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Bible Commentaries
Judges 20

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-17


Judges 20:1

Went out, i.e. from their several homes to the place of meeting. The congregation. The technical term (not, however, found in Samuel and Kings, except in 1 Kings 12:20) for the whole Israelitish people (Exodus 12:3; Exodus 16:1, Exodus 16:2, Exodus 16:9; Le Exodus 4:15; Joshua 18:1, etc.). From Dan to Beersheba. Dan, or Laish (Judges 18:29), being the northernmost point, and Beersheba (now Bir-es-saba, the springs so called) in the south of Judah the southernmost. It cannot be inferred with certainty from this expression that the Danite occupation of Laish had taken place at this time, though it may have done so, because we do not know when this narrative was written, and the phrase is only used as a proverbial expression familiar in the writer's time. The land of Gilead. In its widest sense, meaning the whole of trans-Jordanic Israel (see Judges 10:8; Judges 11:1, etc.). Mizpeh, or, as it is always written in Hebrew, ham-Mizpeh, with the article (see Judges 21:1). The Mizpeh here mentioned is not the same as the Mizpeh of Judges 10:17; Judges 11:11, Judges 11:29, Judges 11:34, which was in Gilead, but was situated in the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26). That it was a national place of meeting in the time of Samuel is clear from 1 Samuel 7:5-12, and we learn from 1 Samuel 7:16 of that same chapter that it was one of the places to which Samuel went on circuit. We find it a place of national meeting also in 1 Samuel 10:17, and even so late as 2 Kings 25:23, and in the time of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 3:46). Its vicinity to Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, was probably one reason why it was made a centre to the whole congregation (see especially 1 Samuel 10:17, 1 Samuel 10:22, 1 Samuel 10:25). Its exact site is not known with certainty, but it is thought to be that of Nebi Samuil, from which Jerusalem is seen at about two hours' distance to the south-east. Unto the Lord, i.e. in the presence of the tabernacle, which was doubtless brought there, on so solemn an occasion, from Shiloh.

Judges 20:2

The chief. The word here used means the corner-stones of a building. Hence it is applied to the chief men, who, as it were, bind and keep together the whole people. Their presence at this great meeting is mentioned to show that it was a regularly constituted assembly of all Israel. The same phrase occurs 1 Samuel 14:38, and Isaiah 19:13 (the stay of the tribes, A.V.). The numbers (400,000) are of course those of the whole congregation. The assembly of the people of God. So, Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4, Israel is called the congregation of the Lord; and Nehemiah 13:1, the congregation of God. Not dissimilar was the first great council of the Church, consisting of the Church (ἡ ἐκελησια) i.e. the assembly of disciples) and the apostles and elders (who were the cornerstones, the lapides angulares, thereof). See Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6, Acts 15:12. Four hundred thousand. See Acts 15:17. The enumeration in the wilderness gave 603,550 (Numbers 2:32; Numbers 11:21), and at the second numbering 601,730 (Numbers 26:51). In 1 Samuel 11:8 a general assembly of the whole people, summoned by sending a piece of the flesh of a yoke of oxen "throughout all the coasts of Israel," amounted to 330,000. David's numbering gave of Israel 800,000, and of Judah 500,000, in all 1,300,000; but these were not assembled together, but numbered at their own homes. Jehoshaphat's men of war amounted to 1,160,000 according to 2 Chronicles 17:14-18. In the time of Amaziah there were of Judah alone 300,000 men able to go forth to war (2 Chronicles 24:6).

Judges 20:3

The children of Benjamin heard, etc. This seems to be mentioned to show that the absence of the Benjamites from the national council was not from ignorance, but from contumacy. Tell as, etc. This was addressed to all whom it might concern. The Levite answered.

Judges 20:5

And thought to have slain me. This was so far true that it is likely he was in fear of his life; but he doubtless shaped his narrative so as to conceal his own cowardice in the transaction. We have a similar example of an unfaithful narration of facts in the letter of Claudius Lysias to Felix (Acts 23:27). The men of Gibeah. The masters, as in Judges 9:2, meaning the citizens.

Judges 20:7

Ye are all children of Israel. He appeals to them as men bound to wipe away the shame and disgrace of their common country. He speaks with force and dignity under the sense of a grievous wrong and a crushing sorrow.

Judges 20:8

The people—with the emphatic meaning of the whole people of Israel, the assembly of the people of God, as in Judges 20:2. As one man. There was but one resolve, and one sentiment, and one expression of opinion, in that vast multitude. Not one would go home till due punishment had been inflicted upon Gibeah of Benjamin. To his tent, i.e. home, as in Judges 19:9.

Judges 20:9

We will go up by lot against it. The words we will go up are not in the Hebrew, but are supplied by the Septuagint, who very likely found in their Hebrew copy the word na'aleh, we will go up, which has since (perchance) fallen out of the Hebrew text from its resemblance to the following word 'aleha against it. The sense will then be, Not one of us will shrink from the dangers of the war; but we will cast lots who shall go up against Gibeah, and who shall be employed in collecting victuals for the army, 40,000 having to be told off for the latter service. And exactly in the same spirit (if indeed the answer was not actually given by lot) they inquired of the Lord who should go up first (in Judges 20:18), and, we may presume also, who should follow in the subsequent attacks, though this is omitted for brevity. Others, however, think the words against it by lot are purposely abrupt, and that the meaning is that Israel would deal with Gibeah as they had done with the Canaanites, viz; destroy their city, and divide its territory by lot among the other tribes, after the analogy of Joshua 18:8-10. But this interpretation is not borne out by what actually happened, nor is the phrase a likely one to have been used.

Judges 20:12

Tribe of Benjamin. The Hebrew has tribes, meaning probably families, as the word is used Numbers 4:18. Vice versa, family is used for tribe, Judges 17:7; Judges 18:11. What wickedness, etc. The message was perhaps toe sharp and peremptory to be successful. It roused the pride and tribal independence of the Benjamites to resist. We must suppose the message to have preceded in point of time the hostile gathering recorded in Judges 18:11. It was probably sent before the council broke up (see above, Judges 7:25; Judges 8:4, and note).

Judges 20:13

Children of Belial. See Judges 19:22, note. There seems to be a reference hero to Deuteronomy 13:12-15.

Judges 20:14

But the children of Benjamin. It should be And the children, etc. It is not dependent upon the preceding verse, but begins a new head of the narrative. From the cities, i.e. the different cities of the tribe of Benjamin, enumerated in Joshua 18:21-28, twenty-six in number.

Judges 20:15

Twenty and six thousand. The numbers of Benjamin in the wilderness were at the first numbering 35,400, and at the second 45,600 (Numbers 1:36; Numbers 2:23; Numbers 26:41). It is impossible to account with certainty for the falling off in the numbers by so many as near 20,000; but perhaps many were slain in the wars of Canaan, and the unsettled times were unfavourable to early marriages. For the whole of Israel there was, as appeared by Judges 20:2, note, a falling off of nearly 200,000 men, or, to speak exactly, of 175,030. Which were numbered. There is some obscurity in this latter clause; but, in spite of the accents being opposed to it, the A.V. seems certainly right. The rendering acording to the accents, "they (the Benjamites) were numbered, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, seven hundred chosen men," makes no sense, and does not explain who the 700 were. The population of Gibeah would be about 5 x 700, i.e. 3500, according to this statement.

Judges 20:16

Seven hundred … men left-handed. It is curious that the tribe of Benjamin, which means son of the right hand, should have this peculiar institution of a corps of left-handed men. Ehud the Benjamite was a man left-handed (Judges 3:15; see also 1 Chronicles 12:2). The Roman name Scaexola means left-handed. For the use of the sling see 1 Samuel 17:40, 1 Samuel 17:49. Diodorus Siculus (quoted by Rosenmuller) mentions the remarkable skill of the inhabitants of the Balearic Islands in the use of the sling, adding, in terms very similar to those of the text, that they seldom miss their aim.

