For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

20:1.  “Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the Lord in Mizpeh.”

This shows how discriminating they were in regard to sin: they were very conscious of Benjamin’s wickedness, but totally oblivious of their own idolatry, which in God’s sight was more heinous.  That same insincere discrimination marked the Scribes and Pharisees of the Lord’s day, see e.g., Mt 7:3-5; and only spiritual blindness will prevent our seeing that it is rampant in the professing church today.

Dan means judging: a judge, and Beer-sheba, well of the oath, but since a well is one of the Scriptural symbols of the Word, this links together symbolically judgment and the written Word.  All judgment is to be, not according to what man thinks, but according to what God has written.  That same Word reminds us that we must first judge ourselves, before undertaking the judgment of others (Mt 7:3-5; 1 Co 11:31; 1 Pe 4:17).  Those who were so ready to judge Benjamin, failed to take account of their own worse sin of idolatry, with the result that in the internecine strife there died not only 25,000 Benjamites, but also one tenth (40,000) of the men of war of the other tribes.

“... with the land of Gilead” i.e., the two and a half tribes east of Jordan.  As noted in our studies of Joshua, these two and a half tribes represent not only the believer as a man here in the midst of earthly circumstances, but also the spiritual minority amongst God’s people, for it mustn’t be forgotten that they had been in the forefront of the fighting during the seven-year conflict with the Canaanites, and had been dismissed to their homes with the praise and blessing of Joshua ringing in their ears.  Their being included with the others simply declares that even the spiritual may sometimes be unduly influenced by majority opinion, so that they are at times found supporting schemes of dubious merit.

“... unto the Lord in Mizpeh a watchtower.”  Whatever other lessons may be connected with this, one at least suggests itself.  There are frequent Scriptural references to God as the strong tower of His people, so that Mizpeh speaks of the presence of God.  Had Israel been possessed of the reverential fear that becomes all who would approach God, they would have considered and confessed their own sin first, for He knows the thoughts and intents of each heart.

20:2.  “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.”

Since 400,000 is simply a multiple of four, the Biblical number of earth and testing, the truth being declared is that though they were unaware of it, this was to be not simply the testing of Benjamin, but of all Israel.

20:3.  “(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?”

Since Benjamin was one of the tribes to which a part of the concubine’s body had been sent, the clear implication is that Benjamin refused to attend the gathering at Mizpeh, indicating that for an unexplained reason, they refused to execute judgment against the perpetrators of the crime.  

20:4.  “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.”

Since we have already looked at the spiritual significance of this in our study of chapter 19, there is no need to repeat it here.

20:5.  “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.”

There can be no denying that the crime was terrible, but as noted already, the woman by playing the harlot, had condemned herself according to God’s word; nor had the Levite any authority from God to take a concubine.  Had Israel judged all this when the Levite first took her, there would never have been this dreadful sequel.  This is another example of the terrible consequences that may attend the commission of what men deem small sins.  All sin is deadly, and should have no place in the life of a believer.

20:6.  “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.”

The Levite, by no means guiltless himself in the sight of God, appears to have been motivated as much by desire for revenge, as by concern for God’s honor.  There must be purity of motive in all we do.  Had there been concern for God’s honor in the first instance, the Levite would never have become involved with the woman, and the terrible chain of events would never have followed.  Obedience on his part might have led the nation back to God, but the ultimate end of his disobedience was that instead 65,000 died.

It matters how we live, for no man lives unto himself.  Our conduct has an effect on the assembly of which we are members, just as the conduct of Achan affected all the tribes of Israel.

“... for they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel.”  How sharp his perception relative to the sins of others, how dull relative to his own!  These things are written for our learning!

20:7.  “Behold, ye are all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.”

All children of Israel they might be, but their state before God was such that they were in no position to give advice or counsel to anyone.  Nothing but disaster attends the attempt of carnal believers to do spiritual work.  Ominously absent at this point is any word of their doing what was most needed - seeking advice and counsel from God.

20:8.  “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.”

What zeal, what sacrifice are often squandered on what carnality perceives to be spiritual work!  Consider Paul.  No one was more zealous than he in the evil work of persecuting those who belonged to Christ.  It was to their tents and to their houses that they had need to return in order to search their own deceived hearts before undertaking to execute judgment against anyone, especially their fellow Israelites.

20:9.  “But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it;”

Missing from their expressed resolve is the all essential “If the Lord will.”  It wasn’t until they had decided what to do that they asked counsel of God.  How often we follow their disobedient footsteps!

Their resolve to go against Gibeah “by lot” would indicate that they were possessed of the same false confidence as prompted the decision in the days of Joshua to send only 3,000 men against Ai.  There too, ignorant of sin in their midst, they had failed to ask counsel of God.  That lesson, however, had apparently been forgotten, and a disobedient professing church has also forgotten, for she is to be charged, not only with forgetting the lesson of Ai, but also of this present incident, and the many other warnings recorded in Scripture.

