Mark 3:25: “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Today – we are in Judges 20 and a Civil War is about to break out in the land of Israel. We have covered almost 300 years of Israel’s history and today’s message took place around 1070 BC (about 60 years before King David). In fact, King Saul will take the throne about 18 years after the events that will read about today in 1052 BC. Samuel, our author, is about 34 years old when the events we are reading about today occurred and Saul was 12 years old. So, he was already considered a man when Israel goes through this Civil War. Saul will be 30 years old when he will be crowned the first king – 18 years from the events in Judges 20. Remember these dates are estimates. We can almost accurately say that the Exodus took place between 1446-1440 BC and that Saul was crowned in 1052 BC. So, the 400 years in between are estimated dates according to the duration of each judge and the events that took place during their time of giving judgment.
King David will take the throne at around 1010 BC. I Samuel 13:1 tells us that Saul ruled for 42 years. I Kings 2:11 tells us that King David ruled for 40 years. We can follow these duration cycles all the way to the temple, which is a time marker. The first temple will be constructed by Solomon in 960 BC (about 100 years after the events will read about today). In fact, the date of the Temple by Solomon is how we measure all of the Biblical Timeline from the Temple all the way to Adam. Because the Bible doesn’t give years – it tells us durations. King Saul was 30 years old and reigned for 42 years. We can add all of that up, but we need a firm marker date to start from. So 1 Kings 6:1 tells us that the Exodus occurred 480 years after the Temple was constructed. So, that means we can know the date of the Exodus if we can know the date of the first temple. In fact, we can count all the back to Adam if we know the date of the temple. The closest we can get is between 966-957 BC.
I would encourage you to get a hold of our study of chapter 19 because today’s teaching is the continuation of that story. This is our second to last chapter in the book of Judges. We will see that everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes vs. what is right according to God’s eyes – this in fact will be the last verse in Judges. Then there is a book called Ruth that will follow where we see how God moves to bring about what will ultimately be the birth of King David through his grandfather Boaz and grandmother Ruth.
So, here we are in Judges 20. I am going to actually take this chapter verse by verse. Often I will read sections and summarize, but this is one we need to take apart to understand.
Last week, you heard from Pastor Liborio as he covered one of the hardest chapters in all of Scripture. There is rape and murder with the body being disbursed to all the tribes of Israel to make a point that blood is on our hands. Sin had corrupted the entire nation. Like the American Civil War – they were separate states but they were one nation and the sin of their leaders, the Levites, demonstrates the corruption that permeated the nation as a whole. In fact, Israel is a case-study for nations that are a democracy under a theocracy. We are, here in the United States of America, ONE NATION, UNDER GOD – and so was Israel. They had representatives of the tribes (states) and they brought their matters to the Levites and to God Almighty, who served as their true King.
Israel has progressively fallen away. The people have turned to foreign gods. Their pastors (Levites) have lost their way. One tribe (Dan) has abandoned its position in the land and taken a different land, leaving the rest of the tribes vulnerable to the Philistines (who will then grow in power and will be a formidable opponent to King Saul), and now we will see a civil war. They didn’t get to this position overnight. No they have taken step after step away from God and they are now a lost people acting out as a people who are only doing right in their own eyes. Turn on the news today and you will find that our nation is doing the same.
Out of curiosity, does anyone know how many Civil Wars are going on right now around the world? There are more than 18 taking place as we speak. Since the year 2000, there have been 43 Civil Wars. In total, there have been more than 220 Civil Wars recorded since 400 BC. When we think of Civil War – we think of the American Civil War (1861-1865) that cost nearly 1,100,000 casualties and claimed more than 620,000 lives (almost as many deaths as the rest of the U.S. wars thereafter combined).
WWI: 116,000, WWII: 405,000, Korea: 36,516, Vietnam: 58,209, Iraq: 4,500
In chapter 20, the tribes of Israel gather together in unison because of the threat of Civil War and they prepare to pour out their wrath on the evil men of Gibeah. They take three vows:
(1) No one will go home until Gibeah is attacked and destroyed.
(2) Anyone who does not join against Gibeah will be killed.
(3) No one will allow his daughter to marry a Benjaminite.