Judges 20:17

A repetition of the statement in Judges 20:2.


Judges 20:1-17


It is impossible to suppose that the whole tribe of Benjamin really sympathised with the foul deed of the men of Gibeah, or could have felt otherwise than that such a deed deserved the severest punishment that could be inflicted. We must seek the cause, therefore, of their desperate resistance to the just decree of the nation in some other motive than that of consent to their brethren's "lewdness and folly." Nor is such motive far to seek. We find it in that unreasonable movement of human pride and selfishness which we commonly call temper; a movement which sets up a man's own dignity, self-importance, self-will, self-esteem, above the laws of God, above righteousness, justice, truth, and the law of kindness, and yet so blinds him, that in vindication of his own dignity he does the most foolish and degrading actions, lowering himself where he sought to raise himself, making himself ridiculous where he thought to be an object of superior respect. Let us analyse the case of the Benjamites. Had the men of Gibeah belonged to the tribe of Ephraim or Judah, they would no doubt have been forward to join in their punishment. Their natural perceptions of right and wrong, their right feelings of the dishonour done to the whole congregation of Israel, the congregation of God, and of the profanation of the holy name of Jehovah, would have led them to wipe out the stain by the punishment of the offenders. But because the offenders were Benja-mites, immediately all these right feelings were stifled, and in their stead the one selfish feeling that Benjamin would be dishonoured among the tribes, and that they themselves would be degraded in their fellow-tribesmen's shame, was allowed to prevail. Their pride was wounded and their temper was up. Possibly they had not been properly consulted in the first instance; possibly the message sent to them was too peremptory and haughty; possibly the other tribes, in their just indignation, had scarcely treated them with the deference due to brethren; and if so, this was fresh fuel added to the flame of temper. But the result was that they were incapable of right feeling or of right judgment; that they were blind to what duty and self-interest alike required of them; and that, under the guidance of temper and stubborn pride, they rushed on to their own destruction, braving the wrath of a body nearly sixteen times as powerful as themselves, and withal tarnishing their own reputation by identifying themselves with the basest villainy. We see exactly the same results of temper on a smaller scale every day around us. Men will not do the right thing, or the just thing, or the wise thing, not because they are wicked and unjust and destitute of good sense under ordinary circumstances, but because their tempers are up. Their false pride blinds and enslaves them. They see a personal humiliation in the way of acting rightly; their resentment against individuals for insult or wrong done to them stiffens their necks and hardens their will. If doing right will please them, or promote their interests, they had rather do wrong. They will not do anything they ask, or submit to any of their demands, however just they may be in themselves. And as for their own interests, and even their own good name, they are ready to sacrifice them at the imperious bidding of temper. Much of human unhappiness is caused by temper, which is as injurious to the peace of those who yield to its dictates as to those who are exposed to its outbreaks. It ought not to exist, certainly not to have dominion, in any Christian breast. Fellowship with the cross of Christ is the great help in subduing human pride. As real humility grows, as the mind which was in Christ Jesus is more perfectly formed within, as the old man is crucified with Christ, and the desire to do the perfect will of God displaces more and more the self-will, and the glory of God becomes more entirely the aim sought, in lieu of self-glorification, the dominion of temper becomes enfeebled, till, like a flickering flame, it goes out, and is still before the rising power of the Holy Spirit of God.


Judges 20:1

National atonement.

There are times when a nation is stirred to its depths. Its consciousness is then a religious one. A solemn unity of sentiment pervades it, and prevails over all lesser differences. It is then ready and effective as the servant of the Lord. Observe—


1. A common detestation of the crime.

2. A common danger.

3. The Spirit of Jehovah.

II. THE MEASURE DETERMINED ON. By the council of the nation.

1. Immediate punishment of the criminals.

2. Failing their delivery, the punishment of those who protected them and condoned their wickedness.—M.


Judges 20:11



1. This implies conjunction. The individuality of the parts is not destroyed when these are united. Each of the separate stones retains its shape after it is built into the common structure, and the union is formed by cementing all close together. So union amongst men does not destroy the personality and character of each man, but, instead of acting separately, men in union act in common.

2. This implies harmony. Conjunction without harmony brings not union, but confusion, and the nearer the conjunction, the fiercer is the internal conflict. Thus civil war is more cruel than war with a foreign nation, family feuds more bitter than quarrels with strangers. Harmony implies diversity, but agreement, as the several stones in a building, though each may be different in shape and size from others, fit in together, and fit the better because they are not all alike.

3. This implies the subordination of the individual to the whole. So far there may be a partial suppression of individuality; but in the end this develops a higher individuality. The several organs of the body are made not to exercise their functions for their own sakes, but for the good of the whole body. Yet this differentiation of parts allows of the more full development of each organ, and so leads to a more complete individuality in its form and character. When men are working under a social system, each is able to contribute his part to the good of the whole by a more free exercise of his own special talents than would be possible in a condition of isolation.


1. Union increases strength. There is not only the gross force resulting from the addition of the units of force; there is a multiplication of strength, an economy of power. The nation can do as a whole what all its citizens could not do if acting separately. The Church can accomplish work for Christ which private Christians would fail to do.

2. Union promotes peace. When men are knit together as one they forget their private differences. Though we cannot attain the peace of uniformity, we should aim at securing the peace of harmony.

3. Union favours growth and development. Israel suffered from her disintegration. Her national unification was requisite for any solid advance of civilisation. This development of harmonised and organised union distinguishes civilised nations from savage tribes. As the Church learns to think more of common Christian charity than of narrow sectarian differences, she will advance in likeness to the mind of Christ and in the enjoyment of the graces and blessings of the gospel.

III. THE GROUNDS OF UNION. Men need some cause to draw them together—some common ground of union.

1. This may be found in a great wrong to be removed. A fearful crime stirred the hearts of all Israel. In presence of this the tribes forgot their minor grievances. Should not the great sin of the world be a call to Christians to sink their ceaseless quarrels in one united effort to destroy it with the power of Christ's truth?

2. This may be found in the attack of a common enemy. When the invader is on our coast, Tories and Radicals fight side by side, moved by a common instinct of patriotism. When the truth of Christianity is assailed by infidelity and her life by worldliness and vice, should we not all rally round the standard of our one Captain for a united crusade against the power of our common enemy the devil?

3. This may be found in a good cause of universally recognised merit. Fidelity to truth, love to mankind, devotion to Christ should unite all Christians.—A.

Verses 18-48


Judges 20:18

The house of God. In this rendering the A.V. follows the Vulgate, which has in domum Dei, hoc est, in Silo. But the Septuagint has Βαιθὴλ, and all the ancient authorities, as well as modern commentators, generally agree in rendering it Bethel. The reason, which seems a conclusive one, for so doing is that the Hebrew בית אל invariably means Bethel, and that the house of God is always expressed in Hebrew by בית האלהים (beth-ha-elohim). The conclusion is that at this time the ark of God, with the tabernacle, was at Bethel, which was only seven or eight miles from Shiloh. Bethel would be eight or ten miles from Gibeah, i.e. about half way between Shiloh and Gibeah. Asked counsel. The same phrase as Judges 1:1, where it is rendered simply asked (see note to Judges 1:1, and Judges 1:23, 47). In following this precedent the Israelites put the men of Gibeah on the footing of the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. With reference to Judges 1:9, it is worth considering whether this is not the fulfilment of the purpose there expressed by the Israelites, to go up against Gibeah by lot; either by understanding that the answer asked was given by a Divinely-directed lot, according to which Judah's turn came first (see Joshua 7:14-18; 1 Samuel 14:41; Acts 1:24-26; etc.), or by taking the expression by lot in a wider sense, as meaning generally Divine direction.

Judges 20:20

The men of Israel—meaning here of course the men of Judah.

