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Deeper Commentary


Jdg 20:1 Then all the Israelites went out, and the congregation assembled as one man-
Religious people love to experience the unity which comes from having a common case of apostacy to fight against and judge. But this is not the unity of the Spirit. 

From Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead, to Yahweh at Mizpah-
Beersheba became effectively the southern border of Judah (Josh. 15:28), hence the common phrase "from Dan [in the north] to Beersheba [in the south]". But this was not at all the southern border promised to Abraham, which was the "river of Egypt". God effectively recalculated the boundaries for Israel, as He came to realize that they simply didn't have the spiritual ambition to go and possess the full extent of the land promised to Abraham. Thus "the river" on the eastern boundary effectively was recalculated as the Jordan and not the Euphrates; and likewise the southern border shifted northwards from the brook of Egypt to Beersheba. God has a similar flexibility with us too.

The very extreme north of Israel's northern borders, in Dan or the former Laish, was inhabited by the apostates whom we have seen described in detail in Jud. 17,18. For them to go charging off in judgment upon Gibeah was grossly hypocritical, when they had slain a whole community of unsuspecting people in a primitive land grab, and installed a terribly apostate religious system there.

Jdg 20:2 The leaders of the people from all the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand armed soldiers-
"Thousand" especially when used in a military context often doesn't mean a literal 1,000, but rather means a military subdivision. This gathering is described from the point of view of the tribes generally, for "all the tribes of Israel" presumably excluded Benjamin. The record reminds us that for all the huge dysfunction at this time, they were called still "the people of God". We need to remember this when we understandably shake our heads at the dysfunction of our brethren.

Jdg 20:3 Now the Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. The Israelites said, Tell us how this wicked thing happened-
The implication is that the Benjamites weren't represented at the Mizpah conference. The whole decision and chain of events was based solely on the word of the Levite, who we saw throughout Jud. 19 was hardly a man of integrity. The basis upon which they judged the case was unwise in the extreme. We learn from Jud. 21:5 that they had threatened death to anyone who didn't come to this gathering. So the Benjamites stood condemned to death just because they didn't attend a meeting. Just as some have been disfellowshiped for "long continued absence" from a church. This is not at all Biblical, and the attitude of the Israelites here was not at all in accord with the Law of Moses. Nor did they take any advice from God about this; they simply promised death to any who didn't attend their gathering. Perhaps this was why they thought they were justified in slaying the Benjamites- because they had broken the Israelites' self declared law and commandment to come to Mizpah.

Jdg 20:4 The Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered, I came to Gibeah in Benjamin, I and my concubine, to stay the night-
See on :3. He begins absolutely factually, although not volunteering that his woman had run away from him, had been unfaithful to him, and he and her father had been drinking for five days solid before the incident. 

Jdg 20:5 The men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine and she is dead-
Now he begins to twist his story. There is no record that the men of Gibeah wanted to kill him. It was not all the men of Gibeah, but a group of yobbos who were probably drunk, who had demanded gay sex with him. And he doesn't volunteer the fact that he himself suggested they rape his concubine, and he gave her to them with no attempt to defend her, but the opposite. He carefully avoids saying that they murdered her, just that "she is dead". For I suggested on Jud. 19:26,27 that she made her way back to the door of the house, but he refused to open the door and help her. He was in fact responsible for her death. Nor does he mention his crude comment to her corpse in Jud. 19:28. 

Jdg 20:6 I took my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel because they have committed this disgraceful and abominable act in Israel-
"The inheritance of Israel" is a claim to great spiritual discernment, claiming to rightly perceive that all the land was Israel's inheritance, and implying a lament that they had not inherited all of it. "Disgraceful act" is AV "lewdness", and we note in Lev. 19:29 that one cause of "lewdness" in the land would be prostituting a woman and causing her to be a whore. But this is what the Levite had done by suggesting the men sleep with her, and facilitating this. And finally all Judah were to go into captivity for "lewdness" (s.w. Jer. 13:27; Ez. 16:27; 23:29, especially the "lewdness" of the Levites, Hos 4:9). "Committed this... abominable act in Israel" is a direct quotation from the sons of Jacob wanting to destroy the entire town of Shechem for the apparent rape of Dinah (Gen. 34:7). But Simeon and Levi, ancestor of this Levite, were condemned for what they did to Shechem. Their response was considered by God disproportionate. But the Levite quotes a Bible verse and precedent, without attention to context- which would have revealed that in fact the situation with the rape of Dinah was not a precedent for going in and destroying the town where the rape had occurred. And finally all Israel were to be condemned for having  "Committed... abominable acts in Israel" (s.w. Jer. 29:23). All the evidence therefore is that the course of judgment and action they were to now undertake was wrong and hypocritical.       

