Judges 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 21. How the Benjamites were saved from extinction

The Israelites had bound themselves by oath not to intermarry with the men of Benjamin; but the tribe had been nearly annihilated in the conflict, and unless wives could be found for the survivors it would become extinct. Plow was such a disaster to be prevented without a violation of the oath? We have a double version of the way in which the problem was solved. According to one account, an excuse was found for a holy war against Jabesh-gilead, and 400 virgins were saved in the destruction of the city (Jdg 21:2-14; Jdg 21:16 a, Jdg 21:24-25 from the B narrative); according to the other, the Benjamite survivors, acting on a plan recommended by the Israelites, captured wives for themselves from the daughters of Shiloh who came to dance at the yearly festival (Jdg 21:1; Jdg 21:15-23, in the main, from A). Editorial attempts to harmonize the two narratives may be detected in Jdg 21:14; Jdg 21:16; Jdg 21:22.

Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
1. had sworn in Mizpah] Probably, like Jephthah’s vow (Jdg 11:30 n.), a religious oath made at the sanctuary (Jdg 20:1). This solemn oath, which could neither be broken nor withdrawn, is an essential feature of both narratives (Jdg 21:18; Jdg 21:22 A; 7 B); it created the problem for which some solution had to be found.

And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;
2. came to Beth-el] The characteristics of the B narrative reappear in this chapter: the resort to Beth-el till even cf. Jdg 20:18; Jdg 20:26; the weeping, intensified each time, cf. Jdg 20:23; Jdg 20:26; the offering of sacrifices Jdg 21:4 cf. Jdg 20:26; the post-exilic congregation (Jdg 21:10; Jdg 21:13; Jdg 21:16), and the assembly (Jdg 21:5; Jdg 21:8) cf. Jdg 20:1 n.; the artificial numbers Jdg 21:10.

The Vulgate renders ‘Veneruntque omnes ad domum Dei, in Silo,’ following the theory noticed in Jdg 20:18 n.

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.

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.
4. built there an altar] But an altar must have existed in the sanctuary at Beth-el when the sacrifices were offered before, Jdg 20:26. Either these words, or the whole verse, must be a gloss, due perhaps to a recollection of 2 Samuel 24:25 and ch. Jdg 20:26.

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.
5. The first half of the v. anticipates Jdg 21:8; while the second half is awkwardly expressed (lit. ‘the great oath was in respect of him that came not up’ etc.). Like the previous v., this can only be regarded as a later addition; together they interrupt the natural connexion between Jdg 21:3; Jdg 21:6. to Mizpah was no doubt intended to harmonize with Jdg 21:1; the people are at Beth-el according to Jdg 21:2-3.

And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.
6. cut off] cut down; the figure is that of hewing down trees, cf. Isaiah 10:33; Isaiah 14:12.

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?
7. wives for them that remain] Cf. the parallel version in Jdg 21:16.

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.
8. Jabesh-gilead] This ancient city, Jabesh of G., is only mentioned again in connexion with the history of Saul, 1 Samuel 11:1 ff; 1 Samuel 31:11 ff., 2 Samuel 2:5 f., Jdg 21:12 f. The name survives in the Wâdi el-Jâbis, about half way between the Yarmuk and the W. Zerḳâ (Jabbok); the city probably lay in the upper part of the valley where it reaches the highlands of Gilead, a nights march from Beth-shean (= Bçsân) across the Jordan, 1 Samuel 31:12. It has been suggested that this narrative of the war against Jabesh was dictated by Judaean animosity against Saul1[64]; but it is clear that the narrative dates from a period later than that of the kingdom of Judah. At the same time we cannot deny that the writer, in singling out Jabesh for punishment, may have remembered its ancient loyalty to Saul (so Moore).

[64] So recently, Kittel, Gesch. des Volkes Israel2 (1909), p. 23.

For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there.
9. were numbered] Cf. Jdg 20:15; Jdg 20:17.

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.
10. twelve thousand men] No doubt reckoning 1000 men from each tribe, cf. Numbers 31:4 f.; the writer forgot that Benjamin could not be counted.

And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.
11. And this is the thing … do] Similarly Jdg 20:9.

ye shall utterly destroy] The city and all its inhabitants were to become ḥérem, placed under the ban, for not taking part in the holy war against Benjamin; cf. Jdg 20:48 n. This episode is based upon Numbers 31:7; Numbers 31:17 f. (a late stratum of P). The writer again betrays his forgetfulness: he fails to copy his model in the important particular ye shall keep alive the virgins for yourselves Numbers 31:18. The words are accordingly supplied by LXX. cod. B and mss.

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.
12. unto the camp] From the foregoing one would naturally conclude that the main body of the Israelites was at Beth-el.

to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan] What can be the point of this remark? ‘which is in the land of Canaan,’ by way of contrast to the Israelite territory E. of the Jordan, is intelligible in Joshua 22:9 but not so suitable here. The sentence can hardly have stood originally in B; it looks like an editorial addition designed to prepare the way for A’s narrative: all Israel must be brought upon the scene of Jdg 21:23. Probably the words were borrowed from Joshua 21:2; Joshua 22:9; cf. Joshua 18:9; behind them lies the tradition that Shiloh was the meeting-place and sanctuary of the tabernacle for all Israel after the conquest under Joshua; Joshua 18 :1 P.

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.
13. in the rock of Rimmon] Cf. Jdg 20:45.