Ironically, Israel is finally unified as “one man.” However, they are unified in their quest for vengeance. Unfortunately, the Levite testifies against the men of Gibeah without owning his sin. Naturally, not knowing the full story, the Israelites are all the more infuriated. When the Israelites approach the Benjamites, they refuse to hand over the men who committed the atrocity. Instead, they decide to go to war with Israel. So 26,000 plus Benjamites go to war with over 400,000 Israelites! While this civil war is certainly not God’s will, the men of Gibeah are evil men and have to be punished before the Lord could be pleased with His people and cleanse His land. When sin isn’t exposed, confessed, and punished, it pollutes society and defiles the land. “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9) The wicked men of Gibeah are like a cancerous tumor in the body that has to be cut out. When God’s people refuse to obey God’s Word, the results are always tragic. The spiritual life of a church is crippled and eventually destroyed when the congregation shuts its eyes to sin and will not discipline offenders. There can never be unity among the people of God if sin is not addressed. This is true in our personal life with God – within the church and within a nation.
In fact, as we look at A House Divided in Israel, you can cross examine this from a personal level as well. If the husband and wife are not unified, then this impacts the economics of the home, the impact of the home, the future of the home and impacts the children in the home. If they walk away from God, they will not have a fruitful relationship, they will create distance between them and God and this will impact everything. So, let’s begin.
“So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the Lord at Mizpah.”
In this chapter the Levite’s appeal to the tribal confederacy of Israel is answered. The case is heard and the children of Benjamin are commanded to deliver the wrongdoers for punishment in accordance with the law and the covenant. Their refusal to do so is a breach of covenant which the others see as bringing God’s wrath on themselves unless they do something about it. Thus they seek to put pressure on them to do so. It is interesting that now they seemed concerned about what God thinks. In a moment of desperation, suddenly they care again what God thinks. They may also be acting out in emotion here wanting vengeance and using God as justification to act on their desire.
It is sad that persecution has finally driven them to be AS ONE – which is what God’s heart is, just as it was conveyed in Christ’s prayer in John 17:21.
When this also is rejected they go in to do it themselves. In order, in their view, to avoid the wrath of God, the tribal confederacy seeks to enforce their decree. This results in a tribal war which is evidence of a serious breach of covenant on behalf of ‘Benjamin’, and eventually, after two setbacks, they defeat the children of Benjamin with God’s backing, and exact the vengeance, which tradition required. However, the consequence of this civil war resulted in the near extermination of the entire tribe of Benjamin.
So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the LORD at Mizpah.
After messengers had been sent between the tribes the whole of Israel gathered at Mizpah. This may have resulted from a call from the central sanctuary at Bethel, or possibly on the initiative of the leaders of the tribe of Ephraim where the Levite lived.
This opening verse reports the tribes sent representatives ‘From Dan to Beersheba’, a rough description of the land possessed west of Jordan, a description regularly used in the Old Testament. Dan was the furthest north of the towns of Israel, and Beersheba the furthest south.
Remember way back in the book of Joshua before the nation of Israel went into the Promised Land, a few tribes petitioned to stay on the other side of the Jordan river. This is those people where the statement ‘Along with the land of Gilead’, is talking about. Those east of Jordan were also included in the call up, ‘Gilead’ being used in its widest sense as representing the whole. All Israel were involved. The Levite had achieved his purpose. He had shocked them into action and united the tribes.
The tribal confederation were gathered in unity, which was not always true of them, and all were agreed that the matter should be dealt with. They had gathered to see to the implementing of the covenant of Yahweh, which He had made with them and to which He demanded obedience to as their God. It was seen as matter for the whole confederation. They were gathered before God. The gathering was done ‘At Mizpah.’ It means ‘a place of watching’. It was a town of Benjamin, eleven kilometers (seven miles) north of Jerusalem.
“And the leaders of all the people, all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers who drew the sword. 3 (Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the children of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this wicked deed happen?”
It would hardly seem surprising as they met on Benjaminite territory. But the statement ‘had heard’ probably means that they had received the call and had refused it. It was in fact a grave mistake not to have made more effort to ensure the Benjaminite leaders were there, for had they been there and agreed to the verdict the problems that resulted may not have occurred. Trying to force an opinion on people without their participation is a recipe for disaster. Of course if the call to the assembly went with the parts of the concubine’s body that may explain why they did not come. They were offended.
The leaders who had gathered together now commenced the case, and asked for details of what had occurred. There would presumably be present as witnesses the Levite, his servant and the old man from Gibeah.
“So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “My concubine and I went into Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, to spend the night. 5 And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me, but instead they ravished my concubine so that she died. 6 So I took hold of my concubine, cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of the inheritance of Israel, because they committed lewdness and outrage in Israel.”
