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Bible Commentaries
Judges 20

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-48

Judges 20:11 . All the men of Israel were knit together. Why had they not assembled against Micah and his chapel of gods? Then this and other evils might have been prevented. This was a just and necessary war, but the hand was not clean that handled the sword.

Judges 20:13 . Deliver us the children of Belial that we may put them to death. By the refusal of this just demand, every Benjamite made the crime his own, and paid the forfeiture of his life.

Judges 20:16 . Seven hundred chosen men, left-handed. The Hebrew and Chaldaic read, qui sola sinistra utebantra, who used the left hand only. Herodotus and Strabo have the like remark on some captains. The besieged used their slings against the besiegers with effect.

Judges 20:21-25 . In all 22,000 men, and 18,000 men. Thus 40,000 fell, for they gave no quarter to the wounded: and why should God fight for them, while they had penates or houshold gods at home? Too confident in their numbers, they went to battle without consulting the Lord.

Judges 20:28 . I will deliver them. After weeping, searching their own hearts, offering sacrifices, and seeking counsel of the Lord, they succeeded.

Judges 20:33 . Baal-tamar. Chaldaic, the plains of Jericho.

Judges 20:47 . The rock Rimmon, fifteen miles from Jerusalem. Jerome, in his epitaph on St. Paul, has noticed that the apostle’s ancestor was among these six hundred men.


The sight of mangled limbs, and limbs of their own flesh, had addressed the Israelites with an eloquence beyond the power of language. The nation instantly assembled in arms, having but one sentiment, but one design, either to bring the delinquents to justice, or involve all Benjamin in one common destruction. This tribe was indeed their brother according to the flesh, but they would not know any man as a brother, who was become unworthy of the human name. The sword was unsheathed, and they resolved that it should never return to its scabbard, till Israel was purged of so foul a crime. In like manner when Rome was stained with impurity and blood, by the bacchanalian orgies, they nobly wiped away the blot, and refused to know any relative initiated into those mysteries. What shall we say then of modern, yea of christian Europe! The crime of Gibeah has been repeated in seaports; but where is the zeal of indignant Israel, or of insulted Rome? In a case of this nature we blush to say, that the christian zeal falls short of jewish and of pagan lustre. So our crimes accumulate till heaven is obliged at last to avenge its own quarrel.

The Israelites, while assembled for counsel and war, are not wanting to demand of Gibeah the delinquents. But mark the evasions of guilt. The elders in Gibeah, having by connivance partook of the crime, instead of compliance, send to all the cities of their tribe, and draw them into a fatal league by such deceitful pleas as wickedness is never wanting to urge. They would plead, no doubt, that the tribes were assembled in Mizpeh, not so much for the punishment of vice, which abounded in all cities, as against the liberties and independence of all Benjamin.

The Israelites however were not only unsuccessful in their embassy of expostulation, but awfully so in the first and second battle. And why so? Had the Lord no regard to a people armed in the cause; and for the support of his law? The fact is, Israel was all sinful; and one wicked man will not be converted by another. The Israelites had a common covenant, it is true; and therefore it was their duty to arm against their obstinate brother; but they ought to have armed long ago against the idols of Dan. Their cause was good, but in their hot zeal, they never dreamed of consulting the Lord, the first duty of a nation in trouble, till they had actually encamped against their brother. Then the Lord said, go; yes go, as you have begun, and be a scourge one to the other. Learn hence, that God’s work must always be done in his counsel, and in his way; otherwise our efforts will be attended with weakness and want of success.

We learn farther, that temporary success, and success of the most distinguished kind, is not a proof of the goodness of a cause. Benjamin by his first victory would be highly elated; but the second would probably confirm his confidence that heaven had fully declared in his favour; yet no man should draw conclusions from imperfect views of providence. God has very frequently blessed designs to accomplish by the wicked, for the safety of his church; and while he accomplishes those designs, he makes them an instructive scourge one to another. Israel, unable to make head against his stubborn brother, either by counsel or by arms, was highly commendable for persevering in so good a cause: and in the issue he took the right method to succeed. He wept before the Lord, he offered burnt-offerings for his sin, and peace-offerings for his mercies. He consulted the Lord before he dared to take a further step, and received the positive promise of victory. Proceeding now by counsel, he laid an ambuscade for the city, and opposed his exulting foe by ten thousand valiant men. Ah, Benjamin, thy day was now come! Thy triumph was short. Why didst thou protect the wicked? Why wast thou not the first to say, after the example of thy fathers, that the wicked shall not live to reproach thy name? Genesis 31:32; Genesis 44:9. Then life and glory had attended thy valour, and thy fame had been lasting as the heavens and the earth.

From this sad history, this most instructive case, which cost Israel nearly seventy thousand men, let young people learn to shun the society of the wicked. Little did many a youth, who ought to have been in his father’s house, think that the farce of crime would end in so dreadful a tragedy. And as most wicked men, in the hour of temptation, run beyond the imaginary limits prescribed to folly, no one can be safe for a moment in their company. Destruction and misery are in their way, and the way of peace they have not known. Therefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, that ye may be the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.

By the three attacks of the Hebrews against this sore crime, let us be encouraged to return to the charge against all inordinate desires of the flesh; for he who fights with prayers and tears shall surely conquer his exulting foe.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/judges-20.html. 1835.
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