Judges 20

Civil War Breaks Out

All the Israelites from Dan to Beer Sheba
Dan was located in the far north of the country, while Beer Sheba was located in the far south. This encompassed all the territory of the land of Canaan occupied by the Israelites.
and from the land of Gilead
The land of Gilead was on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
left their homes
Heb “went out.”
and assembled together
Heb “and the assembly was convened as one man.”
before the Lord at Mizpah.
The leaders
Heb “the cornerstones”; or “the supports.” The word is used of leaders in only three other texts – 1 Sam 14:38; Isa 19:13; Zech 10:4.
of all the people from all the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, which numbered
The words “which numbered” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
four hundred thousand sword-wielding foot soldiers.
The Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. Then the Israelites said, “Explain how this wicked thing happened!” The Levite,
Heb “The man, the Levite.”
the husband of the murdered woman, spoke up, “I and my concubine stopped in
Heb “came to.”
Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin
Heb “which belongs to Benjamin.”
to spend the night.
The leaders of Gibeah attacked me and at night surrounded the house where I was staying.
Heb “arose against me and surrounded against me the house at night.”
They wanted to kill me; instead they abused my concubine so badly that she died.
I grabbed hold of my concubine and carved her up and sent the pieces
Heb “her”; the referent is more naturally stated in English as “the pieces.”
throughout the territory occupied by Israel,
Heb “throughout all the territory of the inheritance of Israel.”
because they committed such an unthinkable atrocity
Heb “a wicked and disgraceful [thing].”
in Israel.
All you Israelites,
Heb “Look, all of you sons of Israel.”
make a decision here!”
Heb “give for yourselves a word and advice here.”

All Israel rose up in unison
Heb “as one man.”
and said, “Not one of us will go home!
Heb “to his tent.”
Not one of us will return
Or “turn aside.”
to his house!
Now this is what we will do to Gibeah: We will attack the city as the lot dictates.
Heb “against her by lot.” The verb “we will go up” (נַעֲלֶה, naaleh) has probably been accidentally omitted before “against her” (עָלֶיהָ, ’aleha).
As the lot dictates. The Israelite soldiers intended to cast lots to determine which tribe would lead the battle charge (see v. 18).
10 We will take ten of every group of a hundred men from all the tribes of Israel (and a hundred of every group of a thousand, and a thousand of every group of ten thousand) to get supplies for the army.
Or “people.”
When they arrive in Gibeah of Benjamin they will punish them for the atrocity which they committed in Israel.”
Heb “to do at their arrival in Geba of Benjamin according to all the disgraceful [thing] which he [collective = “Benjamin”] did in Israel.” Here “Geba” must be an error for “Gibeah.”
11 So all the men of Israel gathered together at the city as allies.
Heb “gathered at the city as one man, united.”

12  The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe
The MT reads the plural, but surely the singular (which is supported by the LXX and Vulgate) is preferable here.
of Benjamin, saying, “How could such a wicked thing take place?
Heb “What is this wicked thing which happened among you?”
13 Now, hand over the good-for-nothings
Heb “the men, sons of wickedness.”
in Gibeah so we can execute them and purge Israel of wickedness.”
Heb “and burn away wickedness from Israel.”
But the Benjaminites refused to listen to their Israelite brothers.
14 The Benjaminites came from their cities and assembled at Gibeah
Heb “assembled from the cities at Gibeah.”
to make war against the Israelites.
15 That day the Benjaminites mustered from their cities twenty-six thousand sword-wielding soldiers, besides seven hundred well-trained soldiers from Gibeah.
Heb “besides from the ones living in Gibeah they mustered seven hundred choice men.”
16 Among this army
Heb “And from all this people.”
were seven hundred specially-trained left-handed soldiers.
Heb “seven hundred choice men, bound/restricted in the right hand.” On the significance of the idiom, “bound/restricted in the right hand,” see the translator’s note on 3:15.
Each one could sling a stone and hit even the smallest target.
“at a single hair and not miss.”
17 The men of Israel (not counting Benjamin) had mustered four hundred thousand sword-wielding soldiers, every one an experienced warrior.
Heb “a man of war.”

