Judges ~ Chapter Twenty
Read: Judges 20:1-48
"Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God
to inquire of God. They said,
"Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?"
The LORD said, "Judah first!"
The Levites' appalling announcement accomplished what he had hoped. The conscience of the nation was awakened, and all the leaders of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, gathered at Mizpah to inquire of the Lord. "And the leaders of all the people, all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers, who drew the sword" (v. 2). Though Israel had no king, they did have a system of government in which the chief representatives from each tribe formed an assembly to hear the case and determine what course of action to take. "Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war" (Proverbs 20:18). The Lord had already given His people explicit instructions on how to deal with sin, through discipline and punishment, so that they would remain pure. "...then you shall inquire, search out, and ask diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it..." (Deuteronomy 13:14, 15). The elders were unanimous in their decision to deal with the sin in their midst. Concerned for the common good of the nation, they sought to resolve the crisis without war by first asking the tribe of Benjamin to deliver up the criminals. "So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man" (Judges 20:11). They were looking to punish only those who had committed the crime, but the Benjamites were just as unanimous in their unwillingness to listen to the voice of their brothers. They preferred to go to war against their own family, rather than obey the Lord's commands and "remove the evil from Israel!" (v. 13b). "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14). The odds were overwhelmingly stacked against the tribe of Benjamin; they had twenty-six thousand men plus seven hundred select men who could sling a stone, while Israel had four hundred thousand men of war. These final chapters of the book of Judges reveal why, in the opening chapters, there was continuing military activity throughout the period of the judges. The breakdown in society begins with the family first; the children of Benjamin separated themselves from their brethren because of sin, igniting what would be the first and only civil war in Israel's history. While the Benjamites listened to their own hearts, the children of Israel inquired of the Lord: "Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?" The LORD said, "Judah first!" (v. 18b). From the very beginning, the Lord's military strategy for defeating all of Israel's enemies was "Judah first!" From the first chapter to the end of the book, the Lord told His people who was to lead them into battle (1:2; 20:18a) - Himself! "Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people" (Genesis 49:9, 10). Later, when Israel demanded a king, the Lord provided them Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, who came from Gibeah; however, Israel's true king would come from the tribe of Judah, as prophesied; first David, then ultimately, the King of kings, the Lion of the tribe of Judah - Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:5)! The book of Judges sets the stage for the establishment of the monarchy with a series of military conquests, providing us a picture of the spiritual conquests that are necessary for the establishment and advancement of God's kingdom in the earth. As we continue to pray and seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, let us remember that when the Lord Jesus came into the world a new era was inaugurated. He set up His eternal government of the soul by first defeating our enemy and breaking the power of sin through His death on the Cross, and He has established a new administration within the heart of every believer through the promised gift of His Holy Spirit. He made us alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1)! May we honor our Lord's sacrifice by enthroning Him in our hearts and yielding to His righteous rule within, allowing our King to reign there without rival and seeking the counsel of His Word daily as we trust Him to guide us to higher ground with the knowledge that His Kingdom will have no end (Habakkuk 2:14)! Let us walk in victory and go forth as conquerors, remembering that the Lord's military strategy for defeating the enemy is the same yesterday, today, and forever: Judah first! "You shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31b-33).
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;
and the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,
upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
to order it and establish it with judgment and justice
from that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this."
(Isaiah 9:6, 7)
"Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people,
went up and came to the house of God and wept.
They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening;
and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
So the children of Israel inquired of the LORD
(the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
and Phinehas the son of Eleazor, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days),
saying, "Shall I yet again go out to battle
against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?"
And the LORD said, "Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand."
The children of Israel were confident in the size of their military and the strength of their cause, so they went out with the Lord's stamp of approval ready to conquer but were soon met with defeat. Two times the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin, and two times they came back from battle suffering loss and defeat. At first, Israel was overly confident in their petitions, asking the Lord which of the tribes should be first to go up against Benjamin (v. 18); but after being defeated the first time, their prayers hinted at doubt, and they questioned the Lord if they should bother to go out to battle at all (v. 23). This reminds me of the story of Esther, how she invited King Ahasuerus and Haman to one banquet after another, never fully revealing her reasons, until the timing was right (Esther 5-7). Her humbling herself with prayer and fasting for three days prepared her for the divine delays which were purposed by the Lord to accomplish His plans and show forth His power in defeating the enemy. It has been said that God's delays are not His denials. Sometimes He allows the wicked to succeed, so that they grow more arrogant, self-confident, and careless; like the Benjamites, who did not even realize that disaster was upon them and were destroyed. The Lord also purposes the defeat of His own people to teach them a valuable lesson in humility, and to penetrate their hearts with a deepening sensitivity towards the sorry state of those they are battling against, whom they really are meant to battle for. Israel's second defeat humbled them, and they turned to the Lord with prayer and fasting and offered sacrifices before the Lord. This time they prayed out of a heart of compassion for their brethren: "Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?" (v. 28). The Lord accomplished what He had purposed; the hearts of His people had been broken and consecrated, and they were now prepared to go to battle clothed in righteousness and not in pride, so that when they returned as conquerors, they would not triumph over their brothers but have compassion on them. On the third day, the children of Israel defeated the children of Benjamin, decimating the tribe and reducing them to only 600 men, and Israel, instead of throwing a victory party, grieved for the condition of their brothers. It is the Lord's desire that, as His children, we never lose our sensitivity to the horrors of what sin does to a man, nor lose compassion for the lost all around us, who are held captive by their sin and are dying without Christ. When our hearts grow cold and calloused toward others, or arrogant and self-confident about our own causes, the Lord will take steps to humble us; touching painful places in our flesh to remind us what we once were, even wounding us if necessary; like a shepherd who breaks the leg of his little lamb to keep him from wandering from his side, in order that our hearts be set on fire again with devoted love to God and deepening love for others. "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4, 5). It was not until the children of Israel fasted and prayed and repented for their own sin and acknowledged their dependence upon God that they were given the promise of victory and empowered to prevail over the evil that was infecting the nation (2 Chronicles 7:13, 14). May we learn the difficult lesson the Lord is teaching us today. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9). "Here is the patience and the faith of the saints" (Revelation 13:10b).
"Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel:
"Because you despised this word,
and trust in oppression and perversity, and rely on them,
therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach ready to fall,
a bulge in a high wall, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant.
And He shall break it like the breaking of the potter's vessel,
which is broken in pieces; He shall not spare.
So there shall not be found among its fragments
a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to take water from the cistern."
For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel:
"In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and confidence shall be your strength."
But you would not..."