The chapter starts with a necessary flashback to a decision made before the tribes declared war on Benjamin: however bad the slaughter would be, there was no way they were going to help the Benjamites by supplying them with wives for a new generation after they had taken their revenge (v.1). Now that that vengeance has taken place, they are broken for the devastation that has came with it (v.2). They frame their anguish into a question for God, but there is no answer (v.3).
What follows is their attempt to keep their vow to God of not helping the Benjamites, whilst in fact trying to help them. It’s a convenient plan: punish the people of Jabesh Gilead for not turning up to share the nation’s grief, then take a sufficient number of their women to provide the Benjamites with wives (vv.6-14). It works. We barely have time to pause to ask ourselves whether the reprisals on the people of Jabesh Gilead were in any way fair, or proportionate. I suspect the answer is neither in each case, but this is only the sort of hot-headedness we’ve seen before from these men. Violence leads to more violence, after all.
The chapter, and the book, close on another plan, to get some more wives in order to secure the future of the Benjamites, and this works again (vv.15-23). With that their future is assured, the nation of Israel can start to get back to normal, and everyone’s consciences can feel a little less guilty for a season. Everything was alright, then.
Not really. The book of Judges does not end in hope. The darkness of so much of the book hasn’t lifted; rather, it’s settled even more over the whole nation. There is no king (v.25), so leadership is up for grabs, and morality is, too. What an unhappy land. Where is the covenant grace which Israel was promised?
That is the question we are meant to ask at the close of this uncomfortable, stormy, gloomy book. We see the heart of man, that it is proud and so often destructive. But we also see the grace of God. God does indeed give men over to their sinful lusts. Equally, He is continually giving men over to His mercy and grace. The Book ends with God’s people in a mess. But this is by no means the end of God’s dealings with His people. A King is coming, Who calls proud and destructive people to repent of their sins and who promises forgiving grace. More than that, this King gives us grace not to do what is right in our own eyes, but what is right in His eyes. This is Jesus, His grace comes to us at the infinite price of Calvary, and His blood cleanses the guiltiest hands and hearts, and gives us power to live for God.