Seeking Divine Guidance [Judges 20.18]
Scripture (KJV) Judges 20.18
18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the LORD said, Judah shall go up first.
18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the LORD said, Judah shall go up first.—Judges 20.18 (KJV)
18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to Beth-el, and asked counsel of God; and they said, Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin? And Jehovah said, Judah shall go up first.—Judges 20:18 (ASV)
And the children of Israel arose
The children of Israel sent some of their men to Mizpeh; these were men who were experienced in war, many having fought in the campaign to conquer Canaan. They assembled at Mizpeh, because it was not far from Gibeah, where they heard that the Benjaminites were gathered together to defend the men of Gibeah.
The Israelites’ were right in their abhorrence of the crime committed at Gibeah, and in their resolve to punish the criminals; but they formed their assessment of the capabilities of the Benjaminites with too much haste and self-confidence.
and went up to the house of God;
At this time, the tabernacle may have been located at Shiloh, but, Israel did not go to Shiloh, because that place was too far from the likely site of the war. The Ark of the Covenant had been brought to Bethel, and Phinehas the High Priest inquired of the Lord before the Ark of the Covenant by means of the Urim and Thummin (see Judges 20:27-28). From this location, Israel could quite easily consult the will of God. Bethel was only seven or eight miles from the seat of the war; that was about half as far as Shiloh. Bethel was on the northern boundary of the tribe of Benjamin and about five miles from Mizpeh. Bethel was consecrated as a Jewish holy place for the purpose of sacrificing and worshipping the Lord, before any other place by the revelations of God, which had been made to the patriarch Jacob, when he spent the night there (see Genesis 28 and 35). The Arc of the Covenant was kept in Bethel early in Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, according to 1 Samuel 10.3 (see below).
There are some who believe that the Israelites went to Shiloh to consult with the Lord, since the tabernacle was there (see Judges18.31), or to Mizpeh (see Judges 18.1), though the Targum gives Bethel as the name of the place; and so does Ben Gersom and Josephus. Though there is reason to believe the tabernacle had previously been removed from Shiloh, the Ark of the Covenant had definitely been brought to Bethel and it is not likely they would go to any other place but where the Ark of the Covenant and high priest were. It is not unlikely that though Shiloh was the chief residence of the ark (see Jeremiah 7:12), yet the tabernacle, being moveable, was, either at stated times, or as occasion required, moved to where the Judge resided, or the congregation assembled. On the present occasion the ark may have been moved to Bethel for the convenience of proximity to the great national council at Mizpeh.
Israel was surely right in consulting with the Lord, but they ought to have done it at the commencement of their proceedings. Instead of this, all their plans were formed, and they never doubted that they were in the right, that the war was inevitable and that they would win an easy victory.
Judges 20:27-28 (KJV) And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand. The presence and services of Phinehas on this occasion help us to ascertain the chronology thus far, that the date of this incident must be fixed shortly after the death of Joshua.
1 Sam 10:3 (KJV) Then shalt thou go on forward from thence, and thou shalt come to the plain of Tabor, and there shall meet thee three men going up to God to Bethel, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine: three men going up to God to Beth-el -- apparently to offer sacrifices there at a time when the ark and the tabernacle were not in a settled abode, and God had not yet declared the permanent place which He should choose. The kids were for sacrifice, the loaves for the offering, and the wine for the libations.
Judges 18:31 (KJV) And they set them up Micah's graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.
Judges 20:1 (KJV) Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the LORD in Mizpeh.
Jer 7:12 (KJV) But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. my place . . . in Shiloh -- God caused His tabernacle to be set up in Shiloh in Joshua's days (Jos 18:1 Judges 18:31). In Eli's time God gave the ark, which had been at Shiloh, into the hands of the Philistines (Jer 26:6 1Sa 4:10, 11 Ps 78:56-61). Shiloh was situated between Beth-el and Shechem in Ephraim. at the first -- implying that Shiloh exceeded the Jewish temple in antiquity. But God's favor is not tied down to localities (Ac 7:44).
and asked counsel of God;
Before opening the campaign the Israelites sent a delegation to Bethel, to ask God which tribe should begin the war, that is, which tribe should fight at the head of the other tribes (see Judges 1:1). They asked Phinehas the high priest to consult with God on the question who should lead the other tribes into battle. The situation is similar to that described in Judges 20.28 (see below).
