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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Judges 20

Introduction

A.M. 2598. B.C. 1406.

The Levite’s cause heard in a general convention of the tribes, Judges 20:1-7 . They resolve to avenge his quarrel, Judges 20:8-11 . The Benjamites assemble in defence of the criminals, Judges 20:12-17 . The defeat of Israel in the first two battles, Judges 20:18-25 . They humble themselves before God, Judges 20:26-28 . The total rout of the Benjamites, Judges 20:29-48 .

Verse 1

Judges 20:1. All the children of Israel went out Namely, the principal persons out of their respective cities, who were appointed to represent the rest. As one man That is, with one consent. Dan, &c. Dan was the northern border of the land, near Lebanon; and Beer-sheba the southern border. Gilead Beyond Jordan, where Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh were. To the Lord As to the Lord’s tribunal; for God was not only present in the place where the ark and tabernacle were, but also in the assemblies of the gods, or judges, (Psalms 82:1,) and in all places where God’s name is recorded, (Exodus 20:24,) and where two or three are met together in his name. Mizpeh A place on the borders of Judah and Benjamin. This they chose, as a place they used to meet in upon solemn occasions, for its convenient situation for all the tribes within and without Jordan; and as being near the place where the fact was done, that it might be more thoroughly examined; and not far from Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, whither they might go or send.

Verse 2

Judges 20:2. Four hundred thousand The number is here set down, to show their zeal and forwardness in punishing such a villany; the strange blindness of the Benjamites, that durst oppose so great and united a body; and that the success of battles depends not upon great numbers, seeing this great host was twice defeated by the Benjamites.

Verse 3

Judges 20:3. The children of Benjamin heard Like persons unconcerned and resolved, they neither went nor sent thither: partly through their own pride and stubbornness; partly because, as they were loath to give up any of their brethren to justice, so they presumed the other tribes would never proceed to war against them; and partly from a divine infatuation, hardening that wicked tribe to their own destruction. Tell us They speak to the Levite, and his servant, and his host, who doubtless were present upon this occasion.

Verses 5-6

Judges 20:5-6. Slain me Except I would either submit to their unnatural lust, which I was resolved to withstand even unto death, or deliver up my concubine to them, which I was forced to do. Lewdness and folly That is, a lewd folly; most ignominious and impudent wickedness.

Verses 7-8

Judges 20:7-8. Ye are The sons of that holy man, who, for one filthy action, left an eternal brand upon one of his own sons: a people in covenant with the holy God, whose honour you are obliged to vindicate, and who hath expressly commanded you to punish all such notorious enormities. We will not any of us go to his tent That is, his habitation, until we have revenged this injury.

Verses 9-10

Judges 20:9-10. We will go up by lot against it They probably cast lots who should go, and who should stay at home to provide the necessary supplies. According to all the folly that they have wrought That we may punish them as such wickedness deserves. In Israel This is added as an aggravation, that they should do that in Israel, or among God’s peculiar people, which was esteemed abominable even among the heathen. “The abhorrence of the crime” of the Gibeathites “here expressed, and the determination of the Israelites to punish the criminals, were very proper, but they seem to have acted with too much precipitation and resentment. There were with them also sins against the Lord: the abomination of Gibeah was both an evidence and effect of national degeneracy; and it called for deep humiliation and lamentation, that such wickedness had been wrought in Israel, as well as for indignation against the criminals. They ought to have begun with personal and national repentance and reformation; with solemn sacrifices and earnest supplications. This was required in other wars, (Deuteronomy 23:9,) much more in such a war as this.” Scott.

Verse 12

Judges 20:12. The tribes of Israel sent men, &c. Before they marched forward they sent an embassy to the Benjamites, to complain of the wickedness that had been committed, and the injury that had been done by some of their tribe, and to demand that the offenders might be delivered up to justice. This was a wise and just course, that the innocent might be separated from the guilty, and a fair opportunity given them of preventing their own ruin by doing what their duty, honour, and interest laid them under an indispensable obligation to do; by delivering up those vile malefactors, whom they could not keep without bringing the curse of God upon themselves. But why did not these tribes of Israel show equal zeal against the conduct of the idolatrous Danites, which, as the last-mentioned author observes, “though less destructive to the peace of society, more immediately struck at the honour of God and the interests of religion?” Could this be owing to any thing else than the very low state of religion among them, and their indifference and unconcern about the honour of God? And yet idolatry was the only crime on account of which they were commanded to levy war against their brethren.

