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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Judges 20

Verses 1-11

War with Benjamin on the Part of All the Other Tribes. - The expectation of the Levite was fulfilled. The congregation of Israel assembled at Mizpeh to pass sentence upon Gibeah, and formed the resolution that they would not rest till the crime was punished as it deserved (Judges 20:1-10). But when the Benjaminites refused to deliver up the offenders in Gibeah, and prepared to offer resistance, the other tribes began to make war upon Gibeah and Benjamin (Judges 20:11-19), but were twice defeated by the Benjaminites with very great loss (Judges 20:20-28). At length, however, they succeeded by an act of stratagem in taking Gibeah and burning it to the ground, and completely routing the Benjaminites, and also in putting to death all the men and cattle that they found in the other towns of this tribe, and laying the towns in ashes, whereby the whole of the tribe of Benjamin was annihilated, with the exception of a very small remnant (vv. 29-48).

Judges 20:1-2

Decree of the Congregation concerning Gibeah. - Judges 20:1, Judges 20:2. All the Israelites went out (rose up from their dwelling-places) to assemble together as a congregation like one man; all the tribes from Dan, the northern boundary of the land (i.e., Dan-laish, Judges 18:29), to Beersheba, the most southerly town of Canaan (see at Genesis 21:31), and the land of Gilead, i.e., the inhabitants of the land to the east of the Jordan, “ to Jehovah at Mizpeh ” in Benjamin, i.e., the present Nebi-samwil, in the neighbourhood of Kirjath-jearim, on the western border of the tribe of Benjamin (see at Joshua 18:26). It by no means follows with certainty from the expression “to Jehovah,” that there was a sanctuary at Mizpeh, or that the ark of the covenant was taken thither, but simply that the meeting took place in the sight of Jehovah, or that the congregation assembled together to hold a judicial court, which they held in the name of Jehovah, analogous to the expression el - Elohim in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7. It was not essential to a judicial proceeding that the ark should be present. At this assembly the pinnoth (the corner-pillars) of the whole nation presented themselves, i.e., the heads and fathers as the supports of the congregation or of the sate organism (vid., 1 Samuel 14:38; Isaiah 19:13), even of all the tribes of Israel four hundred thousand men on foot, drawing the sword, i.e., armed foot soldiers ready for battle.

Judges 20:3

The Benjaminites heard that the children of Israel (the rest of the Israelites, the eleven tribes) had come up to Mizpeh; ” but they themselves were not found there. This follows from the fact that nothing is said about the Benjaminites coming, and still more clearly from Judges 20:13, where it is stated that the assembled tribes sent men to the Benjaminites, after holding their deliberations and forming their resolutions, to call them to account for the crime that had been committed in the midst of them. Consequently the question with which the whole affair was opened, “ Say, how did this wicked deed take place? ” is not to be regarded as addressed to the two parties, the inhabitants of Gibeah of the Benjaminites and the Levite ( Bertheau), but as a summons to all who were assembled to relate what any one knew respecting the occurrence.

Judges 20:4-7

Then the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, described the whole affair. הגּבעה בּעלי , the owners or citizens of Gibeah (see at Judges 9:2). “ Me they intended to kill: ” the Levite draws this conclusion from what had happened to his wife; the men of Gibeah had not expressed any such intention in Judges 19:22. “ All the country ( lit. field) of the inheritance of Israel, ” i.e., all the land of the Israelites. זמּה is applied to the vice of lewdness, as in Leviticus 18:17, which was to be punished with death. וגו לכם הבוּ , “ give yourselves ( לכם as dat. comm.) word and counsel here, ” i.e., make up your minds and pass sentence (vid., 2 Samuel 16:20). הלם , here, where you are all assembled together.

