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Bible Commentaries
Judges 21

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-14

Israel bewails the desolation of Benjamin, and takes measures to preserve the tribe from extinction. Twelve thousand men are sent to punish Jabesh-Gilead for not joining in the war against Benjamin, and to take their daughters for wives for the remaining Benjamites.

Judges 21:1-14.

1Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh [Mizpah], saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. 2And the people came to the house of God [Beth-el], and abode [sat] there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore; 3And said, O Lord [Jehovah,] God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel? 4And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt-offerings, and peace-offerings. 5And the children [sons] of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up with [in] the congregation unto the Lord [Jehovah]? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up to the Lord [Jehovah] to Mizpeh, saying, He shall surely be put to death. 6And the children [sons] of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day. 7How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the Lord [Jehovah], that we will not give them of our daughters to wives? 8And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the Lord [Jehovah]? and behold, there came none to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9For the people were numbered [mustered], and behold there were none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there. 10And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the 11children. And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man. 12And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young [women,] virgins [,] that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. 13And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children [sons] of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them [and offered (lit. called) peace to them]. 14And Benjamin came again [returned] at that time; and they gave them wives [the women] which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead: and yet so they sufficed them not [but they found not for them so many].1


[1 Judges 21:14.—ולֹא־מָצְאוּ לָהֶם כֵּן. Here, as in Exodus 10:14, כֵּן means tot; and, in general, it answers to tantus, ***, tot, where “so” we add the appropriate adjective.


Judges 21:1-4. Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah. Our author now informs us, by way of supplementing the preceding narrative, of two oaths taken by the congregation at the beginning of the war. All Israel promised, man by man (hence the expression אִישׁ יִשְׁרָאֵל), that they would not give their daughters as wives to any men of Benjamin. They abrogated the connubium (the right of intermarriage) with the tribe. They determined to treat Benjamin as a heathen people, or as heathen nations, in the absence of special treaties (ἐπιγαμία), were accustomed to look upon each other. There were instances of heathen tribes who did not at all intermix. Such cases were found among Germanic tribes also, until Christianity had fully conquered them. It was the church that brought East-Goths and West-Goths, Anglo-Saxons and Britons, Franks and Romans, to look upon each other as tribes of one Israel. Very great, therefore, must have been the indignation of the collective Israel, when they thus, as it were, cast Benjamin out of their marriage covenant. The Romans once (335 b. c.) punished certain rebellious Latin tribes by depriving them of the privileges of connubia, commercia, et concilia (Liv. viii. 14). The Latins were subject tribes: Benjamin, a brother-tribe with equal rights. It might be thought that such a resolve was of itself sufficient to punish Benjamin for its immorality. But is it not probable that in that case, the tribe, through its stubbornness, would have sunk altogether into heathenism? It must be admitted, however, that double punishment was too severe. For it was to punish the guilty, not to destroy a tribe, that Israel had taken the field. This they now perceive—but too late—after their passionate exasperation has subsided. They now sit before the altar of God in Bethel, weeping over the calamity that has taken place. The consequences of their unmeasured severity are now perceived. To what purpose this utter destruction by the sword of everything that pertained to the brother tribe? When Benjamin took to flight, would it not have sufficed then once more to demand of him the surrender of the guilty? Would he still have resisted, when, helpless, he sought the wilderness for refuge? To what purpose the slaughter of the flying? the indiscriminate use of sword and fagot in the cities? Israel has cause for weeping; for it feels the horrors of civil war. Humanity and kindness are frightened away when brethren war with brethren. The worst and most detestable crimes are committed against nations by themselves, under the influence of foolish self-deception, when they fall victims to internal strife. The exasperation of the feelings puts moral causes entirely out of sight. Leaders, says Tacitus, are then less valued than soldiers (Hist. ii. 29, Judges 6:0 : “civilibus bellis plus militibus, quam ducibus licere”). Israel may bewail itself before God, but it cannot accuse its leaders. The Urim and Thummim approved the punishment of Benjamin, but not the oaths and cruelty with which it was accompanied. However, if Israel in this war furnishes an illustrative instance of the results to which defiant obstinacy (on the side of Benjamin), and fanatical, self-exasperating zeal (on the side of the ten tribes), may lead, it is also instructive to note that it knows that such doings must be repented of. It builds an altar, and, as before the war, brings burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, the first expressive of penitence for the past, the other of vows for the future.

