Judges 20:14-17: Benjamin's Obstinate Resistance

Verse 14:[1] But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel.

[Out of all the cities] Understanding, other:[2] thus verse 15 (Vatablus).

Verse 15:[3] 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.

[Twenty-five thousand (thus the Septuagint in the Basilean and Royal codices, although in the Roman codex it is twenty-three thousand [Bonfrerius]), עֶשְׂרִ֙ים וְשִׁשָּׁ֥ה אֶ֛לֶף] Twenty-six thousand (Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Drusius, Lyra, Tostatus). This reading is approved by all the Hebrews, Cajetan, Vatablus, Clario, Montanus, and the Spanish translator (Malvenda). Nevertheless, faith is due to our version, rather than to the Hebrew text, says Bonfrerius [imperiously enough. More modestly his brother Malvenda:] A great many judge, says he, that Ours has suffered some corruption, not through any fault of its own, but of the copyists, and that the reading in it is to be restored to twenty-six thousand (Malvenda). But with this number what things follow do not agree: for the slain were only twenty-five thousand, verse 46, besides one hundred, verse 35, and those that escaped were only six hundred, verse 47 (Bonfrerius, Lapide). If, therefore, there were twenty-six thousand, what became of the other thousand men? Responses: 1. Those thousand men were not fighting, but were conveying necessities to the army; and those, with Gibeah set ablaze, fled to other cities, where they were killed by the Israelites. For it is said below, that the children of Israel, having returned, smote the remnants of the city, from men unto women[4] (Tostatus). 2. Some think that they were lost in the previous battles, when the Israelites were slain (Drusius, thus Munster). But twenty-five thousand are numbered in verse 46, who perished in the third battle (Munster). 3. Only those six hundred survivors that fled into the wilderness toward the rock Rimmon are described: while those thousand men were able to flee elsewhere, or to return to Gibeah, where they would have been killed. 4. Others thus reconcile the matter: They are said to be twenty-six thousand by a round number, with the seven hundred men of Gibeah included, that is, exactly twenty-five thousand and seven hundred; what follows is not to be rendered, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah that had been numbered, etc., but simply, as we translate it, only of the inhabitants of Gibeah had been enumerated seven hundred men [as Jonathan also translates it]; which is to say, in this twenty-six thousand only seven hundred were the choice men of Gibeah (Malvenda). It is to be asserted, therefore, that there were twenty-six thousand, according to the Hebrew letter, since the truth of our books is to be derived from the Hebrew books, as Augustine says, and is found in the Decretum[5] and in Jerome’s Prologue on Genesis (Tostatus).

Twenty and six thousand men, etc.: Objection: This agrees not with the following numbers; for all that were slain of Benjamin were twenty-five thousand, one hundred men, verse 35, and there were only six hundred that survived, verse 47, which make only twenty-five thousand, seven hundred. Answer: The other thousand men were either left in some of their cities, where they were slain, verse 48, or were cut off in the two first battles, wherein it is unreasonable to think they had an unbloody victory; and as for these twenty-five thousand, one hundred men, they were all slain in that day, that is, the day of the third battle, as is affirmed, verse 35.

Verse 16:[6] Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men (Judg. 3:15; 1 Chron. 12:2) lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.

[Do battle with the left hand, as with the right, אִטֵּ֖ר יַד־יְמִינ֑וֹ] Stopped up, or shut up (impeded [Jonathan], maimed [Syriac], withered [Arabic]) in their right hand (Pagnine, Montanus, Malvenda), that is, Seized in their right hand, that is, making use of the left hand instead of the right: whom we call lefthanded (Vatablus). Whose right hand was inept (Tigurinus), or, hampered (Munster, similarly Cajetan, Montanus’ Commentary, Clario, Marinus, the Spanish Translator). Lefthanded men are wont to be forward and daring. But whence so many lefthanded men? Response: Perhaps in those times it was thought to be capable in the use of the left, rather than the right, hand: for I would not think these completed seized in their right hand (Malvenda). Junius and Tremellius thus translate it, precluding their right hand; that is, being so overly confident in their strength and military ability, that they dare to fight the enemy even with the left hand (Junius). The Septuagint translates it, ambidextrous men, who are wont to be most vigorous, and, fighting in a changeable way, are of great detriment to enemies (Malvenda).

