The Period Of The Judges

 Chapter 94
First Encounter [Judges 20.19-20.23]


Scripture (KJV) Judges 20.19-23

19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.
20 And 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.
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.
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.
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.)

 


Commentary


19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.—Judges 20.19 (KJV) 
19 So the Israelites left early the next morning and camped near Gibeah.—Judges 20:19 (NLT)

And the children of Israel rose up in the morning,
After they had conferred together at Shiloh, where they asked the Lord; “…Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the LORD said, Judah shall go up first (Judges 20:18; KJV). The next line says that the army of Israel was bivouacked at Gibeah, so we can infer from that that a deputation was sent to Shiloh.

and encamped against Gibeah:
The whole army of Israel laid siege to Gibeah; 360,000 men were enough to have stormed and taken that city at once, one would think. Remember, 40,000 were doing “K.P.”, having been assigned to gather food for the army.

 
Judges 20:18 (NLT) Before the battle the Israelites went to Bethel and asked God, “Which tribe should go first to attack the people of Benjamin?” The LORD answered, “Judah is to go first.”


20 And 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.—Judges 20.20 (KJV) 
20 Then they advanced toward Gibeah to attack the men of Benjamin.—Judges 20:20 (NLT)

And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin,
Here the men of Israel means the men of Judah, since they were appointed by God to be the first tribe to make contact with Benjamin and the men of Gibeah (see previous verse). It was a difficult assault for Judah, because her fighters had to go up a hill to get there.

and the men of Israel put themselves in array to fight against them at Gibeah;
As soon as the men of Israel arrived at Gibeah they put themselves in battle array (see 1 Samuel 4:2; 1 Samuel 17:2), and prepared for a fight. The men of Israel were not only going against the inhabitants of Gibeah, but the children of Benjamin that came to their defense, as well. The Benjamites advanced to raise the siege and the Men of Judah prepare to give them a warm reception.

1 Sam 4:2 (KJV) And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.

1 Sam 17:2 (KJV) And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines.


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.—Judges 20.21 (KJV) 
21 But Benjamin’s warriors, who were defending the town, came out and killed 22,000 Israelites on the battlefield that day.—Judges 20:21 (NLT)

And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah,
Gibeah (sometimes called Geba, literally, the hill) was their place of rendezvous and the place which they came to defend. There they stationed their whole army of 26,000 men, inside and around the city. Gibeah was undoubtedly very difficult to assault, and the steep approach greatly favored the defenders. The men of Judah probably came up carelessly, and with an arrogant confidence, and so they met with a terrible disaster.
Note: Benjamin was constantly involved in disagreements with the other tribes, which had to be settled on the battlefield (see Genesis 49.27; Hosea 10.9).

Gen 49:27 (NLT) “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring his enemies in the morning and dividing his plunder in the evening.” Benjamin is a ravenous wolf –This tribe in its early history spent its energies in petty or inglorious warfare and especially in the violent and unjust contest (Judges 19:1-20:48), in which it engaged with the other tribes, when, notwithstanding two victories, it was almost exterminated.

Hosea 10:9 (NLT) The LORD says, “O Israel, ever since Gibeah, there has been only sin and more sin! You have made no progress whatsoever. Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?” O Israel, ever since Gibeah, there has been only sin and more sin! —This is another reference to the horrible rape and murder of the Levite's wife, Judges 19:13, 14. Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?”—Only one tribe was nearly destroyed; that of Benjamin. They were the criminals, the children of iniquity.

and destroyed down to the ground
It was a very one-sided battle, many Israelites were killed dead upon the spot. The army of Israel, but mostly the tribe of Judah was utterly destroyed. But why would God allow them to have so great a loss in so good a cause? Because they had many and great sins that were influencing their lives, and they should not have come to do such a great work for God, with polluted hands. They should have pulled the beam out of their own eye, before they attempted to take one out of their brother Benjamin's eye: but, because they did not do it, God did it for them; bringing them through the fire, so that they might be purged from their dross. It is highly probable that the great God, who presides over every stroke in battle, organized and regulated things, so that their worst members would be destroyed down to the ground, which was a great blessing to the whole nation. And God would show from that generation to this one and all those in between 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.

