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  3. Judges Chapter 20

Judges Chapter 20


1 The Levite in a general assembly declareth his wrong. 8 The decree of the assembly. 12 The Benjamites, being cited, make head against the Israelites. 18 The Israelites in two battles lose forty thousand. 26 They destroy by a stratagem all the Benjamites, except six hundred.

Verse 1 So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the Lord at Mizpah.

Gathered together. It was a spontaneous assembling, the result of their serious discussion of the problem with one another.

Dan to Beer-sheba. That is, from the northernmost settlement of Hebrews, the city of Dan (see ch. 18), to Beer-sheba, the most southern Israelite settlement on the fringe of the Negeb in southern Judah.

The expression occurs seven times in the Bible (Judges 20:1; 1 Sam. 3:20; 2 Sam. 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 15; 1 Kings 4:25), and once as Beersheba even to Dan (1 Chron. 21:2).

Land of Gilead. This expression seems to include all the Hebrews east of the Jordan (see chapters  5:17; 11:5, 6; etc.). All the Hebrew settlements sent delegations, with the exception of the city of Jabesh-gilead (ch. 21:8, 10).

Before the Lord. This does not necessarily mean that they brought the ark or tabernacle hither, nor yet that Mizpeh was Shiloh, where the ark was situated.

David was made king in Hebron “before the Lord” (2 Sam. 5:3), and yet there was no ark there. The phrase may mean that they assembled to discuss together what course of action to take, and that they asked God to guide them in their deliberation (see on Joshua 24:1; see also on Judges 20:27).

Mizpeh. This settlement is often identified with the hill Nebī Ṣamwîl, 5 miles (8 kilometers) northwest of Jerusalem and 3 mi. (4.8 km.) from Gibeah, the scene of the crime.

More likely is the identification with Tell en–Naṣbeh, 7 1/2 mi. (12 km.) north of Jerusalem. Mizpeh in Benjamin served at other times as a gathering place of the tribes (1 Sam. 7:5–17; 10:17). This was the first great gathering of all the Hebrews since the days of Joshua.

Verse 2 And the leaders of all the people, all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers who drew the sword. 3

Leaders. Literally, “corners,” or “corner-stones.” The men who were the pillars, the mainstays, of the tribes all came to Mizpeh.

Verse 3 (Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the children of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this wicked deed happen?”

Benjamin heard. The word that the Israelites were assembling to punish the crime may have reached the Benjamites of Gibeah as soon as the first groups began to arrive at Mizpeh, or even before they got there.

It may also be that the Benjamites received the same summons as the other tribes (see ch. 19:29).

Tell us. The words were addressed to the Levite. When the number of Israelites swelled to a throng, they asked the Levite to give them a firsthand description of the crime of which the men of Gibeah were guilty.

Verses 4,5 So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “My concubine and I went into Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, to spend the night. 5And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me, but instead they ravished my concubine so that she died.

Intended to kill me. Although the previous chapter did not indicate this threat, it would probably have followed the carrying out of the intent recorded in ch. 19:22.

Verses 6-8 So I took hold of my concubine, cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of the inheritance of Israel, because they committed lewdness and outrage in Israel. 7 Look! All of you are children of Israel; give your advice and counsel here and now!”

8 So all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, nor will any turn back to his house;

All the people arose. After the Levite had recounted the narrative of his outrage, the whole assembly united in protest and agreed that none of them should return to their homes until it was avenged.

Verse 9 but now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it by lot.

Go up. Their decision was to go up in battle array against the town of Gibeah and demand the surrender of the guilty.

Verse 10 We will take ten men out of every hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, a hundred out of every thousand, and a thousand out of every ten thousand, to make provisions for the people, that when they come to Gibeah in Benjamin, they may repay all the vileness that they have done in Israel.”

Ten men out of every hundred. With so large a number of people encamped in one place, it was difficult to procure enough food for all.

One tenth of the entire force, chosen perhaps by lot, were assigned the task of going out to gather food for the assembled forces. Thus one man was to provide food for nine men at the front.

Verse 11 So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man.

It was remarkable that so great unanimity could be achieved in view of the divergent interests of the various Hebrew tribes.

Verse 12 Then the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What is this wickedness that has occurred among you?

Through all the tribe. Before resorting to force, the assembly expostulated with the tribe of Benjamin, urging them to recognize the enormity of the sin committed, and to deliver up the guilty men that they might be put to death.

It was a fair proposition. Those that were guilty ought to pay the penalty for their misdeeds.

Verses 14,15 Now therefore, deliver up the men, the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel!” But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel. 14 Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel.

