The Benjamites Refuse to Deliver up the Guilty
v. 1. Then all the children of Israel went out, all housefathers or able-bodied men leaving their homes, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, they assembled as a congregation, with the full consciousness of organic union, from Dan, the most northern town, even to Beersheba, the most southern city, the expression thus denoting a most general participation of the men of Israel, with the land of Gilead, the country east of Jordan, unto the Lord, with the Lord's approval, knowing that their assembly was well-pleasing to Him, in Mizpeh, near the western boundary of Benjamin.
v. 2. And the chief of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, all the officers of the civic organization, of the government, heads of a community of warriors, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword. That was the strength of the army of Israel at that time.
v. 3. (Now, the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel were gone up to Mizpeh. ) They knew of the meeting, had probably been invited to attend, but neither sent representatives, nor did they give any token of horror or indignation over the infamous deed committed in their midst. Then said the children of Israel, in an effort to determine the facts of the case, Tell us, how was this wickedness? The question was directed to the entire assembly, everyone who knew anything of the matter being requested to give the information which he possessed.
v. 4. And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain, at whose instigation the assembly had convened, answered and said, I came into Gibeah that belongeth to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge.
v. 5. And the men of Gibeah, the lords of the city, for they were guilty with their whole city, since they had not prevented the excess, rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night, and thought to have slain me. The crime which the men of Gibeah had intended was really worse than murder, and it would probably have resulted in the Levite's death; he may have been ashamed to speak of the crime by its right name. And my concubine have they forced that she is dead, a victim of their bestial lusts.
v. 6. And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel; for they have committed lewdness, a most unnatural immoral deed, and folly in Israel, a most revolting wickedness, a crime against the entire people.
v. 7. Behold, ye are all children of Israel, familiar with the Lord's condemnation of such wickedness; give here your advice and counsel, they should decide upon a course of action after having passed sentence upon the guilty.
v. 8. And all the people arose as one man, with energetic unanimity, saying, We will not any of us go to his tent, return home, neither will we any of us turn into his house, for even a short stay, until this crime had been avenged.
v. 9. But now, this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah: we will go up by lot against it, in such a manner that the lot should decide which warriors should be actively engaged in the expedition;
v. 10. and we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel and an hundred of a thousand and a thousand out of ten thousand, ten per cent. of the entire army, to fetch victual for the people, to provide food and equipment for the expedition, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel, punishing them in the measure which they deserved for their crime.
v. 11. So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together, a unit in fellowship, as one man, firmly resolved to see this thing through to an end which would please Jehovah and remove the stain from Israel.
v. 12. And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe, the families of the tribe, of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?
v. 13. Now, therefore, deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. By the punishment of the criminals, delivered up to justice by the Benjamites, the requirements of the Law would have been satisfied, and Benjamin itself would have been vindicated. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel, thus becoming partakers in the sin of the citizens of Gibeah. Israel here proved itself to be a congregation of the Lord, in letting itself be ruled and directed by the Lord's Word and will. A true congregation will be zealous for the name and honor of God, also by fighting against all sinful acts and by removing the leaven of wickedness and uncleanness from its midst.
The Reverses of Israel
v. 14. But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities, namely, those of the entire tribe, unto Gibeah, thus placing themselves under the leadership of its wicked chiefs, to go out to battle against the children of Israel.
v. 15. And the children of Benjamin were numbered at that time out of the cities, out of their entire territory, twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, able-bodied warriors, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which were numbered seven hundred chosen men.
v. 16. Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men left-handed, literally, "deprived of the use of their right hand"; everyone could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss. Since the Benjamites at first took up their stand on the heights, these skilful slingers were of special value to them in repelling the attacks of the Israelites.
v. 17. And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, with the exception of this one tribe, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword; all these were men of war.
v. 18. And the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God, to Bethel, where the ark had probably been brought for the duration of this expedition, and asked counsel of God, through the Urim and Thummim of the high priest, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up first, to fight in the vanguard of the army, to open the battle, as the champion of the nation.
v. 19. And the children of Israel rose up in the morning and encamped against Gibeah, they set themselves in battle array.
v. 20. And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel put themselves in array to fight against them at Gibeah.
v. 21. And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, in a sudden, desperate thrust, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites that day, both by slaying and by disabling, twenty and two thousand men. It was a case of overconfidence, of self-righteous assurance on the part of Israel.
v. 22. And the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves, they invested themselves with new strength, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day, anxious to wipe out the disgrace of the first defeat.
v. 23. (And the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until even, truly sorrowful over their display of sinful self-confidence, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin, my brother? The question implies some doubts concerning the justice of their cause. And the Lord said, Go up against him. )
v. 24. And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day, they advanced in a rapid attack.
v. 25. And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again, by slaying, wounding, and disabling eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword, the tenth part of their army had thus been slaughtered or put out of commission.
v. 26. Then all the children of Israel, the soldiers, and all the people, the non-combatants that had come along with the army, went up, and came unto the house of God, apparently again to Bethel, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until evening, in deep sorrow over their own sins, for they felt that these defeats were placed upon them in the nature of a chastisement, in order to teach them humility and trust in God alone, and offered burnt offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord, sacrifices intended to plead for God's merciful assistance.
v. 27. And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord, (for the Ark of the Covenant of God was there in those days,
v. 28. and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days, so these events happened not long after the death of Joshua,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin, my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord, whose object of teaching the Israelites repentance and humility had been attained, said, Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into thine hand. This was not a mere permission, but a definite command, with a promise attached to it. Chastisements, such as the Lord laid upon Israel in this instance, are always beneficial to His children, for they make them realize their absolute dependence upon God and remind them of their many lapses in faithfulness and obedience toward Jehovah.
