The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: “Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.” Judges 21:1

Why take an oath? These men were distressed by the rape and murder of the concubine at the hands of the Benjamites, but why respond by punishing the whole tribe for years to come?

Perhaps they were trying to prove their commitment to the cause or show the depth of their distress. However, going to such lengths tends to have the opposite effect. The constant refrain through the book of Judges is, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (24:15). Perhaps this kind of violent behaviour had become more common than they would care to admit. To make matters worse, having made the vow they insisted on keeping it through murder, kidnapping and rape thus perpetuating the violence (21:5-23).

When we make our own rules about what we think is acceptable behaviour there’s a tendency to keep these rules above and beyond what God has asked us to do. We lose sight of what’s important to God and focus on the things we can regulate. It’s a trap the Pharisees fell into many years later.

In trying to keep God’s commandments the Pharisees added many more rules which had the effect of taking them further away from God’s heart. Jesus pointed out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

Rigidly enforcing rules takes us away from God, not closer to him.