Christian Churches of God
When Israel had no King
(Edition 1.0 20060613-20060613)
When Israel had no king the people did what they thought was right in their own eyes. They soon forgot their covenant with God and all that they had promised to do. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 71-74 of The Bible Story Volume III by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
When Israel had no King
In the period when their leaders were in and out of power in various parts of Canaan, Israel was never quite right with God. After Joshua's death the people went so far into idolatry that God gave them no leaders or deliverers for many years. Without leadership or punishment, people degenerated to the point where each person lived as he thought best (Jdg. 17:6), a condition which led to all kinds of trouble. God had commanded the Israelites for their own good not to do what they thought best, but to obey Him instead (Deut. 12:8). However, the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed, but to their sorrow in the end.
For example, to go back to an era before the first judge appeared on the scene, there was a man by the name of Micah, in the tribe of Ephraim, who had stolen a sizable sum of silver from his elderly mother. She was so upset when she found the money missing that she pronounced a curse on the thief, whoever he was.
Micah heard his mother utter the curse and he was afraid that some evil thing would happen to him. So he confessed the theft to his mother, and gave the eleven hundred shekels back to her.
The mother said, “The Lord bless you my son! I solemnly dedicate my silver to the Lord for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you” (Jdg. 17:1-3).
Their religion had degenerated to the level of man-made idolatry. So she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith (a maker of idols), who made them into the image of the idol. And they were put in Micah’s house. Micah had a shrine and he made an epod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest (vv. 4-6). This was another wrong thing to do because only those of the family of Aaron were to be priests in Israel (Ex. 28:1-5; Lev. 8:35-36; Num. 3:10; Deut. 21:5). No one can appoint himself to God's ministry (Num. 16; Num. 17; Heb. 5:4).
What Micah and his mother were attempting to do, in their superstitious zeal, was to set up their own temple of worship, patterned slightly after what they had heard or supposed it was like at the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The further they went into idolatry, the more religious they felt. The religions of the surrounding pagan nations had been so mixed in with God's Laws over the years that very few Israelites could remember what God expected of them.
It was somewhat as it is today with so many church denominations that try to decide for themselves how to worship God. Most of them teach and promote ancient pagan beliefs taken from hearsay and tradition, as in Micah's case, mixing them with a few true Christian principles – something the Bible repeatedly states is wrong in God's sight (Deut. 12:29-30; 2Kgs. 17:15).
Micah and his mother had no Bible to instruct them and made little or no effort to learn God's Laws on the Sabbaths and Holy Days of assembly, as they should have done (Deut. 6:1-12; 31:9-13; Acts 15:21; Neh. 8:1-3). Otherwise, they probably would have done things much differently. As it was, Micah in his paganised way felt that he was doing his part to revive respect for God in his part of Israel, just as people in false churches do today. He wasn't aware of how wrong he was.
One day a young Levite from Bethlehem looking for a place to stay stopped at Micah's house in the hill country of Ephraim.
Micah said, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.”
So the Levite agreed and he soon became like one of Micah’s sons.
And Micah said, “Now I know the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest” (Jdg. 17:7-13).
Had he known God's Laws, Micah would have realised that God had chosen the Levites for a special purpose. In the days of Moses, God chose out of the tribe of Levi the family of Aaron to be His priests (Ex. 28:1, 40-43). The other Levites were to do the physical work of caring for the Tabernacle (Num. 1:47-54). They were all to be teachers.
The Levite should have been terribly shocked to find such apostasy in Israel. But he wasn't. In fact, he was wandering about because he had been thrust from his office for his sins.
The stranger realised that this offer was more profitable and more to his liking than what he had been doing. Since most Israelites were failing to pay God His tithe, many Levites had no income. They had apparently failed to teach the people about tithing (Jdg. 17:9-10).
Micah was anxious to be considered a very religious man, and he believed that the combination of images, priest and God would surely bring him material wealth. Many people today put the same superstitious confidence in statues, beads and rituals in church services, thinking they are serving God.
