Thursday, February 10, 2011

Judges series - Judges 20 - Levite and His concubine (continuation)

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 20

[This chapter continues from the previous, and here is the recap of Judges 19: In this story, a Levite in the Ephraim hill country took a concubine from Bethlehem, Judah. The concubine was unfaithful, and afterward, had left home and gone back to her father’s house in Bethlehem. The Levite went to fetch her back, and the way back, when it was late, they decided to spend the night in Gibeah, a city, controlled by the Benjamin tribe. An old man, probably a fellow Israelite, extended hospitality to the couple. In the night, while everyone was inside the house, some wicked men of the city came to the door, demanding the Levite be given over to them to have sex, sodomy! The old man said that, that would be a vile and disgraceful thing to do, and countered, offering to give his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to the men, but the men refused. The Levite took his concubine and gave her to the men outside. The men raped and abused the Levite’s concubine until the next morning, and she died. Both the old man, and the Levite did nothing until the next morning! The Levite took the body and went back to his own home. On arrival, he cut up the body into 12 parts, and had them sent to the tribes of Israel, all over the place. When the people saw the parts, they were shocked, and wandered what to do.]

1 Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah. 2 The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand soldiers armed with swords. 3 (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, "Tell us how this awful thing happened." [When the Israelites received the parts of the Levite’s concubine, they gathered before God in a place called Mizpah.]
4 So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, "I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. 5 During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. 6 I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel's inheritance, because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. 7 Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict." [The Levite explained the tragedy to the crowd gathered. He said it was the men of Gibeah who did the hideous act. He, of course, did not say he sent his concubine out, to save his own skin.]
8 All the people rose as one man, saying, "None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. 9 But now this is what we'll do to Gibeah: We'll go up against it as the lot directs. 10 We'll take ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred from a thousand, and a thousand from ten thousand, to get provisions for the army. Then, when the army arrives at Gibeah in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for all this vileness done in Israel." 11 So all the men of Israel got together and united as one man against the city. [The crowd decided in one accord that they would form an army and go against the city of Gibeah.]
12 The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, "What about this awful crime that was committed among you? 13 Now surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel." But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. 14 From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. 15 At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. 16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. [Now, the tribes of Israelites did give the Benjamin tribe a chance to avoid the war. In fact, I might even think the tribes did not, in the first instance, accuse the Benjamites as the culprits (You already know from earlier discussions in Judges 19, that I do not think the Benjamites were the culprits). Verse 12 only said,” … that was committed among you”. The sad thing was that the Benjamites were complacent, did not bother. Herein lays one of the 2 problems. Remember in my commentary for Judges 19:11-15, I said there is an important point, I believe, the Lord wanted to show to the children of Israelites.

That point was this: The tribe of Levite belonged to God and must be taken care of by all the fellow Israelites. You can read the entire chapter 3 of the Book of Numbers to get the full picture; I will just quote verses 44 & 45 to support the assertion that the Levites belonged to God:

The LORD also said to Moses, "Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD. (Numbers 3:44-45)

The LORD gave specific instructions to the Israelites about taking care of the Levites. The Levites’ occupation was to help the high priests with ministering before the LORD (in those days, at the Tabernacle). Because they belonged to the LORD, they would not be allotted territorial lands in the Promised Land, unlike the other tribes. Their inheritance was the LORD. Below are some verses on the instructions:

Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land (Deu 12:19). And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own (Deu 14:27). If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the LORD will choose, 7 he may minister in the name of the LORD his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the LORD. 8 He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions (Deu 18:6-8). "Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns (Num 35:2).

That the story began with the saying, “Now a Levite….” was not without reason; the failures of the Benjamin tribe were therefore firstly, that they were complacent and neglected the tribe of the LORD, apart from not having taken care of the city they lived in, and secondly, they were proud and have taken offence of the hostility demonstrated by the fellow tribes. The seriousness of the matter was compounded by the fact that the offence was done to a Levite – that, I believe, accounted to the great turnout before the LORD. How else could you justify the condoning of the LORD for the battle against the Benjamites (despite the failing of the Levite himself) which you shall read of, subsequently? Of the standard commentaries I looked at, none had correctly approached this story from this angle.]
17 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fighting men. 18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, "Who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites?"
The LORD replied, "Judah shall go first."
[What I am going to elaborate on, are things that came to mind as I write, it is up to you to think whether or not, they are all necessarily connected.

A little history, a little background: We know Benjamites descended from Benjamin, son of Israel (aka Jacob). Do you know he was the youngest son (Gen 42) and was the brother of Joseph, both sons by Rachel. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin; before her death she gave the baby, the name Ben-Oni, meaning son of my trouble. Israel (aka Jacob) changed the name and gave the name, Benjamin instead. Benjamin meant son of my right hand. Benjamin was trouble but was also right hand. Before Israel died, he blessed his sons (Gen 49), giving each the blessing appropriate to him (Gen 49:28). Of the sons, and therefore, the tribes that followed, 2 were blessed as great men of war. One, of course, was Judah, the other was Benjamin. This is what was said of Benjamin in the blessing:

"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
in the morning he devours the prey,
in the evening he divides the plunder." (Gen 49:27)

Also, we know of King Saul (the Kings period was after this {Judges period}), he was a Benjamite. What did the Bible said of his physique? 1 Sam 9:2 stated that he was an impressive young man without equal among Israelites – a head taller than any of the others. The Benjamites were mighty men of war; that was why they were proud, that was why so many Israelite fighting men gathered, that was why the Israelites inquired of the LORD who should fight the Benjamites. And it might have been the reason the LORD said Judah shall go first.