20:10.  “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.”

Their logistical plans left nothing to be desired.  They wouldn’t act in such haste as to neglect the provision of food for the fighting men.  Spiritual minds, however, will not fail to note that all the numbers are multiples of ten, the Scriptural number of God in government.  Unknown to them was the fact that the God they had all but forgotten hadn’t forgotten them, and He was about to deal with them as a father must deal with his disobedient children - in chastisement (He 12:5-11).  They were to learn that the evil found in the midst of Benjamin, was the same evil God’s eye beheld in all Israel. 

“... according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel,” continues to emphasize how distorted their spiritual perception was.  They could see Benjamin’s fault clearly, yet be blind to their own.  And it is little different today in the professing church.

20:11.  “So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man.”

Had there been the same unity in the pursuit of righteousness and the preservation of God’s honor, the emergency that brought them to Mizpeh would never have arisen.  They would have been there under happier circumstances.  But such is the perversity of man out of touch with God that he can always find cause for unity in disobedience, but seldom in submission to the divine will.

20:12.   “And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you?”

This was little calculated to win Benjamin’s cooperation.  Without apparently having been asked whether he would deliver up the guilty, he was confronted in his own territory with a rude demand to hand them over, his peers having arrogated the right of superiors.  Without condoning Benjamin’s response, we can nevertheless understand why it was given.  His determination to resist indicates less his sympathy with the guilty, than the reaction of offended dignity, reinforced with the courage so frequently associated with the warrior tribe.

The language of the accusers, “What wickedness is this that is done among you?” rather than “among us” implied, not only that they had already imputed the guilt of the perpetrators to the whole tribe of Benjamin, but that they were counting Benjamin as being inferior to the other tribes, or even as having no part with the others.  This was imperious, irritating self-righteousness at its worst.  It was a spirit unbecoming those, who as measured by God’s standard, were every whit as guilty as those they accused.  There is great need to avoid such a spirit when dealing with sin in the local assembly, remembering the warning of Paul, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Ga 6:1).

20:13.  “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.”

How different the whole outcome might have been had the other tribes approached Benjamin in a humbler spirit!  But when men aren’t right with God, they can’t be right with one another, so it is only to be expected that the demand of haughty self-righteousness should have been answered as it was by equally haughty offended pride.

We see the hand of God, however, overruling in all of this, for the terrible crime committed at Gibeah was simply the outward manifestation of the corruption in the heart of the whole nation, and He Who is of purer eyes than to look upon evil (Hab 1:13), was about to punish what was worse than the self-righteousness of the eleven tribes, the pride of Benjamin, and the moral evil of the men of Gibeah - He was about to deal with the root cause of it all: the idolatry of all the people.

20:14.  “But the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel.”

Benjamin’s refusal was impelled obviously by wounded pride rather than sympathy with the evil deed, and many another since then, under the same impetus, has also foolishly allied himself with an evil cause, and committed himself to a course whose inevitable end was disaster.  We do well to avoid all that is prompted by a wrong motive.

20:15.  “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.”

Numbers are not to be ignored, for they have spiritual significance just as does everything else in Scripture, and it would appear that here we are meant to view the number of armed Benjamites under the division of 20 and 6.  Examining the latter first, it is the number of man, sin, weakness, incompleteness, etc., everything, in fact, that is evil.  This army might impress men, but in the sight of God it was, like all displays of human might, as nothing.

20 has several sets of factors, 2 x 10, 4 x 5, 2 x 2 x 5, but since 2 is the number of witness or testimony; 4 of earth and testing; and 5 of responsibility, they combine to declare that this Benjamite army was simply to be the witness that God will punish sin; that all things are subject to the divine testing, and that man is responsible to obey God and be blessed, or to disobey Him and be punished.

As for the 700 men of Gibeah, the prime factors are 2, 5 and 7, so that the truth being declared in the 700 continues to be that God’s dealings with them, and with all men, are the perfect witness to the truth that men are responsible to Him for everything they do.  Obedience brings blessing; disobedience, chastisement.

20:16.  “Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.”

These 700 appear to represent the small obedient remnant always found in the midst of the professing but apostate mass of the nation, and found also today within every group of professed believers.  The lesson, then, first to be learned is, that as noted already, even spiritual men, unduly influenced by the voice of the majority, may ally themselves with wrong causes.

Their being lefthanded speaks of that dependence on God and distrust of self, which are the secret of strength.  In 3:15 we read of another lefthanded Benjamite, “When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded ....” resulting in the deliverance of Israel, and the slaughter of ten thousand of the enemy.  It was by the use of a sling that David won his great victory over Goliath.

