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Bible Commentaries

Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Judges 20

Verse 1

Bersabee, from the northern to the southern extremity of the land, (Calmet) west of the Jordan, as Galaad denotes that on the east, belonging to Israel. Only the Benjamites and the town of Jabes declined attending. (Haydock) --- Maspha, on the confines of the tribes of Juda and Benjamin. Here the people frequently assembled; and it was a place of prayer, 1 Machabees iii. 46. It is thought that an altar of the Lord had been erected. (Calmet) --- Maspha denotes, "a height or watch-tower," (Haydock) in Silo. (Mas.[Massius?] in Josue xviii. 26.)

Verse 2

Chiefs. Literally, "angles and corner-stones," whose business it was to keep the people in order; or, all the different ranks of men might be designated. (Calmet) --- Septuagint, "the climate," or country. (Haydock) --- Syriac and Arabic, "the families of all the people." (1 Kings xiv. 38.) (Calmet)

Verse 3

Levite. Hebrew and Septuagint do not say that the discourse was addressed to him; but he was the most interested, and capable of giving a true account. Hebrew, "The said the children of Israel, Relate (Septuagint, ye) how this wickedness happened, (4) And the Levite," &c., answered.

Verse 5

Kill me. He expressed an abominable crime by another less horrible. (Salien) --- But he does not say that he brought out his wife. He might conclude, that if he had been exposed to their fury, he would have experienced a similar fate. (Haydock) --- So determined was he to resist to the last extremity. The outrage would have been more hateful to him than death. (Calmet) --- We may reasonably conclude that his wife had the same sentiments, and that she died a martyr to her conjugal fidelity, resisting even unto death, and thus making some atonement for her past misconduct.

Verse 6

Because, &c. Hebrew and Septuagint, "for they have wrought (zimma, a word which the Septuagint (Alexandrian and Vatican) leave untranslated, others render dishonesty) lewdness and folly," or a most impious act of lust. (Haydock) --- They do not compare this crime with every other that had been committed, as idolatry, and other sins, which directly attack God, are greater. But this was the most atrocious injustice which could be done to a fellow creature. (Salien)

Verse 9

In common. Hebrew, "by lot." (Calmet) --- They chose one man out of ten to procure provisions, selecting 40,000 for that purpose, or the 10th part of the forces. (Haydock)

Verse 11

With, &c. This is added to explain. (Calmet) --- Hebrew, "united as one man." (Haydock)

Verse 12

Sent. The law of nations requires that satisfaction be demanded, (Calmet) before a war commence. (Menochius) --- The former resolution (ver. 9,) was only conditional, if the Benjamites should prefer defending their brethren of Gabaa, before punishing them, as they deserved. (Calmet) --- Indeed their absenting themselves from this general assembly, implied as much, and the Israelites were determined, at any rate, to see that the guilty were duly punished. (Haydock) --- Tribe. Hebrew, "tribes," denoting the great families of Benjamin, Genesis xlvi. 21., and Numbers xxvi. 38.

Verse 15

Men. This number is verified, ver. 35. The Benjamites had 25,700 in all, of whom they lost 25,100; so that 600 remained. Hebrew reads here 26,000; and some pretend (Calmet) that 1000 fell in the two victories which they obtained. (Grotius, &c.) --- But this is without proof, and the Vulgate is confirmed by Josephus, and by most of the copies of the Septuagint, though the Vatican copy has only 23,000. (Calmet) --- Gabaa. Hebrew and Septuagint add, "which were numbered 700 chosen men." Grabe repeats in the following verse with the Hebrew, "Among all this people, 700 chosen men," which seems to insinuate that these expert archers were selected out of all the army. (Haydock) --- But the other copies of the Septuagint agree with the Vulgate, that they were all of Gabaa, (Calmet) as if they were trained at this city with more particular care, to hit a mark how small soever.