Lefthanded; Hebrew, shut up on their right hand, that is, using their left hand instead of their right.

[And with slings hurling stones so accurately that they could even strike a hair, כָּל־זֶ֗ה קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן אֶל־הַֽשַּׂעֲרָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא׃] All those were hurling stones from a sling unto a lock of hair, or, a single hair of the head, and they were not erring (Munster, similarly the Septuagint, Jonathan, Pagnine, Malvenda, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator). I prefer, with a sling hurling a stone, Hebrew, slinging with a stone[7] (Piscator), without error he was sending forth (Junius and Tremellius), rather, he was hurling. Hebrew: he was not causing (that is, permitting) to sin or miss the mark, that is, the stone. The language of sinning is used in its proper signification, for that which is to stray from the target. Thus Martial, Fearing to break the crystal vessels, he broke them: hands overly confident or anxious sin/err[8] (Piscator). Herodotus made use of the language of sinning/erring in this sense. And hence with a metaphor derived they that err/stray from the goal of the Law of God are said to sin (Drusius). וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא׃ is able to be translated, he was not committing a defect; that is, he was not causing that an arrow might fall short of its mark, or, that it might be without a mark. חטא in the Æthiopic language signifies to be destitute, to be without, not to find, or overtake; as in Matthew 18:25; Luke 5:19. Hence חֵטְא/sin is rightly derived, as a defect, a lack of legal righteousness; which embraces all sins, even original sin. And hence in the Piel חִטָּא signifies to cleanse from sin, to expiate: for it is properly, to cause that a person or thing might be without sin and uncleanness (Dieu). In addition, this expression appears to be hyperbolical (Cajetan, Tostatus, Lapide, Glassius). But, that it is not altogether hyperbolical, similar examples teach. The Indians were casting so exactly, that by the stone or nut sent forth they might touch only the outer hairs of a child: Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius Tyana 2:12. The Balearic Islands[9] received their name from βάλλειν/ballein, to hurl or cast. The inhabitants of these hurl so certainly that for the most part they do not err from the target proposed to them. Exercise, constantly repeated by their boys, brings this to pass. For a loaf is suspended on some post as a target, and they continue to fast until they hit it: Diodorus Siculus’ Historical Library 5:206, Strabo’s Geography 3:167, Florus’ Epitome[10] 3:8, Vegetius’ Military Institutions of the Romans[11] 1:16 (Malvenda). The Ilerdes[12] were striking beasts running and birds flying in mid-air, as Silius Italicus testifies. A Gothic soldier, according to a Saxon author, was able to strike a small apple placed upon a staff far removed from him at the first aiming of the dart. And he, having been commanded by his King upon pain of death, removed an apple placed upon the head of his own son with an arrow. A certain Soranus, with a dart sent forth into the air and already falling, with another arrow pierced the first and shattered it:[13] concerning which matter the verses of the Emperor Hadrian[14] are extant. The Emperor Domitian[15] sometimes directed arrows at boy standing at a distance, and presenting as a target the open palm of his right hand, with such skill that all harmlessly pass through the spaces between his fingers[16] (Bonfrerius). In Smyrnæus’ Posthomerica[17] 4, in an archery contest a helmet marked with horse hair was set up as a target: A certain Trojan clipped these hairs with an arrow. And Prorex in Persia once and again split a hair distant from himself at an interval of six great miles, as Olearius, an αὐτόπτης/eyewitness, relates, in his Persian Journey[18] 4:399 (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 2:3:11:829). Moreover, they say that the Baleares have practiced this art from the time the Phœnicians occupied those islands; Strabo’s Geography 3:167. Pliny is the first to say that the Phœnicians invented the sling, Natural History 7:57 (Malvenda). But that ability added much to military science, since the use of this instrument in battles was formerly quite common, whereby against their enemies they were directing, not only stones, but also lead bullets. Now, it is remarkable that all the men of Gibeah were skilled in this art: yet it is not doubtful that it was able to be acquired by assiduous practice. And this fact brought it to pass that the men of Gibeah were able to be subdued only with difficulty (Bonfrerius).

