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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Judges 21

 

 

Verse 1

21:1. The men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh — When they first assembled there 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 villany to be as bad as heathen, with whom they were forbidden to marry.


Verse 2

21:2. And lift up their voices and wept sore — Some days after their fury was over, and they coolly considered what they had done in the heat of war, their joy and triumph for their victory were turned into mourning and lamentation, for the loss of so many of their brethren.


Verse 3

21:3. Why is this come to pass? — They had no reason to ask the cause, or by what means it came to pass, which they knew too well; but this is a common expression of grief or complaint. Strange! when they uttered this for the loss of the tribe which they imagined must be extinct, because there were no women left to match with the six hundred men who had saved themselves in the rock Rimmon, that they did not pour forth the deepest expressions of sorrow and contrition for their own wickedness, in having been guilty of such inhumanity toward the innocent among the Benjamites, particularly the women and children, who could not be culpable in any degree. Alas! what crimes is human nature capable of! and what need is there of the divine grace to renew and influence the heart of man!


Verse 4

21:4. The people rose early and built there an altar — It is likely that they erected a new altar upon this present occasion, when such a multitude of sacrifices were to be offered by all the people of Israel, that the ordinary altar was not sufficient to receive them. Thus Solomon did when he dedicated the temple, 1 Kings 8:64. And, by the direction of God, it was frequently done in other places besides at the house of God.


Verse 5

21:5. That came not up with the congregation — When summoned to come together under a great penalty upon those who absented themselves. For they had made a great oath — That is, a solemn oath, joined with some terrible execration against the offenders herein. This oath probably was made by the great assembly of their rulers (called the whole congregation) when they summoned the people to Mizpeh, as the other oath (mentioned 21:1) was made after the people were come thither, upon the Benjamites’ refusal to do justice. He shall surely be put to death Because, by refusing to execute the vengeance due to such malefactors, they were presumed to be 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.


Verse 11

21:11. Ye shall utterly destroy every male, &c. — Strange infatuation of the human mind! That they should imagine the Divine Majesty would be more honoured and pleased by an action quite contrary to, and abhorrent from, his essential nature and attributes, than if they had implored his pardon for a rash oath, and honoured him by not keeping it! Would to God that this had been the only time that the human race have thought to honour God by acts which are the most hateful to him! The cruel havocs made by religious persecution in different ages and countries have, alas! too fully witnessed how far the mind of man is capable of erring in this respect! O shocking blindness and infatuation! that men should think that the God of love, he who is love itself, can be pleased or honoured by acts of the most barbarous cruelty!

As Jabesh-gilead was beyond Jordan, and at a great distance, it is probable the inhabitants thereof had not heard of the vow which the Israelites had made. “But if they had been guilty of neglect and disaffection to the common cause,” as Mr. Scott argues, “they had not assisted the Benjamites: and yet when the people were lamenting the desolations of that tribe, they proceeded to treat those who were far less criminal with equal rigour!”


Verse 12

21:12. They brought them into the camp — If the vow they had made would admit of their sparing the virgins, why could they not also, in consistency with that oath, have spared the other women and children, and innocent persons, and only punished the guilty? But it is evident “that convenience, rather than justice or piety, induced them to spare the virgins, that they might extricate themselves from the difficulties in which their rash oath had involved them.” — Scott.


Verse 15

21:15. The Lord had made a breach, &c. — The Benjamites were the only authors of the sin, but God was the author of the punishment, who employed the Israelites as his executioners to inflict it. They, however, had greatly exceeded their commission, and exercised a severity not enjoined.


Verse 17

21:17. There must be an inheritance for Benjamin — The words, There must be, are not in the Hebrew, which runs thus: The inheritance of them that are escaped is for Benjamin; that is, the six hundred remaining Benjamites must have that part of the country which was given to the whole tribe by the divine lot for their inheritance; or, 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.


Verse 19

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.”


Verse 21

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. Thus they thought they kept their oath, because they did not give them wives, but only suffered them to take them, and to keep them when they had taken them. But, alas! what better was this than a mere evasion of it, and at the same time an authorizing of fraud, violence, and the marriage of children without the consent of their parents? Which last particular, if it might have been dispensed with, there was no need of this scheme, for the Benjamites could easily have found themselves wives, without the Israelites giving them their daughters.


Verse 23

21:23. They took them wives according to their number — That is, each man took 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. And repaired the cities — By degrees, increasing their buildings as their number increased.


Verse 25

21:25. In those days there was no king in Israel — There were elders, ( 21:16,) who had some authority, and there was a high-priest, ( 20:28,) but there was no supreme governor, such as Moses and Joshua were, and after them the judges, and none that had power sufficient to punish public wrongs, whoredoms, and idolatries, and thereby check the progress of vice and profanenness, and keep the people in order. “The sacred writer,” says Dr. Dodd, “no doubt, repeats this observation to account for the disorders and enormities mentioned in the four preceding chapters; which exhibit a most depraved state of things;” every man doing what was right in his own eyes — Or, following his own corrupt passions and inclinations. “It is a natural inference from hence, that men ought to be extremely thankful for lawful authority: and, if they would preserve their felicity, ought to be zealous to support that authority, as well as to discourage all licentious approaches toward its dissolution. The Persians have a custom which justifies this reflection. When any of their kings die, they suffer the people to do as they please for five days, that by the disorders then committed, they may see the necessity of legal government, and learn submission to it. In general, the four chapters which finish this book show us to what a degree the Israelites were degenerated in the short space from the death of Caleb to the election of his younger brother to be their judge: we discover the true cause of the chastisements wherewith God punished them from time to time, though he delivered them from their enemies, under whose yoke they must infallibly have fallen, if God had not beheld them with compassion, and raised them up judges to save them from ruin. We just remark, in conclusion, that it would be unreasonable to draw any inference from the tumultuous and irregular actions of a tribe or people, to the lessening of the authority of the writer of any history. The writer of the present book ought rather to be admired for the impartiality with which he relates facts so little to the credit of his nation.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 21:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/judges-21.html. 1857.

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