The sling in the hand of a skilled slinger can be a deadly weapon, and the skill of these 700 is attested by the statement that “every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.”  This isn’t the place to go into details, but we should note that the stone propelled by the sling represents the Word of God winged by the Holy Spirit, so that the accuracy of the aim of these 700 declares how effective the Word can be in the hand of a spiritual man. 

It is sad to find that those who appear to represent the godly, should be found in the ranks of the ungodly, and sadder still to find spiritual men today ignoring the lesson, and being found also on the side of error.  We can only wonder how many of the forty thousand slain Israelites fell victim to those 700 Benjamite slingers.  Only eternity will reveal the full extent of the harm that has befallen the Church as a result of the misdirected zeal of other believers who failed to seek direction from God.  The ultimate tragedy, however, is when the sin of the professing church is such that God, in chastisement, must permit such internecine strife.    

20:17.  “And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war.”

The significant factor here is four, the number of earth and testing.  Neither the eleven tribes nor Benjamin, however, realized that the conflict in which they were about to engage was the testing of the God against Whom they had all sinned.  Nor did they apparently realize that the purpose of God’s testing is always to separate the precious from the vile, and to draw His people into the path of obedience and blessing.

Others have pointed out that the events recorded in these concluding chapters of Judges do not follow strict chronological order, but are believed to have occurred relatively near the beginning of that dark era of Israel’s history.  This being so, it is clear that in spite of the frightful slaughter, the rebellious nation failed to learn the lesson that sin brings death, for the history of the time of the Judges records only repeated rebellion, and an accelerating descent into apostasy.

Nor has the lesson been grasped by the professing church, though these things have been recorded for her learning.  Her unhappy history is but a repetition of Israel’s.

20:18.  “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.”

At first glance this seems good, but we must note that they sought counsel from God only after they had already made their plans.  This wasn’t waiting upon God, but simply asking Him to bless plans in regard to which He had been completely ignored!  The time to approach Him was at the beginning, before any plans were made, so that they might indeed have had His counsel.  It was sheer hypocrisy to consult Him after all their plans had been made.  The question that should have been asked at the beginning was not, “Which of us shall go up first ....?” but rather, “Shall we go at all?”

God accordingly limited His counsel to the one detail in regard to which they had bothered to consult Him.  As in the days of Joshua, when the campaign against the Canaanites was beginning, Judah was designated.  This, however, is not to be construed as an indication of God’s approval, or of implied blessing.  It was neither.  As always when He is left out of men’s plans, He permitted what He didn’t necessarily approve; and experience teaches that what God simply permits in response to the self-will of His people, is never attended with the same fullness of blessing as what He directs.  Almost invariably His permissive will is related to chastisement, and certainly chastisement eventually produces blessing for those who are exercised thereby (Heb 12:11), but how much better to be within the current of God’s directive will, where chastisement is unnecessary, and where the blessing isn’t mixed with the sorrow of repentance.

We can’t but wonder what the outcome would have been had they first sought counsel from God regarding the whole matter, instead of just this one minor point.

To condemn them, however, is folly, for our multiplied repetitions of their error, declare all too loudly that we have failed to read the lesson imprinted on this fragment of Jewish history.

20:19.  “And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah.”

We read of such men of God as Abraham and Moses rising up early “in the morning” to do God’s business, that morning activity being the symbolic announcement not only that His business comes before all else, but also of their zeal in doing His business.  Here, sadly, the morning activity of the eleven tribes speaks, not of zeal relative to God’s business, but rather of the ardor with which His people are all too often willing to undertake an evil work.

20:20.  “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.”

We have noted in our study of 19:12 that in the present context Gibeah appears to represent the separation impelled by pride, so that the repeated mention of it as the place around which the struggle centered, reminds us that pride is the origin of all sin, and that here it was probably Benjamin’s wounded pride that induced him to champion the cause of the guilty, and thus precipitate this terrible conflict.  How many times conflict among believers has had its roots in the same evil soil!

Israel’s putting themselves “in array” speaks of human stratagems.  The disastrous results remind us that the application of the world’s wisdom to the solution of spiritual problems is never attended by any better results.

20:21.  “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.”

How fiercely wounded pride will contend in defence of its imagined honor!  What destruction invariably attends such contention!  And what humbling awaits the confidence that doesn’t rest in God!

Whether we take the number as 22, or as 20 and 2, the factors are the same, for 22 divided by 2 leaves 11, but the rule that seems to govern such numbers is to subtract 1, the number of God, and then continue factorizing the remainder, which in this case is 10, its factors being 2 and 5.  But since 2 is the number of witness, and 5 of responsibility, the number of the slain becomes the symbolic announcement that man is responsible to obey God, and when he refuses, the result is death.  (Believers are rarely stricken dead for disobedience, but the Bema will reveal that time spent in disobedience is time in which they might as well have been dead, for there will be no reward for that wasted time).

