Notes on Judges 20, verses 18-23
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 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.
They should have asked counsel of God first, before they made their battle plans. They might have forgotten, since it had been at least a few generations, that Judah had asked for God’s counsel before they and Simeon proceeded to drive out the Canaanites from their inheritance (chapter 1).
In what could be an irony, or simply coincidence, God selected Judah to go up first against Benjamin. Judah was the first tribe to drive out the Canaanites (chapter 1) and was destined to be the kingly tribe. Benjamin’s territory was located immediately north of Judah but whether this had any bearing on Judah being selected first it is not certain.
19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.
It is not certain if the Israelites encircled Gibeah or if they arranged their tents in some other fashion. Regardless, they were in position to attack Gibeah because of the sins (“folly”, verse 6) committed there.
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.
The text gives no details as to how many soldiers went up against Gibeah, whether or not other tribes besides Judah went up also, the direction/s of attack, etc. All that is recorded here is that the “men of Israel” basically arrayed themselves to fight against 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.
Benjamin seems to have engaged in a charge or attack against Israel, causing 22,000 casualties.
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.
These men of Israel didn’t give up after the initial defeat. They “encouraged themselves” (but the text does not say they did this “in the LORD”), regrouped, and resettled at the same places.
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.)
Note how the children of Israel wept before the LORD “until even” or the late afternoon/early evening. This may mean the Benjamites defeated the other Israelite soldiers rather quickly, and early in the day, which would give the others time to regroup, etc., and meet at a place where they could mourn. The location or place they did this is not specified but it was probably close to Gibeah, simply for the sake of the logistics alone.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).