Judges 20:8-10

Then all the people rose up as one man, saying, “ We will not any of us go into his tent, neither will we any of us return to his house, ” sc., till this crime is punished. The sentence follows in Judges 20:9: “ This is the thing that we will do, ” i.e., this is the way in which we will treat Gibeah: “ against it by lot ” (sc., we will act). The Syriac gives the sense correctly - We will cast lots upon it; but the lxx quite erroneously supply ἀναβησόμεθα (we will go up); and in accordance with this, many expositors connect the words with Judges 20:10 in the following sense: “We will choose one man out of every ten by lot, to supply the army with the necessary provision during the expedition.” This is quite a mistake, because in this way a subordinate point, which only comes into consideration in connection with the execution of the sentence, would be made the chief point, and the sentence itself would not be given at all. The words “ against it by lot ” contain the resolution that was formed concerning the sinful town, and have all the enigmatical brevity of judicial sentences, and are to be explained from the course laid down in the Mosaic law with regard to the Canaanites, who were to be exterminated, and their land divided by lot among the Israelites. Consequently the meaning is simply this: “Let us proceed with the lot against Gibeah,” i.e., let us deal with it as with the towns of the Canaanites, conquer it, lay it in ashes, and distribute its territory by lot. In Judges 20:10 a subordinate circumstance is mentioned, which was necessary to enable them to carry out the resolution that had been made. As the assembled congregation had determined to keep together for the purpose of carrying on war (Judges 20:8), it was absolutely necessary that resources should be provided for those who were actively engaged in the war. For this purpose they chose one man in every ten “ to fetch provision for the people,לבואם לעשׁות , “ that they might do on their coming to Gibeah of Benjamin according to all the folly which had been done in Israel, ” i.e., might punish the wickedness in Gibeah as it deserved.

Judges 20:11

Thus the men of Israel assembled together against Gibeah, united as one man. חברים , lit. as comrades, simply serves to strengthen the expression “as one man.” With this remark, which indicates briefly the carrying out of the resolution that was adopted, the account of the meeting of the congregation is brought to a close; but the actual progress of the affair is really anticipated, inasmuch as what is related in Judges 20:12-21 preceded the expedition in order of time.

Verses 12-13

Before the tribes of Israel entered upon the war, they sent men to all the tribes of Benjamin, who were to demand that the culprits in Gibeah should be given up to be punished, that the evil might thus be exterminated from Israel, according to the law in Deuteronomy 22:22 as compared with Judges 13:6 and Judges 17:12. “ The tribes of Benjamin ” are the same as “the families of Benjamin:” the historian pictured to himself the different divisions of the tribe of Benjamin as warlike powers about to carry on a war with the other tribes of Israel. The word shebet (tribe) is used in a different way in Numbers 4:18. But the Benjaminites would not hearken to the voice of their brethren, the other tribes of Israel. The Keri (sons of Benjamin) is a needless alteration, since Benjamin may be construed with the plural as a collective term. By refusing this just demand on the part of the other tribes, the Benjaminites took the side of the culprits in Gibeah, and compelled the congregation to make war upon the whole tribe.

Verses 14-16

Both sides now made their preparations. The Benjaminites assembled together at Gibeah out of their different towns, and “ were mustered 26,000 men drawing the sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah they were mustered, 700 picked men ” ( הגפּקדוּ , with the reduplication dropped, like the Hothpael in Numbers 1:47). “ Out of all this people there were 700 picked men, lamed in the right hand, all these (were) slinging with a stone (hitting) at a hair's breadth without fail.” These statement are not quite clear. Since, according to the distinct words of Judges 20:16, the 700 slingers with their left hands were “out of the whole people,” i.e., out of the whole number of fighting men mentioned in Judges 20:16, they cannot be the same as the 700 chosen men referred to in Judges 20:15, notwithstanding the similarity in the numbers and the expression “chosen men.” The obscurity arises chiefly from the word התפּקדוּ in Judges 20:15, which is separated by the Masoretic accents from שׁבע מ , and connected with the previous words: “ Beside the inhabitants of Gibeah they (the men of the towns of Benjamin) were mustered.” On the other hand, the earlier translators took the clause as a relative one: “Beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, who were mustered 700 men.” And this seems absolutely necessary, because otherwise the following words, “700 picked men,” would stand without any connection; whilst we should certainly expect at least to find the cop. vav, if these 700 men were not inhabitants of Gibeah. But even if התפּקדוּ should be taken as a simple repetition of ויּתפּקדוּ , the statement which follows could not be understood in any other way than as referring to the number of the fighting men of Gibeah. There is something striking too in the fact that only Benjaminites “out of the cities” are mentioned, and that emphasis is laid upon this by the repetition of the expression “out of the cities” (Judges 20:14, Judges 20:15). Some have inferred from this, that the Benjaminites as the rulers had settled in the towns, whilst the Canaanites who had been subdued settled as dependants in the villages ( Bertheau); or that the Benjaminites had formed military brotherhoods, the members of which lived unmarried in the towns, and that this may possibly account for the abominable crime to which the inhabitants of Gibeah were addicted, and in relation to which the whole tribe took their part ( O. v. Gerlach). But such inferences as these are extremely uncertain, as the cities may be mentioned a potiori for all the places inhabited by this tribe. There is another difficulty in the numbers. According to Judges 20:14, Judges 20:15, the total number of the fighting men of Benjamin amounted to 26,000 and 700, without reckoning Gibeah. But, according to the account of the battle, 25,100 were slain (Judges 20:35), viz., 18,000 in the principal engagement, 5000 as a gleaning, and 200 in the pursuit, i.e., 25,000 men in all (Judges 20:44-46), and only 600 were left, who fled into the desert to the rock Rimmon (Judges 20:47). According to these accounts, the whole tribe would have contained only 25,100 + 600 = 25,700 fighting men, or 25,000 + 600 = 25,600. Accordingly, in Judges 20:15, the lxx ( Cod. Al. etc.) and Vulgate give only 25,000 men; whilst the rest of the ancient versions have 26,000, in agreement with the Masoretic text. Josephus (Ant. v. 2, 10) also gives the number of fighting men in Benjamin as 25,600, of whom 600 were splendid slingers; but he has merely taken the numbers from Judges 20:44-47. Now, although mistakes do frequently occur in the numbers given, it is a most improbable supposition that we have a mistake of this kind (26,000 for 25,000) in the instance before us, since even the latter number would not agree with Judges 20:44.; and the assumption, that in Judges 20:35 and Judges 20:44. we have an account of all the Benjaminites who fell, finds no support whatever in the history itself. In the verses referred to we have simply a statement of the number of Benjaminites who fell in the defeat which they sustained on the third day, whereas the victories which they gained on the first and second days could hardly have been obtained without some loss on their part; on the contrary, we may confidently assume that they would not lose less than a thousand men, though these are not mentioned in the brief account before us. The other difference between Judges 20:35 and Judges 20:44-46, viz., that 25,100 are given in the one and 25,000 in the other, may be explained on the simple assumption that we have only the full thousands mentioned in the latter, whilst the exact number is given in the former. “ Left-handed: ” see at Judges 3:15.

