Violent Vicar of Virtue: How the Apostle Paul & the Tribe of Benjamin Reflects the Transformative Power of the Holy Spirit

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Not only exclusive to non-believers, but also including us in the Church, humans seem to have an uncanny understanding for violence, and a notable fascination with it as well. As a matter of fact, some of the most gruesome passages in the Bible have become a beacon for objection from non-believers. If you’re someone who finds themselves questioning the heinous acts found in the Bible, or even someone long past the crossroad where you began to question the existence of a loving God, only to leave it behind you based off some of the historical accounts found in the Old Testament, then this piece may be the reconciliation you’ve been looking for.

Given the grim truth that I seldom write to new readers, I’d recognize that I’ve written regarding Judges chapter 19 multiple times. Not a single one of us would contest against the fact that Judges 19 is one of the most egregious chapters of the Bible we’ve ever read. Even non-believers and those holding to their objections against the word of God, sift through the verses of the chapter with heavy hearts, stricken with awe by the cruelty mankind is capable of, let alone the people who are supposed to be a reflection of “God’s chosen.”

What’s even more fascinating about Judges 19, is that we can’t seem to look away from it. Whether you are a follower of Christ, or a non-believer, there’s still something in us that can’t turn away and flip the page, in search of something that may be encouraging to us in the scriptures. While followers of Christ have put their old nature to death, and continuously pursue the righteousness of God; we, along with non-believers, share the same tainted flesh. What I mean is, we, naturally as human beings, seem to have this inherent curiosity of wickedness. 

In summery (of Judges 19), a Levite was traveling with his concubine. Let me pause, even though I just started, and note that something in your spirit perked up if this is the first time you are learning this. This is because we know that concubinage is an interpersonal, and sexual relationship, in which the couple is not married. The reason behind the sexual relationship outside of marriage varies over the course of history, but most commonly in those days, a concubine was a spoil of war meant to further the population, but could not carry on into marriage due to religious belief or social status. God had commanded the Israelites, in Deuteronomy 7:3, to not intermarry with the enemy which they would be driving out of the land, nor to give their sons and daughters over to marriage with them. In those days, marriage had to be approved by appropriate authorities; who in the Tribes of Israel, did not ordain Jews to marry gentiles. While it is not explicitly stated in the scriptures, this is likely the reason the Israelites adopted the practice of Concubinage.

While I may have over-explained regarding the first few verses, the parallel I seek to draw pertains to the compulsion which overruns our flesh with an inability to turn away from the passage. Nonetheless, moving forward, the Levite is traveling with his concubine, and after making a few stops, they find themselves amongst the tribe of Benjamin, where some wretched men are out causing trouble (to say the least).

If you’re going to read Judges 19 after this, I equally encourage you to read Genesis chapter 19. In fact, open two browsers and read the chapters side by side, and you will find that the stories are nearly identical, with exception to their conclusions. 

+Genesis 19: Two Angels visit Sodom.
+Judges 19: A Levite and his concubine visit Benjamin.

+Genesis 19: The Angels insist on staying in the City Square.
+Judges 19: The Levite and his Concubine stay in the City Square

+Genesis 19: A Man living in the city (Lot), insists they stay in his home.
+Judges 19: A man living in the city, insists they stay in his home.

For the sake of respecting your time, both in Genesis and Judges, chapters 19, evil men surround the home, demand the homeowner hands over the visitors so they can rape them, the home owner offers his virgin daughter(s) and pleads with the men to leave the visitors alone, and do as they please with their daughters instead. Quite literally, verbatim, Judges 19 retells the story of Genesis 19. However, we all know what happened in Sodom. As Lot refused to hand over the Angels, they triumphantly fought their way out of the city, and God rained fire down, destroying Sodom and all of its inhabitants.

But this was not the case for the Levite and his Concubine..

