Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Bersabee, from the northern to the southern extremity of the land, (Calmet) west of the Jordan, as Galaad denotes that on the east, belonging to Israel. Only the Benjamites and the town of Jabes declined attending. (Haydock) — Maspha, on the confines of the tribes of Juda and Benjamin. Here the people frequently assembled; and it was a place of prayer, 1 Machabees iii. 46. It is thought that an altar of the Lord had been erected. (Calmet) — Maspha denotes, “a height or watch-tower,” (Haydock) near Silo. (Mas.[Massius?] in Josue xviii. 26.)
Ver. 2. Chiefs. Literally, “angles or corner-stones,” whose business it was to keep the people in order; or, all the different ranks of men may be designated. (Calmet) — Septuagint, “the climate,” or country. (Haydock) — Syriac and Arabic, “the families of all the people.” (1 Kings xiv. 38.) (Calmet)
Ver. 3. Levite. Hebrew and Septuagint do not say that the discourse was addressed to him; but he was the most interested, and capable of giving a true account. Hebrew, “They said the children of Israel, Relate (Septuagint, ye) how this wickedness happened, (4) And the Levite,” &c., answered.
Ver. 5. Kill me. He expressed an abominable crime by another less horrible. (Salien) — But he does not say that he brought out his wife. He might conclude, that if he had been exposed to their fury, he would have experienced a similar fate. (Haydock) — So determined was he to resist to the last extremity. The outrage would have been more hateful to him than death. (Calmet) — We may reasonably conclude that his wife had the same sentiments, and that she died a martyr to her conjugal fidelity, resisting even unto death, and thus making some atonement for her past misconduct.
Ver. 6. Because, &c. Hebrew and Septuagint, “for they have wrought (zimma, a word which the Septuagint (Alexandrian and Vatican) leave untranslated, others render dishonesty) lewdness and folly,” or a most impious act of lust. (Haydock) — They do not compare this crime with every other that had been committed, as idolatry, and other sins, which directly attack God, are greater. But this was the most atrocious injustice which could be done to a fellow creature. (Salien)
Ver. 9. In common. Hebrew, “by lot.” (Calmet) — They chose one man out of ten to procure provisions, selecting 40,000 for that purpose, or the 10th part of the forces. (Haydock)
Ver. 11. With, &c. This is added to explain. (Calmet) — Hebrew, “united as one man.” (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Sent. The law of nations requires that satisfaction be demanded, (Calmet) before a war commence. (Menochius) — The former resolution (ver. 9,) was only conditional, if the Benjamites should prefer defending their brethren of Gabaa, before punishing them, as they deserved. (Calmet) — Indeed their absenting themselves from this general assembly, implied as much, and the Israelites were determined, at any rate, to see that the guilty were duly punished. (Haydock) — Tribe. Hebrew, “tribes,” denoting the great families of Benjamin, Genesis xlvi. 21., and Numbers xxvi. 38.
Ver. 15. Men. This number is verified, ver. 35. The Benjamites had 25,700 in all, of whom they lost 25,100; so that 600 remained. Hebrew reads here 26,000; and some pretend (Calmet) that 1000 fell in the two victories which they obtained. (Grotius, &c.) — But this is without proof, and the Vulgate is confirmed by Josephus, and by most of the copies of the Septuagint, though the Vatican copy has only 23,000. (Calmet) — Gabaa. Hebrew and Septuagint add, “which were numbered 700 chosen men.” Grabe repeats in the following verse with the Hebrew, “Among all this people, 700 chosen men,” which seems to insinuate that these expert archers were selected out of all the army. (Haydock) — But the other copies of the Septuagint agree with the Vulgate, that they were all of Gabaa, (Calmet) as if they were trained at this city with more particular care, to hit a mark how small soever.
