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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 20

Verse 1

THE COUNCIL AT MIZPEH, Judges 20:1-11.

1. From Dan even to Beer-sheba The common formula to designate the entire country, from its northern to its southern boundary. Compare 1 Samuel 3:20; 2Sa 3:10 ; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 24:2; 2Sa 24:15 ; 1 Kings 4:25. In the later books the formula is reversed: 1 Chronicles 21:2; 2 Chronicles 30:5. On Dan, see at Judges 18:7; Judges 18:29; on Beer-sheba, Genesis 21:31.

Land of Gilead The country east of the Jordan. See on Judges 10:8; Judges 10:17.

Unto the Lord The meaning is, that the assembly was held as in the sight of the Lord. The tribes came together in the name of the Lord, and bound themselves by solemn oaths and execrations to destroy Benjamin. Compare Judges 21:15; see note on Judges 11:11.

In Mizpeh Not the Mizpeh in the land of Gilead, where the eastern tribes assembled in the time of Jephthah to prepare for war against Ammon, (Judges 10:17,) but the Mizpeh of Benjamin, which is mentioned in Joshua 18:25-26, in connexion with Gibeon and Ramah, and which was probably identical with the modern Neby Samwil, a little northwest of Jerusalem. See note on 1 Samuel 7:5. This was an appropriate place for the council. Commanding a wide prospect, it was a central place for all the tribes, and was in the territory of Benjamin, near the spot where the offence took place, so that all proper witnesses to the case might be near at hand.

Verse 2

2. Four hundred thousand On the possibility of collecting so vast a number in a short time, see note on 1 Samuel 11:9.

Verse 3

3. How was this wickedness The members of the assembly had heard the substance of the horrid tale before, but the purpose of the council required that the particulars be now publicly related in the hearing of all.

Verse 9

9. By lot against it That is, We will deal with Gibeah just as our fathers, by divine commandment, dealt with devoted Canaanitish cities: we will subdue it, destroy all its inhabitants, and then divide its territory by lot among our families, See Numbers 32:53, 54. Some expositors understand this of the selection by lot of the tenth of the men to supply the rest with provisions during the war, as narrated in the next verse; but such a construction of the passage would be strangely inapposite.

Verse 12

PREPARATIONS FOR WAR, Judges 20:12-19.

12. Sent men The Benjamites knew of Israel’s gathering at Mizpeh, (Judges 20:3,) and they had themselves, probably, been notified to meet there, as had the other tribes; but no Benjamite seems to have appeared in that assembly.

Verse 13

13. Benjamin would not hearken Here was amazing perversity. For a whole tribe to assume the responsibility of the crime of Gibeah, and fight to defend it, was another folly in Israel. But the measures taken to punish the crime, from their fierceness and suddenness, were not calculated to conciliate, but rather to provoke the Benjamites to war, and thus was brought to pass the saying of Jacob: “Benjamin shall raven as a wolf.” Genesis 49:27.

Verse 15

15. The inhabitants of Gibeah These are specially mentioned because they were specially interested in the war. For their sake it was carried on, and so they furnished seven hundred men.

Verse 16

16. Lefthanded See on Judges 3:15.

Sling stones at a hair breadth Literally, to the hair. Seven hundred men thus disciplined argues that this lefthanded skill of Benjamin was acquired. “This is a region where such a mode of warfare would be cultivated in ancient times, and be very effective. The stones for the sling are everywhere at hand, and the country is cut up by deep gorges with impracticable banks; and before the invention of guns there was no other weapon that would carry across these profound depths, and reach the ranks of the enemy. David, while following his flocks over these rough mountains, practised other arts besides that of playing on the shepherd’s pipe, for he became as expert in the use of the sling as any of the chosen men of Benjamin.” Thomson. This writer also states that he had seen boys fighting battles with slings among the gorges of Mount Hermon, and at times almost darkening the air with their whizzing pebbles. By similar practices, perhaps, the ancient youth of Benjamin and other tribes were disciplined for warfare.

Verse 18

18. Went up to the house of God Rather, went up to Beth-el, because, as Judges 20:27 informs us, the ark of God was there at that time. See note on Judges 20:27.

Asked counsel of God By means of the urim on the ephod of Phinehas, the high priest. Compare notes on Numbers 27:21, and Judges 18:5.

Which of us shall go up first The same question that was asked when they went to battle against the Canaanites, (Judges 1:1,) and the same answer was given. They felt that all preparations for battle were incomplete until they had received a communication from God; but it was a grievous mistake in them not to have asked counsel of the Lord before declaring war against their brother Benjamin, and for this neglect and their self-confidence they pay dearly before the war is over. “Nothing can be clearer,” says Kitto, “than that they never once thought of consulting the Divine oracle till the war had been fully resolved upon and settled beyond recall by solemn pledges and oaths.”

