Second Encounter [Judges 20.24-20.28]
Scripture (KJV) Judges 20.24-28
24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.
25 And 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.
26 Then 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.
27 And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
28 And 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.
24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.—Judges 20.24 (KJV)
24 So the next day they went out again to fight against the men of Benjamin,—Judges 20:24 (NLT)
And the children of Israel came near
to the city of Gibeah, where they put themselves in battle array. Here the little word “And,” connects this verse with verse 22, repeating what had been said there, but giving it this time as the result of God’s answer recorded in ver. 23.
against the children of Benjamin the second day.
God instructed them to “go up” and battle against the Benjaminites; He allowed the battle between the Israelites and their brother Benjamin, because he was a gangrened member of their body and must be cut off. Upon this, they encouraged themselves, perhaps more in their own strength than in the divine commission, and made a second attempt upon the forces of the rebels, in the same place where the former battle was fought (v. 22), with the hope of retrieving their credit upon the same spot of ground where they had lost it.
25 And 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.—Judges 20.25 (KJV)
25 but the men of Benjamin killed another 18,000 Israelites, all of whom were experienced with the sword.—Judges 20:25 (NLT)
And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day
elated and confident over the victory they had won at the previous battle. This time we are not told upon which tribe the lot fell, so that they should be the first to go against Benjamin; they would lose the most in the battle.
and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword.
Eighteen thousand armed men are slain in this second battle; this, along with the 22,000 slain in the first battle, made the total killed 40,000; the same number singled out from among them by lot to provide food for them, and is thought by some to be the case Deborah refers to in Judges 5.8, and is what is certainly intended in Hosea 10:9 .
"The second day" is probably not the day following the first engagement, as if the battles had been fought upon two successive days, but the second day of actual fighting, which took place some days after the first, since an inquiry was made at Bethel as to the will of God between the two engagements.
But what can we say about these things; how could such a just and honorable cause go down in defeat and disgrace? Were they not fighting God’s battle against sin? Didn’t they have His commission? The answer to both questions is a resounding, YES! Therefore, the commentators are hard pressed to explain why God allowed this second overwhelming defeat of Israel. There are at least four things to consider that just may provide us with some insight into why things have gone so wrong for the allied tribes:
1. God’s judgments are a great deep, and His way is in the sea. Clouds and darkness is often round about him, but judgment and justice are always the habitation of his throne. We may be sure of the righteousness, when we cannot see the reasons, of God’s proceedings. Doesn’t it say “God’s ways are not our ways?”
2. God would hereby show them and us, that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong; we are not to confide in numbers, which perhaps is what the Israelites did with too much self-assurance. We must never lay the weight on an arm of flesh, which only the Rock of ages will bear.
3. God intended by this conflict to correct Israel for their sins. They did well to show such zeal against the wickedness of Gibeah: but they were not blameless since they were guilty of sins against the Lord their God? Those that are bold enough to condemn the iniquity of others must be made to know their own iniquity. Some think it was a rebuke against them for not witnessing against the idolatry of Micah and the Danites, who contributed to the corruption of their religion. Now they have gone to war against Gibeah and the Benjamites over the vileness of their acts, by which the public peace was disturbed, though God had particularly ordered them to levy war upon idolaters, Deuteronomy 13:12.
4. God would by this event teach us not to think it out of the ordinary if a good cause should suffer defeat for a while, and not to judge the merits of a thing by the success of it. The benefit of grace in the heart, and of religion in the world, may be thwarted, and suffer great loss, and seem to be quite run down, but judgment will be brought forth to victory at last. Vincimur in praelio, sed non in bello—We are foiled in a battle, but not in the whole campaign. Right may fall, but it shall arise.
As it turned out, the vast number of volunteers formed an excessive and unwieldy force, unfit for strenuous and united action against a small, compact, and well-directed army. A panic ensued, and the confederate tribes, in two successive engagements, sustained great losses.
26 Then 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.—Judges 20.26 (KJV)
26 Then all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the LORD and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the LORD.
—Judges 20:26 (NLT)
Then all the children of Israel and all the people went up, and came unto the house of God,
After this second terrible overthrow, "the children of Israel" (i.e., those who were engaged in the war), and "all the people" (i.e., the rest of the people, those members of the congregation who were not capable of bearing arms, old men and women), came to Bethel, to complain to the Lord of their misfortune, and secure His favour by fasting and sacrifices. The congregation now discovered, from this repeated defeat, that the Lord had withdrawn His grace, and was punishing them. Their sin, however, did not lie in the fact that they had begun the war itself-for the law in Deuteronomy 22:22, to which they themselves had referred in Judges 20:13, really required this—but rather, their sin rested in the state of mind with which they had entered the war, which included their strong self-consciousness, and great confidence in their own might and power. They had indeed inquired of God (Elohim), who should go up first to fight in this conflict; but they had neglected to humble themselves before Jehovah the covenant God due to a new awareness, not only of their own weakness and sinfulness, but also of grief at the moral corruption of their brother-tribe. It is certainly not without significance, that in Judges 20:18 it is stated that "they asked God" (בּאלהים ישׁאלוּ), i.e., they simply desired a supreme or divine decision as to the question who should be in the forefront in the war, and lead the other tribes; while, after the first defeat, they wept before Jehovah, and inquired of Jehovah (Judges 20:23), the covenant God, for whose law and right they were about to contend. But even then they were still lacking the humility and contrition, without which the congregation of the Lord could not successfully carry on the conflict against the ungodly. The remark in Judges 20:22, "The people felt (showed) themselves strong, and added (continued) to set in array the war," is thoroughly expressive of the feeling of the congregation. They resolved to continue the war, being fully conscious of their superior power and numerical advantage; and it was not until afterwards that they complained to the Lord of their misfortune, and questioned whether they should renew the conflict. The question was followed by a corresponding answer on the part of God, "Go up against him," which certainly sanctioned the continuance of the war, but gave no promise as to the result, because the people, thinking that they might be certain of success, had not inquired about that at all. It was not till after the second severe defeat, when 22,000 and 18,000, the tenth part of the whole army, had fallen, that they humbled themselves before the Lord.
Observe how the whole congregation was roused and stirred to a man by this second reverse
and wept and sat there before the Lord,
All those who were present at Bethel that day were overwhelmed by these repeated disasters (notwithstanding their attack on Benjamin had been divinely authorized), and were weighed down with shame and sorrow. They were led to reflect on the circumstances surrounding their losses; they became mindful of their guilt in not repressing their national idolatries, as well as in too proudly relying on their superior numbers and the impulsive rashness of this expedition. It caused them not only to weep, but to continue weeping, and their tears were not only for their defeat, but for their sins, as well. If only they would have humbled themselves, fasted, and prayed, and offered sacrifices at first, the war would have had better results.
sat there. To the Jews sitting, especially on the ground, was the attitude of grief and mourning: Job 2:13; Lamentations 2:10. The Jews of today often sit on the ground at the place of wailing in Jerusalem.
before the Lord, i.e. before the tabernacle.
and fasted that day until even;
This is the first place where fasting is mentioned as a religious ceremony, or as a means of obtaining help from God. And in this case, and many since, it has been powerfully effective. In 1827, Adam Clarke wrote about fasting: "At present it is but little used; a strong proof that self-denial is wearing out of fashion." What would he say about our present day?
Once they are aware they are not being truly humbled by their sins, they discover that that is the cause of their lack of success. Only then do they afflict their bodies with fasting, which was a token of the humiliation of their souls for their sins.
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 held in times of great affliction.
and offered burnt offering's and peace offerings before the Lord.
to make atonement for their sins, and to pray to the Lord for success in battle. Though they had consulted the Lord prior to this point, their failure in two battles would now drive them back to God in deep humility. Cundall states (p. 202), “To the tears of the day before were now added the discipline of fasting and offering of sacrifices, all of which suggest the sense of urgency with which they now sought the Lord.”
Burnt Offering. The word is applied to the offering which was entirely consumed by fire on the altar, and, except for the ashes, the whole sacrifice "ascended" in the smoke to God. The meaning of the whole burnt offering was that which is the original idea of all sacrifice, the offering by the sacrificer of himself, soul and body, to God—the submission of his will to the will of the Lord. The ceremonies of the burnt offering are given in detail in the book of Leviticus.