The Benjamites Defeated and Almost Exterminated
v. 29. And Israel set liers-in-wait round about Gibeah; they no longer relied upon superior force, but made use of strategic arts in placing various details of soldiers in ambush.
v. 30. And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, moving forward to attack the city, and put themselves in array against Gibeah as at other times.
v. 31. And the children of Benjamin, in total ignorance of the ambush in their rear, went out against the people, and were drawn away, torn away, severed, from the city; and they began to smite of the people and kill, to wound, disable, and slay, as at other times, in the highways, at the intersection of two roads, of which one goeth up to the house of God, to Bethel, and the other to Gibeah in the field, to the fields near the city, about thirty men of Israel.
v. 32. And the children of Benjamin said, They are smitten down before us, as at the first. But the children of Israel, relying upon their ambuscade, said, Let us flee, and draw them from the city unto the highways, as just related.
v. 33. And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, they relinquished their advanced position, and put themselves in array, forming a new line of battle, at Baal-tamar (place of palms); and the liers-in-wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah, a slope near the city denuded of forest growth, but probably covered with bushes which offered sufficient shelter to the men in ambush.
v. 34. And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, that being the sum total of the men who had been placed in ambush, and the battle was sore; but they, the Benjamites, knew not that evil was near them, that misfortune had overtaken them.
v. 35. And the Lord smote Benjamin before Israel, this fact being brought out here with great emphasis; and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men; all these drew the sword.
v. 36. So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten, they had thought, when they rushed forward to attack the invading army that the Israelites were once more overcome; for the men of Israel gave place to the Benjamites, because they trusted unto the liers-in-wait, which they had set beside Gibeah.
v. 37. And the liers-in-wait hasted and rushed upon Gibeah, all these details being added here in a description of the battle; and the liers-in-wait drew themselves along, they moved forward steadily, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword.
v. 38. Now there was an appointed sign, one which both the attacking party and the ambush had agreed upon, between the men of Israel and the liers-in-wait, that they should make a great flame with smoke, a mighty pillar which could not be overlooked, rise up out of the city.
v. 39. And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons, as related above,
v. 31. for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us as in the first battle.
v. 40. But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the whole city, apparently, going up in smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the flame of the city ascended up to heaven, literally, "there went up the whole of the city heavenward. "
v. 41. And when the men of Israel turned again, making a sudden firm stand after their apparent flight, the men of Benjamin were amazed, filled with terror; for they saw that evil was come upon them.
v. 42. Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness, trying to escape toward the northeast; but the battle overtook them; and them which came out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them, literally, "and they out of the cities destroyed them in their midst," that is, wherever the fugitives came, the inhabitants of the cities fell upon them and slew them, for the feeling again et Benjamin was bitter everywhere.
v. 43. Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, completely surrounding them, and chased them, and trode them down with ease, or, from Menuchah, over against Gibeah toward the sun-rising.
v. 44. And there fell of Benjamin, in this part of the battle, eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valor.
v. 45. And they turned, trying to escape in another direction, and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon, about fifteen miles north of Jerusalem; and they, the Israelites, gleaned of them, killed in this running skirmish after the main battle, in the highways five thousand men; and pursued hard after them unto Gidom, in the direction toward Rimmon, and slew two thousand men of them.
v. 46. So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valor. This is a round number, the exact number included one hundred men more,
v. 35. In addition, there were evidently a thousand men who had fallen in the first battles, making the total of the slain Benjamites twenty-six thousand and one hundred.
v. 47. But six hundred men turned and tied to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, they effected their escape and fortified themselves in the fastnesses of this rocky wilderness, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.
v. 48. And the men of Israel, in a fury which knew no mercy, turned again upon the children of Benjamin, on the defenseless part of the population, old people, women, and children, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city as the beast, and all that came to hand, whatever living thing they happened to strike; also they set on fire all the cities that they came to. It was a campaign of extermination much more savage than any undertaken against any of the heathen nations. But it was the punishment of God upon the tribe which had taken the part of the criminals of Gibeah; for the holiness of God cannot bear the abominations of the heathen in the midst of His people. All those who know His command and truth, and still persist in doing according to the manner of the heathen, should be excluded from the company of the believers, eventually to be punished by the wrath of Him who is a jealous God.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Judges 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany