Judges 20: The Benjamites are punished for their crime
As mentioned, I felt that the last passage was terrible to read. Some things are just very hard to take; in this case, a woman was gang raped to death, and there was seemingly no pity for her from anyone. In this passage, we see retribution for that act.
Note: As a notational convenience, any time I mention “the Israelites” in this post, I’m referring to all of the Israelites except for the Benjamites. It would be too much typing to say, “all of the Israelites except for the Benjamites,” or, “eleven of the tribes of Israel,” or something like that—not to mention how tiresome it would get to read it over and over.
At the end of the last passage, the Levite had sent body parts from his concubine to the twelve tribes of Israel, and they were horrified. (Well… I’m not sure if the Benjamites were horrified, because the men who committed the act were Benjamites, but the other tribes were.) So everyone but the Benjamites gather before the LORD at Mizpah, to find out from the Levite what has happened. (Although the Benjamites aren’t there, they know that the other Israelites are gathered there, so they know that something is brewing.)
The Levite explains the situation:
So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict.” (verses 4–7)
The Israelites unanimously decide that they are going to give the Gibeanites what they deserve, for what they have done (verse 10), and that they aren’t going to rest until they do.
They go to the tribe of Benjamin, and demand that the Benjamites give up the men from Gibeah, who had done this thing. But the Benjamites are going to do no such thing; instead, they gather together, to fight the Israelites. And they gather some pretty good fighters, too:
At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (verses 15–16)
In response, the Israelites muster four hundred thousand swordsmen. They then gather at Bethel, where the Ark is currently located, to inquire of God and find out who should go up against the Benjamites first. God tells them that the tribe of Judah should go first.
Unfortunately, the Benjamites defeat the men from Judah, and twenty two thousand men from Judah are killed in the battle. The Israelites encourage one another, for their loss, but then go back before the LORD, where they weep for the rest of the day. They then inquire of Him again, to ask if they should return and battle the Benjamites again. He tells them that they should.
There is no mention of a specific tribe being chosen this time, but the Israelites face off against the Benjamites again, and are defeated again. This time, eighteen thousand Israelites are killed in the battle. They return to the LORD at Bethel, to weep and fast. They then inquire of Him again, but they sound very disheartened this time: “They asked, ‘Shall we go up again to battle with Benjamin our brother, or not?’” (verse 28b) The LORD responds, and tells them to go, and He will deliver the Benjamites into the Israelites’ hands this time.
So they do, but this time the Israelites employ a bit more strategy, and set up an ambush for the Benjamites: Some of the Israelites attack the Benjamites head-on, while others sneak up behind them. The ones in front fall back before the Benjamites, leading the Benjamites to believe that they are beating the Israelites, as they did the last two battles. They are even inflicting casualties on the Israelites, although it’s only thirty men, compared to the thousands and thousands who had died in the previous battles.
But once the Israelites have led the Benjamites away from Gibeah—which is where the battle is being held—the other Israelite force comes in from behind, and sets the city on fire. And as this happens, the main Israelite force also starts inflicting casualties on the Benjamites. At this point, the Benjamites realize that they’re in trouble. They try to retreat, and flee into the desert, but the Israelites follow them, and cut down eighteen thousand more of them; they then try another direction, and the Israelites cut down five thousand more; they then try retreating in another area, and the Israelites cut down two thousand more.
All in all, only six hundred Benjamites escape, and they end up living in the desert for four months. In the meantime, the Israelites decimate the rest of the tribe of Benjamin, putting their towns to the sword—including not just the people but even the animals—and burning the towns down.
I’m not sure if the Israelites went overboard with their retribution or not. They have almost completely wiped out one of the tribes of Israel. However, the Benjamites called it on themselves, by deciding to fight the Israelites.
This chapter might be confusing, before you realize that some of the events are being described twice. The author is describing the last battle generally, once, and then again in more detail.