Understanding Judges 21 verses10 through 24
Basically the sins of man can not be attributed to God.
21.10-11 ‘And the people sent there twelve eleph men of the most valiant, and commanded them saying, “Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. And this is the thing you will do. You will utterly destroy every male, and every woman who has lain with a man.” ’
Twelve picked units of fighting men were despatched to Jabesh-gilead with a view to carrying out The Ban. All there were to be slain except for young virgins. The hypocrisy of the situation is clear. Why should the children die and the virgins be spared? Simply for man’s convenience to get him out of a tight corner. We note that they did not seek Yahweh’s guidance on this. They knew He would not approve.
But the carrying out of the same procedure on Jabesh-gilead as on the Benjaminites demonstrates how seriously this campaign and the stain of the actions of the men of Gibeah were taken. It was seen as a sacred crusade to eradicate deep sin in the tribal confederacy. And those who would not partake were considered to be tainted with the sin of the men of Gibeah. They were traitors to the covenant, and the penalty for that was death, for they had failed to recognise and bow down to the holiness of Yahweh. (This was in this case their view, not God’s. But it was genuine nonetheless.).
21.12 ‘And 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, to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.’
The Ban was carried out and four hundred virgins spared who ‘had not lain with a man’. Or so it was presumably said by their loved ones before they died, to save their lives. And these were brought to the camp at Shiloh where The Tabernacle usually was. The Ark would now also have returned there, for Shiloh was the regular central sanctuary. A sacred ceremony would soon follow with the six hundred men of Benjamin in renewal of the covenant.
21.13-14. ‘And the whole congregation sent and spoke to the children of Benjamin who were in the Rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them. And Benjamin returned at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead. And yet so there were not sufficient for them.’
We note the lack of mention of the names of central leaders throughout the whole narrative. It may have been in order to stress that the whole of Israel was involved, or it may have been because there was no man prominent enough to be so mentioned. The period of the Judges was one in the main lacking in leadership, although at times there were local exceptions.
‘Proclaimed peace to them.’ The war was over. No further reparation would be required. They could come out safely and rejoin the tribal confederacy.
‘And Benjamin returned at that time.’ Not just returned to their camp but returned to the confederacy. They became once more a brother. And the four hundred virgins were supplied to them for the producing of children to rebuild the tribe. But four hundred was not enough for there were six hundred men.
21.15 ‘And the people repented themselves for Benjamin, because Yahweh had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.’
All that was done was in the end thought of as done by Yahweh, for He was the God of the covenant and of the tribal confederacy. Thus He was seen as over all that they did, even when He might not have approved of it. It was His law and His holiness that had caused the actions that had brought the breach. But it was the people who had to repent and change their minds so as to allow Benjamin back into the confederacy. It was not God Who had banned them.
21.16 ‘Then the elders of the congregation said, ‘How shall we do for wives for those who remain seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?’
Compare verse 7. The Ban had (in their view, but some must have survived) resulted in the killing off of all Benjaminite women. Thus the problem was how to obtain wives for the two hundred still without them. This is the first mention of the elders, as rulers of the tribes as opposed to military chiefs (20.2), although they must have been present at all major decisions made. Things were returning to normal.
21.17 ‘And they said, ‘There must be an inheritance for those who have escaped of Benjamin, so that a tribe is not blotted out of Israel.’
The feeling was strong. To lose a tribe would be like losing a limb. The inheritance here was children not land. There was plenty of free land in Benjaminite territory.
21.18 ‘However, we may not give them wives of our daughters.’ For the children of Israel had sworn saying, ‘Cursed is he who gives a wife to Benjamin.’
The latter phrase was probably literally part of the wording of the covenant made at Mizpah. Blessings and cursings regularly accompanied covenants. The repetition of the former (verses 1, 7) was to remind the hearers of the narrative when it was read, and may also indicate their continual repetition to themselves because of the headache they had caused themselves.
21.19 ‘And they said, ‘Look there is a feast of Yahweh from year to year in Shiloh’, which is on the north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the South of Lebonah .’
The connection with vineyards suggests that this was the feast of Tabernacles. All Israel would gather to the central sanctuary for the feast to celebrate the harvest and it would provide opportunity for their plan to work. The position of Shiloh was carefully described. It was an important site to Israel, and it would seem that the Tabernacle had again returned there.
21.20-21 ‘And they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards. And watch, and behold if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then you come out of the vineyards and you catch every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin.’