The word destroyed, as it is used here is the same as is applied to the destroying angel (see Exodus 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16).

Ex 12:23 (KJV) For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.

2 Sam 24:16 (KJV) And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite. The angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem—By what means this destruction took place, we know not: it appears that an angel was employed in it, and that this minister of Divine justice actually appeared as an object, of sight; for it is said, 2 Samuel 24:17, When David saw the angel that smote the people, he said, etc.; and both Ornan and his four sons saw him and were affrighted, 1 Chronicles 21:20.

of the Israelites that day twenty and two thousand men.
The Israelites had a just cause and such an overwhelming advantage in numbers that they did not expect to lose this first battle with the Benjamites. But between the Benjamites that attacked them in the front with incredible fury, and the men of Gibeah that sallied out upon their rear, they were put into confusion and lost 22,000 men. There were no prisoners taken, because there was no quarter given; all the wounded were put to the sword.

There have been several reasons put forth for why the Israelite confederacy fared so poorly, losing 22,000 men and the battle. Some are all of the following may be true:
1. Several Jewish, writers think this embarrassing loss was on account of their idolatry; that though they were very zealous to revenge the brutish adultery in the case of the Levite's concubine, and to remove such wickedness from Israel; yet they were not zealous to revenge and put away spiritual adultery or idolatry in the case of the Danites, who had set up the image of Micah, and so had spread idolatry not only in their own tribe, but throughout Israel; and therefore God took this opportunity to avenge his own quarrel, and rebuke them for their sin; and now Benjamin is as ravenous as a wolf, according to Jacob's prophecy, (see Genesis 49:27).
2. In this battle, Israel trusted in the might of their army and in the goodness of their cause—but not in the Lord.
3. Great numbers of men were of limited value, since they could not be deployed effectively.
4. Gibeah, being on a hill, was a difficult access for 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 torment the Israelites with their sling stones.

Gen 49:27 (NLT) “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring his enemies in the morning and dividing his plunder in the evening.” Benjamin is a ravenous wolf –This tribe in its early history spent its energies in petty or inglorious warfare and especially in the violent and unjust contest (Judges 19:1-20:48), in which it engaged with the other tribes, when, notwithstanding two victories, it was almost exterminated.

 

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.—Judges 20.22 (KJV) 
22 But the Israelites encouraged each other and took their positions again at the same place they had fought the previous day.—Judges 20:22 (NLT)

And the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves,
Morale was good, in spite of losing the first battle of Gibeah. They had lost a great number of men, yet their forces were greatly superior to those of Benjamin, and above all their cause was good. They encouraged themselves, with thoughts like these; but, perhaps they had too much confidence in their own strength, and not enough in the divine commission. In addition, they changed their strategy, putting themselves in a better position for defending themselves, and frustrating their enemies. They were now familiar with the hilly terrain in the vicinity of Gibeah, and that it favored a defensive force, rather than an attacking force; therefore, they would not suffer the loss of as many men when making the approach to Gibeah.

and set their battle again in array
The army of Israel formed a line of battle again facing their enemy, and challenging them to another battle, and acting defiantly. The battle line was set in the same place where the former battle was fought, with the hope of retrieving their credit upon the same spot of ground where they had lost it, which they would not superstitiously change, as if there were any thing unlucky in the place

in the place where they put themselves in array the first day.
This is pure speculation, but I believe the Israelites never gave up the battlefield; they kept the field of battle, and though they lost many men, they did not flee before the children of Benjamin, but stood their ground. Neither were they so superstitious as to suppose the place was unlucky; and they were not in a bad situation that caused them to fail in the first attempt, because if they were they would have changed it.
They refreshed their army with fresh reinforcements and prepared for battle.

