The twelve tribes of Israel contribute to David’s army (1 Chr 12:23-12:37)

“These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops, who came to David in Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of Yahweh. The people of Judah bearing shield and spear were six thousand eight hundred armed troops. Of the Simeonites, mighty warriors, there were seven thousand one hundred. Of the Levites, there were four thousand six hundred. The prince Jehoiada, of the house of Aaron, had with him three thousand seven hundred. Zadok, a young man mighty in valor, had twenty-two commanders from his own father’s house. Of the Benjaminites, the kindred of Saul, there were three thousand, of whom the majority had hitherto kept their allegiance to the house of Saul. Of the Ephraimites there were twenty thousand eight hundred, mighty men of valor famous men in their fathers’ houses. Of the half-tribe of Manasseh there were eighteen thousand, who were expressly named to come and make David king. Of Issachar men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, there were two hundred chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. Of Zebulun fifty thousand seasoned troops came, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose. Of Naphtali there were a thousand commanders with whom were thirty-seven thousand men armed with shield and spear. Of the Danites there were twenty-eight thousand six hundred men equipped for battle. Of Asher there were forty thousand seasoned troops ready for battle. Of the Reubenites and Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh from beyond the Jordan, there were one hundred and twenty thousand men armed with all the weapons of war.”

Up to now, there was a lot about the leaders and officer, here there is remarkable gathering of ground troops. The numbers from the northern tribes and the east Jordan tribes are staggering unrealistic, equaling over 300,000 troops, while the southern tribes are small in comparison, around 20,000. In fact, it would have been difficult to sustain this large gathering of troops. Each tribe, including the Levites, contributed to the army of Israel with ground troops. Here are the numbers:

  • Judah = 6,800 troops
  • Simeonites = 7,100 troops
  • Levites = 4,600 troops
  • Benjaminites = 3,000 troops
  • Ephraimites = 20,800 troops
  • Half tribe of Manasseh = 18,000 troops
  • Issachar = 200 chiefs and their men
  • Zebulun = 50,000 troops
  • Naphtali = 1.000 commanders and 37,000 troops
  • Danites = 28,000 troops
  • Asher = 40,000 troops
  • Reubenites, Gadites, half tribe of Manasseh = 120,000 troops.

The threat of Nahash, the Ammonite (1 Sam 11:1-11:4)

“About a month later, Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead. All the men of Jabesh said to Nahash. ‘Make a treaty with us. We will serve you.’ But Nahash the Ammonite said to them. ‘On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone’s right eyes. Thus I will put disgrace upon all Israel.’ The elders of Jabesh said to him. ‘Give us seven days respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.’ When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the hearing of the people. All the people wept aloud.”

There were problems at Jabesh-gilead, a town on the east Jordan side. This is the same town in Judges, chapter 21, which never sent troops to help defeat the Benjaminites. The other tribes wiped out this town except for its 400 virgins, which they gave to the Benjaminites to be their wives. Nahash an Ammonite surrounded this town. He agreed to make a peace treaty if everyone gave up their right eye. The people wanted a week of peace to send for help. If no one showed up in a week, then they would agree to his terms. News arrived at Gibeah where Saul lived. This is exactly the same town where in Judges, chapters 19-21,the great crime of the Benjaminites took place. All the people wept. I always have problems with the phrase ‘all the people.’ Why would they want to save this town? Perhaps the wives of the Benjaminites reminded them of what they had done to it.

My Understanding of Judges

The Book of Judges is a series of odd stories about the twelve judges in Israel. Some judges seem important and others do not. There was no set pattern of how the judges came to be judges. However, all of them receive ‘the Spirit of Yahweh.’ These judges seem more like military leaders who are then somehow put in charge to keep peace.

However, there is a practical mini-play within each judge story. The Israelites do evil or bad things that displease Yahweh. They usually turn away from Yahweh to Baals or other gods. Then the enemies of Israel get an upper hand. So then the people cry to Yahweh for a leader. Yahweh then sends his ‘Spirit’ on this new leader. The new leader or judge defeats the enemy. Peace is then restored temporarily or for a period of time, until the next incident occurs.

The basic structure is simple. There are two introductions summarizing what had happened to Canaan and what was going on there. Then the stories of the twelve judges unfolded. Finally there is an appendix about the Danites and Benjaminites and what happened to them.

