War Against Benjamin (JUDGES 20)

The Levite’s concubine had essentially been raped to death by perverted men from the tribe of Benjamin. He carried her corpse home with him on his donkey for a special reason. “When he entered his house he took a knife, laid hold of his concubine, and divided her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And so it was that all who saw it said, ‘No such deed has been done or seen from the day that the children of Israel came up from the land of Egypt, until this day. Consider it, confer, and speak up!'” (Jud. 19:29,30). The Levite used her corpse to send an important message to the twelve tribes of Israel. A great injustice had been committed and action needed to be taken! The tribes realize this is not an insignificant matter, so they assemble “as one man before the LORD at Mizpah” (20:1). Some 400,000 soldiers gather and ask for more information from the Levite. He spoke of the lewdness committed by the men of Gibeah (of the tribe of Benjamin). Their actions were outrageous and the nation was in agreement as to their response:

“‘None of us will go to his tent, nor will any turn back to his house; but now this is the thing we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it by lot. 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.’ So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man” (20:8-11).

“Then the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What is this wickedness that has occurred among you? 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. Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel” (20:12-14). The nation has taken appropriate action here against Benjamin. They expect the wicked men who committed this crime to be turned over for execution. Such was in keeping with the Mosaic law. The tribe of Benjamin, however, instead of doing the right thing, protects the perverts and is willing to fight and die for them. How foolish! Friends, even if our own flesh and blood does wrong, we cannot defend and fight for family against the law of righteousness! It is a mistake to love family more than God and His ways (cf. Matt. 10:37).

One would think a battle of 400,000 men versus 26,000 would not last long. However, Israel did not send up all of these men to fight at one time. “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!’ So the children of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah” (20:18,19). The first day of battle was disastrous for Israel! They lost 22,000 men and Benjamin lost less than 1000! But how can this be? After all, Israel is trying to execute justice, and they had consulted God regarding how to attack Benjamin! Why did they lose the first day? No answer is given in the text, but here is a reasonable suggestion: Israel was punished severely for their indirect role in the wickedness that had been committed at Gibeah. Had the Israelites driven out the foreigners completely to start with, then this problem of sexual immorality probably wouldn’t have happened! No doubt it was the corrupting influence of the Canaanite people where the men of Gibeah had learned their perverted behavior. Even though the nation is trying to do the right thing here, their behavior overall has been far from perfect (e.g., idolatry) and God may be using this as an occasion to discipline all of the tribes. There is a lesson here even for us: Success is not always guaranteed, even when we do the right thing! God may discipline us for illicit behavior on whatever time frame He sees fit. So, ultimately, do not allow physical success or failure to guide you; do what is right in God’s eyes and don’t quit–no matter what happens!

“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. 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'” (20:22,23). So, at God’s direction, they fight a second day. The results are not much different than the first! Benjamin suffers minimal losses and Israel loses another 18,000 men! Israel fasts and offers sacrifices to the LORD. Then they ask yet again if they should continue battling against Benjamin. “And the LORD said, ‘Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand'” (20:28).

The third day of battle looked about the same as the others at the start, but Israel had an ambush for Benjamin and enjoyed a great victory by the end of the day. The ambush was similar to what had been effectively employed against the Canaanite city of Ai (cf. Josh. 8). “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” (20:35). “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” (20:48). In all, only 600 men of the tribe of Benjamin survived! That’s less than 3% of all their warriors! These 600 men fled to the wilderness for safety and remained there four months. All women and children of Benjamin perished when their cities were destroyed.