Peace offerings or Thank Offerings. They were made to bless God for sparing so many of them, when He might rightly have cut off all of them when their brethren were slain: to implore his assistance, and to give thanks for the victory, which they were now confident he would give them. Thank Offerings (Leviticus 7.11, 12), were any voluntary sacrifice of which the flesh might be eaten the same day, or the day following, by the one making the offering (Leviticus 7:15, 16). Almost certainly, the people at the close of their fast ate the flesh of these peace offerings.
27 And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,—Judges 20.27 (KJV)
27 The Israelites went up seeking direction from the LORD. (In those days the Ark of the Covenant of God was in Bethel,—Judges 20:27 (NLT)
And the children of Israel inquired of the Lord
Now they became humble petitioners for success. Before they only consulted God’s oracle, asking, Who shall go up first? And, Shall we go up? But now they appealed to God for His favour, fasted and prayed, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings (v. 26), to make an atonement for sin and an acknowledgment of their dependence upon God, and as an expression of their desire to be obedient and please him. We cannot expect the presence of God with us, unless we seek it in the way he has appointed us to do it.
for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, (in Shiloh, where the tabernacle was.)
The loss of two battles brought this stiff-necked people to enquire of the Lord; and they kept a day of fasting and prayer with great sincerity and seriousness. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear."; Isaiah 59:1
For the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days is a very important statement, defining the time when these things happened; it was within the lifetime of Phinehas (v. 28), and there is also a strong indication that the writer of these words lived after the tabernacle had been removed from Shiloh and its neighborhood to Jerusalem.
The Ark of the Covenant was there. Where? The natural answer to be given from these verses is, “At Bethel”; for the simple reason that Bethel is the only place that has been named. But it is not in accordance with the other inferences given us concerning the tabernacle, that Bethel could have been its resting-place under the high priesthood of Phinehas. Since Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, was mentioned as the priest in the tabernacle during Joshua’s time (Num. 25:9-11), the events of this second incident must have occurred in the early period of the judges. In Joshua 18:1 we have the formal pitching of the tabernacle of the congregation at Shiloh; in Joshua 22:12 we find it there, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest before it; in 1 Samuel 3:21;we find it settled there till taken by the Philistines; and in Psalm 78:60 we find Shiloh described as the abode of the tabernacle until its capture by the Philistines, and there is no hint anywhere of Bethel or any other place having been the resting-place of the ark before it fell into the hands of the Philistines. Neither is the explanation of some commentators, that the words the ark… was there in those days implies “that the Ark of the Covenant was only temporarily at Bethel,” at all satisfactory. In those days has naturally a much wider and broader application, like the expression (Judges 18:1), In those days there was no king in Israel, and contrasts the time of Phinehas and the judges with the times of the monarchy, when the ark and the high priest were at Jerusalem. Unless we understand Bethel in verse 18, 26, and 31 to mean the house of God, which seems quite impossible, we must interpret the word there to mean Shiloh, and suppose that the writer gave no regard to the temporary removal of the Arc to Bethel for the convenience of consultation, but considered that it was at Shiloh in one sense, though momentarily it was a few miles away. This is what I believe; that the Ark of the Covenant was at Bethel in those days, and the high priest served before it. The expression "in those days" implies that the Ark of the Covenant was only temporarily at Bethel, and therefore had been brought there from the tabernacle at Shiloh during this war.
The only mention of the ark of the covenant in Judges occurs in verse 27.
28 And 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.—Judges 20.23 (KJV)
28 and Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron was the priest.) The Israelites asked the LORD, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again, or should we stop?” The LORD said, “Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you.”—Judges 20:23 (NLT)
And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,)
Phinehas is standing before the ark, ministering in the office of high-priest. The priest would always stand before the arc and would wear the Urim and Thummin when he asked the Lord about anything. Kimchi observes that “the one making the inquiry stood before the Shechinah, or the presence of the divine Majesty, of which the ark was a symbol.”
Phinehas was one of Israel’s great heroes. As a young man, he had been commended by the Lord for his action at Shittim (Num 25); and he had taken a prominent role in the campaign against Midian (Num 31) and against the supposed apostasy of the eastern tribes (Josh 22). Thus, it is possible that this is the same Phinehas, who would now have been quite elderly. Note: the Jews write that he lived three hundred years, which I believe is highly unlikely.
