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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Then 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.
The "congregation" is the technical term for the whole community of the Israelite people. Its occurrence here is an indication of the early date of these transactions.
From Dan to Beer-sheba - We cannot safely infer from this expression that the settlement of Dan, recorded in Judges 18 had taken place at this time. It only proves that in the writer's time, from Dan to Beer-sheba was a proverbial expression for all Israel (compare the marginal reference).
With the land of Gilead - Meaning all the trans-Jordanic tribes; mentioned particularly, both to show that the whole congregation of the children of Israel, in its widest meaning, took part in the council, and also because of Jabesh-Gilead Judges 21:8, Judges 21:10.
Unto the Lord in Mizpeh - The phrase "unto the Lord", implies the presence of the tabernacle (Judges 11:11 note). Mizpeh in Benjamin Joshua 18:26, from its connection with Bethel and Ramah, is probably meant here. It is the same as that which appears as a place of national assembly in 1 Samuel 7:5; 1 Samuel 10:17; 2 Kings 25:23-25. It must have been near Shiloh and Gibeah, and in the north of Benjamin. The Benjamites were duly summoned with the other tribes; so that their absence was contumacious Judges 20:3.
2And 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.
The chief - literally, "the corner stones." (Compare 1 Samuel 14:38.)
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?
4And 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.
5And 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.
6And 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.
7Behold, ye are all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.
8And 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.
They bound themselves not to break up and disperse until they had punished the wickedness of Gibeah.
9But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it;
By lot - To determine who should go up first Judges 20:18. The shape of the ground probably made it impossible for the whole force to operate at once; and the question of spoil would have something to do with the arrangement. (Compare 1 Samuel 30:22-25.)
10And 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.
In order to make it possible for the force of Israel to keep the field, and do to the men of Gibeah what their wickedness deserved, every tenth man (40,000 in all) was appointed to find provisions for the whole army.
11So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man.
12And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?
13Now 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:
14But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel.
15And 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.
Comparing the numbers here with those in Numbers 1; 26, it is seen that in the case both of the Benjamites and the Israelites the numbers are diminished by about one-third, i. e., they appear as about two-thirds only of what they were at the last numbering in the plains of Moab. This diminution seems to indicate disturbed and harassing times. With this agrees the mention of the cities, as containing the whole Benjamite population. The inference is that the open country and unwalled villages were not safe, but that the Benjamites kept the Canaanites in subjection only by dwelling in fortified towns.
16Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.
See Judges 3:15, and note. In the Septuagint and Vulgate the 700 chosen men of Gibeah are represented as the seven hundred left-handed slingers.
17And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war.
18And 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.
Went up to the house of God - It should be "to Bethel." At this time the ark was at Bethel (compare 1 Samuel 10:3), and not at Shiloh. It is not unlikely that though Shiloh was the chief residence of the ark Jeremiah 7:12, yet the tabernacle, being moveable, was, either at stated times, or as occasion required, moved to where the Judge resided, or the congregation assembled (compare 1 Samuel 7:16). On the present occasion the ark may have been moved to Bethel for the convenience of proximity to the great national council at Mizpeh.
19And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.
20And 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.
21And 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.
Gibeah, being on a hill, was difficult of access to an attacking army, and gave great advantage to the defenders, who fought from higher ground, and probably defended a narrow pass, while their companions on the walls could gall the assailants with their slingstones.
22And 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? And the LORD said, Go up against him.)
24And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.
25And 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.
26Then 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 until even - The regular time for ending a fast among the Hebrews was sunset (compare 1 Samuel 14:24; 2 Samuel 1:12). Such national fasts are called by the rabbis "fasts of the congregation," and were enjoined in times of great affliction.
On the offerings, see Lev. i., 3.
27And the children of Israel inquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
28And 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, the son of Eleazar ... - A most important chronological statement, which makes it probable that these events occurred within twenty years of the death of Joshua.
To-morrow - The two former answers only bade them go up against Benjamin; now, for the first time, the promise is added, "Tomorrow," etc. (compare Joshua 8:1).
29And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.
The stratagem described is exactly that by which Joshua took Ai (marginal reference).
30And 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.
31And 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, as at other times, in the highways, of which one goeth up to the house of God, and the other to Gibeah in the field, about thirty men of Israel.
To the house of God - "To Bethel," as in the margin. On "Gibeah in the field," see Joshua 18:24 note.
32And 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.
33And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and put themselves in array at Baaltamar: and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah.
Baal-tamar is only mentioned here. It took its name from some palm-tree that grew there; perhaps the same as the "palm-tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel" Judges 4:5, the exact locality here indicated, since "the highway" Judges 20:31 along which the Israelites enticed the Benjamites to pursue them, leads straight to Ramah, which lay only a mile beyond the point where the two ways branch off.
The meadows of Gibeah - The word rendered "meadow" is only found here. According to its etymology, it ought to mean a "bare open place", which is particularly unsuitable for an ambush. However, by a change in the vowel-points, without any alteration in the letters, it becomes the common word for "a cavern".
34And 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.
35And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel: and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men: all these drew the sword.
36So the children of Benjamin saw that they 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.
37And 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.
38Now 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 city.
39And 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.
40But 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.
41And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.
42Therefore 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 they destroyed in the midst of them.
The way of the wilderness - i. e., the wilderness which extended from Jericho to the hills of Bethel.
Them which came out of the cities - These must be the Benjamites Judges 20:15. Hence, "in the midst of them" must mean "in their own cities", where they severally fled for refuge, but failed to find shelter Judges 20:48. Anathoth, Alemath, Ramah, Ataroth, Geba, Michmash, Ai, Bethel, Migron, etc., would probably be the cities meant, all lying east and north of Gibeah.
43Thus 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, and to describe, in the language of poetry, the same event which the preceding verse described in that of prose.
With ease - Or "rest" Numbers 10:33; Psalm 95:11. The expression is very obscure. The margin takes it as the name of a place.
44And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour.
45And 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.
Rimmon - A village named "Rummon", situated on the summit of a conical chalky hill, still exists, and forms a remarkable object in the landscape, visible in all directions. It lies 15 miles north of Jerusalem. It is a different place from Rimmon in the south of Judah Joshua 15:32, and Remmon in Zebulon Joshua 19:13. Gidom, mentioned nowhere else, was evidently close to Rimmon.
46So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour.
In Judges 20:35 the number given is 25,100. Judges 20:44-46 give the details of the loss on that day: 18,000, 5,000, and 2,000; in all 25,000. But as the Benjamites numbered 26,700 men Judges 20:15, and 600 escaped to the rock of Rimmon, it is clear that 1,100 are unaccounted for, partly from no account being taken of those who fell in the battles of the two first days, partly from the use of round numbers, or from some other cause. The numbers given both here and in Judges 20:35 are expressly restricted to those who fell on "that" (the third) "day."
47But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.
48And 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.
They treated Benjamin as devoted to utter destruction, as Jericho had been Joshua 6:17, Joshua 6:21, and the whole tribe was all but actually extirpated. We see in the punishment inflicted the same ferocity which marked both the crime and the Levite's mode of requiring vengeance.