The ruins of the tribe of Benjamin we read of in the foregoing chapter;
now here we have,
I. The lamentation which Israel made over these ruins,
II. The provision they made for the repair of them out of the 600 men
that escaped, for whom they procured wives,
1. Of the virgins of Jabesh-Gilead, when they destroyed that city for
not sending its forces to the general rendezvous,
2. Of the daughters of Shiloh,
And so this melancholy story concludes.
|Lamentation for the Benjamites; Wives Provided for the Benjamites.
||B. C. 1409.|
1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There
shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
2 And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till
even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;
3 And said, O LORD God of Israel, why is this come to pass in
Israel, that there should be to day one tribe lacking in Israel?
4 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose
early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and
5 And the children of Israel said, Who is there among all the
tribes of Israel that came not up with the congregation unto the
LORD? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not
up to the LORD to Mizpeh, saying, He shall surely be put to
6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their
brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this
7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we
have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our
daughters to wives?
8 And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel
that came not up to Mizpeh to the LORD? And, behold, there came
none to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly.
9 For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none
of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there.
10 And 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 children.
11 And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly
destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.
12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four
hundred young 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.
13 And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the
children of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call
peaceably unto them.
14 And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them
wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead:
and yet so they sufficed them not.
15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the
LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
We may observe in these verses,
I. The ardent zeal which the Israelites had expressed against the
wickedness of the men of Gibeah, as it was countenanced by the tribe of
Benjamin. Occasion is here given to mention two instances of their zeal
on this occasion, which we did not meet with before:--
1. While the general convention of the states was gathering together,
and was waiting for a full house before they would proceed, they bound
themselves with the great execration, which they called the
Cherum, utterly to destroy all those cities that should not send
in their representatives and their quota of men upon this occasion, or
had sentenced those to that curse who should thus refuse
for they would look upon such refusers as having no indignation at the
crime committed, no concern for the securing of the nation from God's
judgments by the administration of justice, nor any regard to the
authority of a common consent, by which they were summoned to meet.
2. When they had met and heard the cause they made another solemn oath
that none of all the thousands of Israel then present, nor any of those
whom they represented (not intending to bind their posterity), should,
if they could help it, marry a daughter to a Benjamite,
This was made an article of the war, not with any design to extirpate
the tribe, but because in general they would treat those who were then
actors and abettors of this villany in all respects as they treated the
devoted nations of Canaan, whom they were not only obliged to destroy,
but with whom they were forbidden to marry; and because, in particular,
they judged those unworthy to match with a daughter of Israel that had
been so very barbarous and abusive to one of the tender sex, than which
nothing could be done more base and villainous, nor a more certain
indication given of a mind perfectly lost to all honour and virtue. We
may suppose that the Levite's sending the mangled pieces of his wife's
body to the several tribes helped very much to inspire them with all
this fury, and much more than a bare narrative of the fact, though ever
so well attested, would have done, so much does the eye affect the
II. The deep concern which the Israelites did express for the
destruction of the tribe of Benjamin when it was accomplished.
1. The tide of their anger at Benjamin's crime did not run so high and
so strong before but the tide of their grief for Benjamin's destruction
ran as high and as strong after: They repented for Benjamin their
They did not repent of their zeal against the sin; there is a holy
indignation against sin, the fruit of godly sorrow, which is to
salvation, not to be repented of,
2 Corinthians 7:10,11.
But they repented of the sad consequences of what they had done, that
they had carried the matter further than was either just or necessary.
It would have been enough to destroy all they found in arms; they
needed not to have cut off the husbandmen and shepherds, the women and
(1.) There may be over-doing in well-doing. Great care must be taken
in the government of our zeal, lest that which seemed supernatural in
its causes prove unnatural in its effects. That is no good divinity
which swallows up humanity. Many a war is ill ended which was well
(2.) Even necessary justice is to be done with compassion. God does not
punish with delight, nor should men.