I never promised any of you, nor have I set the expectation that anything you read on this page would be deemed, “Child Friendly.” I simply proclaim to walk through the truth with all of you, no matter how gruesome the truth may be. Judges 19, verse 25, says, “But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.”

Genuinely, I commend anyone still reading. What I’m writing to you here is going to go through a lot of brutal detail, concluded by only a few words, which in this perspective, will demonstrate God’s love for his creation, as well as the magnitude of what Christ did on the cross to ransom us from the bondage of sin. 

Just as Genesis 19 becomes a resemblance of Judges 19, Judges 19 will become a resemblance of the Apostle Paul and the depths the wickedness of the unworthy, and how God will take any wretched sinner and transform them into a testimony of his great love. 

The account in Judges 19, goes on to say that the concubine, upon her release, came to the front door of the house, where she collapsed due to the injuries inflicted upon her, and died laying before an unopened front door. The Levite fastened her body to his donkey, and took her home.

“When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!” (Judges 19:29-30)

Keep in mind, that chapters and verses weren’t a part of the original writings of the scriptures. Needless to say, the story continues in Judges chapters 20 & 21, where Israel is thwarted into its first Civil War. The Tribes of 11 Tribes of Israel came brutally against the Tribe of Benjamin, which was no easy task, as the Benjamites were well known for their skill in Battle. To put it into perspective, it was like average citizens with semiautomatic firearms, standing against the full might of the U.S. Military.

Judges 20:21 tell us that the Benjamites slew 22,000 Israelites on the very first day. On the second day of the battle, the Benjamites cut down another 18,000 Israelites. As you can see, even the 11 other Tribes, united as one, were hardly any match for this single Tribe. The Tribe of Benjamin was militant, and their skill in battle was unsurpassed and virtually unopposed. 

With crushed spirits, the entire Israelite Army went up to Bethel, where they wept before the Lord. For that day, they fasted, and presented burnt and fellowship offerings to the Lord, Inquiring of him whether or not they should continue to lead the assault against the Tribe of Benjamin. The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”

The went down and met the Benjamites, a furious battle ensued. Just as the Benjamites began to say, “we are defeating them as before!” 10,000 of Israel’s young, but capable soldiers, ambushed them. The battle was so chaotic that the Benjamites weren’t able to see their imminent defeat 25,100 Benjamites were killed that day, another 18,000 were killed soon after, and as they fled toward the wilderness, another 5,000 were killed along the roads. The Israelites continued after them, killing another 2,000 more.

Only 600 of the Benjamite soldiers survived, by hiding at the Rock of Rimmon, where they stayed for 4 months. The Israelites then went back to Benjamin, burned down their towns, and killed every living thing the Benjamites possessed. Women, children, even the animals, were put to the sword. 

I know what you might be thinking.. “50,000 dead, at a mere minimum, over the life of a concubine? Seems like a bit of an over exaggeration.” What we have to remember, is that War back then wasn’t like how it is today. It doesn’t stop because a Nation waves a white flag and surrenders, taking on the financial burden of the war in order to preserve their lives, even if the rest of its days will be spent bound by the chest-beating remorse of poverty. War back then meant almost total annihilation, what was left to survive were taken as spoils of war. If you were a young woman, you were likely to survive your country losing a war. However, the men, the old, the sick, the young children, were all put on their knees and given an axe to the back of the neck.

It goes without saying that this was a troublesome time for Israel, and I would never cast out the encouragement for today’s Church to wage a war against itself to purge those who willfully practice transgression. The idea here is to recognize fractals of ourselves when we closely examine the scriptures. Beloved, while the lot of us haven’t ever engaged in a civil war, and while (hopefully) all of us, have never violated another human being the way the Benjamites did with the Levites Concubine, does that mean we can’t see the reflection of ourselves in these people? Certainly not, for we know that all sin is the same in the eyes of the Lord. While I hate to ever define a woman as, “a man’s property,” that’s pretty much how Concubines were seen back then. Have you ever engaged in property destruction?

