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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Judges 20

This chapter highlights important issues that also apply to the exercise of discipline in the church. In addition, it emerges that this exercise of discipline is something that the whole church has to deal with. The whole people are involved. The way that Israel goes to remove sin from among themselves and what God teaches them on that way, give a clear illustration of the actions of local churches when sin has to be removed from among them. It also shows the mind in which this should be done,

Any sin that becomes public in a local church and must be disciplined is at the same time a matter for the church to reflect on its cause. She will have to examine her own condition in God’s light and have the desire to hear from Him how it is possible that this sin could have happened.

Verses 1-2

The People of God as One Man


The first thing that the message of the atrocity works out is that the whole people come together as one man to the LORD. Although there is still a lot to be learned later on, this fact in itself is a praiseworthy reaction. It is the time when everyone does what is right in his eyes. Characteristic of such a time is that people live along each other. Every feeling of togetherness has disappeared. In that time of individualism the LORD uses the sin committed to bring unity among His people again.

The second thing is that they are in the right position and that is with the LORD at Mizpa. A correct position, however, is no guarantee for a correct mind. Some important conditions may be met, such as unanimity and a correct position, but there is something else that needs to be added and that is the right mind.

It is a good thing that the people come together as one man – see also Jdg 20:8 and Jdg 20:11 – to punish evil. It is also good that it is diligent in cleansing itself from evil, just as it is good that it is in the right position. But the people are not yet in the good mind to exercise discipline. They only acts out of carnal indignation and on their own initiative. Only in Jdg 20:18 do they ask God, but then they have already made their own plans. It is evil that brings them together.

But never will anything that is evil be able to serve as a bond with which God’s people can be held together. And if taking the right position does not lead to an appropriate attitude and behavior, this is no guarantee for correct handling in disciplinary cases. These things must go hand in hand.

It may be that believers take the right place or position in Christianity. I am thinking here of the church meeting around the Lord Jesus, with Him as its center, free from all kinds of human institutions or group thinking. If this is not done out of love for Christ and with a sense of grace and in an attitude of humility, the confession of that position gives no guarantee of blessing and the presence of the Lord Jesus.

When there is unity, the leaders also come forward. An important aspect in the functioning of the church as a unity is that there is again the exercising of leadership in a biblical way. In Judges 5 we have heard Deborah singing about leaders who took the lead again (Jdg 5:2). If there is no king in Israel and there is no leadership, this is also at the expense of the feeling of togetherness.

Verses 3-7

The Report of the Levite


When asked, the Levite gives a brief account of the events at Gibeah. He lets nothing be heard of his own unfaithfulness and the wrong way he has gone. He also conceals the fact that he himself has given his wife into the hands of those lusty people. He also makes it appear as if he has been in danger of death. He tells his story in such a way that he himself emerges from it as well as possible.

He motivates the cutting in pieces of his wife’s body and its distribution in Israel by pointing out the scandalous act and the folly committed in Israel. He concludes by pointing out that, as Israelites, they should know what they have to do. He does not say a word about his own responsibility as Levite who must teach the law.

Verses 8-10

The Reaction


With his story, the man has underlined once again the fact that the people are already convinced of the action that must be taken against the men who committed this atrocity. They commit themselves not to go home before they have dealt with Gibeah. All they have to do is throw lot to find out in what order they should go to battle. Ten percent of the men are kept apart to provide food during the campaign. Everything that is being done is still about the dishonor done to Israel and not about the dishonor done to God.

Verses 11-14

The Demand to Gibeah and the Response to It


For the third time we read that Israel is gathered “as one man” – see Jdg 20:1 and Jdg 20:8. The message they have sent through the entire tribe of Benjamin, in which Gibeah lies, is short and concise. Its text indicates that they are not yet in the right mind to act against evil. In the previous verses we have seen that the willingness to act stems from human indignation. Because of this they don’t think of first asking the LORD to know how to act against sin. They speak to Benjamin about the evil that has happened “among you” and not ‘among us’.

Perhaps we have also noticed that we see sin in the other person earlier than in ourselves. To be able to point out sin to someone else, there must first be self-judgment. This means that one must be free of sin oneself, that there must be no unjudged sin in one’s own life. If anyone thinks he should be concerned with the sins of others, while allowing his own sins to exist, he is hypocritical. The words of the Lord Jesus apply to such a person when He says: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5).