Judges 21:5 ff.. For they had made a great oath concerning whoever came not up to Jehovah to Mizpah, saying, He shall surely be put to death. Israel here also again clearly shows in its history, what every man may observe in his own experience: that repentance and vows, with reference to past precipitate sin, have scarcely been expressed, before the same thing is done again, and frequently with the same blind zeal which was just before lamented. At that time, when indignation at the outrage in Gibeah filled all hearts, an oath was also taken that every city in Israel that did not send its messengers to the national assembly, consequently took no part in the general proceeding against Benjamin, which was the cause of God, should be devoted to destruction. Such a city was considered to make itself, to a certain extent, an ally of Benjamin, and to be not sufficiently disturbed by the outrageous misdeed, to give assurance that it did not half approve of it. Amid the terrible events of the war, it had been neglected to ascertain whether all cities had sent messengers; it is only now, when the question how to help Benjamin up again without violating the oath, is considered, that the absence of messengers from Jabesh-Gilead is brought to light. And what is it proposed to do? To deal with that city as they have just lamented to have dealt with Benjamin. In order to restore broken Benjamin, another and in any view far less guilty city is now to be crushed. The reconciliation of breaches made by wrath is to be made by means of wrath. The people lament that they have sworn an untimely oath, and instead of penitently seeking to be absolved from it before God, undertake to make it good by executing another, equally hard and severe, and that after “Jehovah” has smitten the rebellious (Judges 20:35), and peace has been restored. Jabesh-Gilead was a valiant city, full of men of courage, as all Gileadites were. According to Eusebius, it lay six miles from Pella. Robinson searched for its site along the Wady which still bears the name Yâbis, and thought it probably that now occupied by some ruins, and called ed-Deir (Bibl. Res. iii. 319). The city must have been one of importance in Gilead. This is indicated by the fact that the Ammonite king Nahash selects it as his point of attack (1 Samuel 11:0). In the history of Jephthah its name does not occur. When king Saul hears of the danger threatened the city by Nahash, he cuts a yoke of oxen into pieces, which he sends throughout all Israel with a summons to march to the relief of Jabesh-Gilead, and obtains a splendid victory. These historical notices suggest some noteworthy connections. Against Jabesh the Israelites now undertake the execution of a severe vow, in order to assist Benjamin. At a later date, Saul of Benjamin collects Israel around him, in order to deliver Jabesh. Jabesh does not come when summoned against Benjamin, by the pieces of the slain woman. Under Saul, Benjamin summons the whole people for Jabesh, by the pieces of a sacrificial animal.

Israel sends 12,000 valiant warriors against Jabesh-Gilead—a duly proportioned number, if 40,000 proceeded against Benjamin. The commander of these troops is instructed to destroy everything in Jabesh, except the virgin women, who are to be brought away, in order to be given to Benjamin. It may be assumed, however, that these instructions are to be so taken as that the army was to compel Jabesh to deliver up its virgin daughters as an expiation for its guilt, under threat of being proceeded with, in case of refusal, according to its proper deserts.2 For it is not stated that the destruction was carried out; and, on the other hand, under Saul, Jabesh is again, to all appearances, the chief city of Gilead. The four hundred virgins are then, so to speak, the expiatory sacrifice for the guilty in Gilead. As such, and because the Gileadites were forced to surrender them, they could be given to Benjamin, notwithstanding the oath, which contemplated a voluntary giving. The words in Judges 21:14, “which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-Gilead,” do not imply that the others were actually killed, but indicate that these were those who in any event were to be permitted to live for the sake of Benjamin, and who by their life—not as frequently among the heathen, by their death—helped to preserve the existence both of the Gileadites, from whom they were taken, and of the Benjamites, to whom they were given.3 Inasmuch as they were preserved alive when it was possible to kill them, they were no longer considered to be such as ought not be given to Benjamin. How instructive is all this! Israel will not break its oath, but evades it after all! If Gilead had deserved death, then its virgin women could not be allowed to live. If these may be saved alive, why should the children die? The Gileadites may not give their daughters voluntarily, but do not the Israelites give them for them? The surrender of these maidens is indeed a violent solution of the dilemma in which Israel finds itself, but the solution is only formal, not natural. The Greeks also, in cases of oaths thoughtlessly made, whose performance was maliciously insisted on, had recourse to formal exegesis, which avoided the real execution (cf. Herod. iv. 154; Nägelsbach, Nachhom. Theol., p. 244). For the sake of kindness to Benjamin, Israel here thought itself justified in adopting a similar course; for in order not to weaken the sanctity of oaths, they evaded that which they had sworn by a formal compliance. They soon found occasion to repeat the process; for the four hundred Gileaditish maidens were not sufficient.


