Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 20. The vengeance of Israel
The older narrative (A) seems to be contained in Jdg 20:1 a (… went out), d (unto the Lord …), Jdg 20:3-8; Jdg 20:14; Jdg 20:19; Jdg 20:29; Jdg 20:36 b, Jdg 20:37 a, Jdg 20:38-41; Jdg 20:44 a, Jdg 20:47; it describes the gathering of all the Israelites at Mizpah, their examination of the Levite and resolve to avenge him, the capture of Gibeah by ambush, the slaughter of 18,000 Benjamites. The other and much later narrative (B), Jdg 20:1 b, c, Jdg 20:2; Jdg 20:9-13; Jdg 20:15-18; Jdg 20:20-28; Jdg 20:30-36 a, Jdg 20:37 b, Jdg 20:42-43, Jdg 20:44-46; Jdg 20:48, gives a considerably different account, of which the main features are: the confederate action of the Israelite ecclesia; the three battles; the enormous numbers. Certain irreconcilable or superfluous elements in this narrative may be due to additions or glosses, e.g. Jdg 20:11; Jdg 20:18; Jdg 20:27 b, Jdg 20:28 a, Jdg 20:31 a. Some scholars detect a third source by subdividing A, but the analysis does not yield very decisive results.
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.1. the congregation was assembled] The two words at once stamp the character of source B; cf. in the Priestly Code Leviticus 8:4, Numbers 16:42; Numbers 20:2, Joshua 18:1; Joshua 22:12. The congregation Jdg 21:10; Jdg 21:13; Jdg 21:16 (Hebr. ‘çdhah, LXX synagôgç) is regularly used by P, and by writers under the influence of P, to describe Israel as a religious community (e.g. Exodus 12:3, Numbers 1:2, Joshua 22:16 etc., 1 Kings 8:5; 1 Kings 12:20). Less characteristic, but frequently found in the Priestly narrative, is the assembly Jdg 20:2, Jdg 21:5; Jdg 21:8 (Hebr. ḳâhâl, LXX usually ecclesia, sometimes synagôgç), to denote the people as an organized whole (e.g. Deuteronomy 31:30, Leviticus 16:17, Numbers 16:3, Ezra 10:12; Ezra 10:14 etc.), or as assembled for some special purpose, an invasion, or instruction, or worship.
as one man] Cf. Jdg 20:8; Jdg 20:11; 1 Samuel 11:7, Ezra 3:1. The ancient stories in Judges give a different picture; a corporate national life was not attained till a later age.
from Dan even to Beer-sheba] i.e. from North to South of Israel’s territory; cf. Jdg 18:7 n. and 2 Samuel 3:10; 2 Samuel 24:2, contrast 1 Chronicles 21:2 etc. To include Israel on the E. of Jordan, with the land of Gilead is added (cf. Jdg 21:8).
Mizpah] may be identified with the hill Nebî Samwîl, 4½ m. N.W. of Jerusalem, 2935 ft. above the sea, and about 3 m. from Tell el-Fûl (Gibeah), in the centre of the Benjamite district. A holy place occupied the summit (1 Samuel 7:5 ff; 1 Samuel 10:17-24), probably from very early times. See further Jeremiah 40:6 ff.; 1Ma 3:46. While the narrative A speaks of Mizpah as the meeting-place of the Israelites (Jdg 20:3, Jdg 21:1), B refers to Beth-el (Jdg 20:18; Jdg 20:26, Jdg 21:2).
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.2. chiefs] Lit. the word = corner, of a house Job 1:19, or of a city Nehemiah 3:24; Nehemiah 3:31 f.; also a corner-stone Isaiah 28:16, cf. Jeremiah 51:26. As suggestive of support or prominence, the corner could be used in a metaphorical sense; cf. 1 Samuel 14:38, Isaiah 19:13.
even of all the tribes] even of is not in the Hebr.; read and all the tribes with LXX. cod. A.
presented themselves] took their stand, ready for what might happen; cf. Exodus 19:17, Deuteronomy 31:14, 1 Samuel 17:16.
the assembly of the people of God] Only here; usually the assembly of Jehovah or of God, Deuteronomy 23:1-3, Nehemiah 13:1. The number 400,000 is obviously exaggerated; contrast the Song of Deborah, which reckons the warriors of all Israel at 40,000, Jdg 5:8. The treatment of history in the narrative of B reflects the ideas of the church-nation of a later day; cf. the impossible figures of P, Exodus 12:37. Moore notes that the Roman army which destroyed Jerusalem in a.d. 70 numbered about 60,000; and the German army which captured Paris in 1870, about 240,000.
that drew sword] Cf. Jdg 20:15; Jdg 20:17; Jdg 20:25; Jdg 20:35; Jdg 20:46, Jdg 8:10, 2 Samuel 24:9.
