JUDGES 20: WHEN DECEPTION AND PRIDE LEADS TO WAR
WARNING: THE JOURNEY DOES NOT RECOMMEND THE ACTIONS DESCRIBED IN JUDGES 20!
It’s hard to find a much more disgusting and disappointing story in the Bible than the ones we read in Judges 19-21. To get the full impact of the story, you must go back to the last few verses of Judges 19. After the Levite gets back home with his concubine, whose death was the result of the all-night rape by the men of Gibeah, he cuts her body into twelve pieces, sending one part to each area of Israel.
His gruesome postmortem surgery was a call to action intended to arouse the nation to execute justice against the guilty parties residing within the tribe of Benjamin. The Levite’s story of what had happened infuriated the people that such a terrible thing could happen in Israel. Don’t overlook the subtle way this self-serving Levite presents the story to make himself look as good as possible. In his explanation, he talks almost exclusively about “I” and “me,” and only scantly mentions the poor concubine. He studiously omits the fact that he pushed her out the door to save himself and into the hands of those who abused her.
Despite his less than honest story, it accomplishes its desired effect; Israel is about to go to civil war! The Law of Moses prescribed the death penalty for rape (Deuteronomy 22:22). The only way to purge the land of Israel of this heinous crime was to execute the offenders—those hooligans in the Benjamite city of Gibeah. When representatives from the other tribes go to the leaders in Gibeah demanding they surrender the guilty parties to them, the Benjamites pridefully and foolishly refuse. Instead, they stubbornly decide to defend the guilty men. What should have been the execution of judgment on a few guilty criminals ends up being a war against the entire tribe of Benjamin.
Three battles occurred. Although Israel’s forces outnumbered Benjamin’s forces by more than 330,000 men, Israel loses the first two battles. This is a humbling experience for Israel. They are so convinced of the rightness of their cause that at first, they do not ask God whether to fight, merely which tribe should be the first to attack (v. 18). Some scholars suggest that although the Benjamites had committed a horrible sin and deserved punishment, the other tribes were also guilty of great sin, and that God allowed Israel to suffer such great losses as punishment against them as well. The awful judgment upon both the Benjamites and the Israelites is a powerful testament of the ultimate wages of sin.
The sad reality is that if the Levite had been forthcoming with the whole truth, and had he taken responsibility for his actions the night his concubine was abused, none of this would have happened. It’s also a sad reality that had the Benjamites not been so arrogant when their brothers tried to reprove them, this civil war could have been avoided. The Benjamites could have used the wisdom that King Solomon would write years later, “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
Before any of us sneer in self-righteousness at the Levite’s duplicity, and before we condemn the Benjamites for their prideful refusal to accept correction, let’s each look intently into the mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I ever deceitful to make myself look better than I am? Am I sometimes so prideful that I reject rebuke when it’s deserved?” Let's be people of integrity and humility so that we can avoid most of the conflicts that lead to bitterness, battle and division.
Holy Father, there have been times when I've been less than fully truthful; I've told the story to make myself look better than I am. And, I've sometimes been too prideful to accept correction, even though I needed correcting. I'm convicted by my own sin, and I not only ask you to forgive me, but also to strengthen me to be a person of integrity and humility. In Jesus' name. Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.