He then explained his unusual action in cutting up her body and sending it round to the tribes. What he had done emphasizes that he was asking for the death penalty. That was the significance of the cutting up and sending round of the dead body.
Please note the Levite’s comment ‘Of the inheritance of Israel.’ This was his description of the country that Israel had inherited from God. This reminded them that the country was God’s, and that they were responsible to Him for maintaining justice in His name. They had inherited it from the God of the covenant, and therefore must fulfill the covenant requirements. In this case the land was stained with blood.
The crime of the men of the Tribe of Benjamin is concise and to the point - ‘Lewdness and outrage or folly in Israel.’ ‘Folly in Israel’ was a technical term for the most obscene of behavior. It signified that the culprit had broken the covenant in a way that deserved the ultimate penalty. ‘Lewdness’ defined the particular type of folly that had been committed. They were guilty of attempted sodomy, multiple rape, lack of hospitality to a stranger, intended desecration of a Levite, and murder. Details of this may well have been privately passed to the main judges. It could not be mentioned in public.
Look! All of you are children of Israel; give your advice and counsel here and now!”
8 So all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, nor will any turn back to his house; 9 but now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it by lot. 10 We will take ten men out of every hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, a hundred out of every thousand, and a thousand out of every ten thousand, to make provisions for the people, that when they come to Gibeah in Benjamin, they may repay all the vileness that they have done in Israel.” 11 So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man.
12 Then the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What is this wickedness that has occurred among you? 13 Now therefore, deliver up the men, the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel!” But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel.
The first phrase was intended to make them consider the position and was presumably accompanied by the details of the case. The second was a demand that the guilty men be handed over to be put to death.
How insensitive people are. When outsiders seek to impose their will without proper consultation it can only cause resentment within. What they should have done was ensured that the children of Benjamin were included in the deliberations, if so then things might have turned out differently. But men are naturally arrogant, especially when they think they have the truth, and their anger was aroused. What they wanted was right. It was the way they went about it that was wrong. It is not wise to make important decisions in anger. Many a church has been divided by such heavy-handed tactics.
Leviticus 19:18 specifically says to not take vengeance for we will read in Deuteronomy 32:35 that vengeance is the Lord’s not man’s.
On the other hand Benjamin was part of the tribal confederation. They should have been present, and they had a responsibility to cooperate in the fulfilling of the covenant which the men of Gibeah had broken. And they knew the consequences of refusal. Israel was made up of God’s people. It was therefore necessary to remove sin from among them, especially compounded sin like this one. It reflected on all. Both fornication and murder were capital offences under Mosaic Law. And to misuse a Levite was sacrilege. Indeed if they did not deal with it rightly they knew that they themselves would come under the judgment of God.
The use of the term ‘brothers’ signified their place as members of the tribal confederation. But the Benjaminites, and especially their leaders, were annoyed. This had been done over their heads and was being enforced from outside. Naturally they bridled at the idea. Thus, instead of giving the case a fair examination, they refused to give up the men of Gibeah, who had been guilty of such a great sin.
Both sides were in the wrong, the one for treating the sin lightly because of their pride, the other for their presumption because of their arrogance. But in the eyes of the law the latter were in the right, for God’s law was being ignored and they rightly saw it as a heinous thing. The action of the Levite had brought home to them just how heinous. They felt that if they did not eradicate the sin, God might eradicate them. Thus their obstinacy. They had fear of God and rightly so. Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, were very clear on sin of this nature – and we not talking about one kind of sin either. We are talking about compounded sin! Men do not go from being devout worshipers of God one day to raping men and women the next day. No, what happens is a progression of compounded sin that leads to disdain for God and rebellion to Him. The by-product is debauchery of every kind – your thoughts, your words and your actions are thus polluted by sin. This is why capital punishment was called for to eradicate this disease. When Christ comes, we will see that sin is defeated once and for all at its source.
“Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel.”
Recognizing that the next move would be for the tribal confederacy to attack Gibeah, the Benjaminites gathered their fighting men together there in order to fight off any attack. They were determined to protect it and defend it against the other tribes. It was their city and no one else had a right to interfere. But this was not only a breach of the covenant, it was an act of civil war.
Perhaps this was what Jacob (Israel) saw when he spoke these words to his son Benjamin in Genesis 49:
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he shall devour the prey, And at night he shall divide the spoil.”
