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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Judges 20

Verse 1

CHAP. XX.

The eleven tribes demand from the Benjamites, that the authors of the cruelty against the Levite's concubine be delivered up: they are conquered in two battles, but in a third overcome the Benjamites, of whom five and twenty thousand fall that day: six hundred of them fly to the rock Rimmon, and abide there four months.

Before Christ 1426.

Judges 20:1. In Mizpeh Mizpeh was very conveniently situated for a meeting of all the people, as it stood on the confines of Judah and Benjamin, and was very near to Shiloh; so that they could easily consult the Divine Oracle on any occasion. Hence Josephus tells us, that this congregation met at Shiloh. The phrase, unto the Lord, does not imply that the ark was there, God being present in an especial manner where all his people assembled. See 2 Samuel 5:3. The word rendered chief in the next verse, signifies corners, alluding to the corner-stone, which is the strength and support of a building. Hence Christ is called in Scripture the chief corner-stone. See Lowman on Civ. Gov. of the Hebrews, chap. 9: Judges 10:14 :

Verse 9

Judges 20:9. To Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it Houbigant renders this more properly, we will draw lots against Gibea.

REFLECTIONS.—Fired with holy zeal against such a crying enormity, the whole congregation assembles in Mizpeh, near Shiloh; that they may not only deliberate, but consult God's mind and will in the matter. Four hundred thousand men, under their captains of hundreds and thousands, furnished with weapons of war, are ready to put in force the sentence which shall be resolved upon. The children of Benjamin alone, though acquainted with the assembling of Israel, and the cause of it, refuse to come up, and determine to protect the delinquents, becoming thereby parties in the crime, ex post facto, by their vindication of it.

1. A solemn examination and deposition is taken from the Levite, and probably the old man and his servant, who were present, Judges 20:3. The circumstances of the story are related and confirmed. Such lewdness and cruelty, especially in Israel, deserved, no doubt, a most severe scourge: he refers himself for this to their wise and vigorous resolutions; as children of Israel, who would wipe off such a defiling stain from among them. Note; (1.) Lewdness in Israel is doubly criminal. (2.) Before we proceed to judgment, the evidence should be clear and distinct. (3.) They who are God's people will at least, by their conduct, testify their abhorrence of the iniquity which may be found among them, and cut off from their communion the wicked person.

2. The fact being indubitable, their resolution is unanimous. They swear never to separate till they have obtained satisfaction; and in order that the army may be supplied in their encampment before Gibeah, forty thousand men are deputed to provide forage and provisions. Note; It is good to be zealously affected in the cause of God, and without delay carry our purposes into action.

Verse 15

Judges 20:15. Which were numbered seven hundred chosen men It is said in the 46th verse, that there fell of the Benjamites on the third day twenty-five thousand. In the 47th verse, that there remained from the slaughter six hundred, which number makes twenty-five thousand six hundred men; there remained therefore four hundred to make up the twenty-six thousand, besides the Gibeathites: we may suppose these men to have perished in the two battles of the first and second day; for the sacred history does not relate how many fell in the victorious army. For the phrase, left-handed, see the note on chap. Judges 3:15. The excellence of the Benjamites, noted in the next clause, has been remarkable in men of other countries, particularly in the men of the islands anciently called Baleares, where they were bred from children to hit a mark with a stone slung out of a sling, or else to lose their breakfast. See Strabo in Boch. Hieroz. pars 1: lib. 3 cap. 10 and Calmet on the place. This warlike disposition of the Benjamites was foretold, Genesis 49:27. We should just observe, that the men of Israel, in the embassy they sent, and the whole method of their proceedings, acted agreeably to the law of nature and nations, while the Benjamites shewed themselves extremely depraved, and most deficient in justice. But for more on this subject, we refer to Grotius de Bell. et Pace, lib. 2: cap. 21 sect. 4.

REFLECTIONS.—As wise men, who, not for revenge, but for the glory of God, desired the execution of the criminals; 1. They sent to their brethren of the tribe of Benjamin, to admonish them of the great wickedness that had been perpetrated among them, and to demand the delivery of the offenders, to put them to death. Note; (1.) We are bound to follow peace with all men, and must with reluctance have recourse to severer methods. (2.) If our traitor-sins are withheld, there can be no hopes of peace with God. (3.) It is cruelty to the community to spare those who, for atrocious crimes, are deserving of death.

