Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba came to meet together

Chapter 20

v1 Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba came to meet together. They also came from the area called Gilead. They all met at Mizpah, where the *Lord was. v2 This meeting of God’s people included the leaders of all *Israel’s *tribes. There were 400 000 people with swords. v3 (The people in Benjamin’s *tribe heard that *Israel’s people had gathered at Mizpah.) The *Israelites said, ‘Tell us how this awful crime happened.’ v4 The husband of the woman that the wicked men had murdered spoke. (He was the man from Levi’s *tribe.) He said, ‘I and my *concubine came to spend the night in Gibeah. It is in the area where Benjamin’s *tribe lives. v5 During the night, the men that lived in Gibeah came. And they surrounded the house. They intended to kill me. They forced my *concubine to have sex with them. And she died. v6 I took her body and I cut it into pieces. I sent one piece to each region where *Israel’s people live. This was because of this evil and foolish act. v7 Now, all you *Israelites, what should we do? Please say what you think.’

People from most *tribes came to the meeting. So this event probably happened early, when the judges began to rule. Later, foreign nations controlled the country and that made long journeys difficult. ‘Dan to Beersheba’ meant the whole country from north to south. It does not mean that Dan’s *tribe had gone to live somewhere else. The *Israelites met at Mizpah. This is probably the Mizpah that is near Bethel. People have talked about what the number 400 000 means. It seems very large. Many people believe that we should translate the word ‘thousand’ as ‘families’ or ‘captains of military groups’.

v8 All the people replied together. They said, ‘We will not go home. Not one person will go. Not one will return to his house. v9 This is what we will do to Gibeah. We will *draw lots. v10 We will take 10 men from every 100 men. We will take 100 men from every 1000 men. And we will take 1000 men from 10 000 men. They will get food for the army. The army will punish the people in Gibeah. (It is in the area where Benjamin’s *tribe lives.) We will punish them because they have done this foolish act in *Israel.’ v11 So all *Israel’s men came together. And they all united as one group against the town.

Benjamin’s *tribe had not come to help the other *tribes. So the military action would last a long time. The other *tribes therefore made careful plans for their supplies. This situation was very different from the usual one. The *tribes did not usually unite so much during the time when the judges ruled.

v12 *Israel’s *tribes sent people with messages to Benjamin’s *tribe. ‘A wicked crime has happened among you. v13 Give these wicked men in Gibeah to us. Then we can kill them. We can remove this evil thing from the country where *Israel’s *tribes live.’ But the people in Benjamin’s *tribe would not listen. v14 They came from their towns to Gibeah, to fight against the *Israelites. v15 They got 26 000 soldiers from their towns. And they also got 700 men that people had chosen from Gibeah. v16 These 700 men were left-handed. They could throw a stone at a hair and they would not miss it. v17 The army from *Israel’s other *tribes consisted of 400 000 men. These men could fight and they had swords.

The other *tribes made an official request to Benjamin’s *tribe. They asked that *tribe to give to them the people that had done this wrong thing. Benjamin’s *tribe refused. They chose to fight and they gathered their army. This included many left-handed men. These men could throw stones very skilfully.

v18 The *Israelites went to Bethel and they asked God a question. ‘Which *tribe shall go first to fight against Benjamin’s *tribe?’ The *Lord replied, ‘Judah’s *tribe shall go first.’

v19 The next morning the *Israelites got up and they camped near Gibeah. v20 They went out to fight against Benjamin’s *tribe. They went into their positions for the battle against them. This was at Gibeah. v21 The men from Benjamin’s *tribe came out from Gibeah. And they killed 22 000 *Israelites that day. v22 But *Israel’s men encouraged each other. They went into their positions where they had been the day before. v23 The *Israelites went up and they wept to God. They did this until the evening. They asked the *Lord this. ‘Shall we go up? Shall we fight against our brothers from Benjamin’s *tribe again?’ The *Lord said, ‘Go up against them.’

v24 On the 2nd day, the *Israelites went out to fight against Benjamin’s *tribe. v25 The men from Benjamin’s *tribe came from Gibeah. They came to oppose the *Israelites. Then they killed 18 000 more *Israelites.

At first Benjamin’s *tribe was successful. There were a lot of hills. This helped people that were defending themselves. It did not help people that were attacking. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe knew this area. God chose Judah’s *tribe to fight against them. This was probably because Judah’s *tribe were very skilful fighters. They lived in an area that was similar to this one. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe won this battle and they killed many soldiers from Judah’s *tribe. Benjamin’s *tribe was fighting for its life as a *tribe. Perhaps its soldiers knew that. The other *tribes may not have wanted to fight against their relatives. The *tribes asked whether God wanted them to fight again. The *Lord said ‘yes’. Then they went into their positions. Again Benjamin’s *tribe defeated them.

v26 Then all the *Israelites went up to Bethel. They sat there and they wept to the *Lord. They did not eat that day until the evening. Then they offered *burnt offerings and *peace offerings. v27 At that time, the *ark of the *covenant was there. v28 Phinehas served in front of it. Phinehas was Eleazar’s son and Eleazar was Aaron’s son. The people asked the *Lord, ‘Shall we go again to fight against our brothers from Benjamin’s *tribe? Or shall we not go?’ The *Lord replied, ‘Go. Tomorrow I will cause you to beat them.’

