"'None of us will go to his tent, nor will any turn back to his house; but now this is the thing we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it by lot. We will take ten men out of every hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, a hundred out of every thousand, and a thousand out of every ten thousand, to make provisions for the people, that when they come to Gibeah in Benjamin, they may repay all the vileness that they have done in Israel.' So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man" (20:8-11).
"Then the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, 'What is this wickedness that has occurred among you? Now therefore, deliver up the men, the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel!' But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel. Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel" (20:12-14). The nation has taken appropriate action here against Benjamin. They expect the wicked men who committed this crime to be turned over for execution. Such was in keeping with the Mosaic law. The tribe of Benjamin, however, instead of doing the right thing, protects the perverts and is willing to fight and die for them. How foolish! Friends, even if our own flesh and blood does wrong, we cannot defend and fight for family against the law of righteousness! It is a mistake to love family more than God and His ways (cf. Matt. 10:37).
One would think a battle of 400,000 men versus 26,000 would not last long. However, Israel did not send up all of these men to fight at one time. "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!' So the children of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah" (20:18,19). The first day of battle was disastrous for Israel! They lost 22,000 men and Benjamin lost less than 1000! But how can this be? After all, Israel is trying to execute justice, and they had consulted God regarding how to attack Benjamin! Why did they lose the first day? No answer is given in the text, but here is a reasonable suggestion: Israel was punished severely for their indirect role in the wickedness that had been committed at Gibeah. Had the Israelites driven out the foreigners completely to start with, then this problem of sexual immorality probably wouldn't have happened! No doubt it was the corrupting influence of the Canaanite people where the men of Gibeah had learned their perverted behavior. Even though the nation is trying to do the right thing here, their behavior overall has been far from perfect (e.g., idolatry) and God may be using this as an occasion to discipline all of the tribes. There is a lesson here even for us: Success is not always guaranteed, even when we do the right thing! God may discipline us for illicit behavior on whatever time frame He sees fit. So, ultimately, do not allow physical success or failure to guide you; do what is right in God's eyes and don't quit--no matter what happens!
"And the people, that is, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and again formed the battle line at the place where they had put themselves in array on the first day. Then the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, 'Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother Benjamin?' And the LORD said, 'Go up against him'" (20:22,23). So, at God's direction, they fight a second day. The results are not much different than the first! Benjamin suffers minimal losses and Israel loses another 18,000 men! Israel fasts and offers sacrifices to the LORD. Then they ask yet again if they should continue battling against Benjamin. "And the LORD said, 'Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand'" (20:28).
The third day of battle looked about the same as the others at the start, but Israel had an ambush for Benjamin and enjoyed a great victory by the end of the day. The ambush was similar to what had been effectively employed against the Canaanite city of Ai (cf. Josh. 8). "The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel. And the children of Israel destroyed that day twenty-five thousand one hundred Benjamites; all these drew the sword" (20:35). "And the men of Israel turned back against the children of Benjamin, and struck them down with the edge of the sword--from every city, men and beasts, all who were found. They also set fire to all the cities they came to" (20:48). In all, only 600 men of the tribe of Benjamin survived! That's less than 3% of all their warriors! These 600 men fled to the wilderness for safety and remained there four months. All women and children of Benjamin perished when their cities were destroyed.
The final chapter of Judges is about reconciliation with Benjamin and about solving a problem that had been created by an oath Israel had made previously. "Now the men of Israel had sworn an oath at Mizpah, saying, 'None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife.' Then the people came to the house of God, and remained there before God till evening. They lifted up their voices and wept bitterly, and said, 'O LORD God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?'" (21:1-3). Although they defeated Benjamin, no one is happy. These are fellow Israelites they had slain in this civil war, and they grieved over the loss (and rightfully so; cf. Ezek. 33:11). Since they had pledged not to give any wives to Benjamin, the 600 men who remained would have no way to perpetuate their tribe (without sinning by marrying foreigners). What could be done? Israel had punished Benjamin but did not want the tribe to become extinct.
A solution is arrived at, and it is connected to another oath they had made at Mizpah. If any city in Israel was not represented in their meeting against Benjamin, that city would be destroyed. The nation had expected complete support from all the tribes against the terrible deed that had been done at Gibeah. Being lethargic or not wanting to get involved was deemed unacceptable and punishable! They learn that no one from Jabesh Gilead had supported the cause. "So the congregation sent out there twelve thousand of their most valiant men, and commanded them, saying, 'Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead with the edge of the sword, including the women and children. And this is the thing that you shall do: You shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman who has known a man intimately.' So they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known a man intimately; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan" (21:10-12).
Although they could have completely destroyed all inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead, they spare the virgins in order to give them to the Benjamites. Israel announces peace with Benjamin and the 600 men return to their territory. They receive the 400 virgins as wives, but there remained 200 men of Benjamin who did not have a wife.
"Then the elders of the congregation said, 'What shall we do for wives for those who remain, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?' And they said, 'There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be destroyed from Israel. However, we cannot give them wives from our daughters, for the children of Israel have sworn an oath, saying, 'Cursed be the one who gives a wife to Benjamin.' Then they said, 'In fact, there is a yearly feast of the LORD in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.' Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, 'Go, lie in wait in vineyards, and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin. Then it shall be, when their fathers or their brothers come to us to complain, that we will say to them, 'Be kind to them for our sakes, because we did not take a wife for any of them in the war; for it is not as though you have given the women to them at this time, making yourselves guilty of your oath'" (21:16-22).
Although this solution may strike a chord of humor with us, it worked for them and the 200 men of Benjamin followed instructions and caught wives for themselves (i.e., they stole by consent)! The men of Benjamin then returned home and rebuilt their cities. The name of Benjamin was not extinguished in Israel! When reflecting upon Judges 19-21, it is incredible to contemplate that the immoral behavior of a small group of men led ultimately to a civil war where over 65,000 perished! Friends, our actions have consequences. Even behavior that we may deem to be small or insignificant in the scheme of things may have a dramatic impact in ways we cannot calculate. May we always seek to do what is right by God's standard and trust Him to take care of us! Right always triumphs in the end!
The book closes with a sentiment we have seen previously - "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). If only God had truly been their king! That is what He desired; and His leadership is exactly what the nation needed!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.