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Civil War Breaks Out

20 All the Israelites from Dan to Beer Sheba[a] and from the land of Gilead[b] left their homes[c] and assembled together[d] before the Lord at Mizpah. The leaders[e] of all the people from all the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, which numbered[f] 400,000 sword-wielding foot soldiers. The Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. Then the Israelites said, “Explain how this wicked thing happened!” The Levite,[g] the husband of the murdered woman, spoke up, “I and my concubine stopped in[h] Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin[i] to spend the night. The leaders of Gibeah attacked me and at night surrounded the house where I was staying.[j] They wanted to kill me; instead they abused my concubine so badly that she died. I took hold of my concubine and carved her up and sent the pieces[k] throughout the territory occupied by Israel,[l] because they committed such an unthinkable atrocity[m] in Israel. All you Israelites,[n] make a decision here!”[o]

All Israel rose up in unison[p] and said, “Not one of us will go home![q] Not one of us will return[r] to his house! Now this is what we will do to Gibeah: We will attack the city as the lot dictates.[s] 10 We will take ten of every group of a hundred men from all the tribes of Israel (and a hundred of every group of a thousand, and a thousand of every group of ten thousand) to get supplies for the army.[t] When they arrive in Gibeah of Benjamin, they will punish them for the atrocity that they committed in Israel.”[u] 11 So all the men of Israel gathered together at the city as allies.[v]

12 The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe[w] of Benjamin, saying, “How could such a wicked thing take place?[x] 13 Now, hand over the good-for-nothings[y] in Gibeah so we can execute them and purge Israel of wickedness.”[z] But the Benjaminites refused to listen to their Israelite brothers. 14 The Benjaminites came from their cities and assembled at Gibeah[aa] to make war against the Israelites. 15 That day the Benjaminites mustered from their cities 26,000 sword-wielding soldiers, besides 700 well-trained soldiers from Gibeah.[ab] 16 Among this army[ac] were 700 specially trained left-handed soldiers.[ad] Each one could sling a stone and hit even the smallest target.[ae] 17 The men of Israel (not counting Benjamin) had mustered 400,000 sword-wielding soldiers, every one an experienced warrior.[af]

18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and asked God,[ag] “Who should lead the charge against the Benjaminites?”[ah] The Lord said, “Judah should lead.” 19 The Israelites got up the next morning and moved[ai] against Gibeah. 20 The men of Israel marched out to fight Benjamin; they[aj] arranged their battle lines against Gibeah. 21 The Benjaminites attacked from Gibeah and struck down 22,000 Israelites that day.[ak]

22 The Israelite army[al] took heart[am] and once more arranged their battle lines, in the same place where they had taken their positions the day before. 23 The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening. They asked the Lord, “Should we[an] again march out to fight[ao] the Benjaminites, our brothers?”[ap] The Lord said, “Attack them.”[aq] 24 So the Israelites marched toward[ar] the Benjaminites the next day. 25 The Benjaminites again attacked them from Gibeah and struck down 18,000 sword-wielding Israelite soldiers.[as]

26 So all the Israelites, the whole army,[at] went up to[au] Bethel. They wept and sat there before the Lord; they did not eat anything[av] that day until evening. They offered up burnt sacrifices and tokens of peace[aw] to the Lord. 27 The Israelites asked the Lord (for the ark of God’s covenant was there in those days; 28 Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was serving the Lord[ax] in those days), “Should we[ay] once more march out to fight the Benjaminites our brothers,[az] or should we[ba] quit?” The Lord said, “Attack, for tomorrow I will hand them[bb] over to you.”

