The dynamics of paganism and its destruction of a nation; Chapter 20
This is a book that gives us insight into history. History is not merely the recording of events that have transpired but it is the proper analysis and interpretation of those events. Since history is the outworking of the plan of God the only truly accurate interpretation of history is a history that is a historical perspective that is based upon divine viewpoint and takes into account the plan and purposes of God which, of course, is going to put Israel at center focus of history, because God since the call of Abraham is working through the world primarily through Israel. Even in the church age when God is working through the church and Israel has been temporarily set aside God is has not removed Israel completely from His plan. God is still blessing the church through Israel, through the seed of Abraham who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the first three verses of chapter twenty we see what appears to be a positive sign. The author uses positive verbiage. First of all, he says "the congregation assembled." The Hebrew word for assemble is qahal, and this is the normal verb for the assembly of the nation as the theocratic nation before God. So it has a very positive connotation, it has religious overtones. Then he uses the term "the congregation" which is ha [definite article] ha'eda, indicating the congregation of the nation. So they are assembling. They are assembling at Mizpah where the nation had met previously before the Lord and received divine guidance. Then in verse 2 we are told that the chiefs of all the tribes of Israel "took their stand in the assembly of the people of God." So the terminology, "the assembly of the people of God," draws our attention again to their relationship to God as God's chosen people. The combination of this terminology here is to indicate that this is something positive, but even though it appears to be positive it is not. We learn from Deuteronomy 13 that the nation is to exercise a disciplinary action against any city in the nation that succumbs to idolatry. Note these words: "investigate, search out, and enquire thoroughly." Before you engage in a military action you have to have the right intelligence.
Notice the first person personal pronouns in 20:4ff—"I" and "me" and "my." The undertone here is that he is self-absorbed; he is focusing in this thing as personal vengeance. We see that first of all from the fact that he is not authorized to call an assembly of the nation. He is reacting from his own personal situation and his own personal desire for vengeance. Secondly, in v. 4 this man is described as "the husband of the woman who was murdered [Heb. Word for homicide, not a general word for killing]." He describes the "men of Gibeah"—it is not the men of Gibeah, it is the lords of Gibeah, the same phrase used to describe the leaders of Shechem back in chapter nine. The Hebrew writer uses this term because he wants us to think in terms of the fact that these men represent the Canaanite thinking of the land. The Jews have become like the Canaanites in their thinking.
In verse 6 the word "lewd" is the Hebrew word zemah which means disgraceful or shameful behavior, especially for fornication, incest, sexual perversion, as well as murder. It is used again in Hosea 6:9. And a "disgraceful act" which is the Hebrew word nebalah, meaning a senseless, foolish act or willful sin. These are some of the strongest words that can be used, so he is calling the nation to act.
There are two things that are bothersome here. First of all there is this excessive use of the first person pronoun, which indicates he is a little more concerned with what happened to him than her, or the danger that this presents to the nation. And second, there is no mention of God. Even though the assembly here has terms that carry with them positive denotations there is no mention of God. There are some positive spiritual overtones but God seems to be left out of the picture.
Starting in verse 8, their reaction. It is an emotional reaction, a reaction from vengeance. It is not looking at this in terms of their judicial responsibility under the Mosaic law. They want personal vengeance. Verses 9-11 describes their organization. They are going to take their time and plan the assault. Verse 12, the temporal clause indicates that at the same time they are setting up their strategy and supply lines they are doing the investigation. But the fact is, what the hit is here is that while they are setting up their supply lines they have already decided what they are going to do, they have decided that Benjamin is guilty, and they are just going to go through the motions. They have already prejudged the situation.
Note that at this point they are engaged in setting up their military operation but there is not prayer, no enquiry before the Lord. That is not present, they are just doing it on their own. We see that they are united and, at least on the surface, seeming to follow the guidelines of the Mosaic law in order to gain information and to make sure they are guilty. But they are going to overreact. The point is, they partially obey. It is not that they are doing anything wrong here, it is that the underlying attitude flows from arrogance. They are involved in vengeance, and we see that because of the ultimate reaction and how they respond. Benjamin reacts, they are intractable. Apparently they sense the arrogance of the rest of the tribes and they react. So Benjamin does not respond in any level of humility, they do not seek justice among their own people, and so they are committed to justify their own sin.
We get into the war, starting in verse 15. Remember to watch for these things: there is no prayer and no sacrifice. Evil has been committed in the land and there are no burnt offerings, no confession. That is the background for the initial failure taking place in this war. The same thing happened earlier in the campaign under Joshua. After they defeated the city of Jericho some men among the Jews kept some of the booty for themselves. Under the law of holy war you kept no spoil/plunder for yourself. But some men did and that represents sin among the nation, and when they went to attack Ai they were defeated. It was not because they were doing something wrong but because they were doing a right thing in a wrong way. They had unconfessed sin among the people. They had to find those people and deal with them, and once they had dealt with the sin then they could have victory. That is the principle that underlies what happens here and they are just running off without consulting the Lord.
Benjamin has 26,000 men against the 400,000 of Israel. Benjamin is in the hill country so they have an advantage.
