The Period Of The Judges

Chapter 96
Third Encounter [Judges 20.29-20.36]


Scripture (KJV) Judges 20.29-36

GOD GIVES VICTORY; GIBEAH WAS DESTROYED AND THE BENJAMITES WERE ALMOST EXTERMINATED
29 And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.
30 And 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.
31 And 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.
32 And 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.
33 And 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.
34 And 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.
35 And 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. 36 So 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.

Commentary

29 And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.—Judges 20.29 (KJV) 

29 So the Israelites set an ambush all around Gibeah.—Judges 20:29 (NLT)

The Third Day of Battle.

And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.
Previously, they were so confident of the greatness of their military strength that they thought it was unnecessary to formulate a plan that involved maneuvers and trickery, or to lay any ambush, or form a strategy. They were sure they could conquer their brother, Benjamin, simply by their overwhelming numbers; but now they saw it was going to be mandatory to use some strategy, as if they faced an enemy that had been superior in number. Consequently, they set liers in wait[1], and gained an advantage over their opponent, as their forefathers did at Ai (Jos. 8.9[2]). That kind of strategy was more likely to succeed after a prior defeat, where they are routed, since that would make their pretended flight less suspect. The management of this ploy is described in these verses.

God had given them the assurance of success in this day’s combat; instead of making them careless and arrogant, it made them work even harder to bring to fruition what God had promised. They used all prudent precaution, and employed all their military skill. Our text indicates that ten thousand (v. 34) men were in the ambush. Josephus tells us that it was half of the total force that was thus deployed. It may be that the ground around Gibeah would not hold more than 20,000 plus the Benjaminites. The total force of 400,000 was too many to maneuver and fight.

Although their numbers were very great, they followed a strategy that was used in the past to gain victory over the men of Ai; they set an ambush in various places, much like Israel did for the men of Ai; the two cases being pretty much alike. One wonders if they did not get this strategy by reading the writings of Joshua and Moses, having returned to God's word in the course of their repentance

[1]Liers in wait—troops hidden in preparation for an ambush.
[2]Josh 8:9 (NKJV) Joshua therefore sent them out; and they went to lie in ambush, and stayed between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua lodged that night among the people.


30 And 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. —Judges 20.30 (KJV)  
30 They went out on the third day and took their positions at the same place as before.—Judges 20:30 (NLT)

And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day,
The third attack did not take place on the day following the second battle, since it would take more time to go to Bethel, and fast and offer sacrifices there; but the third battle, described in this passage, took place on the third day from the second battle.

The children of Israel, rather, a considerable part of them, were ordered to make the initial assault, and then to flee from the Benjaminites, faking fear and disorder, to draw the Benjamites out of their city stronghold. (See ver. 32).

and put themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times;
The army of Israel faced the city of Gibeah, as they had done before, and advanced towards the gates, as they had done on the first and second days of battle.


31 And 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.—Judges 20.31 (KJV) 
31 When the men of Benjamin came out to attack, they were drawn away from the town. And as they had done before, they began to kill the Israelites. About thirty Israelites died in the open fields and along the roads, one leading to Bethel and the other leading back to Gibeah.
—Judges 20:31 (NLT)

And the children of Benjamin went out against the people,
The forces 0f Israel had put themselves in battle formation outside the city of Gibeah. The Benjamites, the body of whose army was now quartered at Gibeah, went out thru the city gates, at which point they charged the people (of Israel) with great bravery, as they had on the former occasions.

and were drawn away from the city;
The Israelites retreated, and made it look like their fighting spirit was broken, and they were in full flight; the Benjaminites thought they had once again won the day against their enemy. They pursued after them, by which means they were drawn off to a greater distance from the city of Gibeah and eventually to the place where the liers in wait were preparing to surprise them. (See vs. 32 and 33 for more details on how the Benjaminites were drawn away from Gibeah. It is very similar to the strategy used at Ai; Joshua 8.14-16[3])

[3]Josh 8:14-16 (KJV) And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city. And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. 

 and they began to smite of the people, and kill as at other times,
So far it is a repeat of the first two battles; anyone observing the scene of the battle would say that the people of Israel had lost the will to fight and were running away from the men of Benjamin; it was pretense, but Benjamin fell for it.

in the highways,
The Israelites fled down the highway leading away from Gibeah, and were pursued by Benjamin. There was a skirmish each time the two sides came together.

of which one goeth up to the house of God,
About two miles from Gibeah, as Bunting says, the highway met a road that led to Bethel, where the house or tabernacle of God was. The battle began in a field, somewhere in the neighborhood of Gibeah and moved along the highway to a place called Gibeah in the field.

and the other to Gibeah in the field,
Gibeah in the field
, so called, to distinguish it from the other Gibeah, which is situated on a hill, and is where the battle was initiated. This Gibeah-in-the field is the same as Gobs, now Jeba. It is almost impossible to conceive how the pursuers, coming out of Gibeah, could be described as coming to two highways, of which one led to Bethel and the other to the very place they had come from, unless you accept it at face value, which would mean that at this location two roads intersected the highway, one goes to Bethel and the other to Gibeah.
The latest explorers of the district fully concur in this identification of Gibeah-in-the-field with Jeba.

about thirty men of Israel.

