New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Jdg 21:1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah: Not one of us will give his daughter to a Benjamite as wife-
Here we have another repetition of theme, that of unwise oaths. For Jephthah had done the same. And it resulted at very best in his daughter going unmarried. We think too of Joshua's over hasty oath to the Gibeonites. We are to discern the hand of God in all these things and to learn from the repeated mistakes of His people as recorded in the Biblical record.

Jdg 21:2 The people came to Bethel where they sat until evening before God, raising their voices and weeping bitterly-
They had likewise sat before God, i.e. before His manifestation and presence in the ark and priesthood, when they had enquired why they had been defeated twice when fighting the Benjamites. It was tears all around, as they began to realize the extreme folly of what they had done. But it was grief they themselves had brought about. Their weeping before Yahweh recalls Joshua's after the defeat at Ai. The great victory they had just won was in reality a defeat for Israel. Because in conflict between brethren, there can only be losers. Any apparent victory is in fact a further loss.

Jdg 21:3 They said, Yahweh, the God of Israel, why has this happened to Israel, that there should be today one tribe missing from Israel?-
If Yahweh was indeed Israel's God, then to destroy a part of Israel was clearly to have sinned against Him. This is what we do whenever we separate or effectively cut off a part of the body of Christ. As noted on Jud. 20:23, the request was really its own answer. Should they fight against "our brothers"? Obviously not. You do not fight and kill your brothers. Why has this happened? Because they had done it. So often our prayers reveal their own answer. We see this in David's prayers as recorded in the Psalms. Some of them end up providing the answer to the opening question or struggle. This is one advantage of praying out loud, of verbalizing our questions to God. The answer sometimes becomes apparent just through the process of verbalizing our thoughts.

Jdg 21:4 Next day the people rose early and built an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings-
Peace offerings were offered in times of Israel's sadness and defeat (Jud. 20:26; 21:4), as well as in celebration. In our traumas of life, we need to remember that the only thing that matters is our peace with God, the joyful fact that we have nothing separating us. As Israel made their peace offerings at those times, so we too should consider the possibility of breaking bread, perhaps alone, as we meet the desperate traumas of our lives.

But as in Jud. 20:26, we note that the usual order is sin offering, burnt offering [speaking of subsequent dedication to God] and then the peace offering, celebrating the peace with God now enjoyed. But there is no mention of a sin offering. Israel still refused to accept how much they were in the wrong.

Jdg 21:5 They asked, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who didn’t come up to the assembly before Yahweh? For they had taken a solemn oath that anyone who didn’t come up to Yahweh to Mizpah should surely be put to death-
The implication of Jud. 20:3 is that the Benjamites weren't represented at the Mizpah conference. And Israel had threatened death to anyone who didn't come to this gathering. So the Benjamites stood condemned to death just because they didn't attend a meeting. Just as some have been disfellowshiped for "long continued absence" from a church. This is not at all Biblical, and the attitude of the Israelites here was not at all in accord with the Law of Moses. Nor did they take any advice from God about this; they simply promised death to any who didn't attend their gathering. Perhaps this was why they thought they were justified in slaying the Benjamites- because they had broken the Israelites' self declared law and commandment to come to Mizpah.

Jdg 21:6 The Israelites grieved for Benjamin their brother. There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day-
Their requests to God for guidance about attacking Benjamin had featured the phrase "our brother". They ought to have followed their conscience toward God, and their sense that any murder of a brother must be wrong. Instead the power of groupthink and transferring the guilt of their own sins onto Benjamin was stronger than that. And now they grieve for what they had done. Their exclusion and cutting off of their brother had in fact diminished all Israel. And this is what we do to the body of Christ by cutting off parts of it; it is as Paul puts it, as bizarre as cutting off our own limbs. The body will not function well without those limbs.

