So, when I first became of aware of this story in grad school, my professor asked the entire class a very simple, very crucial question: “Why is this story in the Bible?”
Silence reigned over the class for several minutes as we pondered this. Finally, and I don’t remember who said it, we said that there was nothing redeemable about this story. Nothing happens in it that stands as an example for Israel. Throughout the beginning of the Old Testament, every story had something in it which pointed to hope, which pointed to an example of what people, specifically Israel, should be doing. Even with Cain, the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Joseph’s brothers, and Pharaoh, every story showed a ray of hope, some kind of an example that pointed to redeeming qualities.
Not this story.
From beginning to end, it’s horrific. Several times there are opportunities for the story to turn, and it does, but only to go deeper into darkness. This story is the low point for Israel. They have demonstrated what a horrible and selfish people they are, both on an individual level and a societal one.
In the end, the only thing our class could say was that this story is a warning of what not to do. This story demonstrates what happens when people “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25) instead of in God’s eyes. These were the days where Israel was ruled by their tribal leaders, when “there was no king in Israel” nor was there a prophet. We don’t have God’s voice calmly guiding Israel. We have no Abraham, Moses, or Joshua to lead the people to do what is right. Any time a verse tries to bring in God’s words, they don’t ring as true.
God didn’t need the army of Israel to lay waste to Sodom, he sent two angels. Why wouldn’t the same hold true for Gibeah? God has not been shy of action throughout the Old Testament, why now? It doesn’t fit the character of God. Throughout all of Judges, Israel has been spiraling away from God, and even invocations to God don’t quite ring as sincere or true.
I think that any time it happens in this story, they’re trying to justify their actions in destroying Benjamin, and they want to further justify their actions by kidnaping women into sexual slavery as a means to restore the balance because of their overreaction.
I said that Samson was actually a very Greek hero, and I likewise think that this story sounds more Greek than Israelite. It’s the only explanation I have for how bizarre it is.