe on the field of battle. What the Lord had said to them in reply to their question, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother or shall I cease,”—What the Lord had said in reply to this is, “Go up for tomorrow I will deliver them into thy hand.” Certainly Benjamin must be punished, and therefore he was given in Israel’s hand. But it was still an open question just how far the men of Israel must go in chastising the brother tribe. The tribe was exterminated, or nearly so. Is that what the Lord had commanded? It does not necessarily follow from His reply. It must be held against the men of Israel that, before proceeding to that extreme measure, they failed to inquire of the Lord. Also this failure indicates a wrong disposition on their part. And now that their blind zeal had spent itself, they bewail what had taken place as a national calamity, a visitation of God. And that it was—a punishment inflicted on the whole nation through their own blind zeal. So they went to Bethel and abode there till evening before God, and lifted up their voices and wept sore; and said, “O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel?” The question was superfluous. They could know why, discover the reasons, if only they would face the truth about themselves. Their hearts were not right with God as was evidenced, for one thing, by their unwillingness to bring to conclusion the war with the remnants of the Canaanites. So their question remained unanswered. The Lord did not reply, and they, conscious of their national sins, rose early and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And they also repented for Benjamin their brother. They said, “There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.” Also this lamentation of the men of Israel shows that exceedingly few of the brother tribe had escaped the carnage. The consideration of the loss of this tribe caused them deep grief. They repented, suffered a change of heart and mind. It means that they wished they hadn’t gone to that extreme, and decried the zeal that had driven them. And so they set their minds hard at work devising ways and means for rehabilitating the tribe. For they knew that they had not acted under the necessity of a divine command but rather under the impulse of an indignation that was anything but righteous. Certainly, it could not be the will of God that a tribe in Israel be blotted out. But in their blind zeal they had made it very difficult for themselves to do anything at all for Benjamin. First, they were deterred by their rash vow. In Mizpeh they had sworn not to give any of their daughters to the escaped remnant—the 600 refugees in hiding in the rock of Rimmon. Instead of repenting of this oath, which they should have done, they resolved to keep it, yet actually broke it through circumventing it in the following way. In their zeal they had made still another great oath. They also had sworn that whatever community should not come up to Mizpah to the Lord to fight against Benjamin, should surely be put to death. In their predicament, their minds suddenly reverted to this oath. The keeping of it was the way out of their difficulty. So they wanted to know now whether there was in Israel such a recalcitrant community. They numbered the people and, behold there was none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead there. That was the solution to their problem. So they sent thither twelve thousand men of the most valiant with the command, “Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children. And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.” It was not necessary for them to add that the virgins should be spared, that there might be wives for the six hundred refugee Benjamites in hiding in the cave of Rimmin. This was well understood. They refrained from making mention of this because doubtless none of them wanted to admit either to themselves or to one another the true purpose of this expedition, which was not to inflict punishment upon a sinful community in Israel that God might be feared but to obtain wives for the six hundred Benjamintes to prevent the loss of a tribe. They needed that tribe for military defense. The narrative does not state that the command that the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead be destroyed was carried out. For that was not the real purpose of the mission. But the narrative does assert that “they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male; these they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.” Then they sent messengers to proclaim peace to the six hundred Benjamites in hiding. And they came forth and received for wives them “which had been saved alive of the women of Jabesh-Gilead.” The implication of this statement is, that the rest were destroyed. There is a strange inconsistency that is here encountered. If the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead had made themselves worthy of death, how could the lives of these virgins be spared; and how could they spare them without violating the oath?

But now it was discovered that there were not enough wives to go around. “Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?” Also from this statement must be deduced that the slaughter among the non-combatant Benjamites had been truly appalling. All the women had been destroyed out of Benjamin. That those of the six hundred refugee Benjamites who were still without wives might be supplied, the elders in Israel resorted to a most lawless expedient, and to an amazingly sophistical reasoning, thinking that by such, means they could supply the wives that were still lacking without violating their oath. There was a periodically reoccurring feast at Shiloh at which the maidens assembled from the surrounding regions and executed dances at this place. The Benjamites were commanded to lie in wait in the vineyards and catch him every man his wife of these maidens and return with his prize to the land of Benjamin. The exact description of the situation of Shiloh serves to show that it was peculiarly adopted’ for the execution of the advice given to the Benjamites. Vinehills enclosed the dancing place. There they were to wait, concealed in the thickets, until the maidens appeared. But the Benjamites must have recoiled from such a tactic. They feared that the ill-will of fathers and brothers would be engendered by such an exploit. The elders quiet their fear, and say, “And it shall be when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to contend, that we will say unto them, Be favorable unto them for our sakes: because we took not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.” This verse has experienced several interpretations. But the matter is clear. The thought conveyed is doubtless this: Their fathers and brothers will come unto us to contend—to us men of Israel. For it will be evident that we are responsible in that, without our permission, you, Benjamites, would not have dared to engage in such lawlessness. Hence, they will reproach us and their great grievance will be that we brought them under the curse of having violated their oath not to give of their daughters to Benjamin. Then shall we say unto them (the fathers and brothers): Be gracious unto the Benjamites for our sakes. We did not take thy daughters in war, that is, by violence. We purposely refrained from this as otherwise we would have involved ourselves in the curse of a broken oath. But these Benjamites had to be provided with wives. So we allowed them to seize your daughters. But no curse can come upon you, for you did not give your daughters to them.

This, doubtless, is the thought conveyed. So, by such means the men of Israel thought to gain their ends without violating their oath. They seemed not to understand that in spirit the oath was violated indeed. The children of Benjamin did as they had been advised, and “they went out from thence every man to his inheritance”. For the times were lawless. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes. For there was no king in Israel. With this notice, the sacred writer closes his history.