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Judges 19-21 Listen
NOTE: The last three chapters of Judges tell a story of how the Tribe of Benjamin could have become extinct. The point of the story isn't seen until we come to chapter 21. While Judges covers a period of Israel's history of 350 years or so, the events are not necessarily chronological. We see from Judges 20:28 that Phinehas (grandson of Aaron - Exodus 6:25, see notes) was involved in this episode, so this incident must have taken place during the first quarter of this period.
1 And it came to pass in those days, when THERE WAS no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehemjudah.
2 And his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father’s house to Bethlehemjudah, and was there four whole months.
3 And her husband arose, and went after her, to speak friendly unto her, AND to bring her again, having his servant with him, and a couple of asses: and she brought him into her father’s house: and when the father of the damsel saw him, he rejoiced to meet him.
4 And his father in law, the damsel’s father, retained him; and he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there.
5 And it came to pass on the fourth day, when they arose early in the morning, that he rose up to depart: and the damsel’s father said unto his son in law, Comfort thine heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way.
6 And they sat down, and did eat and drink both of them together: for the damsel’s father had said unto the man, Be content, I pray thee, and tarry all night, and let thine heart be merry.
7 And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again.
8 And he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart: and the damsel’s father said, Comfort thine heart, I pray thee. And they tarried until afternoon, and they did eat both of them.
9 And when the man rose up to depart, he, and his concubine, and his servant, his father in law, the damsel’s father, said unto him, Behold, now the day draweth toward evening, I pray you tarry all night: behold, the day groweth to an end, lodge here, that thine heart may be merry; and to morrow get you early on your way, that thou mayest go home.
10 But the man would not tarry that night, but he rose up and departed, and came over against Jebus, which IS JERUSALEM; AND THERE WERE WITH HIM TWO ASSES SADDLED, HIS CONCUBINE ALSO WAS with him.
11 AND WHEN THEY WERE by Jebus, the day was far spent; and the servant said unto his master, Come, I pray thee, and let us turn in into this city of the Jebusites, and lodge in it.
12 And his master said unto him, We will not turn aside hither into the city of a stranger, that IS not of the children of Israel; we will pass over to Gibeah.
13 And he said unto his servant, Come, and let us draw near to one of these places to lodge all night, in Gibeah, or in Ramah.
14 And they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down upon them WHEN THEY WERE BY GIBEAH, WHICH BELONGETH to Benjamin.
15 And they turned aside thither, to go in AND TO LODGE IN GIBEAH: AND WHEN HE WENT IN, HE SAT HIM DOWN IN A STREET OF THE CITY: FOR THERE WAS no man that took them into his house to lodging.
16 And, behold, there came an old man from his work out of the field at even, which WAS ALSO OF MOUNT EPHRAIM; AND HE SOJOURNED IN GIBEAH: BUT THE MEN OF THE PLACE WERE Benjamites.
17 And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?
18 And he said unto him, We ARE PASSING FROM BETHLEHEMJUDAH TOWARD THE SIDE OF MOUNT EPHRAIM; FROM THENCE AM I: AND I WENT TO BETHLEHEMJUDAH, BUT I AM NOW GOING TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD; and there is no man that receiveth me to house.
19 Yet there is both straw and provender for our asses; and there is bread and wine also for me, and for thy handmaid, and for the young man which is with thy servants: there is no want of any thing.
20 And the old man said, Peace be with thee; howsoever let all thy wants lie upon me; only lodge not in the street.
21 So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.
22 Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
23 And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.
24 Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
25 But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
26 Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.
27 And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
28 And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
29 And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
30 And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.
A concubine was a second-class wife, yet there was nothing second class about her obligation to her husband. After this particular Levite's concubine received male guests other than her Levite husband, she left and headed back home to her father's house. After four months, the Levite goes to retrieve her.
Upon arrival, the concubine's father persuades the Levite to stay a couple days longer, but on the fifth day the Levite decides to leave in the afternoon after being persuaded not to leave that morning. Now there's not enough daylight to make the trip all the way back north to Ephraim from Bethlehem without lodging somewhere overnight. On his trip back, he won't take the hospitality of those who are not Jews (the Jebusites in Jerusalem - 6 miles from Bethlehem); instead, he insists on going to Gibeah (10 miles from Bethlehem) among the Tribe of Benjamin. He's still another 16 miles from his home in Shiloh.