At this time many of the families of the tribe of Dan were discouraged because most of their share of Canaan was still held by the powerful Amorites (Jdg. 1:34-35; 18:1). The mountainous area around Zorah and Eshtaol, which was all they had been able to conquer, did not give them enough land. They were unhappy because their enemies hemmed in their small area so solidly. In the broad valley below them, the many Amorite chariots had been able to hurl back every Danite attack.
The Danites didn't trust God to fight their battles as He had promised (Deut. 7:1-2). Out of fear they decided to go somewhere else and take land from some weak people.
In an effort to learn more about territory in distant areas, Danite leaders sent five well-trained scouts from their towns of Zorah and Eshtaol. It was an expedition somewhat like the one sent many years before into Canaan by Moses. They were in search of land that would be easier to conquer.
On their way they came to the Mt. Ephraim region and by chance arrived at Micah's home where they were invited to spend the night (Jdg. 18:2).
When they heard the voice of the young Levite whom they already knew, they went in and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place?” The Levite told them how he had come into such an office. These Danites and their whole tribe had strayed far from God. They probably didn't realise the seriousness of the Levite’s sins. When the Danites discovered that they were at a place where divination was used, they wanted the priest to ask God whether their journey would be successful.
This is a sad example of how far the Israelites had strayed from God's Law. They should have remembered that God commanded them to go to only the High Priest to inquire as to whether or not they should go to battle (Num. 27:21).
The priest told them that they would be safe in their journey, and that they had God’s approval (Jdg.18:3-6).
The five scouts were greatly pleased by this report and left. Then they came to Laish, where they saw that the people were prosperous and seemingly were not fearful of raids or attacks by neighbouring nations. The inhabitants had little contact with the outside world. They carelessly enjoyed their prosperity without maintaining an adequate defence system.
When the scouts saw how unprotected it was, they were doubly certain that Micah's priest was indeed a sound oracle of God. This part of the land, they reasoned, was surely meant for at least some of the Danites.
When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol their brothers asked them, “How did you find things?”
"We have seen land that is very good. The inhabitants are well off and are peaceful. A surprise attack by a well-equipped force would mean quick victory. We feel sure that God intends us to take the area. Let us prepare to go there at once!" (Jdg. 18:7-10).
Then six hundred Danite men, armed as soldiers set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. At the end of the first day they camped by Kirjath- jearim in Judah. On the second day they approached the home of Micah near Mt. Ephraim. The five scouts had deliberately guided them there.
"We are near the place where the priest lives who consulted God and told us that we would be successful in this venture," the scouts told the Danite leaders. "In that house there is an ephod and other household gods, a carved image and a cast idol" (vv. 11-14).
Six hundred Danites armed for battle stood at the gate and the scouts went to Micah's home and greeted the Levite. They then took him out to the gate and introduced him to their leaders. The scouts then seized all the objects and clothing they considered sacred. The Danites were very superstitious. They thought that taking these silly little idols would bring success.
"What does all this mean?" the Levite anxiously inquired (vv. 15-18).
“Be quiet! Come with us and be our priest. It is better that you serve a tribe in Israel rather than just one man’s household.”
The priest needed no more urging. He gladly picked up his belongings and joined the hundreds of the Danites, who then turned away and left (vv. 19-20).
Shortly after they left, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites.
Micah shouted at them to halt. The Danites turned and said to Micah, "What is your reason for following us with many armed men?" (vv. 22-23).
"You have stolen my priest and my images!" Micah shouted as he rode toward them. "Why do you ask when you already know that we have come to rescue them from you?"
"The Danite leader said, "If you shout at us again, some of our men will probably be irritated to the point of attacking you. And after doing away with all of you, they might decide to turn back and wipe out all your homes and families."
With this statement the Danites deliberately turned their backs on the Ephraimites and continued on their journey. Micah realised that his lesser number of men couldn't stand against them so they returned home without the priest and the images in which he had put so much confidence for a wealthy future (vv. 24:26).
Then the Danites went on to Laish. They attacked the peaceful people there and burned down their city. There was no one to help them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no friendly relations with anybody else.
