“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25; cf. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1).
The book’s conclusion is made up of two epilogues (17:1-18:31 and 19:1-21:25) that are seriously linked together (i.e., Levite stories and women stories and intra-Israel conflicts). These two epilogues do not paint a pretty picture of Israel’s condition at that time in their history. In the second epilogue (chps 19-21), we have two women stories, (1) the gruesome scene of a concubine being cut up in twelve pieces and (2) women being taken forcefully to be married off to the 600 surviving men from the Israel-inflicted slaughter of tribe of Benjamin. These two stories and scenes should shake us, leaving us a little ashamed that we’ve even read them—for none of us, men or women, are guiltless ourselves. There is no closure. No solution to the idolatry–judgment/oppression–cry for YHWH to help–God-sends-a-Judge-to-deliver cycles. No final Judge. No final deliverer. No savior. The end of the Book of Judges is a mess. Perhaps, we’ve heard the stories so many times we’ve become immune; yet, the ending is crafted to leave us speechless.
The book of Judges ends in such a way that leaves us hanging: there must be a sequel.
It is like a movie or TV show that ends in tragedy, where the heroes are dead or wounded or missing, all seems hopeless and lost, and there are plot questions lingering. A final scene that leaves us hanging. When this happens, we know there is a sequel in the works to resolve all the loose ends, to explain the tragedies that confront our eyes and disturb our senses. The book of Judges ends in such a way that leaves us hanging: there must be a sequel.
Canonically speaking, the Book of Ruth is our first choice of a sequel, for it follows right after the Book of Judges and, then, there are the books of Samuel where we hear of the last of Israel’s Judges, Samuel himself.
In the scenes of the two epilogues we have one thread that cannot be overlooked, namely tragic stories of women used by men and used for the needs of men. This theme has also been one that has thread itself throughout the Book of Judges, so it should not be that great of a surprise that we are, now, left, at the end, with these tragedies. This is one reason it is not unexpected that our cannon moves us from the Book of Judges right into the book of Ruth, where we are confronted with the tragedy of a young woman, an outsider, a Moabite, who ends up married and gives birth to someone in the line of David. Again . . . you can see the sequel being developed can’t you--Jesus is a descendent of David.
Additionally, it is somewhat serendipitous, meaning I didn’t intend this, but we are starting our Christmas season series of messages with a look at Matthew 1. There is an interesting thread in this genealogy of Jesus that Matthew presents, namely five women: Tamar (Matthew 1: 3; Genesis 38); Rahab (v. 5; Joshua 2), Ruth (v. 5; Ruth 3), Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (v. 6; 2 Samuel 11), and, of course, Mary (v. 16). It should not have surprised us that Ruth is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, linking us to the first sequel after Judges. Is it becoming clearer--Jesus is the sequel to the Book of Judges.
Back to the story of the book of Judges: we are left with such tragedy as we find in these to last stories of a concubine that is abused and left for dead and then horribly mutilated to make a point, and the final scenes of the women who are taken from their homes to meet the needs of the remaining 600 men in the tribe of Benjamin. This is how we are left at the end of the Book of Judges.
How did we get here?
The author of the book of Judges could have chosen any stories to end this book. But as the book ends, we are left asking the question, How did Israel get there?
When we see tragedy or the messed lives all around us, we tend to ask, How did this happen? How did this person wind up so messed up? How in the world did these people end up in place of hurt, despair, tragedy, jail, the streets, rehab, death? Well, it didn’t happen because of their immediate actions just prior to all the mess or tragedy . . . they just didn’t find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . they just didn’t take a wrong turn or have a run of bad luck . . . it all started long, long before tragedy struck.
The tragic stories of these women in Judges didn’t just happen . . . this is where they ended up because there was no King in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In light of the wider, fuller message of Judges, these tragedies happen because there was the absence of true, covenant-obedient leaders. These tragedies happened because Israel didn’t believe and obey God‘s word to them. They didn’t hold to Yahweh as their sovereign King. And, there were no leaders to show them, to model for them, to call them back to loyal obedience to what God had spoken.
Someone has said the measure of God’s people is how women are fairing. We are left in the Book of Judges with a concubine thrown to the violent crowd so the men of the household would remain safe, unharmed. Eventually she crawls back to the house, her hands on the threshold of the door . . . almost inside . . . unnoticed till the morning . . . where he husband calls her to get up and get on the donkey . . . it was only after she did not respond that he picks her up and places here on the donkey. We get the sense she is more property than cherished as a human being. This seems to be affirmed by the man’s act of cutting her up in twelve pieced and being shipped off to the twelve tribes—no awareness of her humanity, dignity, nor of the law of Moses that opposed such treatment. And, then we come to the final scenes where women are captured (and not by foreigners, but of their own Israelite family) and forced into marriage, used for the needs of men.
We get the sense she is more property than cherished as a human being.
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature” (Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society).
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