Being personally free from sins is a first condition to be met by self-judgment. A second condition is linked to this self-judgment. We can only point out his sin to someone when we realize that what he has done wrong can also happen to us, including me. We are nothing better than the other. Galatians 6 tells us how we can meet this second condition: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; [each one] looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Gal 6:1).

What Israel must learn is to identify with the sin that has been committed and that it is not just the sin of a city or a tribe. With the sin through Achan this same principle comes to the fore: “But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, … took some of the things under the ban” (Jos 7:1). There is one man who sins, but the whole people are declared guilty by God.

If Israel had made itself one with the sin of Gibeah, Benjamin would have reacted in another way. Benjamin would then have seen a people mourning and confessing sin as if they had committed it themselves. But there are no fraternal feelings among the people. It is easier to see things that are wrong and that need to be judged than to go to God with those things and see and feel them as God sees and feels them. Through their actions, they blame only the sons of Benjamin and hold them accountable for what happened, without realizing that it is an evil that took place in their midst, that is, in the midst of Israel.

In the New Testament Paul deals with a sin within the church that is so bad that it was not found even among the Gentiles (1Cor 5:1). What he blames the Corinthians above all for is that they have not mourned about the terrible evil that is taking place among them (1Cor 5:2). They continue to meet quietly as if nothing is wrong. That is also a way of not making yourself one with the present evil.

Both in Corinth and here in Judges one reacts to evil in a self-willed way. The matter is not presented to God with shame about what has happened, so He cannot reveal His will as to how to act.

Israel is taking the wrong approach to the matter, but that doesn’t acquit Benjamin’s reaction to it. What the sons of Benjamin do shows that they are not aware of the horrible sin committed in their area. In that way the whole tribe makes itself one with sin. Sin is bad, but even worse is the refusal to condemn it. They even defend sin, even though they did not commit sin themselves, but a number of corrupt people.

What started as a punitive expedition against a city, degenerates into a complete civil war because of Benjamin’s attitude. Having tolerated the evil in their midst, they are now going to defend it and start a brother war. Benjamin turns it into a tribal case. We hear nothing more about the culprits themselves.

As can be seen from 1 Corinthians 5, the worst sin can occur in every local community. However bad and shameful that may be, the presence of the worst sin cannot be a reason for anyone to leave a community of Christians. One reason to separate ourselves from a local church, however, is the refusal to condemn even the slightest evil. Then it is even necessary that we separate ourselves, if we do not want to be judged by God with the whole.

Verses 15-21

First Encounter


The positions have been made clear on both sides. There is no longer any doubt, there is no hope of recovery. Numerically, the sons of Benjamin are far in the minority, but their capacities compensate for that to a large extent. There is talk of “700 choice men” who “were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Jdg 20:16)

They can be exquisite men, known for their accuracy, their precision, but if they raise a concern for an evil cause, they use their capacities wrong. We can compare them to people we also encounter in Christianity. People who are very precise in everything and sometimes call evil good. Because of their precise approach to the matter it seems that they still have the right on their side as well.

Benjamin wins the victory again and again, but we see in a moment why. Not everything is as it should be with the tribes that go out to battle. Certainly, they ask God for advice, but they do so only after they have decided how they will act. The only thing they want to know is which tribe has to go out first. They have already asked this question once before, in Judges 1 (Jdg 1:1). But what a difference between Judges 1 and here. There they ask their question with a view to fighting the enemy, while here they want to fight a brother and already have arranged everything.

Thus there may be situations in which we too say that it is unnecessary to consult God. We see that there is sin and we are ready to act immediately, without it coming to us to go to God with that sin and first to make ourselves one with it. In our view, that is not necessary. There are still some details, such as who has to speak with the brother or sister who has fallen into sin. To do so, we first ask God, but that’s it.

It takes more to be used by God to deal appropriately with evil than just a quick willingness to act as His instrument. Their revenge is too direct, too inappropriate, too ruthless. There is too little awareness that they must carry out God’s judgment. They do not bring a sin offering, which would have been proof that they are not one with evil. Instead, they count on their supremacy.