Of course, had they been more conciliatory and agreed to try the men themselves things would have taken a different turn. But now it was prestige that was at stake, and in order to defend that they were prepared to overlook gross sin. So do men behave in their folly. The case was not well thought out. In the end, although they were powerful fighters, they had no hope against such superior numbers. Perhaps they hoped that the tribal confederation would back down, but they had not counted on the effect on the confederate leaders of receiving a part of a woman’s torso with its consequent realization of how great the sin had been against God.
“And from their cities at that time the children of Benjamin numbered twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred select men.”
The children of Benjamin were numbered for battle and their numbers came to twenty six military units, compared with the four hundred military units of the tribal confederacy. They also had the men of Gibeah who would fight to the death for their city. There were seven hundred of them and they were ‘chosen men’, powerful fighters.
“Among all this people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.”
Each unit would have a number of slingers and in all they numbered seven hundred. They slung left-handed and were deadly accurate. This is fitting since the name Benjamin means “of the right hand” which reminds us of Ehud, he second judge of Israel, who was left handed and took out Eglon, king of the Moabites. Ehud was a Benjaminite.
“Now besides Benjamin, the men of Israel numbered four hundred thousand men who drew the sword; all of these were men of war.”
The opposing tribal confederacy had four hundred fighting units. But as verse 10 may be telling us, they were at first only committing forty.
“Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?”
The Lord said, “Judah first!”
Bethel was where God had revealed Himself to Jacob/Israel their ancestor. There they sought God’s guidance. Bethel would have been the border of Ephraim and Benjamin tribal territories. That means that the HOLY CITIES OF JERUSALEM AND BETHEL were once allotted to Benjamin but the people will lose them with their defiance (fulfilling what was read in Judges 1:2) with Jerusalem going to Judah and Bethel to Ephraim.
Judges 1:2: “And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.”
They were on a sacred mission and looked to God to guide them. This may have been through the Urim and Thummim, the answer to which would be taken as indicating Yahweh’s will. This prevented any feeling of resentment with regard to the matter, otherwise each might have argued for the privilege of leading into battle. And the decision was that the units of Judah should lead into battle.
“So the children of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah. 20 And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel put themselves in battle array to fight against them at Gibeah.”
The forty units of the tribal confederacy, with Judah to the fore, marched to Gibeah and encamped near the city. Please notice that it is ‘the children of Israel’ who go forward, not just the men of Judah. Thus Judah are just the leading units into battle.
Then at the appropriate time they left their camp and set themselves in battle array ready for action, forty units against twenty six units.
“Then the children of Benjamin came out of Gibeah, and on that day cut down to the ground twenty-two thousand men of the Israelites.”
The phrase ‘cut down to the ground’ is unusual. This could indicate that they were seriously wounded so they were not necessarily all killed, but many knocked to the ground as though dead. This may have been partly through the sling stones. But they lost in this way twenty two of their units, a shattering defeat.
1) The question may be asked why they were defeated when they were in a righteous cause. Besides not repenting of their own sins, the answer may also lie in a similar complaint to that when Joshua failed against Ai. Instead of taking their whole army they had sent only a tenth. They had, like Joshua, been presumptuous and had gone forward confident in their own strength and ability.
They went to God expecting Him to give them what they wanted. But instead, he dealt a blow to them because there were unaddressed issues…“But God, let’s just focus on them…not us.”
ILLUSTRATION: Dad says to clean our room. But how long will we delay with responses like, “we are now meeting 2x a week on how to clean our room, have a special study group on the details of cleaning our room and even hold a weekly prayer time on how to clean our room. I then went and gathered 3 other people who are also learning how to clean their room now too.”
But, have you actually cleaned the room though?
When Moses came to the edge of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15) he gives a great speech and then cries out to God to deliver them to which God replies, “why are you crying out to Me? Tell the people to move forward.” Basically saying, I told you what to do so do it. Moses dumbfounded is staring at the Red Sea so there was doubt as if the water was a barrier to God. So, God tells him to stretch out his hand...and the rest is history.
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly." Soren Kierkegaard
- Luke 9:23 (whoever wants to be a disciple must take up his cross)
- Luke 14:25-35 (cost of discipleship – willing to give it all to Him)
When Elijah came to Elisha’s home in 1 Kings 19:21, Elijah placed the mantel on Elisha’s shoulders and there was no Plan B. Elisha burned his farming equipment and sacrificed the cattle unto the Lord. There was no Plan B – because he was all in.