Jdg 21:7 How shall we provide wives for those who remain, since we have sworn by Yahweh that we will not give them our daughters as wives?-
The easiest option would have been to just repent of their oath and let the remaining Benjamites marry women from other tribes. But for all their apostacy, they had a legalistic mindset. And there was a pride factor in their society when it came to not following through on an oath. As many do today, they went to the most bizarre lengths to get around the oath they had made, and to save face. And yet their bizarre method of getting around it was all the same unethical, and involved the massacre of yet more of their brethren at Jabesh Gilead, and the kidnapping of girls from Shiloh. It would have been far better to humble themselves and retract their rash oath. We see this lesson repeated in the rulers who swore too hastily, resulting in Daniel and John the Baptist suffering greatly- just because the rulers were too proud to take back their words.

Jdg 21:8 They asked, Which of the tribes of Israel didn’t come up to Yahweh to Mizpah? They found that none from the camp from Jabesh Gilead came to the assembly-
We note that they had not attempted to murder these people because they had not come to the meeting at Mizpah. And yet they apparently used Benjamin's absence from that meeting [when it was clearly biased against them from the start] as justification for slaying Benjamin (:5). So clearly the whole miserable, quasi legal process was set up from the start in order to cut off Benjamin. And this is how church politics so often goes, when there is a predetermined desire to cut someone off. 

Jdg 21:9 For when the people were counted, none of the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead were there-
We wonder why Jabesh did not attend. Perhaps they like Benjamin had seen through the manic feeding frenzy of the groupthink, and had objected to the absolutely unBiblical judgment being taken- with so much depending on just one questionable witness, with Dt. 17:6,7 being so totally ignored. See on Jud. 20:13. And yet still Israel were impenitent for all that; and they were to go ahead and punish Jabesh with a massacre, killing even innocent children, because of it. The implication is that absolutely every town of Israel outside of Benjamin was represented in this great assembly, including the totally apostate people of Laish of Dan (Jud. 17,18). Only Jabesh didn't come. This is the extent to which the people were caught up in a shark tank feeding frenzy of judgmentalism, self congratulation and hatred against their brethren. These things happen today; brethren are demonized and hated on a mass scale on flimsy grounds by brethren who are only as weak as themselves. It is a basic psychological reaction, the unchecked movement of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.

Jdg 21:10 The congregation sent twelve thousand valiant fighting men and commanded them: Go and put the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead to the sword, including the women and children-
The idea was, a thousand from each tribe, following the principle of Num. 31:4. Yet they were following an isolated Biblical precedent in a very misplaced way- for they were going to massacre innocent people, all because they were too proud to accept they had made a foolish oath (see on :7). We see here a common human feature- of apparent obedience to the letter of the law, whilst breaking the obvious spirit of the law. We think of the Jews being scrupulous to be ritually clean for the Passover- at which they crucified God's Son. It's a case of having a plank in our own eye whilst noticing the splinter in the eye of another. 

Jdg 21:11 This is what you are to do: kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin-
Whilst it is not recorded that this was done, this massacre of their own brethren was necessitated by their refusal to humble themselves and retract their oaths, as discussed on :7. They had not really learned the depth of their sin- for here they were advocating the cutting off of yet more of their brethren in a massacre, for the sake of undoing the damage done by cutting off their brethren from Benjamin. They had not learned the lesson. 

Jdg 21:12 They found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known man by lying with him, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan-
This may imply they did not in fact destroy Jabesh as they had promised to Yahweh to do, and as the elders had told them to do. The town was still inhabited at the time of 1 Sam. 11:1. It seems they were very selective in their obedience, and yet claimed such utter and careful loyalty to Yahweh. The record continually demonstrates their hypocrisy and ignorance of true spirituality, whilst having a knowledge and apparent devotion to isolated parts of God's law. The same is seen amongst so many professing to be God's people today. Yet "saved alive" in :14 implies they did indeed massacre the town. The description of the conflict with Jabesh as a "war" in :22 suggests that there was indeed bloodshed, probably on both sides; and yet despite that, the required number of young female captives weren't taken. So all the bloodshed and "war" just didn't achieve the desired end anyway. The logical process in thought behind the decisions taken in all this appears very lacking in wisdom. Clearly they did not progress on God's advice, but only on their own. 

