Containing The Interval Of Four Hundred And Seventy Six Years.
From The Death Of Moses To The Death Of Eli.
How, After The Death Of Joshua Their Commander, The Israelites Transgressed The Laws Of Their Country, And Experienced Great Afflictions; And When There Was A Sedition Arisen, The Tribe Of Benjamin Was Destroyed Excepting Only Six Hundred Men.
1. AFTER the death of Joshua and Eleazar, Phineas prophesied, (10) that according to God's will they should commit the government to the tribe of Judah, and that this tribe should destroy the race of the Canaanites; for then the people were concerned to learn what was the will of God. They also took to their assistance the tribe of Simeon; but upon this condition, that when those that had been tributary to the tribe of Judah should be slain, they should do the like for the tribe of Simeon.
2. But the affairs of the Canaanites were at this thee in a flourishing condition, and they expected the Israelites with a great army at the city Bezek, having put the government into the hands of Adonibezek, which name denotes the Lord of Bezek, for Adoni in the Hebrew tongue signifies Lord. Now they hoped to have been too hard for the Israelites, because Joshua was dead; but when the Israelites had joined battle with them, I mean the two tribes before mentioned, they fought gloriously, and slew above ten thousand of them, and put the rest to flight; and in the pursuit they took Adonibezek, who, when his fingers and toes were cut off by them, said,
"Nay, indeed, I was not always to lie concealed from God, as I find by what I now endure, while I have not been ashamed to do the same to seventy-two kings." (11)
So they carried him alive as far as Jerusalem; and when he was dead, they buried him in the earth, and went on still in taking the cities: and when they had taken the greatest part of them, they besieged Jerusalem; and when they had taken the lower city, which was not under a considerable time, they slew all the inhabitants; but the upper city was not to be taken without great difficulty, through the strength of its walls, and the nature of the place.
3. For which reason they removed their camp to Hebron; and when they had taken it, they slew all the inhabitants. There were till then left the race of giants, who had bodies so large, and countenances so entirely different from other men, that they were surprising to the sight, and terrible to the hearing. The bones of these men are still shown to this very day, unlike to any credible relations of other men. Now they gave this city to the Levites as an extraordinary reward, with the suburbs of two thousand cities; but the land thereto belonging they gave as a free gift to Caleb, according to the injunctions of Moses. This Caleb was one of the spies which Moses sent into the land of Canaan. They also gave land for habitation to the posterity of Jethro, the Midianite, who was the father-in-law to Moses; for they had left their own country, and followed them, and accompanied them in the wilderness.
4. Now the tribes of Judah and Simeon took the cities which were in the mountainous part of Canaan, as also Askelon and Ashdod, of those that lay near the sea; but Gaza and Ekron escaped them, for they, lying in a flat country, and having a great number of chariots, sorely galled those that attacked them. So these tribes, when they were grown very rich by this war, retired to their own cities, and laid aside their weapons of war.
5. But the Benjamites, to whom belonged Jerusalem, permitted its inhabitants to pay tribute. So they all left off, the one to kill, and the other to expose themselves to danger, and had time to cultivate the ground. The rest of the tribes imitated that of Benjamin, and did the same; and, contenting themselves with the tributes that were paid them, permitted the Canaanites to live in peace.
6. However, the tribe of Ephraim, when they besieged Bethel, made no advance, nor performed any thing worthy of the time they spent, and of the pains they took about that siege; yet did they persist in it, still sitting down before the city, though they endured great trouble thereby: but, after some time, they caught one of the citizens that came to them to get necessaries, and they gave him some assurances that, if he would deliver up the city to them, they would preserve him and his kindred; so he aware that, upon those terms, he would put the city into their hands. Accordingly, he that, thus betrayed the city was preserved with his family; and the Israelites slew all the inhabitants, and retained the city for themselves.
7. After this, the Israelites grew effeminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures; nor were they any longer careful to hear the laws that belonged to their political government: whereupon God was provoked to anger, and put them in mind, first, how, contrary to his directions, they had spared the Canaanites; and, after that, how those Canaanites, as opportunity served, used them very barbarously.