(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?3. The first half of the verse interrupts the connexion with Jdg 20:1 d; it would be in place before Jdg 20:14. The displacement was no doubt caused by the insertion of Jdg 20:2; Jdg 20:9-13 into the older narrative.
And the children of Israel etc.] Here follows A’s report of what happened at the meeting: the evidence of the Levite is heard. In B the assembly does not ask for evidence; their righteous indignation has been roused, and they proceed to act at once, Jdg 20:9 ff.
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.
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.5. men of Gibeah] citizens of G.; cf. Jdg 9:2 n.
me they thought to have slain] See on Jdg 19:22. Their design on the young woman would naturally involve getting rid of her husband (cf. Genesis 12:12).
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.6. all the country of the inheritance of Israel] We hardly expect inheritance in plain prose; contrast Jdg 19:29. The word may be a later insertion.
they have committed lewdness] Similarly Hosea 6:9, Ezekiel 16:43; Ezekiel 22:9; lit. evil purpose, i.e. unchastity; in this sense the word is frequent in the Law of Holiness and in Ezekiel (see Driver,
Introd, p. 49, No. 11). LXX. cod. A, Luc. omit lewdness and, perhaps rightly; the word may have been added to emphasize the iniquity.
Behold, ye are all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.7. give … your … counsel] The same words in 2 Samuel 16:20.
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.8. tent] As the parallelism shews, equivalent to house, cf. Jdg 19:9 mg., 1 Kings 8:66, Psalm 132:3 tent of my house; a survival from the time when the Israelites actually lived in tents. The resolution is expressed in poetical parallelism, cf. 1 Kings 12:16, 2 Samuel 20:1; we are to supply in thought ‘until the crime be avenged.’ The same resolution, differently expressed, follows in Jdg 20:9 ff.
But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it;9. we will go up against it by lot] An accidental omission from the text makes it necessary to supply a verb; the LXX reads we will go up. Judging from Jdg 20:18 and Jdg 1:1, the object of casting lots was to find out which tribe should go up first to the attack.
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.10. ten men … ten thousand) All this merely amounts to ‘one man in ten’; 40,000 are to forage for the 360,000. We are reminded of the circumstantial diffuseness of P, e.g. Numbers 1:2; Numbers 1:20; Numbers 1:22 etc.; see Driver, Introd, p. 130. The style of the verse is remarkably poor; e.g. the single prep. lamedh = to is used nine times in a variety of senses; and the text is corrupt. The rendering that they may do when they come smooths over the awkwardness of the Hebr. The LXX. cod. A suggests a slight change and transposes the words, reading for the people that come to do to G. etc. The trouble lies in the expression for when they come (or that come); Moore and Budde would omit it as a gloss on the people; indeed there is no other way of obtaining a satisfactory sentence. The connexion is much improved by transposing the two halves of the v. and connecting with Jdg 20:9 : we will go up against it by lot, to do to G. of B. according to … in Israel; and we will take ten men … to fetch victual for the people (Moore). Geba (see marg.) is a mistake for Gibeah, cf. Jdg 20:33.
So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man.11. the city] must be Gibeah.
knit together] lit. united, associated, emphasizing the common action. The word is used in Ezekiel 37:16; Ezekiel 37:19 for the association of the tribes, and another form of it on Maccabaean coins to denote (prob.) the community of the Jews; NSI., p. 354.
And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?12. the tribe of Benjamin] So the Versions, reading the singular. The plural (see marg.) is probably due to a mistaken repetition of the plur. form of the word in the preceding sentence.
Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel:13. deliver up the men … that we may put them to death] Similarly 1 Samuel 11:12.
the sons of Belial] See on Jdg 19:22.
put away evil] Read the evil, lit. burn up, consume the evil; a frequent expression in Deut., e.g. Deuteronomy 13:5, Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 17:12, Deuteronomy 22:22.
But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel.
And the children of Benjamin were numbered at that time out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which were numbered seven hundred chosen men.15. The figures in this account are inconsistent. The entire muster of Benjamites is reckoned here at 26,700; while Jdg 20:35; Jdg 20:47 give a total 25,700, and Jdg 20:44-47 a total 25,600. Some mss. of the LXX (cod. A, Luc. etc.), followed by Vulgate, read twenty and five thousand men here (see marg.); but this may be merely an attempt to harmonize with the numbers in Jdg 20:35; Jdg 20:47.
seven hundred chosen men] Repeated in Jdg 20:16 and applied to the left-handed slingers. The words can hardly be original in both places, and the Versions agree in giving them only once. Probably they should be omitted here, and the verse ended with the inhabitants of Gibeah; the insertion of were numbered would be required when the following words were added.
Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.16. Then, keeping the text of this v. as it stands, we are told that the Benjamite host included a company of 700 left-handed and exceptionally skilful warriors, just as David’s army was strengthened by a similar band, 1 Chronicles 12:2. Josephus understood the narrative in this way, Ant. Jdg 20:2; Jdg 20:10. The alternative is to omit the first half of this verse, and make the 700 chosen men refer to the inhabitants of Gibeah, and every one (rather, all this army) could sling … and not miss refer to the entire host. But this does not seem natural, and to cut out left-handed as merely borrowed from Jdg 3:15 is to remove a feature which has the appearance of originality.
And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war.
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.18. The Israelite host is mustered (Jdg 20:17), and all is ready for an advance against Gibeah (Jdg 20:19 f.), when the entire army marches off to Beth-el, 10 m. distance from Mizpah (if = Nebî Samwîl), to consult the divine oracle. Such a change of position at such a moment is almost incredible, and unnecessary, one would think, inasmuch as Mizpah itself was a sanctuary (Jdg 20:1). Although Beth-el has a place in the B narrative (Jdg 20:26 f.), this verse can hardly belong to the original form of it. And there are indications which confirm the impression that the verse is a gloss; contrast ‘asked counsel of God’ with ‘asked counsel of Jehovah’ Jdg 20:23; Jdg 20:27; the question and response of the oracle are imitated from Jdg 1:1-2; in the account which follows all Israel acts together, not under the initiative of Judah; in the Hebr. Jdg 20:18-19 begin with the same word and they arose.
went up to Beth-el] Vulgate they came to the house of God, that is to Shiloh: an interesting attempt to get over a theoretical difficulty; see on Jdg 20:27, and cf. Jdg 21:2 n.
And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.
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.20. From B; repeating the substance of Jdg 20:19 (from A). The words went out … set the battle in array against them occur in Genesis 14:8, a document probably not earlier than the exile.
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.21. The numbers here and in Jdg 20:25 are again prodigious: the Benjamites, without losing a man themselves (as is implied in Jdg 20:35; Jdg 20:44-47), kill 40,000 Israelites in the two battles. Why this loss on the Israelite side? Probably the narrator considered that even the champions of the divine justice were not free from blame; they had not begun the holy war with due religious observances. Or, if Jdg 20:18 is not a later addition, because they had consulted the oracle merely to enquire which tribe should go up first.
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.22. To make sense this and Jdg 20:23 should change places. After the men of Israel the Vulgate adds trusting to their prowess and numbers, i.e. it was the presumption of the Israelites which caused their defeat.
(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.)23. wept before the Lord] Cf. Jdg 20:26, Jdg 2:4, Jdg 21:2. After went up we should supply to Beth-el, as in Jdg 20:26.
And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.
And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword.
Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.26. and all the people] Either transl. even all the people, or omit as a doublet of all the children of Israel. Cf. Jdg 20:22.
offered burnt offerings and peace offerings] Similarly under circumstances of distress Jdg 21:4, 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 13:9. The significance of the burnt offering lay in its being wholly made over to the Deity upon the altar; the special feature of the peace (or safety, or thank) offering was the sacred meal, shared by the Deity and the worshippers.
