A. A foolish oath.
1. (1) At Mizpah, a curse is laid on anyone who gives their daughter as wives for the tribe of Benjamin.
Now the men of Israel had sworn an oath at Mizpah, saying, “None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife.”
a. None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin: Considering their anger against Benjamin, this probably seemed like the right thing to do. But this foolish oath had unforeseen consequences. Justice not only brings punishment to evildoers, but it also guards against punishment that is too harsh.
2. (2-3) Israel realizes that a whole tribe is in danger of extinction.
Then the people came to the house of God, and remained there before God till evening. They lifted up their voices and wept bitterly, and said, “O LORD God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?”
a. Why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel: They cried out to God, almost as if it was His responsibility that the tribe of Benjamin was on the edge of extinction. The question, “Why has this come to pass?” was easily answered: Because of the excessive vengeance of the tribes of Israel against the tribe of Benjamin.
b. One tribe missing: Down to almost only 400 men – and those men unable to marry because of the curse pronounced in Judges 21:1 – the tribe of Benjamin was almost extinct.
B. Solutions to the problem of the foolish oath.
1. (4-15) Destroying the city of Jabesh Gilead and taking their young women.
So it was, on the next morning, that the people rose early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. The children of Israel said, “Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up with the assembly to the LORD?” For they had made a great oath concerning anyone who had not come up to the LORD at Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” And the children of Israel grieved for Benjamin their brother, and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel today. What shall we do for wives for those who remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them our daughters as wives?” And they said, “What one is there from the tribes of Israel who did not come up to Mizpah to the LORD?” And, in fact, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh Gilead to the assembly. For when the people were counted, indeed, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead was there. So the congregation sent out there twelve thousand of their most valiant men, and commanded them, saying, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead with the edge of the sword, including the women and children. And this is the thing that you shall do: You shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman who has known a man intimately.” So they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known a man intimately; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. Then the whole congregation sent word to the children of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and announced peace to them. So Benjamin came back at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh Gilead; and yet they had not found enough for them. And the people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a void in the tribes of Israel.
a. Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up with the assembly to the LORD… He shall surely be put to death: Here again Israel did something that seemed right at the time, but was actually a horror. They decided to slaughter a whole city of Israel, a city that refused to join with Israel in the fight against Benjamin.
i. This was doing one bad thing to make up for another. Israel instead should have repented of their foolish oath made at Mizpah, and they should have agreed to give their daughters as wives to the men of the tribe of Benjamin, renouncing the foolish vow of Judges 21:1.
b. They found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead four hundred young virgins: In the ungodly massacre at Jabesh Gilead, they killed all but 400 young virgins. Still, this was not enough: yet they had not found enough for them.
2. (16-24) A scheme to give the remaining men of Benjamin an opportunity to take wives.
Then the elders of the congregation said, “What shall we do for wives for those who remain, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?” And they said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be destroyed from Israel. However, we cannot give them wives from our daughters, for the children of Israel have sworn an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the one who gives a wife to Benjamin.’” Then they said, “In fact, there is a yearly feast of the LORD in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, “Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin. Then it shall be, when their fathers or their brothers come to us to complain, that we will say to them, ‘Be kind to them for our sakes, because we did not take a wife for any of them in the war; for it is not as though you have given the women to them at this time, making yourselves guilty of your oath.’” And the children of Benjamin did so; they took enough wives for their number from those who danced, whom they caught. Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and they rebuilt the cities and dwelt in them. So the children of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family; they went out from there, every man to his inheritance.
a. Every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh: They answered the problem of wives for the remaining Benjaminites by creating a little drama where the Benjaminites were allowed to “kidnap” women (who were no doubt willing), so that the marriages could be arranged without “official” approval.
i. Rather than go through this charade, they should have simply confessed their sin of making a foolish oath and done the right thing instead of trying to make two wrongs equal a right.
b. Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and they rebuilt the cities and dwelt in them: In this, the tribe of Benjamin was sufficiently restored to provide Israel with its first king (Saul).
3. (25) The summary observation of the times of Israel.
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
a. There was no king in Israel: This kind of moral, political, social, and spiritual chaos could only happen where there was no recognized king over Israel – and where people forgot about God as their King.
b. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes: Generally, the 400-year period of the Judges was marked by this radical individualism. They rejected the standard of God’s word and accepted the individual standard of what was right in their own eyes.
i. “It is impossible to read this appendix to the Book of Judges, and especially the closing part of it, without being impressed with how sad is the condition of any people who act without some definitely fixed principle. Passion moves to purpose only as it is governed by principle.” (Morgan)
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