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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BENJAMITES

AFTER the death of Joshua and of Eleazar, Phineas informed the people that it was the will of God they should commit the government to the rulers of the tribe of Judah, and that this tribe should destroy the race of the Canaanites.

Now there was a king in Canaan called Adonibezek, who, believing that when Joshua was dead he could easily defeat [97] the men of Israel, called together his armies to fight them. The Israelites came out and gave them battle, and slew above ten thousand of them, and put the rest to flight. And in the pursuit they took Adonibezek, whose fingers and toes they cut off. And Adonibezek acknowledged that this was a just judgment of God, for he had not been ashamed to do the like to seventy-two kings whom he had conquered. He was then taken to Jerusalem and put to death.

The Israelites went on conquering the heathen nations as God had commanded, and took most of their cities. Yet they did not persevere until they had driven them all out of the land, but permitted many of them to live in peace, on condition that they would pay them a tribute. And being tired of fighting, the Israelites applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which produced them great plenty and riches. Whereupon God was provoked to anger, and told them that as, contrary to His directions, they had spared some of the Canaanites, those Canaanites would in time to come tempt them to sin and cause them great trouble. And though the Israelites were distressed at what God told them, yet were they still unwilling to go to war, preferring to live in peace and luxury. And God was not pleased with them, and withdrew His protection from them for a time, so that their government did not prosper, and at last they fell to fighting among themselves. And the way of it was this.

A certain man of the tribe of Ephraim was travelling with his wife through the land which belonged to the Benjamites. Having stopped to rest in a city of that land called Gibeah, his wife was there cruelly slain. On reaching home he sent word to all the other tribes what had happened to him. And the people were greatly angered, and they gathered together in large number at Shiloh, and determined to take up arms against the citizens of Gibeah unless the murderers were given up to them. Ambassadors were therefore sent to the Benjamites, demanding that these men should [98] be delivered up for punishment. But the Benjamites refused, and said they would go to war first.

When the ambassadors returned with this answer, the people of the other tribes were still more angry. They took an oath that no one of them would ever give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite, and that they would make war with greater fury against that tribe than their forefathers made war against the Canaanites. So they sent out against the city of Gibeah an army of four hundred thousand men. Now the army of the Benjamites was only twenty-five thousand and six hundred, but they had among them five hundred men who excelled in slinging stones, and with their help the Benjamites beat the Israelites when they first joined battle. Of the Israelites there fell two thousand men; and probably more would have been destroyed had not the night come on, and broken off the fight. So the Benjamites returned to the city with joy, and the Israelites returned to their camp in a great fright at what had happened. On the next day, when they fought again, the Benjamites beat them again, and eighteen thousand of the Israelites were slain, and the rest deserted their camp out of fear of a great slaughter. And coming to Bethel, a city that was near their camp, they fasted on the next day, and besought God through Phineas the high-priest, that His wrath against them might cease, and that He would be satisfied with these two defeats, and give them the victory and power over their enemies. Accordingly, God promised that He would do so.

The Israelites then divided the army into two parts. One half of them hid in ambush about the city of Gibeah by night. The other half attacked the Benjamites next morning, and then slowly retired before them, being very anxious to draw all the men out of the city. And indeed even the old men and young men that were left in the city, as too weak to fight, came running out now to join in the pursuit. However, when they were a great way from the city the Israelites ran [99] away no longer, but turned back to fight them. And lifting up the signal they had agreed on, those that lay in ambush rose up, and with a great noise fell upon the enemy. Now when the Benjamites saw they had been deceived, they knew not what to do, and when they were driven into a certain hollow place which was in a valley, they were shot at by those that encompassed them, till they were all destroyed, except six hundred, who, forming themselves into a close body of men, forced their passage through the midst of their enemies, and fled to the neighboring mountains, and remained there. Then the Israelites burned Gibeah, and slew the women, and the males that were under age; and did the same also to the other cities of the Benjamites. And indeed they were so enraged that they sent twelve thousand men out of the army and gave them orders to destroy the city of Jabesh-Gilead, because it did not join with them in fighting against the Benjamites. Accordingly, those that were sent slew the men of war, with the children and wives, except four hundred virgins. To such a degree had they proceeded in their anger, because they not only had the suffering of the Levite's wife to avenge, but the slaughter of their own soldiers.

However, they afterward were sorry for the calamity they had brought upon the Benjamites, although still believing those men had suffered justly for their offence against the laws, and they appointed a fast on that account, and recalled by their ambassadors those six hundred who had escaped.

The ambassadors found these men on a rock called Rimmon, which was in the wilderness. They told them the Israelites lamented the disaster that had befallen the Benjamites, and had determined they would not let the whole race perish, but would allow these few survivors to return to their home.

"We give you leave," said the Israelites, "to take the whole land of Benjamin to yourselves, and as much cattle and gold and silver as you are able to carry away with you."

[100] And the Israelites also gave them the four hundred virgins of Jabesh-Gilead for wives. But there were still two hundred of the Benjamites that had no wives, and the Israelites deliberated how they might get wives for them. For they had sworn before the war began that no one would give his daughter to wife to any of that tribe, and the oath could not be broken. Then, while they were debating, a man rose out of the assembly and said he could show them a way whereby they might procure the Benjamites wives enough and yet keep their oaths. And when they asked how that could be, he answered,—

"Three times a year, when we meet in Shiloh, having our wives and our children with us, let the Benjamites be allowed to steal away and to marry such maidens as they can, while we neither encourage nor forbid them. And if any of the parents take it ill, we will tell them that they ought to have better guarded their daughters."

The Israelites were pleased with this advice, and determined to follow it. So, when the festival was going on, these two hundred Benjamites scattered themselves along the roads near the city of Shiloh, and hid by twos and threes in the vineyards and other places, and waited for the coming of the virgins. And as the virgins walked along in an unguarded manner, the men rushed out upon them, and carried them off and married them.

In this way all the Benjamites got themselves wives. And they flourished, and soon increased to be a multitude, and recovered their former happy state.


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