There is no mention of God’s approval to this plan which would no doubt have been sadly lacking. It demonstrates that leaders of peoples do not change over millenniums. They consider that in times of emergency they can behave in ways that decent men would decry. It is difficult to think of words to describe leaders who recommend abduction by force of innocent girls. But they had forced themselves into a corner and now they were trying to find a way out of it.
The problem was that it had to be done in such a way as to be evident that no one had given his daughter to the Benjaminites. But if the elders were not doing that, what were they doing? They were fathers of their tribes. It was a legal fiddle.
The plan was simple. The Benjaminites were now present at the feast having been restored to the covenant and the tribal confederacy. And every year at the feast of Tabernacles the girls of Shiloh would go out for the celebrations in the vineyards where they would dance in the dances. There they would be only partially protected. What could happen with all the tribes of Israel gathered there at a feast of Yahweh? And no one would take much notice of ‘lovers’ seizing their girlfriends and carrying them off. But once the Benjaminites had succeeded they had to immediately leave the feast and make for Benjaminite territory just over the border. It was abduction by force without any regard for the girls or their families.
21.22 ‘And it shall be, when their fathers and their brothers come to complain angrily to us, that we will say to them, ‘Grant them to us as a gift. For we did not take for each man his wife in battle, nor did you give them to them. Or else you would now be guilty’.’
Clearly once news of the kidnappings got out the fathers and brothers of the girls would come to the elders for them to deal with the situation. Then the elders would put in their plea, speaking on behalf of the Benjaminites. They would point out that the girls had not been taken in battle (that would have rendered the Benjaminites guilty again of fighting the confederacy). Nor had they been given freely (that would have put the blame on the fathers who gave their daughters.) Thus no covenant had been broken. And they would ask that the relatives give their daughters, as a gift to them, the elders for the sake of preserving the tribe of Benjamin in the tribal confederacy. (The language may be typical Eastern understating. The ‘gift’ might have included some form of recompense).
21.23a ‘And the children of Benjamin did so, and took wives for themselves according to their number, of those who danced, whom they carried off.’
The plan was carried out and worked successfully. The girls were legally kidnapped, each man choosing a wife for himself out of those available. Then they escaped into the territory of the tribe of Benjamin.
21.23b ‘And they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the cities and dwelt in them.’
Benjamin was still their inheritance so that these men had much land to choose between them. They would now be wealthy and leaders of their people.
But some have cavilled at the idea of a strong tribe of Benjamin arising so speedily from so few. However, that is to misunderstand the situation. Refugees who had fled would return in droves, families in which someone had married a Benjaminite women in the past and who lived elsewhere would come to claim their wives’, or mothers’, or grandmothers’ family inheritance, and become Benjaminite in return. Others would see the large tracts of land still available and they too would be willing to be adopted into Benjamin, or claim descent, in return for grants of land, for many records had been destroyed in the destruction that had taken place, and if the men were suitable not too many questions would be asked. Good fighting men would be welcomed and would soon be absorbed into Benjamin. Every man of ambition but little wealth would see it as a great opportunity. So until the lands and cities were reoccupied people would flood in. And their families would all soon proudly claim their descent from Benjamin.
From the beginning the tribes had always been fluid, especially since the absorption of the mixed multitude under Moses (Exodus 12.38). That process would now go on. Their problem would not be sufficient applicants, but deciding between them. An almost ‘empty’ land was a huge attraction.
The weakness of Benjamin for a time might explain why they continually could not expel the Jebusites from Jerusalem, and such a civil war might explain the weakness of Israel in the face of the enemies described in the first part of the book. It may also partially explain why Benjaminites ceased to be so predominantly left-handed (Judges 3.15; 20.16 contrast 1 Chronicles 12.2).
21.24 ‘And the children of Israel left there at that time, every man to his tribe and every man to his family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance.’
The repetition is typical of ancient literature and Hebrew parallelism. Their task finished, and Benjamin on the way to restoration, they could return to their homes (see 20.8). They went to their tribe, to whom their loyalty was due, and through whom God’s future blessings would come on them as promised to Abraham; to their family (clan) to whom they owed specific allegiance and from whom they too would be ministered justice; and to their inheritance in Israel, which was their reward for being in the covenant. Having fulfilled God’s work in their own way they were able to proceed with life in a covenant relationship with God, satisfied that the stain of the folly had been removed from them.
- Understanding Deuteronomy 22 verses 13 to 19 (paulmarcelrene.wordpress.com)
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