Jdg 20:7 Now you Israelites, all of you, give your advice and counsel-
The fact they had gathered together in such numbers in response to the body parts being sent is evidence that their presence itself showed what they thought should be done. This request for advice was therefore a mere formalism and not at all sincere.

Jdg 20:8 All the people arose as one man saying, None of us will go to his tent, neither will any of us go home-
What we now read is a classic example of a groupthink overtaking an assembly. They were themselves deeply apostate and astray from God, lost in idolatry and apostacy. But the idea of punishing that which was obviously wrong was very attractive to them, and they experienced great unity amongst themselves in their desire to judge this matter harshly. They entered into a feeding frenzy against Gibeah and the Benjamites.

Jdg 20:9 This is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot-
They seem confident they could destroy such a small town, which could only muster seven hundred fighters [perhaps "hundred" is also a term for a military subdivision]. Their over confidence was going to be judged by God. For they are reasoning here like the Israelites did before they attacked Ai and were defeated.

Jdg 20:10 and we will take ten men of every hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred out of every thousand and a thousand out of ten thousand, to get food for the army so that when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin they can punish them for the disgusting thing they have done in Israel-
They decide the judgment and even the exact method of it without any request to God to guide them, and without hearing Gibeah's side. They decided the testimony of the Levite was true, purely on his say so.

Jdg 20:11 So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united as one man-
We think of the unity of Herod and Pilate when they had the common cause of destroying the Lord Jesus, and the unity of otherwise disparate forces and entities against the Lord Jesus in the latter day prophecies.

Jdg 20:12 The tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin saying, What is this disgusting crime that has been committed among you?-
They assume the crime has been committed, and judgment has been passed and the men of Gibeah must be slain. They are not open to any further discussion nor consideration of evidence. Not that any counter evidence had even been presented. The alcoholic Levite had to be right, because this was the path they wished to take.

Jdg 20:13 Now surrender the wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and put away evil from Israel. But Benjamin would not listen to their brothers the Israelites-
The tragedy of this situation between "brothers" is emphasized by the Divine record. The reasoning of the Israelites is that the men of Gibeah were provenly wicked and must be put to death. A kidnapper also had to be "put to death" (Ex. 21:16), and it could be argued that this is effectively what the Levite had done to his concubine. Why Benjamin refused to surrender the men of Gibeah is not recorded. But we imagine they disagreed with the way the judgment had been arrived at, and more than questioned the credibility of the sole witness, the Levite. That mixed up man was to have a lot of blood on his hands as a result of his hypocrisy, and desire to judge others for what in essence he himself was guilty of. And we see such people in the body of believers today. The punishment of being "put to death" was for murder (Lev. 24:17), and we see from :4 that they were assuming that the men of Gibeah had murdered the woman. But they hadn't. She walked back to the house, and died due to the Levite's inattention. Homosexual sex was to result in being "put to death" (Lev. 20:13). But whilst the men at Gibeah had wanted this, they didn't do it.     

The argument was that they had to put away evil from Israel. But Dt. 17:6,7 was clear that this should never be done on merely the testimony of one man. The Israelites were directly breaking this commandment, as the Levite was the only witness at Mizpah: "At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall he who is to die be put to death. At the mouth of one witness he must not be put to death. The hand of the witnesses must be first on him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you". We can imagine Benjamin raising all these objections- and being ignored. They had surely heard from the authorities in Gibeah their side of the story, and yet saw that the other Israelites were not open to it at all.

Jdg 20:14 The Benjamites gathered together out of their cities to Gibeah to go out to fight against the Israelites-
Again we note that they "gathered together", matching the earlier descriptions of them acting "as one man" in this matter. There was a groupthink mentality, a feeding frenzy which led to an obsession to judge and destroy, with no attention to facts nor to the Divine commands about how decisions should be arrived at in such cases. And this kind of thing goes on often enough within the body of believers today. 

Jdg 20:15 The Benjamites numbered twenty six thousand swordsmen out of the cities, besides the seven hundred chosen men of Gibeah-
Gibeah must have been relatively small if they had only 700 fighters, a small proportion of the Benjamites. Although we recall that terms like "thousand" and "hundred" are often not literal, but refer to military subdivisions. LXX gives 25,000, which would more or less fit with the numbers in :44-46.

Jdg 20:16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling stones at a hair’s breadth and not miss-
Left handed people were considered strange and often relegated to the periphery of society in primitive societies; we see again how almost all the judges had something which made them despised and rejected. And yet it was exactly that group which God delighted to use to save His people (Jud. 3:15). We notice how God used left handed people to give David victory (1 Chron. 12:2), and to punish their hypocritical brethren (Jud. 20:16). He seems to rejoice in using those whom man despises.  

