When You Experience Failure “Shall I yet again go out to battle… or shall I cease?” (Part 3) Judges 20:28

by Steven Chan
20 July 2008

We have thus far considered a few lessons from the unfortunate incident involving the children of Benjamin in causing the death of the concubine of a Levite as recorded in Judges 20 and their unwillingness to do the right thing, resulting in the other children of Israel having to take appropriate action to ensure that the evil was removed from their midst.

We read in Judg 20:18 that “the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God.” Their action is instructive for all of us today: “We need to inquire of the Lord and seek His wisdom” before we proceed to take any action in our lives – more so when it is an important or grave matter. The holy men of God in the past put their faith and trust in God and they counseled us to do likewise: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,  and  lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; (Prov. 3:5-7) “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Ps 37:5); “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Prov 16:9)

Do we do that? As recorded in Luke 6:12-13, our Lord Himself exhibited the same practice of prayer before making important choices: “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” Jesus prayed all night before He choose the twelve apostles. How much time do we spend in prayer before we chose our prospective spouse or our employees/employers or our business partners or full-time workers/preachers, etc…?

After having received God’s instructions to go ahead and proceed to fight against the children of Benjamin, the Bible recorded in Judg 20:21 thus: “Then the children of Benjamin came out of Gibeah, and on that day cut down to the ground twenty-two thousand men of the Israelites.”  What happened? The children of Israel lost the battle. Twenty two thousand lives were lost! Did they do wrong?
According to Judg 20:17, “the men of Israel numbered four hundred thousand men who drew the sword; all of these were men of war” while the “children of Benjamin numbered twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred select men.” (Judg 20:15). A total of 400,000 men of war of Israel versus 26,700 warriors of Benjamin. With God’s guidance and instruction, they went out to battle the enemy and yet they lost.

After experiencing failure, did they abandon their plan or their faith in God? According to 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 still sought the Lord’s counsel and guidance. They were heart-broken probably because they had to fight against their own brethren. It was not a pleasant task – to rise up against your own brethren!

“So the children of Israel approached the children of Benjamin on the second day. And Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah on the second day, and cut down to the ground eighteen thousand more of the children of Israel; all these drew the sword.” (Judg 20:24-25).  Another 18,000 children of Israel lost their lives in battle! The number of casualties increased greatly. Were they doing the right thing? – they must have wondered. They were following the Lord’s instructions and yet they suffered losses!

Perhaps they should change strategy and consider the possibility of ‘extending love to them’ (instead of engaging in this seemingly futile fight – over the death of only one concubine – isn’t this making a mountain out of a mole-hill). Perhaps through continued studies, discussion, negotiation, persuasion, tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness, the wayward Benjamites would be so touched or enlightened that they would repent! Let’s change strategy because we are not winning and our losses are mounting – our churches are empty! We need to change what we have been preaching. We need to speak the people’s lingo and meet their needs – give them what they want – otherwise the church would become an irrelevance to them! Doesn’t that sound familiar to those of us listening to the ‘church growth gurus’ of our days? Change our obsolete strategy! Change our outmoded message!

It may be that we may have to change some aspects of our strategy but it has to be done with God’s guidance and blessings, and never in contradiction or abandonment of God’s will. “Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. So the children of Israel inquired of the LORD …saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.” (Judg 20:26-28).

With the Lord’s promise that He will deliver them into their hands, the children of Israel ‘set men in ambush all around Gibeah. And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in battle array against Gibeah as at the other times.’(Judg 20:29-31). As recorded in Judg 20:34-36, “the battle was fierce. But the Benjamites did not know that disaster was upon them. The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel. And the children of Israel destroyed that day twenty-five thousand one hundred Benjamites; all these drew the sword. So the children of Benjamin saw that they were defeated.”

Failure did not cause the children of Israel to give up. They persevered and continued to rely on God. The losses may appear daunting. But we should not give up because victory is just one day ahead. They lost two days of battle but they ultimately won the war and achieved complete and overwhelming victory on the third day. This was because it was the Lord who defeated Benjamin; not the Israelites although they were the instruments of God in this battle.

How about us today? When we have taken counsel with God and ‘launch out into the deep’ and yet come up with empty nets, do we lose hope? God’s promise does not fail. We need to be patient and to persevere with continuing counsel with God. God will give us the victory in His own time. Let’s not try to force God’s hand. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”(1 Peter 5:6-7). Notice that the aforestated Scripture states that “God may exalt you IN DUE TIME”. The timing is in God’s hand; not ours.

We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and wait for His time of deliverance. So, the next time when you meet apparent failure, do not give up hope; continue to seek God’s counsel. Some tweaking of the strategy may be needed – example, laying an ambush as in the case of the Israelites on the third day. But never fail to seek God’s counsel. It is the Lord who will fight for us although we must be willing and useful instruments in His hand (2 Tim 2:21-26; Rom 6:13).

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.(1 Cor 15:10). We need to work and labour more abundantly even though we rely on God’s grace. Temporary failures may well set us up for the ultimate victory – as was the case with the battle against the Benjamites. God ought to be our ultimate strategist!