Judges 21 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Judges 21
Pulpit Commentary
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
Verse 1. - Now the men of Israel, etc. A circumstance not mentioned before is now brought forward, as is another in ver. 5, on which the events about to be narrated in this chapter depend, viz, that the men of Israel had taken two solemn oaths at Mizpeh (Judges 20:1) - the one that no Israelite would give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite; the other that whosoever did not come up to the national assembly there should be put to death.
And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;
Verse 2. - And the people, etc. The narrative now proceeds. After the people, i.e. the Israelite army, so described Judges 20:3, 8, 22, etc., had finished the work of destruction in the cities of Benjamin, they returned to Bethel (the house of God, A.V., here and in Judges 20:18, 26, 31, where see notes), and, their rage having now subsided, gave way to violent grief on account of the destruction of Benjamin their brother. With passionate Oriental feelings they passed the whole day weeping, and probably fasting (see ch. 20:26), before the tabernacle. Wept sore. Hebrew, wept a great weeping. The expression lifted up their voices shows that it was a loud wailing and lamentation,
And said, O LORD God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to day one tribe lacking in Israel?
Verse 3. - And said. Better, And they said. One tribe lacking. The existence of the twelve tribes was an essential part of their covenant existence as the people of God (Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:28; Exodus 24:4; Numbers 1:5-15; Joshua 4:3, 4, etc.; Matthew 19:28; James 1:1; Revelation 7:4, etc.). With one tribe missing Israel would be no longer Israel.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
Verse 4.- Offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. See ch. 20:26, note.
And the children of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up with the congregation unto the LORD? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up to the LORD to Mizpeh, saying, He shall surely be put to death.
Verse 5. - And the children of Israel said. The idea evidently occurred to them that they might supply wives to the 600 Benjamites in the way that actually came to pass, and they asked the question, Who is there among all the tribes, etc., with this view.
And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.
Verses 6-9. - And the children of Israel, etc. This verse goes back a little to explain why the children of Israel asked the question, viz., because they repented them for Benjamin, and wished to repair the mischief resulting from their rash oath not to give their daughters to a Benjamite; therefore they said (repeating ver. 5), What one is there that came not up to Mizpeh? (ver. 8) and on numbering the people it was found that no one had come up from Jabesh-gilead. This is the first time that Jabesh-gilead is mentioned in Scripture. It comes up twice afterwards. First in 1 Samuel 11, on occasion of its being besieged by the Ammonites and rescued by Saul; and secondly in 1 Samuel 31:11-13, when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth-shah, and buried them at Jabesh, for which brave and pious act David thanked them (2 Samuel 2:5). The name of Jabesh is only preserved in the Wady Yabis, which debouches on the eastern bank of the Jordan about lat. 32'24. Robinson thinks the ruins called ed Deir in this valley are the remains of Jabesh, which agrees exactly with the situation assigned to it by Eusebius in the , Onomasticon.'
How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives?
And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the LORD? And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabeshgilead to the assembly.
For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there.
And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children.
Verses 10, 11. - Ye shall utterly destroy, etc. Devote to destruction, as a 'herem, an accursed thing. They followed in the severity of the punishment the precedent of the destruction of the Midianites (see Numbers 31:17), and even in the numbers sent to destroy them - a thousand from every tribe (Numbers 31:5). Revolting to our feelings as such wholesale massacres are, including women and children, it must be remembered in mitigation that the 'hereto was the solemn devotion of a thing or person to destruction under the sanction of an oath. Of the valiantest. The sons of valour simply means valiant men (2 Samuel 13:28; 2 Samuel 17:10).
And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.
And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
Verse 12. - To Shiloh, whither it should seem they had now taken the tabernacle back, the war with Benjamin no longer requiring its presence at Bethel Them. It is masculine in the Hebrew, though it refers to the women. So again in ver. 22, their fathers and their brothers in the masculine (see above, Judges 19:23, and vers. 21, 22). It is perhaps an archaism. In the land of Canaan. This is inserted to contrast it with Jabesh in Gilead (Genesis 33:17, 18, and ch. 8:5, note).
And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them.
Verse 13. - Translate the whole verse thus: And the whole congregation sent and shake to the children of Benjamin, etc., and proclaimed peace to them (see Deuteronomy 20:10). They sent ambassadors or heralds to them as it were with a flag of truce.
And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead: and yet so they sufficed them not.
