Notes on Judges 21, verses 15-25
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 21:15, KJV: And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
They were sorry for what had happened to Benjamin but there wasn’t much they could do now. The phrase, “the LORD had made a breach. . .” is problematic. Benjamin had not given up the evildoers for the crimes they had done in Gibeah, nor had they offered to work out a solution with the other tribes, preferring to fight, even though outnumbered over 10 to 1!
It is true the LORD said He would deliver Benjamin into the hands of the other Israelites (Judges 20:28) but the LORD never told the others to nearly exterminate an entire tribe. The thing to remember is that sin is never good, and always hurts more than gives pleasure, at least in the end.
16 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?
This proves the other Israelites had killed every female of Benjamin. There were 400 female virgins who survived the destruction of Jabesh-Gilead, but there were 600 Benjamite men. As mentioned, there were now 200 men who had no woman of their tribe to marry, and at the time there were no prospects for any of these 200 to find a wife.
17 And they said, (There must be) an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.
These elders knew they had a problem. Incredibly, there is no record they ever sought guidance from the LORD about any of this.
18 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.
This curse is not recorded in chapter 20. Nonetheless, these men did not revoke the curse or anything else except appeal to it as a reason to not give any of their own daughters in marriage to the 200 remaining Benjamite survivors.
19 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.
Here the elders (apparently, see verse 16) gave some of the clearest directions to Shiloh. This was also the location of the Tabernacle (Joshua 18:1) and was the place where the virgins of Jabesh-Gilead were taken after the city was destroyed (verse 12).
Note that these men did not specify which feast of the LORD. According to the Law, there were at least three such feasts (Exodus 23:14-17): unleavened bread or Passover, first fruits (later, Pentecost), and ingathering, also known as the feast of booths (Lev. 23:39-43).
20 Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards;
Now they are giving instructions to the remaining 200 men of Benjamin on how to find a wife. The first step was to go to Shiloh during one of the feasts of the LORD and then hide in the vineyards. This would most likely raise at least some suspicion to the people of Shiloh!
21 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.
Why these “daughters of Shiloh” were dancing is never specified. The LAW was very complete in the ways Israel was to worship the LORD
and dancing is not mentioned as part of that worship.
When the remaining Benjamites saw the girls, if they came out to “dance”, the second step was to come out of the vineyards, “catch” one of these girls, and then take her back to Benjamin’s territory! Note that here, nothing is mentioned as to whether or not the girl was a virgin.
It was implied (nothing is mentioned in the text) that married women would not be taking part in these dances or that they would be eligible to become a bride for one of the Benjamites.22 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.
The elders or whoever is speaking assumed the male relatives of these girls from Shiloh would complain about their daughter/sister/cousin, etc., being taken away to Benjamin! These elders now basically promised the Benjamites that if any of the men raised an issue about the loss of their female relative, the elders would protect them. Of note is that there is no mention here of dowry or other compensation.23 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.
Quite a bit is covered in this verse. First, the daughters of Shiloh apparently did go to dance and the Benjamites found “love at first sight”! Second, these Benjamites returned to the land of their inheritance. It is commendable that the other Israelites did not attempt to seize the land of Benjamin for themselves even though they had basically destroyed everything else (Judges 20:48). Third, they were able to rebuild their cities and then dwell in them. Nothing is mentioned about how long this took but it was no doubt a long process. The new brides of Benjamin may have helped in this process but the text does not indicate one way or another if this was so.
A final note to this verse, at least three sons of Benjamin made lasting contributions to Israel: Saul, son of Kish; Mordecai, who could trace his ancestry also to Kish (but it is unknown if this “Kish” was the same person), and Saul of Tarsus. After he was born again, he is known as the Apostle Paul (Rom. 11:1)!24 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.
This verse is unclear; did the other Israelites remain as “peacekeepers” or an occupation army for a period of time? Did they help Benjamin rebuild their cities? Or did they return home once all of the Benjamites had found wives? We are not told about any of this at this point, but there was a certain time when everyone went back to his inheritance in the land of his own tribe.25 In those days (there was) no king in Israel: every man did (that which was) right in his own eyes.
A fitting summary to the entire Book of Judges. Had Israel obeyed the LORD faithfully and completely, they would not have suffered as they did, and history might have been quite different!
May we learn from this book, avoiding the errors and thanking God always for all He does!
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).