Judges 20:21

Came forth out of Gibeah, etc. Gibeah (sometimes called Geba, literally, the hill) was doubtless very difficult to assault, and the steep approach greatly favoured the defenders. The men of Judah probably came up carelessly, and with an overweening confidence, and so met with a terrible disaster. The word destroyed here used is the same as is applied to the destroying angel (Exo 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16; see also 2 Chronicles 24:23).

Judges 20:23

And the children of Israel went up and wept, etc. This verse must precede chronologically Judges 20:22, and explains the circumstances under which the battle referred to in Judges 20:22 took place. The unexpected repulse they had met with had begun to produce its intended effect. There was a humbling of themselves before God, a brokenness of spirit, a deepened sense of dependence upon God, and a softening of their feelings towards their brother Benjamin. All this was shown as they again went to the tabernacle at Bethel to ask the Lord (Judges 20:18).

Judges 20:24

And, or so, repeating what had been said in Judges 20:22, but giving it this time as the result of God's answer recorded in Judges 20:23. The second day. Not necessarily, or probably, the next day, but the day of the second battle.

Judges 20:25

Of the children of Israel. We are not told upon which tribe the lot fell, or the answer was given, that they should go up the second day.

Judges 20:26

Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, etc. Observe the word all, twice repeated, as showing how the whole congregation was roused and stirred to a man by this second reverse. The people, as distinguished from the men of Israel, the army, probably means the non-fighting people, the aged, the infirm, women, etc. The house of God. Render, as in Judges 20:18 (see note), Bethel. Sat there. Sitting with the Jews, especially on the ground, was the attitude of grief and mourning (Job 2:13; Isaiah 47:1, Isaiah 47:5; Lamentations 2:10, etc.). The Jews at the present day often sit on the ground at the place of wailing in Jerusalem. Before the Lord, i.e. before the tabernacle (see Judges 11:11, note), Fasted until evening. The usual time for terminating a fast among the Jews, as at the present day among Mahomedans. For similar fasts on solemn occasions of national guilt or grief, see 1Sa 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:12; Jeremiah 36:9; Nehemiah 9:1; Joel 1:14, etc. Peace offerings. Usually thank offerings (Leviticus 3:1-17.; Leviticus 7:11, Leviticus 7:12), but applicable to any voluntary sacrifice of which the flesh might be eaten the same day, or the day following, by the offerer (Leviticus 7:15, Leviticus 7:16). Doubtless the people at the close of their fast ate the flesh of these peace offerings.

Judges 20:27

Enquired of the Lord. In the Hebrew, Asked the Lord, as in Judges 20:18, Judges 20:23. For the ark of the covenant, etc. A most important statement, defining the time of these occurrences, within the lifetime of Phinehas, and also giving a strong intimation that the writer of these words lived after the tabernacle had been removed from Shiloh and its neighbourhood to Jerusalem. Was there. Where? The natural answer to be given is, At Bethel; for Bethel is the only place that has been named. But it is not in accordance with the other intimations given us concerning the tabernacle, that Bethel should be its resting-place under the high priesthood of Phinehas. In Joshua 18:1 we have the formal pitching of the tabernacle of the congregation at Shiloh; in Joshua 22:12 we find it there, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest before it; in 1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 2:14; 1Sa 3:21; 1 Samuel 4:3, we find it settled there till taken by the Philistines; and in Psalms 78:60 we find Shiloh described as the abode of the tabernacle till its capture by the Philistines, and there is no hint anywhere of Bethel or any other place having been the resting-place of the ark before it fell into the hands of the Philistines. Neither, again, is the explanation of some commentators, that the words the ark was there in those days implies "that the ark of the covenant was only temporarily at Bethel," at all satisfactory. In those days has naturally a much wider and broader application, like the expression (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1), In those days there was no king in Israel, and contrasts the time of Phinehas and the judges with the times of the monarchy, when the ark and the high priest were at Jerusalem. Unless, therefore, we understand Bethel in Psalms 78:18, Psalms 78:26, Psalms 78:31 to mean the house of God, which seems quite impossible, we must interpret the word there to mean Shiloh, and suppose that the writer took no count of the temporary removal to Bethel for the convenience of consultation, but considered that it was at Shiloh in one sense, though momentarily it was a few miles off. Possibly too in the fuller narrative, of which we have here the abridgment, the name of Shiloh was mentioned as that to which there referred.

Judges 20:29

Set liers in wait. Made wiser by misfortune, they now act cautiously.

Judges 20:30

As at other times, or, this time as the other times (see the same phrase, Judges 20:31, Judges 16:20; Numbers 24:20).

Judges 20:31

The house of God. Here manifestly Bethel, as in the margin. Gibeah in the field. The A.V. is the natural rendering of the Hebrew words, which imply a Gibeah in the field different from Gibeah, as the Septuagint seems to have understood them (Γαβαὰ ἐν ἀγρῷ). It is a happy conjecture, borne out by the existing roads, that this Gibeah-in-the-field is the same as Gobs, now Jeba. Indeed it is almost impossible to conceive how the pursuers, coming out of Gibeah, could be described as coming to two highways, of which one led to Bethel and the other to the very place they had come from. The latest explorers of the district fully concur in this identification of Gibeah-in-the-field with Jeba.

Judges 20:32

And the children of Benjamin, etc. This verse is parenthetical, being explanatory of the conduct of both parties. The Benjamites pursued recklessly, because they thought the fight was going as on the two previous days; the Israelites fled in order to draw them to the highways, and so to enable the ambushment to get between the Benjamite army and the city.

Judges 20:33

Rose up out of their place. The narrative is singularly obscure and broken, and difficult to follow. But the meaning seems to be, that when the Israelite army had reached Baal-tamar in their flight, they suddenly stopped and formed to give battle to the pursuing Benjamites. And at the same time the liers in wait came out from their ambushment and placed themselves in the rear of the Benjamites on the direct road to Gibeah. Baal-tamar, a place of palm trees. The site has not been identified, but may possibly, or probably, be the same as the palm tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel (Judges 4:5). The meadows of Gibeah, Hebrew, Maareh-Geba, may very likely have been, as the Septuagint takes it, a proper name, denoting some locality outside Gibeah (here called Geba) where the ambush was concealed. The meaning of the word maareh is thought to be a bare tract of ground without trees—something like a heath or common. It may have had pits, or deep depressions, where the ambush would be hid both from the city itself and from the high road, or other facilities for concealment.

Judges 20:34

Against Gibeah, i.e. against the army of Gibeah. The sense seems to be that the 10,000 Israelites who had been fleeing before Benjamin, and drawing them away from the city, now faced them, and commenced a resolute attack upon them, which at first the Benjamites, not knowing of the ambushment in their rear met with equal resolution, so that "the battle was sore." But the result, the details of which are given at length in Judges 20:36-46, was that 25,100 Benjamites fell that day (see Judges 20:46).

Judges 20:36-41

The children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten. Not of course after 25,000 of them had been smitten, but at that period of the battle more fully described in Judges 20:40, Judges 20:41, when the Benjamites, looking behind them, saw Gibeah in flames, and immediately broke and fled towards the wilderness. In the latter half of this verse and in the following verses to Judges 20:41 the writer recapitulates all the preceding circumstances, some of which have been already mentioned, which led to the particular incident mentioned in the beginning of the verse, that "Benjamin saw that they were smitten;" viz; the feigned flight of the Israelites, the seizing and burning of Gibeah by the liers in wait, the signal of a great smoke, and the turning again of the flying Israelites. It was then that "the men of Benjamin saw that evil was come upon them," and turned their backs and fled. Thus Judges 20:36 (latter half)-41 bring us back through the details to the identical point already reached at the beginning of Judges 20:36. In Judges 20:39, Judges 20:40 there is another retrograde movement in the narrative, in which the statement of Judges 20:31, Judges 20:32 is repeated in order to bring into close juxtaposition Benjamin's keen pursuit of the enemy with his terror when he saw the smoke rising in his rear. Hasted (Judges 20:37). This is an amplification with further particulars of Judges 20:33. The liers in wait not only came forth out of their place, but they made a dash to get into Gibeah before the men of Gibeah, who were pursuing the flying Israelites, could be aware of their intention. Rushed upon. Perhaps better rendered fell upon. It is exactly the same phrase as 2 Samuel 27:8, there rather tamely rendered invaded and in verse 10 made a road. Drew themselves along. Some take the word in the common sense of blowing the trumpet, but it rather means spread themselves out (ἐξεχὺθη, LXX.) through the defenceless city, so as to slay and burn in all parts simultaneously. That they should make a great flame with smoke, etc. (verse 38). The Hebrew of this verse is difficult to construe, but the A.V. gives substantially the right sense. They seem to be the very orders given to the leader of the ambush. "Make them (the ambush) multiply to send up (i.e. send up in great quantities) the column of smoke from the city." It seems that the appearance of the smoke was the signal for the Israelites to turn (verse 41). The flame, etc. (verse 40). Rather, the column began to go up in (or as) a pillar of smoke. The flame of the city. Literally, the whole of the city, meaning of course the whole city in flames.

Judges 20:42

Therefore they turned their backs, etc. The narrative now at length advances one step. The result of the Benjamites finding themselves between the ambushment and the army of Israel was that they took to flight in an easterly direction (Judges 20:43) toward the wilderness, i.e. the wilderness described in Joshua 16:1 as "the wilderness that goeth up from Jericho throughout Mount Bethel," where the direction of the wilderness relative to Ephraim is also described as being "on the east." In like manner Zedekiah fled towards the plain (arabah) or plains of Jericho—a term nearly synonymous with wilderness (2 Kings 25:4, 2 Kings 25:5). Them which came out of the cities, etc. This is a very obscure passage, and is very variously explained. Those which came out of the cities must be the same as are so described in verse 15, and designates the Benjamites who were not inhabitants of Gibeah. The simplest way, therefore, to understand the passage is to render it without reference to the accents: "And the battle overtook him and those that were from the cities (i.e. the men of Gibeah and the rest of the Benjamites), destroying him (the whole Benjamite army) in the midst of him," i.e. going right into the midst of them, and destroying right and left. Some, however, render it in the midst of it, i.e. of the wilderness. The plural participle destroying agrees with the singular noun of multitude, the battle or war, meaning all the men of war.

Judges 20:43

Thus they inclosed, etc. Another difficult passage, having all the appearance of being a quotation from some poetical description of the battle. The tenses of the verbs and the absence of any conjunctions in the Hebrew makes the diction like that of Judges 5:19. The italic words thus and the two ands ought to be omitted, to give the stately march of the original. "They inclosed, etc.; they chased them; they trod them down," etc. They inclosed seems to refer to the stratagem by which the Benjamites were surrounded by the ambush in their rear and the Israelites in front. Then came the pursuit—"they chased them;" then the massacre—"they trod them down." The three verbs describe the three stages of the battle. With ease. It does not seem possible that the Hebrew word menuchah can have this meaning. It means sometimes a place of rest, and sometimes a state of rest. Taking the latter meaning, the words they trod them into rest may mean they quieted them by crushing them to death under their feet, or in rest may mean unresisting. Some render it unto Menuchah, as if Menuchah was the name of a place, or from Nochah, as the Septuagint does. Others, at the place of rest, i.e. at every place where they halted to rest the enemy was upon them.

Judges 20:44-46

And there fell, etc. The account in Judges 20:35, anticipating the details of the battle, had already given the gross number of casualties in the Benjamite army on this disastrous day as 25,100. We now have the items of the account, viz; 18,000 in the pursuit, in the open plain; 5000 in the highways, i.e. either the highways mentioned in Judges 20:31, or, as the expression gleaning rather intimates, the highways by which straggling bodies tried to reach any neighbouring cities after the great slaughter had taken place; and 2000 more who were making from Gidom; in all 25,000, which is only 100 men short of the reckoning in Judges 20:35. The rock of Rimmon. See Judges 20:47, note. Gidom. Not elsewhere mentioned, nor identified with any modern name.

Judges 20:47

But six hundred men turned. If these 600 survivors are added to the 25,000, or 25,100, enumerated as slain (verses '35, 44), it gives a total of 25,700. But the total number of Benjamites, as given in Judges 20:15, was 26,700. There remain, therefore, 1000 men unaccounted for. These may, have been killed partly in the two first days successful battles (Judges 20:21, Judges 20:25), and partly in the different cities into which they had escaped, when the general massacre recorded in Judges 20:48 took place. The rock Rimmon. There are two proposed identifications of this place. One makes it the same as Rummon, "a village perched on the summit of a conical chalky hill," "rising on the south side to a height of several hundred feet from the Wady Muti-yah," and defended on the west side "by a cross valley of great depth," which lies three miles east of Bethel, and seven miles northeast of Gibeah (Tulell el-Ful), and is situated in the wilderness between the highlands of Benjamin and the Jordan. This is advocated by Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' 1.440), by Mr. Grove in the 'Dictionary of the Bible,' and by Lt. Conder. The other is advocated by Mr. W. F. Birch. This identifies it with the Wady er-Rummon, discovered by Mr. Rawnsley, where there is a vast cave, Mugharet el Jai, about a mile and a half from Geba, capable, according to the local tradition, of holding 600 men, and used to the present day by the villagers as a place of refuge from the government persecutions According to this view, the statement that they abode in the rock Rimmon is strictly correct.

Judges 20:48

Turned again, not the same word as the turned of Judges 20:45, Judges 20:47, but turned back, came again by the way by which they had gone in pursuit of the Benjamites, and on their return towards Bethel (Judges 21:2) entered into all the Benjamlte cities, which lay thick together east and north of Gibeah, and ruthlessly put all the remaining population to the sword; burning all the cities, and treating the whole tribe of Benjamin, with all that belonged to them, as a 'herem, a thing devoted to utter destruction, like Jericho.


Judges 20:18-48

Pure and impure zeal.

That the indignation of Israel was justly excited by the wickedness of the men of Gibeah who can doubt? That they had a just cause of quarrel with the men of Benjamin for refusing to join them in the punishment of the offenders is no less certain. But that the merciless destruction of the whole tribe by fire and sword was a ferocious and cruel deed equally admits of no contradiction. A state of mind, therefore, was generated between the first rising of their wrath on account of the foul crime of their countrymen, and the final execution of the fierce vengeance, which calls for our notice and our reprobation. That state of mind was what the Greeks called ζἧλος, a burning, unreasoning passion or heat, which hurries men on to words or actions of which in their cooler moments they repent and are ashamed. Under the influence of such passion, whether it be anger, or jealousy, or envy, or any other intemperate emotion of the mind, men are no longer their own masters. As in the case of that state of feeling which we lately considered under the name of temper (Homiletics on Judges 20:1-17), reason ceases to guide and control the actions, and the voice of conscience cannot make itself heard. The man is like a ship without a rudder, driven by the storm whither he would not. Now when we consider that under the influence of passion we are liable to say and do things that are wrong, and that are very contrary to our own real feelings and opinions, and, maybe, very hurtful to our neighbours, it is obvious how watchful every Christian man should be to keep such passion under strict control, and to set a watch upon the various movements of his heart. This is doubly necessary, because, as we have seen in the history before us, what in its beginning is right is apt in its course to become wrong. It is not merely a question of degree. But for the most part the nature of the passion changes in its onward flow. Thus, in the case of the Israelites, the first feeling of indignation at a great wrong, the shame at the pollution of the name of Israel, their common inheritance, and their grief at the dishonour done to the name of God, were righteous and commendable feelings. There was no need to water them down or to reason them away. It would have been base and wrong not to follow them out to their legitimate consequences in action. But in the course of doing so the pure stream became fouled by far baser passion. Anger at the contradiction and opposition offered to themselves, wounded pride at the success of their adversaries in the first days' battles, the fierce determination to quell and destroy their enemies, and the heat and blood-thirstiness which are the natural result of war and strife, lashed them into madness. And so it is with ourselves. In war, in politics, in private quarrels, though we may begin by being in the right, yet the original cause is often lost sight of in the progress of the strife, and new jealousies, personal enmities, selfish resentments, and unwarrantable violence of feeling, which spring up, as it were, by the way, are allowed to get possession of us, and hurry us on to injustice and wrong. But especially does this painful narrative suggest a caution to those who take upon themselves to be the champions of right as against wrong to be very careful that no mere passions mix themselves up with their championship. We would say to every Christian brother, Be very zealous for right against wrong. Be very zealous for truth against falsehood. HAVE NO RESPECT OF PERSONS; and be as firm in rebuking wrong when it is found in those nearest and dearest to you as when it is found in strangers or enemies; and when it is found in the great and honourable, as when it is found in the meanest and lowest of mankind. But be very careful to keep your zeal pure. Let it be a simple zeal for God's honour and glory, and for his law and his truth. It will then never betray you into wrong speaking or wrong doing; and, moreover, it will effect its purpose among men. It will be a real witness for God, and it will make itself felt. While mere anger and passion are utterly feeble and worthless, and usually injure the cause they are meant to serve, the calm, steadfast opposition to wrong, by word or deed, will always have its weight. Such was the testimony of the words and life of the Lord Jesus upon earth. His zeal for his Father's honour was as a consuming fire; but it went hand in hard with an inexhaustible patience and gentleness towards men. We always feel in reading the Gospels that his severest rebukes sprang from his hatred for sin, and were combined with infinite love for the sinner. His whole life was a protest against wrong, but as gentle as it was firm, as winning as it was decided. Such should be the rebukes of his disciples—springing from principle, not from passion; severe, yet tender; unflinching, but never given without necessity; not unmixed with sympathy for the pain they cause, and anxiety to add the balm of love and forgiveness so soon as they have wrought repentance; never aggravated by personal feelings or heat of anger; never uttered in scorn, or with a sense of the rebuker's own superiority; but the outcome of an upright mind hating evil and zealous for God's honour, yet at the same time clothed with humility and tempered with heavenly charity.


Judges 20:18

Cf. on Judges 1:1-36. Judges 1:1.—M.

Judges 20:26-28

The difficulty of punishing evil-doers.

It is a desperate strife. The avengers are at first punished more thorn the guilty. Yet they continue steadfast, and humiliate themselves before God.

I. PRIVATE WRONGS ARE PUBLIC MISFORTUNES AND DANGERS, It was a peril to all peace-loving citizens that one of their number should suffer outrage. Yet also was it a further trouble and loss to punish such transgressors. How many will rather suffer wrong than take the trouble to bring it to justice! This is treason to the commonwealth.

II. How HARD IT IS TO ROOT OUT AN INDIVIDUAL OR NATIONAL SIN. How many are found to sympathise with or condone the deed, and to shield the transgressor! What ties connect the transgressor with ourselves!

III. THE SIN OF ONE IS OFTEN DUE TO THE GENERAL SPIRIT AND CONDITION OF THOSE AROUND HIM; THEY ALSO ARE GUILTY WITH HIM. Benjamin is but an exaggeration of the prevalent tone and manners of the time. Many crimes and sins of individuals may be traced up to wider influences. The sin or the righteousness of our brother is, in a measure, our own. Vicarious suffering and atonement.

IV. THE DUTY OF RIGHTING WRONG MUST BE CARRIED OUT AT WHATEVER EXPENSE OF TROUBLE AND LOSS. The humiliation of Israel. Defeat only nerves them to a higher and more heroic struggle. Religious principle and feeling are more influentially present. The absolute claim of God's righteousness. Like Israel the Church has to right a great wrong; but in a different way. Frequent discomfiture. The difficulty of evangelising one's own neighbourhood; far less the world! Yet it has to be done, and it can be done; but not in our own strength. Only as we submit ourselves wholly to God and his Son can we fulfil the mighty task. Let us too wait upon God, and p. luck wisdom and heroism from defeat. The Spirit of God is with us, and the promise of Christ is ours.—M.

Judges 20:34

They knew not that evil was near them.

How descriptive this of all men I Our misfortunes often overtake us unawares. There is no earthly security. The sinner especially should not encourage himself in fancied immunity. The Son of man cometh as a thief in the night, for judgment and for reward.



III. How TO BE DELIVERED FROM FEAR AND THE REAL EVILS OF THIS IGNORANCE. A righteous life the great safeguard. But how attained? Christ's the only authoritative "Fear not." External evils will through him minister to our eternal welfare and well-being. This trust in him should he implicit, and an active force in every life.—M.


Judges 20:23

Lessons of defeat.

The Christian sometimes encounters defeat in the enterprises of spiritual warfare—in the battle of the inner life, in efforts to destroy the wickedness and misery of the world, in missionary campaigns.

I. DEFEAT SHOULD AROUSE REFLECTION. The Israelites had acted hastily under the impulse of sudden indignation. In defeat they were thrown back to think of the object and methods of their war. This war against a brother tribe was a terrible undertaking. Was it necessary? No war should be undertaken till it is absolutely necessary. It may be our duty to oppose our own brethren; but this should be done only after serious reflection. We are sometimes allowed to fail that we may consider more deeply all that is involved in actions attended with serious consequences.

II. DEFEAT SHOULD INDUCE HUMILITY AND REPENTANCE. The Israelites had been too self-confident. Enraged at the wickedness of one town, they had not realised their own sin, nor how this wickedness was but one act of national depravity. They were now the champions of justice. The position thus assumed by them would blind them to their own failings and stimulate pride. When Christian men do battle against some monstrous evil, they too are in danger of falling into similar failings of pride and self-righteousness. Defeat is then a wholesome humiliation leading to repentance. If we are to testify against the sin of others, we too must not forget that we also are sinners.


1. The Israelites had consulted some oracle, some "gods," before going to war. After defeat they turned to the true God, the Eternal. We often need to fail before we will learn to pray. Then we see that our wisdom is to follow God's will.

2. The Israelites did not simply ask for success. They asked whether or no they should go up to war. We should not pray for God's blessing on the enterprise which we are obstinately pursuing irrespective of his will, but should first ask for light to teach us whether we should pursue it.

3. The Israelites did not ask for God's strength, but only for his guidance. Perhaps if they had invoked his aid they would not have failed a second time. We need trust in God and reliance on his help for perfect success.

IV. DEFEAT SHOULD LEAD TO RENEWED AND IMPROVED EFFORT. Through repeated defeats Israel persevered on to victory. So it is with the Christian. "Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down" (Psalms 37:24).—A.

Judges 20:47

An escaped remnant.

I. THERE IS USUALLY AN ESCAPED REMNANT FROM THE MOST SEVERE PROVIDENTIAL ACT OF JUDGMENT. So it was in the flood, in the destruction of the cities of the plain, in the captivity, in the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans. God does not totally destroy. Mercy is mingled with judgment. Though this is some mitigation of the calamity, it is no reason for rash indifference to danger, because

(1) the remnant may be but a small minority,

(2) none can tell whether they will be included in it, and

(3) the remnant, though escaping the worst fate; suffers great hardships.

II. THE REMNANT DOES NOT NECESSARILY CONSIST OF BETTER MEN THAN THOSE WHO ARE DESTROYED. If one is taken and another left, this diversity of treatment is no proof of difference of character. As they who are subject to signal calamities are not to be regarded as especially wicked (e.g. Job, the men on whom the tower of Siloam fell, etc.), so those who are favoured by remarkable deliverances have no right to be considered especially virtuous. Their position is one to excite special gratitude, but not to encourage pride. Sometimes, indeed, it is dishonourable to them. It may be a result of cowardice, indolence, or falsehood. The traitor may escape while the true man falls. Barabbas escaped while Christ was crucified. In times of persecution the unfaithful are saved and the faithful suffer martyrdom.

III. THERE IS A PROVIDENTIAL END TO BE SECURED BY THE PRESERVATION OF A REMNANT. The idea of "the remnant" is familiar to the reader of Scripture (e.g. Isaiah 1:9). There must be some Divine purpose in it. Can we discover that purpose? Possibly it is this—every nation, every tribe, every community of men which has special characteristics of its own has also a special mission to the world dependent on those characteristics. If, therefore, it is entirely blotted out of existence, the fruits of that mission will be lost to the world. A remnant is spared that the special gifts may be transmitted through a small hereditary line, and thus be preserved and turned to the continued service of the world. Israel had a mission to the world dependent on her peculiar endowments. If the remnant of Israel had not been delivered from Babylon, this mission would have been destroyed, and the human side of the origin of Christianity, such as we now see it, made impossible. Benjamin had a mission. From this tribe sprang the first king of Israel and the chief of Christ's apostles. If the 600 Benjamites had not been spared St. Paul would never have appeared.—A.

Judges 21:1-25


Judges 21:1

Now the men of Israel, etc. A circumstance not mentioned before is now brought forward, as is another in Judges 21:5, on which the events about to be narrated in this chapter depend, viz, that the men of Israel had taken two solemn oaths at Mizpeh (Judges 20:1)—the one that no Israelite would give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite; the other that whosoever did not come up to the national assembly there should be put to death.

Judges 21:2

And the people, etc. The narrative now proceeds. After the people, i.e. the Israelite army, so described Judges 20:3, Judges 20:8, Judges 20:22, etc; had finished the work of destruction in the cities of Benjamin, they returned to Bethel (the house of God, A.V; here and in Judges 20:18, Judges 20:26, Judges 20:31, where see notes), and, their rage having now subsided, gave way to violent grief on account of the destruction of Benjamin their brother. With passionate Oriental feelings they passed the whole day weeping, and probably fasting (see Judges 20:26), before the tabernacle. Wept sore. Hebrew, wept a great weeping. The expression lifted up their voices shows that it was a loud wailing and lamentation,

Judges 21:3

And said. Better, And they said. One tribe lacking. The existence of the twelve tribes was an essential part of their covenant existence as the people of God (Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:28; Exodus 24:4; Numbers 1:5-15; Joshua 4:3, Joshua 4:4, etc.; Matthew 19:28; James 1:1; Revelation 7:4, etc.). With one tribe missing Israel would be no longer Israel.

Judges 21:4

Offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. See Judges 20:26, note.

Judges 21:5

And the children of Israel said. The idea evidently occurred to them that they might supply wives to the 600 Benjamites in the way that actually came to pass, and they asked the question, Who is there among all the tribes, etc; with this view.

Judges 21:6-9

And the children of Israel, etc. This verse goes back a little to explain why the children of Israel asked the question, viz; because they repented them for Benjamin, and wished to repair the mischief resulting from their rash oath not to give their daughters to a Benjamite; therefore they said (repeating Judges 21:5), What one is there that came not up to Mizpeh? (Judges 21:8) and on numbering the people it was found that no one had come up from Jabesh-gilead. This is the first time that Jabesh-gilead is mentioned in Scripture. It comes up twice afterwards. First in 1 Samuel 11:1-15; on occasion of its being besieged by the Ammonites and rescued by Saul; and secondly in 1 Samuel 31:11-13, when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth-shah, and buried them at Jabesh, for which brave and pious act David thanked them (2 Samuel 2:5). The name of Jabesh is only preserved in the Wady Yabis, which debouches on the eastern bank of the Jordan about lat. 32'24. Robinson thinks the ruins called ed Deir in this valley are the remains of Jabesh, which agrees exactly with the situation assigned to it by Eusebius in the , Onomasticon.'

Judges 21:10, Judges 21:11

Ye shall utterly destroy, etc. Devote to destruction, as a 'herem, an accursed thing. They followed in the severity of the punishment the precedent of the destruction of the Midianites (see Numbers 31:17), and even in the numbers sent to destroy them—a thousand from every tribe (Numbers 31:5). Revolting to our feelings as such wholesale massacres are, including women and children, it must be remembered in mitigation that the 'hereto was the solemn devotion of a thing or person to destruction under the sanction of an oath. Of the valiantest. The sons of valour simply means valiant men (2 Samuel 13:28; 2 Samuel 17:10).

Judges 21:12

To Shiloh, whither it should seem they had now taken the tabernacle back, the war with Benjamin no longer requiring its presence at Bethel Them. It is masculine in the Hebrew, though it refers to the women. So again in Judges 21:22, their fathers and their brothers in the masculine (see above, Judges 19:23, and Judges 19:21, Judges 19:22). It is perhaps an archaism. In the land of Canaan. This is inserted to contrast it with Jabesh in Gilead (Genesis 33:17, Genesis 33:18, and Genesis 8:5, note).

Judges 21:13

Translate the whole verse thus: And the whole congregation sent and shake to the children of Benjamin, etc; and proclaimed peace to them (see Deuteronomy 20:10). They sent ambassadors or heralds to them as it were with a flag of truce.

Judges 21:14

Benjamin came again, i.e. returned to their own homes in the tribe of Benjamin, as in Judges 21:23. Yet so they sufficed them net—or, Yet so they (the Israelites) did not provide enough for them (the Benjamites); or, Yet so they (the Benjamites) had not enough for themselves.

Judges 21:16

Seeing the women. It is rather more in accordance with the Hebrew style to take the words as the narrator's explanation of the question, What shall we do? They said this because all the women of Benjamin had been destroyed.

Judges 21:17

There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin. The passage is difficult to construe and to explain. If the words There must be are properly supplied in the A.V; the sense will come out more clearly if we take the word inheritance to mean rather succession, which is the idea contained in the root. There must be a succession for the escaped of Benjamin, i.e. there must be heirs to succeed, and therefore we must find wives for them. The word peleytah without the article can hardly mean the remnant, as has been proposed, but must be defined by being taken with Benjamin.

Judges 21:18

We are not able. Note again the evil of rash vows, and how often chicanery is necessary in order to evade their evil consequences.

Judges 21:19

There is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly. Compare the exactly similar description, 1 Samuel 1:3, 1 Samuel 1:7. There is a great difference of opinion among commentators as to what feast is here meant. Hengstenberg, Keil, Delitzsch, and others think it was the passover; Bishop Patrick and others think it was the feast of tabernacles, a more joyous feast; Rosenmuller and others think it was a festival peculiar to Shiloh, after the analogy of the yearly sacrifice of the family of Jesse at Bethlehem (1 Samuel 20:29), and more or less in accordance with Deuteronomy 12:10-12. It is not easy to say which view is right, but the last seems not improbable, In a place which is on the north side, etc. The words in a place are not in the Hebrew, and do not seem to be implied by the context. But the description is that of the situation of Shiloh itself, which is very exact (see 'Palestine Exploration Fund,' Map of West Palestine). Lebonah survives in el-Lubbun, about two miles north-west of Seilun, and to the west of the road to Shechem or Nablus. It seems strange that so particular a description of the situation of Shiloh should be given; but it may probably indicate that the writer lived after the tabernacle had been moved to Jerusalem, and Shiloh had relapsed into an obscure village (see Judges 20:27, note). The situation of the descriptive words in the Hebrew, with the pronoun which, separated from Shiloh by the word yearly, indicates that they are an explanation added by the narrator.

