“(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.)” Judges 20:27
MOST of the history of the people of God in the days of the judges makes painful reading, and the closing chapters of the book report some ugly happenings. Chapter 20 is no exception. It tells of a deed among the Benjamites that caused such great revulsion among the rest of the tribes (19:30) that they gathered at Gibeah to punish the wrongdoers (20:11).
WHETHER they were right so to attack their erring brothers, who shall say? They seem to have made their own decision without seeking God’s guidance, and it was only when the decision had been made that they enquired of God who should take the lead. The answer seems to have been that Judah should go first (v.18).
THE first attack was a disastrous failure, in spite of all their efforts, so they made a further rueful enquiry as to whether they ought to proceed with the enterprise. Apparently they were told to do so (v.24) but the second day brought almost as severe a defeat as the first. Obviously something was radically wrong.
HAD God really told them to order the battle on the first day and encouraged them to try again on the second? If so, why had they met with such total defeat? There is no easy answer to this question, but at least we should note the behaviour of the people on the third day (v.26). Our verse repeats the phrase, “in those days”, and we imagine that it means that the Ark was near at hand, though we cannot be certain that it was at Bethel. In any case we note that the parenthetical comment refers us to the Ark and the attendant high priest.
ON this third day the people left the scene of the battlefield and congregated at the house of the Lord where they sat before Him, unitedly humbling themselves and offering sacrifices. In this way they at least gave some outward confession of their own unworthiness and ignorance. Through the high priest they asked if they really must renew the attack once more. The answer came that on the following day they would be given a decisive victory, and so it turned out.
FOR my part I find the whole episode most distasteful. It is a part of the Bible which I am tempted to avoid. However it is Holy Scripture so it must contain some spiritual lesson which is profitable to us. With this in mind, I seize on this parenthesis for, by its reference to the Ark and the high priest, it reminds me that it is always right to wait humbly before God before undertaking any enterprise. For them it turned repeated defeat into total triumph, though no-one would envy their victory and its consequences.
CAN it be that the whole story would have been different if they had done on the first day what they eventually did on the third? If only they had waited on God, they might perhaps have been told of some less savage means of dealing with the affair. In any case, to decide on an action first and then to ask afterwards for God’s guidance and help must be a sure recipe for disaster.
IN those days they had the Ark and the high priest, and in the end they made good use of them. In our days we have the throne of grace and our great High Priest to whom we can turn at all times. Rather than impulsively rushing into the conflict, suffering defeat and being forced to turn back to Him, why do we not go directly to that throne and seek divine guidance before we decide what our plans shall be?