Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Sworn, (juraverunt.) The mention of Maspha, seems to determine that this oath was taken before the battle; though it would otherwise appear, that the Israelites engaged themselves to extirpate the tribe in the hear of their fury, and after they destroyed the women of Benjamin. If they could lawfully slay their brethren indiscriminately, as connected in the same wicked cause, (Haydock) they might surely refuse their daughters to any of those (Menochius) who might chance to make their escape. (Haydock) --- But they ought first to have consulted the Lord, as this was a matter of as great consequence as to know who was first to go to battle. They seem to have discovered the rashness of their proceedings, and to have repented when it was too late; and they ridiculously attempt to elude the obligation of the oath, which lay heavy on their consciences. (Salien) --- They think it sufficient to adhere to the letter, while they neglect the spirit of their oath. (Haydock) --- The ancients had a scrupulous regard for oaths, and did not allow themselves the liberty of interpreting them away, Genesis xxiv. 5., Josue ix. 15., and 1 Kings xiv. 24. (Calmet) --- But here the Israelites wish to keep and to evade the oath at the same time. (Haydock) --- Serarius, &c., declare that their oath was lawful, as they did not consider the inconveniences which would attend its execution. As soon as they perceived them, the obligation ceased; though, if their erroneous conscience dictated the contrary to them, they were obliged to follow it, (Tirinus) if they could not receive a more certain information. (Haydock) --- Tostat and others maintain that the oath was null, as being illegal, and consequently of no force. Grotius (Jur. ii. 2, 21,) lays it down as the right of nature, for people to marry with their neighbours, (Calmet) though an individual may refuse such connexions; (Haydock) and St. Augustine (de C.[City of God?] ii. 17.) allows, that he Romans had "a right, perhaps, to seize the Sabine women, in a war declared on account of the unjust refusal." We can excuse the Benjamites for taking the women of Silo, by force, on no other plea, (Calmet) unless the consent of the parents and of the virgins intervened. (Haydock) (Ver. 22.) --- If, therefore, the Israelites could not lawfully deny their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites, their oath was unjust, and nowise obligatory. (Calmet) --- They had not right to punish the innocent with the guilty, as they had received no order from God; (Salien) and therefore they ought not to have slain the unoffending females of Benjamin, or of Jabes, ver. 11. It is not necessary for us to defend the rash oaths or conduct of the Israelites in exterminating their fellow creatures, who were innocent; nor in the rape, &c.
Silo. Hebrew simply, "to Bethel," as chap. xx. 18. Septuagint (Alexandrian), "to Maspha and Bethel." (Haydock)
Evil. Thus they style their own cruelty, in destroying the women and children, and in taking an oath to prevent the remaining Benjamites from having any posterity, unless they married with strangers, which the law forbade, (Calmet) though it would hardly bind in cases of such necessity. (Haydock) --- Hence the sons of Noemi are excused from entering into such marriages, Ruth i. 4. (Tirinus) --- Hebrew and Septuagint do not mention, so great an evil, but only this. The context however shews, that the people considered the extermination of a whole tribe, as a dreadful misfortune; and, as it was going to take place in consequence of their oath, unless some expedient could be discovered to prevent it, without the guilt of perjury, they were moved with repentance, and endeavoured to appease God's wrath by a multiplicity of victims. How much better would it have been not to have made a vow, than after making it, to strive to render it ineffectual! (Ecclesiastes v. 3, 4.) It does not appear that God gave them any answer in all this affair; and the concluding verse seems to indicate, that their conduct was displeasing to him. Perhaps he punished this, as well as the other faults of his people, by delivering them over to Chusan for eight years, as Salien and Usher place the first year of servitude immediately after the close of this unfortunate war, which would enable the Chanaanites to gain fresh strength, and to rejoice at the civil broils of Israel, chap. iii. 8. Aod, who slew Eglon, about 94 years afterwards, was not yet born. (Haydock)
Altar, within the tabernacle, to suffice for the number of victims as Solomon did; (3 Kings viii. 64.; Tirinus) or out of the court, by God's dispensation, as they were defiled with blood; (Numbers xxxi. 24.; Calmet) though this is not certain, as four months elapsed between the battle and the reconciliation of the remaining Israelites with their brethren: (chap. xx. 47.) so that during that interval, they might have committed the massacres in the different cities, and still have had time to be purified seven days, as the law required, before they could be allowed to enter the camp or the tabernacle. (Haydock) --- Some think that one altar was prescribed only during the sojournment in the desert. See Serarius. (Menochius)
Slain. Why then did they deem it lawful to reserve the virgins? or if they meant only those who were fit for war, why were the married women, &c., involved in the common ruin? The people of Jabes deserved chastisement, for seeming to connive at the wickedness of Gabaa, and by separating themselves from the religious sacrifice of the rest. But it does not appear that they were legally summoned, nor had the majority of the people a right to execute such summary justice upon a few, who perhaps might not have been acquainted with their vows and new made laws. (Haydock)
Say. Governors should use great discretion, and correct with justice and mercy. (St. Gregory 1. ep. 24.) (Worthington)
In general. Hebrew, "by the Lord," with an imprecation, ver. 18. (Menochius)
Jabes was between Pella and Gerasa, upon a mountain, east of the Jordan. It was after its destruction rebuilt, (Calmet) and became very famous, (1 Kings xi.; Menochius) if it was indeed ever demolished. We know not what prevented the inhabitants from joining in common cause. (Haydock)
Ten. Hebrew, Chaldean, Septuagint, and Josephus read, twelve. The refusal to serve in the national army was punished like a sort of rebellion, with death, no less than to desert. Debora cursed the inhabitants of Meros, on this account, chap. v. 23.
