JUDGES CHAPTER 21
1 The people bewail the desolation of Benjamin. 8 By the destruction of Jabesh-gilead they provide them four hundred wives. 16 They advise them to surprise the virgins that danced at Shiloh.
Verse 1 Now the men of Israel had sworn an oath at Mizpah, saying, “None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife.”
Had sworn. No mention of this oath has been made in the preceding record.
Evidently the tribes entered into it soon after they first assembled at Mizpeh, before any open hostilities began. The ancients regarded an oath as inviolable (see 11:30; 17:1, 2).
Although such oaths could not be broken or withdrawn, the Israelites, especially in later times, found many ways to keep the letter of an oath but break the spirit by trickery or some other evasion.
However, no one is under obligation to keep his pledged word if it requires him to commit a wrong act.
Give his daughter. The oath was probably sworn under a curse as in Acts 23:14.
The action of the Benjamites in supporting the evil men of Gibeah aroused the anger of the Israelites to the extent that they vowed not to intermarry with the Benjamites, in the same manner as they had been commanded by the Lord not to intermarry with the seven heathen nations of Canaan (Deut. 7:1–4).
Verse 2 Then the people came to the house of God, and remained there before God till evening. They lifted up their voices and wept bitterly,
Wept bitterly. Why?
After their fierce anger was gone, the people recognized that they had gone too far in their revenge upon one of their own tribes. How much better it would have been if their weeping had come earlier, before the deed had been done.
Verse 3 and said, “O Lord God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?”
Why is this? This question implies that the Israelites accused God of having brought the tribe of Benjamin to virtual extinction (15).
Who caused the massacre?
The assembled tribes should have known that it was their anger and their desire for revenge engendered by the two defeats administered upon them by the army of Benjamin that was the real cause of the near extinction of the tribe.
Verse 4 So it was, on the next morning, that the people rose early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
Built an altar. The people built a new altar at Shiloh, either because the old one was in disrepair, or because another one was needed to handle the large number of sacrifices being made (see on ch. 20:18, 27; 21:2).
Verse 5 The children of Israel said, “Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up with the assembly to the Lord?” For they had made a great oath concerning anyone who had not come up to the Lord at Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.”
Came not up. After the battle was all over, the Israelites began an investigation to ascertain whether the entire nation had responded to the summons to take part in the war against Benjamin.
When the army first assembled, the tribes had sworn an oath against any segment of the Israelites that refused to support the undertaking. The extreme measures were perhaps necessary to enforce cooperation.
Verses 6-8 And the children of Israel grieved for Benjamin their brother, and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel today. 7 What shall we do for wives for those who remain, seeing we have sworn by the Lord that we will not give them our daughters as wives?” 8 And they said, “What one is there from the tribes of Israel who did not come up to Mizpah to the Lord?” And, in fact, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh Gilead to the assembly.
Jabesh-gilead. A bond of affinity seems to have existed between the tribe of Benjamin and the city of Jabesh–gilead. The affinity seems to have continued even after the city was destroyed and rebuilt.
Saul, who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, performed his first exploit by saving Jabesh–gilead from the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11:3–15).
At the time of Saul’s death the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead paid back their debt by rescuing Saul’s body from public exposure on the walls of Beth-shan (1 Sam. 31:8–13).
Verses 9,10 For when the people were counted, indeed, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead was there. 10 So the congregation sent out there twelve thousand of their most valiant men, and commanded them, saying, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead with the edge of the sword, including the women and children.
Go and strike. The adoption of this expedient for obtaining wives for the 600 survivors of the tribe of Benjamin who were hiding in caves in the hill of Rimmon helps us to realize the limited spiritual enlightenment of those times.
Such ruthless measures in the name of religion are revolting and must be understood in the light of the times in which they occurred.
Verse 11 And this is the thing that you shall do: You shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman who has known a man intimately.”
Every woman. Every inhabitant was to be destroyed except single girls of marriageable age.
The other members of the families were in actuality no more guilty than these girls. The whole ruthless procedure, though carried out under the guise of fulfilling a sacred oath to the Lord, was but a brutal expedient to prevent the extinction of the tribe of Benjamin.
Verse 12 So they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known a man intimately; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
How many more did the need? They lacked 200 of having enough for the 600 Benjamites who were still alive in the caves.
