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Bible Commentaries
Judges 20

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-11

Judges - Chapter 20

Israel Gathers Against Benjamin, vs. 1-11

The incident precipitated by the story of the Levite’s concubine occurred early in the period of the judges, after the time when both Joshua and Eleazar had died. Phinehas had become high priest in his father’s stead (see verse 28). There may have not been a judge over the people at the time, for none is mentioned, indicating Israel’s lack of God­given leadership. It must have been near the time of Othniel’s judgeship (Judges 3:5-11), probably preceding it.

Every area of Israel was represented among those who gathered to seek vengeance for the Levite, including those from Gilead on the east of Jordan, to the number of four hundred thousand men able to fight. The gathering point was Mizpeh. There are six places of this name mentioned in the Bible. This is most likely the one which was located in the tribe of Benjamin, between Bethel and Ramah. The Benjamites were not sympathetic to the Levite’s cause, though they were aware of the gathering of the other tribes.

Once they had gathered, the men of Israel inquired of the Levite what great wickedness had caused him to dismember his concubine and send her remains throughout the country to arouse the people. Though his story to the assemblage was true in the main, the Levite presented a story which certainly concealed his own impropriety. He told nothing of why his concubine had run away, or of his drunken partying, or of his forcing his concubine into the lecherous arms of the mob to save himself, though he did refer to the conduct of the men of Gibeah as "lewdness and folly." He then called on the people as "men of Israel," implying their full capability to speak on the matter, to give counsel and advice as to what should be done, (James 1:5).

It is well to call to attention here that no one had consulted the Lord’s will, either privately, through a prophet, or through the high priest. It is certainly apparent that they felt they knew exactly what needed to be done and agreed to muster every tenth person in all the tribes to provide food for the rest while they rose in a body, "knit together as one man," to demand justice of Benjamin.

Verses 12-28

Benjamitea Beat Israel, vs. 12-28

As the war developed between Israel and the tribe of Benjamin it became very apparent how far the people of Israel were from the Lord. Many casualties were necessary before they came round to Him, even partially. As has been seen they began like many professed Christians today by thinking they could take matters into their own hands, make their own plans, then make a nominal pretense of seeking the Lord’s will, and that would be sufficient. So they first sent their message around to the towns of Benjamin demanding that the guilty men of Gibeah be given up that they might execute them. It seems foolish on the part of the Benjamites that they refused to give up a worthless gang like that which had raped the Levite’s concubine and killed her. Perhaps they knew more about the Levite and his sorry part in the affair than did those who had taken his part against Benjamin.

When war seemed to be last resort both sides got ready. Benjamin could muster only 26,000 men beside the seven hundred of Gibeah, but among these were another seven hundred very adept slingers who could hit a target with their stones and not miss by a hair breadth. These were faced with 400,000 men of Israel who had swords and were experienced with them.

Finally Israel went to the house of God and inquired who should take the lead in the war against Benjamin. So confident were they in their decisions to make war that no one thought of asking God for the best solution, only to settle the jealousy of who should take the leadership. The Lord appointed the tribe of Judah, again emphasizing his special place in God’s plans. Thus they went into battle and were resoundingly defeated by the Benjamites who slew 22,000 of the Israelites.

So Israel drew nearer to the Lord. Some of them wept and became concerned that perhaps the Lord might not want them to fight their brother tribe, Benjamin. But when they again asked Him the Lord instructed them go out and battle Benjamin again. So they set up their battle array again and were again soundly defeated, losing 18,000 of their swordsmen.

Clearly something was amiss; for some reason the Lord was. displeased with Israel. So the whole camp now journeyed up to the Lord’s house, to Phinehas, the high priest, and became earnest in seeking the Lord’s will. Not only did they weep and fast all day, but they remembered the sacrifices they should make to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to Him. (Since Phinehas was an adult young man when Israel conquered Canaan (see Numbers 25:6-18) this event must not have occurred over fifty years after the conquest at most.) This time the Lord assured them that when they went out again to fight Benjamin they would be successful.

Verses 29-48

Benjamites Decimated, vs. 29-48

With the Lord’s assurance of victory the men of Israel went up the third time against Benjamin with a great deal of confidence. To insure the victory they employed a tactic which Joshua had used at Ai (Joshua 8:3-8), and set liers in wait. While the bulk of the Israelite army pretended to flee as in the first battles, the men should remain hidden. Then when the city of Gibeah was left unprotected the ambush was to rise and put fire to it.

As planned the Benjamites thought they were winning again when they killed a few of the Israelites and they began to flee down the highways toward Shiloh and into the fields. But the Israelites quickly set their forces in array at Baal-tamer, a place on the road to Ephraim, some think the same place where Deborah lived (Judges 4:5). Ten thousand of Israel’s best men turned to contest the further advance of the Benjamites, and the battle increased fiercely until the Benjamites suddenly realized that their city was ablaze. It would seem that a sudden panic arose among the Benjamites and a certain foreboding that they were lost, (Hebrews 10:26-27). They tried to turn and flee, but the Israelites had them cornered, fenced in on every side. Many of them turned eastward toward the desert in an attempt to escape. But they failed, and 18,000 of their brave and valorous men fell in the attempt. The remnant then turned toward the wilderness in an attempt to escape to the rock of Rimmon, a sharp cliff and pass in the mountains going up to Bethel from Gibeah, about fifteen miles north of Jerusalem. The fiercely vengeful Israelites slew five thousand more in this stage of the battle. Another two thousand were killed as they fled to Gidom, farther along the road, so that a round number of 25,000 total fell of Benjamin that day.

Only six hundred of the Benjamite warriors made good their, escape to the rock of Rimmon. There they hid themselves for four months. But the Israelites were still not satisfied with their extinction of the tribe. They turned back on the Benjamite cities, put them to the torch and slew all the men remaining and their animals. It is not said that they slew the women and children, but the fact that later no women could be found to be wives for the survivors at the rock of Rimmon indicates they may have been. It was a most sorry state of affairs.

This chapter contains a lot of negative lessons: 1) when there is gross sin on both sides in controversy neither side is in the right; 2) the will of the Lord should be the first consideration of those who claim to be His children; 3) it very often takes tragedy and sore reverses to align the Lord’s people with Him; 4) when back in the Lord’s will, one should not then turn again to his own way; 5) a few successes may be because of the Lord’s longsuffering and not because of one’s righteousness.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Judges 20". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/judges-20.html. 1985.
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