Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.The people bewail the desolation of Benjamin, Judges 21:1-7. The inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, for not coming up to this battle, are all destroyed, excepting four hundred damsels, whom the Israelites bestow for wives on the remaining Benjamites, Judges 21:8-15. They advise the rest to seize on the dancing maidens at the feast in Shiloh; and to carry away as many as they had need of Judges 21:16-21. The answer wherewith they should pacify their relations, Judges 21:22.
The men of Israel had sworn; in the beginning of this war, after the whole tribe had espoused the quarrel of the men of Gibeah, Judges 21:13,14. They do not (as some suppose) here swear the utter extirpation of the tribe, which fell out beyond their expectation, Judges 21:3,6, but only not to give their daughters to those men who should survive; justly esteeming them for their barbarous villany to be as bad as the worst of heathens, with whom they were forbidden to marry. In this case the Benjamites might have married among themselves, if any of their men and women were left alive.
And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;The people came to the house of God; partly to mourn for the common loss, and partly to ask counsel from God about the repairing of it.
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?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 it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.Built there an altar; not for a monument of the victory, as some say, but for sacrifices, as the next words show.
Quest. What need was there of this, when the ordinary altar was there, to which also they seem to be restrained, Deu 16:2?
Answ. They are not there restrained to one altar, but to one place of worship, as is expressed; and therefore there might be in that place more altars than one, when the multitude of sacrifices so required, which was the case 1 Kings 8:61; and probably at this time, when all the tribes being met, they had many sacrifices to offer, some in common for all, and some peculiar to every tribe. Nay, other altars might be, and ofttimes were, erected in other places, by David, direction or dispensation; as Judges 6:21,26 1 Samuel 7:9,17 11:15 16:2,5.
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.A great oath. i.e. a solemn oath, joined with some terrible execration against the offenders herein.
He shall surely be put to death; because by refusing to execute the vengeance due to such malefactors, they were justly presumed 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.Children of Israel repented them; not for the war, which was just, and necessary, and good; but for their immoderate severity in the execution of it, and for thee dreadful consequences of it.
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?No text from Poole on this verse.
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.A city in Gilead, and in the tribe of Manasseh; of which see 1 Samuel 11:1,3,9, &c.; 1 Samuel 31:11, &c.
For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Who in such public and scandalous crimes were, for the greater terror of such transgressors, and prevention of the like sins, oft involved in the same punishment with the men, as Deu 13:15 Joshua 7:24, &c.
And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.But not the virgins, as appears from the next verses. It is questionable whether they were not obliged to destroy these also by virtue of their oath, and of God’s express command concerning devoted persons, such as these certainly were, that they should surely be put to death. Leviticus 27:29, which was also particularly enjoined and practised in such cases, as Deu 13 Jos 7, &c. But the natural and necessary duty of preserving a tribe from total ruin, might seem to render the case difficult and doubtful, and incline their opinions, as well as their affections, to the more favourable side. And it may be, the Lord, whom they were here consulting with upon all their occasions, gave them a dispensation thus to do, though that be not expressed; which is the case of many other things which were done, though not recorded; as this very oath was omitted in its proper place, and had not been recorded if this extraordinary occasion had not been offered.
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.Young virgins; not married, yet marriageable. It is probable there were other and younger virgins; but whether they were slain or spared Scripture determines not, and the learned do not agree. But these could not serve the present and urgent occasion, and therefore he takes notice only of these four hundred which were of riper age.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Benjamin; the poor remainders of the tribe of Benjamin.
And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.The people repented them for Benjamin; were yet more grieved upon this unhappy disappointment, for they supposed here would have been wives sufficient for them. The Lord had made a breach; the Benjamites were the only authors of the sin, but God was the chief author of the punishment, and the Israelites were but his executioners.
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?For them that remain; for the two hundred who are yet unprovided of wives.
And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.The inheritance promised by Jacob and Moses, and given by Joshua to the tribe of Benjamin, doth all of it belong to those few which 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. Heb. the inheritance (to wit, belonging to the whole tribe of Benjamin) is or belongs
to them that be escaped of 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.i.e. To this generation of Benjamites who have made themselves guilty of this foul wickedness; but this oath did not extend to their posterity. And some think it had another exception, to wit, unless the surviving Benjamites could not otherwise be supplied with wives.