Verse 16

Right. Septuagint, "ambidextrous." Moderns generally translate the Hebrew, "left-handed." But we have seen that such a meaning is improbable, chap. iii. 15. --- Side. The inhabitants of Palestine formerly applied themselves very much to this exercise, and by them it was propagated over other parts of the world. (Pliny, [Natural History?] vii. 56.) Strabo (iii.) observes that eh people of the Balearic islands became famous for slinging, only after the Phœnicians had taken possession of their country, which is the present Majorca and Minorca. They could hit the mark without failing, and penetrate every sort of armour. (Florus iii.) Their bullets of lead were sent with such violence, as sometimes to melt in the air, according to Ovid and Seneca, q. 2. 56. The slingers commonly stood 600 paces from the mark of white, which they seldom missed. (Veget. ii. 23.) The stones which they used weighted a pound among the Romans. The sling would frequently carry farther than a bow. (Xenophon, Anab. v.) Yet the exploits of bowmen are not less extraordinary than what is here recorded. Philostorgius (ii. 12,) assures us that the Indians, after they have been drinking, will shoot at a child, and only touch the ends of his hair. Domitian would shoot from a great distance, and make the arrow pass between the extended fingers of a child, and at other times would divest himself with piercing an animal with two arrows, so that they would stick out like horns. (Suetonius) Soranus could send an arrow into the air, and pierce it with another as it fell. The emperor Hadrian writes of him, "Emissumque arcu dum pendet in aere telum,

Ac redit ex alto, fixi fregique sagitta." (Calmet)

Verse 17

Thousand. Their numbers had decreased since they came out fo Egypt, (Numbers i., and xxvi.) when they were 600,000 fighting men. (Menochius) --- But we must reflect, that some would be left to garrison the cities, &c. The Benjamites must surely have been infatuated to encounter so great a force in such a cause. (Haydock)

Verse 18

Silo. Hebrew simply "to Bethel," which the Septuagint, Syriac, Josephus, and others, explain of the city: but others generally understand "the house of God," at Silo, for which Bethel is placed, chap. xxi. 2, 9, and 12. Phinees resided near the tabernacle, and was desired to consult. --- Juda is not the name of a man, but of the tribe; (Calmet) and probably Othoniel would have the chief command. (Salien) --- The Israelites do not ask whether they ought to make war on their brethren, &c., but only desire to know which tribe shall begin the attack, chap. i. 1., and x. 18. They manifest a degree of presumption, which God soon chastised, (Calmet) as well as the idolatry of Dan, &c., which they had neglected to punish, though they had an express command to do it, Deuteronomy xiii. 12. (Salien) --- They were full of pride, and only concerned to revenge their own wrongs. (Haydock)

Verse 22

Trusting in their strength. The Lord suffered them to be overthrown, and many of them to be slain, though their cause was just; partly in punishment of the idolatry which they exercised or tolerated in the tribe of Dan, and elsewhere: and partly because they trusted in their own strength: and therefore, though he bid them fight, he would not give them the victory, till they were thoroughly humbled, and had learned to trust in him alone. (Challoner) --- God’s thoughts are often different from ours; and he frequently delays to crown with success the most holy enterprises, that man may learn to be more humble, and to trust wholly in his mercy. (Calmet)

Verse 23

And join battle. This is an explanation of Hebrew, "against him." (Haydock) --- The Israelites still neglected to sue for the divine protection, trusting in their numbers. God sends them again to battle, and suffers them to be routed. Did he deceive them? By no means. He wished them to learn the important lesson of self-diffidence, and he had not promised them the victory. (Haydock) --- But after they had humbled themselves, He acts like a master. I will deliver, &c., ver. 28. (Calmet)

Verse 25

Sword. In each battle the Benjamites kill almost as many as their whole army, in all 40,000 Israelites, without losing a man, ver. 15. (Haydock)

Verse 26

Evening. Till then the Jews never eat on fasting days. The Turks still do the like: but they only change day into night, as they sleep till sunset, and then begin to feast and to make merry. (Calmet)

Verse 28

Was over. Hebrew, "stood before it at that time," (Haydock) in the camp, (Calmet) or perhaps at Silo, which was not so remote; but some, if not the whole army, might go thither to weep, and to consult the Lord. Phinees had formerly displayed his zeal against the impiety of Beelphegor, Numbers xxv. 7. He was contemporary with Jonathan, the priest of Michas. (Kennicott) --- Hence it appears that this took place not long after the death of Eleazar, Josue xxiv. (Worthington)

Verse 30

CHAPTER XX.

