Judges 17-21 – Background – 2
The Book of Judges can be divided into three parts:
(1) The Preface, (Ch’s 1-3:6)
(2) The Main Narrative (Ch’s 3:7-16:31)
(3) The Appendices (Ch’s 17-21)
Appendices are usually defined as ‘additional matter at the end of a book or document’ and one of the interesting questions in relation to the appendices to the book of Judges is – “why are they there?”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Chapters 17-21 of Judges contain what appears to be two narratives, two separate stories.
a): Judges 17-18
b) Judges 19-21
And interestingly enough, there is also a third narrative that counts as an appendices to the book of Judges and that’s the book of Ruth.
The original scriptures combined the book of Judges and the book of Ruth thus Ruth was counted as also being part of this section.
The fact that Ruth belongs contextually in the era of the Judges is demonstrated by the first verse of Ruth 1…
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
…however, that’s just something interesting to note in passing, as this study is not going to delve into the book of Ruth.
The section of Judges 17-21 exists for thematic reasons rather than chronological.
That is not to say that the events contained in this section are not presented in a chronological and orderly fashion, they certainly are! However don’t be fooled into thinking that because these chapters are at the end of the book of Judges they therefore occurred at the end of the period of the Judges! They didn’t!
Chronologically, the events presented in these chapters occur towards the beginning of the period of the Judges. There are a number of proofs for this among which are:
1) In this narrative, Phinehas appears to be the current High Priest (Judges 20:27-28). Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron, son of Eliezer. He was a grown man by the time the children of Israel entered the promised land (Numbers 25), and therefore could not have been acting high priest centuries later just before the time of Samuel (where the narrative of Judges 20 is situated in our Bibles). He must have been coming into this role during the time of Joshua’s leadership or very soon after (Joshua 22:13) and this helps us place the events of Judges 17-21 chronologically.
2) Another proof lies in the fact that Judges 18 tells the story of how the tribe of Dan came to settle in the northern extremities of the land. As we’ll see, Dan’s inheritance was originally supposed to be down South near Philistine territory. And yet, a couple of chapters earlier in Judges 13, we read about Samson and find out that all that is left in the South is the ‘camp of Dan’. The tribe had already gone North. This means the events of Judges 18 preceded the narrative of Judges 13.
This is just an aside really, and I don’t want to get too into the ‘nitty gritty’ of the technical stuff but this all useful context to understand before we dive in to the narrative of chapters 17-21.
If the Appendices of Judges 17-21 are thematic in some way then, I suppose the question is:
What is the theme?
Why are these chapters bundled together at the back of the book?
What’s the writers point? What does he want to achieve?
There is a famous phrase that is often quoted to summarise the book of Judges, and it is found four times in these five chapters – and thus the theme is supplied! Here it is: (fanfare)Judges 176 In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
This is it. Here is the phrase at the beginning of the Appendices section and you’ll never guess what the very last verse of the book of Judges is? Anybody?
Ah… you guessed it:Judges 2125 In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
This is the theme of these 4 chapters. It the writers point, and by now he expects you to have got it!
There’s two other occasions where this is quoted in this section, but with a subtle difference. Here’s the first one:
Judges 181 In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel.
Notice that’s it not quite the same in that only half the phrase is quoted. It says: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel’ but it seems to omit the latter phrase ‘every man did that which is right in his own eyes’.
Why would it omit the last part of the famous quote?
It actually doesn’t. The reality is that verse 2-31 says it very effectively! I believe that’s the point. Verse 2-31 is precisely this (as we will see) – a record of ‘every man doing that which is right in his own eyes’
It’s the same with the next time we see the phrase. We appear to only get half of it:Judges 191 And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehemjudah.
Why only half the quote again? Because… Judges 19:2 - 21:24 effectively says exactly this: ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes’
Now in identifying the theme, we’ve also identified why these two narratives are handpicked by the writer and put together on their own. They have been chosen to provide us with the flavour of the times. These stories are emblematic of a period in history – the period when the Judges ruled and they appear calculated to demonstrate to us what happens when God’s ways are rejected and unaccountable and unrestrained, ‘man does that which is right in his own eyes’.
We are going to find that the first story in chapters 17 and 18 is about the setting up of an illegitimate priesthood in the Northern part of Dan. It shows us how the cancer of idolatry began in one instance and spread from one family to an entire tribe, and how the consequences effected the whole nation.
The second story is about the gruesome violation and murder of a Levite’s concubine in what was a brutal crime committed in the town of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin. The consequences that flowed from this crime, led to a crisis of almost unbelievable magnitude in Israel.
It appears initially that these two separate stories are unrelated, but as I hope to show, they are related in a most startling manner.
Edited by Clarity, 15 April 2011 - 08:58 AM.