Jdg 20:17 The men of Israel apart from Benjamin were four hundred thousand swordsmen, all warriors-
Again we note that terms like "thousand" and "hundred" are often not literal, but refer to military subdivisions.

Jdg 20:18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and asked counsel of God. They said, Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin? Yahweh said, Judah first-
This comes over as very hypocritical and inappropriate. They had not asked counsel of God about how to judge the matter. They had all eagerly condemned Gibeah to destruction, without referring to God, and in studied disobedience to His word (see on Jud. 20:13). Yet having made their own judgment, they then made a great show of asking His advice as to which tribe should lead the assault, or, should attack Gibeah first (Jud. 20:18). Yet God responded to their request. He said Judah should go first. He wanted to use this incident to punish Israel, as well as Benjamin. And as so often, His judgments are in terms of brethren destroying each other, rather than Him doing it directly Himself. Jud. 21:15 notes that it was Yahweh who made a breach in Israel over this matter. He worked through it all. It was His way of judging His apostate, hypocritical people. Division and conflict amongst God's children is therefore somehow of Him- but it is His judgment upon the community. 

Jdg 20:19 The next morning the Israelites got up and encamped against Gibeah-
Perhaps we are to understand that they ignored the command that Judah should go up first (:18); for it seems they all went up.

Jdg 20:20 The men of Israel went out to fight against Benjamin and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah-
As in :19, it is stressed that the Israelites went to fight against Benjamin, apparently ignoring the command that Judah should go up first (:18); for it seems they all went up. And this is twice stressed (:19,20). They were not really interested in following God's ways and word, as shown by the way they had misjudged the entire situation; see on :13.

Jdg 20:21 The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and destroyed twenty-two thousand Israelites on that day-
God had apparently sent the Israelites to their destruction by saying that Judah should go up first (:18). He was confirming His people in their misjudgments and lack of love toward each other; see on :18.

Jdg 20:22 The men of Israel encouraged one another and took up their positions again in the place where they had stationed themselves on the first day-
They make no new strategy. They encourage one another, as if they are doing God's work, fighting for the right cause. It was all such a case of misplaced ideals.

Jdg 20:23 They went up and wept before Yahweh until evening, and they asked Yahweh, Shall we go up to fight again against the Benjamites, our brothers? Yahweh said, Go up against them-
The request was really its own answer. Should they fight against "our brothers"? Obviously not. You do not fight and kill your brothers. The way they express the request like this surely suggests they were nagged in their conscience by the inappropriacy of fighting their brethren. See on Jud. 21:3. Their weeping before Yahweh recalls Joshua's after the defeat at Ai. They ought to have perceived the similarities; and realized that the defeat was because Israel had sinned. They were at fault. But they lacked the humility to realize this, and so Yahweh told them to go up again- to their destruction. As explained on :18, this was all God's judgment of His own people, but as often, He chose to work through people destroying themselves, rather than His direct destruction of sinners.

Jdg 20:24 The Israelites went against the Benjamites the second day-
"Went against", AV "came near against", is not quite the phrase we would expect to describe men going up against others in battle. It is the term used about 'coming near' in [often illicit] sexual encounter (Gen. 20:4; Lev. 18:6,14,19; 20:16; Dt. 22:14; Prov. 5:8; Is. 8:3; Ez. 18:6). The idea is that the Israelites were effectively raping the Benjamites, doing to them what they had accused the Benjamites of doing to the Levite's wife. See on :45. 

Jdg 20:25 Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah the second day, and destroyed another eighteen thousand Israelite men, all armed with swords-
The second day" doesn't have to mean the day after the battle on the first day; for in the gap between, Israel had been to Bethel to get God's advice. It is the second day of the battle recorded. The Israelites fought so weakly because surely they had a deep sense that this was not a battle they should be fighting- against their brethren. See on :23.

Jdg 20:26 Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel and wept and sat there before Yahweh and fasted that day until evening. They offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to Yahweh
Peace offerings were offered in times of Israel's sadness and defeat (Jud. 20:26; 21:4) as well as in times of exaltation of spirit and joy. In our traumas of life, we need to remember that the only thing that matters is our peace with God, the joyful fact that we have nothing separating us. As Israel made their peace offerings at those times, so we too should consider the possibility of breaking bread, perhaps alone, as we meet the desperate traumas of our lives.