18  The Israelites went up to Bethel
For location see Map4-G4; Map5-C1; Map6-E3; Map7-D1; Map8-G3.
and asked God,
Heb “They arose and went up to Bethel and asked God, and the Israelites said.”
“Who should lead the charge against the Benjaminites?”
Heb “Who should go up for us first for battle against the sons of Benjamin?”
The Lord said, “Judah should lead.”
19 The Israelites got up the next morning and moved
Heb “encamped.”
against Gibeah.
20 The men of Israel marched out to fight Benjamin; they
Heb “the men of Israel.” The noun phrase has been replaced by the pronoun (“they”) in the translation for stylistic reasons.
arranged their battle lines against Gibeah.
21 The Benjaminites attacked from Gibeah and struck down twenty-two thousand Israelites that day.
Heb “The sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and they struck down in Israel that day twenty-two thousand men to the ground.”

22  The Israelite army
Heb “The people, the men of Israel.”
took heart
Or “encouraged one another.”
and once more arranged their battle lines, in the same place where they had taken their positions the day before.
23 The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening. They asked the Lord, “Should we
Heb “I” (collective singular).
again march out to fight
Heb “approach for battle.”
the Benjaminites, our brothers?”
Heb “my brother” (collective singular).
The Lord said, “Attack them!”
Heb “Go up against him” (collective singular).
24 So the Israelites marched toward
Heb “drew near to.”
the Benjaminites the next day.
25 The Benjaminites again attacked them from Gibeah and struck down eighteen thousand sword-wielding Israelite soldiers.
Heb “And Benjamin went out to meet them from Gibeah the second day, and they struck down among the sons of Israel eighteen thousand men to the ground, all of these were wielding the sword.”

26  So all the Israelites, the whole army,
Heb “and all the people.”
went up to
Heb “went up and came [to].”
For location see Map4-G4; Map5-C1; Map6-E3; Map7-D1; Map8-G3.
They wept and sat there before the Lord; they did not eat anything
Traditionally, “fasted.”
that day until evening. They offered up burnt sacrifices and tokens of peace
Or “peace offerings.”
to the Lord.
27 The Israelites asked the Lord (for the ark of God’s covenant was there in those days; 28 Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was serving the Lord
Heb “standing before him.”
in those days), “Should we
Heb “I” (collective singular).
once more march out to fight the Benjaminites our brothers,
Heb “my brother” (collective singular).
or should we
Heb “I” (collective singular).
quit?” The Lord said, “Attack, for tomorrow I will hand them
Heb “him” (collective singular).
over to you.”

29  So Israel hid men in ambush outside Gibeah. 30 The Israelites attacked the Benjaminites the next day;
Heb “the third day.”
they took their positions against Gibeah just as they had done before.
31 The Benjaminites attacked
Heb “went out to meet.”
the army, leaving the city unguarded.
Heb “and they were drawn away from the city.”
They began to strike down their enemy
Heb “from the army wounded ones.”
just as they had done before. On the main roads (one leads to Bethel,
For location see Map4-G4; Map5-C1; Map6-E3; Map7-D1; Map8-G3.
the other to Gibeah) and in the field, they struck down
The words “they struck down” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
about thirty Israelites.
32 Then the Benjaminites said, “They are defeated just as before.” But the Israelites said, “Let’s retreat
Or “run away.”
and lure them
Heb “him” (collective singular).
away from the city into the main roads.”
Verses 33–36a give a condensed account of the battle from this point on, while vv. 36b–48 offer a more detailed version of how the ambush contributed to Gibeah’s defeat.
All the men of Israel got up from their places and took their positions at Baal Tamar, while the Israelites hiding in ambush jumped out of their places west of Gibeah.
34 Ten thousand men, well-trained soldiers from all Israel, then made a frontal assault against Gibeah – the battle was fierce.
Heb “heavy”; or “severe.”
But the Benjaminites did not realize that disaster was at their doorstep.
Heb “And they did not know that touching against them was disaster.”
35 The Lord annihilated Benjamin before Israel; the Israelites struck down that day 25,100 sword-wielding Benjaminites.
Heb “And the sons of Israel struck down in Benjamin that day 25,100 men, all of these wielding the sword.”
36 Then the Benjaminites saw they were defeated.

