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V. THE TIME OF THE JUDGES.
68. GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE PERIOD.
[JUDG. I. II. XVII.-XXI.]
AFTER the death of the brave Joshua followed a wild and lawless time, when every man did that which seemed right in his own eyes.' Joshua left no successor capable of ruling the entire nation by vigilance and energy, no one master spirit, eager to grasp the sword and to continue the warfare with the heathen. The High-priest Phinehas, who presided at the common Tabernacle in Shiloh, exercised only religious authority. Thus the nation divided itself into separate clans, each clustering round its own chieftain or leader. And yet the country was far from perfectly conquered; the Israelites were threatened by constant feuds and disturbances from the native inhabitants. Encircled by dauntless enemies, each tribe had to contend for its own safety or existence: often Judah dwelt in peaceful repose when the more northern tribes were fighting on the battle-field; and the latter rested from their labours when the warriors of Judah wrung Jebus from its old inhabitants. The Hebrew nation no longer marched out as one man from Dan to Beer-sheba' to maintain the honour and the glory of the whole community: union in spirit and in action was wanting ; nay,
jealousy or fierce violence led occasionally to strife and warfare between the tribes themselves.
Yet in times of great peril and distress, men of valour and intelligence usually arose to lead the Hebrew soldiers to battle and victory, and to conciliate by their authority the conflicting factions of the commonwealth. These men were the Judges,' a term which conveys but a partial idea of their duties and offices—namely, those which they performed when their successful leadership against the enemy had restored peace. They were therefore not regularly appointed, nor did they follow each other in unbroken succession, but they were acknowledged in periods of exceptional difficulty; and then, when the danger had been overcome by their help, they naturally commanded the respect of the people, and were allowed to exercise supreme jurisdiction.
The different tribes carried on the war of conquest as best they could. Judah and Simeon joined each other, and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites at Bezek, seizing and mutilating Adoni-bezek, the king; Judah next took and partially burnt Jerusalem, and then continued a successful expedition in the southern districts of the province and at the sea-coast, subduing the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron. The Ephraimites occupied the holy place Beth-el; and the small tribe of Dan, finding itself molested by the Amorites, pressed northwards, and took possession of the town Laish.
The account of this migration of the Danites is highly instructive, as it well illustrates the lawless character of the age. From Zorah and Eshtaol, two older possessions of the Danites in the central parts of the land, five men were sent as spies to the northern regions of the country. On their way, they came to the house of a certain Micah in Mount Ephraim, where he dwelt with his mother. He had instituted in his house a private worship by means of
an ephod and teraphim, of a graven and molten image. At first he made one of his sons priest at this domestic shrine; but when a young Levite, wandering about homeless and aimless, passed his house, he secured his services for a small allowance-ten shekels of silver and a suit of apparel annually, besides his food—and exclaimed with a glow of satisfaction, Now I know that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to be my priest!' And yet the Law specially forbids all outward form of worship at any place except the Tabernacle, which was then at Shiloh.
When the five spies from Dan noticed the Levite in Micah's house, they requested him to consult the Divine oracle in their behalf; the answer was entirely encouraging: Go in peace; before the Lord is your way wherein you go. The words of the Levite proved true; the men went on to Laish, saw that the town was easy of conquest, and the surrounding country rich and beautiful, and returned to their tribe with a most favourable report. Six hundred Danites marched out to take possession of the explored territory. On their way, they also came to the house of Micah, and, prompted by the five spies, they seized the sacred images and statues, and persuaded the Levite, who at first opposed their acts of violence, to accompany
them to their new homes and to be their priest. They set at nought the imploring appeals of Micah, who prayed in vain for the restoration of his gods and his Levite. They then marched upon Laish, took the town, called it Dan, and set up the graven image, which continued to be worshipped there under the direction of Levites all the time that the House of God was in Shiloh,' nay, "until the very time of the captivity of the land.'
Another event recorded in the Book of Judges, an event full of barbarous wickedness, cruelty, and bloodshed, characterises the unchecked confusion of the time even more strongly. A Levite with one of his wives was
returning from Bethlehem in Judah to his house in Mount Ephraim. They passed Jerusalem, unwilling to stay over night in a town which was still in the hands of the hostile Jebusites; so they pressed on northwards and arrived at dusk in Gibeah, a city of the Benjamites. No one offered them shelter or hospitality. They were sitting despondingly in the street, when an old man, who was himself but a sojourner in Gibeah, while his home was also in a town of Mount Ephraim, seeing the strangers, bid them come with him, and rest for the night in his house. He feasted them plentifully, and showed them every attention they so much required after their long and weary journey. When still at their repast, they were suddenly aroused by the wild clamour of angry voices. They saw the house surrounded by the frantic Benjamites, threatening instant destruction unless the Levite was delivered up to them. In fact, a scene was repeated resembling that which called down the Divine vengeance upon Sodom. Fearful for the safety of all the inmates of the house, the host sent out the Levite's wife. A terrible fate awaited her; she was ill-treated by the impious crowd, until she returned to the house, and fell dead on the threshold. There the Levite found her on the following morning. In an agony of revengeful grief, he placed her body on his ass, and returned to his home. He had determined upon an awful means of retribution. Dividing the body of the unfortunate woman into twelve parts, he sent one part to each tribe, and appealed for help and vengeance. A cry of horror ran from city to city: this time all Israel rose as one man from Dan to Beer-sheba ; nor did the eastern tribes fail to send their aid. The warriors, 400,000 in number, assembled at Mizpah, where they held a council. The Levite there publicly recounted the details of the horrible crime. A shout of detestation was raised against the Benjamites;
and all agreed that there was no such deed done, nor seen, from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt. The men of Israel sent messengers to Gibeah, and sternly demanded the immediate surrender of the perpetrators of the outrage. But the haughty Benjamites, dead to all sentiments of justice, refused the request, and thus became accomplices of the atrocious deed. They boldly marched out to do battle with the united tribes of Israel, numbering 26,000 soldiers, and among them 700 chosen men, lefthanded, but such dexterous slingers that they could sling stones at a hair's breadth without missing. They poured down upon their enemies, and defeated them on two successive days, killing 40,000 men. Mourning and terror spread in the camp of the Israelites; but praying, and fasting, and offering sacrifices, they took courage, and on the third day, by well-devised stratagems, they gained a decisive victory, and a scene of fearful carnage ensued. The splendid army of the Benjamites was completely cut to pieces, and pursued to the mountains and rocky districts ; Gibeah and many other towns of Benjamin were burnt, and men and beasts killed by the sword. A small remnant of the Benjamites, six hundred men, found refuge in the caves of Rimmon, north of Gilead.
When the first heat of vengeance had cooled down, when the terrible punishment with all its ghastly results became clear, despair and horror seized the Israelites; for their arms and their wrath had exterminated a whole tribe of their own brethren. Six hundred Benjamites were left, it was true ; but at Mizpah, all the children of Israel had sworn that none of their daughters should ever marry a man of Benjamin. Again they met in council, trying to find a remedy for the misfortune. Now, among all the cities, one, Jabesh in Gilead, had refused to obey the general summons, and had not joined their fellow-citizens