The Israelites’ Attack Plan. 1 All of the Israelites from Dan to Beer-sheba and from Gilead gathered together as one in an assembly before the Lord at Mizpah. 2 The leaders of all of the people of the tribes of Israel took their place in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand soldiers armed with swords.
3 Now the Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. The Israelites said, “Tell us how this evil thing happened.” 4 The Levite, the husband of the woman who had been killed, answered, “I and my concubine came into Gibeah of Benjamin to spend the night. 5 The men of Gibeah rose up and surrounded me and the house during the night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she died. 6 I took my concubine and cut her up into pieces, sending them to each region in the inheritance of Israel, for they had committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. 7 Now, all of you Israelites, discuss it among yourselves and give your counsel here.”
8 All of the people rose up as if they were one man and they said, “None of us will go home! No! None of us will return home! 9 This is what we are going to do to Gibeah. We will choose who will attack it by lot. 10 We will take ten from every hundred in all of the tribes of Israel, and one hundred out of one thousand, and one thousand out of every ten thousand. We will also take provisions for the people. When they arrive at Gibeah in Benjamin, they will then pay for all the disgraceful things that they have done in Israel.”
11 All of the men of Israel gathered together, united as if they were one man, and they went up against the city. 12 The tribes of Israel sent men all throughout the tribe of Benjamin saying, “What is this wicked thing that has been committed among you? 13 Deliver up those sons of Belial, those men of Gibeah, so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.”[a]
But the Benjaminites would not listen to what Israel had said. 14 The Benjaminites gathered together from out of the cities and they went to Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. 15 There were twenty-six thousand Benjaminites from the cities armed with swords, in addition to the seven hundred chosen men from Gibeah. 16 There were seven hundred chosen men among them who were left-handed. Each of them could sling a stone at a hair and never miss.
17 There were four hundred thousand men from Israel armed with swords (not counting the Benjaminites), each of them fighting men. 18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and sought counsel from God. They said, “Who among us should be the first to go up in battle against the Benjaminites?” The Lord answered, “Judah should go up first.”[b]
19 The next morning the Israelites rose up and camped outside of Gibeah.
20 War with the Benjaminites. The Israelites went out to fight against Benjamin. The Israelites lined themselves up to fight at Gibeah. 21 The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah and that day they cut twenty-two thousand Israelites down to the ground. 22 But the Israelites encouraged one another and once again took the same positions for battle that they had taken the first day. 23 The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until that evening, asking counsel of the Lord and saying, “Should we go up again to fight against the Benjaminites, our brothers?” The Lord answered, “Go up to fight them.”
24 So the Israelites approached the Benjaminites the second day. 25 When the Benjaminites came out of Gibeah to fight them the second day, they cut another eighteen thousand Israelites down to the ground, all of them armed with swords. 26 So all of the Israelites, all of the people, went up to Bethel and wept and sat there before the Lord, fasting that entire day until evening. They sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 27 The Israelites asked counsel of the Lord (for in those days the Ark of the Covenant of God was kept there. 28 Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days.) They said, “Shall we once again go out to do battle against the Benjaminites, our brothers, or shall we stop fighting?” The Lord answered, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hands.” 29 [c]Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. 30 The Israelites went up against the Benjaminites on the third day lined up in front of Gibeah as they had been the other times. 31 The Benjaminites came out against those people, and they were drawn away from the city. They began to strike and kill the people as they had before, so that thirty Israelites fell in the highways, one leading up to Bethel, and the other to Gibeah, and also in the fields.
32 While the Benjaminites were saying to themselves, “We are striking them down like the other times,” the Israelites were saying, “Let us run away and draw them away from the city and onto the highways.” 33 All of the Israelites rose up from their positions and they lined up at Baal-tamar. In the meantime, those who were lying in ambush on the western side of Gibeah charged forward. 34 Ten thousand of the chosen men from out of all of Israel attacked Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that they did not realize that disaster was near. 35 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel. The Israelites cut down twenty-five thousand, one hundred Benjaminites that day, all of them armed with swords.
36 The Benjaminites then saw that they were defeated. The Israelites had given way before the Benjaminites, because they trusted in the ambush that they had set near Gibeah. 37 The men who had been in ambush made a sudden rush toward Gibeah. The men in ambush marched in and put the entire city to the sword. 38 The Israelites had arranged with those who were in ambush that they should raise up flame and a great cloud of smoke from out of the city. 39 The Israelites would then turn around in the battle.
The Benjaminites had begun to overcome and kill the Israelites, about thirty of them, and they were saying to themselves, “Surely we are striking them down before us as we did in the first battle.” 40 When the flames and the column of smoke began to rise up out of the city, the Benjaminites looked back and saw flames rising up into the heavens from the city. 41 The Israelites turned on them, and the Benjaminites were terrified, for they realized that they faced disaster. 42 They fled from before the Israelites, running toward the desert, but the fighting overtook them. Those who were in the city came out and cut them down there. 43 They surrounded the Benjaminites, chased them, and easily overran them near Gibeah, in the direction of the sunrise. 44 Eighteen thousand men from Benjamin fell, all of them brave warriors. 45 As they turned and fled toward the desert up to the rock of Rimmon, they cut down five thousand men along the highways. They kept after them all the way to Gidom, and killed another two thousand of them. 46 On that day, twenty-five thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of them armed with swords and all of them brave warriors.
47 But six hundred men had fled into the wilderness, to the rock of Rimmon, and they stayed at the rock of Rimmon for four months. 48 The Israelites went back to the Benjaminites, putting all of the men from their cities and their beasts and anything else they found to the sword. They also burned down all of their cities.
- Judges 20:13 An offer was put on the table by the Israelites that could have averted war with the Benjaminites, but in their hardness of heart they ignore it.
- Judges 20:18 Judah should go up first: as in previous encounters with the enemy, the Israelites invoke the counsel of the Lord before battle—this time against their own brothers.
- Judges 20:29 Two similar stories, with a few small differences (vv. 29-36a; 36b-41), tell of a fratricidal struggle. It took three attempts for Israel to overcome the Benjaminites, finally using a strategy similar to one that was successful against Ai (Jos 8).