Like the rich young man who went away sad because he didn’t want to part with his worldly possessions (Matthew 19:22/Mark 10:22) – we find ourselves unable to fully commit to what we know God expects of us.
But when you release your agenda to God’s…you fight in the strength of the Lord and you’ll be willing to attack hell with water pistols!
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. That’s the secret –utilizing the strength of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:10-11 says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” In your own strength, you are as helpless as a newborn kitten. But when you depend on God’s strength, you have all the power of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!
1) They needed to be humbled to fight in the Lord’s strength and not their own
2) Others have attributed it to the fact that idolatry was still rife in the land as illustrated in chapter 18. The men of Dan, who had set up their own graven image and established their own priesthood, were in the confederacy.
3) But a third possibility lies in the fact that God does not always give success immediately. Sometimes failure is a test to see whether His people will persevere in what is right even when things go wrong. What He promises is final success, and this they would achieve.
And the people, that is, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and again formed the battle line at the place where they had put themselves in array on the first day. 23 Then the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, “Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother Benjamin?”
And the Lord said, “Go up against him.”
This may indicate that they brought up further reinforcements as a result of messengers going back to the main force with an indication of what had happened. It may also indicate that many men who had seemed fatally struck down had not been so, and had been brought back to camp ready for further battle. They still considered that their tactics of the first day had been right. So they once again set their forces in array ready for a further battle. But first they wanted confirmation from Yahweh.
Their confidence had been dented, so as well as bringing up reinforcements they again sought God. ‘Went up’ suggests that some of their number went again to the central sanctuary at Bethel on their behalf. Or it may be that the Priest was there wearing the ephod and they gathered to the Priest. ‘They wept before Yahweh until evening’. This was partly because of their disastrous defeat and in mourning for their fallen comrades, but no doubt with great heart searching as to the reasons why God had let them down. Has this ever happened to you? Then study on to see how you can avoid this in the future from happening. Maybe there was also a great searching of their hearts for sins that may have been responsible, including their lack of brotherhood towards Benjamin.
The lot fell for a further attack on Benjamin. This confirmed for them that Benjamin now shared in the guilt of Gibeah, as well as also being seen as traitors against the covenant and the tribal confederacy.
“So the children of Israel approached the children of Benjamin on the second day. 25 And Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah on the second day, and cut down to the ground eighteen thousand more of the children of Israel; all these drew the sword.
26 Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.”
Once again the children of Israel advanced against the Benjaminites. The children of Israel were swordsmen and it is possible that they could not cope with this weapon that knocked them down to the ground before they had even reached the enemy – like archers of the English wars. In fact, during the American Civil War, they would hide canons in the trees and when the troops were in range, they would even stuff chains and glass into the canons so that when they shot, it would just mow down masses of men greatly wounding many and rendering them ineffective in battle.
The Israelites have now lost 40,000 men in two crushing loses, 22,000 at the first battle and 18,000 at the second battle. By comparison, after the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War, the confederate army had 23,231 casualties at the battle of Gettysburg. Of which, there were 7,863 dead from both sides.
‘Now wait a minute Lord, what are you doing? You tell us to go and fight and then you lead us to defeat.’ This is not true.
You have to stop and think about this. Our Great Yahweh Elohe Yisrael – The Lord God of Israel, only answered their direct questions with a direct answer. The Israelites had forsaken God. Remember, how everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They had nothing to do with God. And now all of a sudden God should be rejoicing that they have come back to Him. I don’t think so. What they are doing now is what they should have done before anything else. Do you see the point here? They should have been on their face repenting and fasting and crying for their cold rejection of the Holy One Who they owe their entire existence to. They had forsaken God and in their hour of need thought the could go through the motions – Ephod, prayer, group discussion, off they go – but NO – God wanted their undivided attention on the source of the problem here. They were treating God like a divine genie and this had to stop. True repentance was needed. Do you remember II Chronicles 7:14? Here is what it says:
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14
What about us? You see someone who has lead a life away from God in sin and they just show back up like nothing happened? I think our God wants to see humble repentant hearts before He will hear their petitions of requests. You see, repentance is not an Old Testament thing.
You would be very wrong to think that way. The word Repent or Repentance appears 106 times in the New Testament alone.
Here is what Luke wrote in Acts 3:19:
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19
This requires the action of intentionality:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
In fact, we are told that our prayers can be hindered by unresolved sin in I Peter 3:7.
