Resolve to Punish the Guilty
Then all the sons of Israel from Dan [in the north] to Beersheba [in the south], including the land of Gilead came out, and the congregation assembled as one man to the Lord 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 men on foot who drew the sword. (Now the Benjamites [in whose territory the crime was committed] heard that the [other tribes of the] sons of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the sons of Israel said, “How did this evil thing happen?” So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, replied, “I had come with my concubine to spend the night in Gibeah, [a town] which belongs to [the tribe of] Benjamin. But the men of Gibeah rose up against me and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me, but instead they raped my concubine [so brutally] that she died. So I took my concubine and cut her [corpse] in pieces and sent her [body parts] throughout the land of the inheritance of Israel; for the men of Gibeah have committed a lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Now then, all you sons of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here [regarding what should be done].”
Then all the people stood [unified] as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, and none of us will return to his home [until this is settled]. But now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it, and we will take ten men out of a hundred throughout the tribes of Israel, and a hundred out of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand to bring provisions for the men, so that when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, they may punish them for all the despicable acts which they have committed in Israel.” So all the men of Israel assembled against the city, united as one man.
Then the tribes of Israel sent men through the entire tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What is this evil thing that has been done among you? Now therefore, turn over the men [involved], the [a]worthless and wicked men in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death and remove this wickedness from Israel.” But the Benjamites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the sons of Israel. Then the [tribe of the] sons of Benjamin gathered from the cities to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the [other] sons of Israel. And the Benjamites assembled out of their cities at that time twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who assembled seven hundred chosen men. Out of all these people were seven hundred choice [b]left-handed men; each one could sling stones at [a target no wider than] a hair and not [c]miss.
Then the men of Israel, other than Benjamin, assembled four hundred thousand men who drew the sword; all of these were men of war.
Civil War, Benjamin Defeated
The men of Israel arose and went up to [d]Bethel and asked of God and said, “Which of us shall take the lead to battle against the sons [tribe] of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah [shall go up] first.”
Then the [fighting men of the] sons of Israel arose in the morning and camped against Gibeah. The men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and assembled in battle formation against them at Gibeah. The sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and struck to the ground on that day twenty-two thousand [fighting] men of Israel. But the people, the [fighting] men of Israel, took courage and strengthened themselves and again set their battle line in the same place where they formed it the first day. The sons of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and asked of the Lord, “Shall we advance again to battle against the sons of our brother Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Go up against them.”
So the sons of Israel came against the sons of Benjamin the second day. And [the fighting men from the tribe of] Benjamin went out of Gibeah against them the second day and again struck to the ground the sons of Israel, eighteen thousand men, all of whom were swordsmen. Then all the sons of Israel and all the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; and they sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there [at Bethel] in those days, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin, or shall I quit?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will hand them over to you.”
So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah. The [fighting men of the] sons of Israel went up against the sons of Benjamin on the third day and placed themselves in battle formation against Gibeah as at other times. The Benjamites went out against [e]their army and were lured away from the city, and they began to strike and kill some of the people as at other times, on the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, and in the open country, about thirty men of Israel. And the Benjamites said, “They are defeated before us, as at the first.” But the sons of Israel said, “Let us flee and lure them away from the city to the highways.” Then all the men of Israel got up from their places and placed themselves in battle formation at Baal-tamar; and the men of Israel [who were] in ambush rushed from their place in the plain of Maareh-geba. When the ten thousand choice [fighting] men from all Israel came against Gibeah, the battle was hard and fierce; but the Benjamites did not realize that disaster was about to strike them. And the Lord struck down [the tribe of] Benjamin before Israel, so that the sons of Israel destroyed twenty-five thousand one hundred men of Benjamin that day, all of whom were swordsmen.
