The extermination of the Benjaminites (Judg 20:36-20:48)

“The Israelites gave ground to Benjamin, because they trusted the troops in the ambush that they had stationed against Gibeah. The troops in the ambush rushed quickly upon Gibeah. Then they put the whole city to the sword. Now the agreement between the main body of Israel and the men in the ambush was that when they sent up a cloud of smoke out of the city the main body of Israel should turn in battle. Now Benjamin had begun to inflict causalities on the Israelites, killing about thirty of them. They thought. ‘Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.’ But when the cloud, a column of smoke, began to rise out of the city, the Benjaminites looked behind them. There was the whole city going up in smoke toward the sky. Then the main body of Israel turned. The Benjaminites were dismayed. They saw that disaster was close upon them.”

This is a repeat of the story, the second telling of the Benjaminite defeat in more detail. This time there was a group of Israelites inside the city. They killed the people in the city and set the city on fire. The Benjaminites thought that they were winning again, killing 30 Israelites. However, when they saw the smoke rising from the city of Gibeah they knew that the end was near.

“Therefore they turned away from the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness. But the battle overtook them. Those who came out of the city were slaughtering the Benjaminites in between them. Cutting down the Benjaminites, they pursued them from Nohah. They trod them down as far as a place east of Gibeah. Eighteen thousand Benjaminites fell, all of them courageous fighters. When they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, five thousand of them were cut down on the main roads. They were pursued as far as Gidom where two thousand of them were slain. All who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty-five thousand arms-bearing men, all of them courageous fighters. But six hundred people turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon. They remained at the rock of Rimmon four months. Meanwhile the Israelites turned back against the Benjaminites. They put them to the sword: the city, the people, the animals, and all that remained. Also the remaining towns they set on fire.”

The Israelites had the Benjaminites in a crunch, with the men coming out of the city at their back. Nohah was the 4th son of Benjamin and this probably was a place named after him, but it is only mentioned here. 18,000 Benjaminites were killed in this initial attack. Another 5,000 were killed on the road. This is the only mention of Gidom, where another 2,000 were killed. Thus 25,000 armed courageous fighting men were killed. 600 hid out at the rock of Rimmon for 4 months.   Then the Israelites destroyed everything in the city of Gibeah, men, women, children, and animals. They also set the neighboring towns on fire also.

The defeat of the Benjaminites (Judg 20:29-20:36)

“Israel stationed men in ambush around Gibeah. Then the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites on the third day. They set themselves in array against Gibeah, as before. When the Benjaminites went out against the army, they were drawn away from the city. As before, they began to inflict casualties on the troops, along the main roads, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, as well as in the open country, killing about thirty men of Israel. The Benjaminites thought. ‘They are being routed before us, as previously.’ But the Israelites said. ‘Let us retreat and draw them away from the city towards the roads.’ The main body of the Israelites drew back its battle line to Baal-tamar. Those Israelites who were in the ambush rushed out of their place west of Geba. There came against Gibeah ten thousand picked people out of all Israel. The battle was fierce. But the Benjaminites did not realize that disaster was close upon them. Yahweh defeated Benjamin before Israel. The Israelites destroyed twenty-five thousand one hundred men of Benjamin that day. All of them were armed. Then the Benjaminites saw that they were defeated.”

This time it seemed like the first 2 days. The Benjaminites were winning, again killing about 30 Israelites. The Israelites decided to pull back to Baal-tamar. This must have been a Baal worship town with that name, but this is the only mention of it in the biblical literature. Geba was a Benjaminite Levitical town outside of Gibeah. The Israelites ambushed the Benjaminites. They killed 25,100, which meant that there were only 900 Benjaminites left so they were absolutely defeated.

The first combat between the Israelites and the Benjaminites (Judg 20:18-20:28)

“The Israelites proceed to go up to Bethel. There they inquired of God. ‘Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?’ Yahweh answered. ‘Judah shall go up first.’”