“So the children of Israel inquired of the Lord (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,”
The mention of the Ark of the Covenant, in which were the ten commandments against which the men of Gibeah were judged, in a way points out the sins of the 11 Tribes also. We have just read about idol worship and self indulgences all around the place of the Ark so the mention of the Ark shows that they had taken God’s presence for granted. Familiarity has bread contempt in the hearts of God’s people so this Civil War is about to create a recalibration in the people to adjust their compasses back to pointing north.
ILLUSTRATION OF THE VIOLIN: We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician's instrument were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not "disciplined"? - A.W. Tozer, Men Who Met God.
“and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?”
And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”
29 Then Israel set men in ambush all around Gibeah.”
The question not only reflects their concern about their defeat, but also their concern about whether they should be fighting against this wayward member of the tribal confederacy. It was probably put in two parts. ‘Should we go up?’ and ‘Will You deliver them into our hand.’ It is possible that the Urim and Thummim could only give the answers ‘yes’ or ‘no reply’. These were stones affixed to the top of the Priests Ephod in the Breastplate with the other stones that represented each of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Historians have said glowed with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer (Exodus 28:20; Leviticus 8:8). This is confirmation that hearing an audible voice from the heavens was not the way God worked. He gave them the truth and expected them to walk in it lest divine audible conversation would skew the outcome of their free will to choose to do what is right or even what was wrong.
We still find Ezra using this device to determine the ancestry of the priests who returned from the exile in Ezra 2:63. After this the Bible never mentions the Urim and Thummin again. God did not preserve it for His people. They are one more allowance from God to assist His people at a certain point in history – before the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts.
This time God not only told them to go forward, but also promised victory on the morrow.
There was now a change of tactics. Their previous tactics had not worked, probably because of the slingers. Now they decided that they must draw the children of Benjamin out of the city allowing the warriors in wait to come in from behind and capture the city. These may well have been put in place at night. The tactics followed those of Joshua at Ai as discussed in the book of Joshua chapter 8. They had probably been reminded of them on recognizing that their behavior had been similar to Israel’s then, with the same arrogance, a similar need to deal with sin, and now the promise of final victory.
What has Israel learned so far – what have we learned so far?
1) Quit trying to do things OUR WAY, even when we believe are right.
2) Approach the LORD the CORRECT way with reverential FEAR of the LORD, not ASSUMING anything, again even when we believe we are right.
3) ASK through the great high priest (Jesus Christ) and according to the FATHER’S WILL.
4) Let the LORD use HIS STRATEGY to defeat the enemy and make things right.
“And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in battle array against Gibeah as at the other times.”
There were three memorable days of battle. This was the third of them. They appeared to be following the same plan as previously, but this time with their full force. The children of Benjamin no doubt thought that their luck was in. They thought that these foolish children of Israel would never learn. They were about to lose again.
“So the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city. They began to strike down and kill some of the people, as at the other times, in the highways (one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah) and in the field, about thirty men of Israel.”
The children of Israel went into retreat drawing the Benjaminites after them into the highways in the open country going towards Bethel. The Benjaminites, exulting in this further success, followed them leaving Gibeah relatively undefended. And they killed thirty men of Israel. But this time the rapid retreat had prevented maximum use of the slingers.
“And the children of Benjamin said, “They are defeated before us, as at first.”
But the children of Israel said, “Let us flee and draw them away from the city to the highways.”
They men of the tribe of Benjamin were overconfident and became careless, forgetting that their previous victories had been due to the slingers and the massed ranks of their enemies coming towards them. This was the strategy of the children of Israel, to draw the Benjaminites away from the city by pretending to be afraid of them and not able to face them. So they fled along the highways which enabled them to move at speed without becoming too disorganized, followed by the hotly pursuing Benjaminites.
“So all the men of Israel rose from their place and put themselves in battle array at Baal Tamar. Then Israel’s men in ambush burst forth from their position in the plain of Geba.”
These men who ‘rose up out of their place’ were probably a large force lying in ambush. As the fleeing Israelites came towards them, followed by the exultant Benjaminites, they rose up and drew up in battle formation at Baal Tamar, a place on the route between Bethel and Gibeah. Tamar means ‘palm tree’. Possibly it was a grove of palm trees where Baal worship had been prominent. Or this could have even been the palm tree of Deborah in Judges 4 demonstrating that a previous place of worship was being used now for pagan worship.