But the Israelites, though they were in heaviness at these admonitions from God, yet were they still very unwilling to go to war; and since they got large tributes from the Canaanites, and were indisposed for taking pains by their luxury, they suffered their aristocracy to be corrupted also, and did not ordain themselves a senate, nor any other such magistrates as their laws had formerly required, but they were very much given to cultivating their fields, in order to get wealth; which great indolence of theirs brought a terrible sedition upon them, and they proceeded so far as to fight one against another, from the following occasion: -
8. There was a Levite (12) a man of a vulgar family, that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim, and dwelt therein: this man married a wife from Bethlehem, which is a place belonging to the tribe of Judah. Now he was very fond of his wife, and overcome with her beauty; but he was unhappy in this, that he did not meet with the like return of affection from her, for she was averse to him, which did more inflame his passion for her, so that they quarreled one with another perpetually; and at last the woman was so disgusted at these quarrels, that she left her husband, and went to her parents in the fourth month. The husband being very uneasy at this her departure, and that out of his fondness for her, came to his father and mother-in-law, and made up their quarrels, and was reconciled to her, and lived with them there four days, as being kindly treated by her parents.
On the fifth day he resolved to go home, and went away in the evening; for his wife's parents were loath to part with their daughter, and delayed the time till the day was gone. Now they had one servant that followed them, and an ass on which the woman rode; and when they were near Jerusalem, having gone already thirty furlongs, the servant advised them to take up their lodgings some where, lest some misfortune should befall them if they traveled in the night, especially since they were not far off enemies, that season often giving reason for suspicion of dangers from even such as are friends; but the husband was not pleased with this advice, nor was he willing to take up his lodging among strangers, for the city belonged to the Canaanites, but desired rather to go twenty furlongs farther, and so to take their lodgings in some Israelite city.
Accordingly, he obtained his purpose, and came to Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin, when it was just dark; and while no one that lived in the market-place invited him to lodge with him, there came an old man out of the field, one that was indeed of the tribe of Ephraim, but resided in Gibeah, and met him, and asked him who he was, and for what reason he came thither so late, and why he was looking out for provisions for supper when it was dark? To which he replied, that he was a Levite, and was bringing his wife from her parents, and was going home; but he told him his habitation was in the tribe of Ephraim: so the old man, as well because of their kindred as because they lived in the same tribe, and also because they had thus accidentally met together, took him in to lodge with him.
Now certain young men of the inhabitants of Gibeah, having seen the woman in the market-place, and admiring her beauty, when they understood that she lodged with the old man, came to the doors, as contemning the weakness and fewness of the old man's family; and when the old man desired them to go away, and not to offer any violence or abuse there, they desired him to yield them up the strange woman, and then he should have no harm done to him: and when the old man alleged that the Levite was of his kindred, and that they would be guilty of horrid wickedness if they suffered themselves to be overcome by their pleasures, and so offend against their laws, they despised his righteous admonition, and laughed him to scorn.
They also threatened to kill him if he became an obstacle to their inclinations; whereupon, when he found himself in great distress, and yet was not willing to overlook his guests, and see them abused, he produced his own daughter to them; and told them that it was a smaller breach of the law to satisfy their lust upon her, than to abuse his guests, supposing that he himself should by this means prevent any injury to be done to those guests. When they no way abated of their earnestness for the strange woman, but insisted absolutely on their desires to have her, he entreated them not to perpetrate any such act of injustice; but they proceeded to take her away by force, and indulging still more the violence of their inclinations, they took the woman away to their house, and when they had satisfied their lust upon her the whole night, they let her go about daybreak.
So she came to the place where she had been entertained, under great affliction at what had happened; and was very sorrowful upon occasion of what she had suffered, and durst not look her husband in the face for shame, for she concluded that he would never forgive her for what she had done; so she fell down, and gave up the ghost: but her husband supposed that his wife was only fast asleep, and, thinking nothing of a more melancholy nature had happened, endeavored to raise her up, resolving to speak comfortably to her, since she did not voluntarily expose herself to these men's lust, but was forced away to their house; but as soon as he perceived she was dead, he acted as prudently as the greatness of his misfortunes would admit, and laid his dead wife upon the beast, and carried her home; and cutting her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, he sent them to every tribe, and gave it in charge to those that carried them, to inform the tribes of those that were the causes of his wife's death, and of the violence they had offered to her.
9. Upon this the people were greatly disturbed at what they saw,and at what they heard, as never having had the experience of such a thing before; so they gathered themselves to Shiloh, out of a prodigious and a just anger, and assembling in a great congregation before the tabernacle, they immediately resolved to take arms, and to treat the inhabitants of Gibeah as enemies; but the senate restrained them from doing so, and persuaded them, that they ought not so hastily to make war upon people of the same nation with them, before they discoursed them by words concerning the accusation laid against them; it being part of their law, that they should not bring an army against foreigners themselves, when they appear to have been injurious, without sending an ambassage first, and trying thereby whether they will repent or not: and accordingly they exhorted them to do what they ought to do in obedience to their laws, that is, to send to the inhabitants of Gibeah, to know whether they would deliver up the offenders to them, and if they deliver them up, to rest satisfied with the punishment of those offenders; but if they despised the message that was sent them, to punish them by taking, up arms against them.
