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Judges 19-21

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

Judges Chapter 19

While many regard the book of The Judges to be a record of a time of brutality and savagery, there is nothing recorded in Judges that can't be found in the modern-day news. It's simply the result of what happens when humans "do what is right in their own eyes." The barbaric incident with a Levite and his concubine, which brought about a civil war within Israel (one of a number of such internal wars that they had e.g. Israelite Monarchy - The Civil War) that resulted in the near-total destruction of the tribe of Benjamin was just human nature, then or now, in action.


"In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah [see The Two Bethlehems]. And his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father's house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back." (Judges 19:1-3 RSV)

The Levite (see Levites) traveled down from the tribal territory of Ephraim, north of Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem. After a few days spent with her father, he managed to convince his concubine to return with him. The journey could not be done in a day, so they stopped for the night at Gibeah, north of Jerusalem (note that Jerusalem, at that time called Jebus, the "city of the Jebusites," was still regarded as a foreign city to the Israelites).

"But the man would not spend the night; he rose up and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus, that is, Jerusalem. He had with him a couple of saddled asses, and his concubine was with him. When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, "Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it." And his master said to him, "We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will pass on to Gibeah." (Judges 19:10-12 RSV)

Gibeah was a lawless town; the Levite was a coward (perhaps the reason that his concubine left him in the first place). When the wildmen of the town surrounded the house, rather than defending his concubine and himself from them (or at least die trying), the "man" surrendered his concubine to them.

"But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them; and they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, till it was light." (Judges 19:25-26 RSV)

The next morning, they left. Upon arriving home, another horrendous atrocity - the Levite cut the woman into pieces and sent them throughout Israel.

"He said to her, "Get up, let us be going." But there was no answer. Then he put her upon the ass; and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and laying hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel." (Judges 19:28-29 RSV)

Judges Chapter 20

In response to the outrage, Israel's army, totalling 400,000 troops from east and west of the Jordan, was mobilized.


"Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to The Lord at Mizpah. And 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 men on foot that drew the sword." (Judges 20:1-2 RSV)

Rather than surrendering the criminals of Gibeah, the Benjamites mustered their tribal army, totaling over 27,000 men - a large force, but much less than the 400,000 (i.e. about 15 to 1) that they were facing.

"And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, "What wickedness is this that has taken place among you? Now therefore give up the men, the base fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel." But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the people of Israel. And the Benjaminites came together out of the cities to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the people of Israel. And the Benjaminites mustered out of their cities on that day twenty-six thousand men that drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered seven hundred picked men. Among all these were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss.

And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand men that drew sword; all these were men of war." (Judges 20:12-17 RSV)

The Benjamites fought fiercely, inflicting heavy losses on the other tribes - 22,000 in the first battle (Judges 20:21) and 18,000 in a second battle (Judges 20:25). After such high casualties the other Israelites inquired of The Lord as to whether what they were doing was His will. The answer was now yes. The result was that nearly all of the Benjamite army was annihilated and their towns were burned.

"And the people of Israel inquired of The Lord, for The Ark Of The Covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar [see The Lines Of Eleazar and Ithamar], son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days, saying, "Shall we yet again go out to battle against our brethren the Benjaminites, or shall we cease?"

And The Lord said, "Go up; for tomorrow I will give them into your hand."

So Israel set men in ambush round about Gibeah." (Judges 20:27-29 RSV)

"So all who fell that day of Benjamin were twenty-five thousand men that drew the sword, all of them men of valor. But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and abode at the rock of Rimmon four months. And the men of Israel turned back against the Benjaminites, and smote them with the edge of the sword, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns which they found they set on fire." (Judges 20:46-48 RSV)

Judges Chapter 21

The tribe of Benjamin was practically destroyed, to the partial regret of the rest of Israel. Their solution was illogical, but nevertheless accepted, by the people, and by The Lord.


"And the people had compassion on Benjamin because The Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. Then the elders of the congregation said, "What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?" And they said, "There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe be not blotted out from Israel. Yet we cannot give them wives of our daughters." For the people of Israel had sworn, "Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin." So they said, "Behold, there is the yearly feast of The Lord at Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah."

And they commanded the Benjaminites, saying, "Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and seize each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. And when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, 'Grant them graciously to us; because we did not take for each man of them his wife in battle, neither did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.'"

And the Benjaminites did so, and took their wives, according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried off; then they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the towns, and dwelt in them.

And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance." (Judges 21:15-24 RSV)

The book of Judges ends with a lament, and a pretext for why the Israelites would soon produce a human king for themselves.

"In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25 RSV)

Fact Finder: What is the most ancient form of democracy?
See Royal Democracy

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