Judges 20 is the second of three chapters at the end of the book of Judges telling a tale of woe. There’s rape, murder, civil war, death on a grand scale, and… redemption. These are great elements for a great story. The story is made even greater when viewed within the greater mosaic of the biblical Twilight Zone.
Judges 20:1-7 is a brief summary of Judges 19. Basically, this Levite guy was traveling though territory belonging to Ben’s tribe. He stopped to spend the night with a nice gent in the town of Gibeah. It seems this town had its share of perverts and thugs. A gang came to the gent’s house and demanded he send out the visiting man so they could rape him. The man said no, that’s too awful to imagine. Here, take his woman instead. Come morning, the visiting Levite guy gets up and finds his used woman dead outside the door to the house. He flipped out. Wouldn’t you? He chops her up in 12 pieces and sends the pieces along with a note to the leaders of each of Israel’s tribes asking them to get together and do something about this.
If you were a governor of a state and received an arm or leg in the mail with this story attached and a request for some sort of action, wouldn’t you want to send out the guards? That’s what all of Israel did. Well, all of Israel except Ben’s tribe. With some sort of misplaced loyalty to their own miscreants they chose not to attend the meeting (v3). In fact, the rest of Israel was so worked up they sent a combined total of 400,000 armed men (v2) to meet together and decide what action to take (v7). The army was so worked up they pledged not to go home until justice was done. Now before they went to war you need to know they did attempt negotiation with Ben’s leaders. Israel made preparation in case war was necessary, but it wasn’t until Ben blew off his brothers’ request (v13) the rest of Israel decided the only resolution was war. Notice while Ben prepared to defend their little bit of Sodom, the rest of Israel went to God for guidance (v18).
The civil war lasted 3 days. On the first day Ben killed 22,000 of his brothers of Israel. Israel regrouped and asked God, do we try again? God spoke and said yes. The second day Ben cleaned Israel’s clock again killing 18,000 more. This time the Israelites prayed and fasted. They asked God for direction. God said, go again. This time you’ll win – I’ll see to it myself. Now after loosing 40,000 men in two days it would be pretty easy to get discouraged. After all, God told you to go both times before and you got spanked. I should think faith would have been difficult. Notice that this is the first time God told them to fight and promised them victory. Judges 20:29 to the end of the chapter details the battles of the third day and Ben’s defeat. All but a few of Ben’s soldiers died.
The third and final part of the story is found in Judges 21, the last chapter of the book. The rest of Israel has vowed not to allow any of the remnant of Benjamin women for wives, thus assuring Ben’s tribe will die off. When things cool off Israel sees what’s left of their brother and takes pity. They were grieved with the tear between them and their brother Ben. So they don’t have to break their vow they come up with a couple of schemes to get women for them. One scheme involved blood (21:1-15) and the other involved a loop-hole in the law where they extended grace and mercy by letting Ben take from them without actually giving it to them (21:16-24).
There was a great sin. The one who sinned denied doing wrong and when confronted defended himself. One who came to set right the sin suffered death for 2 days, but on the third rose victorious. Now the one who sinned was now about to die, but the sin was blotted out by a gift of blood and mercy overcoming the law so that the sinner might have an opportunity for life. We are the Benjamites. Jesus came, warned us, then died and rose again victorious so that we might have a chance to blot out the sin and be restored to the family of God. Truly it was a hard lesson for those men of old. They surely didn’t know the play they acted out. The actors’ ignorance only makes the director more glorious.
Something to think about…
Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. This statement was made, curiously enough, after the redemption of Benjamin.