The moral decay of Israel continues to reverberate in our reading today. The heinous acts demonstrated in ch 19 escalate into civil war in ch 20 – the nation with no king but God alone is clearly not doing so well.
As readers, we have greater insight to the dubious character of the Levite, his house host and the people of Gibeah (tribe of Benjamin) in chapter 19 – but these character details are mysteriously obfuscated in the retelling of the incident in chapter 20. Our outraged Levite, who possibly slept soundly through the night while his concubine was violated to death, before awakening in the morning and chopping her into pieces, goads ‘all of Israel’ to war with the tribe of Benjamin. I’m reminded that just as the propaganda of this war machine conveniently omits key facts, I too am guilty of telling half truths when it comes to acknowledging and confessing my sin in many things. Benjamin likewise responds equally shamefully and refuses to acknowledge and repent of their sinful acts.
The resultant war is a bloody affair with significant loss of life on both sides. Three times God instructs Israel to battle against Benjamin, and Israel twice experiences significant losses at the hands of their brothers before Benjamin is finally routed. It is hard to comprehend the enormous loss of life played out in this chapter, so much bloodshed between brothers as the result of unconfessed and unrepentant sin on both sides. Yet, God shows his mercy in that neither side (Benjamin in particular) is wiped out altogether… a remnant of Benjamin remains despite Israel putting ‘every town to the sword’. In this, God demonstrates his character as both judge and rescuer.
For me, today’s reading has 3 applications,
1) I need to acknowledge the depravity of my sin, confess it and repent of it
2) I need to spend time reflecting on God as holy judge and conquering king – Revelation 4 may be a good start to help visualise this
3) I need to spend time reflecting on God as humble rescuer – Philippians 2 may be a helpful reminder
Ultimately, all these points find their conclusion in Jesus. Through Jesus my sin is forgiven and I am rescued from the judgement that should fall on me. What a comprehension to get your heart around!
Perhaps fittingly, the closing verse of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians in today’s reading also reflect this focus. Perhaps it can be our prayer for ourselves and each other too?
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones (1 Thess 3:13)