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(MT versing)
Mourning Lost Tribe Wives Provided for the Benjamites The Failure of the Israelite Tribes
Wives for the Tribe of Benjamin Remorse of the Israelites
Repopulating Benjamin
21:1-4 21:1-7 21:1-7 21:1-3 21:1-5
Provision for Their Survival The Girls of Jabesh Given to the Benjamites
21:8-12 21:8-12 21:8-12 21:8-12 21:8-12
21:13-18 21:13-15 21:13-14 21:13-14 21:13-14
The Rape of the Daughters of Shiloh
21:15-24 21:15-18 21:15-18
21:19-24 21:19-22 21:19-22
21:23-24 21:23-24 21:23
21:25 21:25 21:25 21:25 21:25

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. The Israeli tribes were justified in their horror over the actions at Gibeah and the refusal of Benjamin to take responsibility.

  2. However, the immorality of the day is clearly documented in their actions.
    1. slaughter of the tribe of Benjamin as if they were Canaanites
    2. the slaughter of Jabesh-gilead (i.e., the tribal allocation of east Manasseh)
    3. the forced marriage of the remaining 400 virgins (Jdgs. 21:12)
    4. the kidnaping and forced marriage of Israelite virgins from Shiloh (Jdgs. 21:19-23)
    5. cavalier dismissal of the families' concern about their daughters (Jdgs. 21:22)

  3. The chapter could be read in two ways.
    1. their actions were YHWH's will (cf. Jdgs. 20:18, 23, 28)
    2. about the other actions
      1. YHWH did not answer them (Jdgs. 21:2-4)
      2. they came up with the plan themselves, referring to B. #2, 3, 4

  4. What a moral mess this book reveals. Israel, with such hope (cf. Rom. 9:4-5), had violated YHWH's covenant (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). There were consequences!


1Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, "None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage." 2So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3They said, "Why, O Lord, God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?" 4It came about the next day that the people arose early and built an altar there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.

21:1 "the men of Israel had sworn" The VERB (BDB 989, KB 1396, Niphal PERFECT) reflects an oath, taken in YHWH's name, that cannot be broken (cf. Jdgs. 21:7, 18; 11:30-31; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-23).

The content of their sacred oath is "None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage."

▣ "in Mizpah" This is where the combined Israeli fighters from all the tribes assembled against Benjamin (cf. Jdgs. 20:1, 3). See full note at Jdgs. 20:1.

21:2 The good news is that the men of Israel came to YHWH! Their "sitting," "praying," and "weeping" show the intensity of their desire to know YHWH's will in this matter. He is the one who sent them into battle against Benjamin (cf. Jdgs. 20:18, 23, 28).


▣ "Bethel" See note at Jdgs. 20:26.

▣ "wept bitterly" This VERB (BDB 113, KB 129, Qal IMPERFECT with waw) and NOUN (BDB 113) have similar roots and meaning.

  1. weep ‒ הכב
  2. weep ‒ יכב (plus ADJECTIVE, "great," BDB 152)

21:3 "O Lord, God of Israel" This combines the two major names of Israel's Deity.

  1. Lord is literally YHWH
  2. God is literally Eloah (the PLURAL form is Elohim)

For their connotations see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, C. and D.

The NASB has the VERB "missing" in italics but the VERB (BDB 823, KB 955, Niphal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) is present in the MT. BDB says "missed" or "lacking" is one of the uses of the Niphal stem (i.e., #1 option).

21:4 Jacob had earlier built a worship site (i.e., raised pillar/stone, cf. Gen. 28:10-22). It was a special place where YHWH had chosen to reveal Himself to Jacob, later renamed Israel.

5Then the sons of Israel said, "Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up in the assembly to the Lord" For they had taken a great oath concerning him who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah, saying, "He shall surely be put to death." 6And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, "One tribe is cut off from Israel today. 7What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the Lord not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?"

21:5 "a great oath" This may refer to

  1. the united tribes' attack on Benjamin recorded in Judges 20; it referred to putting someone or something under the herem (ban)
  2. the oath not to give their daughters to Benjamin

▣ "He shall surely be put to death" This is an intensified grammatical form (i.e., an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an ACTIVE PARTICIPLE of the same root, BDB 619, KB 669).

This is "holy war" terminology. The citizens of Jabesh-gilead, who were probably a mixture of Canaanite and Israeli backgrounds, will all be killed, except the virgin young women (cf. Jdgs. 21:10-11).

8And they said, "What one is there of the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah?" And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9For when the people were numbered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. 10And the congregation sent 12,000 of the valiant warriors there, and commanded them, saying, "Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. 11This is the thing that you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every man and every woman who has lain with a man." 12And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.