However the usual order is sin offering, burnt offering [speaking of subsequent dedication to God] and then the peace offering, celebrating the peace with God now enjoyed. But there is no mention of a sin offering. Israel still refused to accept how much they were in the wrong. For if they did, they would not have gone ahead with another battle against Benjamin. See on Jud. 21:4.

"All the people" is AV "and all the people", as if the massive losses meant that not only the soldiers but the common people were alarmed at the huge losses, and wanted to know whether they should continue.

Jdg 20:27 The Israelites asked Yahweh (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days-
Again as in :26 it is stressed that they asked Yahweh for guidance- when as a people they were generally very far from Him. Their desire for guidance indicates the problem of bad conscience they had, as well as the fact they had lost forty thousand in the previous two attempts to execute the judgment they had decreed without asking His guidance. Clearly any victory they may now win was going to pyrrhic [a victory at such cost it is hardly a victory].

"Those days" could refer to the days of this conflict; the ark had been brought from Shiloh to Bethel in order to seek God's blessing upon their judgment of their brethren. This was proof enough that the mere external symbols of religion did not at all imply God's blessings upon them.  

Jdg 20:28 and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron ministered before it)-
Phinehas and the ark had come especially from Shiloh to Bethel for this situation, and was then returned to Shiloh (Josh. 18:1; 22:12; Ps. 78:60). But  the mere external symbols of religion did not at all imply God's blessings upon them. 

Shall we yet again go out to fight against Benjamin our brother, or not? Yahweh said, Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver him into your hand-
See on Jud. 18:30. The sanctuary was presumably a day's journey away from Gibeah. Israel become the more desperate for Yahweh's guidance as their conscience niggled the more at them- for their request was really the answer. Fighting against their brother was wrong. As discussed on :18, this whole bloodbath was willed by God as a judgment upon all His people, at their own hands. 

Jdg 20:29 Israel set ambushes all around Gibeah-
The strategy for taking Gibeah is very similar to that for taking Ai, and we wonder if the strategy was communicated to them by God in :28. They were to perceive the similarities. They had likewise been over confident of taking Gibeah, and they had so far failed because like Israel in the first battle of Ai, they were being punished because of their sins.

Jdg 20:30 They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and set themselves in position against Gibeah as before-
As before" invites us to imagine them clinging on in faith to God's words of :28 that "tomorrow I will deliver him into your hand". Through their unwisdom and wrong behaviour, they were being brought to faith in God's word.

Jdg 20:31 The Benjamites went out against them and were drawn away from the city. They began to fight the Israelites as before, on the highways on the way to Bethel and Gibeah, and in the field, killing about thirty men of Israel-
Josh. 8:13-16 describes the strategy to take Ai in just the same terms. Clearly the same lesson was being taught- that victory was to only be through turning their backs before their enemies, a sign they were under Divine curse. Through realizing that, victory would be given.

Jdg 20:32 The Benjamites said, We are defeating them as before. But the Israelites said, Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the highways-
Israel were punished for their over confidence, thinking it needed only a part of their army to overcome Gibeah. And now the Benjamites are punished for their self confidence. Reliance in the arm of flesh is so displeasing to God.

Jdg 20:33 All the men of Israel arose up from their camp and set themselves in position at Baal Tamar, and the ambush charged from Maareh Geba-
We note the old paganic names were still used- another indication of the overall apostacy of all Israel. The Israelite army was split into three groups; the one at Baal-tamar, the one which formed the ambush behind Gibeah, and then the third which first directly approached Gibeah. This division into three companies echoes the strategy God used with Gideon.

Jdg 20:34 Ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel attacked Gibeah and the battle was severe, but the Benjamites didn’t know that disaster was upon them-
The severity of the battle at this point implies that even more Israelites died at this time. God was punishing His people, as He often did the Gentiles, by turning their swords against themselves. And conflict within the church is likewise His judgment.

Jdg 20:35 Yahweh defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the Israelites destroyed twenty five thousand one hundred armed Benjamites that day-
This describes the deaths on that day, not counting any previous deaths in the other battles on the other days. We note that Yahweh gave the victory; as discussed on :18 this was all of Him, He gave victories to both sides, He was the one who made the gap in Israel (Jud. 21:15), because this was His way of punishing His sinful people; see on :34.

Jdg 20:36 Then the Benjamites saw that they were defeated, for the men of Israel had given way to Benjamin, trusting in the ambush which they had set against Gibeah-
We would rather read that they had trusted in Yahweh, but it seems they trusted more in their battle strategy.