Verse 21

THE WAR AGAINST BENJAMIN, Judges 20:20-48.

21. Destroyed down to the ground That is, smote them so that they lay dead upon the ground.

Twenty and two thousand Almost as many as all Benjamin’s host contained. Compare Judges 20:15. But of the Benjamites very few seem to have fallen.

Verse 22

22. Encouraged themselves “They did not seek for courage from God, but they cheered one another with vainglorious vauntings of their own strength, and with confident assurances of victory, and therefore God punished them.” Wordsworth.

Verse 23

23. Went up and wept Though they had sought to speak lightly of their losses, and to assure themselves of victory, there was a secret sadness and a gloomy sense of loss. Though their loss had not thoroughly subdued them, it had manifestly humbled them, and now they weep as well as ask of God; and their question is not, Who shall go up first? but, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? There is a noticeable humility behind this question, as compared with that of Judges 20:18, but it lacks the depth and penitence that appear in Judges 20:26-28. It is noticeable, too, that in Judges 20:18 they ask of God, while here and afterwards they inquire of Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel, as if in the former instance they had failed to recognise Jehovah in his proper character as their covenant God.

Go up against him Jehovah does not espouse the cause of Benjamin, though he grants him signal victories. His purpose is first to humble the mightier forces of Israel, who have been glowing too much in their own strength.

Verse 25

25. The second day Not necessarily the next day after the first conflict, but the second day of actual battle. Several days may have intervened between the two battles.

Eighteen thousand Four thousand less than the loss of the first day’s battle; but Israel’s self-confidence was also less than then.

Verse 26

26. And all the people These, as distinguished from the children of Israel, were those not capable of bearing arms old men and women who nevertheless assembled with the warriors to weep and fast and pray before the Lord.

Came unto the house of God Rather, came unto Beth-el, as in Judges 20:18.

Sat there before the Lord Their object in going to Beth-el was a religious one, and their assembling was in the name of the Lord, as had been the case at Mizpeh. Judges 20:1, note. But the solemnity of this meeting at Beth-el was increased by the presence of the ark. See next verse.

Fasted This was an additional and very significant way of expressing their profound humiliation and heart penitence before the Lord.

Offered burnt offerings and peace offerings They had become deeply convinced that they had offended God, and they sought by burnt offerings to propitiate him, and by peace offerings to renew their covenant, and realize again his fellowship and love.

Verse 27

27. The ark… was there in those days When and why it was brought there, and how many days it continued there, the sacred writer does not tell us, and we must be content to remain uninformed. Some understand, as our translators seem to have done, that the adverb there refers to Shiloh, and that Beth-el in the Hebrew text of Judges 20:26; Judges 20:18 should be rendered house of God, meaning the tabernacle at Shiloh; but the tabernacle is never called Beth-el. Hengstenberg and Keil suppose that the ark was brought only temporarily to Beth-el, and to serve some special design on this occasion; but the phrase in those days is hardly consistent with such an explanation. Compare the same phrase in Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25, and frequently. And if the ark had been brought from Shiloh merely for this occasion, it is not clear why it was not brought to Mizpeh rather than to Beth-el. More plausible is the supposition, that as Beth-el was a sacred place in Israelitish history, the ark was sometimes brought there, accompanied by the high priest, and abode there for many days at a time, in honour of the holy spot which Jacob regarded as the gate of heaven. Genesis 28:17. Hence, after Shiloh’s desolation, it naturally became a central seat of worship. See 1 Samuel 10:3, note.

Verse 28

28. Phinehas This mention of the grandson of Aaron, like that of Moses’ grandson in Judges 18:30, (where see note,) shows that the events of this chapter, like those recorded in chaps. 17 and 18, must have occurred early in the period of the Judges, and not many years after the death of Joshua.

Verse 29

29. Liers in wait Armed warriors in ambush. They probably went out under cover of the night, and concealed themselves in the meadows around Gibeah. Judges 20:33.

Verse 31

31. To smite of the people, and kill Rather, to smite of the people the wounded, or pierced. Some thirty men were hit and wounded by the slingers, and the Benjamites rushed upon them and smote them.

In the highways The contest shows that the highways here mentioned was a spot where two roads parted, one leading up to Beth-el, (not house of God, as here again rendered,) the other to Gibeah. In the field designates not the site of Gibeah, (as Gibeah in the field,) but the place where the two roads parted.

Verse 33

33. All the men of Israel rose up out of their place These were the main forces of the army, while those mentioned in Judges 20:30 were probably a lesser body of men, several thousand, perhaps, whose object was to draw the Benjamites off from Gibeah. When they fled and the Benjamites pursued them, then this vast army, called all the men of Israel because they comprised the vast majority of the Israelitish warriors, rose up and marched to action.