27b, 28a. The words in brackets give an interesting specimen of the theoretical treatment of history. To some later editor or scribe it seemed highly irregular that all Israel should offer sacrifices in any other place than the sanctuary of the ark. Accordingly the parenthesis explains that the ark in these days was at Beth-el! i.e. it must have been temporarily removed from Shiloh (Joshua 18 :1 P, 1 Samuel 4): and the sanctuary of the ark must have been served by the only legitimate priesthood (cf. Numbers 25:7; Numbers 31:6 P). For a similar adaptation of ancient practice to later theory cf. 2 Chronicles 1:3-6 with 1 Kings 3:4. If the present passage had come from the author of A, it would have stood earlier in the narrative, when the first enquiry of the oracle is mentioned.
the ark of the covenant of God] So 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Samuel 15:24, 1 Chronicles 16:6 (all). The phrase ark of the covenant is common in D and Dtc. passages, though occasionally found in J and JE.
stood before it] The usual expression is stood before Him, Jehovah: Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:7, Ezekiel 44:15, 2 Chronicles 29:11.
to-morrow etc.] Not until the Israelites have made their peace with God (Jdg 20:23; Jdg 20:26) are they to be allowed to win a victory.
And the children of Israel inquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand.
And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.29. From the narrative A, which describes, not the two battles and Jehovah’s direct interference (Jdg 20:23; Jdg 20:28; Jdg 20:35), but the stratagem by which the Israelites captured the city; cf. Joshua 8:4-8 JE. This v. continues Jdg 20:19.
liers in wait] Plural, while Jdg 20:33; Jdg 20:36-38 use the sing. collect., the ambush. The plural may refer to the various parties posted round about the city.
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.30. on the third day] The account of the battle becomes exceedingly confused. It seems to be rounded off at Jdg 20:35 in the usual way, with a statement of the result and numbers slain; but in Jdg 20:36 ff. we find the battle still in progress, and we go through the various incidents again. This repetition is due partly to the combination of the narratives A and B, and partly, it would seem, to the insertion of editorial expansions or glosses. In the main Jdg 20:30-36 a come from the later source B; and in the main 36b–47 may be assigned to the earlier source A. Details which appear to lie outside these two versions, or merely repeat phrases from them, may be regarded, provisionally, as later additions; see on Jdg 20:31; Jdg 20:37 b, Jdg 20:43, Jdg 20:44 b – Jdg 20:46.
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.31. The opening sentence follows the pattern of Jdg 20:21; Jdg 20:25. The remainder of the v. raises difficulties; it is partly repeated in Jdg 20:39; the pretence of flight does not come properly till Jdg 20:32. Either we may regard as additional glosses they were drawn away from the city (there is no and in the Hebr.), and the topographical note in the high ways, of which … to Gibeah, leaving the statement that the Benjamites began to smite and kill in the open country as on the former occasions (so Moore): or we may retain the words just quoted, and slightly rearrange them on the model of Jdg 20:32; Jdg 20:39 : they were drawn away from the city into the highways, of which … to Gibeah, and they began to smite and kill in the field about thirty men of Israel (so Budde, Nowack, who distinguish three, instead of two versions). The first alternative has the merit of simplicity.
to Gibeah] cannot be right, for the Israelites were retreating towards the N., away from Gibeah; the general direction of the two roads must be the same. For Gibeah, therefore, read Gibeon; at a short distance beyond Tell el-Fûl the road branches northwards to Beitîn (= Beth-el) and N.W. to el-Jib (= Gibeon), 3 m. N.W. of Tell el-Fûl.
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.
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.33. rose up … set themselves in array] The Israelites had taken up their position opposite Gibeah and then retired northwards (Jdg 20:30-32); now, apparently, after the feigned retreat they take up a second position at a further distance from Gibeah. But this is hardly the natural meaning of the words; rose up implies a new action (e.g. Jdg 20:19) rather than the repetition of a movement which had already begun. It is in fact difficult to fit Jdg 20:33 a into the context. May it then come from the A narrative, and form the sequel of Jdg 20:29? This would give us an allusion to the battle, which otherwise is missing from A: after the ambush was set round Gibeah (Jdg 20:29), the main army of Israel took up its position in Baal-tamar (Jdg 20:33 a). But the language of the verse does not inspire confidence in its originality (lit. the men of Israel rose up from his place!); on the other hand the mention of Baal-tamar may well be ancient. Perhaps we may describe this half-verse as an early addition. See further below.