Thirty were killed in this running fight; all from the tribes of Israel. And it seems as if one part of the army of Israel took one road, and the other the other road, and so the army of the Benjaminites that pursued after them was divided.

 

 

32 And 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.—Judges 20.32 (KJV) 
32 Then the warriors of Benjamin shouted, “We’re defeating them as we did before!” But the Israelites had planned in advance to run away so that the men of Benjamin would chase them along the roads and be drawn away from the town.—Judges 20:32 (NLT)

And the children of Benjamin said, they are smitten down before us, as at first 
This battle began like the first one, which was an overwhelming victory for the children of Benjamin, and success produced high morale among the troops and with things going their way now, they concluded they would be victorious, as before.

but the children of Israel said, let us flee, and draw them from the city unto the highways;
Pretending to be afraid of them, and not able to face them, they acted like they fled through fear and cowardice, which inspired the Benjaminites with fresh enthusiasm to pursue them, and so, they were drawn from the city to the highways, as articulated in the preceding verse. The Benjaminites proudly imagined that by their former success they had made themselves very formidable.  Then the Benjaminites supposed that Israel was beaten by them as before; but the Israelites said: We will flee, and draw them (the tribe of Benjamin) away from the town to the roads (the high-roads mentioned in Judges 20:31[4]). This was done, not only because they had placed an ambush behind Gibeah, which was to enter and burn the city as soon as the Benjamites left it; but it would seem, that the slingers, by being within the city and its fortifications, had a great advantage over the Israelites with their slings, since they could not use their swords against them, unless they got them in the open country.

4Judges 20:31 (KJV) And 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.

 

33 And 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. —Judges 20.33 (KJV) 
33 When the main group of Israelite warriors reached Baal-tamar, they turned and took up their positions. Meanwhile, the Israelites hiding in ambush to the west of Gibeah jumped up to fight.—Judges 20:33 (NLT)

And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place,
The main body of the army, which fled before Benjamin, had it in their plan that when they arrived at a prearranged place, which was Baal-tamar, they stopped, and formed to give battle to the pursuing Benjamites. And at the same time those liers in wait along the highway came out from their ambush positions, rushed back to Gibeah and placed themselves in the rear of the Benjamites on the direct road back to Gibeah, and prevented them returning to Gibeah.

and put themselves in array at Baaltamar:
The men of Israel, "set themselves in battle array" at [5]Baaltamar, facing their enemies, in order to engage with them: the Targum calls this place “the plains of Jericho;” that would be the city of palm trees, which is how Tamar and Jarchi interprets it; but Jericho is too far off; it must be some place near Gibeah.
The Israelites seem to have divided their army into three divisions; one was at Baal-tamar, a second behind the city in ambush, and the third skirmished with the Benjamites before Gibeah. Each division had approximately ten thousand men.
Jerome speaks of a little village in those parts, called Bethamari in his time, and it may be the same place. Perhaps in the times of the old Canaanites there was a grove of palm trees there, in which Baal was worshipped, and that may be how it got its name. According to the Onom, there was a small place in the neighborhood of Gibeah, in the time of Eusebius, bearing the name of Bethamar.

5Baal-tamar: BAAL-TAMAR (lord of the palm tree), a place named only in Judges 20:33, between Bethel and Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin; also, a palm-grove where Baal was worshipped. The main army of the confederate tribes was gathered together there, as they prepared for battle before attacking their brother Benjamin’s forces. The site has not been identified, but may possibly be the same as the palm tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel (Judges 4:5).

and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah.
The place was called the meadows of Gibeah or plain of Gibeah, as the Targum has it; Gibeah was built on a hill, and at the bottom of it, some say there was a plain (the plain of Geba) and fine meadows of grass, and here is where an ambush was placed at some little distance from the city; and when the army of the Benjaminites was drawn off from it, in pursuit of Israel, these liers in wait came out of hiding and placed themselves between the army of Benjamin and the city.

The plain of Geba is described as a naked region destitute of wood. The objection raised to this is that a naked level country was not a place for an ambush, and there is no explanation given for how a treeless country formed the actual hiding-place of the ambushers; but the simple truth is, that when the men broke from their hiding-place, they came from the treeless land towards the town. The Hebrew word translated here as meadow is uncertain. The most plausible interpretation is that of the Peshito-Syriac, which by a slight difference in the vowel- makes the word mearah, “the cave.” Out of the meadows of Gibeah, becomes, "the caves of Gibeah," in Hebrew. This would indicate that there were caves in the area that would conceal the liers in wait. This is the theory I stand behind, but there is one other possible explanation I should mention; here the area is thought to be a bare tract of ground without trees—something like a moor. It may have had pits, or deep depressions, where the ambush would be hid both from the city itself and from the high road.