2. The men of Benjamin reject their reasonable demand, thinking it beneath them to submit. They are, indeed, unequal in numbers, and more unequal in the badness of their cause; yet such confidence have they in the courage and dexterity of their slingers, that they dare meet their brethren in the field. Note; (1.) They who countenance others in their sins are justly reckoned alike criminal with them. (2.) Proud self-dependence is the ruin of the sinner's soul. (3.) They who draw the sword in a bad cause, may expect to see it bathed in their own blood.

Verse 28

Judges 20:28. And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, &c.— This was that Phinehas who had signalized his zeal for the glory of God on a former occasion. See Numbers 25:0. Had this war been posterior to the death of Samson, Phinehas must have been above three hundred years old; but, as we have before remarked, its epocha was between the death of Joshua and the appointment of the first judge. The Alexandrian Chronicle assigns only twenty-five years to the priesthood of Phinehas, and mentions three other priests between him and Eli. See Selden de Success. in Pontif. lib. 1: cap. 2. It has appeared surprising to many, that the Israelites should have been defeated in this manner by the Benjamites, when they seem not only to have had justice, but the approbation of God on their side. Now, besides the general answer given from the secret purposes and wisdom of God, who might intend to humble them, and shew them their absolute dependence upon him, it has been observed, that they took this warlike step, not by his appointment, but wholly of themselves, without consulting the Divine oracle; which, as God was the king of their nation, was a kind of high treason against him: nor does it by any means appear, whether they were actuated by a zeal for his glory, or by private pique and prejudice only; since the rest of their conduct implies no such zeal, as the state of things among them, particularly their allowance of Micah and his idols, shews. In the 18th verse, it is true, they ask counsel of God; but not whether they should go to war with Benjamin or not; they only ask, who of them shall go up first against Benjamin; a proper answer to which question is given, but no success promised. Convinced, no doubt, of the impropriety of their conduct by their ill success, and having duly humbled themselves before the Lord, they now, by Phinehas, applying properly, are answered, and succeed accordingly, They who would see this matter more fully defended may consult Leland on the Div. Auth. of the Old and New Testament, vol. 1: cap. 8 and Psalmanazar's 4th Essay.

Verses 42-43

Judges 20:42-43. But the battle overtook them, &c.— Houbigant renders this, but the battle overtook them, from the liers in wait, who came, surrounded them, and destroyed them on every side; moreover they pursued them, and trod them under foot, from Noah, even to the east side of Gibeah. See his note.

REFLECTIONS.—Confounded at their repeated losses, the whole congregation assemble before the Lord at Shiloh. 1. In deep affliction they compass God's altar, humbling their souls under a sense of conscious guilt, and crying for pardon and help from him who alone can save either body or soul from ruin. They offer sacrifices of atonement, and peace-offerings; and having now rejected every vain confidence, and inquired of God, not only whether they should go up, but whether they should succeed, God gives them assurance of victory, and bids them draw near to the battle. Note; (1.) When in true humiliation the soul is brought low before God, the end of its suffering is near. (2.) It is by the one great sacrifice alone, that the sinner can hope for the favour and presence of God.

2. On the divine warrant, they now draw near to the battle, and with a success equal to their most sanguine wishes. Having contrived an ambush near Gibeah, as at Ai, the army advances; but when the Benjamites come forth they retire precipitately. The Benjamites, concluding that they were smitten as before, eagerly pursue, and about thirty men are slain in the retreat. But now the men of Gibeah and Benjamin being at a distance, the ambush arises, and the defenceless city is seized and burnt. At the sight of the ascending smoke, the signal given, the men of Israel face about at Baal-tamar: the battle is renewed; the Benjamites look back, and too late discover the evil which had overtaken them. They are attacked in front and rear at once, routed with ease, and, hemmed in as they are, flight is vain. Eighteen thousand are slain on the spot; five thousand in the pursuit, and two thousand at Gidom, a place to which they had fled, or where they made a stand. Thus the very name of Benjamin had been blotted out, if six hundred men had not escaped to the rock Rimmon; for, in their heat, or for their oath's sake in Mizpeh, they fell upon the cities, burnt them, slew men, women, and children, and every living creature, as they had done by the devoted Canaanites, and left the land swept as with the besom of destruction. Note; (1.) What desolation does sin make on the earth! (2.) It is in vain to fight where God is our foe, or to fly when he pursues. (3.) When God awakes to judgment in the last day, not a sinner shall escape; no rock can then hide, no mountain cover him.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Judges 20". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/judges-20.html. 1801-1803.