Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The "congregation" is the technical term for the whole community of the Israelite people. Its occurrence here is an indication of the early date of these transactions.
From Dan to Beer-sheba - We cannot safely infer from this expression that the settlement of Dan, recorded in Judg. 18 had taken place at this time. It only proves that in the writer's time, from Dan to Beer-sheba was a proverbial expression for all Israel (compare the marginal reference).
With the land of Gilead - Meaning all the trans-Jordanic tribes; mentioned particularly, both to show that the whole congregation of the children of Israel, in its widest meaning, took part in the council, and also because of Jabesh-Gilead Jdg 21:8, Jdg 21:10.
Unto the Lord in Mizpeh - The phrase "unto the Lord", implies the presence of the tabernacle (Jdg 11:11 note). Mizpeh in Benjamin Jos 18:26, from its connection with Bethel and Ramah, is probably meant here. It is the same as that which appears as a place of national assembly in Sa1 7:5; Sa1 10:17; Kg2 25:23-25. It must have been near Shiloh and Gibeah, and in the north of Benjamin. The Benjamites were duly summoned with the other tribes; so that their absence was contumacious Jdg 20:3.
The chief - literally, "the corner stones." (Compare Sa1 14:38.)
They bound themselves not to break up and disperse until they had punished the wickedness of Gibeah.
By lot - To determine who should go up first Jdg 20:18. The shape of the ground probably made it impossible for the whole force to operate at once; and the question of spoil would have something to do with the arrangement. (Compare Sa1 30:22-25.)
In order to make it possible for the force of Israel to keep the field, and do to the men of Gibeah what their wickedness deserved, every tenth man (40,000 in all) was appointed to find provisions for the whole army.
Comparing the numbers here with those in Num. 1; 26, it is seen that in the case both of the Benjamites and the Israelites the numbers are diminished by about one-third, i. e., they appear as about two-thirds only of what they were at the last numbering in the plains of Moab. This diminution seems to indicate disturbed and harassing times. With this agrees the mention of the cities, as containing the whole Benjamite population. The inference is that the open country and unwalled villages were not safe, but that the Benjamites kept the Canaanites in subjection only by dwelling in fortified towns.
See Jdg 3:15, and note. In the Septuagint and Vulgate the 700 chosen men of Gibeah are represented as the seven hundred left-handed slingers.
Went up to the house of God - It should be "to Bethel." At this time the ark was at Bethel (compare Sa1 10:3), and not at Shiloh. It is not unlikely that though Shiloh was the chief residence of the ark Jer 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 Sa1 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.
Gibeah, being on a hill, was difficult of access to an attacking army, and gave great advantage to the defenders, who fought from higher ground, and probably defended a narrow pass, while their companions on the walls could gall the assailants with their slingstones.
Fasted until even - The regular time for ending a fast among the Hebrews was sunset (compare Sa1 14:24; Sa2 1:12). Such national fasts are called by the rabbis "fasts of the congregation," and were enjoined in times of great affliction.
On the offerings, see Lev. i., 3.
Phinehas, the son of Eleazar ... - A most important chronological statement, which makes it probable that these events occurred within twenty years of the death of Joshua.
To-morrow - The two former answers only bade them go up against Benjamin; now, for the first time, the promise is added, "Tomorrow," etc. (compare Jos 8:1).
The stratagem described is exactly that by which Joshua took Ai (marginal reference).
To the house of God - "To Bethel," as in the margin. On "Gibeah in the field," see Jos 18:24 note.
Baal-tamar is only mentioned here. It took its name from some palm-tree that grew there; perhaps the same as the "palm-tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel" Jdg 4:5, the exact locality here indicated, since "the highway" Jdg 20:31 along which the Israelites enticed the Benjamites to pursue them, leads straight to Ramah, which lay only a mile beyond the point where the two ways branch off.
The meadows of Gibeah - The word rendered "meadow" is only found here. According to its etymology, it ought to mean a "bare open place", which is particularly unsuitable for an ambush. However, by a change in the vowel-points, without any alteration in the letters, it becomes the common word for "a cavern".
The way of the wilderness - i. e., the wilderness which extended from Jericho to the hills of Bethel.
Them which came out of the cities - These must be the Benjamites Jdg 20:15. Hence, "in the midst of them" must mean "in their own cities", where they severally fled for refuge, but failed to find shelter Jdg 20:48. Anathoth, Alemath, Ramah, Ataroth, Geba, Michmash, Ai, Bethel, Migron, etc., would probably be the cities meant, all lying east and north of Gibeah.
The language and construction of this verse is poetical; it seems to be an extract from a song, and to describe, in the language of poetry, the same event which the preceding verse described in that of prose.
With ease - Or "rest" Num 10:33; Psa 95:11. The expression is very obscure. The margin takes it as the name of a place.
Rimmon - A village named "Rummon", situated on the summit of a conical chalky hill, still exists, and forms a remarkable object in the landscape, visible in all directions. It lies 15 miles north of Jerusalem. It is a different place from Rimmon in the south of Judah Jos 15:32, and Remmon in Zebulon Jos 19:13. Gidom, mentioned nowhere else, was evidently close to Rimmon.
In Jdg 20:35 the number given is 25,100. Jdg 20:44-46 give the details of the loss on that day: 18,000, 5,000, and 2,000; in all 25,000. But as the Benjamites numbered 26,700 men Jdg 20:15, and 600 escaped to the rock of Rimmon, it is clear that 1,100 are unaccounted for, partly from no account being taken of those who fell in the battles of the two first days, partly from the use of round numbers, or from some other cause. The numbers given both here and in Jdg 20:35 are expressly restricted to those who fell on "that" (the third) "day."
They treated Benjamin as devoted to utter destruction, as Jericho had been Jos 6:17, Jos 6:21, and the whole tribe was all but actually extirpated. We see in the punishment inflicted the same ferocity which marked both the crime and the Levite's mode of requiring vengeance.