So the Benjamites realized that they were defeated. Then men of Israel gave ground to the Benjamites, because they relied on the men in ambush whom they had placed against Gibeah. Then the men in ambush quickly rushed and attacked Gibeah; and the men in ambush also deployed and struck the entire city with the edge of the sword. Now the appointed signal between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they would make a great cloud of smoke rise from the city. So the men of Israel turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel, for they said, “Certainly they are defeated before us as in the first battle!” But when the [signal] cloud began to rise out of the city in a column of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them; and behold, the entire city went up in smoke to heaven. When the men of Israel turned back again, the men of Benjamin were terrified, for they saw that disaster had fallen upon them. Therefore, they turned their backs before the men of Israel [and fled] toward the direction of the wilderness, but the battle followed and overtook them. As the [fighting men of the] sons of Benjamin ran among them, the Israelites of the cities came out and destroyed them. They surrounded [the men of] Benjamin, pursued them relentlessly, and overtook them opposite Gibeah toward the east. Thus eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of these brave and able warriors. The survivors [of Benjamin] turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and Israel caught five thousand of them on the roads and overtook them at Gidom and killed two thousand of them. So all of Benjamin who fell that day were twenty-five thousand men who drew the sword, all of them brave and able warriors. But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon and stayed at the rock of Rimmon for four months. The men of Israel turned back against [the tribe of] the sons of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city [of Gibeah] and the livestock and all that they found. They also set on fire all the [surrounding] towns which they found.
- Judges 20:13 Lit sons of Belial.
- Judges 20:16 Lit impeded in the right hand.
- Judges 20:16 This is the verb usually translated as to sin.
- Judges 20:18 Apparently the ark of the covenant and the high priest were in Bethel.
- Judges 20:31 Lit the people.
Mourning the Lost Tribe
Now the men of Israel had sworn [an oath] at Mizpah, “None of us shall give his daughter in marriage to [a man of] Benjamin.” So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. They said, “O Lord, God of Israel, why has this come about in Israel, that there should be today one tribe missing from Israel?” And the next day the people got up early and built an altar there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
Then the sons of Israel said, “Which one from all the tribes of Israel did not come up in the assembly to the Lord?” For they had taken a great oath concerning him who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah, saying, “He shall certainly be put to death.” And the sons of Israel felt sorry [and had compassion] for their brother Benjamin and said, “One tribe has been cut off from Israel today. What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn [an oath] by the Lord that we will not give them any of our daughters as wives?”
Provision for Their Survival
And they said, “Which one is there of the tribes from Israel that did not come up to Mizpah to the Lord?” And behold, [it was discovered that] no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead, to the assembly. For when the people were assembled, behold, there was not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there. And the congregation sent twelve thousand of the most courageous men there, and commanded them saying, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the sword, including the women and the children. And this is the thing that you shall do; you shall utterly destroy every male and every woman who [a]is not a virgin.” And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known a man intimately; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
Then the whole congregation sent word to the [surviving] sons of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them. So [the survivors of] Benjamin returned at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had kept alive from the women of Jabesh-gilead; but there were not enough [to provide wives] for them. And the people were sorry [and had compassion] for [the survivors of the tribe of] Benjamin because the Lord had made a gap in the tribes of Israel.
Then the elders of the congregation said, “What shall we do for wives for those [men] who are left, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?” They said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe will not be wiped out from Israel. But we cannot give them wives from our daughters.” For the sons of Israel had sworn [an oath], “Cursed is he who gives a wife to [a man from the tribe of] Benjamin.”
So they said, “Listen, there is the yearly feast of the Lord at Shiloh, which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south side of Lebonah.” So they instructed the sons of Benjamin, saying, “Go, set an ambush in the vineyards, and watch; if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of [the tribe of] Benjamin. When their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we shall say to them, ‘Give them to us voluntarily, because we did not take a wife for each man of Benjamin in battle, nor did you give wives to them, for that would have made you guilty [of breaking your oath].’” So the sons of [the tribe of] Benjamin did as instructed and took wives according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried away. Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the towns and lived in them. The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, each man to his tribe and family, and each man went from there to his inheritance.
In those days [when the judges governed] there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
- Judges 21:11 Lit knows the marriage bed of a male.