The Danites attributed their success to their priest and the little images. But their success in battle was not due to either. Success came to them because a well-trained army caught a defenseless small town sleeping.
The Danites rebuilt the city and named it DAN, after the father of their tribe (Josh. 19:47). A chapel was built for Jonathan and his so-called sacred objects. The religion of the Danite conquerors continued permanently on this basis until the fall of the House of Israel. Jonathan, and the sons he had later, carried on as priests until many centuries afterward when God sent Assyria to take over all Israel because of idolatry (Jdg. 18:27-31).
One might think today that a half-pagan, half-Christian religion is better than none at all. God doesn't look at it that way. A half-pagan religion is really all pagan. The Israelites very quickly forgot God's Commandments. Each did what he thought was right – or did as he pleased (Jdg. 17:6) – instead of obeying God. That is the way of pagans and the way of sin and death. God had commanded them for their own good to obey Him instead of doing what they thought was right (Deut. 12:8). God allows people to go their own way now, but soon He will do away with all heathen religions and all the church denominations that observe pagan ways (Dan. 2:44-45; Rev. 11:15; Zec. 13:2; 14:9; Ezek. 22:25-31).
In that era when Israel was without a national leader, with everyone generally doing as he pleased as long as he could get away with it, another episode occurred that brought tragedy. Misery and death came to thousands because the people were living apart from their Creator. This event started near Mt. Ephraim, where another Levite lived and he took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. However, the woman began to live with other men. Later she left to return to the home of her parents in the land of the tribe of Judah (Jdg. 19:1-2).
After she had been gone four months her husband went to her, hoping she would now be ready to come home. He and a servant set out on donkeys for Bethlehem. She led him into the home of her parents, who welcomed him cordially. In fact, because they were happy to see him and because they wanted their daughter to stay with them as long as possible, they kept the couple as guests for three days.
On the fourth day the Levite intended to leave for home, but the father-in-law asked him to stay a few more hours. Time slipped by, and then it was too late to set out (vv. 3-7).
On the fifth day the couple prepared to leave early, but again the woman's parents treated them so well with food, drink and pleasant conversation that they were delayed into the late afternoon.
"Why start out at this hour?" the Levite's father-in-law asked. "You can't get very far before dark. It would be wiser to stay here one more night and plan to start out in the morning. Meanwhile, relax and enjoy yourselves."
"No, we must start out this afternoon," the Levite said, realising that if he continued to give in, they would never get home. So they left (vv. 8-10).
When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to the master, "Let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night”.
"We won’t go into an alien city," the Levite said. “It is better to spend the night among our own people. I would rather go on into Gibeah or Ramah where the people are Israelites."
So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah (vv. 11-15). As was the custom of that time travellers sat down in a prominent place to wait for someone to invite them into his home for the night. After some time an elderly Ephraimite, returning home late from working in the fields, walked up to the little group.
"You look like strangers here," the old man said to them. "Where have you come from and where are you going?"
The Levite explained that he and his concubine and servant were travelling from Bethlehem to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. He mentioned that they had plenty of food and wine for themselves and feed for the animals, but no place to sleep (vv. 16-19).
"Ah, but you're welcome at my home!" the old man declared, asking them to follow him. "Let me provide whatever you need, only don’t spend the night in the square.”
Later, when they were all comfortably eating and talking in the old man's house, some wicked men of the city surrounded the house and pounded on the door.
The owner went outside and said to them, "Don’t be so vile, this man is my guest. Don’t do this disgraceful thing."
In a frantic attempt to escape from this nightmare situation, the old man was moved to make a miserable suggestion. To save his male guest he said, "I have a young daughter inside. We'll send her and my guest's concubine out for you to do with as you please if you'll only forget about the man" (vv. 23-24). The miserable old man thought men were more important and more worthy of protection than women. He reasoned that what he was suggesting was a lesser perversion and would be less sinful.
But the men would not listen. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them and they raped her and abused her throughout the night and at dawn they let her go (v. 25).