Every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss; an hyperbolical expression, signifying that they could do this with great exactness. There are many parallel instances in historians of persons that could throw stones or shoot arrows with great certainty, so as seldom or never to miss; of which see my Latin Synopsis. And this was very considerable, and one ground of the Benjamites’ confidence, because in those times they had no guns.

Verse 17:[19] And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war.

[Four hundred thousand men] It could appear to be a strange thing that there were no more warriors, since in the desert, Numbers 1; 2; 26, they were numbered at six hundred thousand; and God desired to increase them, so that they might fill all of Canaan, Exodus 23:30. The same doubt could be moved concerning the Benjamites, who in that first census were above thirty-five thousand, but here below twenty-six thousand. But, it is to be said, either, that after the completion of the wars against the Canaanites the years of military service were narrowed, so that, either they might begin military service later, or finish it more quickly; or, rather, that many of them were lost in battle on account of their sins (Bonfrerius). Many and grievous calamities had afflicted them (Martyr on verse 2).

The men of Israel, to wit, such as were here present, verse 2, for otherwise it is most probable they had a far greater number of men, being six hundred thousand before their entrance into Canaan, Numbers 1:2.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֵּאָסְפ֧וּ בְנֵֽי־בִנְיָמִ֛ן מִן־הֶעָרִ֖ים הַגִּבְעָ֑תָה לָצֵ֥את לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עִם־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[2] That is, out of all the other cities.

[3] Hebrew: וַיִּתְפָּֽקְדוּ֩ בְנֵ֙י בִנְיָמִ֜ן בַּיּ֤וֹם הַהוּא֙ מֵהֶ֣עָרִ֔ים עֶשְׂרִ֙ים וְשִׁשָּׁ֥ה אֶ֛לֶף אִ֖ישׁ שֹׁ֣לֵֽף חָ֑רֶב לְ֠בַד מִיֹּשְׁבֵ֤י הַגִּבְעָה֙ הִתְפָּ֣קְד֔וּ שְׁבַ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת אִ֥ישׁ בָּחֽוּר׃

[4] See verse 48.

[5] The Decretum Gratiani is a compilation of Canon Law, written in the twelfth century by the jurist Gratian. Johannes Gratian was a teacher of theology at the monastery of Saints Nabor and Felix in northern Italy.

[6] Hebrew: מִכֹּ֣ל׀ הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֗ה שְׁבַ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ אִ֣ישׁ בָּח֔וּר אִטֵּ֖ר יַד־יְמִינ֑וֹ כָּל־זֶ֗ה קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן אֶל־הַֽשַּׂעֲרָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא׃

[7] Hebrew: קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן.

[8] Epigrams 14:111.

[9] The Balearic Islands are off the eastern coast of Spain.

[10] Florus (early second century) was a Roman historian; he wrote an Epitome of the Histories of Titus Livy.

[11] Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus was a fourth century author. He wrote Military Institutions of the Romans (De Re Militari).

[12] Ilerda was a town in Spain.

[13] Soranus, a Roman soldier, recorded his feats of martial skill in an inscription on the banks of the Danube in 118 AD.

[14] Emperor Hadrian reigned from 117 to 138.

[15] Titus Flavius Domitianus (51-96 AD) was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96 AD.

[16] Suetonius’ “Domitian” 19.

[17] Quintus Smyrnæus (fourth century AD) was a Greek epic poet. The Posthomerica covers the period from Homer’s Iliad to the end of the Trojan War.

[18] Adam Olearius (1599-1671) was a German scholar, geographer, and librarian. He was a part of an embassage sent to the Shah of Persia, and he published a narrative of his travels to Persia and Muscovy (Beshreibung der Muscowtischen und Persischen Reise).

[19] Hebrew: וְאִ֙ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל הִתְפָּֽקְד֗וּ לְבַד֙ מִבִּנְיָמִ֔ן אַרְבַּ֙ע מֵא֥וֹת אֶ֛לֶף אִ֖ישׁ שֹׁ֣לֵֽף חָ֑רֶב כָּל־זֶ֖ה אִ֥ישׁ מִלְחָמָֽה׃

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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