“And ten thousand select men from all Israel came against Gibeah, and the battle was fierce. But the Benjamites did not know that disaster was upon them.”
These ten units may have been the Israelite warriors in wait, or they may have been the forces in ambush that suddenly appeared in front of the horrified Benjaminites, joining forces with the fleeing children of Israel. Or they may have been a third force which had been waiting for this moment.
The new strategy had rendered the slingers relatively ineffective for they worked best against massed troops before battle was actually joined, not against rapidly moving fleeing targets, and the retreat had probably disorganized them. The cutting down of fleeing troops was not working for slingers, and the Benjaminites had not been expecting the extra reinforcements.
This verse, “did not know that disaster was upon them” also reminds me of Matthew 24:37-44 where we are told the following by Christ Jesus:
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
As we learned from Samson, pride comes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18). This is true for individuals and nations who have stopped humbling themselves before Almighty God. We can chose to humble ourselves or we will get humbled because make no mistake, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11).
“The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel. And the children of Israel destroyed that day twenty-five thousand one hundred Benjamites; all these drew the sword.”
Twenty five out of twenty six Benjaminite units were destroyed. One unit had probably remained to protect Gibeah. The ‘hundred’ men were probably specifically a unit of the men of Gibeah.
“So the children of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. The men of Israel had given ground to the Benjamites, because they relied on the men in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah.”
The soldiers of Benjamin now became aware that their end was near. This was part of the explanation for the pretended flight. It also nullified the slingers and drew the Benjaminites into an ambush.
“And the men in ambush quickly rushed upon Gibeah; the men in ambush spread out and struck the whole city with the edge of the sword.”
The weakly defended city, with only one fighting unit available, was unable to stem the onset and succumbed, and all were put to the sword for they were seen as sharing the guilt of Gibeah. They were subject to The Ban, total extermination.
“Now the appointed signal between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they would make a great cloud of smoke rise up from the city,”
The smoke would alert their fellow soldiers that the city had been taken and would bring alarm and despondency to the enemy. For the Benjaminites, if Gibeah was taken, the enemy was behind them, and they had nowhere to retreat, and their whole reason for fighting had gone. Could you imagine thinking you what was behind you was safe only to see your home burning behind you and suddenly realizing you were surrounded. Your enemies are before you, behind you and now the mind will begin playing tricks on you thinking the enemy is everywhere. They were completely mentally and emotionally defeated.
This is why placing a standard (a flag) in the ground is so powerful – like the famous Iwo Jima U.S. flag that meant so much when 6 Marines fought to raise that flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. It demoralized the enemy and is a symbol to the combatants.
“whereupon the men of Israel would turn in battle. Now Benjamin had begun to strike and kill about thirty of the men of Israel. For they said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.” 40 But when the cloud began to rise from the city in a column of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and there was the whole city going up in smoke to heaven.”
A huge pillar of smoke ascended from the city and one of their number first noticed it and yelled, and others then turned and saw it, and soon the word spread until all saw it. They knew exactly what it meant. What they were fighting for had been destroyed, and they had nowhere to go back to, only avenging forces whose number they did not know. Nothing produces more panic than uncertainty.
“And when the men of Israel turned back, the men of Benjamin panicked, for they saw that disaster had come upon them.”
Their city destroyed behind them in an appalling way by a force of unknown strength, the sudden resolute turning of what they had thought was a defeated army, and the appearance of extra troops could only cause them to panic, and seeming victory was turned into defeat.
“Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them, and whoever came out of the cities they destroyed in their midst. 43 They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them, and easily trampled them down as far as the front of Gibeah toward the east.”
The Benjaminites saw no alternative but to flee for their lives into the rough country, for the highways would just lead them into enemy forces, but it did them no good for their pursuers were relentless. They chased them hard and slew them one by one.
The United States did something similar in February of 1991, when more than 2,000 vehicles and armored divisions of Saddam Hussein’s military were fleeing Kuwait on Highway 80 and 8. Our gun ships wiped them out as both an attempt to cut off their military and to make a statement. (2 pictures)
The Benjaminites were surrounded on all sides, for the confederation dwelt in lands all round, and men would come from all sides to wreak vengeance on Benjamin. Pursuit was so fierce that as soon as Benjaminites stopped exhausted for a rest they would be overtaken and trodden down, that is, slaughtered. Some would inevitably slip through the net and disappear, hiding in the mountains or wandering disguised through confederate lands as travelers.
