Assembly of Israelites. 1So all the Israelites came out as one, from Dan to Beer-sheba* a including the land of Gilead, and the assembly gathered to the LORD at Mizpah. 2The leaders of all the people, all the staff-bearers of Israel,* presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God—four hundred thousand foot soldiers who carried swords. 3Meanwhile, the Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. The Israelites asked, “How did this evil thing happen?” 4and the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, testified: “It was at Gibeah of Benjamin, which my concubine and I had entered for the night.b 5c The lords of Gibeah rose up against me and surrounded me in the house at night. I was the one they intended to kill, but they abused my concubine and she died. 6d So I took my concubine and cut her up and sent her through every part of the territory of Israel, because of the terrible thing they had done in Israel. 7So now, all you Israelites, give your judgment and counsel in this matter.”e 8All the people rose as one to say, “None of us will leave for our tents or return to our homes. 9Now as for Gibeah, this is what we will do: We will go up against it by lot, 10taking from all the tribes of Israel ten men for every hundred, a hundred for every thousand, a thousand for every ten thousand, and procuring supplies for the soldiers who will go to exact from Gibeah of Benjamin the full measure of the terrible thing it committed in Israel.”
11So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one. 12The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin to say, “What is this evil that has occurred among you? 13Now give up the men, the scoundrels who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and thus purge the evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites refused to listen to their kindred, the Israelites. 14Instead, the Benjaminites assembled from their cities at Gibeah, to march out to battle with the Israelites. 15On that day the Benjaminites mustered from their cities twenty-six thousand swordsmen, in addition to the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered seven hundred picked men 16* who were left-handed, every one of them able to sling a stone at a hair without missing. 17The men of Israel, without Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them warriors. 18They went up to Bethel and consulted God. When the Israelites asked, “Who shall go up first for us to do battle with the Benjaminites?” the LORD said: Judah first.* f 19* The Israelites rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah.
War with Benjamin. 20The men of Israel marched out to do battle with Benjamin and drew up in battle array against them at Gibeah. 21The Benjaminites marched out of Gibeah that day and felled twenty-two thousand men of Israel. 22* But the army of the men of Israel took courage and again drew up for battle in the place where they had drawn up on the previous day. 23Then the Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening. “Shall I again engage my brother Benjamin in battle?” they asked the LORD; and the LORD answered: Attack! 24When the Israelites drew near to the Benjaminites on the second day, 25Benjamin marched out of Gibeah against them again and felled eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them swordsmen. 26So the entire Israelite army went up and entered Bethel, where they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and communion offerings before the LORD. 27The Israelites consulted the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of the LORD was there in those days, 28and Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron,* was standing in his presence in those days), and asked, “Shall I again go out to battle with my brother Benjamin, or shall I stop?” The LORD said: Attack! For tomorrow I will deliver him into your power. 29* g So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah.
30When the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites on the third day, they drew up against Gibeah as on other occasions. 31When the Benjaminites marched out to meet the army, they began, as on other occasions, to strike down some of the troops along the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and one to Gibeah in the open country; about thirty Israelites were slain. 32The Benjaminites thought, “They are routed before us as previously.” The Israelites, however, were thinking, “We will flee and draw them out from the city onto the highways.” 33And then all the men of Israel rose from their places, forming up at Baal-tamar, and the Israelites in ambush rushed from their place west of Gibeah 34and advanced against Gibeah with ten thousand picked men from all Israel. The fighting was severe, but no one knew that a disaster was closing in. 35The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel; and on that day the Israelites killed twenty-five thousand one hundred men of Benjamin, all of them swordsmen.
36Then the Benjaminites saw that they were defeated. The men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin, trusting in the ambush they had set at Gibeah. 37Then the men in ambush, having made a sudden dash against Gibeah, marched in and put the whole city to the sword. 38The arrangement the men of Israel had with the men in ambush was that they would send up a smoke signal from the city, 39and the men of Israel would then wheel about in the battle. Benjamin, having begun by killing off some thirty of the men of Israel, thought, “Surely they are completely routed before us, as in the earlier fighting.” 40But when the signal, the column of smoke, began to rise up from the city, Benjamin looked back and there was the whole city going up in smoke toward heaven. 41Then when the men of Israel wheeled about, the men of Benjamin were thrown into confusion, for they realized that disaster was closing in on them. 42They retreated before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness, but the fighting kept pace with them, and those who had been in the city were spreading destruction in between. 43They surrounded the men of Benjamin, pursued them from Nohah and drove them along to a point east of Gibeah. 44Eighteen thousand from Benjamin fell, all of them warriors. 45They turned and fled into the wilderness to the crag of Rimmon. The Israelites picked off five thousand men on the highways and kept pace with them as far as Gidom, where they struck down another two thousand of them. 46The total of those from Benjamin who fell that day was twenty-five thousand swordsmen, all of them warriors. 47Six hundred men turned and fled into the wilderness to the crag of Rimmon, where they remained for four months.h
48Then the men of Israel turned back against the Benjaminites, putting them to the sword—the inhabitants of the cities, the livestock, and all they came upon.i Moreover they destroyed by fire all the cities they came upon.
* [20:1] From Dan to Beer-sheba: the entire country, from north to south. The land of Gilead: Israelite territory east of the Jordan.
* [20:2] The staff-bearers of Israel: the tribal leaders.
* [20:16] The strange notice that the Gibeahite warriors were left-handed was probably added here under the influence of the Ehud story; cf. 3:15 and the note there.
* [20:18] Judah first: as in 1:2, where the enemy is the Canaanites. This time the attack is against fellow Israelites, an indication of how far things have deteriorated in these days when as yet “there was no king in Israel”; see note on 17:6.
* [20:19–25] The Israelites are defeated twice by the Benjaminites.
* [20:22–23] These two verses seem to be transposed. The day of supplication described in v. 23 must have preceded the assembly for battle reported in v. 22.
* [20:28] Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron: the main line of the priesthood was traced through a grandson of Aaron by this name; see Ex 6:25 and Nm 25:10–13. Whether the priest identified here is the same man or his lineal descendant, the mention of his name adds authority to the sanctuary at Bethel. The reference to the ark of the covenant in the preceding verse has the same effect.
* [20:29–46] The Israelites are successful in their third attempt to defeat Benjamin. Leaving an ambush behind, they decoy the enemy troops out of the city by pretending to be routed as on the two previous occasions. The stratagem is strongly reminiscent of that employed in the conquest of Ai (Jos 8). Two accounts of the present battle against Gibeah are preserved, one in 20:29–36a and another in 20:36b–46.
a. [20:1] 1 Sm 3:20; 2 Sm 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 15; 1 Kgs 5:5.