While (hopefully) most of you reading this, have never violated a woman in such a way, Brothers, before you knew Christ, regardless of consent, we know that sexual immorality not only is a violation of self, but also the other who partakes. I would never boast of such things, so please don’t take it as such, and thus for lack of a better term, when my heart was made of stone, I gave it away too many women. While a woman consent is of upmost importance, what’s ever more so important is that we understand that engaging in sexual relations with women, even when they are willing, is still an act which renders us guilty of violating them. What I’m saying here is, there are fractals of ourselves we can see in Judges 19. Even in the case of war, in Judges 20, while many of us have not killed 50,000+ people, how many have we shown anger and hatred toward? 1 John 3:15 even goes so far as to call us “Murderers,” for doing such, reasserting what Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:21-22.

What I implore us all to realize, is that we can easily glance at the atrocities committed throughout history, or even look at the actions of those alive today, and miss the grim reality that whatever it is fostering these evils, corrupts all of mankind, including ourselves. This is precisely why the Bible encourages us to “die to ourselves daily,” because the things which gave root to the worst events in history, is ingrained in us simply as consequence for living in a fallen world. 

To briefly reflect back on the Tribe of Benjamin, remember that 600 survived. The Benjamites weren’t completely annihilated, and later became instrumental in many of Israel’s affairs. Yet, this can equally be said about each of us! The Tribe of Benjamin were once known to be callous warlords. Not only did a handful of them reap unimaginable horrors on an innocent woman, but the rest of the tribe sheltered the perpetrators, demonstrating a detestable lack of justice. They didn’t care about what was right or wrong as much as they cared about protecting their own. Yet, in a quite physical fashion, they “died to self,” and the Benjamites were humbled, at least what was left of them.

Then, in comes Saul (the Apostle Paul).

If you haven’t already had your fill of murderous tyrants, then you might be thrilled that I would bring up Saul of Tarsus. Which, again, I would encourage you to recognize the inherent interest we seem to have regarding the extent of mankind cruelty. Many of you likely know already, that the first Martyr of the Church is a title credited to Stephen, who died in 36 ce, on December 26th. Stephen Saul’s first victim in his war against the Church, and was 29 years old when he told the Jews they had murdered the Messiah. 

Stephen was taken out of the city, and the mob laid their coats at Saul’s feet as they proceeded to stone Stephen. the Bible doesn’t just add small details that aren’t useless, a lot like the shroud being folded, it gives us a very intentional glimpse into Jewish customs, which reveal the deeper meaning behind something as we continue to dig. In Acts 7:58, we learn that the people laid their coats at Saul’s feet before proceeding to stone Stephen. Paul reveals to us in Acts 22:20, that when they laid their coats at his feet, it wasn’t just a minor detail, it meant that he had given them the authorization to kill Stephen. 

Paul admits that he persecuted the Church, “Beyond Measure.” He utilized his Jewish/Roman Citizenships to locate Church gatherings and operate mass arrests. To my knowledge, there isn’t a number, or even a ball-park estimate, of how many Christians Paul apprehended or killed, as he was not eager to boast in his writings. The very lack of detail in Paul’s writings to the Churches would indicate a deeply rooted remorse for his afflictions against those who believed Jesus was the Messiah. Unless you’re some kind of a sociopath, modern psychology would reinforce the fact that people tend to shy away from subjects they aren’t very proud of. 

This isn’t to say that Saul didn’t persecute the church without hesitation or remorse, but that after he was made new by the Holy Spirit, we see a great deal of evidence of transformation when held to the Lords promise in Ezekiel 36:26, where the Lord says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” 

Not only were the Benjamites similar to Paul, in regards to transformation, but Paul actually was of the Tribe of Benjamin. We know him as “Saul of Tarsus,” but in two instances, Paul refers to his lineage being of the Tribe of Benjamin, in Romans 11:1, as well as Philippians 3:5. In this, Paul and the Benjamites reflect just how immersed in filth we could possibly be, and how deep of a hole we could be in, yet that God would reach into the depths of the abyss and fully remove us, and purify us. We could be blinded by religion like Paul was, or up to our ears in blood and violence like the Benjamites; we could be educated like Paul, or brutal warriors like the Tribe of Benjamin, but the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit can take anyone and turn them into a vessel for the purpose of God. 