For some reason the Israelites believe that Bethel is where Yahweh is located. Bethel is on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin. After all, Abraham and Jacob had been to Luz, before it became Bethel. Anyway, it is clear that Judah is now the dominant tribe. When Yahweh was asked, who should go first, the response was Judah. It is not clear how this communication between Yahweh and the Israelites takes place.

“Then the Israelites got up in the morning. They encamped against Gibeah. The Israelites went out to battle against Benjamin. The Israelites drew up the battle line against them at Gibeah. The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah. They struck down on that day twenty-two thousand of the Israelites. The Israelites went up and wept before Yahweh until the evening. They inquired of Yahweh. ‘Shall we again draw near to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites?’ Yahweh said. ‘Go up against them.’ The Israelites took courage. They again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day.”

What happened? 600,000 against 26,000 and the Israelites lost 22,000 men. They cried to Yahweh, but he said keep going. So they lined up like they had on the first day to battle again.

“So the Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites the second day. Benjamin moved out against them from Gibeah the second day. They struck down eighteen thousand of the Israelites. All of them were armed men. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept. Sitting there before Yahweh, they fasted that day until evening. They offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being before Yahweh. The Israelites inquired of Yahweh. The ark of the covenant of God was there in those days. Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days. They said. ‘Shall we go out once more to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites, or shall we cease?’ Yahweh answered. ‘Go up. Tomorrow I will give them into your hand.’”

After the 2nd day defeat, with the loss of another 18,000 armed men, the Israelites decided to go to Bethel again. There they fasted and offered sacrifices of burnt offerings and well-being. They went to Bethel because the Ark of the Covenant was there with the grandson of Aaron, Phinehas. This must have been the place of worship before Jerusalem. They wanted to know if they should still fight against the Benjaminites. This time Yahweh told them that they would be successful the next day.

The Benjaminites are obstinate (Judg 20:12-20:17)

“The tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying. ‘What crime is this that has been committed among you? Now then, hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death. We will purge the evil from Israel.’ But the Benjaminites would not listen to their kinsfolk, the Israelites.”

The tribes of Israel wanted Benjamin to hand over the perpetrators of this killing act. However, the Benjaminites would not hand them over.

“The Benjaminites came together out of the towns to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the Israelites. On that day the Benjaminites mustered twenty-six thousand armed men from their towns, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah. Of this force, there were seven hundred picked elite men, who were left-handed. Every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. The Israelites, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand armed men. All of them were warriors.”

The battle lines were drawn. The Benjaminites had 26,000 armed men with an elite corps of 700, who were very good with their sling shots. The rest of the Israelites had over 400,000. This does not look good for the Benjaminites.

The Israelites take vengeance against the crime at Gibeah (Judg 20:1-20:11)

“Then all Israelites came out, from Dan to Beer-sheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled in one body before Yahweh at Mizpah. The chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers bearing arms. Now the Benjaminites heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah. The Israelites said. ‘Tell us, how did this criminal act come about?’ The Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered. ‘I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. The lords of Gibeah rose up against me. They surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me. They raped my concubine until she died. Then I took my concubine and cut her in pieces. I sent her throughout the whole extent of Israel’s territory. They have committed a vile outrage in Israel. So now, you Israelites, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.”

The Israelites gathered to hear the story of the Levite and what happened to him at Gibeah. There are at least 4 different places called Mizpah. They came from the north (Dan) and the south (Beer-sheba), the east (Gilead) and the west (the sea), 400,000 Israelite warriors. This was a case célèbre. The Levite, who always remains anonymous, told his story there at Mizpah with the 400,000 people. He wanted their advice and counsel.

“All the people got up as one. ‘We will not any of us go to our tents, nor will any of us return to our houses. Now this is what we will do to Gibeah. We will go up against it by lot. We will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the troops, who are going to repay Gibeah of Benjamin, for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.’ All the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one.”

Suddenly, they were all unified. They would not rest until they had repaid Gibeah because of the disgrace that they had brought to Israel. 10% of all the tribes and 10% of the 1,000 men would go by lot to attack the town of Gibeah.