 

 

34 And 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. —Judges 20.34 (KJV) 
34 There were 10,000 elite Israelite troops who advanced against Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that Benjamin didn’t realize the impending disaster.—Judges 20:34 (NLT)

And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel,
Which, according to Ben Gersom, were the liers in wait, which came from the south, as the Targum says. These were ten thousand chosen men, selected out of the main body, which was at Baal-tamar; and they were to march directly to Gibeah on the one side, and prevent the fleeing Benjamites returning to Gibeah, while the liers in wait stormed it on the other side, and while the great body of the army laboured to intercept the Benjamites, who having pursued the Israelites that pretended to flee, now endeavored to retreat to Gibeah. The combined army of Israel was divided into three parts: 10,000 men attacked Gibeah; 10,000 men turned and fought against Benjamin at Baaltamar; 10,000 came out of ambush and placed themselves between Benjamin and Gibeah.

Against Gibeah should be “against the army of Gibeah.” The sense seems to be that the 10,000 Israelites who had been fleeing before Benjamin, and drawing them away from the city, now faced them, and commenced a resolute attack upon them, which at first the Benjamites, not knowing of the battle in their rear met with equal resolution, so that “the battle was sore.” But the result, the details of which are given at length in vers. 36-46, was that 25,100 Benjamites fell that day (see ver. 46[6]).

[6]Judges 20:46 (KJV) So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour. On comparing this with Judges 20:35, it will be seen that the loss is stated here in round numbers and is confined only to that of the third day. We must conclude that a thousand had fallen during the two previous engagements, in order to make the aggregate amount given (Judges 20:15).

and the battle was sore:
When the Benjamites, looking for an easy victory like they had in the first two battles, thought that the Israelites were fleeing from them, they thoughtlessly pursued them; consequently, they were drawn away from the very city they were trying to protect. As soon as they were a sufficient distance from Gibeah, the liers-in-wait, ten thousand strong, attacked Gibeah and put the entire population to the sword, killing men, women and children, reminiscent of how the children of Israel had destroyed Jericho.

These liers-in-wait also set the city on fire; the ascending smoke of which, according to the pre-arranged signal with the other detachment of Israel's army at Baaltamar, was the signal for the army of Israel to turn and confront their overconfident enemies. There was fierce fighting between the Benjaminites and the army of Israel who set themselves in battle array against them and soon they actually surrounded them (Judges 20:43[7]), destroying all of Benjamin's fighting men, except for the six hundred that managed to escape. The following verses will supply certain details that are lacking here.

7Judges 20:43 (KJV) Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and trode them down with ease over against Gibeah toward the sunrising.

but they knew not that evil was near them.
What was it that they didn’t know? First of all, they did not know that Gods judgment was at hand to destroy them. And they didn’t know that there was an ambush set that would put them in great danger. And finally, they knew nothing of the 10,000 men that were now attacking Gibeah, and were between them and that city.
The Benjamites were entirely surrounded, which put them into the greatest danger they could be in. A sense of guilt now disheartened them, and the higher their hopes had been raised the more grievous was this confusion. At first the battle was sore (severe), with no quarter given by either side. But the battle turned into a rout for the combined forces of Israel.

Evil was near them and they did not know it. But they saw it (v. 41[8]), when it was too late to prevent it, that evil had come upon them. What evils may at any time be near us we cannot tell, but the less they are feared the heavier they fall. Sinners will not be persuaded to see evil near them, but how dreadful will it be when it comes and there is no escaping! (1 Thessalonians 5:3[9]).

This passage indicates that the total population of Gibeah was destroyed, regardless of age, sex or other considerations. Having asked and received God's permission to go against Benjamin, the leaders of Israel concluded that they should consign all of Benjamin to the "ban," meaning that the people would be totally destroyed, just as Israel had been commanded to destroy the Canaanites.

Having won the battle, the Israelites did not stop until they had destroyed all the twenty-six cities of Benjamin, putting even the women and the children to death by the edge of the sword.

[8]Judges 20:41 (KJV) And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.

[9]1 Thess 5:3 (KJV) For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. they -- the men of the world. "others," all the rest of the world save Christians. then -- at the very moment when they least expect it. sudden -- "unawares" as travail -- "As the labor pang" comes in an instant on the woman when otherwise engaged. shall not escape -- "shall not at all escape." Another awful feature of their ruin: there shall be then no possibility of avoiding it however they desire it.

