The fierce summons of the Levite in the last chapter was just as fiercely responded to by the rest of Israel’s tribes. From north and south, from the western plain, and even from the tablelands beyond Jordan – the warriors of Israel came in overwhelming numbers, burning with righteous indignation. While the news of the gathering spread rapidly from city to city of Benjamin, the Levite laid his case before the representatives of the whole nation of Israel – with Benjamin alone being absent. The resolution of the general assembly was prompt and unanimous: “We will not return to our homes until justice has been done!”
Prudence, however, was displayed in the decision to send a tenth of their forces to go back to their respective tribes and fetch provisions for the rest of the men. And before the tribes went to actual war, a summons was sent to the various cities of the tribe of Benjamin – demanding that the culprits of the crime against the Levite’s concubine should be given up to justice. It was not right to go to war with the whole tribe of Benjamin, unless they defended the criminals of Gibeah by a refusal to yield them up to be punished. But to this entreaty, the Benjamites resolved to protect the guilty Gibeathites. And upon their refusal, war was immediately declared upon them. By refusing to comply with their brethren’s demand, the Benjamites made the crime of the men of Gibeah their own. And in the same way, we have “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” – and we make ourselves also guilty of other people’s sins – if we defend them and allow them to go unpunished in our midst. How could the Benjamites expect to prosper when they fought against the justice of God Himself? Not to mention the practical foolishness of taking up arms in opposition against the rest of the nation of Israel, when they were outnumbered more than 15 to one and despised the conditions of peace! All the forces that they could bring into the field were 26,000 men, besides 700 men from the city of Gibeah itself. Yet with these, they dared to face 400,000 men of Israel. They probably depended upon the skill of their men to make up what they were lacking in numbers; for we read that they had a regiment of slingers who – despite being lefthanded – were so dexterous at slinging stones, that they were never off their mark by even a hair’s width. But these good marksmen were very much out of their aim when they took up this bad cause.
The Israelites enquired of the Lord as to which of the tribes should lead the attack; and the answer was, “Judah first.” This position of honor was given to Judah because our Lord Jesus was to descend from that tribe; and in all things, He was to have the pre-eminence. The next morning, the Benjamite forces that had occupied Gibeah were assailed by the rest of the Israelites – but without success! The result of the first day’s conflict was a loss of 22,000 men from the army of Israel. Before their second engagement against the city, the representatives of the tribes – with bitter lamentations – sought Divine direction as to their further course. Again, they were told to attack their rebellious kinsmen; but when this was done, a second defeat was sustained – another 18,000 men of the Israelite army being killed. After this, the entire assembly went up to the Tabernacle; where they spent a day in weeping, fasting, and offering sacrifices to the Lord. Upon inquiring yet again, the tribes were told to persevere in the war; and a promise was now given them of victory! In the former battles, they had trusted too much to the righteousness of their cause and the superiority of their numbers; and so they had failed to ask God for His presence and blessing. But now they had offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings as an atonement for their sins and as an acknowledgment of their dependence upon God.
Following the tactics of Joshua at Ai (Josh. 8), an ambush was placed behind the city of Gibeah; and the Israelites advanced along the road from Bethel to Gibeah. Confident of success, the Benjamites came out again. The Israelites slowly retreated along the highways, as if in fear of the Benjamites – thus drawing them away from the city. Meanwhile, the ambush that had been lying in wait entered the city, put the remaining inhabitants to the sword, and set the city on fire. The ascending smoke and flame were a signal from the ambush to the rest of the army; and the men of Israel turned upon their Benjamite pursuers, who realized – too late! – the snare they had been drawn into. They fled in dismay; and in the battle and pursuit, a total of 25,000 men were made to bite the dust. It was of no use to think of outrunning Divine vengeance; evil pursues sinners, and it will overtake them. And although the men of Israel played their parts well in this battle, the victory was ascribed to God (verse 35); the battle was His, and so was the success. The Israelites killed all the inhabitants of the Benjamite cities that they came to. In fact, the whole tribe was nearly exterminated – only 600 fighting men of Benjamin escaped to the inaccessible cliff of Rimmon, where they remained for four months.
Let us learn from this sorrowful narrative how fitting it is for the people of God to unite in the suppression of sin, and in the support of the interests of Jesus in the world! O for zeal for Him Who has so loved us as to give Himself for us! And let us pray that those whose lives are still bound in sin may cast down their rebellious arms at the foot of the cross, and flee to Jesus for shelter – like the Benjamites escaping to Rimmon.
Lord Jesus, clothe us with your armor and give us Your strength. Help us to battle against sin and resist it to the death as we fight the good fight of faith! Amen.
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