20:22.  “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.”

In spite of the fact that 22,000 of them had been slain, it doesn’t appear to have entered their heads that perhaps God was against them, so they resumed the battle the second day in the same place as the first, and with equally disastrous results. 

Surely one lesson at least is clearly written here: it behooves us to examine all the circumstances of our lives in order to determine to the best of our ability whether God may perhaps have in any of them a message for us.  Certainly adversity is often the fire by which He refines the gold, and strengthens our faith; but it ought not to be forgotten that it can also be for chastisement, and he is a wise man whose first response to adversity is examination of his own life to discover whether there may be in it something displeasing to God.  It is the height of folly to rail against adversity, or to merely accept it stoically without trying to discover why it has come.

20:23.  “(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.)

This little parenthesis adds details omitted from the previous verse, but though we learn of their weeping before the Lord, and asking counsel of Him, there is nothing to indicate that there was genuine heart-searching on their part.  The weeping appears to have been merely for their losses, not for their sin; the counsel sought, not as to their relationship with God, but merely whether they should continue the conflict with Benjamin.  Such superficial weeping, all too common with saint and sinner alike, will accomplish little, for the true heart attitude which it indicates is that which has been accurately described by the poet who wrote, “ The pleasures lost I sadly mourned, but never wept for Thee.”

God simply gave them permission to do what He knew they were bent on doing anyway; and as noted already, fullness of blessing is to be found, not in doing what He permits, but in what He directs.

20:24.  “And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day.”

Israelite continued to strive with Israelite, neither side comprehending that God had a controversy with both of them, nor realizing that the strife He permitted, while seeming to be over the slain concubine, was in reality over their apostasy, the crime committed at Gibeah being but the evidence of the spiritual state of the whole nation.  So is it all too often in regard to the controversies amongst brethren.

20:25.  “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.”

This appears to conclude God’s chastisement of the eleven tribes, for the next day we find the sword devouring Benjamin instead.  But on this second day 18,000 of Israel are slain, the factors of 18 being 2 x 3 x 3, the numbers of witness (2), and resurrection or manifestation (3).  Confronted with such slaughter, the eleven tribes might well have wondered whether they were to be completely consumed, but though their sin-blinded eyes couldn’t see it, God, in the very number slain, was declaring that judgment was past.  Having wounded, He was about to heal them and raise them up, as we read in Job 5:17-18 “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.”

20:26.  “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.”

On the surface it looked as though they were at last broken, and their repentance genuine, but conspicuously absent from all that they did, was the presentation of a Sin offering.  There may be amongst believers a great deal of activity that has the appearance of genuine contrition, but true repentance results in total abandonment of the sin that brought the chastisement.  We have to keep in mind that this section of Israel’s history came early in their settlement of Canaan; and the subsequent record reveals that there was no real repentance, but rather, a descent into apostasy, that gained momentum in every succeeding generation.

20:27.  “And the children of Israel inquired of the Lord, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days.”

20:28.  “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.”

That God was not without a witness for Himself even in those dark days is evidenced by the fact that the priest was this Phinehas mouth of pity, a man who was fearless where God’s honor was involved, see Nu 25:7.  The Lord’s “Go up” was no longer just permissive, but imperative, and it was accompanied with the assurance of victory.  This continues to demonstrate the folly of doing what God only permits, rather than what He directs.  No work should ever be undertaken unless it is validated by a clear “Thus saith the Lord.”

Having used Benjamin to chastise guilty Israel, God was now about to reverse the roles, and make the eleven tribes His instrument of chastisement for equally guilty Benjamin.  Whatever other lessons are intended here, one at least we cannot miss is that it behooves us to walk softly before God, and with a reverential fear that will tremble at the very thought of offending, remembering the warning given by Paul, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Co 10:12).

20:29.  “And Israel set liers in wait around about Gibeah.”

20:30.  “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.”

The strategy, the same as that used against Ai, reminds us that obedience to God isn’t something divorced from intelligence, nor are faith in God and the use of our minds mutually exclusive.  The truth being set symbolically before us here negates the attitude of those who insist that instead of resisting the works of evil men who would subvert sound doctrine, etc., we should “just leave it with God.”  Such an attitude is not supported by Scripture.

Their going up on the third day reminds us that as three is the Biblical number of resurrection or manifestation, so was that third day to be the one in which the eleven tribes would be raised up from the despair into which the slaughter of forty thousand of their number had cast them, and in which would be manifested (in the slaughter of twenty-five thousand Benjamites) that God’s displeasure was against all Israel, not just for the crime committed at Gibeah, but for the national idolatry.

20:31.  “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.”