The men who should have protected her were hiding behind locked doors, completely lacking in the compassion and courage they should have displayed under the circumstances. Theirs was the corrupt type of character that prevailed in a time when Israel was far from God.
Hours later, just before sunrise, the woman came back to the house and fell down at the door (v. 26).
When the master got up in the morning and opened the door to leave, he was surprised to find his concubine there.
"Get up, woman!" he barked. "I want to get going for home right away." But there was no answer so he put her on his donkey and set out for home (vv. 27-28).
When he reached his home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done in Israel.”
Even though most of Israel was in a state of lawlessness and idolatry at the time, people were shocked and angered to hear of the terrible behaviour of the Benjamites (vv. 29-30).
Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the Lord in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God. The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. The Israelites asked how this awful thing could happen.
So the husband of the murdered woman said, "It's true that I performed the awful act of cutting her in pieces, but she was dead many hours before I did so," the Levite informed his listeners. "I went to this horrible extreme to try to awaken Israel to the fact that there are such evil men in the city of Gibeah. I trust that I have moved you to do something about this shameful matter!" (Jdg. 20:1-7).
The leaders of the eleven tribes were not long in agreeing that the matter would be investigated as soon as possible. They went so far as to claim that none of them would return home until it was cleared up. They decided that a tenth of all the capable men of each tribe would be drafted into service to supply the army with food and water in the event that force would be necessary against the tribe of Benjamin (vv. 8-11). Meanwhile, men were sent throughout the Benjamite territory to make a careful inquiry and to demand the death penalty for the murderers.
When the investigators came to the leaders of the tribe of Benjamin to ask about the matter of this awful crime, they were received coldly. All the Benjamites refused to punish the murderers. Instead, they stubbornly defended them.
At once the Benjamite soldiers gathered at Gibeah, numbering about twenty-six thousand besides the seven hundred men of Gibeah. This was only a small fraction of the size of the army of the other tribes of Israel, but the Benjamite soldiers were well trained. Besides, they were angry because of the accusation that had been made against them, and had more of a desire for battle. They felt confident also because seven hundred of their soldiers were left-handed and very skilful with slings. Some of them could sling a stone to hit a man as far away as six hundred feet (vv. 12-17).
The army of the eleven other tribes was almost ready to march on Gibeah. But one more thing needed to be done. God should be consulted in the matter. So the Israelites went to the city of Shiloh where the Tabernacle was, to ask Phinehas the priest to inquire of God which soldiers should lead the attack against the Benajmites.
The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first” (Jdg. 20:18).
Next morning the troops of the eleven tribes of Israel went out to fight against the Benjamites and took up their battle positions against them at Gibeah. But the Benjamites came out and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites (vv. 19-21).
The Israelites then went up and wept before the Lord until evening and they said, “Shall we go up again to do battle against the Benjanites?”
The Lord answered, “Go up against them.”
Next day the troops of the Israelites pushed toward that city just as they had done in the first attack. This time, when the Benjamites came out they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites (vv. 22-25).
The loss of a total of forty thousand soldiers was an awesome price to pay to try to avenge one person and punish the Benjamites. Leaders of the eleven tribes were so shaken that they all went to Shiloh, along with many other Israelites, to humbly make offerings and pray and fast at the Tabernacle to ask for God's help. Tears of sorrow and repentance flowed from many eyes as the people realised that their sad losses had occurred because of their departing from God's Laws.
After making their offerings they again asked God if they should go into battle once more against their Israelite brothers.
The Lord said, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands” (vv. 26-28).
The Israelites set an ambush around Gibeah and on the third day they went up against the Benjamites as they had done before. The Benjamites rushed out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. About thirty Israelites were struck down and killed. While the Benjamites thought they were defeating the Israelites as they had done before, the Israelites were plotting their next attack (vv. 29-32).
It was now the Benjamites' turn to panic.
The army of the eleven tribes of Israel had divided into three parts. After setting the Benjamite city of Gibeah on fire, they managed to bottle up the people who had escaped from the city – plus the whole Benjamite fighting force (Jdg. 20:29-41).