Judges seems to have two sources. One seems to be a collection of oral stories about local tribal heroes. The second source might be a lost book about the wars of Israel. It is not clear whether this was a compilation of stories or the work of one individual putting them together. Clearly there was a monarchist tendency with a pro-Judah stance that would date it to the time of the kings or later. Judges talks about this period being a time without kings so that everyone did what they thought was right. It definitely is in the Deuteronomytradition, following up on Joshua. Once again, this would put the final redaction and writing of this book in the sixth or seventh century BCE around the time of the Exile. In fact, in the appendix there is a mention of ‘up to the time of the captivity.’

The six major judges are Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, a female judge, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, a real super hero. The six lesser judges are Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. The last six are barely mentioned with just a sentence or two about them. On the other hand, the major judges have wonderful stories or incidents around their lives. The four major ones, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson have longer more elaborate stories, while Othniel and Ehud have only one simple story about them.

Each judge had an enemy. Othniel fought the King of Aram. Ehud killed the fat King Eglon the Moabite in his chamber. Deborah with Barak the field general fought Sisera, the captain of King Jabin at Hazor. Judges then has a beautiful canticle where Deborah empathizes with Sisera’s mother. Gideon fought against the gods of Baal. He was involved in a lot of battles with the people on the east side of the Jordan, particularly the Midianites and the Amalekites. Abimelech, the bastard son of Gideon, killed his seventy brothers. He was like the first king, at least of a certain area around Shechem. Jephthah fought against the Ammonites. Then, of course, super hero strong Samson fought against the Philistines. There are some fantastic stories about Samson, his riddles, his super strength, Delilah and the cutting his hair, with his final suicide destruction of the Philistine temple.

The Appendix at the end of this book has two stories without judges, about the Danites and Benjaminites. Both stories are quirky. Somehow this guy Micah had his own little shrine. However, the Danites took his Levite priest and his idol. They then attacked the northern town of Laish and established themselves in northern Israel.

The other story took place at Gibeah, where there was this terrible incident that almost led to the extinction of the Benjaminites. Some townspeople raped and killed the concubine of a Levite, who got everyone relied up against the people of Gibeah. The Benjaminites took issue and were nearly wiped out in a battle with the rest of Israel. Then they find a strange way to help the Benjamin tribe survive.

So the period of time when everyone did what they wanted was slowing coming to an end. Judges is a fairly good example of the various tribal skirmishes that took place in the Promised Land. Sometimes, it was tribe against tribe, while other times, there was a common enemy. Each one of the judges had a call from Yahweh. They were not kings, but more like fighting prophets filled with the ‘Spirit of Yahweh.’

The abduction of the daughters of Shiloh (Judg 21:15-21:23)

“The people had compassion on Benjamin because Yahweh had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. Then the elders of the congregation said. ‘What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since there are no women left in Benjamin?’ They said. ‘There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin, in order that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel. Yet we cannot give any of our daughters to them as wives.’ For Israelites had sworn. ‘Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to Benjamin.’

Suddenly, everyone was worried about Benjamin. That is the problem with war. Everyone is eager to start it, but they never know what to do when it is over. There were no Benjaminite women for the men. They did not worry about the dead, only the fact that the tribe of Benjamin might disappear. They were not going to give their daughters to the Benjaminites.

“So they said. ‘Look the yearly feast of Yahweh is taking place at Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.’ They instructed the Benjaminites. ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards! Watch! When the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards. Each of you can carry off a wife for himself from the young women of Shiloh. Then go to the land of Benjamin. Then if their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them. ‘Be generous and allow us to have them, because we did not capture in battle a wife for each man. But neither did you incur guilt by giving your daughters to them.’ The Benjaminites did so. They took wives for each one of them from the dancers whom they abducted. Then they went and returned to their territory. They rebuilt the towns and lived in them.”

Wow! The answer to the lack of women is to have the Benjaminite men wait in the vineyards while there is a big feast at Shiloh for Yahweh. Then they would abduct the female dancers at this feast. Are not these women, the daughters of other Israelites since only Israelites would be celebrating a Yahweh feast? If a father or brother of these women complained, explain that this is one way of giving your daughter to the Benjaminites without incurring guilt. Shiloh was in Ephraim territory. This is the only mention of Lebonah, which was close to Shiloh. What a stupid solution to a stupid problem!