Reading through the Bible together
This section of Judges from chapters 17-21 ends with the familiar note it began, “in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The Israelites tried to solve the problems of their own making without the kind of spiritual and moral leadership that Moses and Joshua provided. Though the Lord granted the Israelites victory in wary, they failed to see God’s guidance in the aftermath and they pursued a path that was right only in their own eyes.
The previous chapter (20) the Benjamites were defeated by their fellow Israelites whom God had promised victory, but the decision to place a “ban” on any Israelite giving his daughter to a Benjamite as wife and sealed it with an oath. This was entirely their decision, not the Lord’s, and created a problem for the Israelites of finding a way to save what remained of the tribe of Benjamin. The Israelites are now compelled to keep this vow at all costs in order not to bring a curse of themselves (21:18).
Their solution is beyond reason. They now decide to destroy the city and the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead—men, women, and children—because they had a bond between them and the Benjamites so didn’t join in the fight against them. Also they didn’t come to the specially called spiritual feast at Shiloh to offer sacrifices to the Lord. Such ruthless measures and wholesale slaughter is revolting. But among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead they found 400 virgins which they kept alive for wives to the Benjamites. In all of this the Israelites were more concerned about avoiding the consequences of breaking an oath they had made than they were about the wellbeing of their brethren. They actually violated the spirit of the oath without actually breaking it. Their fear of the Lord was entirely self-serving.
Many professed Christians today have a self-serving faith; they do only what which they must do to satisfy the requirements and no more. It’s a half-hearted obedience which degenerates into legalism. Have you found yourself going through the motions lately? Do you obey God because you want to or because you have to? The Lord “desires mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6).
Justo E. Morales
Southern Adventist University