Baal-tamar] Site unknown, but not far from Gibeah; Eusebius (OS 238, 75) declares that the name was surviving in the locality as Beth-tamar. Baal-tamar = B. of the palm-tree, a rare instance of the god Baal being associated with a tree; cf. Jeremiah 2:27. The palm was a symbol of Ashtoreth rather than of Baal.
 See Baudissin, Adonis u. Esmun (1911), p. 176. Winckler interprets differently, Baal is Tamar, i.e. Ishtar-Ashtoreth, the local deity possessing the attributes of god and goddess: Gesch. Israels ii. 98 ff.
brake forth] Elsewhere of the sea or a river, Job 38:8; Job 40:23, Ezekiel 32:2; from the same root comes the name of the fountain at Jerusalem, Gihon the gusher. So here, of the Hers in wait bursting forth from ambush; as applied in this way to warfare the word is used in Aramaic. Cf. the parallel account from A in Jdg 20:37.
Maareh-geba] Supposed to mean the bare or open space of G., but probably a mistake for maarâb legeba, i.e. west of Geba, LXX. cod. A and mss., Vulgate; a late usage, 2 Chronicles 32:30; 2 Chronicles 33:14. Geba is either a mistake for Gibeah (as in Jdg 20:10), or more probably = Jeba‘, N.E. of Gibeah.
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.34. ten thousand chosen men] Apparently the men who had formed the ambush: they now moved from their place of concealment, and posted themselves between the city and the Benjamites, who were chasing the men of Israel, so as to cut off the possibility of retreat.
evil was close upon them] lit. was about to touch them; cf. Jdg 20:41 evil had touched them. Cf. Joshua 8:14. The recurrence of the words in Jdg 20:41 has led to the suggestion (made by Torrey) that Jdg 20:35-36 a once stood after Jdg 20:41, and that a scribe, glancing from the similar endings of Jdg 20:41; Jdg 20:34, accidentally transposed Jdg 20:35-36 a to their present position, where they destroy the natural order of events. The composition of this chapter is so entangled that we may readily assume a disturbance of the text here as in other places (e.g. Jdg 20:22 f.).
An alternative reconstruction is proposed by Budde, who assigns the passage to A: ‘And Israel set liers in wait against Gibeah round about (Jdg 20:29), while all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and set themselves in array at Baal-tamar (Jdg 20:33 a). And there came over against Gibeah 10,000 chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore (Jdg 20:34 a). Thereupon the liers in wait of Israel brake forth out of their place west of Geba (Jdg 20:33 b); but they knew not that evil was close upon them’ (Jdg 20:34 b); then follow Jdg 20:36 b–38. This gives a fairly lucid order; but it is based upon a rather different treatment of the chapter from that which is being followed.
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.35. As elsewhere the account of the battle is brought to an end with a summing up of the numbers slain, Jdg 20:21; Jdg 20:25; Jdg 20:46, Jdg 3:29, Joshua 8:25. For the numbers see on Jdg 20:15. This later source B, it is to be noted, ascribes the victory to the direct interference of Jehovah; cf. 2 Chronicles 13:15; 2 Chronicles 14:12, where the same verb smote occurs.
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.36. the children of Benjamin] must refer to the 600 survivors. This half verse introduces the account of the flight, which is continued by Jdg 20:42.
Clause b may be regarded as a continuation of Jdg 20:29 in the narrative of A; the description of the feint is parallel to that in Jdg 20:32 b.
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.37. hasted and rushed] as did the ambush at Ai, Joshua 8:19; but the words are different. See Jdg 9:33 n.
drew themselves along] Cf. Jdg 4:6. But the massacre of the inhabitants anticipates the signal; the destruction of the city does not begin till the smoke is seen to rise. This half of the verse appears to be a gloss on cl. a, added by some reader who wanted to make rushed upon Gibeah more explicit.
