In the Days of the Judges (Part 4)

Part 4: Social Upheaval

Judges 19 recorded how men of the Benjamite town of Gibeah raped and killed the concubine of a visiting Levite. This horrible crime gained national attention and cried out for justice. Chapter 20 describes Israel’s response.

A national assembly was called, and Israelites from every part of the country (except Benjamin) gathered at the city of Mizpah. There they listened as the Levite recounted the “lewd and disgraceful act” of the men of Gibeah — a crime worthy of death (Deuteronomy 22:22). Upon hearing his testimony, the people pledged not to return home until justice had been done. As Israel prepared for a possible attack on Gibeah, they sent messengers throughout the territory of Benjamin, demanding that the perpetrators be handed over for execution.

Benjamin’s response was inexcusable. Not only did they refuse to turn over the guilty men; they sent 26,000 troops to Gibeah to defend it. The other tribes answered this act of defiance with a full-scale mil­itary assault. Israel was suddenly in the grips of a civil war.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Benjamites battled fiercely. In the first two days of combat, Israel suffered 40,000 losses. But on the third day, God deli­vered Benjamin into their hands, and its army was de­stroyed (verses 28-46). Only 600 Benjamite warriors sur­vived to flee into the wilderness.

At this point retribution turned to savagery. Having defeated Benjamin’s army, the other tribes now took vengeance on its people: they massacred civilians, slaughtered livestock, and burned every city to the ground (verse 48). Israel was more thorough against their own countrymen than they were against some of the Canaanites! By the time the smoke cleared, the whole tribe had been virtually wiped out.

Consider some lessons in these events.

First, when we choose to do wrong, the effects may be far greater than we imagine. Did those men of Gibeah ever dream that their night of sordid fun would lead to a civil war — and the near extinction of their whole tribe? We may try to excuse our sin by pretending that we can contain and minimize the damage. But its effects will spread — more often than we realize, and in ways we may not perceive. Sin may impact your health, your job, your fin­ances. It may hurt your family, your friends, your church, your community.

Second, righteous indignation can be perverted into unrighteous fury. Israel was right to seek the punish­ment of the criminals in Gibeah, but it’s mighty hard to justify their genocide campaign against Benjamin. Did their zeal for justice carry them away? Or were they so angered by Benjamin’s defiance that they lost their sense of what was appropriate? Let their case remind us to approach the task of correction with care. A parent whose discipline is unloving and un­reasonable will “provoke his children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4). A Christian trying to correct a wayward brother or sister must do so “in a spirit of gentleness, considering your­self lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

The near-annihilation of Benjamin was a national tragedy — one the people of Israel soon regretted. They tried to make amends, but their solutions led to yet more shameful conduct. Read about that next week.