“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (v. 25).
Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin became as Sodom during the period of the judges, engaging in the sins of that notorious city (Judg. 19; see Gen. 19:1–11). The only answer for Israel, therefore, was to destroy Gibeah just as Sodom had been destroyed, and the entire tribe of Benjamin suffered as well because they refused to join the rest of Israel against Gibeah. Only six hundred Benjaminite men survived when Israel went to war against the tribe (Judg. 20).
Benjamin suffered because it had supported grievous sin; however, the tribe was not utterly wiped out. After all, the tribe was a part of God’s covenant people Israel, whom the Lord had pledged never to utterly destroy (Lev. 26:44). A great loss of life occurred, but God always has a remnant in the visible covenant community. Thus, the Israelites were eager to make sure the tribe of Benjamin would not die out completely. This would require wives for the Benjaminites; however, today’s passage indicates that when the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah to form a war coalition against Gibeah, the nation had sworn not to give any of their daughters to the Benjaminites for wives (Judg. 21:1; see 20:1). Such an all-encompassing oath was likely ill advised, but the people were unwilling to break it (21:1–4). So, they decided to solve the “dilemma” of their oath by turning to another oath, one in which they swore to put to death any Israelite who did not join them against Gibeah (v. 5), which seems also to have been an ill-advised vow.
The rest of Judges 21 describes how the Israelites found wives for the Benjaminites, first by putting to death all the people of Jabesh-gilead in Manasseh except for four hundred young virgins (vv. 6–15). Then, they took two hundred young daughters from Shiloh who came out to dance in the vineyards (vv. 16–24). It seems that the people justified these actions by the fact that the men of Jabesh-gilead never swore to keep their daughters from Benjamin and that by having their daughters kidnapped, the fathers of Shiloh did not break the oath at Mizpah, for they themselves did not give their daughters to the Benjaminites.
The author of Judges describes these events and then concludes his account with this evaluation: the Israelites were doing what was right in their own eyes because there was no king (v. 25). Only twisted minds could produce such reasoning to justify the slaughter of the people of Jabesh-gilead and the taking of Shiloh’s daughters. Moral and theological anarchy prevailed, and the only solution would be a righteous king (1 Sam. 2:9–10; Matt. 1:20–21).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
When we have no king over our lives, we will do what is right in our own eyes, even justifying our sinful actions. If we are Christians, Jesus is our King, though in many ways we will fall short in serving Him. So, we must regularly commit ourselves to His lordship, seeking to live by His Word. As we do this, we will be convicted of our sin and renewed so that we will serve our Lord. His Spirit will enable us not to do what is right merely in our own eyes as we seek to love and serve Him.