Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.Jdg 21:3
If there were no fault in their severity, it needed no excuse: and if there were a fault, it will admit of no excuse: yet, as if they meant to shift off the sin, they expostulate with God, 'O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass this day!' God gave them no command of this rigour; yea he twice crost them in the execution; and now, in that which they entreated of God with tears, they challenge Him. It is a dangerous injustice to lay the burden of our sins upon Him, which tempteth no man, nor can be tempted with evil; while we so remove one sin, we double it.
The Missing One
This inquiry represents the spirit of the whole Bible.
I. Look at this text as a sentiment, a discipline, as an encouragement. Is not this the human aspect of the solicitude of God's heart? In this respect as well as in others is man made after the image and likeness of God. There is what may be called a distinct unity of emotion—call it pity, solicitude, compassion, or by any other equal term—running through the whole Bible. From the first God loved man with atoning and redeeming love. Marvellous and instructive as is the development of the Bible history, in all the infinite tumult God looks after the sinner, the wanderer, with longing love.
II. But, from another point of view, how different the text. This high feeling has also a disciplinary aspect, and therefore there is a whole field of complete and ardent loyalty. When Deborah sang her triumphant song she disclosed the sterner aspect of this case. She mentioned the absentees by name, and consigned them to the withering immortalities of oblivion. 'Reuben remained among the sheepfolds' when he ought to have answered the call of the trumpet. Why was he lacking in that day? He was pre-occupied; he sent promises, but he remained at home among the flocks.
III. Some are no longer in the battle, yet today are not lacking in the sense of the text. They are not here—they are here. Even the mighty David waxed faint. He was but seventy when he died.
Speaking, in Time and Tide, of the ancient religious use of dance and song, as in this passage, where the feast of the vintage is marked by thanksgiving, Ruskin contrasts it with a Swiss scene of vulgar riot which he once witnessed in the autumn of 1863, when the Zurich peasantry abandoned themselves to 'two ceremonies only. During the day, the servants of the farms, where the grapes had been gathered, collected in knots about the vineyards, and slowly fired horse-pistols, from morning to evening. At night they got drunk, and staggered up and down the hill paths, uttering, at short intervals, yells and shrieks, differing only from the howling of wild animals by a certain intended and insolent discordance, only attainable by the malignity of debased human creatures.... Note this, respecting what I have told you, that in the very centre of Europe, in a country which is visited for their chief pleasure by the most refined and thoughtful persons among Christian nations—a country made by God's hand the most beautiful in the temperate regions of the earth, and inhabited by a race once capable of the sternest patriotism and simplest purity of life, your modern religion, in the very stronghold of it, has reduced the song and dance of ancient virginal thanksgiving to the howlings and staggerings of men betraying, in intoxication, a nature sunk more than halfway towards the beasts.'
'From a combination of causes,' says Mr. Froude in his Annals of an English Abbey, 'we are now passing into a sea where our charts fail us, and the stars have ceased to shine. The tongue of the prudent speaks stammeringly. The fool clamours that he is as wise as the sage, and the sage shrinks from saying that it is not so. Authority is mute. One man, we are told, is as good as another: each by Divine charter may think as he pleases, and carve his actions after his own liking. Institutions crumble; creeds resolve themselves into words; forms of government disintegrate, and there is no longer any word of command.... Civilized mankind are broken into two hundred million units, each thinking and doing what is good in his own eyes.
'Experience of the past forbids the belief that anarchy will continue for ever.'
Reference.—XXI. 26.—H. Hensley Henson, Light and Heaven, p. 87.
And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.