Verse 13

Judges 20:13. That we may put away evil from Israel Both the guilt and punishment wherein all Israel will be involved if they do not punish it. The children of Benjamin would not hearken From the pride of their hearts, which made them scorn to submit to their brethren; from a conceit of their own valour; and from God’s just judgment. Certainly the degeneracy among them must have been very great, and it is probable the offenders might be men of considerable rank and power, which made the Benjamites refuse to deliver them up.

Verse 15

Judges 20:15. Twenty and six thousand men “How does this agree with the following numbers; for all that were slain of Benjamin were twenty-five thousand and one hundred men, (Judges 20:35,) and there were only six hundred that survived, (Judges 20:47,) which make only twenty-five thousand and seven hundred?” We answer, The other thousand men were either left in some of their cities, where they were slain, (Judges 20:48,) or were cut off in the first two battles, wherein it is unreasonable to think they had an unbloody victory: and as for these twenty-five thousand and one hundred men, they were all slain in the third battle.

Verse 16

Judges 20:16. Could sling stones at a hair’s breadth, and not miss A hyperbolical expression, signifying that they could do this with great exactness. This extraordinary skill in their arms (for it is likely they handled other weapons with the like dexterity) and their natural courage, imboldened the Benjamites with such a small number to undertake a war against such a vast multitude of their brethren, the other Israelites; which warlike disposition of theirs was foretold by Jacob, for he said of them, when he spake of the character and fortune of each tribe, (Genesis 49:27,) Benjamin shall raven as a wolf, which is an undaunted, fearless creature.

Verse 17

Judges 20:17 . The men of Israel were four hundred thousand That is, those that were here present, for it is probable they had a far greater number of men, being six hundred thousand before their entrance into Canaan.

Verse 18

Judges 20:18. The children of Israel arose Some sent in the name of all; and went up to the house of God To Shiloh, which was not far from Mizpeh; and asked counsel of God By Urim and Thummim, as they did Judges 1:1. The Targum has it, They asked counsel by the word of the Lord. Which of us shall go up first? This was asked to prevent emulations and contentions: but they do not ask whether they should go against them or not; nor yet do they seek to God for his help by prayer, and fasting, and sacrifice, as in all reason they ought to have done; but were confident of success, because of their great numbers and righteous cause.

Verses 19-20

Judges 20:19-20. The children of Israel encamped against Gibeah It seems from these words that Judah only led the van, as we now speak, and stood in the front of the battle, to make the first assault; but that all the rest went up with them. Israel went out to battle against Benjamin When the Benjamites heard that Israel were encamped against Gibeah, they came to the relief of it; and the Israelites marched out of their camp to engage them.

Verse 21

Judges 20:21. The children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah Those forces which were left in Gibeah for its defence issued out upon the Israelites in their rear, while the other Benjamites fought against them in front. And destroyed that day twenty and two thousand Since they were engaged in so good a cause, and God himself bid them go up, it may seem strange that they should receive such a defeat. But it is to be observed, he only bid them go, but did not promise them success. And undoubtedly they were highly blameable that they did not ask counsel of him in such an important matter as going to war with their brethren. For we find they absolutely determined upon it without doing so, and only inquired who should be in the van of their army. The Benjamites certainly deserved punishment. But to engage with them in a civil war was certainly what they ought not to have done without consulting God. It may be, if they had done so, God would have directed them to have sent another message, and that in HIS name, to the Benjamites, which might have had the desired effect, without proceeding to shed the blood of brethren, and exposing their own to be shed by brethren in such an awful manner. Add to this, that these tribes had many and great sins reigning among themselves, and they should not have proceeded to so great a work with polluted hands; but should have pulled the beam out of their own eye, before they attempted to take that out of their brother Benjamin’s eye: which, because they did not, God doth it for them, bringing them through the fire, that they might be purged from their dross. And God would hereby show, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. We must never lay that weight on an arm of flesh which only the Rock of ages will bear.

Verses 22-23

Judges 20:22-23. The men of Israel encouraged Hebrew, strengthened themselves, supporting themselves with the consciousness of the justice of their cause, and putting themselves in better order for defending themselves, and annoying their enemies. The children of Israel wept Not so much for their sins, as for their defeat and loss. My brother They impute their ill success, not to their own sins, but to their taking up arms against their brethren. But still they persist in their former neglect of seeking God’s assistance in the way which he had appointed, as they themselves acknowledged presently, by doing those very things which now they neglected.