Judges 21:14; Judges 21:14.—ולֹא־מָצְאוּ לָהֶם כֵּן. Here, as in Exodus 10:14, כֵּן means tot; and, in general, it answers to tantus, ***, tot, where “so” we add the appropriate adjective.

[2]The Athenian Ionians, according to Herodotus (i. 146), stole Carian women for themselves, and killed their fathers. Hence, he says, the Milesian custom which did not permit women to eat with their husbands, or to call them by their names.

[3][Unfortunately, this exegesis has not a particle of support in the text. To use a favorite phrase of the Germans on such occasions, it is entirely aus der Luft gegriffen.—Tr.]

Verses 15-25

A second expedient to supply the Benjamites with wives: they are instructed to carry off the maidens in attendance at one of the feasts held periodically in Shiloh

Judges 21:15-25

15And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the Lord [Jehovah] 16had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. Then [And] the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin? 17And they said, There must be an inheritance for them 18that be escaped of Benjamin,4 that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel. Howbeit, we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children [sons] of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin. 19Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord [Jehovah] in Shiloh yearly [,] in a place [omit: in a place] which [namely, Shiloh] is on the north side of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of 20Lebonah. Therefore, they commanded the children [sons] of Benjamin, saying, Go, and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21And see, and behold, if [when] 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. 22And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain contend], that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes Give us them kindly]: because we reserved [took] not to [omit: to] each man his wife in the war;5 for ye did not give unto them at this time,6 that ye should be guilty. 23And the children [sons] 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. 24And the children [sons] 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. 25In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.


[1 Judges 21:17.—ירֻששַּׁת שִּׂלֵיטָה סְב יָמִן. Dr. Cassel renders: “A portion of escape yet remains for Benjamin,” i.e., a means of delivering the tribe from extinction. This agrees well with the context, but is expressed somewhat singularly. Keil: “ ‘Possession of the saved shall be for Benjamin,’ i.e., the territory of the tribe of Benjamin shall continue to be a separate possession for those Benjamites who have escaped the general slaughter.” But this is not only incongruous with the context, but puts a meaning into the words which, as they stand, they cannot have. It seems to me that the better interpretation is as follows: In Judges 21:15, the people lament that a tribe is broken off. Thereupon the elders meet for consultation. It is agreed that the only thing needed to avert the catastrophe, lamented by the people as if it had already taken place, is a supply of wives. “There is a possession of escaped to Benjamin,” say the elders (Judges 21:17), “and a tribe will not be destroyed out of Israel” (as the people lament). “We, it is true, cannot give them our daughters (Judges 21:18), but behold there is a feast in Shiloh” (Judges 21:19).—Tr.]

[2 Judges 21:22.—בַּמִּלְחָמָה. Our author translates: als Kriegsbeute, i.e., as captives of war, cf. the exegetical remarks below. It seems better to refer the word to “the war” against Jabesh-Gilead.—Tr.]

[3 Judges 21:22.—בָּעת תֶּאְשָׁמוּ. The word בָּעֵת, rendered “at this time” by the E. V., belongs to the last clause of the verse. The two clauses together are well rendered by Dr. Cassel: “for you have not given them to them, in which case (בָּעֵת) you would be guilty.” He adds in a foot-note: “בָּעֵת as in Judges 13:23; ‘in which case he would not have caused us to hear things like these.’ ” Bertheau refers also to Numbers 23:23.—Tr.]