29 So Israel hid men in ambush outside Gibeah. 30 The Israelites attacked the Benjaminites the next day;[bc] they took their positions against Gibeah just as they had done before. 31 The Benjaminites attacked[bd] the army, leaving the city unguarded.[be] They began to strike down their enemy[bf] just as they had done before. On the main roads (one leads to Bethel, the other to Gibeah) and in the field, they struck down[bg] about thirty Israelites. 32 Then the Benjaminites said, “They are defeated just as before.” But the Israelites said, “Let’s retreat[bh] and lure them[bi] away from the city into the main roads.” 33 [bj] All the men of Israel got up from their places and took their positions at Baal Tamar, while the Israelites hiding in ambush jumped out of their places west of Gibeah. 34 Then 10,000 men, well-trained soldiers from all Israel, made a frontal assault against Gibeah; the battle was fierce.[bk] But the Benjaminites did not realize that disaster was at their doorstep.[bl] 35 The Lord annihilated Benjamin before Israel; the Israelites struck down that day 25,100 sword-wielding Benjaminites.[bm] 36 Then the Benjaminites saw they were defeated.

The Israelites retreated before[bn] Benjamin, because they had confidence in the men they had hidden in ambush outside Gibeah. 37 The men hiding in ambush made a mad dash[bo] to Gibeah. They[bp] attacked[bq] and put the sword to the entire city. 38 The Israelites and the men hiding in ambush had arranged a signal. When the men hiding in ambush[br] sent up a smoke signal from the city, 39 the Israelites counterattacked.[bs] Benjamin had begun to strike down the Israelites;[bt] they struck down[bu] about thirty men. They said, “There’s no doubt about it! They are totally defeated as in the earlier battle.” 40 But when the signal, a pillar of smoke, began to rise up from the city, the Benjaminites turned around and saw the whole city going up in a cloud of smoke that rose high into the sky.[bv] 41 When the Israelites turned around, the Benjaminites panicked[bw] because they could see that disaster was on their doorstep.[bx] 42 They retreated before the Israelites, taking the road to the wilderness. But the battle overtook[by] them as men from the surrounding cities struck them down.[bz] 43 They surrounded the Benjaminites, chased them from Nohah,[ca] and annihilated[cb] them all the way to a spot east of Geba.[cc] 44 So 18,000 Benjaminites, all of them capable warriors, fell dead. 45 The rest[cd] turned and ran toward the wilderness, heading toward the cliff of Rimmon. But the Israelites[ce] caught[cf] 5,000 of them on the main roads. They stayed right on their heels[cg] all the way to Gidom and struck down 2,000 more. 46 That day 25,000[ch] sword-wielding Benjaminites fell in battle, all of them capable warriors.[ci] 47 But 600 survivors turned and ran away to the wilderness, to the cliff of Rimmon. They stayed there four months. 48 The Israelites returned to the Benjaminite towns[cj] and put the sword to them. They wiped out the cities,[ck] the animals, and everything they could find. They set fire to every city in their path.[cl]


