Judges 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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18) To the house of God.—Rather, to Bethel (as in the LXX., Syriac, Arabic, and Chaldee). The reason why our translators adopted their translation is shown by the Vulgate, which renders it “to the house of God that is in Shiloh.” But Beth El cannot mean “house of God,” which is always either Beth ha-Elohim or Beth Adonai (house of the Lord). Why they did not meet at the more central Shiloh we cannot say.

Asked counsel of God.—Namely, by the Urim and Thummim. Apparently the high priest was not prevented by any scruple from taking the ephod, with its jewelled breastplate and Urim and Thummim, to any place where its use was needed. The ark was similarly carried from place to place, and had been brought (Judges 20:27) to the venerable sanctuary of Bethel with the high priest. It is not necessary to suppose that the tabernacle was itself removed. It may have been—for Shiloh was never understood to be more than its temporary resting-place. Bethel—as being a sacred place and near Gibeah—would be a convenient place of rendezvous.

Which of us . . .?Judges 1:1-2.

Judah . . . first.—This is remarkable as indicating that the Urim and Thummim were something more than a pair of lots, and that the questions with which God was consulted by its means were other than those which admitted a mere positive or negative answer.

Jdg 20:18. The children of Israel arose — Some sent in the name of all; and went up to the house of God — To Shiloh, which was not far from Mizpeh; and asked counsel of God — By Urim and Thummim, as they did Jdg 1:1. The Targum has it, They asked counsel by the word of the Lord. Which of us shall go up first? — This was asked to prevent emulations and contentions: but they do not ask whether they should go against them or not; nor yet do they seek to God for his help by prayer, and fasting, and sacrifice, as in all reason they ought to have done; but were confident of success, because of their great numbers and righteous cause.17:7-13 Micah thought it was a sign of God's favour to him and his images, that a Levite should come to his door. Thus those who please themselves with their own delusions, if Providence unexpectedly bring any thing to their hands that further them in their evil way, are apt from thence to think that God is pleased with them.Went up to the house of God - It should be "to Bethel." At this time the ark was at Bethel (compare 1 Samuel 10:3), and not at Shiloh. It is not unlikely that though Shiloh was the chief residence of the ark Jeremiah 7:12, yet the tabernacle, being moveable, was, either at stated times, or as occasion required, moved to where the Judge resided, or the congregation assembled (compare 1 Samuel 7:16). On the present occasion the ark may have been moved to Bethel for the convenience of proximity to the great national council at Mizpeh. Jud 20:18-28. The Israelites Lose Forty Thousand.

18-28. the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God—This consultation at Shiloh was right. But they ought to have done it at the commencement of their proceedings. Instead of this, all their plans were formed, and never doubting, it would seem, that the war was just and inevitable, the only subject of their inquiry related to the precedency of the tribes—a point which it is likely was discussed in the assembly. Had they asked counsel of God sooner, their expedition would have been conducted on a different principle—most probably by reducing the number of fighting men, as in the case of Gideon's army. As it was, the vast number of volunteers formed an excessive and unwieldy force, unfit for strenuous and united action against a small, compact, and well-directed army. A panic ensued, and the confederate tribes, in two successive engagements, sustained great losses. These repeated disasters (notwithstanding their attack on Benjamin had been divinely authorized) overwhelmed them with shame and sorrow. Led to reflection, they became sensible of their guilt in not repressing their national idolatries, as well as in too proudly relying on their superior numbers and the precipitate rashness of this expedition. Having humbled themselves by prayer and fasting, as well as observed the appointed method of expiating their sins, they were assured of acceptance as well as of victory. The presence and services of Phinehas on this occasion help us to ascertain the chronology thus far, that the date of the occurrence must be fixed shortly after the death of Joshua.

The children of Israel, i.e. some sent in the name of all.

To the house of God, to wit, to Shiloh, which was not far from Mizpeh, where they were.