Verses 17-18

The forces of the other tribes amounted when numbered to 400,000 men. These numbers (26,000 Benjaminites and 400,000 Israelites) will not appear too great if we consider that the whole of the congregation of Israel took part in the war, with the simple exception of Jabesh in Gilead (Judges 21:8), and that in the time of Moses the twelve tribes numbered more than 600,000 men of twenty years old and upwards (Num 26), so that not much more than two-thirds of the whole of the fighting men went out to the war.

Judges 20:18

Before opening the campaign the Israelites went to Bethel, to inquire of God which tribe should commence the war, i.e., should fight at the head of the other tribes (on the fact itself, see Judges 1:1); and God appointed the tribe of Judah, as in Judges 1:2. They went to Bethel,

(Note: Rendered “the house of God” in the English version. - Tr.)

not to Shiloh, where the tabernacle was standing, because that place was too far from the seat of war. The ark of the covenant was therefore brought to Bethel, and Phinehas the high priest inquired of the Lord before it through the Urim and Thummim (Judges 20:27, Judges 20:28). Bethel was on the northern boundary of the tribe of Benjamin, and was consecrated to this purpose before any other place by the revelations of God which had been made to the patriarch Jacob there (Gen 28 and 35).

Verse 19

Thus equipped, the Israelites proceeded against Gibeah.

Verses 20-21

As soon as the Israelites had posted themselves at Gibeah in battle array ( מלחמה ערך , to put in a row, or arrange the war or conflict, i.e., to put themselves in battle array, 1 Samuel 4:2; 1 Samuel 17:2, etc.), the Benjaminites came out and destroyed 22,000 men of Israel upon that day. ארצה השׁחית , to destroy to the earth, i.e., to lay dead upon the ground.

Verse 22

Notwithstanding this terrible overthrow, the people strengthened themselves, and prepared again for battle, “at the same place” where they had made ready on the first day, “seeking out of pure vainglory to wipe out the stains and the disgrace which their previous defeat had brought upon them” (Berleb. Bible).

Verse 23

But before renewing the conflict they went up to Bethel, wept there before Jehovah, i.e., before the sanctuary of the ark, where Jehovah was present in the midst of His people, enthroned between the cherubim, until the evening, and then inquired of the Lord (again through the high priest) “ Shall I again draw near to war with the children of Benjamin my brother ” (i.e., renew the war with him)? The answer ran thus: “ Advance against him.

