Notes on Judges 20, verses 1-11
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 20:1, KJV: 1 Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the LORD in Mizpeh.
Clearly this means representatives of all the tribes besides Benjamin (as will be seen later). The expression “from Dan to Beersheba” is first used here, meaning from the farthest north to the farthest south points of Israel. This implies that the events here either took place after the tribe of Dan had migrated to Israel’s north, defeating the city of Laish and renaming it Dan after their father (Judges 18); or, the writer was describing this event after the fact and using the expression current in his time. What is certain is that this event took place before Saul was crowned king (see Judges19:1) in Israel.
The “Mizpeh” mentioned here is most likely not the Mizpeh in Gilead during Jephthah’s time (Judges 10:17, 11:11, and 11:34). Apparently the Mizpeh mentioned here was situated on the western side of the Jordan River but the exact location is not given here.
2 And the chief of all the people, (even) of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword.
“Chief” may mean the unnamed leaders, elders, or other representatives of the tribes but there is no further comment or description. The number of soldiers who voluntarily came to Mizpeh,400,000 men who “drew sword”, is less than the 600,000 plus who arrived in Canaan during Joshua’s time (estimated from Numbers 26:51). Sin, resulting in oppression and captivity, might have affected the numbers.
3 (Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel were gone up to Mizpeh.) Then said the children of Israel, Tell (us), how was this wickedness?
Whoever it was who told the children of Benjamin that Israel had gone to Mizpeh is not revealed. What were these Benjamites doing during this time?
Gathered together, the “children of Israel (probably the “chief” or leaders)” asked about the “wickedness”. Apparently they had seen and discovered what had happened, and where, and who had been hurt by it.
4 And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain, answered and said, I came into Gibeah that (belongeth) to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge.
Here the Levite is called the concubine’s husband—again, the exact relationships, rights, standings, etc. are not easy to describe in terms of our days and understanding.
He explains that he and his concubine had come to Gibeah, belonging to Benjamin, to lodge for the night. He had planned to eventually reach his home (?) in Mount Ephraim (Judges 19:18). He does not include his servant in this narrative; reasons are not given.
The Levite did not say in this verse or part of his statement that he found her dead but he is correctly called or described as “the husband of the woman that was slain”.
5 And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night, (and) thought to have slain me: and my concubine have they forced, that she is dead.
This is mentioned in Judges 19: 22-28. The text says there that the men of Gibeah wanted to “know” him—intimately and physically—and he implies here that they would have done to him what they had done to his concubine. He did not say that he gave her to the men of Gibeah in the first place, and this action of his does not seem to be investigated at all here.
6 And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel: for they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel.
Never before had anyone done this in all of the history of Israel. How the other Israelites discovered who the body parts or pieces belonged to, or her identity, where she was from, is not mentioned.
7 Behold, ye (are) all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.
Here the Levite asks for advice and counsel from the nation (children) of Israel. He made one very large mistake, however, in not asking for counsel from the LORD at this time. As a Levite, he should have known how important this was!
8 And all the people arose as one man, saying, We will not any (of us) go to his tent, neither will we any (of us) turn into his house.
The people made the same error as the Levite, by making a self-determination instead of seeking the LORD’s counsel about this. They first swear they won’t go back to their homes (house or tent), and;
9 But now this (shall be) the thing which we will do to Gibeah; (we will go up) by lot against it;
Now they swear, secondly, that they will attack Gibeah. It is not certain, here, what is meant by going up by lot against the city. Earlier (see chapter 1) Judah and Simeon had joined together to finish claiming the land of their inheritance—but only after they had sought counsel from the LORD. Nothing even coming close to this is mentioned here.
10 And we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and an hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victual for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel.
This may mean that ten percent of each group was assigned the duty to “fetch victual” or gather food for the rest of the soldiers. The rest were apparently free to attack Gibeah according to the “folly” they did.
11 So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man.
Gibeah’s size and population are not revealed, but at any rate, the sight of 400,000 armed soldiers would be a very startling experience! There had been some conflict, such as a minor quarrel between Gideon and his soldiers of Asher, Manasseh, Naphtali, and Zebulun (compare Judges 6:35 with 8:1-3) and even a brief civil war, between Ephraim and Jephthah’s soldiers (Judges 12:1-6), but here, they were united, perhaps, better than any time in recent memory.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).