v29 Then the *Israelites hid men all round Gibeah. v30 They went up on the 3rd day. They went into their positions. So they were ready to fight against Gibeah as they had done before. v31 Benjamin’s *tribe came out to fight. The *Israelites made them go away from the town. But they began to kill the *Israelites as they had done before. They killed about 30 men in the field and on the roads. These roads led to Bethel and to Gibeah. v32 The men from Benjamin’s *tribe said, ‘We are defeating them again.’ The *Israelites said, ‘Let us run away. Let us make them go away from the town to the roads.’ v33When the *Israelites’ main army reached *Baal Tamar, it stopped. Then its men arranged themselves in a different way. Some *Israelites had hidden near Gibeah, on its west side. They came out from there and they attacked. v34 10 000 men that were *Israel’s best men attacked Gibeah. The fighting was very hard. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe did not know how near their defeat was. v35 The *Lord gave to the *Israelites *victory over Benjamin’s *tribe. On that day, the *Israelites killed 25 100 soldiers from Benjamin’s *tribe. v36a Then Benjamin’s *tribe knew that the *Israelites had defeated them.

The *tribes then went to Bethel to ask for God’s help. The 2nd defeat must have been very difficult for them. This time they not only wept, but they also offered *sacrifices. They did not eat food. Perhaps they had not really trusted God in their previous attacks. They had had a larger army then. This time they changed their minds. They asked for God’s help. The writer refers to Phinehas. Phinehas was the priest when Joshua was alive. This means that these things happened quite early. Phinehas was the priest at the place where they praised God at that time. He was a very great and holy man from among *Israel’s people. The name Phinehas means a child with dark skin. Its origin is from Egypt. This is the only time in the book called Judges when the writer mentions the *ark of the *covenant. (The *ark of the *covenant was a box that people had made from gold. It contained the 10 special laws that God had given to *Israel’s people.)

For the 3rd attack, some *Israelites hid and they waited in that position. They were ready to jump out. (The *Israelites had also done this at Ai, when Joshua was their leader.) The men from Benjamin’s *tribe came out to attack. It seemed as if they had won. The *Israelites’ main army pretended to run away. Benjamin’s men ran after them. Then the *Israelites’ smaller army that was hiding, came in behind Benjamin’s men. That smaller army started a fire in the town. (We will read about this in verse 40.) At this time the *Israelites’ main army, which was running away, turned round. Now the army from Benjamin’s *tribe ran away. The *Israelites killed about 25 000 men from that army.

v36b *Israel’s men had run away from Benjamin’s men. The *Israelites trusted the men that were hiding round Gibeah. v37 These men ran quickly into Gibeah. They spread out in the town. And they killed everyone that was there. v38 These men had been hiding. The *Israelites had told them to send up a cloud of smoke. This was a signal. v39 When the *Israelites saw this, they would turn round. The army from Benjamin’s *tribe had begun to kill *Israel’s men. They killed about 30 *Israelites. They said, ‘We are defeating them, as we did in the first battle.’ v40 Then a cloud of smoke began to rise from the town. The army from Benjamin’s *tribe saw that the whole town was burning. v41 Then *Israel’s men turned round and Benjamin’s men were very afraid. They knew that the *Israelites would destroy them. So they were afraid. v42 So they ran away towards the desert, but they could not escape. Some men from *Israel’s *tribes came out from the towns. And they killed Benjamin’s men there. v43 They surrounded Benjamin’s men and they chased them. They passed them near Gibeah, on its east side. v44 They killed 18 000 men from Benjamin’s *tribe. All these men were brave soldiers. v45 Benjamin’s men turned. And they ran towards the desert to the rock called Rimmon. Then the *Israelites killed 5000 men along the roads. The *Israelites continued to chase Benjamin’s men as far as Gidom. They killed 2000 more men. v46 On that day they killed 25 000 brave soldiers from Benjamin’s *tribe. v47 600 men from that *tribe ran away and they went to the rock called Rimmon. They stayed there for 4 months. v48 *Israel’s men went back to the area where Benjamin’s *tribe lived. They killed all the people in the towns. They also killed the animals. And they killed everything else that they found. They started a fire in all the villages.

The writer now concentrates on the people that destroyed Gibeah. They got into the town easily. The *Israelites’ main army had pretended to run away. The men from Benjamin’s *tribe rushed out from the city. They left it so that it had no protection. The smaller army that had been hiding went into the city. Then they started a fire there. This was a signal for the main army. When the main army saw the smoke, it would turn round. And it would fight against Benjamin’s men. The people that had been protecting the town chased after the *Israelites’ main army. Some *Israelites from the smaller army were hiding near Geba. These men attacked Gibeah. Benjamin’s men that ran away went east towards the desert. The *Israelites started a fire in the town. They tried to stop Benjamin’s men so that these would not run away. They killed 18 000 men from Benjamin’s *tribe. Those that were still alive ran to the rock called Rimmon. This was north-east from Geba. The *Israelites killed 7000 more men on the way. 600 men escaped to Rimmon. Then the armies killed many other men from Benjamin’s *tribe. They destroyed their towns and villages too. In Deuteronomy 13:12-18, God had given a command to the *Israelites. In towns whose people had praised other gods, they should burn all the people, animals and possessions. Perhaps the *Israelites now thought that the men from Benjamin’s *tribe had done an even worse crime than that.