In Part 7, we saw that Israel’s conquest of Canaan was just because God commanded it. However, all along Israel had a habit of not seeking God’s will. In fact, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Israel might not have had to fight at all if they simply obeyed God.
Joshua once even fell into this trap of not “Seeking God’s Will”. This is key to understanding one conflict early on in Israel’s history. Otherwise, you can easily come to the wrong conclusions.
Some people assume that having rules of war is a new thing. However, in Deuteronomy 20, God gives His rules for how Israel was to conduct war. If you will notice, there is no draft. You go to the city and sue for peace. If they answer in peace, they can become tributaries. If not, they were to kill all males in the city. God also makes it clear that the Canaanites were an exception to this, and none of them were to taken alive.
Now, this might seem initially out of place. However, the point I’m making is that cooperation meant sparing the city, while resistance meant the city’s destruction.
12If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying,
13Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known;
14Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you;
15Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.
16And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again.
17And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers;
18When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the LORD thy God. (Deuteronomy 13:12-18, King James Version)
This is a long passage, so I bolded the relevant portions. First and foremost, sons of Belial were to be opposed. Second, no accursed thing was to be tolerated. Third, God’s Law was to be upheld.
Put this all together, Israel was tasked with ensuring God’s Law and standard was upheld. Wickedness and evil were to be put away. Those who participated in wickedness and evil were “sons of Belial’. Those who are righteous will seek peace and put evil out.
One other thing that should be noted is that they were to not take any of this lightly. They were to “enquire” and “ask diligently”. Nothing was to be assumed.
Question: Wouldn’t it be logical to diligently inquire of God as well?
In fact, when would it not be logical to inquire of God before a major decision?
The last 3 chapters of the Book of Judges contains a very strange story about a Levite and his concubine. I urge you to read it for yourself again, as space doesn’t permit the retelling of the entire story. In summary, his wife runs off, he goes after her, on the way back they stop for the night in the territory of Benjamin, they are put up by an old man, the men of the city gather around and threaten them with rape, the Levite pushes his concubine out the door, the men rape her until she dies, the man takes the body back, cuts the body up into 12 pieces and sends them out to each of the tribes of Israel.
Well, this eventually leads to war. Was it a just war? If was a just war, was it a righteous war? You see, they are not necessarily the same thing. You can wage a war for a good reason but be unrighteous in doing so.
Notice that the men of the city were “certain sons of Belial”. Their actions bear out that they were evil and wicked men. Israel sent men throughout all of Benjamin so that these sons of Belial would be brought out. They did so in order that “we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel.”
Yet, Benjamin refused to turn them over. In fact, Benjamin assembled for battle.
Yet, something was missing. Israel was defeated the first time around.
Remember, God said He would use war to test Israel. Surely, that would even include an incident like this one.
The problem is, was the rest of Israel any more righteous than the tribe of Benjamin? I don’t think so. Looking through the Book of Judges, it becomes apparent that all 12 tribes are prone to idolatry and rebellion.
Israel was so rebellious that they even forgot to inquire of God before attacking Benjamin. However, they apparently figured it out for they then fasted and wept before God. There’s still a problem, though, and they are routed a second time.
Notice the time sequence. They set their battle array in the same place “where they put themselves in array the first day” and then we read they inquired of God. They already had their minds made up! They weren’t seeking God’s will! They were seeking validation for their own will.
The act of punishing sinners: Just. It was a just war.
Going to war as sinners and without God’s blessings: Unrighteous.
It literally was an unrighteous just war.
To put it another way: Suppose there is a judge. He shoplifts, but he is not caught. He is a thief. A murderer goes before him. The murderer is found guilty, and the unrighteous unrepentant judge gives the murderer the maximum sentence. Is this really justice? His act of sentencing the murderer was a just act, but the situation is not just at all.
It is only the third time, with Israel weeping and inquiring via the high priest before the Ark of the Covenant that things start to turn around for Israel.
The rest of the story pretty much shows just how corrupt and screwed up Israel’s priorities were. If you had no doubt before, the last chapter of the Book of Judges shows just how rash and unthinking they were the entire time. They even go as far as to punish one city for sending no one to the war, in violation of God’s rules for war.
It says “the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel”, but when you think about it, is that true? It seems to me that people making bad decisions, especially those within Benjamin, was what caused the breach. Furthermore, if God really made the breach, then why were they trying to heal it? Again, what were their priorities? What were they thinking?
Israel in general did not have God’s Holy Spirit. They continued in their sins until they finally stated they wanted to be like the nations around them.