Ver. 16. Right. Septuagint, “ambidextrous.” Moderns generally translate the Hebrew, “left-handed.” But we have seen that such a meaning is improbable, chap. iii. 15. — Side. The inhabitants of Palestine formerly applied themselves very much to this exercise, and by them it was propagated over other parts of the world. (Pliny, [Natural History?] vii. 56.) Strabo (iii.) observes that the people of the Balearic islands became famous for slinging, only after the Phœnicians had taken possession of their country, which is the present Majorca and Minorca. They could hit the mark without failing, and penetrate every sort of armour. (Florus iii.) Their bullets of lead were sent with such violence, as sometimes to melt in the air, according to Ovid and Seneca, q. 2. 56. The slingers commonly stood 600 paces from the mark of white, which they seldom missed. (Veget. ii. 23.) The stones which they used weighted a pound among the Romans. The sling would frequently carry farther than a bow. (Xenophon, Anab. v.) Yet the exploits of bowmen are not less extraordinary than what is here recorded. Philostorgius (ii. 12,) assures us that the Indians, after they have been drinking, will shoot at a child, and only touch the ends of his hair. Domitian would shoot from a great distance, and make the arrow pass between the extended fingers of a child, and at other times would divest himself with piercing an animal with two arrows, so that they would stick out like horns. (Suetonius) Soranus could send an arrow into the air, and pierce it with another as it fell. The emperor Hadrian writes of him,
“Emissumque arcu dum pendet in aere telum,
Ac redit ex alto, fixi fregique sagitta.” (Calmet)
Ver. 17. Thousand. Their numbers had decreased since they came out of Egypt, (Numbers i., and xxvi.) when they were 600,000 fighting men. (Menochius) — But we must reflect, that some would be left to garrison the cities, &c. The Benjamites must surely have been infatuated to encounter so great a force in such a cause. (Haydock)
Ver. 18. Silo. Hebrew simply “to Bethel,” which the Septuagint, Syriac, Josephus, and others, explain of the city: but others generally understand “the house of God,” at Silo, for which Bethel is placed, chap. xxi. 2, 9, and 12. Phinees resided near the tabernacle, and was desired to consult God. — Juda is not the name of a man, but of the tribe; (Calmet) and probably Othoniel would have the chief command. (Salien) — The Israelites do not ask whether they ought to make war on their brethren, &c., but only desire to know which tribe shall begin the attack, chap. i. 1., and x. 18. They manifest a degree of presumption, which God soon chastised, (Calmet) as well as the idolatry of Dan, &c., which they had neglected to punish, though they had an express command to do it, Deuteronomy xiii. 12. (Salien) — They were full of pride, and only concerned to revenge their own wrongs. (Haydock)
Ver. 22. Trusting in their strength. The Lord suffered them to be overthrown, and many of them to be slain, though their cause was just; partly in punishment of the idolatry which they exercised or tolerated in the tribe of Dan, and elsewhere: and partly because they trusted in their own strength: and therefore, though he bid them fight, he would not give them the victory, till they were thoroughly humbled, and had learned to trust in him alone. (Challoner) — God’s thoughts are often very different from ours; and he frequently delays to crown with success the most holy enterprises, that man may learn to be more humble, and to trust wholly in his mercy. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. And join battle. This is an explanation of Hebrew, “against him.” (Haydock) — The Israelites still neglected to sue for the divine protection, trusting in their numbers. God sends them again to battle, and suffers them to be routed. Did he deceive them? By no means. He wished them to learn the important lesson of self-diffidence, and he had not promised them the victory. (Haydock) — But after they had humbled themselves, He acts like a master. I will deliver, &c., ver. 28. (Calmet)
Ver. 25. Sword. In each battle the Benjamites kill almost as many as their whole army, in all 40,000 Israelites, without losing a man, ver. 15. (Haydock)
Ver. 26. Evening. Till then the Jews never eat on fasting days. The Turks still do the like: but they only change day into night, as they sleep till sunset, and then begin to feast and to make merry. (Calmet)
Ver. 28. Was over. Hebrew, “stood before it at that time,” (Haydock) in the camp, (Calmet) or perhaps at Silo, which was not so remote; but some, if not the whole army, might go thither to weep, and to consult the Lord. Phinees had formerly displayed his zeal against the impiety of Beelphegor, Numbers xxv. 7. He was contemporary with Jonathan, the priest of Michas. (Kennicott) — Hence it appears that this took place not long after the death of Eleazar, Josue xxiv. (Worthington)
Ver. 31. To Gabaa, from some other city. (Haydock) — This body of men consisted of 10,000, who were designed to draw off the Benjamites from the city into the midst of the forces of Israel, at Baalthamar; while another division, in ambush, on the west of Gabaa, had to enter the city, and having set it on fire, were to prevent the inhabitants from re-entering. (Calmet) — They use a similar stratagem to that which Josue (Josue viii.) had employed against Hai. (Salien)
Ver. 33. Baalthamar, the plain of Jericho; (Chaldean) or rather a village in the vicinity of Gabaa, which Eusebius calls Besthamar.
Ver. 34. West side. Hebrew máre, “a cavern,” (Calmet) “a plain,” (Chaldean) “the thickets.” (Vat.[Vatable?] &c.) But the Septuagint have read márbe, “the west,” with the Vulgate. (Calmet) — The Vatican copy leaves Maraagabe. (Menochius) — Gabaa was situated on a hill, and the ambuscade might be concealed in a cavern, some of which in Palestine are very spacious. (Calmet)
Ver. 35. The sword. It seems the slingers also used the sword, ver. 16.
