Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.Jdg 21:1. The men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh — When they first assembled there in the beginning of this war, after the whole tribe had espoused the quarrel of the men of Gibeah. Saying — They do not here swear the utter extirpation of the tribe, which fell out beyond their expectation, but only not to give their daughters to those men who should survive; justly esteeming them for their villany to be as bad as heathen, with whom they were forbidden to marry.
And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;Jdg 21:2. And lift up their voices and wept sore — Some days after their fury was over, and they coolly considered what they had done in the heat of war, their joy and triumph for their victory were turned into mourning and lamentation, for the loss of so many of their brethren.
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?Jdg 21:3. Why is this come to pass? — They had no reason to ask the cause, or by what means it came to pass, which they knew too well; but this is a common expression of grief or complaint. Strange! when they uttered this for the loss of the tribe which they imagined must be extinct, because there were no women left to match with the six hundred men who had saved themselves in the rock Rimmon, that they did not pour forth the deepest expressions of sorrow and contrition for their own wickedness, in having been guilty of such inhumanity toward the innocent among the Benjamites, particularly the women and children, who could not be culpable in any degree. Alas! what crimes is human nature capable of! and what need is there of the divine grace to renew and influence the heart of man!
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.Jdg 21:4. The people rose early and built there an altar — It is likely that they erected a new altar upon this present occasion, when such a multitude of sacrifices were to be offered by all the people of Israel, that the ordinary altar was not sufficient to receive them. Thus Solomon did when he dedicated the temple, 1 Kings 8:64. And, by the direction of God, it was frequently done in other places besides at the house of God.
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.Jdg 21:5. That came not up with the congregation — When summoned to come together under a great penalty upon those who absented themselves. For they had made a great oath — That is, a solemn oath, joined with some terrible execration against the offenders herein. This oath probably was made by the great assembly of their rulers (called the whole congregation) when they summoned the people to Mizpeh, as the other oath (mentioned Jdg 21:1) was made after the people were come thither, upon the Benjamites’ refusal to do justice. He shall surely be put to death — Because, by refusing to execute the vengeance due to such malefactors, they were presumed to be guilty of the crime, and therefore liable to the same punishment, as was the case of that city that would not deliver up an idolater, dwelling among them, to justice.
And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.
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.
And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.Jdg 21:11. Ye shall utterly destroy every male, &c. — Strange infatuation of the human mind! That they should imagine the Divine Majesty would be more honoured and pleased by an action quite contrary to, and abhorrent from, his essential nature and attributes, than if they had implored his pardon for a rash oath, and honoured him by not keeping it! Would to God that this had been the only time that the human race have thought to honour God by acts which are the most hateful to him! The cruel havocs made by religious persecution in different ages and countries have, alas! too fully witnessed how far the mind of man is capable of erring in this respect! O shocking blindness and infatuation! that men should think that the God of love, he who is love itself, can be pleased or honoured by acts of the most barbarous cruelty!
As Jabesh-gilead was beyond Jordan, and at a great distance, it is probable the inhabitants thereof had not heard of the vow which the Israelites had made. “But if they had been guilty of neglect and disaffection to the common cause,” as Mr. Scott argues, “they had not assisted the Benjamites: and yet when the people were lamenting the desolations of that tribe, they proceeded to treat those who were far less criminal with equal rigour!”
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.Jdg 21:12. They brought them into the camp — If the vow they had made would admit of their sparing the virgins, why could they not also, in consistency with that oath, have spared the other women and children, and innocent persons, and only punished the guilty? But it is evident “that convenience, rather than justice or piety, induced them to spare the virgins, that they might extricate themselves from the difficulties in which their rash oath had involved them.” — Scott.
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.
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.
And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.Jdg 21:15. The Lord had made a breach, &c. — The Benjamites were the only authors of the sin, but God was the author of the punishment, who employed the Israelites as his executioners to inflict it. They, however, had greatly exceeded their commission, and exercised a severity not enjoined.
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?
And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.Jdg 21:17. There must be an inheritance for Benjamin — The words, There must be, are not in the Hebrew, which runs thus: The inheritance of them that are escaped is for Benjamin; that is, the six hundred remaining Benjamites must have that part of the country which was given to the whole tribe by the divine lot for their inheritance; or, the inheritance promised by Jacob and Moses, and given by Joshua to the tribe of Benjamin, doth all of it belong to those few who remain of that tribe, and cannot be possessed by any other tribe; and therefore we are obliged to procure wives for them all, that they may make up this breach, and be capable of possessing and managing all their land; that this tribe and their inheritance may not be confounded with, or swallowed up by, any of the rest.
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.
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.Jdg 21:19. A feast — 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: whence Bishop Hall observes, “The ambushes of evil spirits carry away many souls from dancing to a fearful desolation.”
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.Jdg 21:21. Daughters of Shiloh — By whom we may understand not those only who were born or settled inhabitants there, but all those who were come thither upon this occasion, and for a time sojourned there: for although only the males were obliged to go up to the three solemn feasts, yet the women had liberty to go, and those who were most devout did usually go. Vineyards — Which were near to the green where they danced. Catch — Take them away by force, which they might the better do, because the women danced by themselves. Thus they thought they kept their oath, because they did not give them wives, but only suffered them to take them, and to keep them when they had taken them. But, alas! what better was this than a mere evasion of it, and at the same time an authorizing of fraud, violence, and the marriage of children without the consent of their parents? Which last particular, if it might have been dispensed with, there was no need of this scheme, for the Benjamites could easily have found themselves wives, without the Israelites giving them their daughters.
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.
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.Jdg 21:23. They took them wives according to their number — That is, each man took his wife. By which we may see, they had no very favourable opinion of polygamy, because they did not allow it in this case, when it might seem most necessary for the reparation of a lost tribe. And repaired the cities — By degrees, increasing their buildings as their number increased.
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.
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.Jdg 21:25. In those days there was no king in Israel — There were elders, (Jdg 21:16,) who had some authority, and there was a high-priest, (Jdg 20:28,) but there was no supreme governor, such as Moses and Joshua were, and after them the judges, and none that had power sufficient to punish public wrongs, whoredoms, and idolatries, and thereby check the progress of vice and profanenness, and keep the people in order. “The sacred writer,” says Dr. Dodd, “no doubt, repeats this observation to account for the disorders and enormities mentioned in the four preceding chapters; which exhibit a most depraved state of things;” every man doing what was right in his own eyes — Or, following his own corrupt passions and inclinations. “It is a natural inference from hence, that men ought to be extremely thankful for lawful authority: and, if they would preserve their felicity, ought to be zealous to support that authority, as well as to discourage all licentious approaches toward its dissolution. The Persians have a custom which justifies this reflection. When any of their kings die, they suffer the people to do as they please for five days, that by the disorders then committed, they may see the necessity of legal government, and learn submission to it. In general, the four chapters which finish this book show us to what a degree the Israelites were degenerated in the short space from the death of Caleb to the election of his younger brother to be their judge: we discover the true cause of the chastisements wherewith God punished them from time to time, though he delivered them from their enemies, under whose yoke they must infallibly have fallen, if God had not beheld them with compassion, and raised them up judges to save them from ruin. We just remark, in conclusion, that it would be unreasonable to draw any inference from the tumultuous and irregular actions of a tribe or people, to the lessening of the authority of the writer of any history. The writer of the present book ought rather to be admired for the impartiality with which he relates facts so little to the credit of his nation.”