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.
14. and yet so they sufficed them not] i.e. the 400 virgins were not sufficient for the 600 Benjamite survivors; a prosaic attempt to harmonize with the old story in Jdg 21:15-23, as though the rape at Shiloh were a supplementary device to bring the number of wives up to the total required; cf. Jdg 21:16 a. Lit. the phrase may be rendered and they (the Israelites) did not find enough for them even so, cf. Numbers 11:22; as a rule enough is expressed in the Heb., Leviticus 12:8; Leviticus 25:26; Leviticus 25:28.

And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
15. From the A narrative; sequel of Jdg 21:1.

had made a breach] Cf. 2 Samuel 6:8; 2 Samuel 5:20 and Exodus 19:22; Exodus 19:24 J. In early civilization it was felt to be a grave disaster if a family died out (hence the custom of the levirate marriage, Genesis 38:8, Deuteronomy 25:5 ff.), still more if a clan or tribe were allowed to become extinct. This primitive feeling no doubt sprung from a dread lest the religious rites which concerned the departed members of the family, or kept intact the tribal bonds, should cease to be rendered.

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?
16. the elders of the congregation] See on Jdg 20:1, and cf. Leviticus 4:15. That this half of the verse does not belong to the old story is further shewn by the reference to wives for the Benjamites who had not secured any of the 400 virgins from Jabesh; like the last words of Jdg 21:14; Jdg 21:16 a is a harmonizing addition. 16b may well continue Jdg 21:15 and belong to A.

And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.
17. There must be an inheritance … of Benjamin] The Hebr. has only An inheritance of the escaped for (or of) Benjamin, which yields no sense, and suggests corruption in the text. The problem is, how to prevent Benjamin from becoming extinct; if the survivors are not to die with no descendants to hand on their race and restore the fortunes of the tribe, wives must be found for them; but since the Israelites have sworn not to give them wives, some way out of the difficulty must be devised. With an inconsiderable change in the Hebr., giving the sentence an interrogative force, it is possible to obtain a meaning which suits the context: How shall a remnant be left over for Benjamin, and a tribe not be blotted out from Israel, (Jdg 21:18) seeing we cannot give them wives of our daughters? The correction is supported by some mss. of the LXX; a remnant here means a number sufficient to carry on the succession; we, i.e. the Israelites, is emphatic.

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.
19. there is a feast] the feast (marg.). The word rendered feast (ḥag) strictly implies a pilgrimage to a sanctuary; the three chief ḥaggim were festivals at which every male Israelite was required to appear before Jehovah (Exodus 23:14-17); cf. also the Mohammedan ḥaj = the pilgrimage to Mecca. What the particular feast here was we are not told; most probably it was a vintage festival to celebrate the ingathering; for this was an occasion of special rejoicing, cf. the Canaanite feast at Shechem Jdg 9:27, and marked the end of the year (September); note that the vines were still in leaf, Jdg 21:20.

of the Lord … in Shiloh] Shiloh was a centre of Jehovah-worship at this early period, Jdg 18:31. A topographical gloss (cf. Jdg 21:12, Jdg 20:31) defines the situation in such a way as to leave no doubt that Shiloh is to be identified with the modern Seilûn, some 2 miles E.S.E. of Lubbân = Lebonah; in later times, after the exile, it was probably necessary to tell readers where the ancient sites were. Obviously this addition cannot come from the author of Jdg 21:12, where Shiloh is first mentioned. 19a may be taken as addressed to the Benjamites: 20b gives the rest of the speech.

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.
21. to dance in the dances] For the religious dance on occasions of joy cf. Exodus 32:19, 2 Samuel 6:14, Psalm 149:3; Psalm 150:4.

catch you every man his wife] A legend of early Rome tells how Romulus demanded wives from the neighbouring cities for the men whom he had collected. When this was refused, he announced a festival of the god Consus at the foot of the hill he occupied. Sabines and Latins crowded to the spot with their wives and daughters, when the Roman youth rushed upon them and carried off the women to their stronghold: Livy i. 9.

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.
22. The verse is difficult to understand owing to corruptions in the text.

to complain unto us] Follow marg., and read to strive with you (so LXX, Vulgate); the angry parents would naturally go to the captors with their grievance, rather than to the Israelites. When that happens, say the Israelites, we will put in a plea for you.

Grant them graciously unto us etc.] To make sense the text may be emended as follows: Be gracious to them, because they received not each his wife in the war; for if ye (emphatic) had given them unto them, ye would surely now be guilty (of violating your oath). The correction they (for we) received not is supported by some mss. of the LXX The war will be that against Jabesh-gilead; but since the verse as a whole seems to belong to the older narrative, which knows nothing of the expedition against Jabesh, the sentence because they received not each his wife in the war must be regarded as a harmonizing attempt to work in the narrative of B with that of A (cf. Jdg 21:14 b, 16a).

Some scholars emend the text differently, reading Be gracious to them because they took each his wife in the war; the omission of the negative is found in some mss. of the LXX, but the evidence is not weighty enough for treating this as the true text of the LXX; moreover the war is too strong a term to apply to the rape of the Shilonites.

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.
23. took them wives … carried off] Render carried off wivesseized. The expression to take wives in the sense of marry is found only in late writings; the reference here, however, is not to marriage, but to capture. This verse closes the narrative of A.

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.
24. departed] went their ways, as the form of the verb implies, going in this direction and that, cf. Genesis 13:17, Joshua 18:4. The first from thence may mean from Shiloh, the second, from the tribal territory to each man’s private property. Otherwise the two halves of the verse are doublets and come from different sources.

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
25. there was no king in Israel] Cf. Jdg 17:6 n. A suitable transition to the history of Samuel which relates the beginning of the monarchy.

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