Only spiritual blindness will fail to see the larger significance of the two highways: one going up to the house of God, and the other to “Gibeah in the field.”  Those two highways are like the roads upon which men travel to eternity.  Believers are on the narrow way that goes up to the house of God, heaven; unbelievers are on the broad and crowded way that leads to destruction.  Nor can we miss the significance of Gibeah’s being described as “in the field,” for it was the Lord Himself Who designated the field as a symbol of the world (Mt 13:38).

Those who had chosen to ally themselves with Gibeah, little dreamed what terrible consequences were to attend their fatal choice.  Her time of judgment had come.  The opportunity to repent was past. She had sinned away her day of grace.  By that day’s end what had been proud, defiant, sinful Gibeah would lie a smoking ruin, and those who had allied themselves with her would lie dead in her streets and fields: the smoldering heaps, and the more than 25,000 slain Benjamites, being the appalling witness to the folly of defying God.

In the judgment that befell Gibeah and the Benjamites, God would have us see in symbol the soon-coming end of an equally proud, defiant, sinful world, and of the men who have allied themselves with her.

A happier message is conveyed in the fact that only “thirty men of Israel” were slain.  Remembering that Israel, as represented by the eleven tribes, was now acting according to God’s direction, we must view them accordingly in this present context at least, as obedient believers; and since 30 factorizes to 2 x 3 x 5 (numbers of witness, resurrection, and responsibility respectively), there is the reminder that service may require the life of the servant, as it did that of the Lord Himself, but the life thus laid down will be taken up again in resurrection, the encouragement to each servant being that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Co 5:8). 

20:32.  “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.”

That clause “as at the first” declares that their confidence wasn’t in God but in themselves.  They were looking at the victories of the past two days, and, flushed with success, seemed to imagine themselves invincible.  They were forgetting that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Ec 9:11), that “promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south, but God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Ps 75:6-7).  He is a fool who leaves God out of the reckoning.

The eleven tribes, now in the path of God’s directive will, and acting according to wisdom imparted by Him, were about to win the battle by fleeing from the enemy.  God’s ways are not man’s.  It was by means inexplicable to reason that the Lord Jesus Christ defeated the enemy at Calvary.  He conquered death and Satan by submitting Himself to their power, by dying Himself.

The city Gibeah, as noted already, represents pride, but the highways appear to represent the ways of God, so that Benjamin’s being drawn out of Gibeah into the highways, is the symbolic declaration of the fact that they were being drawn into the place where God Himself was about to teach them how much He hates pride and idolatry.

20:33.  “And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place, and put themselves in array at Baal-tamar: and the liers in wait of Israel came forth out of their places, even out of the meadows of Gibeah.”

Baal-tamar means lord of the palm, but the palm tree is one of the Biblical symbols of righteousness (Ps 92:12), so that their assembling there speaks of assembling in righteousness because they were now acting according to God’s directive will.  And their putting themselves “in array” was now in accordance also with God’s directive will, not as formerly when they put themselves in array without even consulting Him.

Nor should we miss the spiritual significance of those described as “liers in wait.”  They represent the many believers who render their service in obscurity, only God’s eye beholding what they do, since He in His wisdom has seen fit not to assign them a work that would require them to be in the limelight.  They represent those who are happy to render whatever service they may, even if no one is ever aware of what they are doing.  Among their number are those who are faithful in prayer, in giving, in extending hospitality, in bringing up their children in the fear of the Lord, in encouraging others, etc.

Such should never be despised.  Israel couldn’t have overcome Benjamin without them, nor can God’s work ever be done without these faithful “liers in wait.” 

But they are representative also of those who have been endowed with a gift that will require them to serve in public, but the liers in wait represent them during the time of obscurity when they are developing their gift.  Such are the evangelists, elders and teachers; and the lesson here is that these men should never be impatient to be out in the public eye until there is clear leading from God.  Untold harm has been done amongst God’s people by young men who do have gift, but who refuse to give to the proper development of their gift the time, study and prayer essential to its maturation.  All such ought to remember the ill results of Moses’ attempting to do God’s work before God’s time.  There was one slain Egyptian, Israel in even worse bondage, and Moses himself compelled to flee for his life.  He still had forty years to spend in God’s school; but how different the results when his training was complete, and God’s time had come.  Then the might of Egypt was broken; Israel came out and there wasn’t as much as a hoof left behind; and the Moses who had fled Egypt forty years before as a fugitive, marched out as the leader of God’s redeemed people.

Nothing is ever lost by waiting God’s time.  Nothing is ever gained by acting before it - much, on the contrary, is lost.

And there is further instruction in the places where they lay in wait, and from which they emerged at the appointed time.  Those places were the meadows of Gibeah.  But the meadow is the place of pasture, and represents the Word as the believer’s spiritual food.  The lesson couldn’t be clearer.  While we wait God’s time we ought to be feeding our souls with His Word. 

