In Judges 19, we read of some men of Gibeah committing a horrific crime against a Levite’s concubine: sexually abusing her to the point of death ~ see the account in Judges 19:22-30, 20:4-5. As you read the account, you can’t help but be reminded of the similar incident in Sodom (Genesis 19), except this wickedness took place among the children of God themselves.
In Judges 20, we read how Israel confronted Benjamin (Gibeah was a city in Benjamin) and demanded they deliver up the perpetrators, so they might be dealt with justly. In Judges 19:22 & 20:13, the ESV describes them as “worthless fellows,” which doesn’t do it justice; the literal rendering is “sons/children of Belial,” which is how it’s translated in the KJV. Benjamin refused to deliver up these men, and they gathered together to go to battle against Israel.
Israel sought the counsel of God in this matter, and the LORD directed them to go up to fight against Benjamin. Israel’s assault resulted in her own defeat; that day 22,000 of Israelite soldiers were put to death.
After this, the children of Israel wept before the LORD and asked counsel of the LORD once more. Again He tells them to go up against Benjamin. Once more, however, they are soundly defeated in battle; that day the casualty count was 18,000.
Once again they return to the house of God to inquire of the LORD, this time not only with weeping, but with fasting, as well as with burnt and peace offerings…
Judges 20:28 … “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.”
They go up once again as God commanded, and after the death of another 30 Israelites, an ambush, and sore, hard, fierce battle (v. 34 ~ KJV, ESV, NKJV), the LORD defeated Benjamin as He promised, and delivered them into Israel’s hand, with 25,000 Benjamite casualties.
[Before I continue, I don't want to imply that Israel was faultless in this incident and her mode of proceeding was flawless. It seems there was most likely some sense of sinful pride, of overconfidence in their own strength, and of presumption of God's protection (for more on this, see Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary). These are things we all need to guard against by constantly examining ourselves in light of God's Word in conjunction with His Holy Spirit.]
When casualty counts are rising and your path is marked more by trouble than by success…
In my last post, I shared with you in prayer form my desire:
As I press on to finish the race set before me in the strength You provide, may I be used by You to help other souls to taste Your preciousness. Continue to pour out upon me the Spirit of grace and supplications, that I might be a faithful and alert watchman on the wall, pleading day and night for You to shine Your face again upon Your people, to pour down Your Spirit upon Your Church for her reviving, that we may comprehend the breadth, length, depth, and height of Your love that passes all understanding – for it is only as we begin to count You as precious will we long for other souls in all the nations, other sheep all around the globe – including those in the olive tree (ethnic Israel ~ Romans 9-11), to come and taste of Your preciousness along with us. Surely, still there is room in Your courts for all who are thirsty!
When you are in a situation in which your prayers and your efforts are not only bearing no visible fruit, but where the situation is visibly worsening (i.e. – your casualty count is rising), you are [I am] sorely tempted to doubt and to throw in the towel altogether.
And yet, no temptation has overtaken us [me] that is not common to man…
Remember what happened after Moses’ first visit to Pharaoh:
Exodus 5:4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”
15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
22 Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
Moses himself, the man who encountered the LORD Himself in the burning bush and was God’s chosen instrument to deliver Israel out of Egyptian bondage – even Moses faced similar circumstances and fought similar temptations to ours! Thank God that these things are written in the Bible as examples for us of God’s mysterious and inscrutable dealings with His people, which are always intended for the glory of His name to be spread throughout all the earth ~ Romans 11:33-36; 9:17.
I loved what Matthew Henry wrote of those first defeats of Israel in Judges 20:
God would hereby teach us not to think it strange if a good cause should suffer defeat fore a while, nor to judge of the merits of it by the success of it. The interest of grace in the heart, and of religion in the world, may be foiled, and suffer great loss, and seem to be quite run down, but judgment will be brought forth to victory at last. Vincimur in prælio, sed non in bello–We are foiled in a battle, but not in the whole campaign. Right may fall, but it shall arise.
How often are we tempted to think it strange we should suffer defeat fore a while, and to judge of the merits of a cause by the success of it!
Dale Ralph Davis writes this about the repeated setbacks the Israelites encountered:
Israel receives the favor of divine guidance (vv. 18, 23) and yet sees no evidence of divine help. Does this not constitute one of the enigmas of Christian experience – being certain of the divine will (because a matter is clearly taught in Scripture) and yet finding that path marked more by trouble than by success? ~ from Dale Ralph Davis’ “Judges: Such a Great Salvation” (Christian Focus: Fearn, Ross-shire: 2000, reprinted 2003, 2006), 217, italics mine.
Is not faith the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV)
Lately, as I’ve found my path marked more by trouble than by success, I’ve found myself crying out with the father in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Remember Lord Sabaoth: He must win the battle!
For those who are engaged in the Lord’s work in seeking the reformation and reviving of His Church (as far as we can discern from clear teaching in Scripture that both the measures we are taking as well as the manner in which we are proceeding are in accord with His Word), we will sometimes (often) find our path marked more by trouble than by success! We can’t sugar-coat the reality of the struggle we will face. When God is working to rebuild His Church, opposition will arise. Whenever God is raising up men and women and boys and girls who are wholeheartedly seeking the welfare of His children, the kingdom of darkness will be greatly displeased (ESV) and deeply disturbed (NKJV). There will be manifold temptations to come down from the great work to which God has called you. (See Nehemiah 2:10 & 6:1-14; I’d also encourage you to read through the entire book of Nehemiah and notice the opposition that continues to arise both from without and within Israel.) And yet, in the words of Luther’s hymn, if the cause is truly Christ’s, in spite of all visible evidence to the contrary, we can affirm this truth with fear, trembling, and humble gladness: He must win the battle!
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
Sabaoth means “the hosts of heaven.” How often do we forget our God is the LORD of the hosts of heaven? How often do I forget my God is the LORD of the hosts of heaven? Hezekiah didn’t forget, and neither should we. After receiving the threatening letter from Sennacherib, Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, spread the letter before the LORD, and then prayed to the LORD:
Isaiah 37:16 “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.”
Go up, now, look … Go again …
As I further considered God’s repeated command to Israel to “go up” in spite of appearances, the story of Elijah in I Kings 18 was brought to remembrance:
I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is looking for persevering souls who will go up now, and who will go again… and go again… and go again… in anticipation of seeing a little cloud rising!
Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? , Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
In his sermon “The Necessity of the Spirit to Give Effect to the Preaching of the Gospel,” Thomas Chalmers wrote that our God is a God “who orders intercessions…” (you can read Chalmers’ sermon here). I read those words a few years ago, and they struck me profoundly. I pull out that sermon and reread portions of it fairly regularly. Consider it: our God has ordained good works for His people, and those good works include a certain number of prayers ordained for each one of us to pray! (See also Rev. 6:8ff.) God intends for us to exert ourselves to the seventh time, as it were. May my God give me eyes of faith to look beyond mounting casualties and visible trouble, that I might see Him, and hope and trust in the invisible God, so I might endure – to go up again – and again – and again ~ as a watchmen on the wall ~ Isaiah 62:6-7.
James 5:7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.