Several decades before the incident we have been discussing recorded at the end of the book of Judges, as Israel prepared to invade, a divine Commander had surprised Joshua with his answer to the question, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” His answer was “Neither” (Joshua 5:13-15). The Commander was for Yahweh.
Many times, God’s people get mixed up about such matters. Because they perceive that they are right about an issue, they assume that God is on their side. In some cases wars have been fought, and in others political debates have raged over issues of right and wrong. The problem for us humans is that all of us are wrong about something. To assume that God is on our side is often presumptuous. Indeed wars have been fought with soldiers in opposing trenches praying to the same God for victory.
In the story at the end of the book of Judges, it was God’s people (Israel) against God’s people (some Benjamite residents of Gibeah). God was not for one against the other, but He did want them as one nation to work out their differences and bring about justice. But instead of humbly working together to solve the problem, they went to war. The tragic result, as recorded in Chapters 20-21, was the loss of over 65,000 lives—nearly two thirds on the side that considered itself morally right—and the virtual annihilation of one of the tribes of Israel, all because of a crime against two people.
When Israel’s angry factions squared off against each other, God did not intervene. Why? They did not want His intervention. Their minds were made up to “give them what they deserve for all this vileness in Israel” (20:10). When they approached God in prayer, it was not to ask what to do but to decide which troops should lead the way in the war (20:18). War is what they got. What was God trying to teach Israel in this episode?
Next: Christians at War with Each Other?