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.Yearly; on the three solemn feasts, in which they used some honest and holy recreations; among which dancing was one, Exodus 15:20 1 Samuel 18:6 2 Samuel 6:14; and probably it was the feast of tabernacles, which they did celebrate with more than ordinary joy, Deu 16:13-15.
Which is on the north side of Beth-el, Heb. which is on the north of Beth-el. Which doth not relate to
Shiloh, which was so known a place, that it was frivolous to describe it by such circumstances, even by places much less known than itself; but to the
feast, which as to that part or exercise of the feast here especially concerned and mentioned, to wit, the dancing of the virgins, was not celebrated in Shiloh, but in a neighboring place more convenient for that purpose.
Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards;No text from Poole on this verse.
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.The daughters of Shiloh; by whom he may possibly understand not those only who were born or settled inhabitants there, (as many conceive,) 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 it is apparent that the women had liberty to go, and those who were most devout did usually go, and others, upon special reasons or occasions: see 1 Samuel 1:7,21,22 2:1 Luke 2:22,23,41-43. And it may be justly presumed, especially concerning those women that lived at no great distance from the place of public worship, that they came thither in great numbers. Moreover, the daughters of Shiloh, strictly so called, are not only they that lived in that town or city, but in the country belonging to it, which off comes under the name of the city to which it belongs. And these may be here particularly named, because though others might come, yet they were under great obligations to come, because of their nearness to the place.
The vineyards were near to their dancing-place.
Catch ye every man his wife; take them away by force or violence; which they might the better do, because mixed dances were not used by the people of God in their solemnities, but the women danced by themselves, and therefore were more liable to this rape.
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.Be favourable unto them; pass by their offence, if not for their sakes, whom necessity forced to this course; yet for our sakes, and indeed for your own sakes; for both you and we have done them a great injury in prosecuting them with so much fury, as to endanger the utter extinction of the whole tribe; and therefore this is the least we can do by way of reparation.
In the war; either, first, In the war with Jabesh-gilead, wherein they should have taken care to reserve a sufficient number, which they might have done, by sparing either so many of the married women as were necessary, who, their former husbands being slain, might have been married to those Benjamites; or as many of the younger virgins, who, within a little time, might have been married to them, whom many suppose that they slew. Or, secondly, In the war with the Benjamites, in which they acknowledge their cruelty in destroying the women with such fury, as not to leave a competent number for the men which were left. See Judges 20:48. Ye
did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
Quest. Whether this did really discharge them from their oath?
Answ. First, It seems to excuse those parents of these virgins who were not acquainted with the plot, and did neither directly nor indirectly give their daughters to them, but they were taken away by force, without their knowledge and consent. If it be said those parents might and should have retaken their daughters from them; it may be replied, that they could not do so before they were corrupted, and the rulers of Israel would not assist them with their power to recover them. And it is a maxim, That many things which ought not to be done, when once they are done, should not be undone. And for those parents who were conscious of the design, it is probable they kept their daughters at home to avoid this. Secondly, Either the oath was made with an exception of the case of the total extirpation of a tribe, or it was a rash oath to do what was out of their power, or what they could not lawfully do, to wit, utterly to destroy a tribe out of Israel, which therefore they here speak of with horror, Judges 21:3,6; and if so, as they sinned in making it, so they were not obliged to keep it; it being an acknowledged truth, that rash and sinful oaths are better broken than kept. Thirdly. Yet they cannot be wholly excused from sin in this matter; for as it was folly to take such an oath as it is expressed, so the manner of freeing themselves from their own snare is fraudulent and injurious to the parents, in disposing of their children without their consent.
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.According to their number, i.e. each man his wife, as is said, Judges 21:22. By which we may see they had no very favourable opinion of polygamy, because they did not allow it is this case, when it might seem most necessary for the reparation of a lost tribe.
Returned into their inheritance; which being very near the place, they could speedily do before the parents could obtain redress.
Repaired the cities,
and dwelt in them; not at that instant, which could not be; but 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.No text from Poole on this verse.