However, as it turns out, Gibeah was a city full of Hebrew perverts! They surround the old man's house who had given lodging to the Levite and his party, and the men of the city are determined to have homosexual relations with the Levite. That's depraved! The old man offers his daughter and the Levite's concubine instead; the Levite gives up his concubine for them to abuse all night. No wonder she had left him four months ago! She is dead by sunrise. So much for Levite bravery! Upon her death, this story gets even more bizarre. The Levite sends out some very unusual mail to the other tribes of Israel - her body parts divided 12 ways. How do you even wrap a package like that?
The Tribe of Benjamin defends Gibeah (Judges 20)
1 Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the LORD in Mizpeh.
2 And the chief of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword.
3 (Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel were gone up to Mizpeh.) Then said the children of Israel, Tell us, how was this wickedness?
4 And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was slain, answered and said, I came into Gibeah that belongeth to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge.
5 And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night, and thought to have slain me: and my concubine have they forced, that she is dead.
6 And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel: for they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel.
7 Behold, ye are all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.
8 And all the people arose as one man, saying, We will not any of us go to his tent, neither will we any of us turn into his house.
9 But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it;
10 And we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and an hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victual for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel.
11 So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man.
12 And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?
13 Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel:
14 But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel.
15 And the children of Benjamin were numbered at that time out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which were numbered seven hundred chosen men.
16 Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.
17 And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war.
18 And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and 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.
19 And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.
20 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.
21 And 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.
22 And the people the men of Israel encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day.
23 (And the children of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until even, and asked counsel of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? And the LORD said, Go up against him.)
24 And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.
25 And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword.
26 Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
27 And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,
28 And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand.
29 And Israel set liers in wait round about Gibeah.
30 And the children of Israel went up against the children of Benjamin on the third day, and put themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times.
31 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 other times, in the highways, of which one goeth up to the house of God, and the other to Gibeah in the field, about thirty men of Israel.
32 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.
33 And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and put themselves in array at Baaltamar: and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah.
34 And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was sore: but they knew not that evil was near them.
35 And the LORD smote Benjamin before Israel: and the children of Israel destroyed of the Benjamites that day twenty and five thousand and an hundred men: all these drew the sword.
36 So the children of Benjamin saw that they were smitten: for the men of Israel gave place to the Benjamites, because they trusted unto the liers in wait which they had set beside Gibeah.
37 And the liers in wait hasted, and rushed upon Gibeah; and the liers in wait drew themselves along, and smote all the city with the edge of the sword.
38 Now there was an appointed sign between the men of Israel and the liers in wait, that they should make a great flame with smoke rise up out of the city.
39 And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons: for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle.
40 But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the flame of the city ascended up to heaven.
41 And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.
42 Therefore they turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness; but the battle overtook them; and them which came out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them.
43 Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and trode them down with ease over against Gibeah toward the sunrising.
44 And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valour.
45 And they turned and fled toward the wilderness unto the rock of Rimmon: and they gleaned of them in the highways five thousand men; and pursued hard after them unto Gidom, and slew two thousand men of them.
46 So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valour.
47 But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.
48 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: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to.
When Israel organizes an army to punish the men of Gibeah, what do the men of the Tribe of Benjamin do? Well...they stand up for the people of their own tribe, refuse the extradition of these men and boycott the gathering of the twelve tribes. If you pay close attention to verse 5 here and compare it to 19:25, it would appear that the Levite didn't tell the story quite like it happened. In fact, the Levite gave his concubine to them; she wasn't taken by force as he related the story to all of Israel. I think that may have been a fact that might have made Israel a little more passive about attacking Benjamin. But wait! There's more! According to the Law of Moses, weren't two witnesses required for testimony in capital punishment cases (Numbers 35:30, see notes; Deuteronomy 19:15, see notes)? I'm a little surprised that nobody brought that up. So, Israel goes to war with Benjamin!
The tribes of Israel cast lots (verse 9) to determine which tribe would take the lead in battle against Benjamin. We see in verse 18 that the Tribe of Judah gets the call first. Casting lots was the way in which the mind of God was discerned in such matters. For more information on this practice of casting lots, click here.
