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Judges: Chapter 20

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1Then all the Israelites came out, from Dan to Beer‐sheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled in one body before the LORD at Mizpah. 2The chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot‐soldiers bearing arms. 3(Now the Benjaminites heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the Israelites said, “Tell us, how did this criminal act come about?” 4The Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. 5The lords of Gibeah rose up against me, and surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she died. 6Then I took my concubine and cut her into pieces, and sent her throughout the whole extent of Israel's territory; for theyhave committed a vile outrage in Israel. 7So now, you Israelites, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.”

8All the people got up as one, saying, “We will not any of us go to our tents, nor will any of us return to our houses. 9But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up a Verses 22 and 23 are transposed against it by lot. 10We will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the troops, who are going to repay b Gk Vg: Heb in the plain Gibeah of Benjamin for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.” 11So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one.

12The tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What crime is this that has been committed among you? 13Now then, hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death, and purge the evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to their kinsfolk, the Israelites. 14The Benjaminites came together out of the towns to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the Israelites. 15On that day the Benjaminites mustered twenty‐six thousand armed men from their towns, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah. 16Of all this force, there were seven hundred picked men who were left‐handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss. 17And the Israelites, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand armed men, all of them warriors.

18The Israelites proceeded to go up to Bethel, where they inquired of God,“Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?” And the LORD answered, “Judah shall go up first.”

19Then the Israelites got up in themorning, and encamped against Gibeah. 20The Israelites went out to battle against Benjamin; and the Israelites drew up the battle line against them at Gibeah. 21The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah, and struck down on that day twenty‐two thousand of the Israelites. 23 c This sentence is continued by verse 45. The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until the evening; and they inquired of the LORD, “Shall we again draw near to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites?” And the LORD said, “Go up against them.” 22The Israelites took courage, and again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day.

24So the Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites the second day. 25Benjamin moved out against them from Gibeah the second day, and struck down eighteen thousand of the Israelites, all of them armed men. 26Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the LORD; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well‐being before the LORD. 27And the Israelites inquired of the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28and Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites, or shall we desist?” The LORD answered, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.”

29So Israel stationed men in ambush around Gibeah. 30Then the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites on the third day, and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as before. 31When the Benjaminites went out against the army, they were drawn away from the city. As before they began to inflict casualties on the troops, along the main roads, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, as well as in the open country, killing about thirty men of Israel. 32The Benjaminites thought, “They are being routed before us, as previously.” But the Israelites said, “Let us retreat and draw them away from the city toward the roads.” 33The main body of the Israelites drew back its battle line to Baaltamar, while those Israelites who were in ambush rushed out of their place west a Compare Vg and some Gk Mss: Heb cities of Geba. 34There came against Gibeah ten thousand picked men out of all Israel, and the battle was fierce. But the Benjaminites did not realize that disaster was close upon them.

35The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel; and the Israelites destroyed twenty‐five thousand one hundred men of Benjamin that day, all of them armed.

36Then the Benjaminites saw that they were defeated. b Compare Syr: Meaning of Heb uncertain

The Israelites gave ground to Benjamin, because they trusted to the troops in ambush that they had stationed against Gibeah. 37The troops in ambush rushed quickly upon Gibeah. Then they put the whole city to the sword. 38Now the agreement between the main body of Israel and the men in ambush was that when they sent up a cloud of smoke out of the city 39the main body of Israel should turn in battle. But Benjamin had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites, killing about thirty of them; so they thought, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.” 40But when the cloud, a column of smoke, began to rise out of the city, the Benjaminites looked behind them—and there was the whole city going up in smoke toward the sky! 41Then the main body of Israel turned, and the Benjaminites were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them. 42Therefore they turned away from the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them, and those who came out of the city c Gk: Heb Surrounding were slaughtering them in between. d Gk: Heb pursued them at their resting place 43Cutting down e That is Pleasant the Benjaminites, they pursued them from Nohah f That is Bitter and trod them down as far as a place east of Gibeah. 44Eighteen thousand Benjaminites fell, all of them courageous fighters. 45When they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, five thousand of them were cut down on the main roads, and they were pursued as far as Gidom, and two thousand of them were slain. 46So all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty‐five thousand arms‐bearing men, all of them courageous fighters. 47But six hundred turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and remained at the rock of Rimmon for four months. 48Meanwhile, the Israelites turned back against the Benjaminites, and put them to the sword—the city, the people, the animals, and all that remained. Also the remaining towns they set on fire.


c Verses 22 and 23 are transposed

a Gk Vg: Heb in the plain

b This sentence is continued by verse 45.

c Compare Vg and some Gk Mss: Heb cities

d Compare Syr: Meaning of Heb uncertain

e Gk: Heb Surrounding

f Gk: Heb pursued them at their resting place

a That is Pleasant

b That is Bitter

Text Commentary view alone

20.1–48 : The “hIerem” of Benjamin.

1–11: The nameless Levite ironically gets the greatest response from the greatest number of tribes in Israel in all of the book of Judges. The Levite, who calls the tribes to muster by the grotesque mutilation of his concubine, has become a self‐appointed judge. He is the sole witness; and he bears false witness, heightening the crime of the men of Gibeah while downplaying his own guilt. Ironically, the Levite sacrificed his concubine to save himself and now is willing to sacrifice the sons of Israel to get his personal revenge on the Gibeahites. Without any additional testimony, the tribal assembly condemns the crime against the Levite's concubine and takes steps to punish the guilty. The Levite now disappears.

1 :

Dan was the northernmost Israelite city, while Beer sheba was the southernmost. Gilead refers to the Transjordanian territories. Mizpah was the name of several Israelite towns. The one intended here was probably the Mizpah of Benjamin (Josh 18.26 ). It is identified with Tell en‐Nasbeh, 13 km (8 mi) north of Jerusalem.

6 :

Vile outrage, cf. 19.23; Gen 34.7; Deut 22.21; Josh 7.15; 2 Sam 13.12; Jer 29.23 .

10 :

Disgrace, see v. 6n .

12–17 :

The Benjaminites, who would later produce King Saul, refused to subject themselves to the authority of the tribal assembly, and civil war ensued.

16 :

The Benjaminite elite contingent of left‐handed slingers is reminiscent of Ehud ( 3.15 ).

18–48 :

Three battles are narrated in which the Israelites attempt to subdue Benjamin.

18–21 :

In the first battle, the Israelites attack en masse, but suffer a severe defeat, even though they followed a divine oracle that is reminiscent of 1.2 .

18 :

Bethel, once known as Luz, had associations with both Abraham (Gen 12.8; 13.3) and Jacob (Gen 28.10–22 ).

22–25 :

In the second battle, the Israelites also attack en masse, and again suffer a severe defeat.

26–48 :

In the third battle, the Israelites set an ambush and completely destroy (“hIerem”) the Benjaminites—men, women, children, and animals—all except six hundred men. Ironically, the determination and thoroughness surpasses anything evidenced in Israel's wars against the Canaanites elsewhere in Judges. Thematically, it is a return to Joshua, suggesting that these two books might be read together as a thematic unit.

28 :

Phinehas, see Num 25.7–13; Josh 22 .

33 :

The precise locations of Baal tamar and Geba are uncertain; Geba may be the same as Gibeah (cf. v. 43 ).

43–45 :

Nohah, Rimmon, and Gidom cannot be identified with certainty.

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