Remove the evil. The sin committed was so grave that it called for the death penalty. Only in that way could the tribes be free from guilt (see Deut. 13:5; 17:7; 19:19–21).

Go to battle. The tribe of Benjamin preferred civil war to giving up their criminals. Tribal pride and solidarity in this instance served to uphold and defend men of the worst sort.

The tribe of Benjamin displayed tremendous courage, but it was in an evil cause.

Verse 15 And from their cities at that time the children of Benjamin numbered twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred select men.

This number was less than at the census taken at the end of the 40 years of sojourn in the wilderness (Num. 26:41), by more than one third. The same decrease is shown also in the other tribes (see on Judges 20:17).

Verse 16 Among all this people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.

Seven hundred. These expert marksmen with the sling were probably the same as the 700 men in their prime who, according to the previous verse, represented Gibeah in the army of Benjamin.

It would not be likely that 2 different groups of 700 men would be mentioned together, and yet the possibility of such a coincidence is by no means excluded.

At a hair’s breadth. This expression merely implies extreme accuracy.

The Benjamites were also noted in later centuries as being skilled in the use of slings (1 Chron. 12:2).

In secular history men are reported to have become so expert in the art that the stones they flung came with as much force as if hurled from a catapult, and pierced shields and helmets.

Miss. chata’. This is the same word that in nearly all of its more than 200 occurrences is translated “to sin.”

Its basic meaning is to miss the mark, and when it is used for the idea of “sin” it describes the act as one of missing the divine mark that God has for His people—the mark of perfection defined in the law of God.

Verse 17 Now besides Benjamin, the men of Israel numbered four hundred thousand men who drew the sword; all of these were men of war.

Four hundred thousand. The Israelite population was declining. In the first year after the Exodus from Egypt the fighting men are said to have numbered 603,550 including 35,400 from Benjamin (Num. 1:46, 37).

In the 40th year after the Exodus they are said to have numbered 601,730, including 45,600 Benjamites (Num. 26:51, 41).

Verse 18 Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?”

The Lord said, “Judah first!”

Arose. Most likely only the leaders of the host would have journeyed to Shiloh to inquire before the ark regarding their plan of procedure.

It is hardly to be considered that all the army of 400,000 men would march to the tabernacle to inquire of the Lord. However, the place may have been close at hand.

House of God. beth–’el. If this word is left untranslated, the phrase reads “went up to Bethel,” and that is the way it is given in modern versions.

It was usually to Shiloh, to the tabernacle, that they went to ask counsel of God (see ch. 21:2, 4, 12).

Which of us? Such a large army could not easily deploy around the small hill on which Gibeah was situated. They had decided that only one tribe would attack at a time.

Judah. This tribe had a reputation for being aggressive. They have held a position of pre-eminence from the beginning of the book (ch. 1:1, 2).

Verses 19-21 So the children of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah. And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel put themselves in battle array to fight against them at Gibeah. 21 Then the children of Benjamin came out of Gibeah, and on that day cut down to the ground twenty-two thousand men of the Israelites.

The whole army of Benjamin, 26,700 strong, had assembled within and around Gibeah. Courageously they came out of the walls and swept down the hill upon the army of Judah.

Twenty two thousand. This means that the Benjamites slew almost a man apiece. No statement is made of Benjamite losses. There must certainly have been some.

Verses 22,23 And the people, that is, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and again formed the battle line at the place where they had put themselves in array on the first day. Then the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, “Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Go up against him.”

Went up. It seems that the allied tribes sent another delegation to ask directions from the Lord.

Wept. Israel’s defeat led the people to humble themselves before the Lord and to recognize more fully their dependence upon Him.

Perhaps they needed to learn the lesson that “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7).

Many of those who were so highly incensed at the crime of the men of Gibeah were probably guilty of similar offenses.

For example, at Sinai and Baal-peor, all Israel had fallen into abominable forms of idolatry.

Die Here weet waarom hierdie mense moes sterf. Was hulle net so goddeloos soos die Benjamiete?

My brother. The Israelites felt uneasy, realizing that they were engaged in a fratricidal war. 9war against their brothers).

Their angry feeling began to soften toward the men of Benjamin. However, the Lord instructed them to continue the attack. The people of Benjamin also needed to be humbled and brought to a recognition of their guilt.

Verses 24-26 So the children of Israel approached the children of Benjamin on the second day. 25 And Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah on the second day, and cut down to the ground eighteen thousand more of the children of Israel; all these drew the sword. 26 Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.

Fasted. For the second time the army of Israel had suffered disastrous losses at the hand of the defiant Benjamites.

They were perplexed, nonplused, (verward) distressed. The Lord had instructed them to attack, yet they had suffered heavy casualties.

To try to find the answer for their failure, they fasted and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.

This is the first place in the Bible where the word “fast” occurs, although the practice, no doubt, began much earlier.

Verses 27,28 So the children of Israel inquired of the Lord  (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”

Ark of the covenant. This is the only mention made of the ark in the book of Judges.

The tabernacle remained in Shiloh from the time Joshua pitched it there (Joshua 18:1) until the ark was captured by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:10, 11) at the end of the judgeship of Eli. On the tabernacle being in Shiloh see Joshua 22:12; 1 Sam. 1:3; 2:14; 3:21; 4:3.

Phinehas. According to Joshua 22:12, 13, Phinehas was priest of the tabernacle in Shiloh during the days of Joshua.

The mention of his name in this passage, therefore, places this incident concerning the Levite and his concubine in the lifetime of the first generation of the Israelites in Palestine.

It supports the view, stated earlier (see on Judges 18:29, 30; 19:1), that the two incidents described in the last five chapters of Judges took place many years before the other events described in the book.

It is interesting to note that in the narrative of the migration of the Danites, the probable grandson of Moses plays a prominent part, whereas in the story of the Levite, the grandson of Aaron is mentioned (see on Judges 18:30).

Tomorrow I will deliver. The Israelites were not allowed to win a victory until after a preparatory period.

(En ek en jy?)

The setbacks effectively drove them to fasting and prayer and to an earnest inquiry as to the cause of their failure.

The delay was God’s opportunity to point them to their own defects of character that needed correction as much as to the faults of others, of which they were so forcefully aware.

The Israelites were far too ready to set out upon the work of correcting their brethren without being conscious of their own shortcomings.

It was to correct this same type of shortcoming that Jesus made His statement about the beam and the mote (see Matt. 7:5).

Verses 29-31 Then Israel set men in ambush all around Gibeah. 30 And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in battle array against Gibeah as at the other times. 31 So the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city. They began to strike down and kill some of the people, as at the other times, in the highways (one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah) and in the field, about thirty men of Israel

Ambush. In the two previous battles the Israelite forces had been overconfident because they felt that their cause was just and because the weight of numbers was on their side.

But such advantages do not preclude the need for careful preparation, much prayer, and cautious strategy.

31. Were drawn away. The Israelite army feigned retreat, thus causing the Benjamites to pursue them. In so doing, the rear and flanks of the army of Benjamin were exposed to the Israelite troops lying in ambush.

Highways. The route the Israelite army took in its feigned flight was along two highways, one running northward to Bethel and Shiloh, the other leading to a town named Gibeah.

The latter, to distinguish it from the Gibeah where the Benjamites had their base, was called “Gibeah in the field.”

Gibeah was a common name meaning “hill.” The latter village seems to have been situated not on a hill, as its name would suggest, but on a level field.

Verses 32,33 And the children of Benjamin said, “They are defeated before us, as at first.” But the children of Israel said, “Let us flee and draw them away from the city to the highways.” 33 So all the men of Israel rose from their place and put themselves in battle array at Baal Tamar. Then Israel’s men in ambush burst forth from their position in the plain of Geba.

At Baal-tamar. Literally, “Baal of the palm tree.” The exact location is not known, but it must have been somewhere in the vicinity of Gibeah.

Besides the men in ambush near Gibeah, another part of the Israelite army was stationed at this unknown site nearby.

As the Benjamites were following the retreating army of Israel, they were unexpectedly opposed by this new and fresh group of forces; and at the same time those secreted in ambush near Gibeah attacked the army of Benjamin from the rear.

It seems that the army of Israel had been divided into three parts.

Verse 34 And ten thousand select men from all Israel came against Gibeah, and the battle was fierce. But the Benjamites did not know that disaster was upon them.

Ten thousand select men. This was evidently the group who formed the ambush and who seem to have attacked Gibeah itself.

Did not know. Although the Benjamites recognized that they were having a hard battle, yet each one, busily engaged on his own front, did not perceive that their forces were completely surrounded and thus doomed to destruction.

(Partykeer is ons ook op die verloorpad sonder om dit te besef)

With this and the following verse, the author interrupts the detailed description of the battle to state its final outcome, as if to relieve the reader’s concern.

Verse 35,36 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel. And the children of Israel destroyed that day twenty-five thousand one hundred Benjamites; all these drew the sword. 36 So the children of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. The men of Israel had given ground to the Benjamites, because they relied on the men in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah.

