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Today's Readings: Judges 19 | Isaiah 41 | 1 John 3-4

Reading 1 - Jdg 19-21

A certain Levite and his concubine were traveling through the land of Benjamin, and as night approached they sought and received shelter in the home of an old man of Gibeah. But when the house was beset by certain "sons of Belial", evoking unpleasant memories of the Sodomites (Gen 19), they realized how unsafe they were. This Levite allowed his concubine to be abused by the Benjamites -- a circumstance which speaks not much better of him than of those who threatened him.

Finding the woman dead in the morning, he took her body and divided it into twelve pieces (like a priest would divide a sacrifice?) and sent the pieces into all parts of Israel. Then all the children of Israel were gathered together "as one man" (Jdg 20:1,8,11) out of revulsion at this hideous crime. By a comparison with 1Sa 11:7 we see that the people did not so act again in unison until the days of Samuel, probably 300 years later.

But their unity of action was unfortunately not preceded by consultation with God. The militia of the eleven tribes, minus Benjamin -- 400,000 strong -- made their plans without prayer. Though they finally asked of God who should go up first to the battle, yet their forces lost 22,000 men at the hands of the men of Benjamin, who defended Gibeah. This certainly implies that guilt in Israel was to be found on both sides, not only with Benjamin.

By various stratagems which need not be detailed now, the tribe of Benjamin was nearly annihilated. Once bloodshed started no one knew when to stop. In cutting off those who were "guilty" by their association, the rest of Israel used highly unsuitable methods and almost totally destroyed one of the twelve tribes. The punishment, because of haste and probably a measure of self-righteousness, was out of all proportion to the crime. In their zeal the men of Israel imposed by an oath a strict isolation upon those few Benjamites who remained, no matter what their degree of guilt or complicity.

The outcome was a terrible feeling of remorse, and some ironic words: