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(MT versing)
Resolve to Punish the Guilty Israel's War with the Benjamites The Failures of the Israelite Tribes
Israel Prepares for War The Israelites Vow to Avenge the Crime at Gibeah
20:1-7 20:1-7 20:1-7 20:1-3a 20:1-7
20:8-11 20:8-11 20:8-11 20:8-11 20:8-11
Obduracy of the Benjamites
20:12-16 20:12-17 20:12-17 20:12-17 20:12-13
The First Engagements
20:17 20:17-18
Civil War, Benjamin Defeated The War Against the Benjamites
20:18 20:18-23 20:18 20:18a
20:19-23 20:19-23 20:19-23a 20:19-25
20:24-28 20:24-25 20:24-28
20:26-28 20:26-28
20:28b Defeat of Benjamin
20:29-35 20:29-35 20:29-34 20:29-32a 20:29-32
20:35 How the Israelites Won
20:36-48 20:36-48 20:36a 20:36b-46 20:36-41

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. It is surprising that "all Israel" (Jdgs. 20:1, 2, 11) agreed on anything.

  2. The disgraceful covenant violation of Benjamin demanded a response. This is similar to Joshua 7:15, 22.

  3. The acts of the "worthless fellow" (lit. "sons of "Belial") are characterized as
    1. wickedness ‒ BDB 949, cf. Jdgs. 20:3,12,13 (translated "disaster" in 20:34,41; it is used often in Jeremiah)
    2. lewd ‒ BDB 273 I, Jdgs. 20:6, cf. 20:44, 48, 49; Ezek. 16:27, 43, 58; 22:9, 21, 27; 23:29, 35, 44, 48, 49
    3. disgraceful ‒ BDB 615, Jdgs. 19:23; 20:6, 10, 12; Gen. 34:7; Deut. 22:21; 2 Sam. 13:12; Jer. 29:23 (all with sexually inappropriate acts)

    God's people are to live their lives within covenant guidelines which encourage and support long term societal stability, not instant personal gratification!

  4. This slaughter of Benjamin was sanctioned by YHWH (cf. Jdgs. 20:17, 23, 26-28). There are consequences to choices (cf. Gal. 6:7),
    1. individually (the worthless fellows)
    2. corporately (the tribe of Benjamin refusing YHWH's words)
    3. corporately (the sadness of all Israel about what they have done)


1When all the sons of Israel from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, came out, and the congregation assembled as one man to the Lord at Mizpah. 2The chiefs of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, took their stand in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 foot soldiers who drew the sword. 3(Now the sons of Benjamin heard that the sons of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the sons of Israel said, "Tell us, how did this wickedness take place?" 4So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, "I came with my concubine to spend the night at Gibeah which belongs to Benjamin. 5But the men of Gibeah rose up against me and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me; instead, they ravished my concubine so that she died. 6And I took hold of my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout the land of Israel's inheritance; for they have committed a lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. 7Behold, all you sons of Israel, give your advice and counsel here."

20:1 "from Dan to Beersheba" This became an idiom for all the land given to the tribes of Israel. The new city of Dan (formerly Laish, Judges 18) to Beersheba, a city in the far south (cf. 1 Sam. 3:20; 2 Sam. 17:11; 24:2, 15).

The exact boundaries of the Promised Land are rather ambiguous (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 803).

  1. Num. 34:1-12
  2. Deut. 1:6-8
  3. Deut. 3:12-26
  4. Deut. 11:24
  5. Joshua 1:3-4
  6. Jos. 13:8-12 (east of Jordan)
  7. Jdgs. 20:1

This implies a later date than Judges 17-28, but the united action of the tribes (cf. Jdgs. 20:1, 2, 11), the presence of the ark, and Phinehas, the High Priest in charge (cf. Jdgs. 20:26-28), all point to an early date in the period of the Judges. Even possibly before Judges 17-18, because the OT historical narratives are not always in chronological order. Judges was compiled by a later editor during David's reign.

▣ "the land of Gilead" This phrase was used to describe the land (and tribes) east of the Jordan River. This statement is surprising in light of Jdgs. 21:8-9, which informs us that not all Gilead came to Mizpah.

The VERB "come up" (BDB 748, KB 828, Qal PERFECT, cf. Jdgs. 21:5, 8) may be idiomatic for meeting YHWH at a worship gathering (NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 404).

▣ "the congregation assembled" Israel collectively was called

  1. the congregation ‒ BDB 417, Jdgs. 20:1
  2. the assembly ‒ BDB 874, Jdgs. 20:2

The early church chose #2, as translated by the LXX, to refer to themselves. They saw themselves as the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. Remember, the writers of the NT (except Luke, who was still influenced by Paul) were Hebrew thinkers, writing in street Greek (Koine). The best way to understand NT Greek terms is not a Greek lexicon but the Septuagint.



▣ "Mizpah" Mizpah (BDB 859) means "watchtower" or "outlook point." There are several sites by this name. This gathering site, about three and a half miles south of Bethel (Jdgs. 20:26-28), is also mentioned in 1 Sam. 7:5-6, 16; 10:17. See The MacMillan Bible Atlas, map #81.

Josephus (Antiq. 5.2.9) says they gathered at "Shiloh" (cf. Jdgs. 18:31). The ark is located at Shiloh in 1 Sam. 1:3.

20:2 "chiefs" This is the Hebrew word for "corner" (BDB 819, #2), used in the sense of "leader" (lit. "cornerstones of the people"; cf. 1 Sam. 14:38; Isa. 19:13; Zech. 10:4. This becomes imagery for the Messiah.


▣ "400,000" There are several large numbers in this chapter. They do not all add up to the precise total.


  1. it is difficult to translate Hebrew numbers correctly
  2. the term "thousand" is used in several senses
  3. round numbers were often used to convey more than just an accurate number of people



20:3-7 The tribes want to hear the story firsthand from the Levite. This is a brief repetition of Judges 19.

20:5 "because of me" Josephus says it was because his concubine was beautiful but here the homosexual intent of the mob is made clear.

The Levite clearly thought the homosexual rape would have killed him (as it did his concubine).

20:6 See note in Contextual Insights, C.

20:7 The Levite asks (BDB 396, KB 393, Qal IMPERATIVE) for

  1. advice ‒ BDB 182
  2. counsel ‒ BDB 420

Notice how other translations handle the implication of this IMPERATIVE.

  1. JPSOA ‒ "Now you are all Israelites; produce a plan of action here and now."
  2. NJB ‒ "Now, all you Israelites, discuss the matter and give your decision here and now."

8Then all the people arose as one man, saying, "Not one of us will go to his tent, nor will any of us return to his house. 9But now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up against it by lot. 10And we will take 10 men out of 100 throughout the tribes of Israel, and 100 out of 1,000, and 1,000 out of 10,000 to supply food for the people, that when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, they may punish them for all the disgraceful acts that they have committed in Israel." 11Thus all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united as one man.

20:8 "all the people arose as one man" This tribal unity is surprising during the period of the Judges (cf. Jdgs. 20:2, 8, 11). Note some of the tension expressed in Jdgs. 5:15-17; 8:1-3; 12:1-6. Many scholars think this emphasis on unity was the work of a later editor during David's day. During the period of the judges, there was only a loose, often regional, cooperation between the tribes. Unity came only with a king.

▣ "his tent. . .his house" It is possible to see these as

  1. some lived in tents and some in houses
  2. "tents" is an anachronism
  3. just literary variety for the same thought

20:9 "by lot" This was a means of knowing YHWH's will in a matter (i.e., Jonah 1:7; Acts 1:26). In Jdgs. 20:26-28 Israel consults with the High Priest.


20:10 This is a practical verse that details how the troops will be supplied.

▣ "to Gibeah" The MT has "Geba" (BDB 148, cf. Jdgs. 20:33; Jos. 18:24; 21:17), but in Jdgs. 19:12; 20:31, it is "Gibeah" (BDB 149 II).

Notice the combined army of Israel was only going to attack Gibeah (Jdgs. 20:11) but in 20:14 all Benjamin assembled to resist them (Jdgs. 20:14).

12Then the tribes of Israel sent men through the entire tribe of Benjamin, saying, "What is this wickedness that has taken place among you? 13Now then, deliver up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove this wickedness from Israel." But the sons of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the sons of Israel. 14The sons of Benjamin gathered from the cities to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the sons of Israel. 15From the cities on that day the sons of Benjamin were numbered, 26,000 men who draw the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah who were numbered, 700 choice men. 16Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.

20:12-13 The united Israeli army asked the tribe of Benjamin to turn over "the worthless fellows" for execution but Benjamin, for whatever reason, would not (possibly tribal pride).

20:15 "26,000" This is the total number of Benjamin's troops plus the 700 from Gibeah. But the numbers do not add up. Notice

  1. total 26,700, Jdgs. 20:15 (LXXA, 25,700; LXXB, 23,700)
  2. those killed
    1. 22,000 ‒ Jdgs. 20:21, of Israel
    2. 8,000 ‒ Jdgs. 20:25, of Israel
    3. 25,100 ‒ Jdgs. 20:35, of Benjamin
    4. 18,000 ‒ Jdgs. 20:44, of Benjamin
    5. 2,000 ‒ Jdgs. 20:45, of Benjamin
  3. only 600 left ‒ Jdgs. 20:47, but what of the 3,000 in Jdgs. 20:45 who were captured not killed?

20:16 "left handed" This was unusual (lit. "bound [BDB 32] on the right [BDB 411] hand" [BDB 383]), which shows that most people were right handed. This phrase always relates to Benjamite warriors (cf. Jdgs. 3:15 and 1 Chr. 12:2). They were very accurate with the sling. This is ironic because the name "Benjamin" (BDB 122) means "son of the right hand."

17Then the men of Israel besides Benjamin were numbered, 400,000 men who draw the sword; all these were men of war.

18Now the sons of Israel arose, went up to Bethel, and inquired of God and said, "Who shall go up first for us to battle against the sons of Benjamin?" Then the Lord said, "Judah shall go up first."

20:18 "Bethel" This was the location of the ark at this period (cf. Jdgs. 20:26-28).

▣ "inquired of God" This would involve asking a priest (cf. Jdgs. 20:18, 23, 27; the first two gatherings may have taken place at Mizpah). Here the High Priest would either

  1. use the Urim and Thummim (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 329-330)
  2. receive a direct revelation

Notice the term "God" (Elohim) is parallel to YHWH. This parallelism also occurs in Exod. 3:2-12, where

  1. the angel of YHWH
  2. Elohim
  3. YHWH

all appear in a unified context. I do not think this reflects multiple sources , but either

  1. literary variety
  2. the specialized connotation of the different names for Deity in Israel



▣ "Judah shall go up first" Judges is written to clearly demonstrate the need for a righteous king. It was probably written during the reign of David, who was from the tribe of Judah (cf. Gen. 49:10). The appendix to Judges (chapters 17-21) highlights the sins of Benjamin, which was the tribe of Saul, the first king.

By YHWH choosing Judah to go first (as during the exodus), He was establishing their priority.

This phrase has no VERBAL but functions as an IMPERATIVE.

19So the sons of Israel arose in the morning and camped against Gibeah. 20The men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel arrayed for battle against them at Gibeah. 21Then the sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and felled to the ground on that day 22,000 men of Israel. 22But the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and arrayed for battle again in the place where they had arrayed themselves the first day. 23The sons of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and inquired of the Lord, saying, "Shall we again draw near for battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin?" And the Lord said, "Go up against him."

20:19-28 These verses document the Israeli army's two defeats. This is surprising because they had sought YHWH's will at the tabernacle in Bethel and it received His blessing.

YHWH tells them to attack three times (Jdgs. 20:18, 23, 28). The unexpected defeats by a much smaller group (i.e., Benjamin's military) can be seen in Jdgs. 20:23, 26.

  1. 22,000 of Israel are killed in 20:21
  2. 18,000 of Israel are killed in 20:25

One wonders if Mizpah was not an approved worship site and only when Israel came to the tabernacle and ark at Bethel did YHWH honor their request. But this is just speculation. The Jewish Study Bible, p. 552, says, "On the first two days Israel was defeated, for reasons that are not clear."

Remember, this is not western, chronological, cause-and-effect history. This is history recorded for theological purposes. Usually several chapters are involved in making the main point (i.e., this was a period of confusion and evil in Israel's history; they needed a righteous king who would uphold and honor the Mosaic covenant (i.e., David).


20:21 "20,000" Again, the true number is hard to know.

  1. the use of round numbers
  2. the different connotations of "thousand"

20:22-23 Many scholars and translations believe these verses have been transposed; Jdgs. 20:23 should come first.

24Then the sons of Israel came against the sons of Benjamin the second day. 25Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah the second day and felled to the ground again 18,000 men of the sons of Israel; all these drew the sword. 26Then all the sons of Israel and all the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; thus they remained there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 27The sons of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, Aaron's son, stood before it to minister in those days), saying, "Shall I yet again go out to battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?" And the Lord said, "Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand."

20:26 "Bethel" This worship site called Bethel in central Canaan (Luz, Gen. 28:19) has two possible origins.

  1. the vision of Jacob about a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending (cf. Gen. 28:10-19)
  2. the place where Jacob wrestled with the angel and his name was changed to Israel (cf. Gen. 35:5, 9-15)

The location of the tabernacle with the ark was moved several times during the period from Joshua to David (i.e., Gilgal, Shechem, Shiloh, Bethel, Shiloh, Jerusalem).

▣ "fasting" There are two other places in the OT where Israel fasted in preparation for a battle (cf. 1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Chr. 20:1-4).


20:27 "the ark of the covenant" This is the only mention of the ark in Judges.


20:28 "Phinehas" This is an Egyptian name meaning "dark skinned child" or "Negro" (BDB 810). He was a very loyal priest (cf. Numbers 25) and High Priest (cf. Num. 31:6; Jos. 22:13).

29So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah. 30The sons of Israel went up against the sons of Benjamin on the third day and arrayed themselves against Gibeah as at other times. 31The sons of Benjamin went out against the people and were drawn away from the city, and they began to strike and kill some of the people as at other times, on the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, and in the field, about thirty men of Israel. 32The sons of Benjamin said, "They are struck down before us, as at the first." But the sons of Israel said, "Let us flee that we may draw them away from the city to the highways." 33Then all the men of Israel arose from their place and arrayed themselves at Baal-tamar; and the men of Israel in ambush broke out of their place, even out of Maareh-geba. 34When ten thousand choice men from all Israel came against Gibeah, the battle became fierce; but Benjamin did not know that disaster was close to them. 35And the Lord struck Benjamin before Israel, so that the sons of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day, all who draw the sword.

20:28-35 The Israeli army used the same military tactic (i.e., ambush) used by Joshua at Ai (cf. Jos. 8:3-28). There are several ambushes mentioned in Judges.

  1. Gideon against Midian ‒ Jdgs. 8:4-12
  2. men of Shechem against Abimelech ‒ Jdgs. 9:25, 32, 43
  3. Philistines against Samson ‒ Jdgs. 16:2
  4. Israeli army against the men of Benjamin ‒ Jdgs. 20:29-48
  5. remnant of Benjamin against the women of Shiloh ‒ Jdgs. 21:19-23

20:33-36a The NET Bible suggests that Jdgs. 20:33-36a contains a "condensed account of the battle," while 20:36b-48 has a more detailed account. If true, this would help reconcile the differing numbers of troops killed and those who escaped.

20:33 "Baal-tamar" Ba'al was the male fertility god of the Canaanite pantheon, son of El. He was worshiped at local shrines (i.e., high places, either manmade or natural).

The location of this particular site is on the road between Gibeah and Bethel (ABD, vol. 1, p. 553).


▣ "Maareh-geba" The JPSOA footnote suggests an emendation so that this may be translated "west of Gibeah" (see NRSV). The difference would be

  1. ממערה ‒ "clearing" (BDB 780, possibly "meadow")
  2. ממערב ‒ "west" (BDB 787)

The UBS Text Project, p. 130, gives #1 a "B" rating (some doubt).

Geba and Gibeah may

  1. be two separate cities (James D. Martin Commentary, p. 209, asserts they are three miles apart)
  2. a variant spelling of the same city; they are often associated
    1. Jdgs. 20:10, 32-33
    2. 1 Sam 13:1, 16; 14:5
    3. Isa. 10:29
NASB, NKJV, NRSV  "against Gibeah"
TEV, NJB  "attacked Gibeah"
JPSOA  "to a point south of Gibeah"
REB, NEB  "came in on the east side of town"
NET  "a frontal assault against Gibeah"
LXX  "came in front of Gibeah"
Peshitta  "toward Gibeah"

The MT has the PREPOSITION (BDB 617), which is very close to the NOUN for "south" (BDB 616, JPSOA). The basic meaning of the common PREPOSITION is "which is conspicuous" or "in front of," "opposite."

20:35 "the Lord struck Benjamin" This is YHWH as Divine Warrior. Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel (p. 260) has a good list of methods.

  1. asserted ‒ Jos. 10:14, 42; Jdgs. 20:35
  2. uses elements of nature ‒ Jos. 10:11; 24:7; Jdgs. 5:20; 1 Sam. 7:10
  3. threw the enemy into confusion ‒ Jdgs. 4:15; 7:22; 1 Sam. 7:10; 14:20
  4. sending "divine terror" ‒ 1 Sam. 14:15

36So the sons of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. When the men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin because they relied on the men in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah, 37the men in ambush hurried and rushed against Gibeah; the men in ambush also deployed and struck all the city with the edge of the sword. 38Now the appointed sign between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they would make a great cloud of smoke rise from the city. 39Then the men of Israel turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel, for they said, "Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle." 40But when the cloud began to rise from the city in a column of smoke, Benjamin looked behind them; and behold, the whole city was going up in smoke to heaven. 41Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were terrified; for they saw that disaster was close to them. 42Therefore, they turned their backs before the men of Israel toward the direction of the wilderness, but the battle overtook them while those who came out of the cities destroyed them in the midst of them. 43They surrounded Benjamin, pursued them without rest and trod them down opposite Gibeah toward the east. 44Thus 18,000 men of Benjamin fell; all these were valiant warriors. 45The rest turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, but they caught 5,000 of them on the highways and overtook them at Gidom and killed 2,000 of them. 46So all of Benjamin who fell that day were 25,000 men who draw the sword; all these were valiant warriors. 47But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they remained at the rock of Rimmon four months. 48The men of Israel then turned back against the sons of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city with the cattle and all that they found; they also set on fire all the cities which they found.

20:38 The prearranged sign between the Israeli force pretending to flee (i.e., in order to draw out the army of Benjamin) and the Israeli force which attacked Gibeah, was the city being set on fire. This sign caused both groups to attack Benjamin, caught between them (Jdgs. 20:41), with no place to retreat.

The MT has the Hiphil IMPERATIVE, "make many" (BDB 915, KB 1176), which seems to refer to a large fire.

20:39 "Surely they are defeated" This is an intensified Hebrew grammatical feature (i.e., a Niphal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and PARTICIPLE of the same root, BDB 619, KB 669).

20:43 The Jewish Study Bible, p. 555, calls this verse a "difficult poem," but no English translation, including JPSOA, shows it indented.

NASB, REB  "without rest"
NRSV, NET, LXXB  "from Nohah"
TEV, LXXA  "without stopping"
NJB  "relentlessly"
JPSOA  "from Menuhah"

The MT has "at their resting place" (BDB 629). The UBS Text Project, p. 130, gives this a "B" rating (some doubt). There are several suggested emendations following the same basic thought (see pp. 130-131).

The name Nohah appears in 1 Chr. 8:2 as a person's name (i.e., one of Benjamin's sons). So surely it could have been the name of a region, locality, or town.

20:45-47 The numbers through here are uncertain (i.e., Jdgs. 20:45), but the remnant is only 600 men!

NASB, NKJV  "at Gidom"
NRSV  "as far as Gidom"
NJB, Peshitta  "up to Gidom"
REB  "had cut down"
LXXA  "as far as Gadaam"
LXXB  "as far as Gedan"

The UBS Text Project, p. 132, lists four possibilities but gives a "B" rating (i.e., some doubt) to the REB version, which is a VERB, not a place name.

20:47 "the rock of Rimmon" This location was about 4 miles west of Bethel (The MacMillan Bible Atlas, map #86). However, there are several locations which include this name (a Benjamite, cf. 2 Sam. 4:2, 5, 9). Wherever it was, it was a large rock formation, or possibly a high cave which gave protection to the remnant of Benjamin (ABA, vol. 5, pp. 173-174).

20:48 The Holy War techniques used in the conquest are employed against the cities of Benjamin; everything that breathes dies! Archeology records that Gibeah was destroyed in the mid 12th century B.C.

▣ "all that they found" This may be a Hebrew idiom for "captured people" (cf. Isa. 13:15; 22:3; note parallelism).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Was Mizpah an approved worship site?
  2. Why is 400,000 too large a number? If so, how does one deal with it?
  3. Why did Israel feel they must act against the wickedness of one Benjamite city?
  4. Why would Benjamin not turn over these "worthless fellows"?
  5. How does Jdgs. 20:18 fit into the overall purpose of the book?
  6. Is the worship site at Bethel the location of the tabernacle or was Shiloh?
  7. Why did the Israeli military destroy all the Benjamite cities and kill their entire population?

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