Their being described as the “meadows of Gibeah,” has also something to teach, for as noted already, Gibeah in an evil sense represents the separation impelled by asceticism or pride; but in a good connotation, separation from the world unto God.  We can’t be feeding on the Word if our only separation from the world is that which is prompted by asceticism or pride.

20:34.  “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.”

Since ten is the Scriptural number of God in government, these ten thousand arrayed against Benjamin are the symbolic announcement that he who had on the previous two days been the instrument in the hand of God for the chastisement of Israel, was now himself to become the object of that chastisement.  The battle raged fiercely, but on that third day God was on the side of Israel, and that rendered Benjamin’s cause hopeless, for none can successfully contend with God.  Like many another self-confident rebel, however, Benjamin was unaware that the judgment of God was about to overtake him.

It is the same with the nations today.  In brash self-confidence they have ignored God, and made their plans for the bringing in of a humanly contrived Utopia, all unaware that the judgment of God is about to fall upon them.

20:35.  “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.”

We do well to note that it was the Lord who smote Benjamin that third day; and though they knew it not, it was He Who had smitten Israel on the two previous days, for men, even in rebellion, are but the instruments for the accomplishment of His purposes.

It is clear that very often in Scripture numbers are given in round figures, but here the number is exact, a fact meant to emphasize the lesson God would teach.  The factors of twenty-five are 5 x 5, reminding us that this slaughter was the result of their having failed to fulfill their responsibility to obey God; and the additional hundred emphasizes the lesson, for whether factorized as 2 x 2 x 5 x 5, or 10 x 10, the lesson continues to be that this was God in government chastising unfulfilled responsibility, the slain being the dramatic witness to the folly of disobedience.

20:36.  “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.”

The crucial part played by the liers in wait would remind us that in our own spiritual warfare, the unseen work of those represented by the liers in wait can’t be overestimated.  They who uphold the hands of those who fight (see Ex 17:8-12), are no less essential to the victory awaiting us than was the part played by the liers in wait, in the conquest of Gibeah and the defeat of rebel Benjamin.  As noted already, a ministry is not to be despised just because it is carried on in obscurity.  Nor should we fail to note that until the liers in wait had done the work assigned them, the ten thousand could do nothing more than flee before the Benjamites, and lure them away from the city.  It seems, in fact, that none of the Benjamites were slain until the liers in wait had first taken Gibeah and set it on fire.  Since, however, Gibeah, in a bad context, represents pride, its being destroyed before any of the rebels were slain, reminds us that pride must be put away from our lives before we can hope to accomplish anything for God.

20:37.  “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.”

A further lesson to be learned here is that there is a time to wait, and a time to work.  The liers in wait had simply lain hidden, doing nothing until the Benjamite army was drawn out of the city; but then they “hasted and rushed.”  How often we hasten and rush without having waited upon God, to our own embarrassment, and the hindering rather than helping of God’s cause!

Their smiting the city “with the edge of the sword” reminds us how essential the Word of God is both for those who “lie in wait” as well as for those who go out to fight, for the sword is one of the Biblical symbols of the written Word.  No one can ever know enough of that Word.

20:38.  “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.”

While it is clear that God uses individuals, and never organizations, it is equally clear that there is a harmony connected with His work, not as a result of man’s organization, but as a result of the Holy Spirit’s control of each servant, working all things together for God’s glory and the accomplishment of His purposes, so that while the left hand may not know what the right hand doeth, each believer, doing what God has given him to do, contributes his part to the success of the whole.

That is the lesson of the “appointed sign,” and as the success of the strategy depended on that sign, so will God’s work proceed smoothly only when there is that sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading that will impel each man to wait carefully upon God for direction relative to every aspect of his service.  It is a fragile, but nonetheless essential thing that must govern the servant’s relationship with the Master.  It is not something that can be legislated, or accomplished by human organization.  A beautiful illustration of it, however, is found in Ac 8;26 where Philip was called to leave a flourishing work in Samaria, and go down “unto Gaza which is desert.”  Mere human wisdom would have said, It is folly to leave Samaria where souls are being saved, and go down to the desert where there is no one.  But God was making no mistake.  He knew that the Ethiopian eunuch, whose salvation was dependent on Philip’s obedience, would be in that desert.  And it is interesting to note that countless multitudes have been saved as a result of reading the details of the eunuch’s conversion; relatively few as a result of reading about Philip’s work in Samaria.  Human organization has absolutely no place in connection with spiritual work.

The sign was the “great flame” of the burning Gibeah, but to make a spiritual application: the lesson being taught is that the destruction of pride must precede any work undertaken for God.  Emphasis is placed upon the fact that the flame was to be “with smoke,” and the other Scriptural references to smoke would indicate that it is a symbol of the glory accruing to God as a result of His executing judgment.  The pillar of smoke ascending from the burning Gibeah, points to the glory that arises to God when pride is destroyed. 

