"Now the sons of Israel arose, went up to Bethel, and inquired of God and said, 'Who shall go up first for us to battle against the sons of Benjamin?' Then the Lord said, 'Judah shall go up first.' So the sons of Israel arose in the morning and camped against Gibeah. The men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel arrayed for battle against them at Gibeah. Then the sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and felled to the ground on that day 22,000 men of Israel." Judges 20:18-21
It was during the time of the judges that Israel seemed to be caught in a never ending cycle of turning away from God to other gods, being punished at the hand of invading armies, crying out to God, being saved by God through the agency of a judge and repeating the whole thing over again.
In this case, a great crime had been committed by one tribe of Israel against a Levite and by extension, all of the rest of Israel. After an attempt to bring the responsible individuals to justice failed, the decision was made to go to battle against all of the offending tribe of Benjamin. This was, in effect, a civil war. Doing what might be considered "the right thing" the people inquired of God as to the order of doing what they had already decided to do. The outcome was disastrous. In the face of this alarming turn of events, the question most surely asked by them and of great concern to even us today is how can we seek and receive direction from God and still utterly fail?
Beloved, we may never fully understand the action or inaction of God. In fact we are told in Isaiah 55:9 that, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." Nevertheless, a careful consideration of the context reveals several reasons for this outcome. First, it is clear that the Israelites had made the decision to go against their brethren without consulting God. The question should not have been "in what order do we go up?" but "should we go up?". Second, while they were quick to punish Benjamin for an evil act, all of Israel was guilty of multiple acts of evil. It was for this that they were themselves being punished. Lastly, they did not approach God correctly nor with humility. There was an additional time that they sought God and asked about going up, were told to go and still suffered a devastating defeat. It was not until they approached God with weeping, fasting and offerings that God finally responded, "Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands," Judges 20:28.
When we approach God's throne of grace and mercy, we must always consider our motivation and method and always seek His will and way for our lives. Our prayers must be consistent with who God is more so than who we are. Most importantly, be careful what you pray for. You might just get it.