“The Lord said, ‘Go! Tomorrow I will give you victory over them.'” Judges 20:28b
This morning as I finished reading the book of Judges, a portion of a story stuck out to me that hadn’t the previous times I’ve read the same passage. To give you a brief background (found in Judges 19-20), the tribes of Israel had been summoned by a fellow Israelite whose concubine had been raped and murdered in the town of Gibeah in the land of Benjamin. The Israelites agreed that the men who had committed this evil should be punished, but the tribe of Benjamin wouldn’t give them up. So, the other tribes of Israel went to war with Benjamin.
“Before the battle, the Israelites went to Bethel and asked God, ‘Which tribe should lead the attack against the people of Benjamin?’ The Lord answered, ‘Judah is to go first'” (Judges 20:18). So, the Israelites had consulted with God about what they were to do. And yet, when they went into battle, Benjamin’s warriors killed 22,000 of them in the field the first day (Judges 20:21).
What!?!? Weren’t the Israelites trying to do the right thing by getting rid of the evil among them? Hadn’t they consulted with God about their decisions? Why did they experience defeat when taking the first step?
The Israelites went up to Bethel again and wept in the presence of the Lord until evening; they asked God, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?” and the Lord said, “Go and fight against them” (Judges 20:23). So, they went again to fight but the men of Benjamin killed another 18,000 Israelites who were experienced with a sword (Judges 20:25).
WHAT!?!?! Again!?!?! The Israelites were obeying God’s orders. They were doing the right thing. Why, why did they experience defeat another day? It stuck out to me so much that I’ve thought about it all morning. And I think I’ve *possibly* found a couple answers (if you’ll stick with me).
Judges 20:26 tells us “Then 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. This time when they asked the same question of God – should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again or should we stop – the Lord answered, “Go! Tomorrow I will give you victory over them” (Judges 20:28).
Moving down a few verses, the first part of Judges 20:35 tells us “So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin…”
So, why did the Israelites have to wait for their answer or help from God? Why was it on the third day that they finally experienced the victory? Obviously I can’t even pretend to know what God thinks or feels, but I can read the Bible and make some observations.
The first thing that jumped out to me was that after the second time of experiencing defeat, the Israelites went up to Bethel (where the Ark of the Covenant of God was) and they wept and fasted and brought offerings. Their hearts were turning toward God because of their circumstances. Throughout the book of Judges, we see how the Israelites kept forgetting God and instead worshiping idols. Reading these stories made me feel sad and almost sick. Yet, God continued to rescue them and have a heart for them. Perhaps it was for their own good that He waited to answer so that they would return to Him with their whole heart – with tears and with fasting and with offerings. Perhaps this was the very moment that He could speak to their hearts again! Wasn’t it worth experiencing a little discouragement for returning to where they should have been all along?
Next, I think if the Israelites would have had success on their first venture out, they may have taken the credit for the victory (as my previous blog post mentioned from Judges 7:2). After all, there were 12 tribes in Israel. Even if the Levites didn’t participate (which this didn’t say that, so it could have been all 11 tribes), that would leave ten tribes going against one. It could have looked like an easy battle to win. But, in reading that they were continuing to get beat, we see their absolute NEED for God. Could it be that God was revealing that fact to them? When we pray and have to wait, do we realize our absolute reliance on God and that it’s ONLY through Him that we can achieve victory?
Finally, as I was sitting here writing this, the thought came to me that they won the battle on the third day. Does “third day” mean anything to you? We as Christians should think of the third day as Jesus’ resurrection – the day that the battle is won once and for all. Satan was defeated forever and Jesus provided the key to our salvation. Could this story parallel the New Testament victory on the third day? Maybe…and I’m willing to concede that that may not have been God’s plan. Truly, His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
I do believe that God had a plan in waiting to give the Israelites the victory. You see, He knew in advance the end of the story. While they wept, He knew that rejoicing was right around the corner. While they fasted, He knew the full plan and the outcome.
My sweet friend, have you been praying for something? Have you longed for it in your heart? Do you believe that it’s “right,” something that God has confirmed to you? And yet, maybe you have yet to see the end result? Instead, you see defeat and discouragement… have you wondered WHY!?!?!
Well, if so, take heart! I would guess that your story isn’t over yet. Keep pressing into God – weep, fast, seek God, make your sacrifices… and when you hear God saying, “Go! Tomorrow I will give you the victory…” then obey what He says and rejoice in what only God can do! For it’s God who answers our prayers and helps us achieve the victory.
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You once again that You are in control. God, we realize that we don’t know the end of the story. But, we believe that You do. We know that You have a plan and a purpose. May we continue to praise You as we wait. We come before You and ask for Your direction. God, is what we have in mind Your plan and for Your purpose? Please tell us a clear YES or NO – stay or GO! And then we humbly ask that You would lead us into victory. Not victory for our glory, but for Yours! Thank You for Your help. Lord, we confess there have been times that we have forgotten You and looked to other idols in our lives. Please forgive our sin, Lord God! Blood of Jesus, please cover our transgressions! Thank You for Your victory on that third day. May we never forget but live intentionally to remember You in all we say and do. May our love for You make us desire to do and say the right things for Your honor and glory. We want to be children of Your light, born to worship You and live for Your purposes on earth. Finally God, with all thanksgiving and praise, we humbly ask You for the victory TODAY. For those who have continued to feel defeated, may today be the day that we hear from You that victory is ours. We praise You as we wait to hear Your words for our lives. In Jesus’ Name we pray, AMEN!