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.38. a great cloud of smoke] Omit great (hereb, an ungrammatical form) with LXX. cod. A and mss., Syr., Vulgate, as an incorrect repetition of the preceding word (’ôrçb).
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.39. And the men of Israel turned] The turn, however, does not come properly till Jdg 20:41. Read with a slight change and that the men of I. should turn, as part of the appointed sign; Jdg 20:38 will then end with in the battle. The marg. may thus be disregarded.
and Benjamin etc.] A parallel version of Jdg 20:31-32.
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.40. looked behind them] Cf. Joshua 8:20. It almost seems as if the account of the capture of Ai by a similar stratagem had influenced the present narrative.
the whole of the city] Cf. Deuteronomy 13:16 ‘and thou shalt burn the city with fire as a whole offering unto Jehovah thy God’; but perhaps the word is hardly intended to bear its technical sense of holocaust here.
And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.41. amazed] An archaism in English, for bewildered; cf. St Mark 10:32, 1 Peter 3:6 (AV., contrast RV.).
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.42. unto the way of the wilderness] in the direction of the barren hilly region, E. of Gibeah, which descends from the Central Highlands to the Jordan valley.
out of the cities] i.e. the Benjamite cities on the line of the flight. But all the male Benjamites had been out with the army, and most of them killed: so read out of the city, i.e. Gibeah; the reference will then be to the men who formed the ambush. For in the midst thereof (lit. of him) read in the midst, as Joshua 8:22. The Benjamites suddenly found themselves caught between Israelites in front and rear. The men of Ai were intercepted in the same way.
The verse comes from the B narrative: cf. Jdg 20:21; Jdg 20:25 destroyed them. With the correction of the text the marg. becomes unnecessary.
Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and trode them down with ease over against Gibeah toward the sunrising.43. The unidiomatic style (and … and are not in the original), together with the obscurity of the sense, prove that the text is corrupt. Of the various attempts to emend it, the following is as plausible as any: taking the two Hebr. words for the Benjamites … chased them as a doublet of the next two at their resting place, trode them down, and omitting the latter, we may read they cut down (LXX. cod. B) Benjamin and pursued him as far as over against Geba toward the sunrising. The Gibeah of the text was not E. of the flying Benjamites; as elsewhere it is confused with Geba = Jeba‘, 3 m. N.E. of Tell el-Fûl. Jeba‘ lies on the way to Rammôn; but before the fugitives could reach their place of refuge (Rimmon Jdg 20:45), the narrow defile of the Wadi Suwçnît (1 Samuel 14:4 ff.), between Jeba‘ and Machmâs, would stop further pursuit: accordingly over against Geba they were cut down.
And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour.44. eighteen thousand men] Contrast the number in Jdg 20:35 from B. The first half of the v. may be assigned to A, and connects with Jdg 20:47; the second half has found its way here from Jdg 20:46, probably by a copyist’s error.
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.45. the rock of Rimmon] now Rammôn, rises from the plateau due E. of Beth-el, visible from all sides; it lies rather more than 8 m. N.E. of Tell el-Fûl.
gleaned of them] For the figure cf. Jdg 8:2.
unto Gidom] Site unknown; the Versions therefore guess, LXX. cod. A Gilead, Syr Gibeon. With the change of a vowel, we may read until they cut them off (gid‘âm), the word used in Jdg 21:6.
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.46. For the total here cf. on Jdg 20:35. This and the preceding verse appear to be, not fragments from the B narrative, but editorial additions: the first part of Jdg 20:45 is borrowed from Jdg 20:47, the figures in Jdg 20:46 are obtained by adding up those in Jdg 20:44 (from A) and 45; contrast B’s total in Jdg 20:35.
But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.47. A’s version of the final flight. The 600 survivors have a part to play in the sequel.
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.48. This v. (from B) records the destruction of the Benjamites who had not taken part in the conflict.
the entire city] The marg. is to be preferred, lit. the city of men, a phrase only found again in Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:6, and there, as here, in connexion with devoting a city or people to destruction. The Israelites were determined to make the tribe of Benjamin a ḥérem: cf. Jdg 21:10-11, Jdg 1:17 n.