The little-known civil war

Published 11:18 pm Saturday, September 23, 2023

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By R.A. Tea Mathews

It meant war.

“The face that launched a thousand ships” refers to when Helen was taken to Troy, and ships of war were sent to retrieve her. 

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Helen is most likely a mythical character, but Scripture tells a true story of a woman who caused a war. Actually, it’s a little-known civil war in Israel. Thousands died.

Do you recall her name?

  1. Deborah
  2. The Queen of Sheba
  3. Rebecca
  4. She’s not named

The war wasn’t because the woman was a beauty but because of her tragic life. Lock in your answer, and I’ll tell you what happened.

A man and his wife/concubine (Scripture calls her both) were traveling within the tribe of Benjamin when they spent the night at a town called Gibeah. Bad men there wanted to ravish him but ended up abusing his wife instead, who died during the ordeal.

The man took her home, cut her into pieces, and sent them to the tribes of Israel, telling them what had happened. Outraged, the 11 tribes confront the tribe of Benjamin, asking for the men and for justice.

Here’s the passage. “So the (man and his wife) passed along and went their way, and the sun set on them near Gibeah which belongs to Benjamin … (and) certain worthless men, surrounded the house (where they were lodging) … saying, ‘Bring out the man who entered your house that we may have relations with him.’” (Judges 19:14-22)

 As I said, they abused the wife instead, who died as a result of the ordeal. The man then took her home. Here’s the passage:

“When he entered his house, he took a knife and seized his concubine, and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb. Then he sent her throughout the territory of Israel.” (Judges 19:29, also see Judges 20:1-6)

The correct answer is No. 4, “She’s not named.”

Scripture continues: “Then the tribes of Israel sent men through the entire tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What is this wickedness that has taken place among you? Now then, turn over the men, the worthless men who are in Gibeah…’” (Judges 20:12-13)

How do the men of Benjamin respond?

  1. They refuse 
  2. They execute the evil men
  3. They turn over the evil men
  4. They seek the Lord’s guidance

Lock in your answer. Here’s the passage:

“But the sons of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the sons of Israel.” (Judges 20:12-13)

The correct answer is No. 1, “They refuse.”

What happens next?

  1. The 11 tribes return home
  2. All of Israel seeks God’s guidance
  3. God kills the worthless men
  4. The 11 tribes fight Benjamin

You should know this one. Think about it and make your choice. Here’s what happened.

There’s civil war.

“So the sons of Israel got up in the morning and camped against Gibeah. The men of Israel went to battle against Benjamin…” (Judges 20:19-20) 

The correct answer is No. 4, “The 11 tribes fight Benjamin.”

On the first day, Benjamin kills 22,000 men, and the 11 tribes go to God, weeping and asking if they should continue.

God says, “Go up against them.”

On the second day, Benjamin kills 18,000 men. Again, the 11 tribes go to God, weeping and asking if they should battle against Benjamin on the third day. God tells them to go.

What happens?

Benjamin kills 22,100

  1. The 11 tribes turn from God and go home
  2. Benjamin surrenders
  3. The 11 tribes kill most of Benjamin

Make your choice, and here’s the passage:

“And the Lord said, ‘Go up, for tomorrow I will hand them over to you.’ So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah. And the sons of Israel went up against the sons of Benjamin on the third day.” (Judges 20: 28-30) 

At first, Benjamin is encouraged. Men fall before them, and Benjamin follows the army of Israel as it flees. 

But it’s a trap.

Once Benjamin is drawn away from the city, the ambush ensues with the second Israelite force entering Gibeah and burning it. 

When Benjamin sees the smoke, the fleeing Israelites then turn back against them. The terrified men of Benjamin run toward the wilderness, and most are killed. (Judges 20: 31-42)

The correct answer is No. 4, “The 11 tribes kill most of Benjamin.”

If God has pointed you in a direction, and you’re failing, don’t let early setbacks get to you. Remember Israel’s three-day civil war. Listen to God, just as the 11 tribes did, and believe Him.

The Rev. Mathews, BA, MDiv, JD, is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of the suspense-filled mystery, Emerald Coast: The Vendetta. Contact her at

Copyright © 2023 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.