Placing this event in history: This was the same Phinehas who is mentioned in Numbers 25:7, and consequently these transactions must have taken place shortly after the death of Joshua (less than twenty years after), and long before the times of Samson. Although, the Bible has placed this issue after Samson; that’s highly unlikely, since that would make him over three-hundred years of age.
Some have attempted to identify this Phinehas with some far later generation, but as Boling said, "With so many other indicators of an early date, this genealogy (of Phinehas) is to be taken at its face value." The fact of Phinehas being a grandson of Aaron the high priest, establishes a very early date indeed for the events in this concluding episode of Judges. "The mention of Phinehas here makes it probable that the events mentioned here occurred within twenty years of the death of Joshua." Of course, this distresses some die-hard critics striving to find a "late date"; but as Myers noted, "It is a perilous hyper-criticism to consider the name `Phinehas' itself as a late insertion into the text."
saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?
This question is put in a somewhat different manner than before; now, they are not only desiring to know whether it is the will of God that they should renew the battle or not, since Benjamin was their brother, but whether they would have success or not. There is a vague suggestion here, that if the Lord would bless and help them, they were willing to go up and do battle again, but if not they chose to give up; because now they were fully convinced that they were wrong in depending on their numbers, and the justness of their cause; whereas success depended wholly on the will and pleasure of God, to which they desired to submit.
And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand. Being in a new frame of mind and having humbled themselves by prayer and fasting, as well as observing the appointed method of atoning for their sins, they were assured of acceptance as well as victory: Tomorrow I will deliver them into thy hand
COMMENT: The chapter is a good illustration of James 3:13–18. When we operate on the basis of human wisdom, we create one problem after another, but when we pause to pray and seek the mind of the Lord, He shows us what to do.
The Benjamites did not seek the Lord, admit their guilt, or repent of their sins. There can be no peace unless sin is put away, but the people of Benjamin would not judge their own people in Gibeah. “So shall you put away the evil person from among you” is repeated nine times in Deuteronomy, and God expected His people to obey.
God’s people today need to deal with sin in their lives (2 Cor. 7:1) and in the church family (1 Cor. 5). Unconfessed sin is like uncontrolled disease: it spreads and it kills. Charles Spurgeon said, “Sin is the mother and nurse of all evil, the egg of all mischief, the fountain of all bitterness, the root of misery.”
This second defeat got Israel's attention. Not only the armed men, but the whole nation, women and children as well, went up to Bethel, where they wept, fasted, and prayed to Jehovah, offering burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. This time, God heard their supplications, reinstated the apostate nation into his favor, and then, on the day following, executed the awful judgment upon Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin. That’s the next chapter
1 Judges 20:22 (KJV) 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.
2 Judges 20:23 (KJV) (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.)
3 Judges 5:8 (NLT) When Israel chose new gods, war erupted at the city gates. Yet not a shield or spear could be seen among forty thousand warriors in Israel!
4Hosea 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?
5Deut 13:5 (NKJV) But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
6Deut 22:22 (KJV) If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.
7Judges 20:13 (KJV) Now 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:
8Judges 20:18 (KJV) And 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.
9Job 2:13 (KJV) So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.
10Lam 2:10 (KJV) The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.
111 Sam 14:24 (NLT) Now the men of Israel were pressed to exhaustion that day, because Saul had placed them under an oath, saying, “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies.” So no one ate anything all day
122 Sam 1:12 (NKJV) And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
13Lev 7:11-12 (KJV) And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer unto the LORD. If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried.
14Lev 7:15-16 (KJV) And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day that it is offered; he shall not leave any of it until the morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering be a vow, or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offereth his sacrifice: and on the morrow also the remainder of it shall be eaten:
15Num 25:9-11 (NKJV) And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.
16Josh 18:1 (NKJV) Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them
17Josh 22:12-13 (NKJV) And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them. Then the children of Israel sent Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead,
181 Sam 3:21-4:1 (NLT) The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle. And Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel.
19Psalms 78:60-61 (NLT) Then he abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the Tabernacle where he had lived among the people. He allowed the Ark of his might to be captured; he surrendered his glory into enemy hands.
20Judges 18:1 (KJV) In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel.
Num 25:7 (KJV) And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
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