Scripture reading – Judges 20

This devotion comprises the second part of today’s Scripture reading (Judges 19-20). We find that Levite’s brutal actions (cutting his concubine’s battered, lifeless body into twelve pieces and sending them to the tribes) had the desired effect (Judges 19:29).

A Call to War (Judges 20:1-2)

The children of Israel were stirred and challenged to consider the deed that had been done and speak regarding it (Judges 19:30). In the absence of a judge, ruler, or king (Judges 19:1), the elders of the tribes sent a summons for the children of Israel to gather “together as one man, from Dan [the northernmost tribe in Israel] even to Beer-sheba [the southernmost town in Canaan], with the land of Gilead [the tribes on the east side of the Jordan], unto the LORD in Mizpeh [probably a military outpost]” (Judges 20:1-2).

We read that “four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword” gathered from “all the tribes of Israel, [and] presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God” (Judges 20:2). Though the tribe of Benjamin had heard how the tribes of Israel had gathered at Mizpeh, and was perhaps summoned, there was no man sent to represent the tribe in the matter.

A Plea for Justice (Judges 20:3-7)

The Levite, whose wife had been slain in Gibeah, was summoned by the tribal leaders and questioned: “Tell us, how was this wickedness?” (Judges 20:3) The Levite then proceeded to give testimony of the horrific events that had taken place at Gibeah, and how he and his concubine had come to lodge there (Judges 20:4). He described how the house in which he sheltered was “beset…round about.” Indeed, the men of Gibeah would have slain him but instead assaulted his concubine, leaving her dead (Judges 20:5).

He described how he had taken the body of his concubine “and cut her in pieces, and sent her [body] throughout all the country…for they [the men of Gibeah, and Benjamin] had “committed lewdness [wickedness; evil] and folly [disgrace] in Israel” (Judges 20:6). The Levite then appealed to all Israel, and said, “give here your advice and counsel” (Judges 20:7).

A Resolution to Exact Judgment (Judges 20:8-11)

All of Israel was then moved by the Levite’s testimony (Judges 20:8). It was decided that judgment should not be delayed in the matter (Judges 20:8) and that the men of Gibeah would answer for their evil deeds (Judges 20:9). Men were chosen to search out provisions for the thousands of men who were prepared to go up against Gibeah, and deal with them “according to all the folly that they [had] wrought in Israel” (20:10). And so we read, “All the men of Israel were gathered against the city [Gibeah], knit together as one man” (Judges 20:11).

Judgment and the Men of Gibeah Punished (Judges 20:12-19)

Then the elders of Israel sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin. They enquired of the people, “What wickedness is this that is done among you?” (Judges 20:12). The messengers demanded that “the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah,” (those ungodly, immoral men), be purged from their tribe, “that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel” (Judges 20:13).

Despite the gross wickedness committed by the men of Gibeah, “the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel…[and they] gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel” (Judges 20:13-14). Rather than repent, the men of Benjamin decided to tolerate and protect the sexual deviants of Gibeah. They gathered “out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which were numbered seven hundred chosen men” (Judges 20:15).

A Spiritual Crossroads (Judges 20:17-20)

So, Israel found itself at a spiritual crossroads. The nation had to choose either to defy the law of God and tolerate the wickedness that had brought His judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) or purge the immorality in its midst and go to war with “four hundred thousand men that drew sword” (Judges 20:17).

Israel chose the LORD’s side and “went up to the house of God [not the Tabernacle, but “Bethel”], and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the LORD said, Judah shall go up first” (Judges 20:18).

The next day, “Israel rose up 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 array to fight against them at Gibeah” (Judges 20:19-20).

Then the men of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and won the first day’s battle, killing “twenty and two thousand men” of Israel (Judges 20:21). Although twenty-two thousand men died, Israel’s men stirred themselves to prepare for the second battle (Judges 20:22) and wept before the LORD that same evening. They “asked counsel of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? And the LORD said, Go up against him” (Judges 20:23).

On the second day, the army of Israel came near Gibeah, and the men of Benjamin rushed upon them. Eighteen thousand soldiers of Israel were slain (Judges 20:25). Israel was forced to retreat and went up to Bethel, “and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 27) And the children of Israel inquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days” (having been relocated to Bethel from Shiloh, perhaps for the battle, Judges 20:26-27).

Then, “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron” was the high priest, and enquired of the LORD for Israel, and said, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?” (Judges 20:28) The LORD assured Israel, “Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand” (Judges 20:28).

With the assurance that the LORD was with them, Israel “set liers in wait” to ambush the soldiers of Benjamin when they gave chase out of Gibeah (Judges 20:29). On the third day of the battle, the men of Benjamin rushed out of the city as they had before, not knowing there were soldiers of Israel lying in wait to attack the city (Judges 20:29-30). When Israel’s soldiers retreated (Judges 20:32), the men of Benjamin pursued them, while ten thousand men of Israel overran the city of Gibeah (Judges 20:33-34). With the LORD on their side, Israel destroyed “the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men” (Judges 20:35).

When the men of Gibeah saw the flames and smoke rising over their city, they realized “that evil was come upon them. 42) Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them; and them [other citizens of Benjamin] which came out of the cities they [Israel] destroyed in the midst of them” (Judges 20:41-42).

When the day’s battle was finished, Israel had killed all the people of Benjamin, burned their cities, and killed their beasts (Judges 20:42). There remained only six hundred men of Benjamin, who had fled and found safety “in the rock Rimmon four months” (Judges 20:47).

Closing thoughts and a lesson for 21st Century countries:

The tribe of Benjamin had tolerated and sheltered the sodomite sins of Gibeah. The tragic toll of that decision invited God’s judgment and brought the tribe nearly to extinction. Benjamin was decimated, and only six hundred men of the tribe remained alive (Judges 20:47-48).

The final chapter in our study of the Book of Judges will find Israel bewailing all that had come to pass in Israel (Judges 21:1-3).

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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