The first King of Israel, Saul, was from the Tribe of Benjamin, which was the smallest tribe at the time, since his appointment as King wasn’t too long after the civil war which broke out in Judges 20. The Tribe of Benjamin would later join the Northern Tribes of Israel to make David King. While they weren’t able to avoid the Babylonian Exile, they were however, able to survive the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians. 

Paul became a light to the Gentiles. He stood trial before Felix, then before Festus who elevated the case to King Agrippa. Sacrificing his liberation from the accusations, Paul appeals to Caesar, sets sail for Rome, but instead ends up shipwrecked on the isle of Malta. After bringing the Gospel to the entire island, which is quite small, he set out for Rome, where he stayed for 2 years telling all who would listen about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I wanted to write to you about this for a few reasons. We commonly look at the historical accounts in the Old Testament without noticing the philosophical aspects and the glimpses of God’s character. We seem to only see the physical aspects of what took place, and then make the mistake of thinking that the story just “ends,” or fail to connect future events believing they fall shy of the unveiling of God’s plan. God will sometimes take the all-out rebellion we wage against Him, to reveal to us how lost we really are. 

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” -Proverbs 21:2

I think when we first encounter God, and I mean a genuine encounter, the Lord reveals our hearts to us. We see the ugliness of our desires and the violence of our works. Our barbaric ideologies start to bridge over the chasms we’ve fallen into as we realize the code which we live by has no end other than destruction. Everything begins to make sense, and none of it is good. We are then, left to pick up the pieces and try to fathom where exactly we stepped off the “path of righteousness.” This was evermore so true about Paul, who after his encounter on the road to Damascus, spent the next 11-14 years of his life studying the Scriptures, having to rewrite his understanding in its entirety. 

So why is this important? One of the biggest objections to Christianity, surrounds the violence we see reflected in a lot of the scriptures. People are quick to assume these heinous acts of cruelty were sanctioned by God’s permission. As also in the case of Jericho, what we read in the Scriptures is often times a retaliation for an event or cultural appropriations we don’t always see in the Bible. We have a tendency to think of the foreign tribes in the Bible as we might see Hawaii, as a mere people peacefully living harmoniously until the “big bad Israelites” showed up to pick on them. The reality of it is, the very Nations God deemed “wicked,” were living in ways so far beyond our cultural western perceptions, that we would be stricken by grief if we were able to even see a glimpse of the injustices that were being practiced. 

God is just, and he is also compassionate. The Benjamites reflect this through the history of their Tribe, for while they became ingrained in iniquity, the Tribe was purged, and later would rise back up and play key roles in the shaping Israel. We can’t even say, “God’s method to cleanse the Tribe was far too severe!” Because even within us, as we ready Judged 19, is a groaning spirit. We could never imagine the depths of God’s pain when seeing His creation treat each other with such angst, but to only amplify beyond measure our own affliction we feel when simply reading about such treachery. Yet, our focus should be on the reflection of God’s goodness. That despite the unimaginable anguish we may cause Him, that He responds with grace and redemption, that while we were still sinners.. Christ died for us.

And with that, we are given a new life, a new heart, and a new Spirit lives in us which uses us as a light unto the world. We become vessels, which the Spirit of God uses to exalt His power and demonstrate to the whole world the will God has for their life, despite the iniquity they’ve become accustomed to. If God could do this for the Tribe of Benjamin, if God could do it for the Apostle Paul, then imagine what He can do for you.

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