  1. Judges 20:1 sn Dan was located in the far north of the country, while Beer Sheba was located in the far south. This encompassed all the territory of the land of Canaan occupied by the Israelites.
  2. Judges 20:1 sn The land of Gilead was on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
  3. Judges 20:1 tn Heb “went out.”
  4. Judges 20:1 tn Heb “and the assembly was convened as one man.”
  5. Judges 20:2 tn Heb “the cornerstones”; or “the supports.” The word is used of leaders in only three other texts—1 Sam 14:38; Isa 19:13; Zech 10:4.
  6. Judges 20:2 tn The words “which numbered” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
  7. Judges 20:4 tn Heb “The man, the Levite.”
  8. Judges 20:4 tn Heb “came to.”
  9. Judges 20:4 tn Heb “which belongs to Benjamin.”
  10. Judges 20:5 tn Heb “arose against me and surrounded against me the house at night.”
  11. Judges 20:6 tn Heb “her”; the referent is more naturally stated in English as “the pieces.”
  12. Judges 20:6 tn Heb “throughout all the territory of the inheritance of Israel.”
  13. Judges 20:6 tn Heb “a wicked and disgraceful [thing].”
  14. Judges 20:7 tn Heb “Look, all of you sons of Israel.”
  15. Judges 20:7 tn Heb “give for yourselves a word and advice here.”
  16. Judges 20:8 tn Heb “as one man.”
  17. Judges 20:8 tn Heb “to his tent.”
  18. Judges 20:8 tn Or “turn aside.”
  19. Judges 20:9 tn Heb “against her by lot.” The verb “we will go up” (נַעֲלֶה, naʿaleh) has probably been accidentally omitted before “against her” (עָלֶיהָ, ʿaleha).sn As the lot dictates. The Israelite soldiers intended to cast lots to determine which tribe would lead the battle charge (see v. 18).
  20. Judges 20:10 tn Or “people.”
  21. Judges 20:10 tn Heb “to do at their arrival in Geba of Benjamin according to all the disgraceful [thing] which he [collective = “Benjamin”] did in Israel.” Here “Geba” must be an error for “Gibeah.”
  22. Judges 20:11 tn Heb “gathered at the city as one man, united.”
  23. Judges 20:12 tc The MT reads the plural, but surely the singular (which is supported by the LXX and Vulgate) is preferable here.
  24. Judges 20:12 tn Heb “What is this wicked thing which happened among you?”
  25. Judges 20:13 tn Heb “the men, sons of wickedness.”
  26. Judges 20:13 tn Heb “and burn away wickedness from Israel.”
  27. Judges 20:14 tn Heb “assembled from the cities at Gibeah.”
  28. Judges 20:15 tn Heb “besides from the ones living in Gibeah they mustered 700 choice men.”
  29. Judges 20:16 tn Heb “And from all this people.”
  30. Judges 20:16 tn Heb “700 choice men, bound/restricted in the right hand.” On the significance of the idiom, “bound/restricted in the right hand,” see the translator’s note on 3:15.
  31. Judges 20:16 tn “at a single hair and not miss.”
  32. Judges 20:17 tn Heb “a man of war.”
  33. Judges 20:18 tn Heb “They arose and went up to Bethel and asked God, and the Israelites said.”
  34. Judges 20:18 tn Heb “Who should go up for us first for battle against the sons of Benjamin?”
  35. Judges 20:19 tn Heb “encamped.”
  36. Judges 20:20 tn Heb “the men of Israel.” The noun phrase has been replaced by the pronoun (“they”) in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  37. Judges 20:21 tn Heb “The sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and they struck down in Israel that day 22,000 men to the ground.”
  38. Judges 20:22 tn Heb “The people, the men of Israel.”
  39. Judges 20:22 tn Or “encouraged one another.”
  40. Judges 20:23 tn Heb “I” (collective singular).
  41. Judges 20:23 tn Heb “approach for battle.”
  42. Judges 20:23 tn Heb “my brother” (collective singular).
  43. Judges 20:23 tn Heb “Go up against him” (collective singular).
  44. Judges 20:24 tn Heb “drew near to.”
  45. Judges 20:25 tn Heb “And Benjamin went out to meet them from Gibeah the second day, and they again struck down among the sons of Israel 18,000 men to the ground, all of these were wielding the sword.”
  46. Judges 20:26 tn Heb “and all the people.”
  47. Judges 20:26 tn Heb “went up and came [to].”
  48. Judges 20:26 tn Traditionally, “fasted.”
  49. Judges 20:26 tn Or “peace offerings.”
  50. Judges 20:28 tn Heb “standing before him.”
  51. Judges 20:28 tn Heb “I” (collective singular).
  52. Judges 20:28 tn Heb “my brother” (collective singular).
  53. Judges 20:28 tn Heb “I” (collective singular).
  54. Judges 20:28 tn Heb “him” (collective singular).