Judges 21:15 ff. The fact that the number of maidens obtained at Jabesh-Gilead proved insufficient, furnishes the occasion of another consultation, instituted by the “elders of the congregation” (Judges 21:16), in order not to let the tribe of Benjamin die out. Finally, they hit on one last piece of deliverance (יְרֻשֵּׁת פְּלֵיטָה) that is yet left them: they conclude to point out to the Benjamites a method by which they may seize for themselves those wives, which Israel, by reason of its oath, cannot give them. The inhabitants of Jabesh, likewise, did not give their daughters; they were forcibly taken from them, and turned over as booty to the sons of Benjamin.

Shiloh was the scene of a periodically recurring feast, at which the maidens assembled from all regions, and executed dances in certain fixed places. For the sake of these places, and to enable the Benjamites to reach the proper locality without exciting particular attention, an exact description of the situation of Shiloh7 is added.8 For that it is not gone into for the sake of Shiloh itself, is evident from the fact that such descriptions are not elsewhere customary. The Benjamites are told of the vine-hills that enclose the dancing-places. There they are to wait, concealed in the thickets, until the maidens come forth; when they are to rush upon them, seize each a wife, and return with them, along the well-known roads, southward over Rimmon, to their territory, now again peaceably held by them. The Benjamites appear to have directed attention to the consequences of such an exploit, and the ill-will of fathers and brothers likely to be engendered by it. But the elders of the congregation quiet their apprehensions, and say:—

Judges 21:22 ff.. When their fathers or their brethren come unto us to contend. Verse 22 also has experienced the most singular expositions. The Syriac and Arabic versions have substituted לָקְחוּ for לָקִחְנוּ, wherein Studer proposes to follow them. Others, as Bertheau, deem it necessary to leave out the words בַּמּלְחָמָה …. כִּי לֹא. Keil thinks that the words express the sense of the Benjamites, as if they had uttered them. And yet the matter is clear. The Benjamites, having recent experience of the consequences of lawlessness, are apprehensive of new troubles, in consequence of the proposed seizure. The elders quiet their fears, and say: No doubt, the fathers or brothers will come and contend warmly; and with us, for it will be manifest that we have given the occasion. Without this, you, the tribe of Benjamin, would not now have dared to do this thing. They will reproach us with having brought them under the curse of having violated their oath, inasmuch as you have obtained their daughters. Then shall we say to them (the fathers): Be quiet and gentle; give the maidens kindly to us. You know that we did not take them in war, as booty, as for instance, at Jabesh. We have indeed allowed them to be taken (for which no grudge is to be held against Benjamin); but in peace, not for injury: and as you did not give them, no guilt attaches to you. What else could we do to provide wives for Benjamin, without involving ourselves in the curse of a broken oath? We therefore allowed your daughters to be seized, but not as captives of war. Your daughters have gone to them involuntarily; and no curse can come on you, since you did not give them to them. The emphasis of the sentence lies on this very word לָקחְנוּ. Since we permitted them to be taken, there can be no thought of disgrace and war, or of insult. Therefore, do not contend; for why should there be contention where there is no war. The “elders” will ask forgiveness for themselves, on the ground that they meant it well with the seizure (לא כַּמִּלְחָמָה), not in war; and fathers and brothers, whose wrath against Benjamin has now subsided, will all be satisfied, as soon as they are convinced that what has been done does not render them liable to the curse which lights on oath-breakers. For the oath that had been taken was latterly the chief hindrance in the way of reconciliation with Benjamin.

The Benjamites, thus encouraged, and made to feel secure against bad consequences, actually execute the proposed exploit, and with the wives thus won return happy to their renovated inheritance. Roman history, it is well known, has a celebrated occurrence of a similar nature in the rape of the Sabine women. A few analogous features are undoubtedly observable therein. The tribes of Italy refuse to enter into marriage treaties with the Romans; and the latter feared the destruction of their scarcely founded state. The Sabine rape occurred in the fourth month of Rome (Plutarch, Romulus, 14); and four months Benjamin had been sitting in the rock Rimmon. Benjamin received only maidens (Judges 21:12; Judges 21:21); and only maidens likewise did the Romans seize (Plut. l. c.; Schwegler, Röm. Gesch. i. 478). It was also a feast for which the Sabine women appeared in Rome, albeit not as active participants. In Israel, it has been thoughtfully conjectured, the dancing maidens perhaps celebrated the memory of Miriam’s festive chorus of timbrel-striking maidens, when Israel had safely passed through the Red Sea. The Romans celebrated the consualia on the anniversary of the rape of the Sabine maidens, and conceived the observance sacred to the sea-god. In like manner, the animal that symbolized Mars, the god whom Romulus chiefly served at Rome, was the wolf, whom also his worshippers did not disgrace. Benjamin is compared with a wolf, and the word חָטַף, used of the seizure of the virgins (Judges 21:21), is afterwards applied as characterizing the wolf9

