Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Judges 20: The War Against Benjamin

LINK: Judges 20

BACKGROUND: This chapter is quite straightforward. Israel arrives after being summoned by the rather macabre method of calling, and they are completely united, "knit together as one man," as the King James phrases it. First Israel hears the Levite's version, then they ask Benjamin for their version, demanding the "children of Belial" to be given to Israel to be put to death. Benjamin refuses and readies for war. On the first day, Benjamin, much fewer in forces, wins out against Judah, whom God told Israel to send out first to do battle when Israel sought the Lord's counsel. Judah loses 22,000 men on the first day of battle. On the second day, Israel not only sought the Lord but they also wept before him until evening, asking if they should fight their brother Benjamin. The Lord replies, "Go up against him," and they do, losing 18,000 men the second day. Then on the third day, Israel not only sought counsel and wept but fasted before the Lord, offering both burnt and peace offerings. Phinehas asks the Lord if they should attack their brother Benjamin again, and the Lord replies, "Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into thy hand." The third day of battle shows Israel tricking Benjamin into an ambush similar to Joshua's strategy against Ai, with only 600 of Benjamin's men surviving, 25,000 of them losing their lives. The chapter ends with Israel setting fire to many of Benjamin's cities after their final victory.

REFLECTION: The 400,000 Israelite fighters who responded to the Levite's summons illustrates Israel's zeal in punishing the villainy of Gibeah. Benjamin, on the other hand, demonstrated their blindness to their sin by refusing to turn over the men who had abused the Levite's wife to death. Israel resolved not to depart until they had taken vengeance on this wicked city which was the reproach and scandal of Benjamin. The Israelites were totally united -- "knit together as one man" -- in punishing Benjamin for this trespass of hospitality, something the tribe of Benjamin was famed for. It's interesting, even ironic, to notice that the ONLY time Israel is united is whn they're fighting a civil war, fighting among themselves. So, why did Israel fail the first two days? John Wesley suggests that the sins of Israel itself were such that, in Wesley's words, they "should not have come to so great a work of God with polluted hands." It was not until Israel fasted and offered sacrifices that God answered their prayers and helped Israel defeat Benjamin. Wesley states that it is not until Israel sought God after due order and truly humbled themselves does God give them a satisfactory answer.

APPLICATION: If we do the right thing with wrong motives, we sin. We are to cleanse our hearts constantly and consistently, keeping short accounts with God and His people so that all we do is pleasing to God. May the Lord reveal our sin to us so that we may not be as blind to our sin as Israel, much less Benjamin, was and have God refuse to bless us. Doing what is right may very well be painful.

The word "turn" is used six times in this chapter, referring three times to Israel and three times to Benjamin. We must ask ourselves, "To whom do we turn in the heat of our battles?" If we desire the blessings of God, we need to turn to Him first and foremost.

PRAYER: Father, forgive us for our trespasses. Reveal to us our "blind spots," the sins we don't or won't recognize in our lives, and give us humble hearts, ready to ask forgiveness of You and of Your people. Give us, we pray, sensitive hearts to sin so that we may recognize insidious sins in our lives and beg Your merciful forgiveness for our trespasses. For Your gracious mercy, O Father, we thank and praise You with grateful hearts. In the Name of Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen.
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