20:39.  “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.”

For comments on this, see verse 31.

20:40.  “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.”

What consternation must have filled their hearts as they beheld what had been their stronghold, now being reduced to ashes!  Similar fear will smite the hearts of earth’s rebels in the soon coming terrible Tribulation era, when the judgment of God reduces also to ruins the great edifice of man’s erecting - man’s great financial, educational, military, and religious institutions.  The same terror will grip the heart of every unbeliever on that day, when too late for remedy, he looks back from the shores of eternity, to see the worthlessness of all upon which he had staked the eternal welfare of his soul, and then looks forward to see, first, an angry God Who cannot now be placated, and then the gate through which he must pass into the realm of eternal torment, first hell, and then following the resurrection of death, the lake of fire.

20:41.  “And when the men of Israel turned again, the men of Benjamin were amazed: for they saw that evil was come upon them.”

The word “amazed” is related to the idea of trembling, and the measure of their fear is disclosed in that trembling is the paroxysm which accompanies the extremity of terror.  We are missing the major part of the message here if we fail to see that in the horror of the Benjamites, God intends us to see something of the dread with which every unbeliever will go from the relative security of earth into the presence of the God, the blood of Whose Son, shed for the remission of sin, has been despised and trodden underfoot (He 10:29).

A Benjamin whose sword had spilled the blood of forty thousand Israelites, trembled at the prospect of the vengeance that would be meted out by the relatives of the slain.  What trembling there will be in the ranks of earth’s rebels on the day when they are brought suddenly face to face with the inescapable eternal vengeance of the God Whose Son they have slain without cause!

20:42.  “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.”

This dramatic reversal of roles reminds us that on the day when the Lord Jesus Christ comes forth on behalf of His own at the end of the Tribulation, there will be a similar change of position as the persecutors of His brethren are arraigned before Him for judgment, He the Judge counting what was done to His own as having been done to Him (Mt 25:40).  So also will it be relative to those who have persecuted His own during this present age of grace.  They too will find themselves become the objects of His wrath.

All other judgments, however, are but foreshadow-in­gs of that final terrible judgment at the great white throne, from which the unbelievers of all the ages will be banished from His presence into the eternal torment of the lake of fire.

Their flight “unto the way of the wilderness” adds the further instruction that as the wilderness is the literal place of death, so is that dreadful eternity lying before all who reject the Savior.  The fact that “the battle overtook them” is the symbolic warning that there is no escaping the judgment of God, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The KJ rendering “and them which came out of the cities they destroyed in the midst of them” indicates that the Israelites slew Benjamites fleeing out of the cities, but the more generally accepted, and apparently correct view is that it was the liers in wait, coming out of Gibeah, who slew the Benjamites trapped between the two groups of Israelites.  Those who had patiently lain in wait until the right moment, and having accomplished their appointed task of setting the city on fire, then continued to fight side by side with their brethren, teaching us the necessity of waiting God’s time if our service is to be effective.

20:43.  “Thus they inclosed the Benjamites round about, and chased them, and trode them down with ease over against Gibeah toward the sunrising.”

How different are the results when God directs!  They, who on the previous two days, had suffered humiliating defeat, losing forty thousand men, now, “with ease” trod down the rebel Benjamites.  What needless labor and loss we would save ourselves if we simply sought God’s direction for everything we undertake, being careful neither to run before His time, nor to lag behind it.  There is in this also the reminder that it is not by our own might or power that victory is won, but solely by the power of God, for as noted in verse 35, it was the Lord Who smote Benjamin, the hands that held the swords being merely His instruments.

“... toward the sun rising” was of course a flight eastward, but since the east is the direction that speaks symbolically of departure from God, the spiritual message being conveyed by the direction of their flight, is that they were fleeing from God.  Every rebel travels the same path.

20:44.  “And there fell of Benjamin eighteen thousand men; all these were men of valor.”

The factors of eighteen are 2 x 3 x 3, the numbers of witness, and of resurrection or manifestation, respectively.  The two is the witness to the folly of rebellion against God, but the three is the reminder that He with Whom we deal is the God of resurrection; and while undoubtedly nothing of this was discerned by those involved that day, it is the reminder to us who read, that through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, every sinner who trusts Him, is “resurrected” out of spiritual death into eternal life.

Their being described as “men of valor” reminds us that the might of man is as nothing in God’s sight.  None may successfully contend with Him, hence the wisdom of being on His side rather than on that of His foes.

20:45.  “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.”