Jdg 21:13 The whole congregation sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites who were in the rock of Rimmon-
They 'proclaimed peace', using the same phrase as in Dt. 20:10: "When you draw near to a city to fight against it, proclaim peace to it". But the Israelites did this to the few remaining Benjamites after they had massacred most of them (Jud 21:13). This was typical of how Israel at this time were taking fragments of God's law and applying them, but absolutely out of context. Whilst they disregarded the majority of the Law, both in letter and spirit. And we see this in the wider Christian movement. Bits and pieces of Divine principle are used in a misplaced way, when the majority of God's revelation and will is ignored.

Jdg 21:14 So then Benjamin returned and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive from Jabesh Gilead, but they weren’t enough for them-
"Saved alive" implies they did indeed massacre the town. They had clearly had a bad conscience about fighting against Benjamin their "brother". But they fail to really grasp why that was wrong. For in the flush of final victory against Benjamin, they now go and do exactly the same sin of murdering their brothers. And in this case, for no reason other than that Jabesh hadn't come up to some kangaroo court they had set up to judge Benjamin. They were acting absolutely against God's will and without any seeking of His guidance. And all because, as discussed on :7, they lacked the faith to let God resolve the issue of the remnant of Benjamin having no wives; and because they lacked the humility to take back their oath not to let their daughters marry Benjamites. 

Jdg 21:15 The people grieved for Benjamin because Yahweh had made a gap in the tribes of Israel-
AV "repented them", they had a change of mind. But this is not necessarily the same as perceiving their own moral wrong. There is no reference to their seeking counsel from God as to whether or not to massacre yet more of their brethren in Jabesh, which was apparently of another tribe and east of the Jordan [presumably it was near the wadi Jabesh which is east of Jordan]. The people had not asked counsel of God about how to judge the matter. They had all eagerly condemned Gibeah to destruction, without referring to God, and in studied disobedience to His word (see on Jud. 20:13). Yet having made their own judgment, they then made a great show of asking His advice as to which tribe should lead the assault, or, should attack Gibeah first (Jud. 20:18). Yet God responded to their request. He said Judah should go first. He wanted to use this incident to punish Israel, as well as Benjamin. And as so often, His judgments are in terms of brethren destroying each other, rather than Him doing it directly Himself. See on Jud. 20:7. It was Yahweh who made a breach in Israel over this matter. He worked through it all. It was His way of judging His apostate, hypocritical people. The same word is used of His making a breach upon Uzzah, in judgment (2 Sam. 6:8). A breach from Yahweh is a judgment for sin (Is. 30:13; Ez. 22:30 s.w.). Division and conflict amongst God's children is therefore somehow of Him- but it is His judgment upon the community.  

Jdg 21:16 Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we provide wives for those who remain, since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?-
A wife is "from the Lord", not from purely human device. Massacring a town to steal their virgin daughters, and then kidnapping girls from a Passover dance... is all the way of the flesh. We see how misguided were these people, partly concerned with the Divine concept of raising up seed for their brother, and yet with no basic moral backbone at all. They would have been better to have faith that God would provide, in His own wonderful way- rather than massacring Jabesh and kidnapping girls.

Jdg 21:17 They said, There must be an inheritance for the surviving Benjamites so that a tribe will not be blotted out from Israel-
They are arguing from the basis of the levirate law, that brothers must somehow ensure that seed is raised up to their brother in the case of death. But, as noted on :16, they are focusing upon just one aspect of Divine truth, and ignoring the wider moral teachings of the Mosaic law and indeed of basic ethics and morality. "There must be an inheritance..." again reflects their legalistic mind, driven by a devotion to quasi logic to do things which were plain wrong on every count. An inheritance is "of the Lord", just as a wife is (:16); their attempt to play God in all this just made things far worse.

Jdg 21:18 We can’t give them wives from our daughters since the Israelites have taken this oath saying, ‘Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin’-
I discussed on :7 how if they had humbled themselves and retracted their oaths, then they would not have needed to do the bizarre and sinful things which they did- massacre of Jabesh Gilead and kidnapping young girls. Their legalistic mindset is incredible; and yet they themselves were far astray from Yahweh themselves, and this was why they had been punished at the hands of the Benjamites, losing 40,000 men. 