Shiloh. See verses 2, 4; ch. 20:18. The camp may have removed to Shiloh shortly after the conclusion of hostilities with Benjamin.
Verses 13-15 Then the whole congregation sent word to the children of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and announced peace to them. 14 So Benjamin came back at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh Gilead; and yet they had not found enough for them. 15 And the people grieved for Benjamin, because the Lord had made a void in the tribes of Israel.
The Lord had made a void. Was it really the Lord? No it had been made by the Israelites themselves in their own unreasoning excesses in punishing the foul deed of certain Benjamites.
Had they acted at all times in the spirit of true brotherly love, they could have accomplished the desired end without the purposeless slaughter and atrocities which they committed.
Verse 16 Then the elders of the congregation said, “What shall we do for wives for those who remain, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?”
What shall we do? The elders knew that these men would, of necessity, marry wives of the Canaanites.
To avoid this calamity, they employed devious means to get around the letter of their oath even though they violated its spirit.
Instead of courageously repudiating their vow in the first place and allowing the Benjamites to marry from the other tribes, they were led by their mistaken belief that an oath is always inviolable, to perpetrate the butchery of innocent men, women, and children.
Verse 17 And they said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be destroyed from Israel.
An inheritance. This likely does not refer to property or real estate, though some have suggested that the elders were advising the victorious army not to divide the territory of Benjamin among themselves.
They meant that there must be a family succession for the remaining Benjamites.
Verse 18,19 However, we cannot give them wives from our daughters, for the children of Israel have sworn an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the one who gives a wife to Benjamin.’ ” 19 Then they said, “In fact, there is a yearly feast of the Lord in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.”
A yearly feast. There were three feasts during the year which all male Israelites were required to attend (Ex. 23:17).
Inasmuch as the tabernacle at this time was situated at Shiloh, these gatherings would be held there.
It is questionable whether in those unsettled times, there was any large-scale attempt to follow the prescribed ritual.
From 1 Sam. 1:3 it is evident that even pious families did not always attend all three of these feasts.
Which is on the north side. The author of Judges gives an elaborate description of the location of Shiloh.
The fact that the author felt it necessary to explain to his readers the location of Shiloh has led many to fix the date for the writing of Judges many years after the Philistines destroyed Shiloh at the end of the judgeship of Eli.
It does seem that the author regarded the people of his day as unacquainted with the location of the city. Yet, on the other hand, it is a fact that Shiloh has been mentioned many times previously by the author of Judges without any attempt to explain its location.
Lebonah. Now called Lubban. It was 3 mi. (5 km.) west-northwest of Shiloh.
Verses 20,21 Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, “Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, 21 and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin.
Daughters of Shiloh. Only the males were commanded to come to these feasts (Ex. 23:17; Deut. 16:16). Sometimes the men were accompanied by their wives and daughters, but the majority of the women present would be those who lived in or near Shiloh.
Dances. At the harvest festivals social occasions were provided as well as religious services (see PP 540).
Verse 22 Then it shall be, when their fathers or their brothers come to us to complain, that we will say to them, ‘Be kind to them for our sakes, because we did not take a wife for any of them in the war; for it is not as though you have given the women to them at this time, making yourselves guilty of your oath.’ ”
Brothers. Anciently the brothers of a girl who was abducted were prominent in demanding satisfaction for her mistreatment (see Gen. 34:7–31; 2 Sam. 13:20–38).
Guilty. The elders of Israel promised to placate the fathers and brothers of the abducted girls on two counts: first, the council of elders had agreed that the men of Benjamin must have wives from some source; and second, the vow was not being violated by the parents, for their daughters had not been given in marriage but had been taken by force.
Verses 23,24 And the children of Benjamin did so; they took enough wives for their number from those who danced, whom they caught. Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and they rebuilt the cities and dwelt in them. 24 So the children of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family; they went out from there, every man to his inheritance.
Departed. After the feast was over and the surviving Benjamites had secured wives, the army was disbanded.
The troops must have been away from their homes for at least 5 or 6 months, for the 600 men of Benjamin were hiding in Rimmon for 4 months (ch. 20:47).
Verse 25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes
The statement makes a suitable transition to the book of Samuel, which describes the beginning of the monarchy.