 

 

35 And 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.  —Judges 20.35 (KJV) 
35 So the LORD helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors, all of whom were experienced swordsmen.—Judges 20:35 (NLT)

And the Lord smote Benjamin before Israel
The Lord gave Israel the victory over Benjamin at Baaltamar; though the numbers of the Israelites were immensely superior to those of Benjamin, though the strategy was well laid and ingeniously executed, and the battle bravely fought, yet the inspired historian ascribes the victory to the hand of the Lord, as entirely as if he had smitten the Benjamites by a miracle; because until now Benjamin, though fewer in number, had always been victorious. But on this day the children of Israel destroyed 25,100 Benjaminites; which is the total sum of all that were slain on that day. The combined armies of Israel trod down the men of Benjamin with ease when God fought against them.

This was the result of the battle, which the historian gives at once, before entering more minutely into the actual account of the battle itself. He does this in Judges 20:36-46 in a series of explanations, of which one is attached to the other, for the most part in the form of circumstantial clauses, so that it is not till Judges 20:46 that he again comes to the result already announced in Judges 20:35.

(Note: The opinions expressed by De Wette, etc. that Judges 20:35 is bogus, and by Bertheau, that Judges 20:36-46 contain a different account of the battle, simply prove that they have overlooked this peculiarity in the Hebrew mode of writing history, which is that the general result of any occurrence is given as early as possible, and then the details follow afterwards; while these critics have not succeeded in pointing out even apparent differences in support of their opinions.)

and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men:
A sense of guilt now disheartened them, and the higher their hopes had been raised the more grievous was this confusion. At first the battle was sore (v. 34), the Benjamites fought with fury; but, when they saw what a snare they were drawn into, they thought one pair of heels (as we say) was worth two pair of hands, and they made their way towards the wilderness.

Since the Benjamites consisted of only twenty-six thousand and seven hundred slingers; or, as the Vulgate, Septuagint, and others read, twenty-five thousand, which is probably the true reading; then the sum total of the Benjamites were cut to pieces, except six hundred men, who we are informed fled to the rock Rimmon, where they fortified themselves.

And Jehovah smote Benjamin before Israel (according to His promise in Judges 20:28[10]), so that the Israelites destroyed of Benjamin on that day twenty and five thousand and a hundred men (i.e., twenty-five thousand and upwards).

all these drew the sword;
all those killed were armed men.

10Judges 20:28 (KJV) 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.

 

 

36 So 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. —Judges 20.36 (KJV) 
36 Then the men of Benjamin saw that they were beaten. The Israelites had retreated from Benjamin’s warriors in order to give those hiding in ambush more room to maneuver against Gibeah.—Judges 20:36 (NLT)

So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten:
The children of Benjamin saw that they were in a no-win situation that could only end in their death, unless they could escape. They didn’t come to this realization after 25,000 of them had been slaughtered, but it occurred to them at that period of the battle more fully described in verses 40 and 41, when the Benjamites, looking behind them, saw Gibeah in flames. It was then that they immediately broke and fled towards the wilderness. In the latter half of this verse and in the following verses to verse 41 the writer reiterates all the preceding circumstances, some of which have already been mentioned, which led to the particular incident mentioned in the beginning of the verse, that “Benjamin saw that they were smitten;” namely the pretended flight of the Israelites, the seizing and burning of Gibeah by the liers in wait, the signal of a great smoke, and the counter attack by the fleeing Israelites. To complete their distress, those who came out of the cities of Israel that waited in safety to see the battle joined with their pursuers, and helped to cut them off. Every man’s hand was against them.

It was then that “the men of Benjamin saw that evil had come upon them,” and turned their backs to the men of Israel and fled. Therefore, the latter half of verse 36 through verse 41 brings us back through the details to the identical point already reached at the beginning of ver. 36. In verses 39 and 40 there is another retrospective movement in the narrative, in which the statement of verses 31 and 32 is repeated in order to bring it into close agreement with the verses around it.

Observe: Sometimes God suffers wicked men to be lifted up in successes and hopes, that their fall may be the sorer. See how short their joy is, and their triumphing but for a moment. Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast, except he has reason to boast in God.

or the men of Israel gave place[11] to the Benjaminites,
The combined army of the tribes of Israel pretended to be afraid of them, and so they ran from them, which was only meant to decoy them to a greater distance away from Gibeah.

Observe, that at this point in the story the Benjamites were confident that the day belonged to them.

[11] gave place: Pretended to flee in order to draw the army of Benjamin after them. 

because they trusted unto the liers in wait, which they had set beside Gibeah.
The men of Israel had a great strategy; they could fake a retreat because they trusted in the liers in wait: They believed that when they turned upon them at Baaltamar and began to massacre the Benjaminites that the liers in wait would not only enter the city, kill the people and burn it, but meet the Benjaminites fleeing back to it, and so cut off all that remained of them.

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