Baal-tamar A place near Gibeah, mentioned also by Eusebius, but not now known.

Meadows of Gibeah Some interpreters, after the Septuagint, take the Hebrew words Maareh gaba as a proper name; others, after the Syriac, render it cave of Geba. These renderings come from the idea that a meadow or plain would be unsuitable for an ambush; but the plain around Gibeah may have afforded numerous hiding places; and then, as Keil well says, “There is no necessity to understand the words as signifying that the treeless country formed the actual hiding-place of the ambush; but that when the men broke from their hiding-place, they came from the treeless land toward the town.”

Verse 34

34. Ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel These may have been identical with the “liers in wait,” (Judges 20:29; Judges 20:33,) but were more probably a detachment from the main army that marched from Baal-tamar, sent to assist the men of the ambush in capturing and smiting Gibeah, while the rest marched on to smite the Benjamite forces outside of the city.

They knew not That is, the Benjamites knew not the evil that was about to befall them.

Verse 35

35. Twenty and five thousand and a hundred The historian here gives the result of the battle, and then proceeds, in Judges 20:36-46, to give more of the details. It appears that eighteen thousand fell in battle, (Judges 20:44,) five thousand were gleaned along the highways, (Judges 20:45,) and that two thousand more were killed as they fled to Gidom. This makes exactly twenty-five thousand; but no account is given in this latter part of the other one hundred. So also no account at all is given of the number of Benjamites who fell in the previous battles. According to Judges 20:47 only six hundred men of Benjamin escaped; but before the first battle they numbered twenty-six thousand seven hundred. Judges 20:15. Consequently twenty-six thousand one hundred were killed and missing in the war. The historian records twenty-five thousand one hundred killed on this last day of battle; the other one thousand, not accounted for, probably fell in the battles of the previous days, for it is not supposable that the Benjamites killed twenty-two thousand on one day (Judges 20:21) and eighteen thousand on another without any loss to themselves.

Verse 36

36. Gave place Fled, as described in Judges 20:32.

Verse 37

37. Drew themselves along That is, marched forward, advanced; or, as we often say, drew on; not, as margin, made a long sound with the trumpets.

Verse 38

38. Make a great flame with smoke More literally, Do greatly to make them raise an elevation of smoke from the city. הרב is a shortened Hiphil imperative, from רבה , and means to multiply, to increase, to do greatly. The reference of the suffix מ , them, is not clear, but it probably refers to the incendiaries who should be employed to raise the smoky signal.

Verse 42

42. Way of the wilderness The wild mountainous country northeast of Gibeah.

Them which came out of the cities That is, the old men, women, and children, that fled for their lives out of the cities of Benjamin.

In the midst of them Rather, in the midst of it; that is, the wilderness.

Verse 43

43. With ease The Hebrew word thus rendered is better taken as a proper name, Menuchah, as in the margin. Translate the verse thus: They enclosed Benjamin, pursued him, trod him down at Menuchah unto the place over against Gibeah eastward. The sense is, that Menuchah itself was over against Gibeah on the east, so that the battle was fought principally on the east of the city. Menuchah was probably the same as Manahath, (1 Chronicles 8:6,) and lay somewhere to the east or northeast of Gibeah.

Verse 45

45. Rock of Rimmon “About ten miles north of Jerusalem, and nearly four east of Beth-el, is a very conspicuous white limestone tell, rising like a cone above the neighbouring hilltops, and overlooking the whole wilderness down to the Jordan valley. Upon it stands a large modern village called Rummon. This is unquestionably the rock Rimmon, on which the Benjamites took refuge. It is admirably adapted for the purpose. A deep and wild ravine cuts off the approach from the south, and others skirt its western and northern sides, rendering it a natural fortress of great strength. The sides of the tell are steep, bare, and rocky, and could be defended by a few resolute men against a host. The top is rounded, affording ample space for the refugees, while along the sides are some large caverns.” J.L. Porter.

Gleaned of them in the highways That is, they discovered many small companies of men fleeing or seeking to defend themselves here and there along the roads, and they at once enclosed them and cut them off; like gleaning scattered stalks of grain which the reapers had overlooked.

Gidom Another place northeast of Gibeah, whose exact site is now unknown.

Verse 46

46. All these were men of valour The brave Benjamites, though conquered at last, compelled the victors to acknowledge their heroism and valour. On the number of the slain, see note on Judges 20:35.

Verse 48

48. Israel turned again upon… Benjamin Turned upon the old men, women, and children that remained unarmed and helpless in the cities; and smote men and cattle together, and burned the cities, just as they had done when warring with the idolatrous or Canaanites.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/judges-20.html. 1874-1909.