Judges 20:31-34: The Third Battle at Gibeah: Springing the Trap

Verse 31:[1] And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite of the people, and kill, as at (Heb. to smite of the people wounded as at, etc.[2]) other times, in the highways, of which one goeth up to the house of God (or, Beth-el[3]), and the other to Gibeah in the field, about thirty men of Israel.



[They sallied forth from the city, הָנְתְּקוּ[4]] They were pulled out (Pagnine, Montanus), extracted (Munster, Tigurinus, Jonathan), carried off (Osiander).


Drawn away from the city, by the dissembled flight of the Israelites.


[In such a way that they wounded] Hebrew: they had begun by smiting to wound[5] (Junius and Tremellius), to smite those wounded: in the place of, to kill, and thus to render fatally wounded (Piscator).


[Just as on the first day and the second] It does not denote equality, but similitude, because they did this with the same facility and hope of victory (Bonfrerius).


[כְּפַ֣עַם׀ בְּפַ֗עַם] According to an occasion, in an occasion[6] (Vatablus, Piscator); in a time as in a time (Junius); just as once and again (Pagnine, Tigurinus); that is, as previously, so also on this occasion (Vatablus).


As at other times; with the same kind, though not with the same degree of success.


[Along two paths, בַּמְסִלּוֹת] Along paths (Pagnine), that is, in the meeting of paths, that is, at the crossroad (Vatablus).


[The other unto Gibeah, גִּבְעָ֙תָה֙ בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה] Gibeah through the field (Munster, Tigurinus), or, in the field (Septuagint, Jonathan, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator), understanding, situated (Junius and Tremellius). Through this that city is distinguished from Gibeah that the Israelites besieging at that time; since it was situated on a hill, as it is evident from verses 23 and 30 (Piscator). It went upon unto the plain city of Gibeah, which is clearly distinguished from this Gibeah, Joshua 18:24, 28 (Junius). Others, therefore, conjoin that in the field with to smite [thus Pagnine], or refer it to the road, the way that leads through a field unto Gibeah [thus Munster] (Malvenda).


Gibeah in the field; so called, to difference it from this Gibeah, which was upon a hill; wherefore they are constantly said to ascend or go up against it, as Judges 20:23, 30. See Joshua 18:24, 28.


Verse 32:[7] And the children of Benjamin said, They are smitten down before us, as at the first. But the children of Israel said, Let us flee, and draw them from the city unto the highways.


Verse 33:[8] And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and put themselves in array at Baal-tamar: and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah.



Out of their place; where they had disposed themselves, that they might fall upon the Benjamites, when they were drawn forth to a sufficient distance from their city, and when they were pursuing that party, mentioned verse 30.


[Baal-tamar] It signifies the valley of the palm tree, or palm trees. Whence Jonathan here renders it, the plains of Jericho. But that is too far distant from Gibeah, namely, sixteen Italian miles[9] (Bonfrerius).


[The ambushes began to show themselves, וְאֹרֵ֧ב יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מֵגִ֥יחַ[10]] And the lier in wait of Israel leading out of his place (Montanus). They translate מֵגִ֥יחַ, they were going forth (Pagnine, Septuagint); they sallied forth (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator); they departed (Vatablus); they burst forth, or removed (Vatablus). The verb is intransitive here, transitive elsewhere (Drusius).


Came forth out of their places, to execute what was agreed upon, even to take Gibeah, and burn it, as they actually did, verse 37.


[Which were around the city, מִמַּעֲרֵה־גָבַע[11]] [They render it variously:] After the denuding of Gibeah (Junius and Tremellius), that is, after the inhabitants of Gibeah, going forth with all their troops, had left the city stripped of protection (Junius). They take the מִן/à/from as after, after the manner of the Latins: which is uncommon enough to the Hebrews (Dieu). Others: from the grassland of Gibeah (Pagnine, Montanus, Drusius, Kimchi in Drusius, Hebrews in Munster, similarly Munster, Tigurinus, Vatablus). Others: from the plain (Jonathan), that is, a place open, level, and bare, as it were. עָרָה signifies to be bare or naked; in Arabic, to make straight, level, Matthew 20:12. (That this signification is agreeably employed in a Hebraism, we will show on Psalm 137:7;[12] Isaiah 22:6;[13] Zephaniah 2:14.[14]) In Æthiopic it signifies to make flat, as in Mark 1:3; Luke 3:5. Which things do much to confirm the translation of Jonathan (Dieu). But a plain does not appear to have been accommodated to the hiding of an ambush. In the place of מַעֲרֶה, a bare place, Jerome was more rightly reading מַעֲרָבָה, which signifies the West. Thus the Septuagint, in the Basilean and Royal codices, have ἀπὸ δυσμῶν, from the west (Bonfrerius). Others: from the side of the hill, or, from the side of Gibeah (certain interpreters in Bonfrerius). For hills are suitable for managing an ambush (Bonfrerius). Others: from the valley. Others: from the hollow, or cave. I understand it of the slopes, or declivities, of Gibeah (Malvenda). Moreover, the following narration is very involved (Bonfrerius, Lapide). For, the flight of the Benjamites appears to have preceded the capture of the city, from verse 36, and to have followed it, from verse 42 (Bonfrerius). But you may thus disentangle and arrange it. The Israelites divided themselves into three unequal troops, or parts. 1. There was an ambush from the rear of Gibeah, so that, when the Benjamites went out, they might enter the city. 2. There was a troop of ten thousand, which drew the Benjamites from the city, so that the former troop might capture the city, and which led them to the third troop, or the most numerous battle line of the whole rest of the army, by feignedly fleeing, while the sign of the captured city was given by the first troop by smoke: with which accomplished they turned themselves, and all the troops attacked the Benjamites (Lapide, similarly Lyra, Tostatus, Bonfrerius). The Benjamites were divided into two parts; one part was pursuing the Israelites that were fleeing along one path, others those that were bleeing along another path, of which verse 31. The former met the main strength of the Israelite army, by which having been repulsed, they fled back toward the city, and ran into the ambush; which either at the same time with the Benjamites broke in upon the city; or rather, the Benjamites scattered into pathless regions. The latter, seeing the burning of the city, likewise fled on the other path, and were slaughtered (Bonfrerius).


