| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Judges Chapter Twenty                            


Judges 20

Chapter Contents

The tribe of Benjamin nearly extirpated.

The Israelites' abhorrence of the crime committed at Gibeah, and their resolution to punish the criminals, were right; but they formed their resolves with too much haste and self-confidence. The eternal ruin of souls will be worse, and more fearful, than these desolations of a tribe.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Judges


Judges 20

Verse 1

[1] Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the LORD in Mizpeh.

All — That is, a great number, and especially the rulers of all the tribes, except Benjamin, verse 3,12.

One man — That is, with one consent.

Dan, … — Dan was the northern border of the land, near Lebanon; and Beersheba the southern border.

Gilead — Beyond Jordan, where Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh were.

To the Lord — As to the Lord's tribunal: for God was not only present in the place where the ark and tabernacle was, but also in the assemblies of the gods, or judges, Psalms 82:1, and in all places where God's name is recorded, Exodus 20:24, and where two or three are met together in his name.

Mizpeh — A place on the borders of Judah and Benjamin. This they chose, as a place they used to meet in upon solemn occasions, for its convenient situation for all the tribes within and without Jordan; and the being near the place where the fact was done, that it might be more throughly examined; and not far from Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, whither they might go or send.

Verse 2

[2] And the chief of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword.

Four hundred thousand — The number is here set down, to shew their zeal and forwardness in punishing such a villainy; the strange blindness of the Benjamites that durst oppose so great and united a Body; and that the success of battles depends not upon great numbers, seeing this great host was twice defeated by the Benjamites.

Verse 3

[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?

Heard — Like persons unconcerned and resolved, they neither went nor sent thither: partly for their own pride, and stubbornness; partly because as they were loth to give up any of their brethren to justice, so they presumed the other tribes would never proceed to war against them; and partly, from a Divine infatuation hardening that wicked tribe to their own destruction.

Tell us — They speak to the Levite, and his servant, and his host, who doubtless were present upon this occasion.

Verse 5

[5] And the men of Gibeah rose against me, 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.

Slain me — Except I would either submit to their unnatural lust, which I was resolved to withstand even unto death: or deliver up my concubine to them, which I was forced to do.

Verse 6

[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.

Folly — That is, a lewd folly; most ignominious and impudent wickedness.

Verse 7

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

Ye are — The sons of that holy man, who for one filthy action left an eternal brand upon one of his own sons: a people in covenant with the holy God, whose honour you are obliged to vindicate, and who hath expressly commanded you to punish all such notorious enormities.

Verse 8

[8] And all the people arose as one man, saying, We will not any of us go to his tent, neither will we any of us turn into his house.

His tent — That is, his habitation, until we have revenged this injury.

Verse 10

[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.

According, … — That we may punish them as such a wickedness deserves.

In Israel — This is added as an aggravation, that they should do that in Israel, or among God's peculiar people, which was esteemed abominable even among the Heathen.

Verse 12

[12] And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?

All the tribe — They take a wise and a just course, in sending to all the parts of the tribe, to separate the innocent from the guilty, and to give them a fair opportunity of preventing their ruin, by doing what their duty, honour, and interest obliged them to; by delivering up those vile malefactors, whom they could not keep without bringing the curse of God upon themselves.

Verse 13

[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. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel:

Evil — Both the guilt and the punishment, wherein all Israel will be involved, if they do not punish it.

Would not hearken — From the pride of their hearts, which made them scorn to submit to their brethren; from a conceit of their own valour; and from God's just judgment.

Verse 15

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

Were numbered — "How does this agree with the following numbers? For all that were slain of Benjamin were twenty-five thousand and one hundred men, verse 35, and there were only six hundred that survived, verse 47, which make only twenty-five thousand and seven hundred." The other thousand men were either left in some of their cities, where they were slain, verse 48, or were cut off in the two first battles, wherein it is unreasonable to think they had an unbloody victory: and as for these twenty-five thousand and one hundred men, they were all slain in the third battle.

Verse 16

[16] Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.

Not miss — An hyperbolical expression, signifying, that they could do this with great exactness. And this was very considerable and one ground of the Benjamites confidence.

Verse 17

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

Men of Israel — Such as were here present, for it is probable they had a far greater number of men, being six hundred thousand before their entrance into Canaan.

