Judges 20:12, 13: Israel's Reasonable Request for Justice

Verse 12:[1] (Deut. 13:14; Josh. 22:13, 16) And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?



[And they sent messengers] They decided nothing rashly or precipitously (Martyr). In private and public matters, before having recourse to the highest tribunals, or procuring arrests, every moderate and placid means of satisfaction and peace is to be tried (Menochius). They were not wanting the innocent to be caught up with the wicked (Martyr).


[To all the tribe of Benjamin] Hebrew: through all the tribes of Benjamin.[2] Here, שִׁבֶט is taken for מִשְׁפָּחָה, that is, tribe for clan and family (Munster, Vatablus, Drusius). Tribe and family explain each other, and are used interchangeably. Moreover, tribe is explained as family, Isaiah 19:13[3] (Drusius). In addition, there were ten families of Benjamin[4] (Kimchi in Drusius), or twelve (Vatablus).


[Why so great a wickedness? מָ֚ה הָרָעָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את] What is this evil? (Munster, Tigurinus, Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius, similarly the Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic). What? that is, how grave and atrocious? For from the following verse it does not appear that they are asking concerning the fact of it, in which verse they, placing the fact itself beyond all doubt, ask that the authors of it be surrendered to them (Piscator). מָה, how great?, that is, How great do ye suppose that scandal to be, which has been perpetrated among you? (Vatablus).


The tribe; Hebrew, tribes: either the plural number for the singular; or rather tribe is put for family, as was noted before, as families are elsewhere put for tribes. They take a wise and a just course, in sending to all the parts and families of the tribe, to separate the innocent from the guilty, and to give them a fair opportunity of preventing their ruin, by doing nothing but what their duty, honour, and interest obliged them to, even by delivering up those vile malefactors, whom they could not keep without horrid guilt and shame, and bringing the curse of God upon themselves.


Verse 13:[5] Now therefore deliver us the men, (Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22) the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and (Deut. 17:12) put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel…

[And that the evil might be taken away, וּנְבַעֲרָה[6]] And we will drive off (Montanus); let us take away (Pagnine, Syriac); we will cut off (Tigurinus); so that we might expel (Munster, similarly Jonathan); we will purge (Septuagint).


Put away evil; both the guilt and the punishment, wherein all Israel will be involved, if they do not punish it.



[Who were unwilling, וְלֹ֤א אָבוּ֙ ְֵ֣ בִּנְיָמִ֔ן] And the sons of Benjamin were unwilling to hear (Montanus). Here, the noun בְּנֵ֣י/sons is read, but is not writer: other things of this sort are in the Hebrew text. The Septuagint and Jonathan here read sons (Drusius). [Thus both the Syriac and Arabic read.]


The children of Benjamin would not hearken; partly, from the pride of their hearts, which made them scorn to submit to their brethren, or to suffer them to meddle in their territory; partly, from the conceit of their own valour and military skill; and partly, from God’s just judgment.

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיִּשְׁלְח֞וּ שִׁבְטֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֲנָשִׁ֔ים בְּכָל־שִׁבְטֵ֥י בִנְיָמִ֖ן לֵאמֹ֑ר מָ֚ה הָרָעָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִהְיְתָ֖ה בָּכֶֽם׃


[2] Hebrew: בְּכָל־שִׁבְטֵ֥י בִנְיָמִ֖ן.


[3] Isaiah 19:13: “The princes of Zoan are become fools, the princes of Noph are deceived; they have also seduced Egypt, even they that are the stay of the tribes thereof (שְׁבָטֶיהָ).”


[4] See Genesis 46:21.


[5] Hebrew: וְעַתָּ֡ה תְּנוּ֩ אֶת־הָאֲנָשִׁ֙ים בְּנֵֽי־בְלִיַּ֜עַל אֲשֶׁ֤ר בַּגִּבְעָה֙ וּנְמִיתֵ֔ם וּנְבַעֲרָ֥ה רָעָ֖ה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א אָבוּ֙ ְֵ֣ בִּנְיָמִ֔ן לִשְׁמֹ֕עַ בְּק֖וֹל אֲחֵיהֶ֥ם בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃


[6] בָּעַר in the Piel signifies to burn or consume. Here, it is cohorative in form.

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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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