“And eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell; all these were men of valor. 45 Then they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon; and they cut down five thousand of them on the highways. Then they pursued them relentlessly up to Gidom, and killed two thousand of them. 46 So all who fell of Benjamin that day were twenty-five thousand men who drew the sword; all these were men of valor.”
This would be a rocky cliff with caves, possibly modern Rammon, eight miles east of Bethel. They knew that if they reached that rocky fortress they would be able to hide and defend themselves against any who tried to encroach. Rimmon means ‘pomegranate’. Perhaps that was what it looked like or perhaps where pomegranates were grown. After all pomegranates were embroidered into the hem of the Ephod.
The picture is dreadful, but vivid. One by one the men of Benjamin were picked off as they used the highways to try to reach Rimmon, a whole five units of men. The gleanings were the bits that were left over when the harvest was reaped, to be picked up a little at a time, and they were the gleanings. Two units managed to reach Gidom, but there they had to make a stand and were defeated. The name means ‘a cutting down, a breaking in pieces’.
“But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they stayed at the rock of Rimmon for four months.”
Of the army that started out only six hundred identifiable men remained, although we can be sure that here and there stragglers escaped and found refuge somewhere. We are told that Benjamin had 26,700 warriors so of the 25,000 that were cut down, there were at least 1,700 warriors left. But, in Judges 20:35, we are told that 25,100 would fall in total - meaning 1,600 warriors remain from the tribe of Benjamin. There are almost always some who escape even the worst massacres, to later describe what happened. The Rock of Rimmon was clearly inaccessible except individually and thus could easily be defended by a small force while they had supplies. The confederacy knew that they were there but could seemingly do little about it. In fact, we should praise God for His mercy that He allowed them to escape. Because later we will find that the tribe of Benjamin will become a major supporter of the tribe of Judah and together they will form the southern kingdom that will stand 150 years longer than the other 10 tribes combined. The Apostle Paul will also come from the tribe of Benjamin. So, without God’s mercy, the New Testament as we know it would not have been.
“And the men of Israel turned back against the children of Benjamin, and struck them down with the edge of the sword—from every city, men and beasts, all who were found. They also set fire to all the cities they came to.”
From city to city they went, killing with their swords every living person, old men, women and children, and then destroying all domestic beasts and every possession. The cities were burned to the ground. Nothing was to be left. Seemingly it took about four months. This was the punishment for betrayal of the covenant and rejection of the authority of the tribal confederacy to which by oath they belonged. It was an object lesson to all the members of the confederacy as to what would happen to them if they betrayed their brothers. And the six hundred men were cooped up in the Rock of Rimmon knowing what was happening to their wives and children. But in the end this was the consequence of the behavior of the men of Gibeah and the unwillingness of God’s people in Benjamin to do anything about it.
What lessons do we learn from this passage of Scripture?
1) Firstly, that God is holy and requires full payment for sin. The men of Gibeah had committed crimes which required the death penalty. It was necessary that those penalties be exacted. God expects full obedience.
2) Secondly that breach of a covenant with God is a serious matter. God will act to preserve its integrity. If we treat sin lightly then we must expect God’s judgment, whether now or delayed. God is not mocked and this we are reminded by the Apostle Paul where he says that God will not be mocked and a man will reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7). Praise be to God that we have the blood of Jesus to cover us or the only judgment would be death – “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
Listen to the words of Hebrews 12 – this chapter sums up what we have studied so well that Jesus is our salvation from sin, that God will discipline though He would have every right to eternally condemn us if not for His son Jesus and that we must act as Believers who have taken up the cross to follow Him:
The Race of Faith
12 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Discipline of God
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”[a]
7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Renew Your Spiritual Vitality
12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
3) Thirdly, that if we repent of our sins then He will forgive us and begin to act for us.
In regard to the final consequences we must remember the world in which these people lived. The covenant was the basis of their security. It was also in their eyes the guarantee of the graciousness of their God towards them. The whole safety of their families and the nation depended on everyone being faithful to their commitment to it. If one member failed it could bring disaster on all. Thus the penalty for such unfaithfulness was total.
ILLUSTRATION – FOOTBALL: “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don't want to do, in order to achieve what they've always wanted to be.” - Tom Landry
God is working on us today to make us squirm as we see the impact of sin on a nation. The impact of the sin in our home will have a similar effect. So, it is time that we get right with God and allow Him to shape us into the people He desires us to be.