Verse 18

[18] And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, 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.

Children of Israel — Some sent in the name of all.

House of God — To Shiloh, which was not far from Mizpeh.

Which — This was asked to prevent emulations and contentions: but they do not ask whether they should go against them, or no, for that they knew they ought to do by the will of God already revealed: nor yet do they seek to God for his help by prayer, and fasting, and sacrifice, as in all reason they ought to have done; but were confident of success, because of their great numbers, and righteous cause.

Verse 21

[21] And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites that day twenty and two thousand men.

Destroyed, … — Why would God suffer them to have so great a loss in so good a cause? Because they had many and great sins reigning among themselves, and they should not have come to so great a work of God, with polluted hands, but should have pulled the beam out of their own eye, before they attempted to take that out of their brother Benjamin's eye: which because they did not, God doth it for them, bringing them through the fire, that they might he purged from their dross; it being probable that the great God who governs every stroke in battle, did so order things, that their worst members should be cut off, which was a great blessing to the whole common - wealth. And God would hereby shew, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. We must never lay that weight on an arm of flesh, which only the Rock of Ages will bear.

Verse 22

[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.

Encouraged — Heb. strengthened themselves, supporting themselves with the consciousness of the justice of their cause, and putting themselves in better order for defending themselves, and annoying their enemies.

Verse 23

[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? And the LORD said, Go up against him.)

Wept — Not so much for their sins, as for their defeat and loss. My brother-They impute their ill success, not to their own sins, but to their taking up arms against their brethren. But still they persist in their former neglect of seeking God's assistance in the way which he had appointed, as they themselves acknowledged presently, by doing those very things which now they neglected.

Verse 26

[26] Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.

Fasted — Sensible of their not being truly humbled for their sins, which now they discover to be the cause of their ill success.

Burnt, … — To make atonement to God for their own sins.

Peace-offerings — To bless God for sparing so many of them, whereas he might justly have cut off all of them when their brethren were slain: to implore his assistance, yea and to give thanks for the victory, which now they were confident he would give them.

Verse 28

[28] And Phinehas, 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 I will deliver them into thine hand.

Phinehas — This is added to give us light about the time of this history, and to shew it was not done in the order in which it is here placed, after Samson's death, but long before.

Stood — That is ministered as high-priest.

The Lord said — When they sought God after the due order, and truly humbled themselves for their sins, he gives them a satisfactory answer.

Verse 29

[29] And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.

Liers in wait — Though they were assured of the success, by a particular promise, yet they do not neglect the use of means; as well knowing that the certainty of God's promises doth not excuse, but rather require man's diligent use of all fit means for the accomplishment of them.

Verse 30

[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.

The children of Israel — That is, a considerable part of them, who were ordered to give the first onset, and then to counterfeit flight, to draw the Benjamites forth from their strong-hold. See verse 32.

Verse 34

[34] And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore: but they knew not that evil was near them.

Chosen men — Selected out of the main body, which was at Baal-tamar; and these were to march directly to Gibeah on the one side, whilst the liers in wait stormed it on the other side, and whilst the great body of the army laboured to intercept the Benjamites, who having pursued the Israelites that pretended to flee, now endeavoured to retreat to Gibeah.

Verse 37

[37] And the liers in wait hasted, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers in wait drew themselves along, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword.

Drew along — Or, extended themselves; whereas before they lay close and contracted into a narrow compass, now they spread themselves, and marched in rank and file as armies do.

Verse 44

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

There fell — Namely, in the field, of battle.

Verse 45

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

Gleaned — That is, a metaphor from those who gather grapes or corn so clearly and fully, that they leave no relicks for those who come after them.

Verse 46

[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.

Twenty and five thousand — Besides the odd hundred expressed verse 35, but here only the great number is mentioned, the less being omitted, as inconsiderable. Here are also a thousand more omitted, because he speaks only of them who fell in that third day of battle.

Verse 48

[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.

Turned again — Having destroyed those that came to Gibeah, and into the field, now they follow them home to their several habitations.

