War is coming to avenge the death of a concubine at the hands of the men of Benjamin. Israel’s other tribes are expressing their outrage at this rape and murder.
And all the people arose as one man, saying, We will not any of us go to his tent, neither will we any of us turn into his house. But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it; And we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and an hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victual for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel. So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man. Judges 20:8-11
They sent ambassadors to Benjamin to identify only the men guilty of idolatry, rape, and murder. But the leaders of Benjamin are unwilling to take godly counsel wisely. They had confidence in their military skills.
And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you? Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel. But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel. And the children of Benjamin were numbered at that time out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which were numbered seven hundred chosen men. Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss. Judges 20:12-16
Benjamin had some confidence in their twenty six thousand and their rock slingers. But the other tribes were many and strong. They were not prepared to be unfair though. Only one tribe at a time would go up against Benjamin.
And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war. And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the LORD said, Judah shall go up first. And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel put themselves in array to fight against them at Gibeah. And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites that day twenty and two thousand men. And the people the men of Israel encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day. Judges 20:17-22
So the tribe of Judah suffered a defeat and huge losses in the first day of battle. They sought the Lord again for his desire for their next battle.
(And the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until even, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? And the LORD said, Go up against him.) And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day. And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. Judges 20:23-25
A second defeat suggests that we should be slow to oppose our brethren, even if we are in the right. God is not assuring an easy experience in sibling rivalry, even against sin. They humbly sought God again and he gave them their answer again.
Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand. And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah. Judges 20:26-29
Israel placed men in an ambush against the armies of Benjamin. Gibeah’s armies went against them with their confidence established from the previous battles.
And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times. And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite of the people, and kill, as at other times, in the highways, of which one goeth up to the house of God, and the other to Gibeah in the field, about thirty men of Israel. And the children of Benjamin said, They are smitten down before us, as at the first. But the children of Israel said, Let us flee, and draw them from the city unto the highways. Judges 20:30-32
Now Israel put their plan into action, retreating to draw their enemy into the ambush. In time the Benjamites began to experience uncertainty.
And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and put themselves in array at Baaltamar: and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah. And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore: but they knew not that evil was near them. And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel: and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men: all these drew the sword. Judges 20:33-35
On this day the battle turned against Benjamin, but they were not aware of this at first. The ambush of Israel was about to be revealed.
So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten: for the men of Israel gave place to the Benjamites, because they trusted unto the liers in wait which they had set beside Gibeah. And the liers in wait hasted, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers in wait drew themselves along, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword. Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers in wait, that they should make a great flame with smoke rise up out of the city. And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons: for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle. Judges 20:36-39
Even while the battle is turning against them Benjamin is still in denial, believing they will have another day of victory in battle. Disaster gathers very quickly, and devours the proud with suddenness. There is nowhere to run or to hide from judgment. Isn’t this still the case when we slip backwards today?
But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the flame of the city ascended up to heaven. And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them. Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them; and them which came out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them. Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and trode them down with ease over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour. Judges 20:40-44
Being brave is honorable but not enough to make your sins right. Protecting a few violent sex offenders cost the tribe twenty five thousand dead. Israel extracted a price from all the cities they found.
And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon: and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and pursued hard after them unto Gidom, and slew two thousand men of them. So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months. And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to. Judges 20:45-48
This shows a body of believers who did what seemed right in their own eyes. Some obeyed the law, and others turned to false gods. The law was harsh, and judgment was hash too. In the New Testament many instructions are given for church leaders to deal with problems in the body. The spirit of the law is to restore a fallen brother. We are to consider rejecting him only as a last resort. It should pain us like cutting off a diseased limb. Even then a repentant sinner is welcomed back into the body. Israel would have to consider their anger towards Benjamin and its consequences later.