Verse 31

To Gabaa, from some other city. (Haydock) --- This body of men consisted of 10,000, who were designed to draw off the Benjamites from the city into the midst of the forces of Israel, at Baalthamar; while another division, in ambush, on the west of Gabaa, had to enter the city, and having set it on fire, were to prevent the inhabitants from re-entering. (Calmet) --- They use a similar stratagem to that which Josue (Josue viii.) had employed against Hai. (Salien)

Verse 33

Baalthamar, the plain of Jericho; (Chaldean) or rather a village in the vicinity of Gabaa, which Eusebius calls Besthamar.

Verse 34

West side. Hebrew mare, "a cavern," (Calmet) "a plain," (Chaldean) "the thickets." (Vat.[Vatable?] &c.) But the Septuagint have read marbe, "the west," with the Vulgate. (Calmet) --- The Vatican copy leave Maraagabe. (Menochius) --- Gabaa was situated on a hill, and the ambuscade might be concealed in a cavern, some of which in Palestine are very spacious. (Calmet)

Verse 35

The sword. It seems the slingers also used the sword, ver. 16.

Verse 36

Flee; some towards the city, others to the wilderness, and to Remmon, ver. 45. (Haydock) --- That. Hebrew, "because they confided in those whom they had place din ambush, near Gabaa." Hence they were not so eager to prevent their flight, by surrounding them.

Verse 37

Arose. Hebrew, "drew along (advanced or sounded the trumpet a long time,") perhaps for a signal, (Calmet) though the firing of the city seems to have been designed for this purpose, ver. 40. (Haydock)

Verse 39

Saw. Hebrew, "retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and to kill....about thirty men; for they said, surely they are destroyed before us, (or flee) as in the first battle." It is wonderful that they should thus so easily fall into the very snare laid formerly for the men of Hai, Josue viii. 5.

Verse 42

Them. Hebrew, "and those who came out of the cities, (of Benjamin) they (destroyed, (Haydock) or the other Israelites) destroyed them who fled in the midst of them."

Verse 43

Rest. Hebrew, "with ease, or at leisure they crushed them," &c. Others translate, (Calmet) Monvee, from Nucha, Noua, (Septuagint Roman; Haydock) Menucha," &c. We read of a place in the tribe of Juda, called Menuchta, 1 Paralipomenon ii. 52. (Calmet) --- The same word may be taken as a proper name, or may signify rest. (Menochius)

Verse 45

In that. Hebrew, "and they gleaned of them in the highways 5000 men, and pursued them close to Giddom," of which the Vulgate takes no notice. The Roman Septuagint reads "Gedan;" the rest have "Galaad."

Verse 46

War. The Scripture, and other authors of the greatest exactitude, sometimes use round numbers. (Calmet) --- An odd hundred (ver. 35, and 15.; Haydock) is here neglected. (Calmet)

Verse 47

Escape. Mercy was shewn to these, as the tribe had been already treated with sufficient severity. St. Jerome says, they were "reserved for the sake of the apostle Paul," (epit. Paul.; Menochius) who was descended from some of them. (Haydock) --- Remmon, near Gabaa, Zacharias xiv. 10. Eusebius places it fourteen miles north of Jerusalem. (Calmet)

Verse 48

And villages, is not expressed in Hebrew, &c. But as both cities, and all the inhabitants were destroyed, the villages would share the same fate, (Haydock) as being under a curse. The Israelites concluded, from the exemplary vengeance which had been taken of Sodom and Gomorra, that they were authorized to treat their brethren in guilt with the utmost severity. (Calmet)

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Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Judges 20". "Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hcc/judges-20.html. 1859.