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Judges 20:38-41: The Third Battle at Gibeah: Benjamin's Defeat, Part 2

Verse 38:[1] Now there was an appointed sign (or, time[2]) between the men of Israel and (Heb. with[3]) the liers in wait, that they should make a great flame (Heb. elevation[4]) with smoke rise up out of the city.

[Now, they had given a sign, etc., וְהַמּוֹעֵ֗ד הָיָ֛ה וגו׳] Now, a time was appointed, etc. (Pagnine, Montanus, English, Castalio, Junius and Tremellius, Drusius). Others: a sign was appointed (Munster, Tigurinus). An agreement was made (Vatablus). מוֹעֵד, a certain time, and hour, that is, which was given by the liers in wait when they should set fire to the city (Munster).

[So that, with smoke ascending, etc., הֶ֕רֶב לְהַעֲלוֹתָ֛ם מַשְׂאַ֥ת הֶעָשָׁ֖ן] Verbatim: that they should multiply to cause to ascend elevation of smoke (Montanus); that with great diligence they should cause to ascent a fire of smoke (Pagnine); when they excite (or, by multiplying cause to ascend [Piscator, similarly Junius and Tremellius]) an elevation of smoke (Tigurinus, similarly the Syriac); that they should cause to ascend a super-abundant elevation of smoke (Munster); that they shall multiply them to cause to ascend a column of smoke (Jonathan), that is, smoke that bears the figure of a column. I translate it, to multiply (or, of multiplying) that they might cause to ascend a burning of smoke; so that it might be Macor, which in the fifth conjugation is similar to the imperative; that is, as much as they are able they should excite the burning: or, it is imperative, so that it might address the leader of the liers in wait; which is to say, Give attention that the soldiers excite the burning as much as they will be able: or, it is a noun, and then ב/in is wanting. Concerning מַשְׂאַת, see Jeremiah 6:1.[5] Others translate it, a burning mixed with smoke (Vatablus).

Verse 39:[6] And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and kill (Heb. to smite the wounded[7]) of the men of Israel about thirty persons: for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle.

[Which when they discerned, etc., וַיַּהֲפֹ֥ךְ אִֽישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּמִּלְחָמָ֑ה] [They vary.] Now, the children of Israel had turned their backs in the battle (Vatablus, thus Munster, Tigurinus), for they had feigned flight, verse 32 (Malvenda). With the children of Israel withdrawing from the battle (Syriac). The Israelites withdrew from the children of Benjamin (Arabic). Others thus: The Israelites turned themselves toward the battle (Junius and Tremellius, similarly Montanus, Septuagint, Jonathan, Osiander). That is, with the sign of the burning and smoke observed, they then turned themselves from flight unto the battle, etc. But the former opinion is closer to the truth, for the Israelites will turn themselves unto the battle in verse 41 (Malvenda).

Verse 40:[8] But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites (Josh. 8:20) looked behind them, and, behold, the flame (Heb. the whole consumption[9]) of the city ascended up to heaven.

[And they saw a column, as it were, etc.,וְהַמַּשְׂאֵ֗ת הֵחֵ֛לָּה לַעֲל֥וֹת מִן־הָעִ֖יר עַמּ֣וּד עָשָׁ֑ן] And the burning, or elevation, etc. [as they had previously translated it], began to ascend from the city, a column of smoke (Montanus), so that it might be ἀσύνδετον/asyndeton (Drusius), either, as a column (Pagnine, Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic), or, a column (understanding, I say [Junius and Tremellius], or, that is [Tigurinus]) of smoke (Junius and Tremellius), or, and also a column of smoke (Munster). מַשְׂאֵת, a rising or flame, is from נָשָׂא, to lift up, because fire is lifted up on high (Drusius).

[And that the flames were lifted on high, עָלָ֥ה כְלִיל־הָעִ֖יר[10]] And the consumption of the city ascended (Montanus), or, the completion (Septuagint), smoke (Jonathan), dense smoke (Syriac, Arabic), the burning of the city (Pagnine, Tigurinus Notes), the whole (or entire [Malvenda]) burning of the city (Munster). כָּלִיל, total combustion, as it is done in a burnt offering, which for this reason is also called כָּלִיל; as also עוֹלָה, from ascending[11] (Drusius). And the entire city was ascending unto heaven (Tigurinus). That is, the whole city, converted into flame and smoke, was ascending unto heaven (Malvenda, Osiander). The whole of the city, that is, the whole city: For in construct the former substantive is often put in the place of an adjective (Glassius’ “Grammar” 2).

Verse 41:[12] And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them (Heb. touched them[13]).

[They were resisting more mightily] Hebrew: And the man of Israel turned;[14] a singular in the place of the plural, that is, each of the fleeing Israelites turned himself forward again (Malvenda). They turned, that is, with their faces turned they began to resist those persuing (Vatablus); inasmuch as they had previously turned their back by fleeing, verse 39, so they might draw them into the ambush (Drusius).

The men of Benjamin were amazed, because of their great disappointment, and the present danger wherewith they were surrounded on every side.

[1] Hebrew: וְהַמּוֹעֵ֗ד הָיָ֛ה לְאִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עִם־הָאֹרֵ֑ב הֶ֕רֶב לְהַעֲלוֹתָ֛ם מַשְׂאַ֥ת הֶעָשָׁ֖ן מִן־הָעִֽיר׃

[2] Hebrew: וְהַמּוֹעֵד.

[3] Hebrew: עִם.

[4] Hebrew: מַשְׂאַת.

[5] Jeremiah 6:1: “O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem (וְעַל־בֵּ֥ית הַכֶּ֖רֶם שְׂא֣וּ מַשְׂאֵ֑ת): for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction.”

[6] Hebrew: וַיַּהֲפֹ֥ךְ אִֽישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּמִּלְחָמָ֑ה וּבִנְיָמִ֡ן הֵחֵל֩ לְהַכּ֙וֹת חֲלָלִ֤ים בְּאִֽישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כִּשְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים אִ֔ישׁ כִּ֣י אָמְר֔וּ אַךְ֩ נִגּ֙וֹף נִגָּ֥ף הוּא֙ לְפָנֵ֔ינוּ כַּמִּלְחָמָ֖ה הָרִאשֹׁנָֽה׃

[7] Hebrew: לְהַכּ֙וֹת חֲלָלִ֤ים.

[8] Hebrew: וְהַמַּשְׂאֵ֗ת הֵחֵ֛לָּה לַעֲל֥וֹת מִן־הָעִ֖יר עַמּ֣וּד עָשָׁ֑ן וַיִּ֤פֶן בִּנְיָמִן֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְהִנֵּ֛ה עָלָ֥ה כְלִיל־הָעִ֖יר הַשָּׁמָֽיְמָה׃

[9] Hebrew: כְלִיל.

[10] כָּלִיל, the entirety, is related to כָּלַל, to complete.

[11] עָלָה signifies to go up.

[12] Hebrew: וְאִ֤ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ הָפַ֔ךְ וַיִּבָּהֵ֖ל אִ֣ישׁ בִּנְיָמִ֑ן כִּ֣י רָאָ֔ה כִּֽי־נָגְעָ֥ה עָלָ֖יו הָרָעָֽה׃

[13] Hebrew: נָגְעָ֥ה עָלָ֖יו.

[14] Hebrew: וְאִ֤ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ הָפַ֔ךְ.

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