Judges 20:18: Israel Seeks Counsel of the Lord

Verse 18:[1] And the children of Israel arose, and (Judg. 20:23, 26) went up to the house of God, and (Num. 27:21; Judg. 1:1) 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.


The children of Israel, that is, some sent in the name of all.



[They came unto the house of God (thus Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Bonfrerius), namely, at Shiloh, where the Tabernacle of the Lord was (Vatablus, Drusius), בֵית־אֵל] Others: unto, or towards, Beth-el (Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Montanus). This explanation appears to be supported by the fact, 1. that in the place of the house of God, or of the Lord, בֵּית־אֵל/Beth-el is never found in Hebrew; but either בֵּית יְהוָה, the house of Jehovah, or בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים, the house of God: 2. that Beth-el was near to the city of Shiloh, Judges 21:19, so that on account of this, since so numerous a camp could not be contained in the city of Shiloh, they took position in the neighboring city of Beth-el, and thence sent to Phinehas. Nevertheless, it is more correctly translated, the house of God (Bonfrerius). But Beth-el was near Shiloh, and perhaps the Ark had been transferred there (Drusius, Munster). But this is asserted without reason: For, that the house of God was fixedly and constantly for the entire period of the Judges in Shiloh, is sufficiently evident from Judges 18:31 and Psalm 78:60; and from Judges 20:27, at that time the Ark of the Covenant was there, which words sufficiently indicate that it was found there by the Israelites, not carried there because of the impending war; and from Judges 21:19, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord (of course, one commanded by God in the Law) in Shiloh. Now, those feasts were not celebrated except in the place of the Tabernacle. Again, Phinehas, the High Priest, was there, verse 28, who was dwelling in any place other than where the Tabernacle was (Bonfrerius).


To the house of God, to wit, to Shiloh, which was not far from Mizpeh, where they were.



[They asked counsel of God…Who shall be first, etc.?] They were in no doubt of victory (trusting in numbers and in the righteousness of their cause), neither do they ask concerning it (Martyr). That is to say, The punishment of the wicked is already established: but our strength is so great, and the cause so just, that we are sure of victory: but it is not agreed among us who should proceed first (Malvenda). They rightly had recourse to the oracle of God, to avoid contentions; neither could a battle be rightly managed without some General (Bonfrerius).


[Hebrew: Who shall go up? לָּנוּ בַתְּחִלָּה] For us at the commencement? Or, in the beginning? (Pagnine, Montanus, Septuagint), or, first? (Junius and Tremellius), at the head? (Syriac), that is, which of all the tribes shall fight first? (Vatablus). Who shall go up for us, by whose leadership we might conduct the war? (Tigurinus). Who shall go up before us in the battle-array? (Munster).


Which of us shall go up first to the battle? this they ask to prevent emulations and contentions; but they do not ask whether they should go against them, or no, for that they knew they ought to do by the will of God already revealed. Nor yet do they seek to God for his help by prayer, and fasting, and sacrifice, as in all reason they ought to have done; but were confident of success, because of their great numbers, and righteous cause.



[Let Judah be your general] Hebrew: Judah in the first place,[2] understanding, shall go up (Vatablus). That voice designates Judah, not the man, but the tribe. You will say, It was not asked which Tribe was to be placed in command, but who of all them was going to be General. Response: God only responds concerning the tribe, because, with that nominated, it was easy to agree upon the person to be put in charge, so that for this the oracle was not needed: or because the individual Tribes had their own Prince, whom they would choose here; or because that was committed to the lot. Only contention among the Tribes was feared; but in the same tribe there were few suitable, among whom alone there was able to be contention. Moreover, as God, when asked concerning necessities, is not wont to fail; so He is not wont to be much in non-necessities (Bonfrerius). They do not ask whether they ought to go up to fight, nor whether God is willing to give them the victory: and so God does not command them to go up, nor promise victory; but He only responds, Seeing that without me ye have decided to fight, let the Tribe of Judah first assail the enemy (Osiander). Moreover, from these things it is gathered with sufficient clarity that this history happened at that time when there was yet no Judge in Israel. For, if there had been a Judge, to him would have been due the chief command in the war (Bonfrerius).

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּקֻ֜מוּ וַיַּעֲל֣וּ בֵֽית־אֵל֮ וַיִּשְׁאֲל֣וּ בֵאלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִ֚י יַעֲלֶה־לָּ֣נוּ בַתְּחִלָּ֔ה לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עִם־בְּנֵ֣י בִנְיָמִ֑ן וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוָ֖ה יְהוּדָ֥ה בַתְּחִלָּֽה׃


[2] Hebrew: יְהוּדָ֥ה בַתְּחִלָּֽה׃.

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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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