Through the Bible in a Year: Judges 17-21

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Today’s (Friday’s) Bible Reading is Judges 17-21

Next week we will read Ruth, then spend some time in Psalms and Proverbs.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Judges 17

Judges 17:3 is one of the most contradictory verses in the Bible. Micah’s mother dedicates 200 pieces of silver to Yahweh so that her son can make a graven image, a direct violation of the third commandment.

Verse 6 says that there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Worse than no king, there was obviously no law in Israel. Even the ten commandments were forgotten.

Verse 13 is further evidence of the Israelites’ confusion in those days: "Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as a priest."

This chapter can’t be a chronological continuation of Judges. Jephthah said 300 years had passed since Moses. Chapters 17-21 not only describe Dan’s conquest of their northern territory, which happened much closer to the time of Moses, but 20:28 says that Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, was high priest at the time.

Judges 18

Now we find the story of the tribe of Dan and how they ended up on the north end of Israel when their assigned land was in the south, near Philistia. It also provides an explanation for why they were unable to conquer the Philistines. There had lost all trust in and worship of God.

Notice that their idolatry continues all the way to the time of exile (v. 30). The first king of northern Israel, after the division of Judah and Israel, would set up a golden calf in Dan that would also stay there until Israel was exiled by the Assyrians.

Israel split into two nations, ten tribes in the north and two in the south, under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. The northern kingdom, consisting of the ten tribes, was captured and exiled by the Assyrians. They never had a king that the Bible describes as good.

The southern kingdom, which became known as Judah rather than Israel (and from which the word "Jews" comes) had a king, Hezekiah, who repelled the Assyrians out of faith in God. Later, Judah would go into captivity under the Babylonians. The Babylonian captivity was temporary, lasting 70 years. There is no indication the northern tribes ever returned from their Assyrian exile, and they are still called "The Ten Lost Tribes."

When the Assyrians captured northern Israel, they left some Israelites there, but they brought Assyrians to settle the land as well. This Assyrian-Israelite mixture is the race known as the Samaritans in the Gospels.

Judges 19

There is a reason for laws! Judges 19 describes such a height of wickedness that we had our 10-year-old daughter skip this section of Judges.

This was not unusual behavior for Gibeah, it appears. The old man warned them that they would not be able to stay in town square. I’m sure he knew the citizens could not be trusted.

Psalm 12:8 says that the wicked walk on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men. The lack of law, and the evil behavior of the Israelites, including all their idolatry, led to ever more corrupt behavior. It’s a pattern the apostle Paul describes in Romans 1 as well (v. 18-32).

Judges 20

Israel loses 40,000 men in the process of reducing the tribe of Benjamin to 600 men. It seems probable that despite the fact that Israel called on the LORD for help, their idea of Yahweh was as warped as Micah and his mother’s (ch. 16). Then it would be no surprise that he was slow to answer them, since they had forgotten his Law and gone to the worship of idols.

Judges 21

Israel resolves the problem of destroying the tribe of Benjamin in a rather shocking manner. Perhaps the best explanation for all of this is, "Each man did what was right in his own eyes," which is the very last phrase in the book of Judges.

Perhaps we should compare the stories we read about under Moses and under Joshua, where they lived in daily trust in God, with the story in Judges where there was not that kind of clear faith. The Lord’s victories are complete and clean under Moses and Joshua, without grievous loss. In the time of the judges, everything is sloppy, the Law is lost, idolatry is rampant, and there is grievous loss and heartache everywhere, even after they call on Yahweh.

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