The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”
Judges 20:23 (NIV)
The violent gang rape that had taken place in the previous chapter of Judges now becomes national news and sparks corporate outrage. The other 11 tribes of Israel muster an army and demand that the perpetrators of the act be delivered up for justice. Their fellow countrymen from Benjamin refuse. The tribes of Israel find themselves on the brink of civil war.
This morning as I read of the events described I thought of our own civil war here in the United States. I thought about the name itself: “United States.” Many smaller states united as one. It was not unlike the 12 tribes of Israel, spread out and occupying their own geographic territory, but with no strong central government to bring unity. In Ken Burns’ classic documentary of the American Civil War it is explained that, prior to the war, it was common to say “the United States are” (plural). After the war, we began to say “the United States is” (singular). As the end of the book of Judges, the nation of Israel is having a similar experience.
Today, I’m thinking about the need we have as humans in society for strong central leadership and authority. Without it, smaller societal groups with strong identity and disparate ideas quickly fall into conflict that can turn divisive, violent, and deadly. We need law, order, and the freedom to express our ideas. We need a system that allows for reasonable exchange and compromise.
Without it, things get ugly.