 

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.)—Judges 20.23 (KJV) 
23 For they had gone up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the LORD until evening. They had asked the LORD, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?” And the LORD had said, “Go out and fight against them.”—Judges 20:23 (NLT)

And the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until even
On the evening of the day in which the battle was fought, a deputation from the tribes of Israel went to Beth-el, located about five miles from Mizpeh. They went to the house of God that was there, and they grieved over their defeat, and the loss of so many lives, and wept before the Lord until even, but they didn’t repent of their sins and transgressions, and the idolatry they had been guilty of.

It appears that once again the Israelites did not seek the protection of God. They trusted in the goodness of their cause and in the multitude of their army. God humbled them, and delivered them into the hands of their enemies, and showed them that the race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.

It may be a mistake to envision these two battles as being fought on successive days. This mention of the Israelites weeping before Jehovah until evening probably refers to an entire day, during which they again consulted Jehovah through the High Priest Phinehas at Bethel, and continued there from mourning until evening.

This verse must precede ver. 22 chronologically, since it explains the circumstances under which the battle, referred to in verse 22 took place. The unexpected defeat they had met with had begun to produce its intended effect. There was a humbling of themselves before God, a brokenness of spirit, a deepened sense of dependence upon God, and a softening of their feelings towards their brother Benjamin. All this was exposed as they again went to the tabernacle at Bethel to inquire of the Lord (see Judges 20.18 and chapter 93).


Judges 20:18 (NLT) Before the battle the Israelites went to Bethel and asked God, “Which tribe should go first to attack the people of Benjamin?” The LORD answered, “Judah is to go first.”

and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, shall we go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?
They seemed to have some doubt, due the loss they sustained, whether they were right in going to war with Benjamin, especially since he was their brother; and therefore the question now is, not who should go up first, which was already determined (see Judges 20.18, above) but whether they should go at all; and still they do not ask God for any help in battle, or for victory over Benjamin. They were still depending on their numbers, and the justness of their cause, and therefore neither is promised to them; all they have is an answer to their question.

The early 20th century critics lambasted this chapter as, "Neither history, nor legend but the ideal (imagination) of a scribe who had never handled a more dangerous weapon than an imaginative pen." Of course, such bold and atheistic attacks against the Bible are no longer popular among modern writers. Boling, in the Anchor Bible, for example, stated that, "This account of two initial setbacks and the final victory make excellent sense in their sequence with Judges 19." And, as regards the shouts of "exaggeration" regarding the heavy casualties of this civil war, the same writer declared that, "The figures here are entirely plausible."
It seems most evident that the Israelites did not seek the protection of God. When they "went to the house of God the first time" (see judges 20.18, above), it was not to enquire concerning the appropriateness of the war, nor of its success, but which of the tribes should begin the attack: and here the question is, "Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?" Having so much right on their side, they had no doubt of the justice of their cause, and the aptness of their conduct; and having such a superiority of numbers, they had no doubt of success. But God humbled them, and delivered them into the hands of their enemies; and showed them that the race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong

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.

and the Lord said, go up against him;
But before renewing the conflict they went up to Bethel, wept there before Jehovah, until the evening; to be precise, they wept before the sanctuary of the ark, where Jehovah was present in the midst of His people, enthroned between the cherubim. And then, they inquired of the Lord (again through the high priest) saying, shall we go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? (i.e., renew the war with him)? This time they did not ask who should go up first, but whether they should go up at all. They acted more solemnly than before; lamenting the loss of so many brave men, especially since it was a token of God’s displeasure and would give occasion to the Benjamites to celebrate in the success of their wickedness. Benjamin was certainly in the wrong and they also were not sufficiently chastised, or thoroughly humbled, and therefore the Israelites are directed to go against him. God bade them go up against him; he allowed the attempt, because, though Benjamin was their brother, he was a gangrened member of their body and must be cut off.


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