The crime of Gibeah (Judg 19:22-19:30)

“While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house. They started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house. ‘Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may have intercourse with him.’ The man, the master of the house, went out to them. He said to them. ‘No, my brethren, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Ravish them. Do whatever you want to them. But against this man do not do such a vile thing.’ But the people would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine. He put her out to them. They wantonly raped her. They abused her all through the night until the morning. As the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.”

This story is reminiscent of the story of Lot in Genesis, chapter 19, when Lot took in the 2 strangers. He was willing to offer his daughters so that they would not abuse his 2 male visitors. Once again, it is okay to have the 2 women abused, the old man’s virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine, but not the Levite man who is a guest. There certainly was a double standard. The same story plays out here, but here there is no angel of Yahweh to destroy these Benjaminites and their town. Instead the Levite gives his concubine to the crowd and saves himself. The city men rape and abuse her all night long. They let her go as the morning light came. She made her way back to the front door of where the Levite was staying.

“In the morning, her master got up and opened the doors of the house. He went out to go on his way. There was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her. ‘Get up! We are going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her upon the donkey. The man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces. He sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying. ‘This shall you say to all the Israelites. ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it. Take counsel. Speak out.’”

The Levite is surprised that she is dead or at least unconscious. Now he is upset. Nothing like this had ever happened in Israel. He sent notice out to all the other tribes by cutting up her body into 12 pieces. He wanted them to consider this and speak out. Oddly there are not 12 tribes since he was not going to send one to the Benjaminites. Then there were the tribes on the east Jordan and little old Dan in the north. Obviously the Levite wanted to make a point with this dramatic gesture. She may not have been dead with he cut her.

The Levite goes to Gibeah (Judg 19:11-19:21)

“When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent. The servant said to his master. ‘Come now. Let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites. Let us spend the night in it.’ But his master said to him. ‘We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the Israelites. But we will continue on to Gibeah.’ Then he said to his servant. ‘Come! Let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.’ So they passed on and went their way. The sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.’ They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city. However, no one took them in to spend the night.”

The Levite and his entourage were near Jerusalem, but he wanted to stay at an Israelite town, either Gibeah or Ramah. Both these towns were about 4-5 miles from Jerusalem. However, when they got to the Benjaminite town of Gibeah there was no one who offered them hospitality to stay overnight. Gibeah was the town where Eleazar and Phinehas, the son and grandson of Aaron, were buried in Joshua, chapter 24. They stayed in the open square of the city.

“Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim. He was residing in Gibeah. The people of the place were Benjaminites. When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said. ‘Where are you going? Where do you come from?’ He answered him. ‘We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah. I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in. We, your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.’ The old man said. ‘Peace be with you. I will care for all your wants. Only do not spend the night in the square.’ So he brought him into his house. He fed the donkeys. They washed their feet. They ate and drank.”

An old man from the hill country of Ephraim saw them and asked what they were doing. When he heard their story, he told them to come into his house since he too was from the hill country of Ephraim. He would take care of them. He led them to his house, where the donkeys were fed. They washed their feet, ate, and drank. There does not seem to be a problem here. All is well.

The Levite of Ephraim and his concubine (Judg 19:1-19:10)

“In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine became angry with him. She went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah. She was there some four months. Then her husband set out after her. He wanted to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. When he reached her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him. He came with joy to meet him. His father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay. He remained with him three days. So they ate and drank. He stayed there. On the fourth day they got up early in the morning, and he prepared to go. But the girl’s father said to his son-in-law. ‘Fortify yourself with a bit of food. After that you may go.’ So the two people sat, ate, and drank together. The girl’s father said to the man. ‘Why not spend the night, and enjoy yourself?’ When the man got up to go, his father-in-law kept urging him until he spent the night there again. On the fifth day he got up early in the morning to leave. The girl’s father said. ‘Fortify yourself.’ So they lingered until the day declined. The two of them ate and drank. When the man with his concubine, and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him. ‘Look, the day has worn on until it is almost evening. Spend the night. See, the day has drawn to a close. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early in the morning for your journey, and go home.’ But the man would not spend the night. He got up and departed. He arrived opposite Jebus that is Jerusalem. He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys. His concubine was with him.”