Verses 24-25

But on the second day also the Benjaminites brought 18,000 of them to the ground. “The second day” is not the day following the first engagement, as if the battles had been fought upon two successive days, but the second day of actual fighting, which took place some days after the first, for the inquiry was made at Bethel as to the will of God between the two engagements.

Verse 26

After this second terrible overthrow, “ the children of Israel ” (k.e. those who were engaged in the war), and “ all the people, ” i.e., the rest of the people, those members of the congregation who were not capable of bearing arms, old men and women, came to Bethel, to complain to the Lord of their misfortune, and secure His favour by fasting and sacrifices. The congregation now discovered, from this repeated defeat, that the Lord had withdrawn His grace, and was punishing them. Their sin, however, did not consist in the fact that they had begun the war itself-for the law in Deuteronomy 22:22, to which they themselves had referred in Judges 20:13, really required this - but rather in the state of mind with which they had entered upon the war, their strong self-consciousness, and great confidence in their own might and power. They had indeed inquired of God ( Elohim) who should open the conflict; but they had neglect to humble themselves before Jehovah the covenant God, in the consciousness not only of their own weakness and sinfulness, but also of grief at the moral corruption of their brother-tribe. It is certainly not without significance, that in Judges 20:18 it is stated that “ they asked God ” ( בּאלהים ישׁאלוּ ), i.e., they simply desired a supreme or divine decision as to the question who should lead the van in the war; whereas, after the first defeat, they wept before Jehovah, and inquired of Jehovah (Judges 20:23), the covenant God, for whose law and right they were about to contend. But even then there were still wanting the humility and penitence, without which the congregation of the Lord could not successfully carry on the conflict against the ungodly. The remark in Judges 20:22, “ The people felt (showed) themselves strong, and added (continued) to set in array the war, ” is thoroughly expressive of the feeling of the congregation. They resolved upon the continuance of the war, in the full consciousness of their superior power and numerical strength; and it was not till afterwards that they complained to the Lord of their misfortune, and inquired whether they should renew the conflict. The question was followed by a corresponding answer on the part of God, “ Go up against him, ” which certainly sanctioned the continuance of the war, but gave no promise as to the result, because the people, thinking that they might be certain of success, had not inquired about that at all. It was not till after the second severe defeat, when 22,000 and 18,000, the tenth part of the whole army, had fallen, that they humbled themselves before the Lord. They not only wept because of the calamity which had befallen them, but fasted the same day before the Lord, - the fasting being the manifest expression of the bending of the heart before God, - and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. The shelamim here are not thank-offerings, but supplicatory offerings, presented to implore the gracious assistance of God, and to commemorate the enjoyment of fellowship with the Lord, through the sacrificial meal associated with this sacrifice (as in Judges 21:4; 1 Samuel 13:9; 2 Samuel 24:25).

Verses 27-28

Having made these preparations, they inquired of the Lord whether they should continue the war, and received this reply: “ Go up (against Benjamin); for to-morrow I will give it unto thy hand ” ( ידך , the hand of the congregation carrying on the war). To this the supplementary remark is appended, that the ark of the covenant was at Bethel in those days, and the high priest served before it. The expression “in those days” implies that the ark of the covenant was only temporarily at Bethel, and therefore had been brought thither from the tabernacle at Shiloh during this war.

Verses 29-48

The Victory on the Third Day's Engagement. - Judges 20:29. The account of this commences with the most important point, so far as their success was concerned: Israel set liers in wait (troops in ambush) round about Gibeah.

Judges 20:30

They then advanced as on the former occasions.

Judges 20:31-32

The Benjaminites came out again to meet the people (of Israel), and were drawn away from the town (the perfect הנתּקוּ without ו is subordinate to the preceding verb, and defines more precisely the advance itself, whilst the mode in which they were drawn away from the town is not described more fully till Judges 20:32, Judges 20:33), and began to smite the beaten of the people (who pretended to fly) as formerly upon the roads (where two roads part), of which one led up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, into the field (Gibeah is the town at which the battle took place, that is to say, somewhere in the neighbourhood, so that a road might easily run from the field of battle towards the town into the field), “ about (sc., putting to death) thirty men of Israel.” This statement introduces the more precise definition of the חללים .

Judges 20:32

Then the Benjaminites supposed that Israel was beaten by them as before; but the Israelites said: We will flee, and draw it (the tribe of Benjamin) away from the town to the roads (the high-roads mentioned in Judges 20:31). On the Dagesh dirimens in נתקּוּהוּ , see Ewald, §92, c.