21:8 "Jebesh-gilead" This was a major city on the eastern Jordan who did not respond to the central muster. This was a repudiation of YHWH and the tribal confederacy!

In 1 Sam. 11:1-11, King Saul saved this same city, even later, men of this city buried Saul (1 Sam. 31:11-13). The Benjamites and Jabesh-gilead were related by these 400 women who became the mothers of the tribe of Benjamin.

21:10 "valiant warriors" This title (BDB 298) can have two connotations.

  1. brave fighting men
  2. an upper level of society

It occurs often in Judges (cf. Jdgs. 3:29; 6:12; 11:1; 18:2; 20:44, 46; also note Jos. 1:14; 6:2; 8:3; 10:7).

21:11 "utterly destroy" This is the Hebrew VERB herem (BDB 355 I, KB 353, Hiphil IMPERFECT), which denotes that which has been dedicated to God and has become holy, therefore, it cannot be used by humans (i.e., "under the ban," Joshua 6).

There is an exception to this total slaughter of "holy war" in Num. 31:17-18, where the virgins are also spared.


13Then the whole congregation sent word and spoke to the sons of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them. 14Benjamin returned at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had kept alive from the women of Jabesh-gilead; yet they were not enough for them. 15And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. 16Then the elders of the congregation said, "What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?" 17They said, "There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe will not be blotted out from Israel. 18But we cannot give them wives of our daughters." For the sons of Israel had sworn, saying, "Cursed is he who gives a wife to Benjamin."

21:14 "they gave them the women" This is shocking to moderns! This was a different time and culture. Jesus gave dignity and worth to both women and children.


▣ "yet there were not enough for them" There were 400 virgins from Jabesh-gilead who were spared but there were 600 Benjamite warriors at the rock of Rimmon (cf. Jdgs. 20:47).

21:15 Notice YHWH is the one who allowed/directed the attack on Benjamin (cf. Jdgs. 20:18, 23, 28).

21:16 "elders" See SPECIAL TOPIC: ELDER.

▣ "since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin" YHWH visited "holy war" (i.e., herem) on Benjamin, as He did on Jericho (cf. Jdgs. 20:37, 48). All that breathed was killed.

21:17 Notice all the italicized words at the beginning of the verse. The MT has somehow lost the first of the sentence but it is available from the LXX.

19So they said, "Behold, there is a feast of the Lord from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south side of Lebonah." 20And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, "Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, 21and watch; and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22It shall come about, when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, that we shall say to them, 'Give them to us voluntarily, because we did not take for each man of Benjamin a wife in battle, nor did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.'" 23The sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to their number from those who danced, whom they carried away. And they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the cities and lived in them. 24The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance.

21:19 "a feast of the Lord from year to year" There has been much speculation about this unnamed agricultural feast (cf. Jdgs. 21:20). Here are some suggestions.

  1. Feast of Booths (mention of vineyards)
  2. Passover (mention of dancing, cf. Exod. 15:20-21)
  3. The Day of Atonement based on Taanith IV, 8 (the Mishnah)
  4. a local harvest festival

The question remains, if it is #4, was the festival "Canaanite" or "Israelite"? I think the context, the use of YHWH's name, and the sensitivity of the assembled tribes to the covenant, strongly suggest it was #1, 2 or 3, cf. Ps. 68:26), not a Canaanite fertility festival.

▣ "in Shiloh" It is surprising that such a lengthy description of its location is given to Israelite readers. This implies it was long in ruins (possibly connected to but not mentioned in 1 Samuel 4) by the time Judges was compiled.

21:18 See note at Jdgs. 21:1.

21:22 The capture of the virgins of Shiloh was a scheme of the tribes to get around their oath to YHWH (see Josephus, Antiq. 5.2.12).

The fathers and brothers were grieving over the loss of a dowery, not their daughters.

25In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

21:25 This is the purpose of the book of Judges—the need for a righteous king. The terrible immorality is characterized by "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (cf. Jdgs. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1). This is always a characteristic of fallen mankind—self!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. How is Judges 20 related to Judges 21?
  2. Where was the ark during this period?
  3. Why did YHWH not give a specific answer to Israel's collective prayers, as He did in Judges 20?
  4. What is "the great oath" of Jdgs. 21:5?
  5. Why was Jabesh-gilead put under the ban? Explain the "ban."
  6. How does one view the treatment of women in the OT compared to the teachings of Jesus?
  7. How is Jdgs. 21:25 the purpose statement of the entire book of Judges?

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