Accordingly they sent to the inhabitants of Gibeah, and accused the young men of the crimes committed in the affair of the Levite's wife, and required of them those that had done what was contrary to the law, that they might be punished, as having justly deserved to die for what they had done; but the inhabitants of Gibeah would not deliver up the young men, and thought it too reproachful to them, out of fear of war, to submit to other men's demands upon them; vaunting themselves to be no way inferior to any in war, neither in their number nor in courage. The rest of their tribe were also making great preparation for war, for they were so insolently mad as also to resolve to repel force by force.
10. When it was related to the Israelites what the inhabitants of Gibeah had resolved upon, they took their oath that no one of them would give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite, but make war with greater fury against them than we have learned our forefathers made war against the Canaanites; and sent out presently an army of four hundred thousand against them, while the Benjamites' army-was twenty-five thousand and six hundred; five hundred of whom were excellent at slinging stones with their left hands, insomuch that when the battle was joined at Gibeah the Benjamites beat the Israelites, and of them there fell two thousand men; and probably more had been destroyed had not the night came on and prevented it, and broken off the fight; so the Benjamites returned to the city with joy, and the Israelites returned to their camp in a great fright at what had happened.
On the next day, when they fought again, the Benjamites beat them; and eighteen thousand of the Israelites were slain, and the rest deserted their camp out of fear of a greater slaughter. So they came to Bethel, (13) a city that was near their camp, and fasted on the next day; and besought God, by Phineas the high priest, that his wrath against them might cease, and that he would be satisfied with these two defeats, and give them the victory and power over their enemies. Accordingly God promised them so to do, by the prophesying of Phineas.
11. When therefore they had divided the army into two parts, they laid the one half of them in ambush about the city Gibeah by night, while the other half attacked the Benjamites, who retiring upon the assault, the Benjamites pursued them, while the Hebrews retired by slow degrees, as very desirous to draw them entirely from the city; and the other followed them as they retired, till both the old men and the young men that were left in the city, as too weak to fight, came running out together with them, as willing to bring their enemies under. However, when they were a great way from the city the Hebrews ran away no longer, but turned back to fight them, and lifted up the signal they had agreed on to those that lay in ambush, who rose up, and with a great noise fell upon the enemy.
Now, as soon as ever they perceived themselves to be deceived, they knew not what to do; and when they were driven into a certain hollow place which was in a valley, they were shot at by those that encompassed them, till they were all destroyed, excepting six hundred, which formed themselves into a close body of men, and forced their passage through the midst of their enemies, and fled to the neighboring mountains, and, seizing upon them, remained there; but the rest of them, being about twenty-five thousand, were slain. Then did the Israelites burn Gibeah, and slew the women, and the males that were under age; and did the same also to the other cities of the Benjamites; and, indeed, they were enraged to that degree, that they sent twelve thousand men out of the army, and gave them orders to destroy Jabesh Gilead, because it did not join with them in fighting against the Benjamites. Accordingly, those that were sent slew the men of war, with their children and wives, excepting four hundred virgins. To such a degree had they proceeded in their anger, because they not only had the suffering of the Levite's wife to avenge, but the slaughter of their own soldiers.
12. However, they afterward were sorry for the calamity they had brought upon the Benjamites, and appointed a fast on that account, although they supposed those men had suffered justly for their offense against the laws; so they recalled by their ambassadors those six hundred which had escaped. These had seated themselves on a certain rock called Rimmon, which was in the wilderness. So the ambassadors lamented not only the disaster that had befallen the Benjamites, but themselves also, by this destruction of their kindred; and persuaded them to take it patiently; and to come and unite with them, and not, so far as in them lay, to give their suffrage to the utter destruction of the tribe of Benjamin; and said to them,
"We give you leave to take the whole land of Benjamin to yourselves, and as much prey as you are able to carry away with you."
