“Civil War” (Judges 20-21)

“Civil War” (Judges 20-21)

Civil War (Judges 20-21)

Conclusion: Israel’s religious decline > moral decline > political decline.

Upon receiving their portion of the Levite’s concubine, Israel gathered for battle.

Read Judges 20-21.

The near elimination, and subsequent restoration, of the Benjamites portray Israel’s need for a king.

I. Vengeance Upon Benjamin (20:1-48)

1. A Devastating Unity (1-18)

400,000 Israelites gather for a divine mission. Upon hearing the Levite’s story, minus any self-incriminating details, Israel unanimously decide to attack Gibeah, demanding Benjamin hand over the perpetrators (1-13a).

But Benjamin refused to listen, mustering 26,700 men, including 700 elite soldiers like Ehud (13b-16).

The author emphasizes their unity 3x (1, 8, 11), and their relationship as “brothers” 3x (13, 23, 28). Ironically, they were united in causing division.

Verse 18 is almost identical to 1:1-2. However, instead of attacking Canaan, Israel was attacking Benjamin.

Unlike chs.17-19, the Lord is actively leading Israel here, and throughout the war.

But He’s leading them in…

2. A Devastating Mission (19-48)

Day 1 (19-23): Israel attacks > 22,000 Israelites die. They wept and inquired of the Lord who, again, informs them to attack Benjamin.

Day 2 (24-28): Israel attacks > 18,000 Israelites die. They weep and inquire of the Lord. Plus, they fast and bring offerings. The Lord informs them to attack again, but now he promises victory.

The Ark = God’s divine counsel, available to Israel (not Benjamin). It was a means of grace. They had not been left to themselves, even if their religious practices had been compromised. Repentance was available.

Day 3: Israel’s Perspective (29-36a): Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. Once again the Benjamites drive the Israelites away killing about 30 men. Benjamin assumes another victorious day, but the Israelites were setting a trap. The Lord defeated Benjamin (35).

Day 3: Benjamin’s Perspective (36b-45): Once the Benjamites saw their city going up in smoke, they realized the trap.

Summary (46-48): 25,000 Benjamites and at least 40,000 Israelites died. 600 Benjamites fled to the rock of Rimmon where they stayed for four months.

The conflict might’ve been avoided had Israel heard the rest of the story. However, the application is less a warning of Israel’s hasty judgment, as it’s a statement of God’s decisive judgment.

The Lord did not merely allow this to happen; he deliberately ordained it.

The Lord was allowing them to destroy themselves. This was God’s judgment upon both Benjamin and Israel.

When we allow God to be sovereign, we realize that even when we are doing exactly what he says we ought to do, we won’t always receive what we expect. Instead of finding success, we may even face defeat for a time. God moves in a mysterious way!

Even so, let us never forget that – like Israel – we always have access to the means of grace (Heb. 10:19-22).

After getting vengeance upon Benjamin, the Israelites are now filled with…

II. Compassion Upon Benjamin (21:1-25)

1. Weeping for Benjamin at Bethel (1-4)

The Israelites vowed to prevent their daughters from marrying a Benjamite (1). They take this vow seriously even though throughout Judges they’ve been guilty of marrying Canaanites.

They returned to Bethel mourning the loss of the tribe of Benjamin (2-4). Barry Webb suggests Israel is protesting and attempting to absolve themselves of any responsibility.

“In the previous episode he (God) chastised them by speaking (20:18, 23); in this one he chastised them by remaining silent. He will not be used by them.”

2. Wives for Benjamin at Jabesh-Gilead (5-15)

They had compassion on Benjamin and sought a way to provide wives, other than their own daughters, for them. It was determined that Jabesh-Gilead did not show up for the war and therefore they needed to be put to death (5-9).

They sent 12,000 of their bravest men to slaughter everyone of Jabesh-Gilead, including women and children, except their virgin women (10-11).

They brought back 400 young virgins to be wives for the 600 Benjamites who were retrieved from the rock of Rimmon. This was how they showed their compassion for Benjamin (12-15).

3. Wives for Benjamin at Shiloh (16-23)

More wives were needed, and they remained unwilling to offer their own daughters, because of the vow they had made (16-18).

Benjamin was told to lie in ambush outside of Shiloh and when the women come out to dance during the annual festival they could each snatch one for themselves. This would preserve Shiloh’s innocence with regards to the vow they had taken, and provide wives for the preservation of Benjamin (19-22).

This ongoing theme of Israel’s mistreatment of women is clearly negative.

Summary (24-25): Everyone returned to their own inheritance. It was anarchy!


The near elimination, and subsequent restoration, of the Benjamites portray Israel’s need for a king.

The anarchy screams out for gospel hope. War points to the need for a unifying king. Benjamin was spared annihilation through further corruption (21:25). They needed a righteous king to save them.

This bleak outlook is transformed in Ruth (especially ch.4). The Lord will provide the king they needed.

Our greatest threat is not the depraved culture that surrounds us, but the remaining depravity that’s within us. We need a king to subdue us!

Our Sovereign King became the suffering servant. And yet, it was while he was in the agony of worldly defeat that he was putting death to death!

Jesus had to suffer the penalty of our sin, in order to replace the rule of sin over our lives. In his death, Christ wrestled away the power of sin and death.

The power of darkness was overcome by the power of the king (Col. 1:13). When God reveals his power over all people, those who belong to him willingly submit themselves (Psalm 110:3a). Their wills are subdued so that they gladly come to King Jesus (Jn. 17:2)! Only then, could they do what was right in God’s eyes.

The depths of our depravity have been met by the heights of Christ’s mercy.