Men — Comprehensively taken, so as to include women and children. If this seem harsh and bloody, either it may be ascribed to military fury; or perhaps it may be partly justified, from that command of God in a parallel case, Deuteronomy 13:15, and from that solemn oath by which they had devoted to death all that came not up to Mizpeh, chap. 21:5, which none of the Benjamites did.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Judges


20 Chapter 20


Verses 1-48

Judges 20:1-48

The men of Israel turned again upon the children of BenJamin.

From justice to wild revenge

It may be asked how, while polygamy was practised among the Israelites, the sin of Gibeah could rouse such indignation and awaken the signal vengeance of the united tribes. The answer is to be found partly in the singular and dreadful device which the indignant husband used in making the deed known. Womanhood must have been stirred to the fiercest indignation, and manhood was bound to follow. Further, there is the fact that the woman so foully murdered, though a concubine, was the concubine of a Levite. The measure of sacredness with which the Levites were invested gave to this crime, frightful enough in any view, the colour of sacrilege. There could be no blessing on the tribes if they allowed the doers or condoners of this thing to go unpunished. It is therefore not incredible, but appears simply in accordance with the instincts and customs proper to the Hebrew people, that the sin of Gibeah should provoke overwhelming indignation. There is no pretence of purity, no hypocritical anger. The feeling is sound and real. Perhaps in no other matter of a moral kind would there have been such intense and unanimous exasperation. A point of justice or of belief would not have so moved the tribes. The better self of Israel appears asserting its claim and power. And the miscreants of Gibeah representing the lower self, verily an unclean spirit, are detested and denounced on every hand. Now the people of Gibeah were not all vile. The wretches whose crime called for judgment were but the rabble of the town. And we can see that the tribes, when they gathered in indignation, were made serious by the thought that the righteous might be punished with the wicked. Not without the suffering of the entire community is a great evil to be purged from a land. It is easy to execute a murderer, to imprison a felon. But the spirit of the murderer, of the felon, is widely diffused, and that has to be cast out. In the great moral struggle the better have not only the openly vile, but all who are tainted, all who are weak in soul, loose in habit, secretly sympathetie with the vile, arrayed against them. When an assault is made on some vile custom the sardonic laugh is heard of those who find their profit and their pleasure in it. They feel their power. They know the wide sympathy with them spread secretly through the land. Once and again the feeble attempt of the good is repelled. The tide turned, and there came another danger, that which waits on ebullitions of popular feeling. A crowd roused to anger is hard to control, and the tribes having once tasted vengeance, did not cease till Benjamin was almost exterminated. Justice overshot its mark, and for one evil made another. Those who had most fiercely used the sword viewed the result with horror and amazement, for a tribe was lacking in Israel. Nor was this the end of slaughter. Next, for the sake of Benjamin the sword was drawn, and the men of Jabesh-gilead were butchered. The warning conveyed here is intensely keen. It is that men, made doubtful by the issue of their actions whether they have done wisely, may fly to the resolution to justify themselves, and may do so even at the expense of justice; that a nation may pass from the right way to the wrong, and then, having sunk to extraordinary baseness and malignity, may turn, writhing and self-condemned, to add cruelty to cruelty in the attempt to still the upbraidings of conscience. It is that men in the heat of passion which began with resentment against evil may strike at those who have not joined in their errors as well as those who truly deserve reprobation. We stand, nations and individuals, in constant danger of dreadful extremes, a kind of insanity hurrying us on when the blood is heated by strong emotion. Blindly attempting to do right, we do evil; and again, having done the evil, we blindly strive to remedy it by doing more. In times of moral darkness and chaotic social conditions, when men are guided by a few rude principles, things are done that afterwards appal themselves, and yet may become an example for future outbreaks. During the fury of their Revolution, the French people, with some watchwords of the true ring, as liberty, fraternity, turned hither and thither, now in terror, now panting after dimly-seen justice or hope, and it was always from blood to blood. We understand the juncture in ancient Israel, and realise the excitement and the rage of a self-jealous people when we read the modern tales of surging ferocity in which men appear now hounding the shouting crowd to vengeance, then shuddering on the scaffold. In private life the story has an application against wild and violent methods of self-vindication. Passing to the final expedient adopted by the chiefs of Israel to rectify their error--the rape of the women at Shiloh--we see only to how pitiful a pass moral blundering brings those who fall into it. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)

──The Biblical Illustrator