According to rabbinical commentaries, it was on this day that several Israelite tribes gathered together to make war on the tribe of Benjamin. It is recorded in Judges 20:1-2:
So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the Lord at Mizpah and the leaders of all the people, all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers who drew the sword.
This is probably one of the oddest stories in all of Scripture. It begins with an estrangement between a Levite and his concubine who had left to stay with her father. After an eventual reconciliation, they travelled homeward together and, after refusing to stay overnight in a city of strangers, they decided to stopover in Gibeah, a Benjamite city. He and his concubine were taken in by a resident of Gibeah, only to have some men of the city come pounding on the door demanding that the Levite be put outside, that they may “know” him. Instead of the Levite being turned over to these perverted men, the Levite’s concubine was turned over to them. Unfortunately, these depraved individuals ravaged her until she died. That’s when the story really gets strange.
The Levite sends her body, in twelve different pieces, to the tribes of Israel who are justifiably incensed. When the tribe of Benjamin refused to turn over the guilty parties to the other tribes, a conflict ensued. When the battle had concluded, thousands were dead and it had become obvious that Israel had lost one of its tribal brothers. That is when the people began to lament – after so many people are dead. How could something so bizarre and so tragic as this happen among God’s people? The next chapter in Judges might give us a clue.
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
Perhaps that’s why all these events occurred – everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. Maybe that’s why vile men thought it was acceptable to demand someone be turned over to them for pleasure. Maybe that’s why someone thought it was okay for a woman to be turned over to these corrupt men, most likely, against her will. Maybe that’s why people felt there was no need to address sin within their tribe and why God’s people were so quick to go to war. Everyone was doing what they wanted to do instead of what they should have been doing.
Maybe that’s why there is such dysfunction among God’s people today. Sadly, we are slow to learn from past mistakes, even though we are repeatedly warned of the inevitable outcome. Every time God’s people have followed their own eyes and hearts, it has led to conflict, destruction and sadness. We may not be striking one another with swords of iron, but we spend a lot of time striking one another with different kind of sword — our tongue. We use this to cut one another into pieces just as surely as the Levite did with his concubine. Maybe this is happening because, like Israel of old, too many do what is right in their own eyes but with this one big difference – unlike them, today, we have a King.
The Messiah is our King and has set a standard for how we are to live our lives, which includes civility and consideration for one another. Furthermore, our King came to bring His people together, not tear them apart. He came to gather and to unite all the tribes under His tent, not to scatter them to autonomous camps. Therefore, we should follow in the footsteps of our King and do our part to seek restoration rather than destruction. Let the debacle in Gibeah serve to remind us how quickly passions can get out of hand and result in death. Let us temper our emotions, address sin justly and do what is right in the eyes of our Father. The last thing the Body needs, today, is a full-blown war among brethren; we need to reserve those efforts for the true enemy.