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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 20

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-9


(vv. 1-13)

All the tribes were united in their insistence that judgment must be carried out against those who were guilty of criminal abuse and murder.They did not have the same zeal for God's glory in judging the idolatry of Dan. In fact, Dan was included in the stand against this moral wickedness. Dan wanted to cast out the speck in his brother's eye while ignoring the plank in this own eye! (Matthew 7:4)

These tribes gathered at Mizpah (vv.1-2), and heard from the Levite the account of what had happened at Gibeah (vv. 4-6). He then appealed to them as Israelites, to give counsel andadvice as to what to do (v. 7). Israel agreed together to take ten men out of every hundred in their tribes to go against Gibeah, all being united as one man with no dissenting voice (vv.8-11).

Yet, rather than attacking first, they sent messengers through the tribe of Benjamin, focusing on the great wickedness that had taken place in Gibeah and demanding that the perverted men be delivered up to suffer for it.It may have been wiser to appeal first to the city of Gibeah to give up these men, in which case great bloodshed might have been avoided, but if this was not done, still the tribe of Benjamin ought to have responded positively to this request, though it was given more in the form of a demand than a request. But they refused, thus expressing their approval of the wicked actions of these men and defending them.


(vv. 14-48)

Thus Benjamin, foolishly taking sides with wickedness, gathered their armies to fight against Israel (v. 14). They had 26,000 warriors as well as 700 men of Gibeah. Among this 26,700 were 700 left handed men who were expert with slingshots, so that Benjamin was a formidable warrior tribe (vv. 15-16). Israel's army numbered 400,000, over 15 times the size of Benjamin (v.17).Therefore, it would be natural to think that Israel should triumph. However, Israel knew they should inquire of God, and asked Him which tribe should go first, and were told, "Judah first"(v. 18). Judah means "praise," but Israel was more intent on revenge than on praise, and did not realize their attitude was wrong.

If we think we can triumph over evil, we shall find ourselves badly defeated, as Israel did, for on the first attack they were defeated with the slaughter of 22,000 men (v. 21). Should this be surprising to us? No, it should not, for if we judge others without first judging ourselves, God will cause us to be humiliated.

Instead of being broken down before the Lord, however, Israel "encouraged themselves," but it is not said "in the Lord," as was the case with David in 1 Samuel 30:6. Yet they wept before the Lord and asked the Lord's counsel as to going against Benjamin. In fact, they say, "My brother Benjamin, "which showed at least a better attitude than that of anger (v. 23).

When Israel asked the Lord, "Shall I go up against my brother Benjamin," God told them to go, for His judgment against evil must be carried out. But why did they not ask the Lord what was the reason for their shameful defeat before? They did not ask this, and God did not answer any more than they had asked.

Therefore, when they went out the second day, Benjamin repeated their conquest of Israel, killing another 18,000 men (v. 25). What a terrible toll to pay in seeking the just judgment of the wicked men of Gibeah! But this has a lesson for us, telling us that sin is far too strong for us. We can never gain the victory over it in our own strength. Even a majority cannot win in such a battle. Only God can defeat the awful power that sin has wielded in raising itself against His people.

The second defeat of Israel shocked them enough to add fasting to their weeping. Fasting is symbolic of self-judgment, which is always vitally important when we think of judging others. But this was not all. They also offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord(v. 26). Fasting was an admission of their own unworthiness, which is the negative side, but the offerings speak positively, for they picture the one great offering of the Lord Jesus on Calvary, which is the only basis for either forgiveness of sins or for judging sin.So that in offering these sacrifices, Israel was giving God the place that is rightly His.The burnt offering reminds us that the glory of God is paramount, for this all ascended in fire to God. If Israel's motives were only for their own relief, this is not good enough. God's glory is far more important than Israel's honor. Yet the peace offering (in which the offerer had a share (Leviticus 7:1-15), was added to indicate Israel's sharing with God in the value of the sacrifice of Christ, which would give Israel the right to share with God's work in judging evil.

At this time too we are told that the ark of God was present and Phinehas the priest stood before the ark to enquire of God (v. 28). Phinehas pictures the Lord Jesus as our Great High Priest, and the ark reminds us of Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God, the One therefore in absolute authority. Priesthood speaks of His compassionate intercession, a lovely complement of His authority.

Thus, we are to learn that when God is given His true place and Christ is given His place, there will be no more defeat.The Lord told Israel, "Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand" (v. 28).

However, the battle was not an easy one. Israel set men in ambush all around Gibeah (v. 29) and others advanced toward the city (v. 30). The Benjamites came out and began to strike down and kill some of the Israelites, about thirty men (v. 30). The Benjamites were evidently strong, determined warriors, and thought they were in command of the situation again (v. 32). The Israelites encouraged this vain confidence of Benjamin by fleeing before Benjamin, but with the object of drawing them away from the city. Thus the forces of Benjamin were divided, and Israel's men in ambush burst forth from their places and ten thousand select men of Israel came against Gibeah (vv. 33-34). The men of Benjamin did not even suspect they were in a desperate situation.

But it was the Lord who defeated Benjamin before Israel (v.35), enabling them this time to destroy 25,100 Benjamites.This was a terrible decimation, for their entire army had numbered only 26,700, leaving only 1600 who were not killed. But it was still not as many as those of Israel killed by Benjamin!


(vvs. 36-48)

These last verses in the chapter form are capitulation of the victory of Israel that caused Benjamin to realize they were defeated (v. 36). The men of Israel had retreated at first from Benjamin because they relied on those who were in ambush, who, after the greater part of Benjamin's army was drawn away, rushed to attack the city (v. 37). They captured Gibeah without difficulty and set in on fire.The signal for the rest of Israel's army had been appointed as a cloud of smoke rising from the city (v. 38).

Therefore, when the Benjamites thought they were winning, the great cloud of smoke arose from Gibeah. Not only did the men of Israel see it, but also the Benjamites who were pursuing them (v. 40). The fleeing army of Israel turned back to face Benjamin; and Benjamin, seeing they were trapped between two companies of Israelites and that the one company had already vanquished Gibeah, were panic stricken (v. 41). They turned to one side and ran toward the wilderness, but the Israelites were prepared for this and therefore overtook Benjamin, surrounding them and "easily trampling them down" (v. 43).

In this first onslaught 18,000 men of Benjamin were killed (v. 44).The rest turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon. Israel pursued them relentlessly, killing 5000 of them on the highways and another 2000 who were able to flee farther into the wilderness (v. 45). Thus the total number of Benjamin killed was 25,000, all capable warriors.

Though Benjamin had been defeated with a terrible slaughter, there were 600 of their men who were able to escape to the Rock of Rimmon in the wilderness and remained there for four months (v.47). But Israel was not content with gaining the victory. In returning they burned the cities they came to in Benjamite territory and killed both men and beasts (v. 48). If the 600 men had not escaped, what would have happened to the tribe of Benjamin?

This whole history is extremely sad. Counting the men of Israel killed, -- 22,000 and 18,000 -- plus those killed in the last engagement, added to the 25,100 of Benjamin, the total number of deaths was over 65,000! If only Benjamin had honorably judged the men who were guilty of the horrible crime against the woman, this would have avoided the awesome slaughter of so many thousands. It is a lesson for us, a warning not to take sides with evil in any way.It will bring dire results, as well as being a dishonor to God.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Joshua 20". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/joshua-20.html. 1897-1910.
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