Judges 20

Breach and Recovery

Following on the crime of Gibeah, all the tribes from the extreme North to the extreme South were gathered together as one man unto Jehovah in Mizpeh" (ver 1). Very little seemed wanting in this unanimous protest against evil. There was zeal to enquire into, and to purify themselves from, it, and also a sense of Israel's corporate responsibility, which, later on under Deborah, Gideon and Jephthah, was lacking. The assembling together, the actions and the sentiments of the eleven tribes presented above all a fair appearance of unity (vs. 1, 8, 11), for the smallest tribe, and what was more a guilty one, was the only one absent. The centre of the people's unity was acknowledged, for it was "unto Jehovah" that they gathered together in Mizpeh (v. 1). What then was wanting in Israel? One thing, "the first love,"which finds expression both towards God and towards those that are His. Towards God, this love had waxed cold in Israel. They had hearkened, deliberated, decided, and then consulted God (v. 18). In place of commencing with the word of God they had left it to the last. Not that it was omitted, but it no longer occupied the first place. This was a mark of having left their first love. "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." "If a man love Me, he will keep My word" (John 14: 21, 23). "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5: 3). Another mark was, that their hearts were more alive to the shame inflicted on Israel, than to the dishonour done to God (vs. 6, 10, 13). How often does this tendency show itself in assembly discipline! It is because God no longer has His right place in our hearts.

The forsaking of first love also betrays itself in our conduct towards our brethren; indeed intercourse with God and with our brethren are closely connected. "And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 6: 21). Israel looked upon Benjamin as an enemy, and, notwithstanding the fair appearance of unity, did not regard the sin of one tribe as that of all of the people. They said: "What wickedness is this that is done among you?" (v. 12) - not "among us." What a difference between this love and that which is described in 1 Cor. 13: 4‑7! Zeal was not wanting, but that did not make up for having left their first love. "Thou canst not bear them which are evil" of Rev. 2: 2, was found here; but, as further on in the address to Ephesus, the Lord could say to His people: "I have somewhat against thee." They added: "that we may put away the evil from Israel" (v. 13), but where was their brotherly affection? This is indeed always thedanger in connection with discipline, and the Corinthians were exhorted to confirm their love toward the one who had fallen, after the discipline had done its work. If on the one hand, the people addressing Benjamin said "you" in place of "us" in verse 12; on the other, "us" and "we" usurp an undue place in the next verse: "Deliver as the men ... that we may put themto death and put away evil from Israel." Leaving the first love opens the door to self‑importance.

As for Benjamin, they had grievously sinned in upholding evil in their midst, and the remonstrance of Israel, instead of humbling them, incited them to the most serious act: "to go out to battle against the children of Israel" (v. 14), and then what was far worse - they allied themselves with evil. The children of Benjamin gathered themselves together at Gibeah, they numbered the inhabitants of Gibeah, and they went forth out of Gibeah and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites (vs. 14, 15, 21). The absence of humiliation on their part led to terrible results; not only did they not judge the evil, but as a necessary consequence, they fatally excused it, taking sides with the evil‑doers against the people of God. It is true that they put on an appearance of being without the inhabitants of Gibeah (v. 15), but they numbered them and availed themselves of their seven hundred chosen warriors. In this army the "left‑handed" were equal in numbers to the chosen men of Gibeah, weakness which became strength in the Lord's service when it was an Ehud who fought. Here the left‑handed were skilful against the Lord; the hand which ought to have been apt in defence, was strong to attack and deceive those who confronted them.

When every preliminary was exhausted, Israel asked counsel of God (v. 18). Judah shall go up first, was the reply of Him who was about to discipline Israel, and twenty‑two thousand men of Judah were destroyed down to the ground. What grace God displayed in this defeat! Israel must learn that, in contests between brethren, there could be neither victors nor vanquished, but that all must be vanquished for the Lord to triumph at the end. God made use of this defeat for the restorationof His beloved people. Israel came forth strengthened from a combat which had cost him his troops, for he came out of it judged in reality by God himself. When the twenty‑two thousand fell, the men of Israel encouraged themselves (v. 22). See what fruit their chastisement bore:

  • First: it led them to seek again the presence of Jehovah.
  • Secondly: instead of human indignation, they were filled with sorrow according to God and their tears were the proof of it.
  • Thirdly: their sorrow was not transient, for they wept until even.
  • Fourthly: they learnt to depend more truly on the word of God, and no longer say, "Which of us shall go up first?" but "Shall I go up again?"
  • Fifthly: affection for their brother in his fall is at length revived, for they say: "The children of Benjamin my brother" (v. 23).

How worthy of God was such a result! It was not victory but defeat which brought about these things, blessed fruits of the discipline, and meanwhile other fruits were yet to be produced. "And Jehovah said, go up against him."

Eighteen thousand men of the children of Israel were destroyed down to the ground in the second defeat. Then, in the first place, "All the children of Israel, and all the people went up, and came unto the house of God."

  • No one was missing; they were unanimous in seeking Jehovah.
  • Secondly: Instead of weeping until even, they wept, and sat there before Jehovah. Their sorrow before God was deepened and of longer duration.
  • Thirdly: They "fasted that day until even." That was more than sorrow; it was humiliation, judgment of the flesh and repentance.
  • Fourthly and fifthly: They "offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Jehovah." They recovered those two things of inestimable value, a true sense of the value of the sacrifice and of communion. Dependence on the word of God and the realization of His presence became more highly valued, through God's discipline. The people had the consciousness of being before God Himself, who dwelleth between the cherubims over the ark, and drew near to Him, by a living High Priest who interceded for Israel.
  • Sixthly: Their own will at last completely broken. "Shall I yet again go out or shall I cease?" (vs. 26‑28)

What thorough restoration! And that which brought it about was a horrible evil; not that God makes light of the enormity of the evil, but in the interest He bears towards His people, He makes use even of the evil for their blessing. From that time God could bless and assure them of victory.

Then the battle took place in which Israel restored, yet experiencing his own weakness and insufficiency, obtained the victory, but lost nearly a whole tribe. Benjamin was defeated by a humbled people who showed themselves weaker than he. It is the principle of all discipline in the assembly. Without love, without dependence on God and His word, without self-judgment, discipline will always be defective, and it is only under such conditions that an assembly can purge out the old leaven.