Schwegler (Röm. Gesch. i. 469) declares that the rape of the Sabines is a myth, sprung from the conception of marriage as a robbery.10 But it is precisely in this story that the seizure of women is contrasted, as a thing improper in itself, with the regular marriages of the other tribes. The idea of the narrative is rather to show the impossibility of maintaining laws prohibiting intermarriage between different tribes. It contained the lesson that the marriage connections of men overleap the historical divisions of tribes and families, and that just as the ship converts the separating sea into an highway of fellowship (Neptunus Equestris, for the sea is a steed), so connubium, the practice of intermarriage, is the commingling of different tribes. Consualia are, therefore, conjugalia; Consus is Conjux; the veiling and concealment connected with his festivals, corresponds to the concealment of the married (nubere, connubium), and the sacrifice of a mule corresponded to the wish, that although the union was one of heterogeneous elements, analogous to that from which the animal sprang, it might nevertheless not be marked by the barrenness of which he was a symbol.

But all this is yet more clearly taught by Benjamin’s seizure of the maidens of Shiloh. Israel is the type of an organic nationality with different tribes. Should it attempt to abolish the practice of intermarriage, the result must be, either the forcible taking of women, or the death of a member of the living whole. In peace the Benjamites regain what they had lost in war. An ambuscade almost annihilated them: by an ambuscade they now win new life. Then Israel lay breathing forth wrath, in desolate wadys, in order to inflict barrenness: now, Benjamin lies among fertile vine-hills, in order to procure a blessing. It is frightful to think of Benjamin dissolving in flames, and his women and maidens falling by the inexorable sword; so that it must be acknowledged a grateful change when we can picture to ourselves the Benjamites hurrying away with their kidnapped prizes. But the seeming act of war was yet not without its terrors and tears, as suddenly the timbrels ceased to sound, and daughters screamed, and mothers wept. It was an image of war sufficient of itself to mark the horribleness of civil war. The narrative is given for the purpose of pointing out into what irregularities a people naturally falls when it lacks the organic unity of one general regimen. It closes with the words, which might form the superscription of the entire Book: “There was no king in Israel, and every man could do what seemed right in his own eyes.”

Concluding Note.—The time in which the occurrence at Gibeah and the events that grew out of it took place, it is not difficult to ascertain. Everything points back to the time in which the memories and traditions of Israel’s military fellowship under Joshua were yet living and fresh. It is the period concerning which it is said, Joshua 24:31, and Judges 2:7 : “And the people served Jehovah all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of Jehovah, which he did for Israel.”

