Judges 19-21; Ruth 1-2; Psalm 44; Mark 7

Week Number
51

Four hundred thousand troops stood before their leaders, and their leaders stood before God asking, “‘Which tribe should lead the attack against the people of Benjamin?’ The Lord answered, ‘Judah is to go first’” (Judg. 20:18). And so Judah led the fight, “But Benjamin’s warriors, who were defending the town, came out and killed twenty-two thousand Israelites in the field that day” (v. 21).

The Israelites had sought God’s will, obeyed Him, and lost thousands of their fighting men. How could they make sense of what happened when logic would say that seeking God and obeying Him should lead to victories over life’s battles? Instead, following God’s commands had resulted in the death of many fathers, sons, and brothers.

The Israelites may have been stunned by their losses after obeying God, but they didn’t turn away. They came to God again and “wept in the presence of the Lord until evening. Then they asked the Lord, ‘Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?’ And the Lord said, ‘Go out and fight against them’” (Judg. 20:23).

They had sought God again, asked for His guidance, and were given it. The result was that “the men of Benjamin killed another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of whom were experienced with a sword” (Judg. 20:25). Forty thousand Israelites were now dead.

The Israelites stood in the battlefield surrounded by this staggering and unexpected second loss. They could have chosen to see the brutal evidence all around them as a reason to turn from God and to question His goodness and care for them.

But they did not. Instead, “all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. And the Israelites went up seeking direction from the Lord” (Judg. 20:26-27).

For the third time God gave them explicit instructions. For the third time the Israelites obeyed these instructions in spite of the outcome of the prior two battles. And in the third battle God gave them victory.

Why did the third time bring victory when there had been harsh defeat at the first two battles? And how does a battle that happened thousands of years ago apply to our lives today? There are at least two aspects to these battles worth exploring: the surprising outcomes and the Israelites’ response.

What was the Israelites’ response to what many would interpret as a failure on God’s part to protect and deliver them from real hardship? Were they confused and did they wonder if they had misunderstood what God wanted? Probably. Were they angry with God that their continued obedience had led to disaster rather than victory? Did their hearts tell them they deserved better than this from God? Did they question why? Maybe.

But the one thing that is clearly stated is that as the situation worsened, their seeking of God intensified. They progressed from the leaders asking the question of what to do before the first battle, to the leaders weeping before God prior to the second, to all of Israel weeping, praying, fasting, and offering sacrifices to the Lord so that there would be no sin on their part separating them from God prior to the third battle. These weren’t quick, on-the-fly prayers for guidance but a fervent seeking of what God wanted. Their losses, their plans and hopes for the future that were now forever changed, and even their confusion turned them toward God—not away from Him.

And what was the outcome? They finally had victory, but there had been a cost. But with that cost came spiritual learning and spiritual endurance. They were a changed people, and the change could not have happened if victory had come easily and at the beginning. They were a changed people because life did not progress the way they felt it should, and it caused them to stop and seek God more deeply. They were a changed people who no longer had a halfhearted relationship with God.

We each carry heartaches, face battles, experience pain, and know fear and uncertainty. Do we base our relationship with God on how fair we think God is being during these times? Do we feel that if circumstances aren’t going the way we expect that we have been cheated or abandoned by God? Are we tempted to adopt the attitude that God let us down and so we’ll run things our way for now? If so, we are going to have a weak and dissatisfying relationship with God.

It was not easy for the Israelites, and it will not be easy for us. But we can choose a different way to respond to our worst blows by recognizing that we are not as wise as God and therefore we may not always be capable of understanding the bitter twists and turns of our lives. We must decide we will trust God’s guidance in spite of troubling circumstances. We must choose to believe that on the other side of current hardships God has something of value for us—whether it is to bring us into closer relationship with Him, to learn a valuable spiritual insight, to cast off sin to which we have been clinging, or to simply trust Him because He is God.

© 2010 Arlina Yates

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