Judges 20:19-21: The First Battle at Gibeah

Verse 19:[1] And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.


Verse 20:[2] 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.


Verse 21:[3] And (Gen. 49:27) 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.



[And they killed of the children of Israel…twenty-two thousand, וַיַּשְׁחִיתוּ—אָרְצָה[4]] And they prostrated to the ground (Syriac, Junius and Tremellius); they destroyed, or ruined (or, prostrated [Munster, Tigurinus]) to (or upon [Septuagint]) the earth (Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Montanus, Vatablus); they causes to be ruined those cast down to the earth (Jonathan); they ruined (that is, killed), striking them down toward the earth (Piscator). Question: As the war was just, and it was also undertaken with the Lord having been consulted and approving, why did they once and again suffer so great a slaughter? Responses: 1. God had reasons, of which it is not strange if we are ignorant. For the counsels of God are hidden and obscure (Martyr). 2. What the reasons are (and there are many) why hardships sometimes befall an honest man, the same are able to be the reasons why they befall an innocent people. 3. It sometimes happens that men appear righteous and innocent to themselves, and yet are not, and, although they might be free from once particular fault, are polluted with a great many others. It also often happens that they do something well, but with it they commit many sins (Serarius). 4. This was done, so that God might chasten their past sins (Lapide). Either, 1. because they had tolerated Micah’s idol[5] (Lapide, Vatablus, Drusius, Martry, Rabbis in Serarius). But this history was before Micah’s idol, as we will prove in Judges 21 (Serarius). Or, 2. on account of the worship of the Baalim and Ashtaroth (Lapide). Due order was requiring this, so that the Israelites might first avenge the affront to God Himself, then that of the Levite (Martyr). 5. Evidently, because they were trusting too much in their own strength, or in their numbers (Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Estius, Menochius, Tirinus, Martyr), they did not asked God’s help (Bonfrerius), neither did they approach God with sufficient earnestness, with prayers, fastings, etc. (Martyr). With the greatest temerity, with the enemy despised, they choose an unsuitable place to fight, namely, a place beneath Gibeah, which the very name shows to have been in a high place;[6] and there with foolish audacity they decided to fight a second time (Serarius, Tirinus). God willed first to purify them by a twofold defeat, so that they might exercise the vengeance of God against the Benjamites (Menochius). 6. Because they did not ask counsel of the Lord, whether they should undertake this war: for the Urim and Thummim was given especially for this reason (Grotius on vers 18). 7. God did this, so that He might stir up in them greater religion, piety, and poverty of spirit (Tirinus out of Serarius). 8. So that He might cleanse the people, having been greatly corrupted, by the destruction of the worst: which also itself was a sort of benefit (Grotius on verse 28). 9. So that He might prove and excite their faith and obedience, which certainly was great here; for, in spite of the fact that they were slaughtered on the second occasion, nevertheless on the third they renewed the war at the commandment of God. 10. So that He might show Himself to be the supreme Lord of the life and death of all, and thus overawe all with a holy fear and reverence of Him: as it also happened. For similar reasons god permitted the most pious Josiah to be killed by Pharaoh, etc.[7] (Lapide).



Twenty and two thousand men: Question: Why would God suffer them to have so great a loss in so good a cause? Answer: Because they had many and great sins reigning amongst themselves, and they should not have come to so great a work of God as this with polluted hands, but should have pulled the beam out of their own eye, before they attempted to take that out of their brother Benjamin’s eye; which because they did not, God doth it for them, making them by this loss more clearly to see their own sins, and their need of God’s help, without which their great numbers were insignificant; and bringing them through the fire, that they might be purged from their dross; it being probable that the great God, who governs every stroke in battles, did so order things, that their worst and rotten members should be cut off, which was a great blessing to the whole commonwealth.

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּק֥וּמוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּבֹּ֑קֶר וַיַּֽחֲנ֖וּ עַל־הַגִּבְעָֽה׃


[2] Hebrew: וַיֵּצֵא֙ אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עִם־בִּנְיָמִ֑ן וַיַּעַרְכ֙וּ אִתָּ֧ם אִֽישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מִלְחָמָ֖ה אֶל־הַגִּבְעָֽה׃


[3] Hebrew: וַיֵּצְא֥וּ בְנֵֽי־בִנְיָמִ֖ן מִן־הַגִּבְעָ֑ה וַיַּשְׁחִ֙יתוּ בְיִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא שְׁנַ֙יִם וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים אֶ֛לֶף אִ֖ישׁ אָֽרְצָה׃


[4] שָׁחַת, to go to ruin, in the Hiphil conjugation (which frequently conveys a causal sense), signifies to ruin, to destroy.


[5] See Judges 17; 18.


[6] גִּבְעָה/Gibeah signifies hill.


[7] 2 Kings 23:29, 30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-25.

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ABOUT US

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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