It is also evident from the narrative that God was still zealously served. Counsel was sought from the Urim and Thummim. The people wept and fasted before God. They brought burnt-sacrifices and peace-offerings. Of idolatry, there is not a trace. Union with heathen women is held inconceivable. All Israel still feels itself under a military organization such as obtained under Moses and Joshua. In all probability, no great length of time had elapsed since military operations for the conquest of the land had come to a stand-still. From Judges 1:22-26, it may be seen what great importance was attached to the conquest of Bethel. When the house of Joseph, in whose territory Shiloh and the estate of the high-priest lay (Joshua 24:33), went up against Bethel, “Jehovah was with them.” It is probable that from that time until into the days of the events that have just been related, the ark of the covenant was at Bethel, and that that place was the centre of military actions. The ark must, however, have been removed before the end of the Benjamite war; for when peace is restored, it is found in Shiloh. Its stay at Bethel cannot have been long, for there is there no permanent altar (Judges 21:4). The maidens of Jabesh, also, are not brought to Bethel, but to Shiloh (Judges 21:12). The exodus from Egypt is still in living remembrance (Judges 19:30). Just as after the death of Joshua, the order was, “Judah first” (Judges 1:1), so it is now (Judges 20:18). Nothing is visible as yet of the partial efforts of single tribes. All this is most clearly deducible from the fact that Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, and the grandson of Aaron, stands at the head of the sanctuary (Judges 20:28). He was yet one of those who had seen the great works of Jehovah. Eleazar, his father, had died after Joshua. Until he himself died, Israel’s religious condition was doubtless such as is described in Judges 2:7. Moreover, his name and character suggest the inference that the events just treated of, are immediately connected with the preceding great age. It was Phinehas whose moral zeal incited him to slay the sinning Israelite in the territory of Moab, for which act he was praised as having “turned away the wrath of God” (Numbers 25:7-12). To him, therefore, the moral indignation of Israel over the criminal outrage of Benjamin, is doubtless to be especially attributed. He had been selected by Moses to accompany a hostile expedition against Midian by which Israel had been seduced into heathen practices (Numbers 31:6). This expedition numbered twelve thousand men,—one thousand from each tribe. The expedition against Jabesh-Gilead was organized in a similar manner. If this type of priestly zeal for faith and purity of morals stood at the head of Israel, the whole war against Benjamin, at least so far as its motives are concerned, becomes plain. Before this, a similar war against the two and a half transjordanic tribes had almost occurred. These tribes, as we are told in Joshua 22:0, had built themselves an altar: the sons of Israel this side the Jordan thought that it was intended for idolatrous purposes. They came together in Shiloh, and resolved to proceed against the supposed apostates. But first an embassy was sent, at whose head Phinehas again stood (Judges 21:13). The address which he made to them is altogether in the spirit of the action determined on against Benjamin.

But it is precisely this last named occurrence that enables us to characterize yet more narrowly the catastrophe related in chaps, 20 and 21, and to comprehend the design with which it stands, not at the beginning, but at the close of the Book, and alongside of the history of Micah. It is not stated that a solemn embassy, like that in Joshua 22:19 ff., was sent to Benjamin, to set his sin before him in the spirit of kindness. Everything is indeed done according to the forms of the law and under priestly instruction, but with such assured consciousness of power, and with such carnal fanaticism, that the zeal is not pleasing, and is finally attended by lamentable consequences. The moral motive of the war against Benjamin is certainly to be praised; but the blind rage in victory is of the flesh. The crime of Benjamin was horrible; but the unity, determination, and perseverance which Israel manifests against this tribe, end in a fanaticism which at last forgot that the war was waged only because Benjamin was a brother, and that he was treated worse than national enemies had ever been. This is the lesson which the narrator designs to teach by placing this narrative at the close of his Book. He censures what his narrative contained, for both at its beginning and at its close he says: “there was no king in those days.”

In the next place, he furnishes an opportunity to compare the tribes of Dan and Benjamin with each other, in their characters, their deeds, and their fortunes. Both were preëminently warlike. But this valor, to what did they turn it? Why was not Dan as bold against the Philistines as against peaceful Laish? or why did not Benjamin turn his martial spirit against Jebus, a place of such importance to him? Dan founds an idolatrous worship in order not to lose his tribe-consciousness; and Benjamin defends a crime by way of resenting the interference of other tribes. Dan’s offense, however, is justly deemed more heinous than that of Benjamin; for it committed a spiritual sin against the Spirit of the eternal God, while Benjamin protected a terrible, indeed, but yet only fleshly crime. The difference shows itself also in the consequences. It is true that both Benjamin and Dan lose their proper importance. The cities and territories of both are taken by Judah. But the hero who comes out of Dan, Samson, is none of theirs who practice idolatry in the north. His fame did not redound to their honor. But out of Benjamin arose, after this, more than one glorious deliverer. When he was yet but a remnant, Ehud rose up in the midst of him to be a deliverer. Saul and Jonathan—the first king and his royal son—were Benjamites.

This being so, the narrator allows the reproach to fall on Israel of having acted so differently with respect to Dan and Benjamin. In the face of deeds like those of Micah and Dan, it remained inactive, neither warned nor took any other measure, although the sins were mortal in their nature; whereas it nearly destroyed Benjamin. And even before these occurrences in Benjamin, where was this united strength, when, in disregard of the law, heathen people, as the prophet tells them in Judges 2:0, were left to pursue their own modes of life and idol service?

