Read Judges 20, Ezekiel 9, and Acts 2 today. This devotional is about Judges 20.
At the end of yesterday’s reading in Judges 19, each tribe in Israel received a piece of the dead body of a woman. Someone got her severed head, another received her right hand, and so on. Gross.
The people were naturally aghast at such a ghastly thing, so in today’s reading from Judges 20, they responded. Nothing unifies a nation like a dismembered body, I guess, so in verse 1 we read that “all Israel… came together as one… in Mizpah.”
One phrase that I omitted from that quotation was “before the Lord,” which describes a seriousness about the situation and a rare understanding from Israel’s leaders that their decisions were just a spiritually important as they were civilly. The first part of chapter 20 is an investigation. The people of Israel asked the man with the complaint, the woman’s “husband” to describe his grievance (v. 3). The tribe of Benjamin were aware of the ongoing trial, probably because they, too, had received one of the woman’s body parts. After listening to the man’s description of events in verses 4-6 and hearing the man call for a decision (v. 7), the leaders decide to prepare for a civil war on the entire tribe of Benjamin (vv. 8-11). While they prepared, they also sent messengers “throughout the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 12), asking the tribe of Benjamin to do justice and hand over the culprits who sinned against the Levite and his concubine.
There are perplexing aspects to this story. The most difficult one for me is why the Israelites suffered two defeats to the Benjaminites. The defeats happened despite the fact that Israel’s cause was just and they had submitted to the Lord’s will the decision to attack in both cases (vv. 17-18, 23). Maybe the Lord wanted to humble the Israelites and increase their sense of dependence on him (see vv. 26-28). I wish the Lord had given us more insight on this.
What I do know is that Benjamin paid a heavy price for refusing to deal justly with the men who brutally treated one of their sister Israelites. If they had handled the Levite’s case justly, this loss of life could have been completely avoided. If they had simply handed over, when confronted by Israel, the perpetrators (v. 12), they could have avoided this civil war. Their stubbornness, their loyalty to blood over the just application of God’s law, caused much greater turmoil for the whole nation than was necessary.
And then I think about how easy it is for us for us to excuse or defend our own sin or the sins of those we like and how hard it is for us to do the right thing when we are confronted and given the opportunity to turn and do the right thing. Although the consequences, thankfully, of our sins are not this sweeping and brutal, a passage like this reminds us how damaging sin and defensiveness about it, can be. If we think about this in terms of our own lives, hopefully we can be wise by learning from this brutal story.