Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Judges 20

Verses 1-48

Judges 20

1. Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation [the whole community of Israel] was gathered together as one man [a phrase which disappears after the days of Solomon], from Dan even to Beersheba [from one extremity to another,—a proverbial expression for all Israel], with the land of Gilead [the transjordanic tribes], unto the Lord in Mizpeh [not the one mentioned in Judges 11:11].

2. And the chief [literally, the corner-stones] of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand [so the number had been diminished by one third] footmen that drew sword [the Israelites were forbidden to use either chariot or cavalry].

3. (Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel were gone up to Mizpeh.) Then said the children of Israel, Tell us, how was this wickedness?

4. And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain, answered and said, I came into Gibeah, that belongeth to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge.

5. And the men [lords or masters] of Gibeah rose against me ["The Levite colours the story in a way most favourable to himself"], and beset the house round about upon me by night, and thought to have slain me: and my concubine have they forced, that she is dead.

6. And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel: for they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel.

7. Behold, ye are all children of Israel: give here your advice and counsel.

8. And all the people rose as one man [ 1 Samuel 11:7], saying, We will not any of us go to his tent [the transjordanic tribes were principally graziers], neither will we any of us turn into his house.

9. But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it ["The shape of the ground probably made it impossible for the whole force to operate at once"]:

10. And we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and an hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victual for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel.

11. So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man [fellows of one college or club].

12. And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you [even Benjamin had a chance of self-defence]?

13. Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. [The verb implies extermination, such as the burning out of diseased flesh.] But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel [an evil solidarity]:

14. But [and] the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel:

15. And the children of Benjamin were numbered at that time out of the cities twenty and six thousand men [diminished by about a third since the census] that drew sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which numbered seven hundred chosen men.

16. Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men [these words are omitted by the LXX. and the Vulgate] left-handed [not an accidental defect, but an acquired art]; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss [Cyrus valued his four hundred slingers].

17. And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war.

18. And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God [Bethel], and asked counsel of God [by the Urim and Thummim], and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up first.

19. And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.

20. And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel put themselves in array to fight against them at Gibeah.

21. And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah [the whole tribe adopted the bad deed,—an evil esprit de corps], and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites that day twenty and two thousand men.

22. And the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day.

23. (And the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until even, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? ["showing a sort of compunction"] and the Lord said, Go up against him.)

24. And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.

25. And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword.

26. Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept ["The two battles must have caused an almost universal bereavement"], and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord.

27. And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days;

28. And Phinehas [the noble and heroic grandson of Aaron], the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, Go up; for to-morrow [the first promise of success] I will deliver them into thine hand.

29. And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah ["acting with more humility, caution, and wisdom"].

30. And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times.

31. And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite of the people, and kill [the wounded or beaten of the people], as at other times, in the highways, of which one goeth up to the house of God [Bethel], and the other to Gibeah in the field [probably Geba, Joshua 21:17], about thirty men of Israel.

32. And the children of Benjamin said, They are smitten down before us, as at the first. But the children of Israel said, Let us flee, and draw them from the city unto the highways.

33. And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and put themselves in array at Baal-tamar [Lord of the palm]: and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows [a word which occurs nowhere else] of Gibeah.

34. And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore [Benjamin was attacked both in front and rear]: but [and] they knew not that evil was near them [that the hour of ruin had come],

35. And the Lord smote Benjamin before Israel: and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that clay twenty and five thousand and an hundred men: all these drew the sword.

36. So the children of Benjamin saw that they [the Israelites] were smitten: for the men of Israel gave place to the Benjamites, because they trusted unto the liers in wait which they had set beside Gibeah.

37. And the liers in wait hasted, and rushed [set upon; see Judges 9:33] upon Gibeah; and the liers in wait drew themselves along, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword [an expression which denotes extermination].

38. Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers in wait, that they should make a great flame with smoke rise up out of the city39. And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons: for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle.

40. But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the flame of the city ascended up to heaven.

41. And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.

42. Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them; and them which came out of the cities [Benjamites] they destroyed in the midst of them [that Isaiah, in their own cities].

43. Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and trode them down with ease over against Gibeah toward the sunrising. ["The language and construction of this verse is poetical; it seems to be an extract from a Song of Solomon, and to describe, in the language of poetry, the same event which the preceding verse described in that of prose."]

44. And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour.

45. And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon [the rock of the pomegranate]; and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and pursued hard after them unto Gidom [mentioned nowhere else], and slew two thousand men of them.

46. So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour.

47. But six hundred men [compare 1 Samuel 14:2] turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.

48. And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to.

"Having utterly destroyed the Benjamite army, except the six hundred men who were shut up in Rimmon, the Israelites returned through the Benjamite country and put to death all the remaining inhabitants, destroyed the cattle and burnt the cities" (The Speaker"s Commentary). Keeping the whole tragedy vividly in mind, we shall the more profitably enter upon the study of the following subject.

Verse 3

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Tell us how was this wickedness? "Judges 20:3.

We should not shrink from scrutinising evil, and asking it piercing questions as to its origin and cause.—We cannot deal with wickedness until we have got at its roots.—Evil is not an accident which is found upon the surface, varying with the climate and the light; it is a disease of the heart, and only a heart-cure can utterly extirpate the evil and restore health to the whole man.—Men who cannot conduct a great philosophical inquiry as to the origin of evil may conduct a very searching scrutiny into their own questionable or wicked actions.—"How was this wickedness?" Was it because of a desire to fulfil a selfish ambition?—Was it done in order to quench a fiery appetite?—Was it done suddenly, in a moment of madness, or after long consideration and ample preparation?—Was it one of the sudden blasts which seize the soul without notice?—Or did we roll the iniquity under our tongue as a sweet morsel and enjoy the wickedness long in advance?—Sometimes it will do the soul good to tell the tale of its wickedness to friendly inquirers.—There is a sense in which confession even by man to man may do the soul great good.—The confession must not be made in any sacerdotal sense, as if man had power to forgive sin, but it must be told to force the soul itself into contrition, shame, self-renunciation, and to constitute a kind of judgment outside itself which it may continually fear.—It is possible by this kind of confession to create a species of criticism on the part of others which may hold us in restraint in days to come.—The great thought is that we are not to cover up wickedness, or lessen it, or decorate it, or excuse it; we are to tell the plain and shameful tale straight out from end to end, that we may know how the disease is to be treated.—"If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." The Gospel tells us that there is a Man who receiveth sinners. His name is Jesus Christ. No man ever came to him with broken-hearted desire to repent of his sin and abandon it who was turned away with one word or look of discouragement.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 20". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/judges-20.html. 1885-95.