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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Judges 20

Verses 1-48

Judges 20:1-48

The men of Israel turned again upon the children of BenJamin.

From justice to wild revenge

It may be asked how, while polygamy was practised among the Israelites, the sin of Gibeah could rouse such indignation and awaken the signal vengeance of the united tribes. The answer is to be found partly in the singular and dreadful device which the indignant husband used in making the deed known. Womanhood must have been stirred to the fiercest indignation, and manhood was bound to follow. Further, there is the fact that the woman so foully murdered, though a concubine, was the concubine of a Levite. The measure of sacredness with which the Levites were invested gave to this crime, frightful enough in any view, the colour of sacrilege. There could be no blessing on the tribes if they allowed the doers or condoners of this thing to go unpunished. It is therefore not incredible, but appears simply in accordance with the instincts and customs proper to the Hebrew people, that the sin of Gibeah should provoke overwhelming indignation. There is no pretence of purity, no hypocritical anger. The feeling is sound and real. Perhaps in no other matter of a moral kind would there have been such intense and unanimous exasperation. A point of justice or of belief would not have so moved the tribes. The better self of Israel appears asserting its claim and power. And the miscreants of Gibeah representing the lower self, verily an unclean spirit, are detested and denounced on every hand. Now the people of Gibeah were not all vile. The wretches whose crime called for judgment were but the rabble of the town. And we can see that the tribes, when they gathered in indignation, were made serious by the thought that the righteous might be punished with the wicked. Not without the suffering of the entire community is a great evil to be purged from a land. It is easy to execute a murderer, to imprison a felon. But the spirit of the murderer, of the felon, is widely diffused, and that has to be cast out. In the great moral struggle the better have not only the openly vile, but all who are tainted, all who are weak in soul, loose in habit, secretly sympathetie with the vile, arrayed against them. When an assault is made on some vile custom the sardonic laugh is heard of those who find their profit and their pleasure in it. They feel their power. They know the wide sympathy with them spread secretly through the land. Once and again the feeble attempt of the good is repelled. The tide turned, and there came another danger, that which waits on ebullitions of popular feeling. A crowd roused to anger is hard to control, and the tribes having once tasted vengeance, did not cease till Benjamin was almost exterminated. Justice overshot its mark, and for one evil made another. Those who had most fiercely used the sword viewed the result with horror and amazement, for a tribe was lacking in Israel. Nor was this the end of slaughter. Next, for the sake of Benjamin the sword was drawn, and the men of Jabesh-gilead were butchered. The warning conveyed here is intensely keen. It is that men, made doubtful by the issue of their actions whether they have done wisely, may fly to the resolution to justify themselves, and may do so even at the expense of justice; that a nation may pass from the right way to the wrong, and then, having sunk to extraordinary baseness and malignity, may turn, writhing and self-condemned, to add cruelty to cruelty in the attempt to still the upbraidings of conscience. It is that men in the heat of passion which began with resentment against evil may strike at those who have not joined in their errors as well as those who truly deserve reprobation. We stand, nations and individuals, in constant danger of dreadful extremes, a kind of insanity hurrying us on when the blood is heated by strong emotion. Blindly attempting to do right, we do evil; and again, having done the evil, we blindly strive to remedy it by doing more. In times of moral darkness and chaotic social conditions, when men are guided by a few rude principles, things are done that afterwards appal themselves, and yet may become an example for future outbreaks. During the fury of their Revolution, the French people, with some watchwords of the true ring, as liberty, fraternity, turned hither and thither, now in terror, now panting after dimly-seen justice or hope, and it was always from blood to blood. We understand the juncture in ancient Israel, and realise the excitement and the rage of a self-jealous people when we read the modern tales of surging ferocity in which men appear now hounding the shouting crowd to vengeance, then shuddering on the scaffold. In private life the story has an application against wild and violent methods of self-vindication. Passing to the final expedient adopted by the chiefs of Israel to rectify their error--the rape of the women at Shiloh--we see only to how pitiful a pass moral blundering brings those who fall into it. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/judges-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.