Ver. 36. Flee; some towards the city, others to the wilderness, and to Remmon, ver. 45. (Haydock) — That. Hebrew, “because they confided in those whom they had placed in ambush, near Gabaa.” Hence they were not so eager to prevent their flight, by surrounding them.
Ver. 37. Arose. Hebrew, “drew along (advanced or sounded the trumpet a long time,”) perhaps for a signal, (Calmet) though the firing of the city seems to have been designed for this purpose, ver. 40. (Haydock)
Ver. 39. Saw. Hebrew, “retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and to kill….about thirty men; for they said, surely they are destroyed before us, (or flee) as in the first battle.” It is wonderful that they should thus so easily fall into the very snare laid formerly for the men of Hai, Josue viii. 5.
Ver. 42. Them. Hebrew, “and those who came out of the cities, (of Benjamin) they (destroyed, (Haydock) or the other Israelites) destroyed them who fled in the midst of them.”
Ver. 43. Rest. Hebrew, “with ease, or at leisure they crushed them,” &c. Others translate, (Calmet) Monvée, from Nucha, Noua, (Septuagint Roman; Haydock) Menucha,” &c. We read of a place in the tribe of Juda, called Menuchta, 1 Paralipomenon ii. 52. (Calmet) — The same word may be taken as a proper name, or may signify rest. (Menochius)
Ver. 45. In that. Hebrew, “and they gleaned of them in the highways 5000 men, and pursued them close to Giddom,” of which the Vulgate takes no notice. The Roman Septuagint reads “Gedan;” the rest have “Galaad.”
Ver. 46. War. The Scripture, and other authors of the greatest exactitude, sometimes use round numbers. (Calmet) — An odd hundred (ver. 35, and 15.; Haydock) is here neglected. (Calmet)
Ver. 47. Escape. Mercy was shewn to these, as the tribe had been already treated with sufficient severity. St. Jerome says, they were “reserved for the sake of the apostle Paul,” (epit. Paul. M.[Menochius?]) who was descended from some of them. (Haydock) — Remmon, near Gabaa, Zacharias xiv. 10. Eusebius places it fourteen miles north of Jerusalem. (Calmet)
Ver. 48. And villages, is not expressed in Hebrew, &c. But as both cities, and all the inhabitants were destroyed, the villages would share the same fate, (Haydock) as being under a curse. The Israelites concluded, from the exemplary vengeance which had been taken of Sodom and Gomorra, that they were authorized to treat their brethren in guilt with the utmost severity. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The Israelites warring against Benjamin are twice defeated; but in the third battle the Benjaminites are all slain, saving six hundred men.
1 Then all the children of Israel went out, and gathered together as one man, *from Dan to Bersabee, with the land of Galaad, to the Lord in Maspha:
2 And all the chiefs of the people, and all the tribes of Israel, met together in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot-men fit for war.
3 (Nor were the children of Benjamin ignorant that the children of Israel were come up to Maspha). And the Levite, the husband of the woman that was killed, being asked, how so great a wickedness had been committed,
4 Answered: I came into Gabaa, of Benjamin, with my wife, and there I lodged:
5 And behold the men of that city, in the night beset the house wherein I was, intending to kill me, and abused my wife with an incredible fury of lust, so that at last she died.
6 And I took her and cut her in pieces, and sent the parts into all the borders of your possession: because there never was so heinous a crime, and so great an abomination committed in Israel.
7 You are all here, O children of Israel, determine what you ought to do.
8 And all the people standing, answered as by the voice of one man: We will not return to our tents, neither shall any one of us go into his own house:
9 But this we will do in common against Gabaa:
10 We will take ten men of a hundred out of all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred out of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to bring victuals for the army, that we might fight against Gabaa of Benjamin, and render to it for its wickedness, what it deserveth.
11 And all Israel were gathered together against the city, as one man, with one mind, and one counsel:
12 And they sent messengers to all the tribe of Benjamin, to say to them: Why hath so great an abomination been found among you?
13 Deliver up the men of Gabaa, that have committed this heinous crime, that they may die, and the evil may be taken away out of Israel. But they would not hearken to the proposition of their brethren the children of Israel:
14 But out of all the cities which were of their lot, they gathered themselves together into Gabaa, to aid them, and to fight against the whole people of Israel.
15 And there were found of Benjamin five and twenty thousand men that drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gabaa,
16 Who were seven hundred most valiant men, fighting with the left hand as well as with the right: and slinging stones so sure that they could hit even a hair, and not miss by the stone’s going on either side.