So these men with sorrow confessed, that what had been done was according to the decree of God, and had happened for their own wickedness; and assented to those that invited them, and came down to their own tribe. The Israelites also gave them the four hundred virgins of Jabesh Gilead for wives; but as to the remaining two hundred, they deliberated about it how they might compass wives enough for them, and that they might have children by them; and whereas they had, before the war began, taken an oath, that no one would give his daughter to wife to a Benjamite, some advised them to have no regard to what they had sworn, because the oath had not been taken advisedly and judiciously, but in a passion, and thought that they should do nothing against God, if they were able to save a whole tribe which was in danger of perishing; and that perjury was then a sad and dangerous thing, not when it is done out of necessity, but when it is done with a wicked intention. But when the senate were affrighted at the very name of perjury, a certain person told them that he could show them a way whereby they might procure the Benjamites wives enough, and yet keep their oath. They asked him what his proposal was. He said,
"That three times in a year, when we meet in Shiloh, our wives and our daughters accompany us: let then the Benjamites be allowed to steal away, and marry such women as they can catch, while we will neither incite them nor forbid them; and when their parents take it ill, and desire us to inflict punishment upon them, we will tell them, that they were themselves the cause of what had happened, by neglecting to guard their daughters, and that they ought not to be over angry at the Benjamites, since that anger was permitted to rise too high already."
So the Israelites were persuaded to follow this advice, and decreed, That the Benjamites should be allowed thus to steal themselves wives. So when the festival was coming on, these two hundred Benjamites lay in ambush before the city,by two and three together, and waited for the coming of the virgins, in the vineyards and other places where they could lie concealed. Accordingly the virgins came along playing, and suspected nothing of what was coming upon them, and walked after an unguarded manner, so those that laid scattered in the road, rose up, and caught hold of them: by this means these Benjamites got them wives, and fell to agriculture, and took good care to recover their former happy state. And thus was this tribe of the Benjamites, after they had been in danger of entirely perishing, saved in the manner forementioned, by the wisdom of the Israelites; and accordingly it presently flourished, and soon increased to be a multitude, and came to enjoy all other degrees of happiness. And such was the conclusion of this war.
(10) By prophesying, when spoken of a high priest, Josephus, both here and frequently elsewhere, means no more than consulting God by Urim, which the reader is still to bear in mind upon all occasions. And if St. John, who was contemporary with Josephus, and of the same country, made use of this style, when he says that
"Caiaphas being high priest that year, prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad, " (John 11:51-52)
he may possibly mean, that this was revealed to the high priest by an extraordinary voice from between the cherubims, when he had his breastplate, or Urim and Thummim, on before; or the most holy place of the temple, which was no other than the oracle of Urim and Thummim. Of which above, in the note on Antiq. B. III. Ch. 8. Sect. 9.
(11) This great number of seventy-two reguli, or small kings, over whom Adonibezek had tyrannized, and for which he was punished according to the lex talionis, as well as the thirty-one kings of Canaan subdued by Joshua, and named in one chapter, Joshua 12, and thirty-two kings, or royal auxiliaries to Benhadad king of Syria, 1 Kings 20:1; Antiq. B. VIII. Ch. 14. Sect. 1, intimate to us what was the ancient form of government among several nations before the monarchies began, viz. that every city or large town, with its neighboring villages, was a distinct government by itself; which is the more remarkable, because this was certainly the form of ecclesiastical government that was settled by the apostles, and preserved throughout the Christian church in the first ages of Christianity. Mr. Addison is of opinion, that
"it would certainly be for the good of mankind to have all the mighty empires and monarchies of the world cantoned out into petty states and principalities, which, like so many large families, might lie under the observation of their proper governors, so that the care of the prince might extend itself to every individual person under his protection; though he despairs of such a scheme being brought about, and thinks that if it were, it would quickly be destroyed."
Remarks on Italy, 4 to p. 151. Nor is it unfit to be observed here, that the Armenian records, though they give us the history of thirty-nine of their ancientest heroes or governors after the Flood, before the days of Sardanapalus, had no proper king till the fortieth, Parerus. See Moses Chorehensis, p. 55. And that Almighty God does not approve of such absolute and tyrannical monarchies, any one may learn that reads Deuteronomy 17:14-20, and 1 Samuel 8:1-22; although, if such kings are set up as own him for their supreme King, and aim to govern according to his laws, he hath admitted of them, and protected them and their subjects in all generations.
(12) Josephus's early date of this history before the beginning of the Judges, or when there was no king in Israel, Judges 19:1, is strongly confirmed by the large number of Benjamites, both in the days of Asa and Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 14:8, and 16:17, who yet were here reduced to six hundred men; nor can those numbers be at all supposed genuine, if they were reduced so late as the end of the Judges, where our other copies place this reduction.
(13) Josephus seems here to have made a small mistake, when he took the Hebrew word Bethel, which denotes the house of God, or the tabernacle, Judges 20:18, for the proper name of a place, Bethel, it no way appearing that the tabernacle was ever at Bethel; only so far it is true, that Shiloh, the place of the tabernacle in the days of the Judges, was not far from Bethel.