Which of us shall go up first to the battle? this they ask to prevent emulations and contentions; but they do not ask whether they should go against them, or no, for that they knew they ought to do by the will of God already revealed. Nor yet do they seek to God for his help by prayer, and fasting, and sacrifice, as in all reason they ought to have done; but were confident of success, because of their great numbers, and righteous cause. And the children of Israel arose,.... From Mizpeh, where they were assembled, having heard that the Benjaminites were gathered together to defend the men of Gibeah:

and went up to the house of God; to the tabernacle which was in Shiloh, Judges 18:31, see Joshua 18:1 though the Targum takes Bethel for the name of a place so called; and so do Ben Gersom and Josephus (p), which was near Shiloh, for Shiloh is said to be on the north side of Bethel, Judges 21:19 but as there is no reason to believe the tabernacle was now removed from Shiloh thither, so it is not likely they would go to any other place but where the tabernacle ark, and high priest were:

and asked counsel of God; before Phinehas the high priest, according to the judgment of Urim and Thummim, Judges 20:28.

and said which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? there being no supreme magistrate, judge, or general, to lead them; they did not ask whether they should go to war or no with their brethren; they made no doubt of that, taking it for granted they had sufficient reason for so doing, and that it was according to the will of God; nor did they inquire whether they should be victorious or not, they made no doubt of being victorious, both from their superior numbers, and the justness of their cause; they only inquire who should lead them on, having no general; and this they might do, to prevent any contentions among them about being precedence:

and the Lord said, Judah shall go up first: which tribe pitched their standard first about the tabernacle, and marched first in their journeys in the wilderness, and was ordered to go up first and fight the Canaanites, being a powerful and warlike tribe.

(p) Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 5. c. 2. sect. 10.)

And the children of Israel arose, and went up {k} 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.

(k) That is, to the ark, which was in Shiloh some think in Mizpeh, as in Jud 20:1.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
18. The Israelite host is mustered (Jdg 20:17), and all is ready for an advance against Gibeah (Jdg 20:19 f.), when the entire army marches off to Beth-el, 10 m. distance from Mizpah (if = Nebî Samwîl), to consult the divine oracle. Such a change of position at such a moment is almost incredible, and unnecessary, one would think, inasmuch as Mizpah itself was a sanctuary (Jdg 20:1). Although Beth-el has a place in the B narrative (Jdg 20:26 f.), this verse can hardly belong to the original form of it. And there are indications which confirm the impression that the verse is a gloss; contrast ‘asked counsel of God’ with ‘asked counsel of JehovahJdg 20:23; Jdg 20:27; the question and response of the oracle are imitated from Jdg 1:1-2; in the account which follows all Israel acts together, not under the initiative of Judah; in the Hebr. Jdg 20:18-19 begin with the same word and they arose.

went up to Beth-el] Vulgate they came to the house of God, that is to Shiloh: an interesting attempt to get over a theoretical difficulty; see on Jdg 20:27, and cf. Jdg 21:2 n.

Verse 18. - The house of God. In this rendering the A.V. follows the Vulgate, which has in demure Dei, hoc est, in Silo. But the Septuagint has Βαιθὴλ, and all the ancient authorities, as well as modern commentators, generally agree in rendering it Bethel. The reason, which seems a conclusive one, for so doing is that the Hebrew בית אל invariably means Bethel, and that the house of God is always expressed in Hebrew by בית האלהים (beth-ha-elohim). The conclusion is that at this time the ark of God, with the tabernacle, was at Bethel, which was only seven or eight miles from Shiloh. Bethel would be eight or ten miles from Gibeah, i.e. about half way between Shiloh and Gibeah. Asked counsel. The same phrase as Judges 1:1, where it is rendered simply asked (see note to Judges 1:1, and vers. 23, 47). In following this precedent the Israelites put the men of Gibeah on the footing of the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. With reference to ver. 9, it is worth considering whether this is not the fulfilment of the purpose there expressed by the Israelites, to go up against Gibeah by lot; either by understanding that the answer asked was given by a Divinely-directed lot, according to which Judah's turn came first (see Joshua 7:14-18; 1 Samuel 14:41; Acts 1:24-26; etc.), or by taking the expression by lot in a wider sense, as meaning generally Divine direction. Before the tribes of Israel entered upon the war, they sent men to all the tribes of Benjamin, who were to demand that the culprits in Gibeah should be given up to be punished, that the evil might thus be exterminated from Israel, according to the law in Deuteronomy 22:22 as compared with Judges 13:6 and Judges 17:12. "The tribes of Benjamin" are the same as "the families of Benjamin:" the historian pictured to himself the different divisions of the tribe of Benjamin as warlike powers about to carry on a war with the other tribes of Israel. The word shebet (tribe) is used in a different way in Numbers 4:18. But the Benjaminites would not hearken to the voice of their brethren, the other tribes of Israel. The Keri (sons of Benjamin) is a needless alteration, since Benjamin may be construed with the plural as a collective term. By refusing this just demand on the part of the other tribes, the Benjaminites took the side of the culprits in Gibeah, and compelled the congregation to make war upon the whole tribe.
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