Wesley's Notes on the Bible
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
21:1 Had sworn - In the beginning of this war, after the whole tribe had espoused the quarrel of the men of Gibeah. Saying - They do not here swear the utter extirpation of the tribe, which fell out beyond their expectation, but only not to give their daughters to those men who should survive; justly esteeming them for their villainy, to be as bad as Heathens, with whom they were forbidden to marry.
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.
21:4 An altar - Not for a monument of the victory, but for sacrifices, as the next words shew. There might be in that place more altars than one, when the multitude of sacrifices be required, which was the case, 1Kings 8:64, 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.
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.
21:5 Great oath - That is a solemn oath joined with some terrible execration against the offenders herein. 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.
21:6 Repented - Not for the war, which was just and necessary, but for their immoderate severity in the execution of it. That is no good divinity which swallows up humanity. Even necessary justice is to be done with compassion.
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.
21:15 The Lord, and c. - 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?
And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.
21:17 An inheritance - The inheritance promised by Jacob and Moses, and given by Joshua to the tribe of Benjamin, doth all of it belong to those few who 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.
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.
21:19 A feast - Probably it was the feast of tabernacles, which they celebrated with more than ordinary joy. And that feast was the only season, at which the Jewish virgins were allowed to dance. But even this was not mixed dancing. No men danced with these daughters of Shiloh. Nor did the married women so forget their gravity, as to join with them. However their dancing thus in public, made them an easy prey: whence Bishop Hall observes, The ambushes of evil spirits carry away many souls from dancing to a fearful desolation.
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.
21:21 Daughters of Shiloh - By whom we may understand not those only who were born or settled inhabitants there, 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 the women had liberty to go, and those who were most devout did usually go. Vineyards - Which were near to the green where they danced. Catch - Take them away by force, which they might the better do, because the women danced by themselves.
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.
21:23 And took, and c. - That is, each man his wife. By which we may see, they had no very favourable opinion of polygamy, because they did not allow it in this case, when it might seem most necessary for the reparation of a lost tribe. Repaired - 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.
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
21:25 Right in his own eyes - What wonder was it then, if all wickedness overflowed the land? Blessed be God for magistracy!