Tag Archives: Judges 20

Tribal Instinct and Higher Law

Tribal Instincts and Higher Law (CaD Jud 20) Wayfarer

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites.
Judges 20:13b (NIV)

My tribe.

I’m a member of a number of “tribes.” The tribe of my family. The tribe of my community. The tribe of my high school classmates with whom I grew up. The tribes of my favorite college and professional sports teams. There’s the tribe of those who hold similar worldviews. And, there’s my national tribe. There’s even my tribe of fellow Jesus followers.

I couldn’t help but ponder all of my tribal instincts as I read today’s chapter. Which is the continuation of the saga that began in yesterday’s chapter. Shocked by the story of the Levite whose concubine had been gang-raped until she died by some men of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin, the other eleven tribes muster their armies and march on Gibeah to demand justice (this is a tribal instinct). The tribe of Benjamin closes ranks and refuses to give them up (which are also classic tribal instincts) and civil war erupts (tribal instincts often lead to violence). Benjamin is ultimately defeated and their towns burned.

The author of Judges is wrapping up his book with this story, which will conclude in the following chapter. His stated purpose is to show how the lack of a king to provide strong authority and leadership leads to disastrous consequences. Yesterday’s horrific crime was an act of depraved lawlessness. Today’s chapter reveals the lack of national justice as tribal instincts rule over inter-tribal relationships. Benjamin refuses to allow the perpetrators from their tribe to be held accountable for their crime. The lawlessness and lack of justice lead to a breakdown in unity among the tribes and a bloody eleven-against-one tribal battle leaves the towns of Benjamin decimated. Everyone loses.

As I pondered these events in the quiet this morning, I once again thought about them on both the societal level and the personal level. Like yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about how the ancient Hebrew tribes were behaving like gangs behave, like feuding crime families behave, and like rival sports fan(-atics) behave. Despite all of the advancements we enjoy in our civilized society with the rule of law, our human “tribal instincts” remain very strong. When inflamed, reason quickly shuts down and our base instincts can quickly spin out of control to tragic ends that only perpetuate societal problems. I could think of many examples in current events when “tribal instincts” could not be controlled by the rule of law and the justice system.

At a personal level, I once again can’t walk away from today’s chapter without gratitude for the moral, relational, and behavioral guardrails that I have as a follower of Jesus, who not only expects me to abide by and submit to governing authorities but also asks me, and expects me, to go beyond mere rule-keeping and submit to the higher Law of Love, which leads to forgiving those who’ve wronged me, praying for and blessing those who persecute me, loving my enemies, going the extra mile, and being sacrificially generous.

I am called to suppress my tribal instincts, and submit to the higher Law of Love.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Struggle for Unity Among Many

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.

Chapter-a-Day Judges 20

My life had become unmanagable.  But they wouldn't do it. The Benjaminites refused to listen to their brothers, the People of Israel. Instead they raised an army from all their cities and rallied at Gibeah to go to war against the People of Israel. Judges 20:13 (MSG)

In today's chapter, the fledgling nation of Israel sinks to new depths of chaos. Their moral compass left true north as they disobeyed God's number one command and mixed their religion with the idols of Canaan. As morals fell aside, authority fell to the tribes and leaders who wielded the most power. People did as they pleased. Now, the moral failings lead to civil war as the tribe of Benjamin defends the rapists among them and stands against their fellow tribes.

As I read today's chapter, I reminded that we must sometimes hit rock bottom before real change can take place. The downward spiral I'm witnessing in the pages of the book of Judges bring to mind the first of the Twelve Steps. Many who have raised their lives out of the ashes of the downward spiral of addiction began with the words "I admitted I was powerless over my addticion. My life had become unmanageable." God's message to all of us is that forgiveness, hope and redemption are available to each of us no matter how deep we find ourselves in the chaotic consequences of our actions.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and bulletmagnet