17 Of the men of Israel also, beside the children of Benjamin, were found four hundred thousand that drew swords and were prepared to fight.
18 And they arose and came to the house of God, that is, to Silo: and they consulted God, and said: Who shall be in our army the first to go to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the Lord answered them: Let Juda be your leader.
19 And forthwith the children of Israel rising in the morning, camped by Gabaa:
20 And going out from thence to fight against Benjamin, began to assault the city.
21 And the children of Benjamin coming out of Gabaa, slew of the children of Israel that day two and twenty thousand men.
22 Again Israel, trusting in their strength and their number, set their army in array in the same place, where they had fought before:
23 Yet so that they first went up and wept before the Lord until night: and consulted him, and said: Shall I go out any more to fight against the children of Benjamin my brethren or not? And he answered them: Go up against them, and join battle.
24 And when the children of Israel went out the next day to fight against the children of Benjamin,
25 The children of Benjamin sallied forth out of the gates of Gabaa: and meeting them, made so great a slaughter of them, as to kill eighteen thousand men that drew the sword.
26 Wherefore all the children of Israel came to the house of God, and sat and wept before the Lord: and they fasted that day till the evening, and offered to him holocausts, and victims of peace-offerings,
27 And inquired of him concerning their state. At that time the ark of the covenant of the Lord was there,
28 And Phinees, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was over the house. So they consulted the Lord, and said: Shall we go out any more to fight against the children of Benjamin, our brethren, or shall we cease? And the Lord said to them: Go up, for to-morrow I will deliver them into your hands.
29 And the children of Israel set ambushes round about the city of Gabaa:
30 And they drew up their army against Benjamin the third time, as they had done the first and second.
31 And the children of Benjamin boldly issued out of the city, and seeing their enemies flee, pursued them a long way, so as to wound and kill some of them, as they had done the first and second day, whilst they fled by two highways, whereof one goeth up to Bethel, and the other to Gabaa, and they slew about thirty men:
32 For they thought to cut them off as they did before. But they artfully feigning a flight, designed to draw them away from the city, and by their seeming to flee, to bring them to the highways aforesaid.
33 Then all the children of Israel rising up out of the places where they were, set their army in battle array, in the place which is called Baalthamar. The ambushes also, which were about the city, began by little and little to come forth,
34 And to march from the west side of the city. And other ten thousand men chosen out of all Israel, attacked the inhabitants of the city. And the battle grew hot against the children of Benjamin: and they understood not that present death threatened them on every side.
35 And the Lord defeated them before the children of Israel, and they slew of them in that day five and twenty thousand, and one hundred, all fighting men, and that drew the sword.
36 But the children of Benjamin, when they saw themselves to be too weak, began to flee. Which the children of Israel seeing, gave them place to flee, that they might come to the ambushes that were prepared, which they had set near the city.
37 And they that were in ambush arose on a sudden out of their coverts, and whilst Benjamin turned their backs to the slayers, went into the city, and smote it with the edge of the sword.
38 Now the children of Israel had given a sign to them, whom they had laid in ambushes, that after they had taken the city, they should make a fire: that by the smoke rising on high, they might shew that the city was taken.
39 And when the children of Israel saw this in the battle, (for the children of Benjamin thought they fled, and pursued them vigorously, killing thirty men of their army)
40 And perceived, as it were, a pillar of smoke rise up from the city; and Benjamin looking back, saw that the city was taken, and that the flames ascended on high:
41 They that before had made as if they fled, turning their faces, stood bravely against them. Which the children of Benjamin seeing, turned their backs,
42 And began to go towards the way of the desert, the enemy pursuing them thither also. And they that fired the city came also out to meet them.
43 And so it was, that they were slain on both sides by the enemies, and there was no rest of their men dying. They fell and were beaten down on the east side of the city of Gabaa.
44 And they that were slain in the same place, were eighteen thousand men, all most valiant soldiers.
45 And when they that remained of Benjamin saw this, they fled into the wilderness, and made towards the rock that is called Remmon. In that flight also, as they were straggling and going different ways, they slew of them five thousand men. And as they went farther, they still pursued them, and slew also other two thousand.
46 And so it came to pass, that all that were slain of Benjamin, in divers places, were five and twenty thousand fighting men, most valiant for war.
47 And there remained of all the number of Benjamin only six hundred men that were able to escape, and flee to the wilderness: and they abode in the rock Remmon four months.
48 But the children of Israel returning, put all the remains of the city to the sword, both men and beasts, and all the cities and villages of Benjamin were consumed with devouring flames.
1: Osee ix. 9.