A child is usually impacted by the neighborhood, not just his family. So what do we know about Gibeah? It matters since it was his home town, and he returned home to make it his capital when he began to reign.
It turns out that this is a pretty intense town to grow up in!
First of all, this is the home town of the infamous Gibeonites who tricked Joshua into sparing their lives in spite of God’s command to kill all Canaanites. Adoni-Zedek, the Gentile king of Jerusalem described it as, “. . . an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters.” Joshua 10:2 NIV
We know that Ai was about 12,000 people, so we can peg Gibeon in the time of Joshua as being perhaps 15,000 in that one city, and there were four cities in a cluster that were home to that people group so I would guess possibly a total of 30,000+.
It is a wild and weird story. Even though they were known as good warriors, they opted to gamble on a phony peace treaty. They showed up in Gilgal after Israel’s victories over Jericho and Ai, claiming to be from a distant country.
Joshua got conned and made a treaty, promised them their lives, and found out three days later that they were close neighbors. He wisely honored the covenant to spare their lives but decreed that they would be slaves, hauling water and splitting wood for the Israelites and for the Tabernacle from that day forward.
Interestingly, they were not immediately yanked from their city and individually assigned to Hebrew homes. We know this because the surrounding city-states were fried to a crisp over this political development. They feared that the Gibeonites would fight for Israel, so they decided to wipe them out proactively.
The Gibeonites in an amazing display of chutzpah invoked a non-existent mutual aid treaty and demanded that Israel come rescue them.
In an equally amazing turn of events, Joshua decided to do so. Why did he not just sit back and let the enemies of the Lord exterminate the enemies of the Lord? It certainly was a strategy God would use other times in the future. It would have gotten him out of a jam without his violating the treaty of not killing them personally. Who knows?
Joshua and the army marched all night, surprised the Amorites, and routed them. There were so many enemy soldiers running away, God decided to help out. He loaded His celestial slingshot with some formidable hail and started knocking off the fleeing soldiers who were escaping from Joshua’s guys.
I find it amusing that God kept score and informed Joshua that He, God, had taken out more Amorites than Joshua’s whole army had.
Even though God was seriously skewing the entire paradigm of warfare with His deadly slingshot, Joshua felt it necessary to stop the sun and moon for an extra 23+ hours while he tried valiantly to catch up with God’s score, to no avail.
At the end of the day, the dastardly Gibeonites has been rescued (Why?), God had trumped the Israeli army, astronomy would never be the same again, and there were some wild stories to tell the subsequent generations.
What caused God to get involved in the battle so personally? What caused such spiritual power in Joshua that on this one occasion he would massively disrupt nature, when he did not do so in other situations? Was it just one of those things, or was the land supercharged for astounding faith (and weirdness)?
Good question. What we know for sure is that Saul grew up in Gibeah, the city at the center of this ruckus.
Presumably there were still some of the original Gibeonites living there around him which might explain his deeply embedded racism and his unfortunate adventure in ethnic cleansing of the Gibeonite tribe after he became king.
OK. Stop and take a deep breath. It turns out that is only scene one. Gibeah gets wild and wooly after that.
The military conquest of Canaan ground to a halt. The land was divided. Benjamin got a nice patch right in the middle, ranging from Jerusalem on the west, down the hill, across the valley to a rubbish heap once called Jericho.
They moved in, settled down, compromised with the locals like all the other tribes, and life went on.
Fast forward to the end of the book of Judges. By this time, the Benjamites were really losing ground in Gibeon. There were only 700 men living there, and the city had become a homosexual enclave.
A Levite shacked up with a girl from Bethlehem (What’s wrong with this picture?). She left him, he went after her and became good friends with his quasi, sort of, semi father-in-law who happened to be a gourmet. After nearly five days of unbridled gluttony, he finally pried himself loose and left with his whatever-you-call-her.
They spent the night in Gibeon, and the whole homosexual thing went toxic and she ended up dead, and the not-to-terribly holy Levite got a bad case of self-righteousness.
The result was a civil war where the Benjamites stood by their homosexual kin in Gibeah against the other 11 tribes. 40,000 Israelites were killed in the battles while all but 600 Benjamite men were killed, and all their towns were burned and all their families killed. As civil wars go, this one was bloody to the nth degree.
So now for the second time, Gibeah is the host to a staggering bloodbath.
Then in yet another weird twist (Are we starting to have a pattern here?) the Israelites decided that they had maybe overdone it a bit (Ya think?!) because they had nearly wiped out the whole tribe. Plus they had sworn an oath that they would never give any of their daughters to any Benjamite because of the homosexual stigma.
With some twisted thinking which reminds me of the Gibeonites’ non-existent military treaty with Israel, the Israelites murdered a bunch of other Israelite families in order to get some wives for those men to restart the tribe.
Let’s sit and soak in this for a bit. Gibeah as a city has had every man, woman, child, and animal killed. The city has been burned to the ground. All the other cities in the tribe of Benjamin are in similar condition. You are one of only 600 men who has survived a civil war. And your brand new bride is a fraction of your age, had never seen you before yesterday, and is mourning the slaughter of her entire family.
Oh, and maybe you have some unresolved grief and trauma issues as well as you start this new marriage with your child bride. Not to mention no house to take your bride to, no income, no animals, and essentially no economy in your region since genocide does that! Plus you have 60,000 to 100,000 dead bodies lying around with no morticians available, not exactly improving the quality of the neighborhood.
For anyone who cares about such niceties of life, this little debacle also meant that there would never again be a pure blooded Benjamite, since every single family was now formed out of a wife from another tribe.
Are you connecting the dots? These are Saul’s grandparents, or possibly great-grandparents. Trauma, plus stigma, plus poverty. And they didn’t have quite the same focus on inner healing of the generational lines back then so one can assume some generational impact coming down stream.
So good old Gibeah, which was the site of a stunning slaughter during the conquest a few hundred years before, is once again marinated in blood, this time of Hebrews, and once again is the focal point of some really twisted thinking.
Fast forward to Saul’s day. We have a remarkable paradox in his day, because, as you know, Gibeah does weird really well.
The assault on the Benjamites did not go unnoticed by the surrounding nations. In the vacuum created by the near death of the culture, the Philistines moved in. They wisely selected Gibeah as one of the primary military bases.
So we now have some remnant of Gibeonites living in the region and the city. We have some Benjamites who have rebuilt their tribe to some degree, but the dominant governmental and economic force in the region was the Philistines.
They governed with economic wisdom, absolutely controlling the blacksmith trade so that there were no weapons in Benjamin, and if you wanted your plowshare sharpened, you had to hike down to the coast and pay a high price for a Philistine blacksmith to sharpen it.
In other words, the Philistines in Gibeah were rich and the Benjamites were in a tight spot.
YET, and it is a massive YET: In spite of the twisted thinking, the homosexuality, the massive bloodshed, the civil war with the truly weird ending, the uncircumcised Philistines dominating the culture and the economy, when Samuel anointed Saul and sent him home, Samuel called it “Gibeah of God” because there was such an intense presence of God there that the city had an abundance of true prophets of God well supported by godly musicians who could play in the spirit.
I wonder if Saul thought of Moses’ promise when Samuel made that profound statement. Moses said, “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling.” Deuteronomy 12:5 NIV
Of all the cities in Israel, God chose to put His name on Gibeah. Jerusalem came later. Gibeah was God’s very first choice of a place He wanted to identify Himself with. As God was designing the foundations of the monarchy, He carefully selected this city from all the others and put His name on it. Eventually the Tabernacle moved there and remained in Gibeah of God until the Temple replaced it.
THAT was Saul’s neighborhood growing up.
A city God was proud to put His name on. A spiritually intense city that welcomed and nurtured prophetic worship. A multi-racial city. A city under foreign domination. A city with a busted economy. A city with massive sexual perversion in its history and blood line. A staggeringly bloody city. A city which produced Joshua’s great moment of faith. A city which later on would become the final resting place of the Tabernacle of Moses.
A city God was proud to put His name on.
THE city that would become the first capital of Israel’s monarchy.
Now sharpen that. THE city that God deliberately choose to be the first capital of Israel’s monarchy.
Saul’s home town.
God was clearly stacking the deck in favor of Saul. First there was the power of the Mercy tribe to bring consensus through patient statesmanship. Then there is the wholesome family dynamics where he was the favored son of the local rich man but had to work hard in the family business, learning in a hands on way. And now, God adds the remarkable deposit in the land of his home town and future capital.
What is it in the city that produced Joshua’s miracle and caused prophetic worship to thrive even in the midst of foreign domination? Amazing land by any standard!
Surely this king would lay an incomparably excellent foundation for the nation and establish a dynasty that would endure and thrive.
Copyright July 2011 by Arthur Burk
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