At War with Benjamin
“The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel” (v. 35).- Judges 20
Gibeah in Benjamin was the site of an awful event in the days of the judges: the horrible violation and murder of a Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19:1–28). The Levite let the rest of Israel know about this act in the most gruesome manner imaginable (vv. 29–30). And as we see in today’s passage, Israel gathered to deal with the problem.
Judges 20:1–11 describes the gathering of the tribes, except Benjamin, to determine what to do now that many Israelites—the residents of Gibeah—had become full-on Canaanites, as seen in how their treatment of the Levite and his concubine mirrored Sodom’s actions (Gen. 19:1–11). Note the stress on unity. Three times the author says that the people gathered as “one man” (Judg. 19:1, 8, 11). The people were so united and of one mind that they could be likened to a single person. No other judge in Israel had united all the tribes, but now, when one of their own tribes had committed an atrocity, the rest of Israel came together. It took blatant sin in the camp to unite God’s people. When the only way to bring people together as one body is to deal with horrible sin, things have indeed degenerated.
The only way to deal with such a contagion was to put to death the inhabitants of Gibeah who were responsible for the crime (see Gen. 9:6; Deut. 22:25–27). The tribe of Benjamin should have joined with Israel against the people of Gibeah, but when asked to help, the Benjaminites sided with Gibeah (Judg. 20:1–17). This shows how much Benjamin had forgotten Israel’s covenant with God. The other tribes were by no means perfect, but at least they recognized that the barbaric sin and covenant violation of Gibeah had to be dealt with.
So, under the leadership of Judah and with the Lord’s command, the rest of Israel went to war against Benjamin. Despite suffering some casualties, the other tribes of Israel finally defeated the Benjaminites, leaving only six hundred men of Benjamin alive. The sin of Gibeah was addressed, but at heavy cost, and there was loss of life on both sides. God’s justice came upon Israel for the wickedness of Benjamin, teaching us that we should not presume upon divine mercy. The Lord is indeed gracious and merciful, slow to anger, but He will not allow His name and His covenant to be trampled forever (Num. 14:18). Impenitent, serious sin will bring serious consequences.
God’s patience and kindness are meant to lead His people to repentance (Rom. 2:4). It is easy, however, to take the Lord’s patience as a sign that He does not care about sin. We dare not do that. The Lord is committed to cleansing sin from His church, and He is not opposed to using drastic measures to do so. If we do not mortify sin now, God may choose to remove it painfully later.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 5
1 Peter 4:12–19