  55. Judges 20:30 tn Heb “the third day.”
  56. Judges 20:31 tn Heb “went out to meet.”
  57. Judges 20:31 tn Heb “and they were drawn away from the city.”
  58. Judges 20:31 tn Heb “from the army wounded ones.”
  59. Judges 20:31 tn The words “they struck down” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
  60. Judges 20:32 tn Or “run away.”
  61. Judges 20:32 tn Heb “him” (collective singular).
  62. Judges 20:33 sn Verses 33-36a give a condensed account of the battle from this point on, while vv. 36b-48 offer a more detailed version of how the ambush contributed to Gibeah’s defeat.
  63. Judges 20:34 tn Heb “heavy”; or “severe.”
  64. Judges 20:34 tn Heb “And they did not know that touching against them was disaster.”
  65. Judges 20:35 tn Heb “And the sons of Israel struck down in Benjamin that day 25,100 men, all of these wielding the sword.”
  66. Judges 20:36 tn Heb “gave place to.”
  67. Judges 20:37 tn Heb “hurried and put off [their hiding place].”
  68. Judges 20:37 tn Heb “the men hiding in ambush.”
  69. Judges 20:37 tn Or “deployed.” The verb normally means “to lead” or “to draw.”
  70. Judges 20:38 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the men hiding in ambush) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  71. Judges 20:39 tn Heb “turned in the battle.”
  72. Judges 20:39 tn Heb “And Benjamin began to strike down wounded ones among the men of Israel.”
  73. Judges 20:39 tn The words “they struck down” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
  74. Judges 20:40 tn Heb “Benjamin turned after him and, look, the whole city went up toward the sky.”
  75. Judges 20:41 tn Or “were terrified.”
  76. Judges 20:41 tn Heb “disaster touched against them.”
  77. Judges 20:42 tn Heb “clung to”; or “stuck close.”
  78. Judges 20:42 tn Heb “and those from the cities were striking them down in their midst.”
  79. Judges 20:43 tc The translation assumes the reading מִנּוֹחָה (minnokhah, “from Nohah”; cf. 1 Chr 8:2) rather than the MT’s מְנוּחָה (menukhah, “resting place”).
  80. Judges 20:43 tn Heb “tread down, walk on.”
  81. Judges 20:43 tc Heb “unto the opposite of Gibeah toward the east.” Gibeah cannot be correct here, since the Benjaminites retreated from there toward the desert and Rimmon (see v. 45). A slight emendation yields the reading “Geba.”
  82. Judges 20:45 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the rest [of the Benjaminites]) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  83. Judges 20:45 tn Heb “and they”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  84. Judges 20:45 tn Heb “gleaned.” The word is an agricultural term which pictures Israelites picking off the Benjaminites as easily as one picks grapes from the vine.
  85. Judges 20:45 tn Heb “stuck close after them.”
  86. Judges 20:46 sn The number given here (25,000 sword-wielding Benjaminites) is an approximate figure; v. 35 gives the more exact number (25,100). According to v. 15, the Benjaminite army numbered 26,700 (26,000 + 700). The figures in vv. 35 (rounded in vv. 44-46) and 47 add up to 25,700. What happened to the other 1,000 men? The most reasonable explanation is that they were killed during the first two days of fighting. G. F. Moore (Judges [ICC], 429) and C. F. Burney (Judges, 475) reject this proposal, arguing that the narrator is too precise and concerned about details to omit such a fact. However, the account of the first two days’ fighting emphasizes Israel’s humiliating defeat. To speak of Benjaminite casualties would diminish the literary effect. In vv. 35, 44-47 the narrator’s emphasis is the devastating defeat that Benjamin experienced on this final day of battle. To mention the earlier days’ casualties at this point is irrelevant to his literary purpose. He allows readers who happen to be concerned with such details to draw conclusions for themselves.
  87. Judges 20:46 tn Heb “So all the ones who fell from Benjamin were 25,000 men, wielding the sword, in that day, all of these men of strength.
  88. Judges 20:48 tn Heb “to the sons of Benjamin.”
  89. Judges 20:48 tc The translation is based on the reading מֵעִיר מְתִים (meʿir metim, “from a city of men,” i.e., “an inhabited city”), rather than the reading מֵעִיר מְתֹם (meʿir metom, “from a city of soundness”) found in the Leningrad Codex (L).
  90. Judges 20:48 tn Heb “Also all the cities that were found they set on fire.”