Chapter 20

JUDGES CHAPTER 20

Israel’s War with the Tribe of Benjamin

        • All the Israelites, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, came together and assembled as one body to Yahweh at Mizpah. The leaders of all the people, and all of the Israelite tribes presented themselves in the assembly of God’s people: 400,000 sword-bearing foot soldiers. (Now, the Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) And the Israelites asked, “Tell us, how did this evil happen?”

          • On the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba,” the ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “This phrase was later used in the period of the monarchy to speak of the entire land of Israel from north to south (cf 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Sam 24:2; 1 Kings 4:25), as these were the major border cities. The land of Gilead refers specifically to the tribe of Manasseh, which lived across the Jordan.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “This is the first occurrence of this merismic geographic definition of the territory of Israel, spanning a distance of about 160 miles…”

        • On “the assembly of God’s people” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible makes this interesting note, “The expression ‘God’s people’ usually points to the nation of Israel as a community of people united in their religious allegiance to Yahweh, but here indicates the perception of Israel as a vassal community covenantally committed to Yahweh. The proceedings that follow include the presentation of evidence by a witness (the Levite, vv. 4-6), the call for a verdict (v. 7), the announcement of the sentence (vv. 8-10), the preparations for the execution of the sentence (v. 11) and the effort to arrive at a negotiation resolution with the community to which the offenders belonged (vv. 12-13). These represent essential elements of an ancient legal process.

        • The Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, answered saying, “My concubine and I went to Gibeah, in Benjamin, to spend the night. During the night, the leaders of Gibeah rose up against me and surrounded the house. They intended to kill me, but, instead, they raped my concubine and she died. So, I took my concubine and cut her into pieces and sent her throughout all of Israel’s territory, because they committed a shameful and disgraceful outrage in Israel. Look, all of you Israelites, give your advice and council now.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The ‘troublemakers’ were leading citizens (literally lords). The death of his concubine convinced the Levite that the men of Gibeah intended his death.”

        • Then all the people stood united, and said, “None of us will go back to his tent, nor will any of us return to his house. Instead, we will go up against Gibeah by casting lots. We will take 10 men out of every 100 from all the tribes of Israel, and 100 out of every 1,000, and 1,000 out of every 10,000 to supply provisions for the troops, so that when they come to Gibeah in Benjamin, they may repay them for all the outrage they have committed in Israel.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “The tribes agree to send a tenth of their men chosen by lot. Far from this being a matter of chance, God was always in control of the lot (cf Num 26:55; Josh 14:2; 18:6, 10; Prov 16:33…”

        • So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man. Then the tribes of Israel sent men throughout all the tribe of Benjamin saying, “What is this evil that has taken place among you? Now then, hand over those worthless men in Gibeah so that we can put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “This evil deed is seen as polluting the whole people (cf Deut. 13:5; 17:7; etc).”

        • But the Benjaminites wouldn’t listen to their brothers, the Israelties. Instead they left their cities and gathered together at Gibeah to go out to battle against the Israelites. 26,000 sword-bearing men were counted from the Benjaminite cities, besides the 700 choice men who lived in Gibeah. From all these troops, there were 700 well-trained men who were left-handed- each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bile says, “Benjamin’s response was consistent with its independent and warlike character (cp Gen 49:27). The tribe had justifiable confidence in the warriors for which it was famous (Judg 3:12-30; 1 Chr 12:2)…The sling was of the same type David used to kill Goliath…The slinger buried the stone in a small pouch attached to a leather thong, then swung it around his head to gain momentum before releasing one end of the thong to shoot the missile. A slinger had the advantage of distance over a swordsman.”

          • On “each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss,” Guzik adds, “The Hebrew word translated miss is literally sin. This illustrates the principle that the word ‘sin’ literally means to ‘miss the mark’ – whether you are off by an inch or a yard.”

        • Israel had 400,000 experienced, sword-bearing warriors, not counting Benjamin’s warriors. The Israelites got up and went to Bethel and inquired of God asking, “Who is to go up for us first to battle the Benjaminites?” And Yahweh answered, “Judah will go first.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The staging ground, about 7 miles north of Gibeah at Tell Beitin, was on a strategic point between the hills of Ephraim and Judah/Benjamin as well as on the central ridge route…”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “To go first means to lead, not necessarily to precede (Gen 49:10).”

        • So, the Israelites got up in the morning and camped against Gibeah. Then the men of Israel went out to fight against Benjamin and took their battle positions against Gibeah. The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah and killed 22,000 on the battlefield that day. But the Israelite troops took courage and again took their battle positions in the same place they had positioned themselves on the first day. They went up and wept before Yahweh until evening and asked Yahweh, “Should we fight against our relatives, the Benjaminites, again?” And Yahweh answered, “Fight against them.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “…Despite having superior numbers and having asked the Lord for guidance, the Israelite troops facing the defenders behind their walls were soundly beaten back the first day…Following a time of weeping and probably confession (cp Josh 7) the Israelite troops received divine guidance and regained confidence.”

        • The Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites on the second day. That same day the Benjaminites came out of Gibeah to meet them and killed 18,000 more sword-bearing Israelite men. Then all the troops and all of the Israelite people went to Bethel and wept. They sat there before Yahweh and fasted all day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to Yahweh, and they inquired of Yahweh.

          • These two defeats are confusing. HCSB offers the following, “At least three reasons may be advanced for God’s allowing more than 40,000 of the nation’s forces to be killed…First, the nation as a whole, and not merely the tribe of Benjamin, had to be judged for its sins (21:25; ‘everyone did whatever he wanted’). Second, the nation as a whole needed to learn to trust God fully, even in the midst of defeat, so they would not learn to trust in superiority of numbers or of battle skills (20:2, 10, 15-17). Third, God did not promise a victory to the nation of Israel before either of the first two battles. Only before the third battle did He actually guarantee success (v. 28).”

        • In those days, the ark of the covenant of God was there, and Phinehas- Eleazar’s son, and Aaron’s grandson- stood before it to minister asking, “Should we fight against our relatives, the Benjamintes, again, or should we stop?” And Yahweh said, “Go fight. I will hand them over to you tomorrow.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “From this text, it appears that the ark of the covenant was located at Bethel before later being moved to Shiloh.”

        • Many commentaries seem to be in agreement that this text indicates the events being described in these chapters happened very early in the period of the judges despite their late position in the book. Here are some examples:

          • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: “The fact that the high priest is. still the grandson of Aaron, who had shown such noble zeal in the desert (Numbers 25:8; Psalm 106:30), is. an important note of time, and proves decisively that this narrative, like the last, is anterior to much that has been recorded in the earlier chapters. It is remarkable that the chief personages in these two wild scenes are the grandson of Moses and the grandson of Aaron, and it is a strange illustration of the disorder of the times that while the latter fulfils the supreme functions of the high priest, the former, who has sunk to the condition of a poor wandering Levite, does not go to his powerful cousin, but serves an unknown and schismatic image for a most paltry pittance.”

          • Benson Commentary: “This is added to give us light respecting the time of this history, and to show, that this war did not take place in the order in which it is here recorded, after the death of Samson, but long before; probably not long after the death of Joshua.”

          • Barnes Notes on the Bible: “A most important chronological statement, which makes it probable that these events occurred within twenty years of the death of Joshua.”

          • Matthew Poole’s Commentary: “…this is added to give us some light about the time of this history, and to show it was not done in the order in which it is here placed, after Samson’s death, but long before.”

          • Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “And Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,…. Before the ark, ministering before the Lord, which shows that this affair was long before the times of Samson, though placed after them; or otherwise Phinehas must have been more than three hundred years of age, which is not probable (r). Phinehas’s standing before the ark was the posture of the priest when he inquired of the Lord for any by Urim and Thummim; the person that inquired stood before him that was inquired of, as Kimchi observes, and he that was inquired of stood before the Shechinah, or the presence of the divine Majesty, of which the ark was a symbol…”

        • So Israel set an ambush all around Gibeah. On the third day the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites again, taking up their battle positions against Gibeah as they had before. The Benjaminites went out to meet the troops and were drawn away from the city. Just as they had done before, they began to attack and kill the Israelites, on the roads- one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah- and in the field, about 30 men of Israel. The Benjaminites said, “They are being defeated before us, just like they have previously.” But the Israelites said, “Let’s run away and draw them out from the city to the roads.”

        • So all the the Israelites got up from their places and took positions at Baal-tamar, while the Israelites hiding in ambush charged out from Maareh-geba. 10,000 choice men of Israel came out against Gibeah and the battle became fierce, but the Benjaminites didn’t know that disaster was about to strike. Yahweh defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the Israelites killed 25,100 sword-bearing Benjaminites that day.

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “Baal-tamar is between Gibeah and Bethel…Maareh-geba means ‘bare’ or ‘space’ of Geba (‘hill’), referring to a bare area or a field near Geba (identified with the modern site of Jaba).”

        • The Benjaminites saw that they had been defeated. The Israelites gave the Benjaminites some ground because they trusted the men they had set in ambush against Gibeah. The ambush came quickly, advancing against Gibeah, and put the whole city to the sword.

        • The Israelites had prearranged a signal with the men in ambush: when they sent up a big cloud of smoke from the city, the Israelites would return to the battle. When the Benjaminites had begun to attack, killing about 30 of the Israelites, they said, “They are being defeated before us, just like they have previously.” But when the cloud of smoke began to rise up from the city, and the Benjaminites looked behind them to see that the whole city was going up in smoke. Then the Israelites turned, and the Benjaminites were terrified because they realized that disaster had struck them.

        • They retreated before the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness, but the battle caught up to them, and those who came out of the nearby cities were destroying them in their midst. They surrounded the Benjaminites, and chased them relentlessly, overtaking them opposite Gibeah toward the east.

        • 18,000 Benjaminites were killed, all valiant warriors. The rest turned and ran toward the wilderness, to the rock of Rimmon. But the Israelites killed 5,000 of them on the roads, and chased them up to Gidom where they killed 2,000 more. So, 25,000 sword-bearing Benjaminites were killed that day- all valiant warriors. However, 600 men ran toward the wilderness, escaping to the rock of Rimmon where they stayed for 4 months. The Israelites turned back, against the other Benjaminites and killed them with their swords- the entire city, the animals, and everything they found. They also set all the cities they found on fire.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “’Rimmon’ was a Benjaminite personal name (2 Sam 4:2) and the place was about four miles east of Bethel. It was a stronghold, probably a cliff dwelling that protected fugitives by its inaccessibility.

        • Why did the Israelites destroy other Benjaminite cities besides Gibeah? HCSB explains, “Initially, only a few Benjaminites deserved to be punished for the despicable gang rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine. The entire tribe of Benjamin became guilty of complicity, however, when they refused to hand over the perpetrators to the rest of the Israelites (20:13).”

        • Guzik notes, “As a result of the battle, there remained only a 600-man remnant from the tribe of Benjamin.”

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