The result is defeat. Through this defeat, God wants to teach them that numbers do not count for Him and that their confidence to be the victors is wrong. The fact that the Israelites are defeated may be due to the fact that they themselves are not free from the influences of the pernicious practices of the Canaanites either. Then there can be no power to act. What they need is the same cleansing as Benjamin.

Verses 22-25

The Second Encounter


The defeat comes hard. They did not expect this. They are working on a just cause, aren’t they? Their large number is proof of that, isn’t it? So why are they defeated instead of the evildoers punished? Is God then on the side of the sinning tribe?

They may have asked themselves all these questions. Yet the first reaction to their defeat is not that they go to God with these questions. The first thing they do is to encourage themselves: “But the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and arrayed for battle again in the place where they had arrayed themselves the first day.” David did it differently. We read of him after he has lost everything through his own fault and the people turn against him: “But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1Sam 30:6).

The Israelites first gather courage and then they ask the LORD. They are still not in the right place before God, although they are much more cautious in their questions to Him. They still have to learn the lesson that they are nothing better in themselves than their brother. They have to learn the lesson of the log and the speck from Matthew 7 yet (Mt 7:3-5).

It is also a step forward that they are now talking about “my brother”. They are starting to feel the fact that they are dealing with someone of the same origin. When exercising discipline, it is always important that we realize that it should not be done from an attitude that we are better. Elihu, who had to warn Job about his statements about God, understood that. He aptly says to Job: “Behold, I belong to God like you; I too have been formed out of the clay. Behold, no fear of me should terrify you, Nor should my pressure weigh heavily on you” (Job 33:6-7).

If this had been Israel’s mind, this battle would not have cost so many victims. If this had been the attitude in many disciplinary cases in the church, many excommunications would not have had to take place, or after a short period restoration could have taken place. Not all disciplinary cases could have been avoided. The church is obliged to exercise discipline because it owes it to the holiness of God. God can never allow anything of sin to exist among His people. But discipline should always be applied with a view to the restoration of the one who has sinned. It should not happen out of personal irritation or fear of losing face to the environment.

Before they go up, they first ask the LORD if they will go up. That, too, is progress compared to the first time. Yet God also lets this second encounter result in a defeat for Israel. He has not finished with them yet.

Verses 26-28

Preparation for the Third Encounter


Before the Israelites began the fight against the evildoers, they had expected an easy victory. They would do that job in a short time. After all, they were by an overwhelming majority, weren’t they? The result of this attitude, however, is that they have already been defeated twice. They don’t understand anything about it anymore.

In their desperation they humbly turn and in tears again to the LORD in Bethel (meaning ‘house of God’) and ask Him if they need to go up again. They even start fasting. There is now no longer any question of pulling themselves together and going back to battle again. They realize that they have failed. It begins to dawn on them that God has something to say to them first.

Before they go to ask God, they offer “burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD”. That’s beautiful. By offering these offerings they say, as it were, that they can only exist before God on the basis of the value of these sacrifices. Both sacrifices speak of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.

The burnt offering shows this work as a work by which the Lord Jesus on the cross glorified God completely. It is an offering entirely reserved for God (Lev 1:1-17). On the basis of that offering God can bless His people and accept them. It is the only ground on which this can be done. For us this is beautifully expressed in Ephesians 1, where it says that God made us pleasant “in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Bringing a burnt offering means that we are aware that God sees us in the value of the work of the Lord Jesus and not on the basis of anything in ourselves.

The peace offering is a fellowship offering. It expresses that through the work of the Lord Jesus, fellowship is possible with God, with the Lord Jesus and with all members of God’s people. A description of this sacrifice can be found in Leviticus 3 and 7 (Lev 3:1-17; Lev 7:11-21). Bringing this offering means that the consciousness is present of the fellowship that exists among the people of God.

Benjamin is also included in this. But because sin cannot have a place in this fellowship – it has been judged and is removed through the work of which this sacrifice speaks – sin must be judged. If there is then to be dealt with public sin among God’s people, it is from the meaning of this sacrifice and not from a personal grievance or a feeling hurt as a group. It is God’s intention that Israel then (and we now) stand on the basis of these sacrifices. We are never in a position to act with someone else before God has been able to act with what is contrary to His Name in our own souls.

Another important aspect is that the whole people are involved. If there are exercises to exercise discipline in a particular case, these exercises should not be limited to a few brothers. It concerns the entire local church. This is not a secret sin, of which only a few know, but something that is generally known.