Verse 18, "and went up to the house of God." The generic term elohim is used here, not Yahweh. It is not coming to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they are just going through the religious motions. Religion never solved anything and God is not going to answer their prayer. God does answer, He says, "Judah shall go up first," but He is disciplining them. "And the LORD [upper case, indicating Yahweh] said." God does not completely turn his back on us when we are out of fellowship. He is also involved in our lives in terms of divine discipline, and that is what is happening here. He is going to give them a defeat in the battle and that is why God is working in their life, because He needs to bring them to a point of genuine and enforced humility so that they put God first in the battle. They are not putting Him first in the battle, they are concerned only with their own agenda and not His agenda at this point. Verse 22, 22,000 killed in one battle! The eleven tribes are handed a major defeat but they still have resolve, they are not giving up.
Verse 23, "(And the sons of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening …") Notice here it is enquiring of Yahweh. So they are getting a little closer, recognizing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They are getting past the ecumenical God and getting to the true God of the Bible. It is ultimately the Lord's will for this discipline to take place against Gibeah, as per Deuteronomy 13, but He has to get their attention and teach lessons to the rest of Israel at the same time. So they go up against Benjamin the second day and this time 18,000 are killed. So they have had 40,000 killed in two days. But finally they get the point, v.26. They came to the house of God in Bethel and fasted. The issue in fasting is that a person is so consumed with a problem that the normal day-to-day cares are no longer relevant, and God and doctrine are going to be the number one priority to the exclusion of everything else. It is not done to impress God. The fasting just indicates that food was no longer an issue. They were so overwhelmed with this problem that food and drink was not a concern. Then the last statement says it all, "and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord." That means they are now going to finally confess their sins. Now that they are in fellowship as a nation, now that they have confessed their sins, they are going to have victory. But there is no victory in the battle when you don't have your sins confessed. This is the importance of confession. V. 28, finally they have the assurance of victory.
Verse 29, they send a contingent around to hit Gibeah from the west. It is a feint, and it draws the Benjamites out from Gibeah once more. They pull away from Gibeah, leaving the town unprotected. Now the Israelites hit from the west and destroy the town. This destruction of the city follows the procedure of Deuteronomy 13. But the problem is they don't stop there. Remember that in holy war the issue was that they were to destroy the city, but they go further. This is the arrogant overreaction. The punishment must fit the crime, you don't overreact and kill everyone. This is exactly what they try to do, they try to kill all of the Benjamites. There is one group that flees and it headed west to the rock of Rimmon, an enormous cave, a great place where an army could hide and be protected. So in this third battle Benjamin is defeated to the point where there are only 600 men left at the end of the battle. Now Israel is left with a major problem which is discussed in chapter 21.
Verse 1, "Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife." Back when they first met they got involved in this arrogant vow. There was a reason for this vow. They are forbidden by the Mosaic law to marry Canaanites. They are not forbidden to marry someone who is a Jew. So there is a false application of the law. This is so typical of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is always distortions and false applications of Scripture. Because of this vow they have got themselves into a trap. According to the Mosaic law they can't break the vow. But the vow was wrong. And rather than going before the Lord and saying, How do we get out of this? And looking at the Mosaic law, because there were provisions for buying your way out of the vow through a monetary offering. They are stuck with this vow and try to solve the problem on their own. The dynamic that we see here is that under paganism you have a self-sufficiency of man. Man can solve his own problems on his own, apart from God. Even though they are partially obedient and they do confess their sins, and God does give them victory at the end over the Benjamites, they again get out of fellowship through a wrong application of the law through vengeance and revenge motivation.
They come up with an ingenious solution, but first they blame God. Verse 2, they are self-absorbed, full of self-pity, they are on their own emotional response to everything, but they are not looking at the fact that it was their own fault for compound carnality. Notice there is no response from God. V. 5, they try their own solution. V. 8, they discover that the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead, across the Jordan river, did not come and they are going to go over there and kill everyone except the marriageable virgin daughters. V.10, now they are fighting holy war against their own people. They are executing people who haven't done anything wrong. They found 400 virgin daughters and they kill everybody else. Remember, this whole thing starts off because this Levite concubine is mistreated by the people of Gibeah. Now they have compounded the crime of Gibeah a thousand-fold. This is what happens with self-righteousness, the solution becomes worse than the original problem. Next they are going to force these 400 virgins to marry 400 of the Brenjamites. That is tantamount to group rape. Then they don't have enough. There are still 200 Benjamites without wives. They are operating from guilt motivation and emotion in all of this. They look for another solution, v. 19.
Verse 21, this is probably not one of the major feasts in Israel. There was nothing in any of the major feasts that had anything to do with the women dancing. This indicates again that they have assimilated and compromised a lot of biblical feast days with pagan festivals and pagan practices. So once again the author is showing how paganized Israel had become, and this may well be some sort of fertility worship and have nothing to do with the feast days in Israel which all had to do with the men gathering, not the women. Now they were to catch their wives from the daughters of Shiloh. The men of Shiloh were not going to give their daughters, so they were going to go take them. They were going to get around the vow. Legalism comes up with all kinds of tortured ways to somehow work things out and maintain its obedience to the law. So the Benjamites go out and forcibly take these 200 women as their wives—also called rape. So in order to avenge the rape of a concubine in Gibeah, and her murder, we now end up where self-righteousness, completely, ironically destroys everything and there is the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin, they kill all the women and children, and then they forcibly take 200 of the daughters of Shiloh.
So in paganism and arrogance violence becomes wrong. It becomes self-destructive of the nation.
Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."