It was this that drew the punishment after it. Had the external unity been in possession of its earlier internal strength, not only would the victory over Benjamin have been gained more quickly, but the servitude under foreign foes would not have come so soon. The observance of external forms, the customary prayer, the usual routine of worship in war and peace, are of no avail, unless animated by living faith.

Israel felt that one tribe was lacking to protect its eastern flank on the Jordan, when Moab invaded the country. True, it was a Benjamite, Ehud, who delivered the country from the tyrant, but it was only by the help of Ephraim (Judges 3:27) that he gained the complete victory. His own tribe were too few in numbers. Even Saul was still conscious that he came from the smallest tribe of Israel (1 Samuel 9:21), although under him Israel already felt that “there was a king in the land.”


The Book closes with two highly significant narratives. In connection with what has gone before, they demonstrate the insufficiency of the existing national organization. Even under the great heroes, national unity, in the full sense of the word, did no longer exist. Deborah complains of the indifference of the tribes to the common weal. Gideon experiences the envy of Ephraim, which under Jephthah breaks out into bloody hostility. Samson stood alone, whom his own people themselves propose to hand over to the enemy. The Judgeship affords no guaranty of national unity. With this, there is wanting also concentrated discipline against sin. Sin, therefore, can do what it will. There is a lack of authority. Hence, the Book of Judges forms the introduction to the Books of the Kings. Both concluding narratives show what the consequences are when the law loses its force, when faith grows weak, when apostasy breaks loose, and subjective arbitrariness asserts itself. The first sketches more particularly the decay of nationality, as exhibited in the arbitrariness of the individual; the second, the discords that result from the passionate procedures of the whole nation. The arbitrariness revealed by the first, concerns spiritual matters; that by the second, is fleshly in its nature. The first shows that against the service of God anything may be done with impunity: the second, that for fleshly sins blood is made to flow in streams. In both cases, indeed, sin punishes itself; but it broke forth, because every one did what he would. Moral decay always shows itself first in the priestly order. In both narratives, the frivolity of a Levite is a principal cause of the lamentable results that ensue. This opens the way to subjective arbitrariness of every kind, which superstition uses to its own advantage. Micah builds a private sanctuary, and under priestly forms sets up idolatry. He was punished for his sin, by being made to experience the thing he had done. He committed a robbery on the spirit of Israelitish law, and he was robbed, by Dan, of all he had applied to this purpose. As he had done, so it was done to him. The arbitrariness which he had exercised, was pleasing to others also. The priest who had sold himself to him, departed when he found a better buyer. The insubordination allowed the individual, because there was no one vested with general authority, permitted also a tribe to leave its appointed territory. One tribe (Dan), strong enough to rob the weaker, but with not enough spirit to win the land assigned it from the Philistines, removes into a distant region, and destroys a peaceable city. Robbery and murder are followed by permanent idolatry under the priestly charge of a descendant of Moses.
From all this we may see what the consequences would be were Christianity to become wholly inactive in the state. Persons, who deem themselves virtuous, suppose that the religion of a living God is by no means absolutely necessary for social life. But as soon as religion falls into decay, and before its influence ceases altogether, the moral supports of society fall to pieces. When the ministers of the Word begin to regard good positions more than truth, ruin is at hand. Venality is followed by its evil consequences, although he who is ready to sell himself know enough of the language of the day to conceal it. A Christian must serve no idols. The more surely, therefore, is it a sign of decay, when he makes a business of serving superstition.

Starke: The creature is to be applied for God’s honor, but not in honoring him. Arbitrariness in parts, leads to arbitrariness in the whole. If the foundation-stone, piety, be removed, then the tribes, like stones of a building, fall apart. The fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom, and also the protector of all peace.

On Chaps. 19–21.—When the command of God is no longer in the heart, priests become carnal, and their flocks lawless. As the Levite runs after a concubine, so the people of Gibeah seek the indulgence of bestial lusts. Who will imitate the morals of a master, who rejects God’s sacred command. If in Gibeah the law of Jehovah is dishonored with impunity, how can it be expected that they will show obedience toward their brethren? Israel is indignant at the sins of Benjamin, but does it turn away from its own? Virtuous indignation is not difficult, but careful self-examination is more necessary. The rod may undertake to maintain supremacy, but only truth can succeed in doing it. Civil war arises not from political, but from moral dangers. The love of peace will begin as soon as self-righteousness ceases. Seb. Schmidt observes: “The best way of conciliating an enemy is to do him good.” But kind deeds towards an enemy spring only from love, which is a daughter of repentance. The severest judges of morals often know least of this love. Love is most needed when it becomes necessary to punish. Israel began to grieve bitterly when Benjamin was almost destroyed. Men recognize only when too late, what the root was in the beginning. Lewdness strangles compassion. Carnal zeal consumes considerateness. Self-righteousness irritates the minds of men. Only at the altar of God, through the pious priest, does peace come into being.