In the furious battle that followed, about eighteen thousand soldiers of the tribe of Benjamin died. With so many troops involved in such close action, a few thousand Benjamite men managed to escape. Most of these took to the roads leading northeast, hoping to reach a certain mountain hideout.
A part of Israel's massive army set off in pursuit of the weary Benjamites, easily overtaking them. About five thousand of the fleeing men were killed in their race for freedom. Another two thousand or so were overtaken and slain in another battle farther on.
About six hundred succeeded in reaching a place in the mountains called Rimmon Rock. This was in such a rough, cliff area that the pursuers gave up the chase (vv. 42-47).
Very few Benjamites had been killed in the first two battles. However, the almost-complete army of the Benjamites, still numbering almost twenty-six thousand, came to an end in one day. But the action against the rebel tribe didn't end there. After a night's rest the Israelite troops moved over all the territory of Benjamin to burn all the cities and kill all the people (v. 48).
This destruction was so thorough that the only men left were those who had escaped to Rimmon Rock. This near-death of one of the tribes was a terrible thing, but God allowed it, as well as the deaths of at least forty thousand other Israelite soldiers, because of the disobedience of so many people in all of the tribes. God was letting Israel learn from bitter experience that carefree ways of living would lead only to grief. If the Israelites had continued obeying the laws of their Creator, who constantly warned them against falling away from those laws, their wretched civil war would never have happened.
Not long after these miserable events, the people of the eleven tribes began to be sorry that they had dealt so harshly with the tribe of Benjamin. They went to Bethel, where they sat weeping before God, asking why this thing happened to Israel and expressed their hope that the tribe of Benjamin wouldn't be wiped out. This was indeed a change in attitude. To show that they regretted their extreme actions, they made burnt offerings and peace offerings (Jdg. 21:2-4).
When they had met at Mizpeh before the battles to decide what to do, they had sworn that they would never allow any of their daughters to marry a Benjamite (Jdg. 21:1). This seemed to make it impossible for the tribe to survive as pure Israelites. What could they now do about the six hundred Benjamite soldiers who had no wives? And if they couldn't marry Israelites, they might marry into Canaanite tribes.
The leaders carefully looked for a way out of this discouraging circumstance. At their council of war at Mizpeh, they had decreed that if any part of the eleven tribes failed to help with the war against Benjamin, those people would later be punished by the sword (Jdg. 21:5-7).
So, an inquiry was made. It disclosed that the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, had not joined in the civil conflict.
Wives Gotten by Violence
This seemed to present an answer to their problem. Twelve thousand troops were picked to march on Jabesh-gilead and punish the inhabitants by killing everyone except the unmarried women.
After the new senseless slaughter – which wouldn't have occurred if the people had stayed close to God – they found four hundred unmarried young women and took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan (vv. 8-12).
Then they sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon. So the Benjamites returned and were given the women of Jabesh-gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all the men.
The two hundred Benjamites who did not get a wife complained so bitterly that the Israelite leaders felt obliged to produce two hundred more virgins (vv. 13-15).
This wasn't such a simple task, though finally someone came up with another plan. At this time of year there was a religious festival about to be observed near Shiloh. A part of its social life included dancing in a nearby field by a large group of young women.
So they instructed the two hundred wifeless Benjamites to stay at Shiloh until just before the dance was to be performed and hide in adjoining vineyards. When the young women come out to dance the men could rush forth and each seize a wife for himself and then go to the land of Benjamin (vv. 16-21).
When the several hundred young women came to the field to perform, the hidden men had sufficient opportunity to observe and choose. Each man caught a young woman and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.
So the war with Benjamin was over, and the tribe was saved from extinction.
In this whole episode, which occurred shortly after the death of Joshua, wisdom and good judgment were rather rare. Everyone did what he thought best, instead of obeying God (Jdg. 21:25; Deut. 12:8). This was a prime example of how death and suffering came to the people when they fell away from God and into idolatry (Jdg. 21:22-24).