Judges 20:33

Carrying out this plan, “all the men of Israel rose up from their places,” i.e., left the place they had occupied, drew back, “and set themselves in battle array” in Baal-thamar, i.e., palm-place, which still existed, according to the Onom., in the time of Eusebius, as a small place in the neighbourhood of Gibeah, bearing the name of Bethamar. While this was going on, the ambush of Israel broke forth from its position “from the plains of Geba.” The ἁπ. λεγ. מערה , from ערה to strip, denotes a naked region destitute of wood. גּבע is the masculine form for גּבעה , and ממּערה־גבע a more precise definition of ממּקומו . This rendering, which is the one given in the Targum, certainly appears the simplest explanation of a word that has been rendered in very different ways, and which the lxx left untranslated as a proper name, Μαρααγαβέ . The objection raised to this, viz., that a naked level country was not a place for an ambush, has no force, as there is no necessity to understand the words as signifying that the treeless country formed the actual hiding-place of the ambush; but the simple meaning is, that when the men broke from their hiding-place, they came from the treeless land towards the town. The rendering given by Rashi, Trem., and others, “on account of the tripping of Gibeah,” is much less suitable, since, apart from the difficulty of taking מן in different senses so close together, we should at least expect to find העיר (the city) instead of גּבע .

Judges 20:34

Through the advance of the ambush there came 10,000 picked men of all Israel “from opposite to Gibeah” (who now attacked in the rear the Benjaminites who were pursuing the flying army of Israel); “ and the contest became severe, since they (the Benjaminites) did not know that the calamity was coming upon them.

Judges 20:35

And Jehovah smote Benjamin before Israel (according to His promise in Judges 20:28), so that the Israelites destroyed of Benjamin on that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men (i.e., twenty-five thousand and upwards).

This was the result of the battle, which the historian gives at once, before entering more minutely into the actual account of the battle itself. He does this in Judges 20:36-46 in a series of explanations, of which one is attached to the other, for the most part in the form of circumstantial clauses, so that it is not till Judges 20:46 that he again comes to the result already announced in Judges 20:35.

In this battle there fell of Benjamin 18,000 men, all brave men. The את before כּל־אלּה is not a preposition, “ with ” (as the lxx, Cod. Al., and Bertheau render it), but a sign of the accusative. It serves to show that the thought which follows is governed by the principal clause, “ so far as all these were concerned, they were brave men.”

Judges 20:45

The remainder fled to the desert, to the rock (of the place) Rimmon, which is described in the Onom. ( s. v. Remmon) as a vicus fifteen Roman miles to the north of Jerusalem. It has been preserved in the village of Rummôn, which stands upon and around the summit of a conical limestone mountain, and is visible in all directions ( Rob. Pal. ii. p. 113). “ And they (the Israelites) smote as a gleaning upon the roads 5000 men.” עולל , to have a gleaning of the battle, i.e., to smite or slay, as it were, as a gleaning of the principal battle (vid., Jeremiah 6:9). Mesilloth are the high-roads mentioned in Judges 20:31. “ And pursued them to Gideom, and smote of them 2000 more.” The situation of Gideom, which is only met with here, is not precisely known; but it must have been somewhere between Gibeah and Rimmon, as the rock Rimmon, according to Judges 20:47, afforded a safe place of refuge to the fugitives.

Judges 20:46-47

On the total number of the slain, see the remarks on Judges 20:15. - In Judges 20:47 the statement already made in Judges 20:45 with regard to the flight is resumed; and it is still further related, that 500 men reached the rock Rimmon, and dwelt there four months, i.e., till the occurrence described in Judges 21:13.

Judges 20:48

The Israelites turned (from any further pursuit of the fugitive warriors of Benjamin) to the children of Benjamin, i.e., to such of the people of the tribe of Benjamin as were unarmed and defenceless, and smote them with the edge of the sword, “ from the town (or towns) onwards, men to cattle (i.e., men, women, children, and cattle), to every one who was found; ” i.e., they cut down men and cattle without quarter, from the towns onwards even to those who were found elsewhere. כּל־הנּמצא עד (to all that was found) corresponds to מעיר (from the city), and עד־בּהמה מתם (men to beast) serves as a more precise definition of the עיר (city): everything that was in the city, man and beast. מתם is pointed wrongfully for מתם , men, the reading in several MSS and most of the early editions (see Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:6). They also set fire to all the towns that were met with, i.e., all without exception. Thus they did the same to the Benjaminites as to the Canaanites who were put under the ban, carrying out the ban with the strictest severity.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Judges 20". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.