Jdg 21:19 They said, Look, there is an annual feast of Yahweh in Shiloh, which is on the north of Bethel, east of the highway from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah-
If the feast involved dancing (:21) then it was likely the feast of the Passover, with the girls replicating the dancing of Miriam and the women. The exact geographical description is given so that the Benjamites knew precisely where to go. But they ought to have been celebrating Yahweh's deliverance of His people by grace, rather than using it as an opportunity to kidnap wives for themselves.     

Jdg 21:20 They instructed the Benjamites: Go and lie in wait in the vineyards-
This bizarre idea of grabbing young unmarried females was all necessitated by the impenitence of the Israelites and their refusal to humble themselves and retract their oath, as discussed on :7. 

Jdg 21:21 and watch. When the daughters of Shiloh come out to join in the dances, then rush out of the vineyards and each of you catch a wife from the girls of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin-
The language of lying in wait in ambush and then rushing forward upon the unsuspecting is the language of how the Benjamites had finally captured Gibeah, and how Israel had captured Ai. Again, we see the misplaced idea of appealing to past precedent in God's dealings with His people. They wished to follow some aspects of God's ways in the past, whilst ignoring the vast majority of His teaching, even on a most basic moral level. And we wonder whether the majority of those identifying as 'Christian' at this point in world history are not similar.

Jdg 21:22 When their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Allow them to do this because we didn’t get wives for them in the war-
The war is presumably the war against Jabesh of :12. The way it is called a "war" suggests the people of Jabesh fought back. There would have been yet more bloodshed, and it seems there were fewer virgin women captured than the Israelites had initially imagined.

You didn’t give them to them, so you are not guilty’-
Perhaps they mean 'Not guilty of breaking the oath not to give your daughter in marriage to Benjamites'. But the way of humility would have been to simply ask God to forgive them for a rash oath, or to just leave it all to God to decide, with faith He would somehow work it out. But when there is no human answer visible, then we tend to abandon faith in God and go for these kinds of bizarre human ways of resolving things.

Or the idea may have been that to give a daughter in marriage to a man of another tribe was a sin. But as the daughters had been taken away forcibly, it wouldn't count as a sin. We note their extreme legalism. And yet as legalists often do, they seriously contradicted themselves. For in this case, it would have been a sin for Benjamites to be marrying women from another tribe. So their solution to the problem was only leading people into sin. There seems no direct statement in the law of Moses that intermarriage amongst the tribes was a sin, although the implication of the principles of inheritance amongst the tribes was that it was far from ideal.  

Jdg 21:23 So that is what the Benjamites did. They took wives for each of them from the girls who danced, and carried them off. They returned to their inheritance, rebuilt the cities and lived in them-
See on :22. Carrying them off implies to captivity. They were treating these Israelite girls as prey, taken in some Divinely sanctioned war. But God had not been consulted, and was not in any of this.

Jdg 21:24 Then the Israelites departed each to his tribe and family-
This is perhaps stating the obvious but in order that we imagine them returning home, with only tales of woe and not glorious victory. For they had lost 40,000 of their own men, and slain a huge number of their brethren both from Jabesh and all Benjamin. And arranged the kidnap of innocent girls from their families. Not much to boast about to their families. And so the point is made, that in conflict between brethren, there are only shameful losers.

Jdg 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; each man did that which was right in his own eyes-
This implies that the book of Judges as we have it was edited, under Divine inspiration, some time after Israel began to have kings. Perhaps during the exile, when again they had no king; and therefore the book becomes a warning to the exiles about likely apostacy. The lament may be that there was no authority, no teacher, no modelling of Godly living; because every man did what was right in his own eyes, rather than doing what was right in the eyes of Yahweh. For so often we read of Israel being condemned for doing what was wrong in His eyes. This is clear enough evidence that 'just follow your heart' is poor advice. For what is right in our own eyes results in the Godless confusion of what we find now at the time of the Judges. However it could be argued that having no human king was a good thing; for God didn't want them to have one. And therefore a situation where everyone judges things by their own judgment is in fact good; the problem was that the people didn't base their view upon God's word, His "eyes" or perspective, but solely upon their own unenlightened opinions.