Judges 19 recounts the horrific event that took place in Gibeah. A group of thuggish perverts attacked a Levite, his servant, and his concubine wife. The wife was abused the entire night and died of her injuries the following morning. The Levite, as callus as he was by allowing that outrage to happen, hacks the woman’s body into 12 pieces, and sends them by messengers to the 12 tribes with a description of what happened.
Coming to chapters 20 and 21, the Bible records for us the military response.
1. The Rallying
Chapter 20 begins by noting that all of Israel came together. That was unique, because throughout Judges, generally a handful of tribes gathered together to face an adversary. Here in chapter 20, all the tribes from Dan to Beersheba presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, verse 2 states. The response was overwhelming with 400,000 foot soldiers gathering themselves together.
After the Levite tells what happened to his concubine wife, all the people united as “one man.” Everyone recognized the seriousness of the sin and they wanted the Benjamites to do the right thing by handing over the men who committed the terrible crime of raping the woman.
2. The Battles
What transpires are three major battles against the tribe of Benjamin. The leaders of Benjamin would not honor their request to hand over the criminals. Instead, they prepared for battle against the rest of Israel. There were 26,000 men. Seven hundred of them were proficient left-hand fighters. That was an advantage, because those men were trained with the use of swords and sling stones with both their hands.
The First Battle: The people of Israel ask the LORD who will go first against Benjamin. God communicates for the first time and says that Judah will go first. When they go out to meet Benjamin, the Benjamites kill 22,000 men.
The Second Battle: After the people regather, they weep before the LORD. The LORD once again says to go up against Benjamin, and this time 18,000 more men were killed.
The Third Battle: Again, the people ask whether they should go up against Benjamin or cease from fighting and this time the LORD said that He would deliver them into their hand. For the third attack, they changed strategy. One group lured Benjamin out, while a second group set up an ambush to take the city. Benjamin, confidently believing they were winning, had no idea that disaster was upon them (vs.34). Once the army moved out of the city, the second group burned it to the ground. The Benjamites panicked and ran for their lives, only to be overtaken in battle and defeated. They were mercilessly slaughtered both men and beasts. Basically, Israel did to Benjamin what they were to do with the wicked Canaanites.
3. The Consequences
The defeat of Benjamin was nearly total. The tribe came close to extinction.The text states that roughly 600 men were left. As the survivors remained in hiding, remorse as to what happened confronts the other tribes. They see that there is no one left of the Benjamites and they have no wives. Additionally, all the 11 tribes had sworn an oath that none of them would give their daughters to the men of Benjamin. As they contemplated the consequences of nearly destroying the tribe of Benjamin, the 11 other tribes devise a bizarre solution.
First, they led an attack against the people of Jabesh Gilead. They were across the Jordan, far removed from the events leading up to the civil war with Benjamin. Israel commanded 12,000 men to attack the town and kill every man and woman except for the unmarried, virgin women. It was a terrible crime; however, from their attack, they retrieved 400 unmarried women for the remaining men of Benjamin.
Second. There still remained 200 men needing wives. They were directed to a yearly festival near Shiloh, north of Bethel during which the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform dances. They were to wait in hiding, and when the women arrived to dance, they were to snatch a wife and head back to the land of Benjamin. When the fathers and brothers complained of what happened, the other tribes would keep them off their back, as it were.
Both events demonstrate the gravity of sin. Within just a few decades, or at least the first hundred years after the conquest, the generations following those who conquered the land under Joshua, had become in practice like the Canaanites they fought. They were like all sinners, susceptible to being led astray.
But the entire book of Judges is a powerful testimony of how faithful God is to deliver. In spite of their sin and often when deliverance is unwanted.