In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (Judges 21:25)
This is one of the saddest ends to any of the 66 books that form our bible. Through the period of the Judges, Israel has descended into political, religious and social anarchy. Thousands have died and one tribe has been decimated. God has become an afterthought rather than Israel's first thought. In these last chapters of Judges it has become uncomfortable to say the least to read of, and reflect on Israel's depravity. But even in the midst of this misery there are things for us to learn, even by way of warning.
Israel has retained a wafer-thin veneer of religious respectability. The surviving 11 tribes of Israel are understandably heartbroken at Benjamin's fate and their part in it. Israel is 12 tribes, not 11 and a bit. The nation has lost something of its soul. In their grief they want to extend a helping hand to the surviving men of Benjamin so that the tribe can survive. But they have made a rash vow not to allow any of their daughters to marry a Benjamite. They invoke another rash vow and wreak genocidal fury on the population of Jabesh Gilead, killing every living thing other than 400 virgins who they 'give' to the Benjamites. More innocent people die as a result of Israel's depravity. They compound the horror by then not giving the remaining 200 men wives, but allowing them to kidnap women from a festival - turning a blind eye to this disgrace. What a truly awful and sad end to a very confronting chapter in Israel's history.
So, as the story of Judges comes to an ignominious end, we are left with many questions - the biggest of which perhaps is 'Where is God?' The God who led Israel into the Promised Land appears to have all but disappeared. But not quite. Israel has forgotten God. There is no authority in Israel; only anarchy. Everyone does what they want. There is no king; everyone is in effect their own king - their own authority. Sin is reaping its own awful rewards in unimaginable suffering. Israel has forgotten God; but God has not and will not forget his people. Again and again God has rescued and sustained a faithless, gutless and deceptive people. God's grace protects Israel through one of the darkest periods of its history. Truly amazing.