Judges 21:21

Come out. The verb is in the masculine gender, though the daughters of Shiloh is the subject (see above, Judges 21:12, note), To dance in dances. Bishop Patrick says that the feast of tabernacles was the only feast at which Jewish maidens were permitted to dance. Go to the land of Benjamin. The close vicinity of the high road leading from Shechem to Bethel on the border of Benjamin would facilitate their flight.

Judges 21:22

Be favourable unto them for our sakes. Rather, Grant us them as a favour, the masculine them referring to the daughters of Shiloh, as in Judges 21:12, and the verb grant a favour being followed by a double accusative. We reserved not to each man his wife, etc. These words are somewhat difficult. If we may insert the word to, as the A.V. does, before each man (for it is wanting in the Hebrew), the sense is good. The Israelites acknowledge their own fault in not reserving women enough to be wives to the Benjamites, and ask the fathers and brothers of the daughters of Shiloh to do them a favour by enabling them to repair their fault. But it is rather a strain upon the words. The omission of the to is not natural in such a phrase (Numbers 26:54 is hardly to the point, nor is Genesis 41:12, where the to had been expressed before the us), and reserved is a forced interpretation of the verb. If the words were spoken by the Benjamites, all would be plain and easy: "We received not each man his wife in the war." Hence some put the speech into the mouth of Benjamin, as though the Israelites meant, We will say in your names, in your persons, as your attorneys, so to speak, "Grant them to us," etc. But this is rather forced. Others, therefore, follow the Peschito, and read, "because THEY received not each man his wife," etc; which makes very good sense, but has not MS. authority. Ye did not give, etc; i.e. you need not fear the guilt of the broken oath, because you did not give your daughters, so as to violate the oath (Judges 21:7), but they were taken from you by force. The A.V. gives the probable meaning of the passage, though it is somewhat obscure.

Judges 21:23

According to their number, i.e. so as to provide the 200 with wives. The cities, as in Judges 20:15, Judges 20:42.

Judges 21:24

Every man to his inheritance. Compare the breaking up of the national assembly in the days of Joshua (Joshua 24:28; Judges 2:6).

Judges 21:25

In those days, etc. See Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1, etc.


Judges 21:1-25


Who can think of the flourishing tribe of Benjamin reduced to a handful of 600 men, clinging for life to an inaccessible rock, but having to mourn the loss of wives and daughters, and sisters and children, all ruthlessly slaughtered with the edge of the sword, and not shudder at the horrors of war? It is a distressing picture to bring before the mind, but the picture must be looked at in its details if we would form a right judgment on the subject. Well, then, in war there is first the snapping asunder of the bonds of neighbourhood and friendship which once existed between the parties. There is the exchange of hatred, and ill-will, and the desire to injure and destroy, for amity and kindness and benevolence. The word "the enemy" takes the place of that of "friend," and the change of conduct corresponds to the change of name; for there soon follow the acts of destruction and vengeance. Precious life, that mysterious gift of God, is spilt like water on the ground. The bleeding wounds, the mangled limbs, the lifeless corpse, take the place of the buoyant spirits, the active frame, and the healthful vigour, of youth and manhood. The happy home where affection and social mirth and bright hopes and schemes made happiness and light, becomes the house of mourning where all hope is put out. The husband, the betrothed, the brother, the darling son, is laid low in dust and blood; and what is life any longer to the wife, to the expecting bride, to the sister, to the bereaved mother? And in such a war as this with Benjamin there are still more revolting images to be contemplated. The ground strewed with innocent babes and little children unconscious of wrong, and unsuspicious of harm. Merry youths and laughing maidens cut down in the spring-time of their life. Homesteads, orchards, gardens, whole streets, whole cities, reduced to heaps of rubbish and ashes. All the works of men's hands, the fruit of their labours, the product of their skill, the ornament, the comfort, the very shelter and food needful for human life, spoiled, wasted, and destroyed; human progress thrown back for a century, and seeds of hatred sown to bring forth a crop of bitterness in times to come. Thank God, war has been shorn in our days of its savage cruelty. Soldiers no longer slaughter women and children and defenceless men, nor destroy in the mere wantonness of power. Most true also is it that in war some of the noblest qualities of men are developed, and that kindness, mercy, and generosity, are the frequent companions of daring courage, resolute endurance, and inflexible will. The brave leader of men is deserving of all the gratitude and all the enthusiasm of his fellow-men; and as long as war is a necessity, he who conducts it to a successful end for his country's good will always merit his country's praise. But for all that, it must be acknowledged that war, even in its mitigated form, is a blight upon humanity, and that its continuance is a blot upon civilisation, and still more upon the national profession of Christianity. He would indeed be a benefactor of the human race who could discover and establish the machinery by which national quarrels and disagreements could be settled by some other arbitrament than that of the sword. Viewed even in an economic point of view, how great would the gain be to nations if the half million or the million of men in the prime of life who are now supported in industrial idleness at the expense of their countrymen were, instead, contributing their own quota to the production and to the wealth of the country! And if the vast sums of money now spent on a single war were devoted to useful works and to great social improvements, how greatly would the world be benefited, instead of being, as now, impoverished and made desolate! How to get rid of war, and at the same time maintain the national dignity and not compromise the national safety, is indeed a problem difficult to solve. The existence of force may be necessary for the maintenance of right. But for all that, the discovery of the means by which bloody wars might be exchanged for some binding code of national law, to which the strongest as well as the weakest should be subject, would be a signal blessing to mankind. The subject is welt worth the consideration of every Christian philanthropist. Surely, too, we are encouraged to hope for success by the glowing words of prophecy. A day will come, we know, when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). The Psalmist saw a blessed vision of a time when there shall be "abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth" (Psalms 72:7). The Holy Ghost speaks of a time when "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). And, even if in no other way we can hope to succeed, let us, at least, use our utmost endeavour to spread that knowledge of the Prince of peace at home and abroad which is the surest guarantee of peace. We know not when or how the kingdom of righteousness and peace shall be established. But we know that in proportion as the gospel of peace influences men's hearts, controls their passions, and incites them to brotherly love, the motives to war will be diminished, the motives to harmony and union will be strengthened. May the time come quickly when in the love of Christ, whether present in glory, or still dwelling in the heavens, the love of man to man shall so abound that in the family, in the nation, and in the world, there may be only PEACE!


Judges 21:1

There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.

A rule of justice, morality, and prudence. Benjamin represents the libertine, a character too common ]n our own day. Here is a method of dealing with such men that ought to commend itself to every parent.


II. THE CONSIDERATIONS THAT OUGHT TO GOVERN IT. The welfare of the child; the possibility of greater happiness and usefulness: and provision for the future. Moral soundness ought therefore to be a sine qua non in all aspirants to the hand of a Christian man's daughter. What security can there be for the wife of a licentious man, even if he be as wealthy as Croesus? Righteousness of life and a Christian character should be the first and indispensable qualifications of a son-in-law.

III. ADVANTAGES OF SUCH A COURSE AS THIS. If parents would exclude from their homes, their drawing-rooms, and the society of their children persons known to be licentious, it would exert great influence—

1. In checking such conduct.

2. In preventing society from thinking lightly of it.—M.

Judges 21:25

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

This is the key-note, as it is the refrain, of the whole book. The point raised is one of great significance in dealing with the foundations of Society and the State.




Judges 21:2-4

Sorrow for others.


1. It is natural on personal grounds. We are members one of another, so that if one member suffer, all suffer. The Israelites felt that it would be a common calamity to the whole nation for one tribe to be blotted out. It would not only be a judgment on that tribe, it would be "a breach in the tribes of Israel." England suffers through the wars and famines and storms which devastate even remote countries. If adversity falls upon one great town, one trade, one class, the whole community feels the effect of it. It is foolish, on selfish considerations alone, for the rich and happy to ignore the distresses of the poor and wretched.