According to verse 15, the Tribe of Benjamin enlists 26,000 men for the battle. That number did not include the 700 men of Gibeah. Compare this figure to the census taken in Numbers 26 (see notes). There we see that at the end of the 40-year wandering, just before the beginning of the conquest, the adult male population of Benjamin was 46,600. Verse 17 tells us that the rest of Israel brings forth an army of some 400,000 men.
There is an incredible loss of life in Israel and especially within the Tribe of Benjamin as a result. The campaign took three battles to complete and resulted in 25,000+ deaths of soldiers of the Benjamites and 40,000 or so of the remaining tribes - all because of what happened to the Levite's wife at Gibeah. It is worth noting, however, that "the Lord" (verses 23 and 28) instructed Israel to continue pursuing the Benjamites on days two and three of the battle. Finally, decoy troops draw the Benjamites away from the city to battle while hiding soldiers are waiting for them; the plan works. After the smoke clears, only 600 men of Benjamin escape and the cities are burned, apparently with all the inhabitants therein (verse 48). The only Benjamite survivors of this tragic event are these 600 men who escaped.
I do wonder if the Israelite army became a little too zealous for the mission when they went through and destroyed the cities AFTER they had soundly defeated the Benjamites. The Lord did command them to go to battle that third day, the day on which they prevailed as seen in verses 28-30. However, after they prevailed in battle, Israel proceeded to destroy the non combatants as well (including women and children), an action which was not commanded by the Lord in this passage. As we'll see in Judges 21 (see below), this becomes a problem for Israel.
1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
2 And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;
3 And said, O LORD God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to day one tribe lacking in Israel?
4 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
5 And the children of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up with the congregation unto the LORD? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up to the LORD to Mizpeh, saying, He shall surely be put to death.
6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.
7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives?
8 And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the LORD? And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabeshgilead to the assembly.
9 For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there.
10 And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children.
11 And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.
12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
13 And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them.
14 And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead: and yet so they sufficed them not.
15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
16 Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?
17 And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.
18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.
19 Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.
20 Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards;
21 And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them.
24 And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Oooooops, we have a problem! After four months, the remaining Benjamite men come out of hiding, but they are all single men now since their families had been wiped out in the war, an action which had not been sanctioned by the Lord. As a matter of fact, the actions here in Judges 21 appear to be conceived without the counsel of God as well. Here's the issue: Do we let the Tribe of Benjamin now disappear? After all, the rest of Israel had made an oath not to let their daughters marry a Benjamite (verse 1), and you know how seriously the Jews take their oaths. For more on the danger of breaking an oath, click here to read the notes on Numbers 30.
You can see the problem. Well, the story continues to be...well...just bizarre. There was a city of Israel that had declined to participate in the war - Jabesh-gilead, a city of Jews east of the Jordan. Having vowed not to let their daughters marry a Benjamite, the warring Jewish tribes felt liberty to destroy Jabesh-gilead for their lack of participation in the war (and the vow) and subsequently take all of their virgins and present them to the remaining 600 Benjamites as wives. But there's yet another problem - only 400 of them; we're still 200 short - need 600. So these remaining 200 single Jewish male Benjamites were instructed to kidnap the dancing girls (single Jewish females) on their way to the upcoming Jewish festival at Shiloh and just take them as wives by force, no matter what tribe they're from; all of this was sanctioned by the leadership of Israel. No dowry, no parental approval, no arranged wedding - just take 'em. This was done, and the complaining parents of these girls were told, "tough" by the leadership of Israel. That way no one was violating their oath because these dancing girls were not "given" in marriage by their fathers. WHAT A TECHNICALITY!
Incidentally, some have speculated that this was the "yearly feast" known as the Feast of Tabernacles. However, we are told in Nehemiah 8:17, "And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness." This is a reference to the exiles starting back up this feast after they returned to the land in the fifth century B.C. So, according to this testimony, there was no Feast of Tabernacles celebration during the period of the Judges. That being the case, Passover is a more likely choice here.
And so, 600 Benjamite men now have 600 wives. By the way, the first king of Israel, Saul, would come from the Tribe of Benjamin. As a matter of fact, so did the Apostle Paul. So you see, the Tribe of Benjamin could have become extinct had it not been for a pretty unorthodox method of obtaining wives for the 600 of the remnant.
These last two chapters of Judges are quite disturbing. The last verse of the Book of Judges summarizes that whole era: Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Hey! When people do that which is right in their own eyes, it's not usually right in God's eyes.