Judges 20


‘Then all Israel from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came together as one and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, four hundred thousand men armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.” So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and outrageous act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and tell me what you have decided to do.” All the men rose up together as one, saying, “None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. But now this is what we’ll do to Gibeah: We’ll go up against it in the order decided by casting lots. We’ll take ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred from a thousand, and a thousand from ten thousand, to get provisions for the army. Then, when the army arrives at Gibeah in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for this outrageous act done in Israel.” So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city.’ Judges 20:1-11

The Israelites Punish The Benjamites

In this chapter, we see that Israel is going to destroy Benjamin for what they did to that poor woman in the previous chapter. The Levite husband tells his side of the story, notice that he told the truth, but rather conveniently didn’t mention the cruel and callous way he abandoned his concubine to the mob.

Israelites from the northern, that is, Dan and southern, that is in Beersheba extremities of Palestine assembled in order to enact judgment upon Benjamin.

In other words, all of Israel, except the Benjamites, gather to discuss this horrific affair and so, Israel decided to kill the men of Gibeah who did the deed.

Notice that they are united as one, except Benjamin, this is the first time they have become one since the death of Joshua. What’s really sad about this, is if the Israelite army isn’t going to fight the real enemy, that is the Canaanites, they are getting ready to fight against one of the tribes of Israel.

Notice they say, ‘when the army arrives at Gibeah in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for this outrageous act done in Israel.’ This was perfectly in line with God’s commands, Deuteronomy 13:12-18.

‘The tribes of Israel sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What about this awful crime that was committed among you? Now turn those wicked men of Gibeah over to us so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.” But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. From their towns, they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle.’ Judges 20:12-17

It’s important to note, that the Israelites tried to solve the issue by going to war and so, they demand that the tribe of Benjamin give up the guilty men in Gibeah, but Benjamin refuses and so this meant war.

It’s possible that Benjamin thought their brethren would attack them but how wrong they were. It appears that Israel’s disgust with the crime which happened was greater than the respect they had for Benjamin.

Israel gathers a huge posse, including 700 left-handed soldiers who could sling stones with devastating accuracy and so, the tribes of Israel were now prepared for a small civil war against the tribe of Benjamin.

‘The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The LORD replied, “Judah shall go first.” The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. But the Israelites encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?” The LORD answered, “Go up against them.”  Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The LORD responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” Judges 20:18-28

Notice in this first battle, despite seeking the Lord, hoorah, the Israelites finally remember who God is but as we have seen throughout this whole book, they only seek God when things are getting tough. However, they still failed to defeat the Benjamites, the lost 22,000 men.

After this first day of battle, it appeared that the Benjamites might actually successfully resist the other tribes of Israel. As we can imagine, Israel is getting worried, but notice they encouraged one another in the Lord, 1 Samuel 30:6, and ask the Lord again if they should continue. Israel wept before the Lord until evening, to prepare for the next battle, which shows us their humility.

On the second day of battle, Israel is defeated again by Benjamin losing 18,000 men. This means that Israel has suffered two defeats with the loss of 40,000 men.

These two defeats would remind them in the future that they should never fight among themselves. Israel now repents before God after the second defeat.

Notice the Ark of the covenant is mentioned, this is the only time the ark is mentioned in the Book of Judges. Phinehas son of Eleazar was a descent of Aaron, Numbers 25:7 / Numbers 25:11.

It appears that God didn’t want the two days of humbling to make Israel think that they could never win and so He tells them to go out tomorrow and trust God.

‘Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads—the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah. While the Benjamites were saying, “We are defeating them as before,” the Israelites were saying, “Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.” All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was. The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah. Those who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword. The Israelites had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, and then the Israelites would counterattack. The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites (about thirty), and they said, “We are defeating them as in the first battle.” But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the whole city going up in smoke. Then the Israelites counterattacked, and the Benjamites were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come on them. So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness, but they could not escape the battle. And the Israelites who came out of the towns cut them down there. They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them and easily overran them in the vicinity of Gibeah on the east. Eighteen thousand Benjamites fell, all of them valiant fighters. As they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, the Israelites cut down five thousand men along the roads. They kept pressing after the Benjamites as far as Gidom and struck down two thousand more. On that day twenty-five thousand Benjamite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. But six hundred of them turned and fled into the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months. The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.’ Judges 20:29-48

As Israel enters the third day of battle, they hide part of their army around Gibeah whilst other soldiers draw Benjamin’s army out of the city.

Benjamin chases them into the highways and fields outside the city. This strategy is very similar to the strategy which Joshua used at Ai, Joshua 8.

Meanwhile, the hidden warriors around Gibeah come out and ransack the city. When the Benjamites catch up to the Israelites, they fight hard but get driven back by Israel.

The Israelites in Gibeah start a huge fire to signal to their army that they’ve taken the city and when the Benjamites realise that they’ve been fooled, they try to run into the wilderness, but the Israelites slaughter them.

Although 25,000 Benjamites perished, 600 Benjamites escape into the wilderness to a place called the rock of Rimmon whilst Israel’s army continues its war against Benjamin, killing every man and beast and burning every Benjamite city. They destroyed the livestock and everyone they found in the region and even burned the cities.

Isn’t this a sad affair? When brother fights against brother, it’s never a great time.

However, as we’re about to read in the final chapter, Israel’s judgment against Benjamin was over the top and too severe. This is something they will come to realise and try and come up with a solution.

Go To Judges 21


"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."