As a side, as to being the right-hand, in split of the United Monarchy Kingdom of Israel, into northern kingdom, Israel, of 10 Tribes, and the southern kingdom, Judah, of 2 Tribes, it was the Benjamin tribe that stayed with the Judah tribe, in the south portion of the Promised Land. This, of course, happened, later, subsequent to this Judges period.]
19 The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. 20 The men of Israel went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. 21 The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. 22 But the men of Israel encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. [First battle, 22,000 Israelites killed by the Benjamites.]
23 The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, "Shall we go up again to battle against the Benjamites, our brothers?"
The LORD answered, "Go up against them."
24 Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. 25 This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.
[Second battle, 18,000 Israelites got killed, making a total of 40,000 Israelites killed at the hands of some 25,700 (or 26,700) Benjamites.]
26 Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. 27 And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, 28 with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, "Shall we go up again to battle with Benjamin our brother, or not?"
The LORD responded, "Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands."
[This was the third time the Israelites inquired of the LORD, after 2 crashing defeats. The LORD said to go, and the Benjamites would be defeated.]
29 Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. 30 They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. 31 The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads—the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah.
32 While the Benjamites were saying, "We are defeating them as before," the Israelites were saying, "Let's retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads." 33 All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. 34 Then ten thousand of Israel's finest men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was. 35 The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. 36 Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah. 37 The men who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword. 38 The men of Israel had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, 39 and then the men of Israel would turn in the battle. The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the men of Israel (about thirty), and they said, "We are defeating them as in the first battle." 40 But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the smoke of the whole city going up into the sky. 41 Then the men of Israel turned on them, and the men of Benjamin were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come upon them. 42 So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the desert, but they could not escape the battle. And the men of Israel who came out of the towns cut them down there. 43 They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them and easily overran them in the vicinity of Gibeah on the east. 44 Eighteen thousand Benjamites fell, all of them valiant fighters. 45 As they turned and fled toward the desert to the rock of Rimmon, the Israelites cut down five thousand men along the roads. They kept pressing after the Benjamites as far as Gidom and struck down two thousand more. 46 On that day twenty-five thousand Benjamite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. 47 But six hundred men turned and fled into the desert to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months. 48 The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.

[The proud Benjamites thought that they would win again but they were defeated. Verse 35 said that the LORD defeated the Benjamites. The rest of the verses were details of the battle, including the strategy deployed. 25,100 Benjamites got killed, leaving behind only 600 who fled into the desert to the rock of Rimmon. This chapter ended with the statement that the men of Israel went to all the towns of the Benjamites, killed everything and set them on fire. Nothing was left of the Benjamin tribe except the 600 men at Rimmon – how great a prize to pay!]

What we can learn here:
Now, perhaps, we can put down a few lessons, when we did not when we were just having the narrations in Judges 19. Below are what I have:

1. The Levites belonged to God, and should have been taken care of. Extrapolating, I believe, the consecrated servants (full-time, even part-time ones) of God belong to God, and likewise, should be taken care of. Frankly speaking, the argument that tithing and offering are Law, and therefore must not be practiced, is a weak one when we understand the rationale behind making provisions for such servants. God had wanted the people of God to provide for the Levites whose duties were to tend to matters of the tabernacle or temple. So, in similar light, Christians are to provide for those amongst them who gave of themselves to serve God. The Benjamites failed to look after the Levite, and that was one of the reasons, God had sanctioned the attack on the Benjamites. Are we taking care of the consecrated servants of God in our midst? Please do not rebut by saying that every one of us is a servant of God; you know what I mean.

2. We are to be the gatekeepers of our city. If we, the people of God, do not “guard” our city properly, wickedness will take over, disorder, corruption and vileness can become the order of the day, and it will be a sad state of affair, and a sad day or time. Without going against the governmental authority over us, we are to endeavor to guard our city against licentious idolatry, and general licentiousness, vileness, and all wickedness. Make our stands known, stand up and be counted; pray and intercede against such. When God punishes a place for detestable practices, the Word of God said that even the very righteous ones can only save himself, not even his sons or daughters! (Eze 14:12-20).

3. When God humbles, receive it; do not be stubborn and continue to hold on to pride. The Benjamites were proud and had taken offence of the hostility demonstrated by the fellow tribes. Had they put aside their pride, confessed, repented, and asked for forgiveness, perhaps they need not have to suffer near annihilation (the whole tribe was left with only 600 men), and a lot of fellow brothers of the other tribes had not need to die, and suffered. So, it is the same, with us, when we are wrong and have sinned, we are to confess, repent, and ask for forgiveness, in accordance to 1 John 1:9, and be thankful for the grace and mercy of God. By the way, 1 John 1:9 is for believers; if you are not convinced of it, please read my separate article, “1 John 1:9 is for believers”.

Anthony Chia – LORD, forgive me for not being a good watchman, and gatekeeper. Help me to be a better one. God, for the sake of your Name, and for the sake of the church and the nation, will you please raise up more watchmen and gatekeepers. Amen.

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