Gerlach: In all this it becomes manifest what Israel might have been and continued to be, if it had clung faithfully to the Lord and his commandments, and had preserved its covenant with the Lord, and by that very means its national purity, unimpaired.—The same: The people, drawing near to God in the presentation of expiatory burnt offerings, sought in these offerings to remove the breach between the holiness of the Lord and their own sinfulness; and in the sacred meals that followed the offering, to obtain the assurance of the assistance of divine grace as they went forth into the holy war.

Only where the gospel is heard and followed, is there peace. For that reason, the Lord, our Saviour, says to all his disciples: Peace be with you!


[4][Judges 21:17.—ירֻששַּׁת שִּׂלֵיטָה סְב יָמִן. Dr. Cassel renders: “A portion of escape yet remains for Benjamin,” i.e., a means of delivering the tribe from extinction. This agrees well with the context, but is expressed somewhat singularly. Keil: “ ‘Possession of the saved shall be for Benjamin,’ i.e., the territory of the tribe of Benjamin shall continue to be a separate possession for those Benjamites who have escaped the general slaughter.” But this is not only incongruous with the context, but puts a meaning into the words which, as they stand, they cannot have. It seems to me that the better interpretation is as follows: In Judges 21:15, the people lament that a tribe is broken off. Thereupon the elders meet for consultation. It is agreed that the only thing needed to avert the catastrophe, lamented by the people as if it had already taken place, is a supply of wives. “There is a possession of escaped to Benjamin,” say the elders (Judges 21:17), “and a tribe will not be destroyed out of Israel” (as the people lament). “We, it is true, cannot give them our daughters (Judges 21:18), but behold there is a feast in Shiloh” (Judges 21:19).—Tr.]

[5][Judges 21:22.—בַּמִּלְחָמָה. Our author translates: als Kriegsbeute, i.e., as captives of war, cf. the exegetical remarks below. It seems better to refer the word to “the war” against Jabesh-Gilead.—Tr.]

[6][Judges 21:22.—בָּעת תֶּאְשָׁמוּ. The word בָּעֵת, rendered “at this time” by the E. V., belongs to the last clause of the verse. The two clauses together are well rendered by Dr. Cassel: “for you have not given them to them, in which case (בָּעֵת) you would be guilty.” He adds in a foot-note: “בָּעֵת as in Judges 13:23; ‘in which case he would not have caused us to hear things like these.’ ” Bertheau refers also to Numbers 23:23.—Tr.]

[7]The description may still be recognized, since Robinson seems to have discovered Shiloh in Seilun, and Lebonah in Lubban. The description of Shiloh as “Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan” (Judges 21:12), is more peculiar. This was only the full name of the place, cf. Joshua 21:2; Joshua 22:9, where it is named in the same way. Cf. Lugdunum Batavorum.

[8][Better Keil: “The exact description of the situation of Shiloh serves to show that it was peculiarly adapted for the execution of the advice given to the Benjamites, who after seizing the maidens, could easily escape into their territory by the highway leading from Bethel to Shechem, with out being apprehended by the citizens of Shiloh.”—Tr.]

[9]Cf. the Targum on Ezekiel 22:27, and my Gold. Thron. Salomonis. p. 164.

[10]The usages, also, of which he makes mention, as, for instance the Spartan, have a different meaning. The mother must be robbed of her child because she loves it. The narrative in question exhibits the necessity of robbery because the stranger does not meet with love.

[11][The following “Homiletical and Practical” paragraphs are based on the whole of “Part Third” of the Book, from chap. 17 to 21 inclusive. As will be seen, it was impracticable to place them under the several parts of the text to which they refer, according to the plan pursued in the other parts of the volume (cf. the note on p. 19).—Tr.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/judges-21.html. 1857-84.
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