by Steven Chan
13 july 2008
Last week we considered the hospitality of the old man in Gibeah as extended to the Levite and his travelling entourage. In this article, we will consider the shocking incident committed by the inhospitable people of Gibeah and the response of the children of Israel.
In the words of the Levite as recorded in Judg 20:5-7: “The men of Gibeah rose against me, and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me, but instead they ravished my concubine so that she died. So I took hold of my concubine, cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of the inheritance of Israel, because they committed lewdness and outrage in Israel. Look! All of you are children of Israel; give your advice and counsel here and now!”
What has gone wrong to the men of Gibeah that they would ‘bite and devour their own brethren”? (Gal.5:15). Failing to kill the Levite, they sexually violated his female companion until she died. The Levite was so outraged and upset by what had happened that he decided to wake up the slumbering people of God by cutting her body into pieces and sending its parts to all the territory of Israel – and he finally got their attention! The shock treatment worked and all Israel came and asked him what had happened.
After the Levite had told them what had happened, “all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, nor will any turn back to his house; but now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it …So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man. (Judg 20:8-9,11). “Then the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What is this wickedness that has occurred among you? Now therefore, deliver up the men, the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel!” (Judg 20:12-13). The people of Israel had to act to ensure that such an evil deed would not go unpunished and ought not to be tolerated in Israel. So they asked their brethren, the Benjamites to hand over those who were responsible for the terrible deed.
But to their dismay, their brethren, the Benjamites refused to hand over the wrong-doers. As recorded in Judg 20:13-15: “But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel. Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel.” Instead they would defend their guilty brothers even to the breaking of fellowship with their other brethren, and to the extent of shedding the blood of those who would want to do right!
Faced with the indignant and recalcitrant wayward brethren, the Bible recorded thus: “Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?” (Judg 20:18). They sought the guidance and instruction of God as to how they should handle the situation. Notice the sentiment expressed in Judg 20:23: “Then the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, “Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Go up against him.” They were somewhat reluctant fighters – especially as they had to go up against their own brethren! They wept before the Lord until evening! They were not trigger-happy and merely waiting for the opportunity to go for the kill! They were sad; their hearts were much troubled as they felt uncomfortable having to raise their weapons against their own brethren! But God’s counsel was to “go up against him”.
Let’s consider some vital lessons from the above episode:-
1. We should be vigilant “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb 12:15).
2. When brethren veer from the paths of righteousness, we ought not to be “puffed up, but rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among us” (1 Cor 5:2). Actions need to be taken by faithful brethren (Gal 6:1) and “on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”( Jude 22-23)
3. Being close friends and sympathetic towards our brethren should not blind us to the need to do what is right. Those at Gibeah did wrong. Their fellow brethren of the tribe of Benjamin ought to have disciplined the wayward ones; instead they chose to defend them! Perhaps they felt that these should be given a second chance; perhaps they felt that God’s grace could cover such sins; perhaps they felt that they were unfairly treated; the other tribes had their own shortcomings – why don’t they first take the plank out of their own eyes (Matt 7:5); why pick on these poor fellas who were just having some fun!? Perhaps they felt that the Levite was over-exaggerating what had happened; these were nice kids just wanting to have fun – she was after all just a concubine! Why kill so many brethren over such a small thing!? Let’s love one another! Why over-react? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt! Why are we blowing this small matter into such a great proportion? It is tragic that some of our brethren behave similarly today. There are brethren who have clearly gone astray in teaching that those who have not been baptized may yet be saved without baptism (in direct contradiction with what the Bible teaches in Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; I Pet 3:21), and some of our brethren have chosen to defend these false teachers instead of correcting them. Some of our brethren have abandoned the need for “book chapter and verse” (and speaking as the oracle of God – I Pet 4:11) for all that we teach and practice. Defenders of such brethren would even draw their swords against of us who call out to them to abandon their wayward ways! As it happened during the times of the Judges, it is sadly happening today as well.
4. Brethren who wish to correct their wayward brethren ought not to display gleefulness in taking action against our wayward brethren and ought always to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in handling such matters. Their disposition ought to be one of sadness (Judges 20:23). Neither a spirit of vengefulness nor mean-spiritedness ought to characterise brethren who seek to correct those in error: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Gal 6:1)
We must be united in our attempt to correct those in error. In Judges 20:11, notice that “all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man”. Church discipline ought not to be the sole act of one man. As recorded in 1 Cor 5:4-5, the apostle Paul wrote thus: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The phrase “when you are gathered together’ implies that it is not one man’s action. It is the collective action of the brethren. Too often church discipline or the work of correcting brethren in error or who are walking disorderly (2 Thess. 3:11) is left to one or a just a few persons. No one else wants to get involved in it as it is admittedly an unpleasant task. But we need to heed the instruction of the Bible – that it ought to be a collective action. Sometimes, when the general assembly has made its decision to discipline an erring brother, some other individuals would nonetheless go ahead and extend their personal fellowship and support for such a one who has been marked as one who ‘cause divisions and offences’ (Rom 16:17). Such ought not to be the case – “for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds”(2 John 11). This is not “guilt by mere association” (which would have condemned Jesus as well for He was a friend of sinners – Matt 9:10-13; Luke 19:7) but guilt by aiding and abetting (to encourage, support, or countenance by aid or approval).
In 1 Cor 5:6-7, the apostle Paul counselled thus: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump”. Some brethren are inclined to ‘glory’ in their supposed ‘graciousness and loving-kindness’ by not acting against those who are teaching error. To such brethren, the admonition of Paul would be appropriate: ‘Your glorying is not good!’. Indeed a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Brethren, have you allowed, encouraged, tolerated or acquiesced or permitted a little leaven to enter into our assembly and thereby cause the entire congregation to be ‘leavened’ by false teachings, as well as by practices which are not sanctioned by the Bible? First you acquiesced and allowed them to teach that the issue of the use or non-use of mechanical instrumental music in worship ought not to be a critical matter in our fellowship; then you allowed them to teach that the issue of marriage, divorce and re-marriage is also not a core or salvation-impacting issue (in spite of what Jesus taught in Matt. 191-9); then you allow them to teach that ‘everything that one does ought to be acts of worship to God’ including playing golf if one intends it be a God-glorifying activity [notwithstanding that the Bible teaches that acts of worship are distinctive and not ‘all life is worship’– as when Abraham said, “I will go yonder and worship” (Gen 22:5) and the Eunuch came all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27) and that such acts of worship are listed in Acts 2:42: ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers’]; then you allowed them to teach that the concept of the church of Christ as a separate body of believers is at its heart/core, divisive and denominational, and that the church of Christ is really not different from the denominations; then you allow them to teach that those believers who have not been baptized may yet be saved without baptism.
What else are you going to allow them to teach – though you yourself may not teach the same? Can you not see the leavening effect on the church of Christ? Will we heed the exhortation of Paul in 2 Tim 4:2-5: “Preach the word! (- not your personal testimonies nor your favourite special spiritual insights which do not conform with sound doctrine). Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
Truth matters! Jesus came to give us Truth (John 1:17). Truth will set us free (John 8:32). God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17). One can know the Truth (John 8:32). Truth is Absolute and not subjective: Rom 6:17-18: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered – having been set free from sin.” That form of doctrine which sets one free is the absolute body of Truth delivered by Christ (John 17:8; Jude 3).