But, &c. This is not expressed in the Hebrew or the Septuagint, though it be sufficiently implied, (Calmet) as the males and married women only are ordered to be slain. (Haydock) --- It is doubted whether the virgins, who were not fit for marriage, were reserved or butchered. But probably all the younger children were saved (Calmet) of that sex, though the order was to kill the wives and children; and the reason for sparing any was, that the Benjamites might be supplied with wives immediately. (Haydock) --- Hebrew and Septuagint insinuate, that the citizens were to be treated as those who were under an anathema: "ye shall utterly destroy;" anathematize. Yet the house and cattle were spared. (Menochius)
Them, the messengers to, &c. Hebrew, "and to make unto them a proclamation of peace." (Haydock)
Sorry, and. Hebrew, "for Benjamin, because the Lord had made a breach in Israel." (Calmet)
And we, &c. Hebrew, "and they said: an inheritance for those Benjamites who have escaped, that a tribe," &c. They wished to repair the breach as fast as possible, so that each of the 600 may have a wife.
Counsel, among themselves. (Haydock) --- Solemnity. It is not known which is meant, as all the three great festivals occurred during the time that the vines were covered with leaves; (ver. 20) or this feast might be one peculiar to the city of Silo, in memory of the ark being transported thither. Vatable thinks that the description here given, regards the place where the dance was to be, as all must have known the situation of the city. Silo rather lies to the west than to the east, (Calmet) if we draw a line from Bethel to Sichem, but the road might be circuitous. (Haydock) --- St. Jerome places Silo ten miles west of Sichem. --- Lebona may be Chan Lebna, four miles to the south of it. (Calmet)
To dance; not in a lascivious manner, as a certain heretical interpreter would have it, but out of a religious motive. (Menochius) --- Such dances were formerly very common among all nations. The Therapeuts, who are supposed to have been the first Jewish converts to the Christian faith, in Egypt, and were remarkable for their modesty and serious deportment, danced nevertheless in their religious assemblies, first in two separate bands, and afterwards men and women together. (Philo, contemplat.) The women still dance round the tombs of their relatives, in Palestine, with solemn lamentations. (Roger, and Le Brun's Voyages) --- Come. Josephus insinuates, that the women were to be seized as they came from different parts to the solemnity. But it hance appears that they were coming out to the city; (Calmet) though it is very probable that the virgins did not all belong to it, but came from all Israel: for why should the people of Silo be forced to supply wives for these surviving Benjamites, against whose character they might reasonably entertain such strong objections? But, if all the assembly agreed that the Benjamites should select from among their daughters whomsoever they could lay their hands on, they could not complain that they were treated with peculiar severity. (Haydock) --- But did not the Israelites offend by giving this counsel, so contrary to the import of their vow? And were not the Benjamites equally guilty in following such advice? It is answered that, in odious matters words must be taken in all their rigour, and the person who vows not to give, does not engage himself to reclaim if the thing be taken. Those who gave the advice are not perhaps deserving of excuse, on account of the artifice which they employ to get rid of their oath; but the rest, who were not apprised of it till after the execution, were surely without blame; and the Benjamites, who followed the counsel of respectable men, in such circumstances, cannot be considered as guilty of a rape, &c. (Grotius, Jur. ii. 13.; Cornelius a Lapide) (Calmet) --- St. Ambrose (ep. 6,) seems to be of this opinion. Tostat and others cannot, however, approve of these arguments. "As they erroneously supposed that they were bound by their oath, they prudently turned aside to advise the rape." (Tirinus) --- So Liranus, &c. --- But this was only a human prudence. (Haydock) --- The ancients gave counsel to the Benjamites, to ask the people of Silo to give them their daughters in marriage, knowing they would not grant the request, that they might afterwards have recourse to the expedient of taking them by force. "No doubt they were not without blame. For as they believed that their oath was binding, they ought neither to have done nor to have advised any thing, by which it might be violated." (Salien, in the year of the world 2622.) --- The rape at Silo preceded that of the Sabines, at Rome, about 700 years, and both probably happened in September. (Tirinus)
Part. Hebrew is variously translated; but the Septuagint and Arabic agree with the Vulgate. By your refusal, and by your oath, you have constrained them to take what you would not, (Calmet) or could not grant. Protestants, "Be favourable to them for our sakes, because we reserved not to each man his wife, in the war; for ye did not give unto them, at that time, that ye should be guilty." (Haydock) --- You have not to answer for the infraction of the oath, since you did not give your daughters. (Calmet) --- They had not objections to the Benjamites on any other head, and the young women were not very reluctant. (Tirinus) --- It is wonderful that the high priest, Phinees, appears so little on this occasion. If he had spoken in the name of God, the rest would have been under no perplexity.
Himself. This remark has been made twice before, respecting the conduct of Michas and of Dan, both which deserved reprehension. It seems to be added here for the same purpose, that we might not be so much startled at the relation of such strange proceedings. Soon after this event, the angel came to upbraid the Israelites, chap. ii. 1. (Haydock) --- There was not judge perhaps, but anarchy then prevailed. (Du Hamel) --- At least the people were under more restraint when they had kings, (Worthington) or judges divinely appointed at their head. (Haydock)