As noted already, the wilderness, the literal place of death, speaks of spiritual death, so that their fleeing there reminds us that death awaits all who flee from God.  We must note, however, that in that place of death there was a rock, “the rock of Rimmon,” where six hundred Benjamites found refuge.  No spiritual mind will have difficulty seeing in that rock a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, see e.g., 1 Co 10:4; and its being in the wilderness (type of this world as a place of death), declares that it is here on earth that that “Rock” is available to every sinner willing to trust in Christ as Savior.  Nor should we miss the significance of the meaning of Rimmon pomegranate, for the pomegranate is one of the Scriptural symbols of the Church; and those who constitute her are they, who like the six hundred surviving Benjamites, have found a place of refuge in the Rock, Christ.  The “pomegranate” (the Church), and the “rock” (Christ) are inseparable.  It is through the witness of the Church in the Gospel that men are led to the Savior.

We must note, however, that consistent exegesis requires us to recognize that their safety at Rimmon depicts that of those foreknown by God, but not yet actually saved, actual conversion being portrayed at the time when they received wives.

The five thousand Benjamites slain in the highways while in flight to Rimmon, have a double lesson to teach.  First, the five, number of responsibility, reminds us that responsibility unfulfilled brings death, every man being responsible to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ, before going from time into eternity, as Paul pleads, “... we pray you in Christ’s stead;, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Co 5:20), see also Ro 5:10 “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”

Second, the fact that these five thousand died while trying to reach Rimmon, reminds us of the solemn warning given by the Lord Himself, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.  When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not .... depart from me all ye workers of iniquity ....” (Lk 13:24-28).  There are multitudes who have perished in their sins, who fully intended to be saved, but who through procrastination, were unexpectedly overtaken by death.

He is of all fools the greatest who ignores the warning, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co 6:1).

Gidom meaning a cutting down, is frequently translated Geba, which means elevation.  It may possibly have been an elevated place designated by both names, in which the fleeing Benjamites hoped to find refuge.  The slaughter of 2,000 there, however, reminds us that the rock Rimmon (type of Christ) alone afforded refuge.  There is no shelter from the wrath of God, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, a truth emphasized in His own words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6)

20:46.  “So that all which fell that day of Benjamin were twenty and five thousand men that drew the sword; all these were men of valor.”   

As noted already twenty-five is the multiplied witness to the folly of failing to meet our responsibility before God, that responsibility beginning with the necessity of fitting ourselves to meet Him, as the prophet Amos warned Israel, “... prepare to meet thy God” (Amos 4:12), for “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (He 10:31).  That preparation is to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

It is particularly solemn to remember that those who fell were Benjamites, meaning son of the right hand - of all the tribes, having a name that signified a place of special nearness to God.  This surely calls to mind the Lord’s warning, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in they name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:21-23).

20:47.  “But six hundred men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months.”

Six is the number of man, weakness, sin, incompleteness, so that the number of those who found refuge there declares that only those willing to confess themselves weak, helpless sinners will find refuge in Christ, for as long as a man retains the idea that he has even a shred of righteousness, he cannot be saved.  As the Lord Himself declared, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mt 9:13).

Since four is the number of earth and testing, their abiding in the rock Rimmon four months is the symbolic disclosure that the believer’s life here on earth (where he abides in the “Rock” Christ) is a time of testing, designed to reveal the reality of the profession.  See Heb 12 relative to the purpose of God’s chastening or testing.

We should note also the parallel between the literal state of those 600 Benjamites, and the spiritual state of the believer here on earth.  From the safety of that rock they looked upon a land that had become a desolation, its cities burnt, its people dead, a land they had enjoyed, and in which were bound up all their hopes.  So does the believer also now look upon a world become for him also a desolation, its people “dead in trespasses and sins”  (Ep 2:1).  That world in which all his hopes once centered has become the desert through which he now passes as a pilgrim and stranger on his way home to heaven.

20:48.  “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.”

In this utter destruction of what had once been the homeland of the surviving 600 Benjamites, God would have us see the destined end of this world in which all men’s hopes are centered, and in which they live in sin and defiance of God, the Gospel calling upon them to “flee from the wrath to come” (Lk 3:7), while there is yet time.  He is a wise man who flees to the “Rock,” willing to suffer the loss of earthly things so that he might be rich eternally.  He is of all fools the greatest who forfeits eternal riches by rejecting salvation, and clinging to the baubles of a world soon to be destroyed by the avenging fire of the God Whose patience is great but not inexhaustible.

There is particular significance also in the fact that those slain were Benjamites, having the same tribal name as the 600 who had found refuge on the rock Rimmon.  The solemn warning here is that not all who take the name Christian belong to Christ, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Ro 9:6-7); “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven .... Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in they name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:21-23). 

This section points us symbolically to the yet more terrible destruction and loss of life that will be in the coming Tribulation era.

[Judges 21]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough