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