So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.
The book closes with the history of a Levite, his concubine, and the near-destruction of an entire tribe.
The Levite is from the hill country of Ephraim and his concubine runs back home to her father in Jerusalem. The Levite goes after her and her father persuades the Levite to stay a little extra time. When they finally do get going, it is late and they end up staying in a town belonging to Benjamites.
The scene turns sadly familiar as the men of the city surround the house where the Levite is staying wanting to sodomize him. The concubine is thrown to the wolves and they do horrible things to her until daybreak, at which time she succumbs to the trauma and dies. The Levite takes her corpse home, cuts it up in twelve pieces, and sends a piece to each of the tribes. The Israelites gather and the story is told to them and the Israelites determine that the city must be punished. The tribe of Benjamin disagrees and a civil war ensures. The net result of this civil war is that only 600 men are left of the entire tribe of Benjamin when the dust settles.
The Israelites figure out how to get wives for those remaining men and allow the tribe to continue, but there is more than one instance of weeping and more than one cause for it.
The book wraps up with the statement that In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:35).
This close of the book serves as a stark reminder of how far human depravity can go if left unchecked. If the preceding account was a reminder of how an individual’s sin can spread, then this is a cautionary tale against defending sin. Had the tribe of Benjamin allowed the guilty to be punished, then there would have been a much shorter account. Levite tells what happened, all of the Israelites go wipe out the guilty parties, everyone goes home grateful that things did not turn out worse. Instead, the entire tribe of Benjamin is nearly wiped out and thousands of Israelites along with them.
It is, perhaps, telling that the first king of Israel comes from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul is the king that the Israelites wanted. Tall, good-looking, strong, impressive in just about every way. He was also an often godless person. He is shown to frequently be ruled by his impulses. In short, he is an example that the tribe of Benjamin had not really learned all that much from what happens here.
Another notable Benjamite shows up in the New Testament. Another Saul, as it happens. This one persecutes followers of Christ, throwing them in prison and delivering them up to be beaten and killed. He thinks that he is doing God’s work, but he, like King Saul before him, is ruled by impulses and what he thinks is right. Until he meets Jesus.
If the unrepentant tribe of Benjamin in Judges and the impenitent King Saul in 1 Samuel are examples of what can happen when sin goes unchecked, then Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) is an example of how expansive the grace of God is. Paul repents and is used mightily by God — everything forgiven and remembered no more. King Saul does not repent, his life ending as he kills himself on the battlefield to avoid capture, and the throne passes to another line. The tribe of Benjamin does not repent and is almost wiped out. The difference is repentance.
And that is how this comes home to me. Repentance is the difference between a life that is squandered and a life into which God can pour His grace. Let me be searched by God and repent of whatever objectionable thing He finds in me. It is that repentance that opens the door to God’s grace and to my life being a blessing instead of a by-word.
Father, thank You for this example of how damaging sin can be. Please search me and reveal wrongs in me. I know some of them and I repent of them now, asking You to uproot them from me and lead me in the paths of righteousness. Please let my life be a testimony of what Your grace can accomplish instead of a cautionary tale about the damage that sin can do.