In following this precedent (that is; consulting God before going to war.) the Israelites put the men of Gibeah on the same footing as the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. With reference to ver. 9 (see below), it is worth considering whether this is the fulfillment of the purpose expressed there by the Israelites, to go up against Gibeah by lot; understanding that the answer was given by a Divinely-directed lot, according to which Judah’s turn came first.
Judges 1:1 (KJV) Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? Joshua had left no successor, and everything relative to the movements of this people must be determined either by whim, or a special word from the Lord.
Judges 20:28 (KJV) And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand.
Judges 20:9 (KJV) But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it;
and said which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin?
This was not your usual army, in view of the fact that there was no supreme magistrate, judge, or general, to lead them. I imagine there was a certain amount of confusion, disorganization, and duplication of effort, because of it. Notice the question they asked the Lord and then think of the questions they could have asked:
1. They did not ask whether they should go to war with Benjamin or with their brethren; they had no doubt about that, taking it for granted they had sufficient reason for doing it, and they thought it was according to the will of God.
2. They didn’t inquire whether they would be victorious or not; they had no doubt about them being victorious for two predominant reasons; First, their numbers were superior in the range of 15-16 to 1; and second, their cause was just.
3. Finally, they do not seek God’s help by prayer, and fasting, and sacrifice, which by all reason they ought to have done.
They only inquired who or which tribe should lead them into battle, since they did not have a general; and it was necessary for them to do this, to prevent any disagreements among them over their place in the battle plan. It is likely this was discussed in the assembly, but they could not agree.
Had they asked counsel of God sooner, their expedition would have been conducted on a different principle--most probably by reducing the number of fighting men, as in the case of Gideon's army. As it was, the vast number of volunteers formed an excessive and unwieldy force, unfit for strenuous and united action against a small, compact, and well-directed army.
"Who shall go first?’’, that is, "Who shall be general of our army?’’ for, whichever tribe was appointed to go first, the prince of that tribe must be looked upon as commander-in-chief of the whole body. For, if they had meant the question to refer to the order of their march only, it would have been proper to ask, "Who shall go next?’’ and then, "Who next?’’
and the Lord said, Judah shall go up first:
It should not come as a surprise that the Lord said, Judah shall go up first, given that the tribe of Judah pitched their standard first about the tabernacle, and marched first in their journeys in the wilderness, and was ordered to go up first and fight the Canaanites, because they were a powerful and warlike tribe.
But, if they know that Judah must go first, they also know they must all observe the orders of the prince of that tribe. This honor was done to Judah because our Lord Jesus was to spring from that tribe, who was in all things to have the pre-eminence. The tribe that went up first had the most honorable place of duty, but it was in the most danger and probably lost more men in the upcoming battle, than any of the other tribes.
A number of writers express criticism of Israel for their assumption that the war was justified without their asking for Jehovah's approval; and inquiring of God, only as to which tribe should be the first to fight. Armerding, however, expressing disagreement with that view, stated that, “The confidence was justified.”
It is true, of course, that God was deeply displeased with Israel, as evidenced by his allowing the Benjamites to defeat them in successive battles. As Keil stated, however, “Their sin was not in the fact that they started the war, for the Law in Deut. 22:22 actually required this. Their sin lay in their state of mind as they began the war.” We would call this their arrogant overconfidence and self-reliance. After all, since the whole nation outnumbered the Benjamites in their available fighting men by 400,000 to 26,000, Israel felt very self-sufficient. With an advantage like that, who needed God's help! However, their tragic experience was another example that, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
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