Verse 26

Judges 20:26. All the people went up Not only all the warriors, but other people. And wept, and sat before the Lord Sensible of their not having been before truly humbled for their sins, which they seem now to discover to have been the cause of their ill success. And fasted that day until even That they might afflict their souls, and become truly penitent. This they had not done before, at least not with such seriousness as they now did. And offered burnt-offerings To make atonement to God for their own sins, and to offer to him solemn supplications for the pardon of them. Which things also they had neglected before. And peace-offerings To bless God for sparing so many of them, whereas he might justly have cut them all off when their brethren were slain: to implore his assistance, yea, and to give thanks for the victory which now they were confident he would give them.

Verse 27

Judges 20:27. The children of Israel inquired of the Lord They had inquired of the Lord before, but not as they ought to have done. For, confiding in the justice of their cause, and their vast forces, they seem to have made but slight and languid addresses to God before they undertook the war.

Verse 28

Judges 20:28. Phinehas the son of Eleazar This is added to give us light respecting the time of this history, and to show, that this war did not take place in the order in which it is here recorded, after the death of Samson, but long before; probably not long after the death of Joshua. Stood before it Namely, the ark: that is, ministered as high-priest. Against the children of Benjamin my brother This is a more humble inquiry than either of the former. At first they only asked what tribe should first go up, presuming that the war ought to be made; and the second time, only whether God would have them renew the fight. But now they ask whether they should proceed in the war or desist altogether. That is, they leave the matter wholly to God’s will and pleasure, desiring to take no further step, if he did not see fit to accompany them with his blessing. Accordingly, as they now sought God after the due order, truly humbled themselves for their sins, and resigned themselves and the whole business up to his direction and disposal, he condescended to give them a gracious answer, assuring them of a speedy victory.

Verses 29-30

Judges 20:29-30. Israel set liers in wait Though they were assured of the success, by a particular promise, yet they did not neglect the use of means; as well knowing that the certainty of God’s promises doth not excuse, but rather require, man’s diligent use of all fit means for the accomplishment of them. The children of Israel That is, a considerable part of them, who were ordered to make the first attack, and then to counterfeit flight, to draw the Benjamites forth from their strong hold. See Judges 20:32.

Verse 34

Judges 20:34. Ten thousand chosen men These seem to have been a detachment from the main body, which was at Baal-tamar, and marched to attack Gibeah on one side, while the liers in wait assaulted it on the other, and while the great body of the army laboured to intercept the Benjamites, who, having pursued the Israelites that pretended to flee, now endeavoured to retreat to Gibeah. The battle was sore; but they knew not, &c. The Benjamites fought stoutly; but were not sensible of the danger they were in to be destroyed.

Verses 36-37

Judges 20:36-37. The children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten Namely, when they saw the flame in Gibeah, as mentioned Judges 20:40. But after these words, in the following part of the verse, begins a relation of the whole day’s action, the particulars of which are related in the following verses. The liers in wait drew themselves along Or extended themselves; whereas before they lay close, and contracted into a narrow compass, now they spread themselves, and marched in rank and file as armies do.

Verse 40

Judges 20:40. The Benjamites looked behind them It is likely the Israelites shouted when they turned about to fall upon the Benjamites, which made them look back to see what unexpected supplies they had received. Then they saw their city on fire, which, with the sudden turning of the Israelites from flight to attack them, quite put them in confusion.

Verses 44-45

Judges 20:44-45. There fell eighteen thousand Namely, in the field of battle. They gleaned of them five thousand A metaphor from those who gather grapes or corn so cleanly and fully that they leave no relics for those who come after them. The Benjamites could not flee in a body, but scattered up and down the highways, where the Israelites picked up five thousand more and slew them.

Verse 46

Judges 20:46. Twenty and five thousand Besides the odd hundred expressed Judges 20:35; but here only the great number is mentioned, the less being omitted, as inconsiderable. Here are also a thousand more omitted, because he speaks only of them who fell in that third day of battle.

Verse 48

Judges 20:48. The men of Israel turned again, &c. Left their pursuit of the Benjamites in the wilderness, and turned toward the country of Benjamin. Those that came to Gibeah and into the field, whom the Israelites had already destroyed, were men that drew the sword, that is, soldiers. But there were a great many husbandmen, shepherds, and others, whom, in their fury, they now slew. And all that came to hand Even women and children. For they had devoted to destruction all that came not up to Mizpeh, when they were summoned, (Judges 21:5,) which none of the Benjamites did; for which reason they slew also the men, women, and children of Jabesh-gilead, Judges 21:10. But this was certainly a most inhuman barbarity, expressly contrary to the laws of God, which had forbidden the innocent to be punished with the guilty, Deuteronomy 24:16.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 20". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/judges-20.html. 1857.