There is often little strength in the exercise of discipline because the exercise is often limited to a few who show a spiritual mind. If we really come to God’s presence with a disciplinary case, we can no longer be only indignant. Then there is real grief about what has happened among us and where we ourselves are capable of.

There is also talk of “the ark of the covenant of God”. It is the only time that the book of Judges mentions the ark. The ark is a beautiful image of Christ. He is the basis of all the actions of God with us and of our actions for God. By always keeping that in mind, we are preserved from acting in the spirit of being better than the other. A proper judgment of evil and its elimination is no basis for fellowship. Our fellowship as saints is based only on Christ and His death. Only from this position can evil be judged. There, in picture, God must bring His people through the discipline He must allow.

This is not about a comparison between Benjamin and Israel, but about what is evil in the eyes of God and that it should be removed in the way He indicates. He cannot tolerate evil among His people because He dwells among His people. This applies in exactly the same way today for the local church that have gathered together in the Name of the Lord Jesus. He said of this: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:20). Therefore, sin must be removed from a local church.

In the process to which God subjects His people to bring them into the right mind, the name of Phinehas is also mentioned. As noted earlier, this indicates that the period in which this event takes place must be just after the people have arrived in the promised land. Phinehas is a man who has fought for the honor of God in the wilderness. If evil has entered the camp, he judges it by killing the evildoers (Num 25:6-15).

We have to be zealous with God’s zeal and not with our natural feelings. With Phinehas was a holy, priestly and spiritual indignation. With him we can perceive insight into God’s thoughts. That the people come to him to consult the LORD through him also shows us that the people are where they should be.

We can say that Paul is the Phinehas of the New Testament. He has worked hard to make the will of God known in all churches. He has always fought when the believers threatened to deviate from Christ through wrong doctrine or wrong practices. It is to be hoped that each of us wants to be a Phinehas too.

Verses 29-48

The Third Encounter


The third and final meeting between Israel and Benjamin is described in detail. It starts with the laying of ambushes. Here, as in the fight against Ai in Joshua 8, ambushes speak of acknowledging one’s own weakness and counting on the hidden power of God. Victory is achieved by using resources hidden from the enemy. By fleeing, Israel openly acknowledges that it is weak. It does indeed seem weak to flee, but it gives the hidden resources, that is the ambushes, opportunity to do their work.

This is a beautiful illustration of prayer. Lying on your knees resembles weakness, but there is strength in it. Personal humiliation before God is the great secret to overcome. Therein strength is found for every exercise of discipline, both for parents towards their children and for the church towards the evildoers.

It is therefore not Israel that defeats Benjamin, but “the LORD struck Benjamin before Israel” (Jdg 20:35). First, the sons of Benjamin think that they will also be successful the third time. The previous victories have made them confident and even overconfident (Jdg 20:32; 39). But this time God connects His blessing to the strategy Israel has chosen.

As soon as Benjamin leaves the city, the ambushed warriors appear, take possession of the unprotected city and set it on fire. In Deuteronomy 13 we also read about a city that has to be set on fire. That must happen if there are men there who have called for idolatry. It says that that city must be burned “as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God” (Deu 13:16). We can say that Gibeah’s sin is punished just as severely as the idolatry mentioned in Deuteronomy 13.

When the sons of Benjamin see the city burning, the victory tug turns into fear. They can’t believe their eyes, the shock is great. Their lust to fight fades away and they flee. Israel does not grant itself peace and chases the fugitives. In an almost ‘Jehu’s zeal’ they kill almost all the sons of Benjamin.

What the consequences of their far-reaching zeal are, we will see in the next and final chapter. The balance sheet can be drawn up for the time being. The victory is achieved, the evil judged. But there is also loss. Israel has lost about 40,030 men (Jdg 20:21; 25; 31). More than 25,000 men have died of Benjamin, through which the tribe nearly is eradicated. Only 600 men remain.

If someone doesn’t live in self-judgement, by which sin is given a chance to assert itself and others have to engage in it, it always results in loss. If those others are also involved in the removal of that sin in a nonspiritual way, the damage is incalculable. The only way to avoid becoming a source of misery, both for ourselves and for others, is to live in close fellowship with the Lord and in obedience to His Word.

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Judges 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/judges-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.