Choosing Tribe Over Truth
The final three chapters of the book of Judges recount a story that can often get overlooked in a survey of the Old Testament. There was a time in history that the twelve tribes could have become eleven tribes. The tribe of Benjamin was brought nearly to the brink of extinction, and it could have all been avoided if the leaders of the tribe had been more concerned with truth and justice than protecting a few bad apples of their tribe.
A man who is left unnamed but is identified as a Levite is traveling back to his home after retrieving his estranged concubine and has to stay overnight in a city. He has the option to stay at a Jebusite city (later to be named Jerusalem), but decides against it since it is a Gentile city. He instead chooses to travel longer than he should to stay in a city of the people of Israel. That city is Gibeah, a Benjaminite city.
At Gibeah, the man is not invited to stay with anyone and makes camp in the town square. An older man, an Ephraimite, who happened to live in Gibeah saw the Levite and insisted he come to his home rather than stay out in the town square. What happens next is horrific.
It is a display that harkens back to the scene in Genesis when Lot invites two men into his home in Sodom. The Benjaminites of Gibeah descend upon the house of the Ephraimite and demand to “know” the visitor. Like the Lot story as well, in an act of desperation, the men offer their women instead. The men refuse and beat on the house. In the Judges story there are no angels that come to the rescue. Eventually, the Levite's concubine is sent out to the men where she was raped throughout the night and dies on the doorstep of the Ephraimite.
After learning of this incident (in a rather grotesque manner), the other tribes of Israel met together to consider what to do. They were determined to punish the men who had committed such a vile act on the Levite’s concubine. They gathered together 400,000 strong and marched to Gibeah. At Gibeah they demanded that the tribe of Benjamin hand over the men responsible so they might be put to death.
And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, "What evil is this that has taken place among you? Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel." But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. – Judges 20:12-13
Instead of giving over the evil men, Benjamin decided to go to war. Instead of abhorring the evil committed within one of their own cities, the Benjaminites decided to "circle the wagons" and protect their own. And though the Benjaminites won the first few battles, and won them decisively, they ended up losing the war. It cost them dearly in the end. In the civil war that followed the tribe of Benjamin was reduced to a paltry 600 men. The people of Benjamin saw more importance in defending their tribe than in defending the truth, and because of that they suffered greatly.
We too can make such mistakes. As the common saying goes: “Blood is thicker than water,” and many people in our culture live by it. We see it when a political party abandons its principles for the sake of saving a seat in government. We see it when a company is more concerned with punishing a whistleblower than with addressing the corruption that whistleblower revealed. We see it when a family decides to let criminal activity go unreported because it’s their child.
This attitude can also infect the church: When we get more offended by the person who would call out sin in the church, rather than humbly accept rebuke when it’s called for. When we’re more concerned about saving face than confessing and repenting. When we’re more concerned about appearing righteous than actually being righteous.
What the story of the Benjaminites tells us is that while that attitude to attempt to ignore our own sin may save you in short term, such a path ultimately leads to destruction. Let us be humble amongst ourselves, and seek to serve the Truth. Even though rebuke can be painful, and confession and repentance can be painful as well, on the other side is freedom from sin and a closer relationship with one another and with God.
…Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. – Proverbs 9:8b