Judges 21:3
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?
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(3) Why is this come to pass . . .?—This is not so much an inquiry into the cause, which was indeed too patent, but a wail of regret, implying a prayer to be enlightened as to the best means of averting the calamity. The repetition of the name “Israel” three times shows that the nation had not yet lost its sense of corporate unity, often as that unity had been rent asunder by their civil dissensions. Their wild justice is mingled with a still wilder mercy.

One tribe lacking.—The number twelve had an almost mystic significance, and is always preserved in reckoning up the tribes, whether Levi is included or excluded.

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!

17:7-13 Micah thought it was a sign of God's favour to him and his images, that a Levite should come to his door. Thus those who please themselves with their own delusions, if Providence unexpectedly bring any thing to their hands that further them in their evil way, are apt from thence to think that God is pleased with them.The repetition of the name of Israel is very striking in connection with the title of Yahweh as "God of Israel." It contains a very forcible pleading of the covenant, and memorial of the promises. The very name "Israel" comprehended all the twelve tribes; with one of them blotted out, the remnant would not be Israel. 2-5. the people came to the house of God, … and lifted up their voices, and wept sore—The characteristic fickleness of the Israelites was not long in being displayed; for scarcely had they cooled from the fierceness of their sanguinary vengeance, than they began to relent and rushed to the opposite extreme of self-accusation and grief at the desolation which their impetuous zeal had produced. Their victory saddened and humbled them. Their feelings on the occasion were expressed by a public and solemn service of expiation at the house of God. And yet this extraordinary observance, though it enabled them to find vent for their painful emotions, did not afford them full relief, for they were fettered by the obligation of a religious vow, heightened by the addition of a solemn anathema on every violator of the oath. There is no previous record of this oath; but the purport of it was, that they would treat the perpetrators of this Gibeah atrocity in the same way as the Canaanites, who were doomed to destruction; and the entering into this solemn league was of a piece with the rest of their inconsiderate conduct in this whole affair. Why hast thou given them up to such wickedness, and us to such rage, that the whole tribe should be in a manner lost? Hence it appears that they did not swear to root them all out, as is further manifest from the different matter and words of this oath, Judges 21:1, which only denied them their daughters in marriage; and that concerning the people of other tribes who joined not with them in this business, which was, that they should be put to death, Judges 21:5. And their sparing of those six hundred men in the rock Rimmon, Judges 21:13,14, plainly shows that they were not obliged by any oath or vow to extirpate them.

And said, O Lord God of Israel,.... Jehovah, the only living and true God, the Being of beings, eternal, immutable, omnipotent and omnipresent, the God of all Israel, of the twelve tribes of Israel, their covenant God and Father; who had shown favour to them in such a peculiar and gracious manner, as he had not to other nations, and therefore hoped he would still have a kind regard unto them, and suffer them to expostulate with him in the following manner:

why is this come to pass in Israel; expressing, as Abarbinel thinks, a concern for the 40,000 men of Israel which fell in the two first battles; but it manifestly refers to the case in the next words:

that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel; meaning the tribe of Benjamin, which was all destroyed, excepting six hundred men, and these had no wives to propagate the tribe; and therefore, unless some provision could be made for that, it must in a short time be totally extinct; for which they express great concern, it not being their intention when they made the above oath to extirpate them; but such were now the circumstances of things in Providence, that it must perish unless some way could be found to relieve it, and which their oath seemed to preclude; and this threw them into great perplexity.

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?
3. one tribe lacking] of the sacred number twelve. Contrast the expression of the similar sentiment in the older narrative, Jdg 21:15.

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. Judges 21:3After the termination of the war, the people, i.e., the people who had assembled together for the war (see Judges 21:9), went again to Bethel (see at Judges 20:18, Judges 20:26), to weep there for a day before God at the serious loss which the war had brought upon the congregation. Then they uttered this lamentation: "Why, O Lord God of Israel, is this come to pass in Israel, that a tribe is missing to-day from Israel?" This lamentation involved the wish that God might show them the way to avert the threatened destruction of the missing tribe, and build up the six hundred who remained. To give a practical expression to this wish, they built an altar the next morning, and offered burnt-offerings and supplicatory offerings upon it (see at Judges 20:26), knowing as they did that their proposal would not succeed without reconciliation to the Lord, and a return to the fellowship of His grace. There is something apparently strange in the erection of an altar at Bethel, since sacrifices had already been offered there during the war itself (Judges 20:26), and this could not have taken place without an altar. Why it was erected again, or another one built, is a question which cannot be answered with any certainty. It is possible, however, that the first was not large enough for the number of sacrifices that had to be offered now.
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