36. So. Having described the main course of the battle, the author now goes back and adds other details.

Verse 36 to the end of the chapter could very well be added to v. 33 so as to give a connected account of the battle, but the author inserted verses 34 and 35 as a parenthetical explanation, apparently to inform the reader of the outcome of the engagement. Then with v. 36 he resumed the detailed account.

Verse 37 And the men in ambush quickly rushed upon Gibeah; the men in ambush spread out and struck the whole city with the edge of the sword.

Struck the whole city. The 10,000 men who had formed the ambush (v. 34) succeeded in capturing Gibeah and then set it on fire.

This they did as a signal to their comrades that the ambush had succeeded, and that it was now time for them to turn from their feigned flight and engage the main force of the pursuing Benjamites.

Verses 38,39 Now the appointed signal between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they would make a great cloud of smoke rise up from the city, 39 whereupon the men of Israel would turn in battle. Now Benjamin had begun to strike and kill about thirty of the men of Israel. For they said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.”

39. The men of Israel. It seems to make better sense to include the first part of v. 39 with the last part of v. 38 as a description of the plan that the Israelites agreed upon.

The two clauses may then be understood as stating, “They should make a great flame with smoke rise up out of the city and then the men of Israel should turn in battle.”

Having stated the plan, the author of the book takes up the account of the sequence of events with the words “Benjamin began to smite.” He then describes how the scheme worked out, exactly as planned (vs. 40, 41).

The Benjamites saw the smoke of their city ascending behind them, and about the same time the heretofore fleeing Israelite forces suddenly turned in their flight and began to offer stiff resistance.

Then the men of Benjamin recognized that they had been tricked and that they were caught between the Israelite forces with little chance of escape.

Verses 40-42 But when the cloud began to rise from the city in a column of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and there was the whole city going up in smoke to heaven. 41 And when the men of Israel turned back, the men of Benjamin panicked, for they saw that disaster had come upon them. Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them, and whoever came out of the cities they destroyed in their midst.

Wilderness. Evidently “the wilderness of Beth-aven” (Joshua 18:12), east of Gibeah, which descends from the highlands to the Jordan valley.

The region is described in Joshua 16:1 as “the wilderness that goeth up from Jericho throughout mount Beth-el.”

Whoever came out. Some of the ancient versions read here, “They which came out of the city [that is, the men who had captured Gibeah] destroyed them in their midst.”

This would mean that the 10,000 Israelites, after burning Gibeah, intercepted the Benjamites who tried to flee into the wilderness.

The meaning of the English version would probably be that the Benjamites fled to their own cities and were pursued thither in their flight and slain in their cities.

Verses 43,44 They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them, and easily trampled them down as far as the front of Gibeah toward the east. 44 And eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell; all these were men of valor.

Easily. The meaning of the Hebrew may be that wherever some of the Benjamites sought refuge, the men of Israel sought them out and killed them.

Eighteen thousand. This number probably represents those slain in the initial engagement. The remainder of the 25,100 (v. 35) were overtaken and slain as they fled to the wilderness (v. 45).

Verses 45,46 Then they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon; and they cut down five thousand of them on the highways. Then they pursued them relentlessly up to Gidom, and killed two thousand of them. 46 So all who fell of Benjamin that day were twenty-five thousand men who drew the sword; all these were men of valor.

Rock of Rimmon. Believed to be the steep, chalky hill visible from all directions (13.6 km.) northeast of Gibeah. A village on the site is today known as Rammūn.

Verses 47,48 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they stayed at the rock of Rimmon for four months. 48 And the men of Israel turned back against the children of Benjamin, and struck them down with the edge of the sword—from every city, men and beasts, all who were found. They also set fire to all the cities they came to.

Rock of Rimmon. The only soldiers of the entire Benjamite army to escape were 600 men who hid in the limestone caves on the hill of Rimmon.

All who were found. This indiscriminate slaughter of noncombatants, not to mention that of the broken and fleeing army, was entirely uncalled for.

The sin of the men of Gibeah needed to be punished, for it was great. However, when the effective resistance of the army of Benjamin was destroyed, the duty of the Israelite army was finished.

The individual perpetrators of the deed could then be caught and punished. Their city, Gibeah, was already in ruins. It should have been enough.

There was no excuse for the relentless extermination of the whole tribe, nor for the burning of its cities.

However, the heat of battle seems to work men into an unreasoning passion which carries them on to actions they would not perpetrate in their saner moments.

In such times men are often not their own masters; reason does not guide and the voice of conscience is not heard.

This would be especially true when they were without an outstanding leader to whom the army could look for directions and who could exercise control.

The wounded pride of the Israelite army, stinging under the two defeats by their much smaller adversary, led them to commit a greater wrong, measured by extent, than the sin they were trying to punish.

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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