Title: Judges 20. The second appendix: The Benjamite War; Final battle - compassion is better than anger.
JDG 20:26 Then 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.
After losing the first two battles to Benjamin, the rest of Israel had finally developed compassion and pity for the demise of their brethren. This is what God had taught them in the first defeats and now they are ready to carry out the justice of God.
JDG 20:27 And the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
JDG 20:28 and 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."
JDG 20:29 So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah (Giv-ah) [in hiding].
JDG 20:30 And the sons of Israel went up against the sons of Benjamin on the third day and arrayed themselves against Gibeah, as at other times [openly].
JDG 20:31 And the 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.
JDG 20:32 And the 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."
The plan is to draw them away from the city so that the companies in hiding can attack the unguarded city. This is the same tactic that God had instructed Joshua to use against Ai.
JDG 20:33 Then all the men of Israel arose from their place and arrayed themselves at Baal-tamar [small place near Gibeah]; and the men of Israel in ambush broke out of their place, even out of Maareh-geba.
JDG 20:34 When 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.
JDG 20:35 And 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.
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 in the next verses.
They use Joshua's tactic when he captured Ai. They draw the defenders away from the city and when they defeat them, they take the city.
They fool the Benjamites by coming against them in the same manner as the first two times when they were defeated. This makes the Benjamites over confident. It is a planned trap.
The Benjamites enjoy initial success, killing thirty men, and Israel flees down the road to Bethel. Confident, the Benjamites pursue and fall into the trap.
Men of Israel are lying in wait so that when Benjamin pursues one part of the army, the second part will come out of hiding and attack their rear, leaving them caught in a vice and nowhere to flee.
They are ignorant of their imminent destruction.
Yet notice that the scripture states that the Lord struck them.
"The Lord struck Benjamin" - ultimately the outcome of the battle is by the hand of the Lord.
There are a number of battles that we could read of in which the battle is shown to be of the Lord. Naturally, we could witness David before Goliath. We could witness any of Joshua's battles or David's. We could witness king Hezekiah when Jerusalem was surrounded by the arrogant Assyrians. We could look at Gideon's unlikely victory. There is another that is more overlooked.
Judah was invaded by Ammon and Moab intent on driving out the Jews. King Jehoshaphat prays for deliverance.
Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah after the kingdom split, son of Asa, and he was a very good king. In the later part of his 25 year reign, Judah was invaded by Ammon, Moab, and the tribes of Mt. Seir in order to drive the Jews out. The time is about 850 B.C. Jehoshaphat's faith, and his inspiration of the people to rely on faith, enabled God to fight for Israel.
As a principle, we must remember, that Judah did nothing but rely on Yavah for deliverance. They did not earn it, nor do we. They simply trusted and they didn't have to lift a finger. If they had rejected God and sought their deliverance through their own strength, then, as promised in the Law, the curse and oppression would be upon them rather than the deliverance.
King Jehoshaphat humbly prays for God's deliverance from the invading horde.
map: Mt. Seir is in Edom and so they would have entered from the southeast.
2CH 20:14 Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite of the sons of Asaph;
2CH 20:15 and he said, "Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the Lord to you, 'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's.
2CH 20:16 'Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel.
2CH 20:17 'You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you."
God sets someone, angel or man we cannot know, in ambush against the enemy, and in the confusion they fought each other. The children of Judah just watched and soon enough they witnessed a valley full of corpses from which they took much spoil.
The theme of both appendices of Judges is that there was no king in Israel and they did as they pleased. Jehoshaphat shows the influence that a good king can have.
JDG 20:36 So 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,
JDG 20:37 the 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.
The first sentence of vs. 36 is as summary. Benjamin saw that they were defeated and the following verses show how they came to realize this.
The detail of the feigned retreat is repeated.
The men who were waiting, hidden in ambush, attacked the unguarded city and began to burn it. The cloud of smoke was the sign that the retreating Israel would stop and turn on Benjamin and simultaneously the ambushing Israel would turn from the city and attack them from behind. This is the exact strategy used by Joshua against the city of Ai.
Israel knew of Joshua's campaign at Ai. They took their strategy right from the word of God. Benjamin did not know this or think of it.
The lead general of Benjamin's army, whoever he was, should have been prepared for any tactic used by Israel. This tactic in particular should have been familiar to him from the book of Joshua, but had he or anyone in Benjamin even read the book of Joshua? All leaders who are Christians should be thinking and praying for insight into the things that will attack those he leads and the schemes and tactics that may be used. Then he must combat these wisely through understanding of God's will.
JDG 20:38 Now the appointed sign between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they should make a great cloud of smoke rise from the city.
JDG 20:39 Then 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."
JDG 20:40 But 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.
JDG 20:41 Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were terrified; for they saw that disaster was close to them.
JDG 20:42 Therefore, 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.
JDG 20:43 They surrounded Benjamin, pursued them without rest and trod them down opposite Gibeah toward the east.
Benjamin fled east towards the Jordan Valley, but they were only able to make it as far as the wilderness, which is just as the hills descend into the valley.
As they fled they passed towns out of which men came and killed some of them along the way.
JDG 20:44 Thus 18,000 men of Benjamin fell; all these were valiant warriors.
Next is the mopping up operation.
JDG 20:45 The 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.
JDG 20:46 So all of Benjamin who fell that day were 25,000 men who draw the sword; all these were valiant warriors.
JDG 20:47 But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they remained at the rock of Rimmon four months.
Some make an issue out of the discrepancy in the number of Benjamites. They started with 26,700 and they killed 25,000 with 600 surviving. What happened to the other 1,100? The number of dead are given only for the third battle. The rest of the dead are accounted for in the first two battles.
JDG 20:48 The 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.
JDG 21:1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, "None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage."
This oath was likely made with the other oath (20:8) before the battle, and likely in a fit of anger. After the battle they weep over their oath.
The vow shows their anger towards Benjamin at the beginning of the campaign. They were angry and ready to avenge rather than being compassionate and grieved that one of their own had become so apostate. This is likely the reason they lost the first two battles. But now they are compassionate. They have wept over their brethren, and now they weep over the vow they had made, for without brides, the 600 remaining Benjamites will be the last ones.
JDG 21:2 So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.
As before, the people go to Bethel, which could be Shiloh if the name is literally translated as the "house of God," but the fact that they build an altar shows that they are in Bethel.
JDG 21:3 And they said, "Why, O Lord, God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?"
This is not so much a question as it is a lamentation. They are humbly asking God for guidance in rebuilding the tribe.
JDG 21:4 And it came about the next day that the people arose early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
It would appear that God did not give them an answer. They have a conundrum since they made the oath, but they do not desire for Benjamin to go extinct.
Another part of the oath is now revealed. They vowed that anyone who didn't join them at Mizpah would be put to death, and in this they see the way of obtaining wives for the 600 without violating the oath. They won't give them wives, but if the wives are taken and given involuntarily, then they are not in violation.
JDG 21:5 Then the sons of Israel said, "Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up in the assembly to the Lord?" For they had taken a great oath concerning him who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah, saying, "He shall surely be put to death."
Mizpah is on the western border of Benjamin and where the army of Israel first gathered.
JDG 21:6 And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, "One tribe is cut off from Israel today.
Compassion beats anger. In the beginning of the campaign at Mizpah they were angry. They suffered two loses and then they realized the need for compassion.
JDG 21:7 What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the Lord not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?"
JDG 21:8 And they said, "What one is there of the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah?" And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly.
JDG 21:9 For when the people were numbered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there.
Jabesh-gilead is in the Trans-Jordan, east of the Jordan, a great distance away. No explanation is given as to why they didn't attend the army.
JDG 21:10 And the congregation sent 12,000 of the valiant warriors there, and commanded them, saying, "Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones.
JDG 21:11 And this is the thing that you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every man and every woman who has lain with a man."
JDG 21:12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
Another Jewish city suffers the curse of the ban. The tribes will not do this to the Canaanites, but it seems they have no problem doing it to Jewish cities.
The proper name Canaan refers to the land west of the Jordan. After Joshua's conquest it is hardly ever used for the Promised Land. Since Jabesh-gilead is on the east side of the Jordan, the historian goes out of his way to tell us where Shiloh is, but we already know. It is likely that he calls the land Canaan because Israel had become so Canaanized.
JDG 21:13 Then the whole congregation sent word and spoke to the sons of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them.
JDG 21:14 And Benjamin returned at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had kept alive from the women of Jabesh-gilead; yet they were not enough for them.
JDG 21:15 And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
That they had pity on their brethren Benjamin is again emphasized. This is the important lesson. Compassion and love toward the law breaker is better than anger.
So we are 200 wives short.
JDG 21:16 Then the elders of the congregation said, "What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?"
JDG 21:17 And they said, "There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel.
The "inheritance" is the land allotted to Benjamin. They must independently occupy it, and their concern is that 400 marriages won't be enough.
JDG 21:18 But we cannot give them wives of our daughters." For the sons of Israel had sworn, saying, "Cursed is he who gives a wife to Benjamin."
JDG 21:19 So they said, "Behold, there is a feast of the Lord from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south side of Lebonah."
The context put this in springtime, and so this may have been a Passover celebration. They may have been imitating the dance of Miriam, EXO 15:20.
JDG 21:20 And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, "Go and lie in wait in the vineyards,
JDG 21:21 and watch; and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
JDG 21:22 And it shall come about, when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, that we shall say to them, 'Give them to us voluntarily, because we did not take for each man of Benjamin a wife in battle, nor did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.'"
They could not get them wives from the battle because they killed all the women, and when the father's complain they will tell them that this was the only way not to violate the vow because they did not give them voluntarily.
This is a very different time. Marrying off your daughters was important, and though the families who lost daughters to these wife-nappers were very likely quite mad about it initially, when the others explained the situation and they realized that their daughter married into the only remaining Benjamites, which would make them the most prominent of all the families of their tribe, and make them wealthy. Plus, Benjamin bordered Ephraim, so they would not be far away.
JDG 21:23 And the sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to their number from those who danced, whom they carried away. And they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the cities and lived in them.
JDG 21:24 And the sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance.
They all left Shiloh and returned home. Their unity will slowly evaporate as they continue to live in the Canaanite way of idol worship and rejecting the Mosaic Law.
JDG 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
A faithful king in Israel could:
Destroy idolatry, enforce proper worship, conquer the remaining lands, enforce law and order, solve issues.
It is not that such control would make the hearts of the people love the Lord, it is just that their evil would not be so easily expressed.
These appendices involve the tribes of Benjamin and Dan. They border each other in the heartland of Israel. Both were in dire straits, but for different reasons. In both there is a major role played by a Levite who is associated somehow with Bethlehem and with Ephraim. Both accounts end with a reference to Shiloh since the Tabernacle was there, bringing an emphasis to the lack of spirituality in Israel.
The contrast between Gibeah and Bethlehem:
Saul is from the former and David the latter. If Saul had been like David, the line of Christ would have come from him, 1SA 13:13.