Once again, there is a lament that there is no king in Israel to keep things under control. This is another story of a wandering Levite. A Ephraimite Levite had either a concubine or a wife, since both terms are used. She left him to return to her father’s home in Bethlehem. Then, after 4 months, he went to visit her at her father’s house. The father-in-law welcomed him. He stayed 3 days. Then he tried to leave with his wife/concubine. For a couple of days more, his father-in-law insisted that he stay. He seemed to be better friends with this Levite than his daughter. Finally, he left with her and went to Jerusalem.

The taking and establishment of Laish (Judg 18:27-18:31)

“The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting. They put them to the sword. They burned down the city. There was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city. They lived in it. They named the city Dan, after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel. But the name of the city was formerly Laish. Then the Danites set up the idol for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity. So they maintained as their own Micah’s idol that he had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.”

This land of Laish was on the border of the Jordan River in the territory of the tribe of Naphtali. They were too far away from Sidon and the Aram area on the north side. The Danites took and burned the city of Laish. They definitely were in Aramean territory in Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city, lived in it, and renamed it Dan. They also set up the Micah’s idol for themselves. Now the worship there is complicated. Suddenly, they have a whole Levite clan from Jonathan, grandson of Moses in charge, not a runaway Levite. Micah’s idol had an important role to play in this far northern place of worship. Notice that there is a mention of a worship house at Shiloh, not Jerusalem. Also the writer talked about a time of captivity indicating the time of this writing was after the captivity.

All the Danites invade the house of Micah (Judg 18:11-18:26)

“Six hundred men of the Danites armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. They went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day. It is west of Kiriath-jearim. They passed on to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.”

This obvious is a small tribe or clan with only 600 men. If we are to believe the census of Numbers, chapter 1, there 62,700 men, 20 years old, this is a remarkable drop to only 1% of those who were at Mount Sinai. What happened to this tribe to be so decimated? They stop in Judah, but lo and behold they are at the house of Micah. What a busy place that must have been. The Levite ended up there. The 5 Danite explorers ended up there. Now the 600 Danites end up there.

“Then the five men who had gone to spy out the land, that is Laish, said to their comrades. ‘Do you know that in these buildings there are an ephod, a teraphim, and an idol of cast metal?  Now therefore consider what you will do.’ They turned in that direction. They came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and greeted him. While the six hundred men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate, the five men who had gone to spy out the land proceeded to enter the house. They took the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim. The priest was standing by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war. When the men went into Micah’s house and took the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim, the priest said to them. ‘What are you doing?’ They said to him. ‘Keep quiet! Put your hand over your mouth. Come with us! Be to us as a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one person, or to be a priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?’ The priest accepted the offer. He took the ephod, the teraphim, and the idol. He went along with the people.”

The 5 spies remind the Danites that Micah’s house has all these worship items in it. So they stop to visit with the Levite there. They take the ephod, the teraphim, and the idol of cast metal. The Levite wants to know what they are doing. They told him to be quiet. They then offered to bring him with them. As they reminded him was it better to be the priest for one family or a whole tribe? So he and the worship items went with the Danites.

“So they resumed their journey. They put the little ones, the livestock, and the goods in front of them. When they were some distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out. They overtook the Danites. They shouted to the Danites, who turned around and said to Micah. ‘What is the matter that you come with such a company?’ He replied. ‘You have taken my god that I made, and the priest, and go away. What have I left? How then can you ask me, ‘what is the matter?’ The Danites said to him. ‘You had better not let your voice be heard among us or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you. You will lose your life with the lives of your household.’ Then the Danites went their way. When Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.”

The Danites set out from Micah’s house towards their destination of Laish. They had children and livestock. Micah and his friends were upset that the Danites had taken the things from his shrine, including the Levite priest. Micah went after them and actually caught them. However, they were too strong, so Micah decided to go home rather than fight with the Danites.