If you think about it, Judges is a misleading title for this book as none of the characters are judges or do any judging. Instead they are warriors and rebels, who spend their time fighting other nations, but the Bible is silent on how (if) they governed or how Israelite society was at the time. That would have been more interesting than endless repetition of the same story. Instead of judgement, with get constant war, the massacre of innocents and brutal rape. The chaos of the book was probably exaggerated to provide legitimacy for the later kings and it contains some of the most horrible stories of the Bible, especially towards women.
I notice a theme in the Bible that the original is pure and the modern is corrupt. Religion is backward looking with a strong tendency to view the past as a golden age and the future as decadent. I have a feeling that the writers of the Bible would love to freeze time and keep us in a pure primitive state. It is constantly repeated how God sends a message but over time people stray from it. The message of the Bible is very depressing, in that it keeps repeating how people fail to live up to God’s standard, how we are not good enough, how we keep doing evil and don’t deserve God. This is the core of the book of Judges, with its message of how the Israelites deserve to be conquered and slaughtered as punishment for their sin.
So chapter 11, begins with yet again (sigh) more evil and the turn of the Philistines to rule. Whoever wrote the Bible had a serious lack of imagination and I don’t know how they haven’t gotten sick of telling the same story again and again. The Book of Judges is the one story told six times without much variance or imagination. This time Jephthah (who happens to be a son of a prostitute) saves the Israelites. He promises that if God grants him victory he will sacrifice the first thing he sees when he returns home. Unfortunately that turns out to be his only daughter. This is one of the most shocking passages of the Bible, as a father has to sacrifice his only daughter who he loves so much. She is given two months to go to the mountain to weep for her virginity (what does that mean?) before he kills her. Is there any crime God hasn’t committed? Could he not have excused Jephthah from the obligation to murder his daughter? (You know, like a loving and forgiving person would?) The poor girl doesn’t even get a name, nor do we know how old she was. Afterwards, Jephthah goes to war with Ephramite and kills everyone who can’t correctly pronounce Shibboleth (42,000).
More evil, so Philistines comes again. So God sends Samson, who actually gets some of back story and some details. Unfortunately, they are very trivial details told in a long and boring way. There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about an angel predicting his birth and warning that he must never cut his hair. One day Samson is walking along and kills a lion with his bare hands (as you do). Later a beehive forms in the corpse of the lion which gives Samson an idea for a riddle. At his wedding he offers a prize of 30 garments to anyone who can guess the riddle, but if they can’t, they must give him 30 garments. No one can guess it so they threaten his wife that they will burn her and her father’s house unless she tells them the answer. When she tells them (for which I can’t blame her) the spirit of the lord comes on Samson, so he kills 30 random men he meets on the street and steals their clothes to give as the prize. This almost sounds like God made him commit this mass murder of random people
After a few days Samson goes to visit his new wife, but is told that her father thought Samson hated her, so he gave her to Samson’s best man. Instead her sister is offered to him (women are passed around and offered like pieces of furniture). For unclear reasons this causes Samson to attack the Philistines by sending 300 foxes with torches tied to their tails through their crops. As revenge the Philistines burn the woman and her father. Samson gets caught and tied up, but the spirit of the lord came on him (as it does), melted the ropes and he killed 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. This made Samson the judge of Israel for 20 years.
Samson loved a woman Delilah who turned out to be a seductress who betrayed him to the Philistines (another common biblical theme is that you cannot trust women). She asks him where his strength comes from and how it can be overcome (not suspicious at all). Samson lies and says if he is tied down by seven fresh bowstrings he loses his strength. So while he sleeps, Delilah does this and calls the Philistines, but Samson bursts free (and presumably killed them). This should have made Samson suspicious especially when Delilah again asks and this time he says new, unused ropes can bind him. Again Delilah does this and again Samson breaks free. Now alarm bells should really be warning at this stage, but Samson seems to be a bit of an idiot, so this time he tells Delilah that if she weaves seven locks of his hair and fasten it with a bun, he will lose his strength. She does this and again the trap fails. Finally Samson tells her that the strength is in his hair and when Delilah shaves his head he is captured.
Strangely, according to the Bible, when his hair was cut, God left him. In fact the Bible seems very muddled on whether his strength came from God or his hair. Surely if he God gave him strength, it shouldn’t matter how long his hair is. It’s a bit bizarre to think that God can only give strength to men with long hair and is powerless to help the bald.
So Samson is caught and his eyes gouged out. The Philistines decide to celebrate and have a feast, so they drag out Samson to mock him. Foolishly, they let his hair grow back (everyone in this story seems pretty thick). Samson uses his strength to pull down two pillars, crashing the roof down on 3,000 people, who must have been guilty of something (the Bible doesn’t say what but we must presume they were).
There is an incredibly long, boring and convoluted story that follows. Seriously it goes nowhere at all; it just drags on for ages. I’m just going to skip right over it.
Chapter 19 has yet another horrifying and cruel story. Once upon a time there was a Levite who had a woman referred to as his concubine or his wife. They came to Gibeah where an old man took them in. In a parallel with the story of Sodom, during the night a crowd of men gathered and demanded the man be sent out so they could rape him. Instead the old man offered his virgin daughter and the concubine. They refused, so the man threw his concubine out to the men who raped her all night. In the morning she collapsed at his door. When he woke up, her master (as the man is called) didn’t look after her or show any concern or affection. Instead he harshly told her to get up and when she didn’t he put her on a donkey. When he got home he took a knife and cut her into twelve pieces and sent them to each tribe of Israel.
People were so horrified at this outrage (the rape, not the cutting of the woman into pieces about no one seemed to have any problem) that an army of 400,000 men is formed against the people of Benjamin who had 26,000. On the first day the army of Benjamin somehow wins and killed 22,000 men. On the second day they win again and kill 18,000 men. On the third day the Israelites set an ambush, defeat them and killed 25,100 men (implying that next to none were killed on the first 2 days). They killed everyone in the city and burnt it.
From that day on the people of Israel swore none of them would marry someone from the tribe of Benjamin. But that left the problem of who would the people of Benjamin marry? So the people of Israel noticed that no one from Jabesh-Gilead had come to the assembly so they sent 12,000 men to attack Jabesh-Gilead, with orders to kill every man, woman and child and only spare virgin girls. They captured 400 young girls and gave them to Benjamin as wives. This is disgusting and undermines the whole point of the story. If the rape of one woman was an outrage that started the war, surely the rape of 400 young girls is even worse! Why is a massacre of an innocent town justified? Why is it done to benefit a tribe that has just been defeated?
But just when the story couldn’t get worse, it turns out there weren’t enough women for the Benjamintes, so the Israelites told Benjamin to go to Shiloh and hide in the bushes and grab whatever women they could. Those women then became their wives. So a war that began due to the rape of one woman, ends with the sanctioned kidnap and rape of hundreds of women. If ever there was a more pointless war.
The Book of Judges ends by summing up the chaos of the time.
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”