Judges 20:47, 48: Slaughter, and the Benjamite Remnant

Verse 47:[1] (Judg. 21:13) But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.


Caves at Rimmon?

In the rock Rimmon: In a cave within that rock, where they fortified themselves and fetched in provision as they had opportunity; which they could easily do, when the heat of the battle was over, and the Israelites were not solicitous to pursue them farther.


Verse 48:[2] And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand (Heb. was found[3]): also they set on fire all the cities that they came to (Heb. were found[4]).


The men of Israel turned again, etc.: Having destroyed those that came to Gibeah, and into the field, now they follow them home to their several habitations.



[From men unto beasts, מֵעִ֤יר מְתֹם֙ עַד־בְּהֵמָ֔ה] From the city perfection unto beasts (Montanus). מְתוֹם signifies perfection, and is taken by many of the virile age; when our men, from men, etc. (Nobilius). From the city consummation, perfection; that is, they destroyed all things completely, even unto beasts (Malvenda). Of the cities men, but in the fields unto the beasts (Pagnine). From their cities they consumed them unto beasts (Jonathan). Verbatim: from the city of man unto beast: It is a Hypallage, for, from the men of the city, or cities, unto beasts (Piscator, Munster, similarly Junius and Tremellius, Tigurinus, English, Drusius). From the city men unto beasts. מְתוֹם is a collective designation for men (Schindler in his Lexicon): it signifies mankind itself; inasmuch as it includes men, women, and children (Hebrews in Malvenda, Drusius). He now made use of מְתוֹם in an unusual manner, since elsewhere it is מְתִים; which they interpret as mortals. Elsewhere מְתוֹם is wholeness, soundness, from תָּמַם, to be complete. Men ordinarily dwell in cities, beasts in fields (Drusius). From the city: a singular in the place of the plural. In the cities the men, that is, that were remaining; that is, humans of both genders, and of whatever status (Vatablus). Many think that the city here is Gibeah itself. Others think that the city here is all the cities of the Benjamites, which are here said to have been destroyed: which is certainly closest to the truth from Judges 21:23 (Malvenda).


[And all the cities, כָּל־הֶעָרִ֥ים הַנִּמְצָא֖וֹת] All the cities found; that is, standing forth, and not yet destroyed (Vatablus): which were surviving (Piscator). To be found, in the place of, to be, I noted elsewhere (Drusius).



[Flame consumed] Hebrew: they sent into fire:[5] Hypallage (Piscator, Drusius, Vatablus): in the place of, they sent fire into them. Thus in Psalm 74:7.[6] Thus in Leviticus 17:14, its blood is in its life,[7] in the place of, its life is in its blood: in Job 17:4, thou hast hid their heart from understanding,[8] in the place of, thou hast hid understanding from their heart. Thus, the holiness of the temple, in the place of, the temple of holiness. Similarly, to give to the fleets Southern winds[9] (Drusius). Question: Did the Israelites sin in this, so severe, vengeance? Response 1: Some answer in the affirmative (Tostatus, Lapide, Suarez and similarly Cajetan in Bonfrerius). They prove this, 1. Because God did not will the sons to be killed for the fathers, etc., Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20. 2. Because they repent of this deed, Judges 21:6, 15 (certain interpreters in Bonfrerius). Response 2: Others answer in the negative (thus Bonfrerius, Martyr). It is likely that the Israelites, when they had fasted and prayed before the Lord, vowed חֵרֶם, that is, the vow of anathema, of which it was lawful to spare nothing. In the case of a city falling away to idolatry, the same thing was to be done according to the law, Deuteronomy 13:12-18. Now, the Benjamites were defending manifest scandal, which was not so far from idolatry, and it is able to be that the city of Gibeah was idolatrous (Martyr). [Nevertheless, the same author responds in almost the contrary manner on Judges 21:1.] The חֵרֶם (says he) it was not lawful to invoke apart from the commandment of God, which does not appear to have been given in this history. God punishes moderately, and He was not willing to destroy all in the overthrow of Sodom, of the old world, of Egypt, etc. It is fitting to hold to the mean in vengeance, and it is sufficient to punish the guilty. God threatens grievous punishments against the Chaldeans, because they raged against the Jews beyond due measure. The Israelites are now sorry for their cruelty, but too late (Martyr on Judges 21:1). We see here and there that in the case of more heinous crimes, even aside from the Canaanites, a similar slaughter of innocents took place and was ordered by God as author; as in Numbers 31:17; Deuteronomy 13:15; Joshua 7:15: and here and there in the case of the anathematized God was ordering this to be done; it is gathered with sufficient clarity that this also was an anathema of this sort. If the Israelites had sinned, either Phinehas would not have been ignorant, or would not have been silent concerning this crime (Bonfrerius). [Concerning this more things are going to be said on chapter 21.]


The men of every city; comprehensively taken, so as to include women and children. If this seem harsh and bloody, either it may be ascribed to military fury; or rather, it may be justified; partly, from that high guilt brought upon the whole tribe, in which it is no wonder if their infants suffered, which was not unusual in such cases, as Numbers 31:17; 1 Samuel 15:3; Joshua 7:15; partly, from that command of God in a parallel case, Deuteronomy 13:15; and partly, from that solemn oath by which they had anathematized or devoted to death all that came not up to Mizpeh, Judges 21:5, which none of the Benjamites did; for which cause also they destroyed all the men, women, and children of Jabesh-gilead, Judges 21:10.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּפְנ֞וּ וַיָּנֻ֤סוּ הַמִּדְבָּ֙רָה֙ אֶל־סֶ֣לַע הָֽרִמּ֔וֹן שֵׁ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת אִ֑ישׁ וַיֵּֽשְׁבוּ֙ בְּסֶ֣לַע רִמּ֔וֹן אַרְבָּעָ֖ה חֳדָשִֽׁים׃


[2] Hebrew: וְאִ֙ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל שָׁ֣בוּ אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י בִנְיָמִן֙ וַיַּכּ֣וּם לְפִי־חֶ֔רֶב מֵעִ֤יר מְתֹם֙ עַד־בְּהֵמָ֔ה עַ֖ד כָּל־הַנִּמְצָ֑א גַּ֛ם כָּל־הֶעָרִ֥ים הַנִּמְצָא֖וֹת שִׁלְּח֥וּ בָאֵֽשׁ׃


[3] Hebrew: הַנִּמְצָא.


[4] Hebrew: הַנִּמְצָאוֹת.


[5] Hebrew: שִׁלְּח֥וּ בָאֵֽשׁ.


[6] Psalm 74:7: “They have cast fire into thy sanctuary (שִׁלְח֣וּ בָ֭אֵשׁ מִקְדָּשֶׁ֑ךָ, they have cast thy sanctuary into fire), they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.”


[7] Leviticus 17:14: “For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof (דָּמ֣וֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ֮ הוּא֒, its blood is in its life): therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.”


[8] Job 17:4: “For thou hast hid their heart from understanding: therefore shalt thou not exalt them.”


[9] That is, to give the fleets to the Winds: Æneid 3:61.

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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