Verse 14. - Benjamin came again, i.e. returned to their own homes in the tribe of Benjamin, as in ver. 23. Yet so they sufficed them net - or, Yet so they (the Israelites) did not provide enough for them (the Benjamites); or, Yet so they (the Benjamites) had not enough for themselves.
And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?
Verse 16. - Seeing the women. It is rather more in accordance with the Hebrew style to take the words as the narrator's explanation of the question, What shall we do? They said this because all the women of Benjamin had been destroyed.
And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.
Verse 17. - There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin. The passage is difficult to construe and to explain. If the words There must be are properly supplied in the A.V., the sense will come out more clearly if we take the word inheritance to mean rather succession, which is the idea contained in the root. There must be a succession for the escaped of Benjamin, i.e. there must be heirs to succeed, and therefore we must find wives for them. The word peleytah without the article can hardly mean the remnant, as has been proposed, but must be defined by being taken with Benjamin.
Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.
Verse 18. - We are not able. Note again the evil of rash vows, and how often chicanery is necessary in order to evade their evil consequences.
Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.
Verse 19. - There is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly. Compare the exactly similar description, 1 Samuel 1:3, 7. There is a great difference of opinion among commentators as to what feast is here meant. Hengstenberg, Keil, Delitzsch, and others think it was the passover; Bishop Patrick and others think it was the feast of tabernacles, a more joyous feast; Rosenmuller and others think it was a festival peculiar to Shiloh, after the analogy of the yearly sacrifice of the family of Jesse at Bethlehem (1 Samuel 20:29), and more or less in accordance with Deuteronomy 12:10-12. It is not easy to say which view is right, but the last seems not improbable, In a place which is on the north side, etc. The words in a place are not in the Hebrew, and do not seem to be implied by the context. But the description is that of the situation of Shiloh itself, which is very exact (see 'Palestine Exploration Fund,' Map of West Palestine). Lebonah survives in el-Lubbun, about two miles north-west of Seilun, and to the west of the road to Shechem or Nablus. It seems strange that so particular a description of the situation of Shiloh should be given; but it may probably indicate that the writer lived after the tabernacle had been moved to Jerusalem, and Shiloh had relapsed into an obscure village (see Judges 20:27, note). The situation of the descriptive words in the Hebrew, with the pronoun which, separated from Shiloh by the word yearly, indicates that they are an explanation added by the narrator.
Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards;
And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
Verse 21. - Come out. The verb is in the masculine gender, though the daughters of Shiloh is the subject (see above, ver. 12, note), To dance in dances. Bishop Patrick says that the feast of tabernacles was the only feast at which Jewish maidens were permitted to dance. Go to the land of Benjamin. The close vicinity of the high road leading from Shechem to Bethel on the border of Benjamin would facilitate their flight.
And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
Verse 22. - Be favourable unto them for our sakes. Rather, Grant us them as a favour, the masculine them referring to the daughters of Shiloh, as in ver. 12, and the verb grant a favour being followed by a double accusative. We reserved not to each man his wife, etc. These words are somewhat difficult. If we may insert the word to, as the A.V. does, before each man (for it is wanting in the Hebrew), the sense is good. The Israelites acknowledge their own fault in not reserving women enough to be wives to the Benjamites, and ask the fathers and brothers of the daughters of Shiloh to do them a favour by enabling them to repair their fault. But it is rather a strain upon the words. The omission of the to is not natural in such a phrase (Numbers 26:54 is hardly to the point, nor is Genesis 41:12, where the to had been expressed before the us), and reserved is a forced interpretation of the verb. If the words were spoken by the Benjamites, all would be plain and easy: "We received not each man his wife in the war." Hence some put the speech into the mouth of Benjamin, as though the Israelites meant, We will say in your names, in your persons, as your attorneys, so to speak, "Grant them to us," etc. But this is rather forced. Others, therefore, follow the Peschito, and read, "because THEY received not each man his wife," etc., which makes very good sense, but has not MS. authority. Ye did not give, etc., i.e. you need not fear the guilt of the broken oath, because you did not give your daughters, so as to violate the oath (ver. 7), but they were taken from you by force. The A.V. gives the probable meaning of the passage, though it is somewhat obscure.
And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them.
Verse 23. - According to their number, i.e. so as to provide the 200 with wives. The cities, as in Judges 20:15, 42.
And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.
Verse 24. - Every man to his inheritance. Compare the breaking up of the national assembly in the days of Joshua (Joshua 24:28; Judges 2:6).
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Verse 25. - In those days, etc. See Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1, etc.

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