Chapter 21

JUDGES CHAPTER 21

Israel Provides Wives for the Benjaminites

        • While the Israelites were at Mizpah, they had sworn, “None of us will give his daughter to be a Benjaminite’s wife.” So the people went to Bethel and sat there before God until evening. They wept bitterly and lifted up their voices saying, “Why, Yahweh, God of Israel, has this happened in Israel, that one tribe should be missing in Israel today?”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible observes, “For the second time in Judges, an unwise vow puts its makers in a difficult position.” (see Judges 11:29-40)

        • HCSB writes, “Having decimated the tribe of Benjamin because of its immoral behavior, the Israelites realized that one of the 12 tribes was in danger of extinction…”

        • The people got up early the next day, built an altar there, and offered both burnt and fellowship offerings. The Israelites asked, “Of all the tribes of Israel, who did not come to the assembly to Yahweh?”, because they had taken a solemn oath that whoever did not come to Yahweh at Mizpah would certainly be put to death.

        • But the Israelites had compassion on their brothers, the Benjaminites, and said, “Today a tribe has been cut off from Israel. What will we do about wives for the survivors when we have sworn by Yahweh not to give them any of our daughters as wives? Who, among the tribes of Israel, didn’t come up to Yahweh at Mizpah?” And they discovered that no one from Jabesh-gilead had come to the camp- to the assembly- because when the people were counted, no one who lived in Jabesh-gilead was there.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Jabesh-gilead was an important town east of the Jordan whose failure to participate in the war against Benjamin made a grievous break in solidarity.”

        • So the congregation sent 12,000 of their bravest men there with this command, “Go and kill those living in Jabesh-gilead with swords, including the women and children. This is what you should do: Utterly destroy every male, and every female that is not a virgin.”

        • The word used here for “utterly destroy” is “devote to destruction.” ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “This phrase is found throughout the book of Joshua to describe the Israelites’ destruction of the Canaanites (e.g., Josh 6:17-18; 10:28, 35, 39, 40-41; 11:11, 20). Here, ironically, the total destruction was directed against an Israelite city, not a Canaanite one; Israel acted on its own, without God’s command to take such action. The rebuilt city of Jabesh-gilead figures later in the history of Saul (1 Sam 11:1-11; 31:11-13).”

        • HCSB writes, “The ‘solution’ was to let the Benjaminites seize wives from Jabesh-gilead, which had not participated in the battle against them. All the people of Jabesh-gilead were slain except the 400 virgins allocated to the men of Benjamin. Israel justified the slaughter on the grounds that Jabesh-gilead had tacitly agreed with the Benjaminites’ sinful actions (vv.8-12). It was the worst of times in Israel (17:6; 21:25).”

        • Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found 400 young virgins who had not had sex with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.

        • The whole congregation sent a message of peace to the Benjaminites who were at the rock of Rimmon. Then the Benjaminites returned, and they gave the 400 women who had been spared from Jabesh-gilead to them as wives. But, there weren’t enough for them. And the people felt sorry for Benjamin because Yahweh had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.

        • The elders of the congregation asked, “What should we do for wives for those who are left since all the Benjaminite women have been destroyed? There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin so that an entire tribe will not be blotted out. But, we can’t give them our own daughters as wives because we have sworn by a solemn oath: ‘Anyone who gives a wife to Benjamin is cursed.’ Look, there is the annual feast of Yahweh in Shiloh which is located north of Bethel, east of the main road that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.”

          • On the annual feast mentioned here the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “The Hebrew term used here is a generic term for any periodic pilgrimage festival, but which specific festival is in mind is not clear. According to Dt 16:1-17, all Israelite males were required to appear before Yahweh in the place that he would approve and establish as his authorized cult site three times a year: (1) the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, (2) the Festival of Weeks (also known as the Festival of Harvest) and (3) the Festival of Tabernacles (also known as the Festival of Ingathering). Only adult males were obligated to attend these festivals (Ex 23:17; Dt 16:16), although women and children were also welcome (Dt 16:11, 14).”

        • Benson Commentary on this passage is interesting, “Probably it was the feast of tabernacles, which they celebrated with more than ordinary joy. And that feast was the only season at which the Jewish virgins were allowed to dance. But even this was not mixed dancing. No men danced with these daughters of Shiloh. Nor did the married women so forget their gravity as to join with them. However, their dancing thus in public made them an easy prey…”

        • So they instructed the Benjaminites saying, “Go lie in ambush in the vineyards. Watch, and when the young women of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, come out from the vineyards, and each man seize a wife for himself from the young women of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. If their fathers or brothers come to us to complain, we will say, ‘Allow us to have them since we didn’t get enough wives for each of them in battle. You did not actually give the young women to them, so you’re not guilty of breaking your oath.”

        • Guzik writes, “They answered the problem of wives for the remaining Benjaminites by creating a little drama where the Benjaminites were allowed to ‘kidnap’ women (who were no doubt willing), so that the marriages could be arranged without ‘official’ approval.”

        • The Benjaminites did this, and took wives for each of them from those who danced. Then they went back to their own territory, rebuilt their cities, and lived in them. At that time, each of the Israelites departed by his tribe and family, and returned to his own territory.

        • In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he thought was right in his own eyes.