So, the story is actually over, but we need to deal with this on another level. How did this story come about? What happened to Israel since the time of Joshua that they have changed so much. With Moses and the 10 Commandments, they’re on the verge of becoming a civilization, an empire. They are establishing laws, justice, and identity by the time Moses passes on, and Joshua takes up the reins and actually gets them into the Promised Land. They enjoy prosperity for a time.
By the time the book of Judges begins, however, the landscape has changed. Israel is an occupied land with Philistine overseers. The Philistines will continue to be there until David is able to oust them, which will take several years.
So, when this horrible, awful story takes place, Israel is not its own country. They are an occupied state. And they’re surrounded. When Joshua went into the promised land of Canaan, it was occupied already. The Israelites drove those inhabitants out, but it’s not like the land around them was empty. Numerous tribes and kingdoms bordered Israel. For the first time, Israel had to contend with its neighbors and the possible effects those neighbors might have on Israel.
I don’t have concrete proof of this, but there was a decided shift from what Moses and Joshua were doing to Judges. Judges has a lot of stories, most of them focusing on a specific external neighbor. It’s quite possible that the erosion is, in part, due to cultural influx from these neighbors. Israel was not at war nor occupied by all of them, but culture can follow trade routes as well.
But I think this is only a small part of what happened. The next piece of the puzzle is their own prosperity. After the success of the Exodus and Joshua taking the promised land, things were easy. They expanded and grew, as any budding nation would do. They also became complacent. Their lack of hardship actually contributed to their corruption, which is a pattern that history bears out many, many times. It’s not unusual, but it’s also too simplistic to simply lay on the feet of “good times.”
Throughout the book of Judges, it mentions that there was no king. Even during the Exodus, Israel was large. The armies that Israel is able to muster against Benjamin demonstrates just how large Israel has grown. The divisions by tribe are no longer sufficient. Israel can no longer be a tribal nation. It’s too big to govern in that way. This story is proof that each tribe doing their own thing will result in a civil war. If they can’t get their act together and truly figure out how to govern themselves, to once again become a nation of laws and act civilly, they’ll be destroyed.