Notes on Judges 20, verses 29-48

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 20:29, KJV: And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.

This is similar to the strategy Israel used against Ai, in Joshua 8. Apparently Israel placed a number of soldiers in reserve, instead of massing all of them in one spot, like before.

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.

They repeated the appearance of the other days, amassing themselves once more against Gibeah.

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.

This verse contains details omitted in verses 21 and 25 or a variation on their strategy. Note that the Benjamites were drawn away from the city and that they slew about 30 men of Israel—but this was a fraction of the casualties Benjamin had inflicted on Israel over the previous two days. The 40,000 casualties (compare verses 21 and 25) amounted to 10 per cent of the 400,000 soldiers who had come to fight against Benjamin.

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.

The observation from the Benjamites is a rallying cry, perhaps, that the other soldiers were running away as before. They didn’t realize that the other Israelites were drawing them away from the city.

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.

The location of Baaltamar is unknown. Now the other Israelites, who were hiding, rose up to attack.

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.

These might well be the “liers in wait” mentioned in verse 29. The battle was “sore” or intense, perhaps, but the Benjamites, thinking victory was theirs again, didn’t know 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.

How, exactly, the LORD smote Benjamin was not stated. The other Israelites “destroyed” 25,100 Benjamite warriors, all men “drew the sword” or were well-trained warriors. Benjamin now had only 1600 men remaining from the original 26,700 (verse 15).

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.

This most likely means the Benjamites realized they were in a “pincer” movement, much like the soldiers of Ai in Joshua 8. The other Israelites “gave place” or fell back, or retreated, from the Benjamites because they knew there were 10,000 liers in wait prepared to attack the city of Gibeah itself.

[37 And the liers in wait hasted, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers in wait drew themselves along, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword.]

Apparently the Benjamites had gone far enough away from Gibeah so that they didn’t know there were soldiers in hiding. These liers in wait now arose and apparently executed everyone in that city.

38 Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers in wait, that they should make a great flame with smoke rise up out of the city.

This is exactly the same strategy used against Ai, that the flame or smoke of the city would be the sign for the Israelites to counter-attack (Joshua 8:20-21).

39 And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite (and) kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons: for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us, as (in) the first battle.

This may be a repeat of verses 31-32 or it may be another report that Benjamin had killed an additional 30 Israelites during this battle. Judges does contain overlap from Joshua in a number of places. Or, this may be a restatement of the numbers, repeated for emphasis.

40 But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the flame of the city ascended up to heaven.

How the Benjamites knew to look back at Gibeah is not specified. Imagine the horror of seeing your own city on fire, and flames ascending “up to heaven”!

41 And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.

The Benjamites had seen the fire of Gibeah (no other cities are mentioned). Now they were amazed (terrified?) and realized evil was coming their way.

42 Therefore they turned (their backs) before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them; and them which (came) out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them.

Once the Benjamites saw they were in trouble, the “turned (their backs)”—most likely, ran for their lives—fleeing into the wilderness. The strategy didn’t work, however: the other Israelites destroyed those who fled from the cities,

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

By now, the Benjamites were aware they were surrounded. The other Israelites headed east (“toward the sunrising”), near Gibeah, and “trode down” the Benjamites “with ease”.

44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these (were) men of valour.

Benjamin had an army of 26,700 soldiers (verse 15), reduced by the conflict to about 1600 soldiers (those who “drew the sword”), according to verse 35. It is not certain if the writer is making a distinction between these and the others who died in battle (total of 25,100 Benjamites). All of this for the sins of only a few.

45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon: and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and pursued hard after them unto Gidom, and slew two thousand men of them. 46 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.

Now the writer mentions another 5,000 Benjamites, “men of valour (sic)”, who were “gleaned (put to death?)” as they fled toward the wilderness and the “rock of Rimmon (location uncertain)”.Then the other Israelites “slew” another 2,000 Benjamites as these were fleeing to Gidom (again, location uncertain).

If the totals of the Benjamites slain in battle are combined, this makes 25,000, agreeing with verse 35 except for 100 not mentioned there. This could be simply a rounding or there could be another explanation, not known at this time. The sad thing is that none of this had to happen, had Benjamin cooperated with the other tribes and not protected (!) those who had done such evil against the Levite’s concubine—and the intent to ravage the Levite himself (Judges 19:22-28).

47 But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.

Benjamin had 1600 soldiers remaining, out of the original 26,700 (verse 15); of those, 25,100 had died either in battle or during an attempted escape (verses 44-46). Another 1000 casualties are not mentioned: these may have been those counted as “missing” or never found after the conflicts; or, they are included as those “smote with . . .the sword” in the following verse.

This group of 600 was apparently those who miraculously escaped the battles. They may originally have been part of the group, mentioned in verse 45, trying to escape to “the rock in Rimmon”.

48 And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of (every) city, as the beast, and all that came to hand: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to.

The other Israelites destroyed all the cities of Benjamin, killed every person in the cities as well as the animals. As mentioned, none of this had to happen, and none of it would likely have happened, if Benjamin had required the criminals of Gibeah to face justice under the Law. Thousands of Benjamites lost their lives needlessly. Such is the evil and results of sin.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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