Verse 34:[15] And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore: (Josh. 8:14; Is. 47:11) but they knew not that evil was near them.



[From the western part of the city, מִנֶּ֙גֶד לַגִּבְעָ֜ה] Over against (or near [Vatablus]) Gibeah (Pagnine); or, from a place that was over against Gibeah (Vatablus). They placed themselves between Gibeah and the Gibeathites, lest they should retreat into the city (Piscator out of Junius).


Chosen men out of all Israel; selected out of the main body, which was at Baal-tamar; and these were to march directly to Gibeah on the one side, whilst the liers in wait stormed it on the other side, and whilst the great body of the army laboured to intercept these Benjamites, who, having pursued the Israelites that pretended to flee, now endeavoured to retreat to Gibeah.


[The battle was heavy] Or, it had begun to grow heavy (that is, to be conducted more fiercely); that is, they were fighting among themselves sharply. The Chaldean has, and those troops were the stoutest; that is, with great courage they entered that city (Vatablus).


[And they did not understand that ruin pressed them on every side,כִּֽי־נֹגַ֥עַת עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הָרָעָֽה׃] That evil was near upon them (was near them [Pagnine], had reached to them [Vatablus]) (Montanus) [similarly all].


They knew not that evil was near them; they were so puffed up with their former successes, that they were insensible of their danger.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֵּצְא֤וּ בְנֵֽי־בִנְיָמִן֙ לִקְרַ֣את הָעָ֔ם הָנְתְּק֖וּ מִן־הָעִ֑יר וַיָּחֵ֡לּוּ לְהַכּוֹת֩ מֵהָעָ֙ם חֲלָלִ֜ים כְּפַ֣עַם׀ בְּפַ֗עַם בַּֽמְסִלּוֹת֙ אֲשֶׁ֙ר אַחַ֜ת עֹלָ֣ה בֵֽית־אֵ֗ל וְאַחַ֤ת גִּבְעָ֙תָה֙ בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה כִּשְׁלֹשִׁ֥ים אִ֖ישׁ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃


[2] Hebrew: לְהַכּוֹת֩ מֵהָעָ֙ם חֲלָלִ֜ים כְּפַ֣עַם׀ בְּפַ֗עַם.


[3] Hebrew: בֵית־אֵל.


[4] נָתַק, to pull or draw off, in the Hophal conjugation, signifies to be drawn away.


[5] Hebrew: וַיָּחֵ֡לּוּ לְהַכּוֹת֩ מֵהָעָ֙ם חֲלָלִ֜ים.


[6] A woodenly literalistic rendering.


[7] Hebrew: וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י בִנְיָמִ֔ן נִגָּפִ֥ים הֵ֛ם לְפָנֵ֖ינוּ כְּבָרִאשֹׁנָ֑ה וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֣ל אָמְר֗וּ נָנ֙וּסָה֙ וּֽנְתַקְּנֻ֔הוּ מִן־הָעִ֖יר אֶל־הַֽמְסִלּֽוֹת׃


[8] Hebrew: וְכֹ֣ל׀ אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל קָ֚מוּ מִמְּקוֹמ֔וֹ וַיַּעַרְכ֖וּ בְּבַ֣עַל תָּמָ֑ר וְאֹרֵ֧ב יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מֵגִ֥יחַ מִמְּקֹמ֖וֹ מִמַּֽעֲרֵה־גָֽבַע׃


[9] The Italian mile was roughly equivalent to the Roman mile, which is a little shorter than the English equivalent.


[10] גִּיחַ, to burst forth, in the Hiphil conjugation signifies to cause to burst forth.


[11] מַעֲרֶה, a bare place, is related to the verb עָרָה, to be naked.


[12] Psalm 137:7: “Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it (עָ֤רוּ׀ עָ֑רוּ), even to the foundation thereof.”


[13] Isaiah 22:6: “And Elam bare the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered (עֵרָה) the shield.”


[14] Zephaniah 2:14: “And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover (עֵרָה) the cedar work.”


[15] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹאוּ֩ מִנֶּ֙גֶד לַגִּבְעָ֜ה עֲשֶׂרֶת֩ אֲלָפִ֙ים אִ֤ישׁ בָּחוּר֙ מִכָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְהַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה כָּבֵ֑דָה וְהֵם֙ לֹ֣א יָדְע֔וּ כִּֽי־נֹגַ֥עַת עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הָרָעָֽה׃

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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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