Judges Chapter 20 is a perplexing and dark event in the history of Israel. There is no judge with flaws and strengths to lead the people. In fact, there is not one single man or woman named in the entire chapter. Even the Levite who kicked off the events of this chapter is not named. The people of this period have up until this moment abandoned God. However, something has struck their collective conscience. One of the tribes has done something so awful that the rest have gathered to call for justice.
4 And the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. 5 And the leaders of Gibeah rose against me and surrounded the house against me by night. They meant to kill me, and they violated my concubine, and she is dead. 6 So I took hold of my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel, for they have committed abomination and outrage in Israel. 7 Behold, you people of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.” Judges 20:4-7 ESV
Judges 20 Before God
What the tribe of Benjamin, the people of Gibeah, did to this Levite is an injustice. The nation rightfully has gathered before the Lord in the authority that God has given to the government to enact justice. They sent messengers to Benjamin demanding they turn over the “worthless fellows” for execution.
12 And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What evil is this that has taken place among you? 13 Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. Judges 20:12-13 ESV
Chance to do the Right Thing
The people are doing the right thing in Judges 20. They have come before the Lord. They are giving the Benjaminites the chance to do the honorable thing. They are righteous in their actions. God is on their side. For once they are turning to God and there is a desire to follow the laws he has put in place.
God We Are Ready for War
The next obvious step is to go and take the criminals by force. War if you will. The city of Gibeah has 26,000 fighting men. All of Israel has 400,000 men. So they do the right thing and check with God one more time before the battle starts.
18 The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first.” Judges 20:18 ESV
The Glory is Mine
Judah is the oldest son and the most powerful tribe. It is from this tribe that Jesus will be descendant. It makes sense that Judah would get the glory of this righteous quest. But when we continue reading Judges 20 something unexpected happens. The Israelites turning to God on a righteous quest to bring justice to the land according to the laws of God suffer defeat.
21 The people of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and destroyed on that day 22,000 men of the Israelites. Judges 20:21 ESV
What happened? Why did they not win? Why were so many men killed? Where is God? Look at their response.
22 But the people, the men of Israel, took courage, and again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day. 23 And the people of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until the evening. And they inquired of the Lord, “Shall we again draw near to fight against our brothers, the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Go up against them.” Judges 20:22-23 ESV
For Justice This Time
They took courage because they knew they were in the right and they knew God was with them. So they return to God and “wept before the Lord”. God tells them to go again. This is the time. God has given the green light and they are serving God’s will. Will they be successful this time?
25 And Benjamin went against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed 18,000 men of the people of Israel. All these were men who drew the sword. Judges 20:25 ESV
How devastating and demoralizing this must have been. Where are you God? Why would you do this? The lesson our modern ears need to hear is that God knows everything and he will not be approached when we want for whatever reasons we want even if they are righteous without the proper care. Let’s look at what went wrong in detail.
Their first question to God: “Who shall go up first” is rooted in arrogance. This one city of 26,000 men against 400,000k men are going to be crushed. They forgot their history of Gideon who with just 400 men at God’s command defeated an entire army. They assumed victory and they wanted glory. Who goes first is like children fighting to be at the front of the line for their own selfish reasons and God did not promise them victory. He only answered the question. Judah can go first. Judah as the oldest and most powerful will impact the lesson in the most effective way. God wants us to rely on him and not ourselves. We have smarts and strength but those come from God. Put your hope in God not man.
16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16 ESV
They did good to return to God humbled but still with courage. They wept before God and then asked their second question. Do we continue? God responds with a “Yes” because their cause is just and they are setting out to follow the laws that God has given them. They are the correct government agency to enforce those laws. What was missed this time? Why did God not give them mercy to be successful?
26 Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. Judges 20:26 ESV
Clean Your Own House First
The answer lies in response to their third approach to God. They came in arrogance the first time and they came broken but determined the second time. However, after this second defeat they finally approach God with something major overlooked. They came and set their own house in order. They sought to make sure they were right before God for their own sins.
4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:4-5 ESV
They are righteous in their cause but are they innocent? Have they made their own house right with God? No. The entire nation of Israel worships Idols and has blood on their own hands. God cannot overlook their own sins. How can they go forth in his name when they are criminally liable themselves.
Jesus is the Way to God
When we yield to Jesus. And when we love and follow Jesus we are made at peace with God to approach the throne through the grace of his mercy. The people at this time did not have this luxury so after the second defeat they wept and made sacrifices and peace offerings to God.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23 ESV
Right With God = Success
And God who is faithful turns to his people and give them mercy to carry out the just actions they wished to complete.
28 “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” Judges 20:28 ESV