Jdg 20:37 The men in the ambush rushed into Gibeah, spread out and put all the city to the sword-
The battle strategy of Abimelech, setting an ambush (Jud. 9:32), rising early and rushing upon the city of his one time brethren (Jud. 9:33), was replicated by the Israelites in Jud. 20:37. The same Hebrew words are used. But it was a case of copying an example just because it was recorded in Divine history, following precedents which were in fact not at all good. Hollow imitation of the behaviour of others is an abiding temptation for us today.

Jdg 20:38 Now the appointed signal between the men of Israel and the ambush was that they should send up a great cloud of smoke out of the city-
This matches the signal of the sin glinting from Joshua's spear in the capture of Ai, and likewise the smoke signal from within the city. The similarities are so exact, because the point was that like Israel in the first battle of Ai, the 11 tribes had sinned and were being punished for it.

Jdg 20:39 Then the men of Israel would turn in the battle. Benjamin began to attack and killed about thirty of the men of Israel, for they said, Surely they are being defeated as before-
The whole account of the taking of Gibeah is repeated twice over, because we are really being urged to see the similarities with Ai; and take the implication that the Israelites had sinned as Israel had at that time and were being punished for it. It was they and not just the Benjamites who needed to eradicate evil from amongst them.

Jdg 20:40 But when the smoke began to go up out of the city, the Benjamites looked behind them and saw the whole city going up in smoke-
Exactly as in the capture of Ai (Josh. 8:20); see on :39.

Jdg 20:41 Then the men of Israel turned on them and the men of Benjamin were terrified, seeing that disaster had come on them-
This is the fear of men facing condemnation. Why were they condemned? Not because of the reason that the other Israelites had given for their condemnation. For this was in any case a too heavy judgment for refusing to cooperate with the kangaroo court called by the Israelites. We recall how the Levite perhaps rightly claimed that he was given no hospitality because he was perceived as serving in the sanctuary at Bethel (Jud. 19:18). Maybe indeed the Benjamites despised the sanctuary of Yahweh, and the Levites; and this was the real reason why Yahweh allowed their destruction at the hands of the brethren.

Jdg 20:42 So they fled before the men of Israel towards the wilderness, but they could not escape the battle, and the Israelites who came out of the cities destroyed them there-
There was a widespread hatred of the Benjamites amongst the general population.

Jdg 20:43 They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them and ran them down as far as Gibeah toward the east-
This appears to be another Gibeah which was on the way towards the rock of Rimmon where they were aiming for (:45).

Jdg 20:44 Eighteen thousand valiant men of Benjamin fell-
See on :46. Albert Barnes in his commentary discerns here and in the surrounding verses a poetical form of language, as if this was a victory song later sung. To gloat over such a massacre was wrong, and soon the Israelites were going to be repenting for it. Such gloating at the time reflects again an unspirituality in Israel; for God Himself doesn't rejoice over the death of the wicked. 

Jdg 20:45 They turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and the Israelites killed five thousand of them along the way and chased them to Gidom, killing two thousand more-
AV "they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men". But "glean" is s.w. abused, mocked, defiled. We are again given the impression that they treated Israel just as the men of Gibeah had treated the Levite's concubine. They were no better. See on :24.  

Jdg 20:46 So that day twenty-five thousand valiant fighters of Benjamin were killed-
A "thousand" often refers to a military unit or subdivision, rather than  literal 1,000. See on :47. 18,000 fell in :44, and then another 7,000 in :45, and 600 escaped (:47). The LXX gives different figures, but if we take those figures as they are, we conclude that the victories they won on the first and second days were achieved without loss. This meant that the men of Israel were slain very easily- they fought weakly because their conscience told them they were fighting for a wrong cause. The Benjamite victories were therefore clearly of God, as was their defeat in the third battle (:35) - all part of His way of judging His totally sinful people at the point of each others' swords. 

Jdg 20:47 But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and stayed there four months-
A group of "six hundred men" is found so often in the records that we suspect that it may not be literal, but rather refer to a military unit or subdivision (Jud. 3:31; 18:11; 20:47; 1 Sam. 13:15; 14:2; 23:13; 27:2;30:9; 2 Sam. 15:18).

Jdg 20:48 The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put to the sword everything in the towns, including the livestock, and anything they found. All the towns which they found they set on fire
This is exactly the language used of the destruction of Canaanite cities by Joshua. We note they didn't take the animals for themselves. All was as it were sacrificed to Yahweh. They were treating their brethren like Canaanites. And yet we note that the tribes of Israel had at this point not to zealously driven out the Canaanites and possessed their land. Their apparent zeal to obey Yahweh's commands about the Canaanites was misplaced, a twisting of His word to justify their own bloodlust and self justification. Truly we are to take the lesson that in conflict between brethren, there are never victors, only losers.