2. But it is natural to be distressed at the troubles of others on unselfish grounds. When we are not hardened by sin we must naturally feel sympathy. The law of Christ requires us to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). If Jews of old felt for their brethren in their trouble, how can Christians, who owe all their best blessings to the compassion and suffering of Christ for them, harden their hearts against the cries of the world's misery, when they in turn are expected to show the spirit of Christ in sympathy and vicarious sacrifice?

II. IF WE ARE CALLED TO PUNISH MEN FOR THEIR SIN, WE SHOULD ALSO PITY THEM FOR THEIR DISTRESS. Israel had punished the tribe of Benjamin, but the sight of the ruin thus wrought filled all the people with grief. It is right and necessary to be firm in repressing wickedness; yet this should not be done in hot hatred, in callous sternness, nor in complacent self-satisfaction, but with grief, mourning for the distress, and more for the sin occasioning it. So does God chastise, in grief, like a father loving his child, and therefore the more hating the iniquity which produces all the trouble.

III. DISTRESS FOR THE TROUBLES OF OTHERS SHOULD LEAD US TO GOD ON THEIR BEHALF. The people came to the house of God, and wept there before God. We should bring all our trouble before God, and, when we know not what to ask for, confide in him and relieve our souls by leaving the burden with him. If we are really and deeply grieved for others, we shall be constrained to do the same with the sorrow of sympathy. All Christians are called to be priests, intercessors for others. We should pray most earnestly for those who will not pray for themselves. We should humble ourselves for their sin, since the oneness of the human family brings shame upon all when any go astray. Such sorrow before God will incline us to fresh acts of self-sacrifice and dedication. As the Israelites offered burnt offerings, we shall consecrate ourselves to God, that we may be more capable of relieving those for whom we grieve.—A.

Judges 21:5

The penalty of desertion.

It was quite in accordance with the rude and cruel age of the judges that a whole town should be visited with the death-penalty for deserting the tribes in the assembly of war. The punishment was not so unreasonable as it might appear at first sight, though there are circumstances in the whole transaction which reflect discredit on the Israelites.

I. DESERTION IS A GREAT CRIME. In war-time, even among civilised nations, desertion is punished with death.

1. Negative wickedness may be as bad as positive sin. If we know that an equally injurious result will follow inaction, this is equally guilty with an active offence. Thus the refusal of a ship's master to save a drowning man is morally equal to the guilt of murdering him.

2. We must not measure the value of our actions by their individual effects, but by the effects of the principles they express. One act of desertion may have no perceptible effect. But if one is justifiable, many are, and thus the principle of freedom to desert allows of total desertion resulting in total ruin. Desertion from the cause of Christ is a great sin. To refrain from obeying his call to action is as guilty as to actively disobey him.

3. The crime which is heinous when committed by one man is equally bad when committed by a whole community. We should not think of destroying a town for the crime for which we should execute an individual; but this is because of our horror of wholesale slaughter, etc; and not because evil desert is lessened when it is shared by a number.

II. CHARITY IS NO EXCUSE FOR THE NEGLECT OF DUTY, That was a terrible work to which the tribes were summoned—the slaughter of the Benjamites. Yet if they felt it to be a necessary act of justice sanctioned by God, as they evidently did feel it to be, they had no right to shrink from it out of feelings of kindliness. It is terrible to be called to such a duty; but it is brave and noble to accept the odium when the necessity is felt, and weak and selfish to avoid it. Charity is not honoured by the sacrifice of justice. It is more charitable to punish wickedness than to let it work its evil unchecked. Charity to the criminal often means cruelty to the victim. There is a danger lest we should become so mild that we should virtually punish the innocent in order to spare the guilty.

III. THE PURITY OF JUSTICE IS VIOLATED WHEN PUNISHMENT IS ADMINISTERED WITH INTERESTED MOTIVES. It appears that the great motive of the Israelites in executing the threat of their oath on the people of Jabesh-Gilead was not a regard for strict justice, but a desire to secure wives for the escaped Benjamites. This motive vitiated the character of their action. The difficulty of executing punitive justice lies in the danger of other motives than a simple regard for right entering rote our conduct. We desecrate the temple of justice when we convert it into a house of merchandise.—A.

Judges 21:24

The return of peaceful prosperity.

I. MEN FIND THEIR MOST HAPPY CONDITION IN THE PURSUIT OF PEACEFUL OCCUPATIONS AND THE ENJOYMENT OF HOME LIFE. It is pleasing to see this concourse of war break up, and the Israelites return home to their farms and their families. War is unnatural, and should be treated as a monstrous evil. The nation which regards military exploits as the chief occupation for its energies is forsaking solid happiness for empty glory.

1. Politically a nation is prosperous when industry flourishes, trade is unchecked, literature finds patrons, science and art are pursued, and general education, morality, and religion are sedulously promoted by the leading men of the age.

2. Religiously a people is prosperous when angry controversy gives place to the peaceful cultivation of holiness, and practical efforts to conquer the sin of the world and spread the blessings of Christianity.

3. Personally men are prosperous when they are at liberty to work in peace and enjoy the fruits of their labours without molestation. In proportion as war, controversy, jealousy, and competition give place to quiet home life and simple endeavours to do our daily duties will happiness be enjoyed as a solid, lasting human treasure.

II. IT IS SOMETIMES NOT POSSIBLE TO ENJOY SOLID PEACE TILL AFTER THE FAITHFUL PERFORMANCE OF THE DUTIES OF WARFARE. The peace which the Israelites now enjoyed was the reward which followed the faithful performance of painful acts of justice. The cry of "peace at any price" may be the ignominious utterance of blindness, indolence, cowardice, or selfishness. We can have no worthy peace while the wrongs of any who have claims upon us call for our active interference.

1. National peace must follow the establishment of order and justice. Better all the horrors of civil war than unchecked tyranny, unpunished violence, or outraged innocence.

2. Religious peace must follow the righteous maintenance of truth and right. We must not let false religions go unchallenged, or unholy conduct unrebuked, for the sake of preserving peace. Christ came to send a sword (Matthew 10:34), and his peace comes after the valiant overthrow of the lies and sins which oppose his rule.

3. Personal peace must follow the battle of the soul with its sins and doubts. That is a hollow peace which comes from stifling doubt. We must fight it down. No true peace is possible while sinful habits are unopposed; these must be "resisted unto blood." True peace follows victory over evil.

III. A PEACEFUL LIFE IS SECURED AND MAINTAINED THROUGH THE EFFORT OF EACH MAN TO TAKE HIS OWN PLACE AND DO HIS OWN WORK. Trouble too often arises from our forsaking our post and interfering with other people.

1. Industry is favourable to peaceful prosperity. The children of Israel went home immediately after settling affairs in the disturbed district. They went straight from war to work, and wasted no time in idle self-indulgence as a reward for victory.

2. Orderly arrangements promote peace. Every man went to his tribe. Let each of us find his own place in the world, and seek quietly to occupy that, and nothing else.

3. Domestic life inclines to peace. Every man went to his family. The home is the foundation of the most solid blessings of the State. If we desire happiness and peaceful prosperity, let us cherish the sanctities of the hearth.

4. Property favours peace. The men went to their several inheritances. When a man has possessions he is reluctant to create a social disturbance. Therefore lovers of peace should promote thrift and efforts to facilitate the acquisition of property by the people generally—of course as the fruits of honest industry.

5. Religous convictions form the most solid foundations for peaceful prosperity. The Israelites accepted their inheritances quietly in obedience to a Divine distribution. We shall enjoy a peaceful life best if we believe that God chooses our inheritance, and accept our lot in contentment and trustfulness from him, endeavouring to use it as his stewards, and hoping for the perfect inheritance of the everlasting home which he will give to his faithful people.—A.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/judges-20.html. 1897.
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