If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
25 March. Judges chapters 19-21
These last three chapters of Judges tell of a very dark day in the history of Israel, when there was no effective government (“there was no King in Israel”) and a very bloody civil war ensues, set off (as wars often are) by one incident. That incident is bad enough – it reads like a repeat of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, with the men of the town (Gibeah of the tribe of Benjamin) demanding to rape a male visitor, and his host, himself a stranger in the town, refusing, offering a woman instead. But there the similarity ends: in Sodom, the angel intervenes and no-one gets raped, but the whole town and three neighbouring ones are destroyed by God for the sinfulness of which those men’s demand was a sign. In Gibeah by contrast, the men accept the offer of a woman, and abuse her to death. Yet no angel intervenes to save her. Instead, her husband cuts up her body and sends the parts round the country as a sign of how evil the Benjaminites have become and a rallying call to war.
At that stage escalation could have been prevented if the men actually guilty of the attack had been sent out to be killed as a direct punishment for their crime. But instead their identity is protected, and all-out war between Benjamin and the other tribes ensues, with a knock-on effect with further towns being attacked to provide wives for the few remaining men of Benjamin after all their own womenfolk have been burned in the sacking of Gibeah. Instead of a few men being punished for their crime, tens of thousands of people are killed on both sides.
What are we to make of this? The only lesson I can see is that it is always better for people to own up to their crimes and sins, and face the consequences, because otherwise innocent people will get hurt instead. That holds true from the infant school, where the whole class is “kept in at playtime” because no-one owned up or was named as responsible for some small damage caused, to the international scene where whole countries end up being devastated as the result of no-one wanting to lose face after one incident. What difference would have been made to recent history if those behind the 9/11 attack had given themselves up, or the compilers of the “dodgy dossier” on Iraq had confessed that their claims were untrue before it came to all-out war?