The Israelites retreated before
Heb “gave place to.”
Benjamin, because they had confidence in the men they had hid in ambush outside Gibeah.
37 The men hiding in ambush made a mad dash
Heb “hurried and put off [their hiding place].”
to Gibeah. They
Heb “the men hiding in ambush.”
Or “deployed.” The verb normally means “to lead” or “to draw.”
and put the sword to the entire city.
38 The Israelites and the men hiding in ambush had arranged a signal. When the men hiding in ambush
Heb “they”; the referent (the men hiding in ambush) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
sent up a smoke signal from the city,
39 the Israelites counterattacked.
Heb “turned in the battle.”
Benjamin had begun to strike down the Israelites;
Heb “And Benjamin began to strike down wounded ones among the men of Israel.”
they struck down
The words “they struck down” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
about thirty men. They said, “There’s no doubt about it! They are totally defeated as in the earlier battle.”
40 But when the signal, a pillar of smoke, began to rise up from the city, the Benjaminites turned around and saw the whole city going up in a cloud of smoke that rose high into the sky.
Heb “Benjamin turned after him and, look, the whole city went up toward the sky.”
41 When the Israelites turned around, the Benjaminites panicked
Or “were terrified.”
because they could see that disaster was on their doorstep.
Heb “disaster touched against them.”
42 They retreated before the Israelites, taking the road to the wilderness. But the battle overtook
Heb “clung to”; or “stuck close.”
them as men from the surrounding cities struck them down.
Heb “and those from the cities were striking them down in their midst.”
43 They surrounded the Benjaminites, chased them from Nohah,
The translation assumes the reading מִנּוֹחָה (minnokhah, “from Nohah”; cf. 1 Chr 8:2) rather than the MT’s מְנוּחָה (menukhah, “resting place”).
and annihilated
Heb “tread down, walk on.”
them all the way to a spot east of Geba.
Heb “unto the opposite of Gibeah toward the east.” Gibeah cannot be correct here, since the Benjaminites retreated from there toward the desert and Rimmon (see v. 45). A slight emendation yields the reading “Geba.”
44 Eighteen thousand Benjaminites, all of them capable warriors, fell dead. 45 The rest
Heb “they”; the referent (the rest [of the Benjaminites]) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
turned and ran toward the wilderness, heading toward the cliff of Rimmon. But the Israelites
Heb “and they”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
Heb “gleaned.” The word is an agricultural term which pictures Israelites picking off the Benjaminites as easily as one picks grapes from the vine.
five thousand of them on the main roads. They stayed right on their heels
Heb “stuck close after them.”
all the way to Gidom and struck down two thousand more.
46 That day twenty-five thousand
The number given here (twenty-five thousand sword-wielding Benjaminites) is an approximate figure; v. 35 gives the more exact number (25,100). According to v. 15, the Benjaminite army numbered 26,700 (26,000 + 700). The figures in vv. 35 (rounded in vv. 44–46) and 47 add up to 25,700. What happened to the other 1,000 men? The most reasonable explanation is that they were killed during the first two days of fighting. G. F. Moore (Judges [ICC], 429) and C. F. Burney (Judges, 475) reject this proposal, arguing that the narrator is too precise and concerned about details to omit such a fact. However, the account of the first two days’ fighting emphasizes Israel’s humiliating defeat. To speak of Benjaminite casualties would diminish the literary effect. In vv. 35, 44–47 the narrator’s emphasis is the devastating defeat that Benjamin experienced on this final day of battle. To mention the earlier days’ casualties at this point is irrelevant to his literary purpose. He allows readers who happen to be concerned with such details to draw conclusions for themselves.
sword-wielding Benjaminites fell in battle, all of them capable warriors.
Heb “So all the ones who fell from Benjamin were twenty-five thousand men, wielding the sword, in that day, all of these men of strength.
47 Six hundred survivors turned and ran away to the wilderness, to the cliff of Rimmon. They stayed there four months. 48 The Israelites returned to the Benjaminite towns
Heb “to the sons of Benjamin.”
and put the sword to them. They wiped out the cities,
The translation is based on the reading מֵעִיר מְתִים (meir metim, “from a city of men,” i.e., “an inhabited city”), rather than the reading מֵעִיר מְתֹם (meir metom, “from a city of soundness”) found in the Leningrad Codex (L).
the animals, and everything they could find. They set fire to every city in their path.
Heb “Also all the cities that were found they set on fire.”

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