(3.) Strong passions make work for repentance. What we say and do in a
heat our calmer thoughts commonly wish undone again.
(4.) In a civil war (according to the usage of the Romans) no victories
ought to be celebrated with triumphs, because, which soever side gets,
the community loses, as here there is a tribe cut off from
Israel. What the better is the body for one member's crushing
2. How did they express their concern?
(1.) By their grief for the breach that was made. They came to the
house of God, for thither they brought all their doubts, all their
counsels, all their cares, and all their sorrows. There was to be heard
on this occasion, not the voice of joy and praise, but only that of
lamentation, and mourning, and woe: They lifted up their voices and
not so much for the 40,000 whom they had lost (these would not be so
much missed out of eleven tribes), but for the entire destruction of
one whole tribe; for this was the complaint they poured out before God
There is one tribe lacking. God had taken care of every tribe;
their number twelve was that which they were known by; every tribe had
his station appointed in the camp, and his stone in the high priest's
breast-plate; every tribe had his blessing both from Jacob and Moses;
and it would be an intolerable reproach to them if they should drop any
out of this illustrious jury, and lose one out of twelve, especially
Benjamin, the youngest, who was particularly dear to Jacob their common
ancestor, and whom all the rest ought to have been in a particular
manner tender of. Benjamin is not; what then will become of Jacob?
Benjamin is become a Benoni, the son of the right hand a son of sorrow!
In this trouble they built an altar, not in competition, but in
communion with the appointed altar at the door of the tabernacle, which
was not large enough to contain all the sacrifices they designed; for
they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, to give thanks for
their victory, yet to atone for their own folly in the pursuit of it,
and to implore the divine favour in their present strait. Every thing
that grieves us should bring us to God.
(2.) By their amicable treaty with the poor distressed refugees that
were hidden in the rock Rimmon, to whom they sent an act of indemnity,
assuring them, upon the public faith, that they would now no longer
treat them as enemies, but receive them as brethren,
The falling out of friends should thus be the renewing of friendship.
Even those that have sinned, if at length they repent, must be forgiven
2 Corinthians 2:7.
(3.) By the care they took to provide wives for them, that their tribe
might be built up again, and the ruins of it repaired. Had the men of
Israel sought themselves, they would have been secretly pleased with
the extinguishing of the families of Benjamin, because then the land
allotted to them would escheat to the rest of the tribes, ob
defectum sanguinis--for want of heirs, and be easily seized for
want of occupants; but those have not the spirit of Israelites who aim
to raise themselves upon the ruins of their neighbours. They were so
far from any design of this kind that all heads were at work to find
out ways and means for the rebuilding of this tribe. All the women and
children of Benjamin were slain: they had sworn not to marry their
daughters to any of them; it was against the divine law that they
should match with the Canaanites; to oblige them to that would be, in
effect, to bid them go and serve other gods. What must they do
then for wives for them? While the poor distressed Benjamites that were
hidden in the rock feared their brethren were contriving to ruin them,
they were at the same time upon a project to prefer them; and it was
[1.] There was a piece of necessary justice to be done upon the city of
Jabesh-Gilead, which belonged to the tribe of Gad, on the other side
Jordan. It was found upon looking over the muster-roll (which was
that none appeared from that city upon the general summons
and it was then resolved, before it appeared who were absent, that
whatever city of Israel should be guilty of such a contempt of the
public authority and interest that city should be an anathema;
Jabesh-Gilead lies under that severe sentence, which might by no means
be dispensed with. Those that had spared the Canaanites in many places,
who were devoted to destruction by the divine command, could not find
in their hearts to spare their brethren that were devoted by their own
curse. Why did they not now send men to root the Jebusites out of
Jerusalem, to avoid whom the poor Levite had been forced to go to
Men are commonly more zealous to support their own authority than
God's. A detachment is therefore sent of 12,000 men, to execute the
sentence upon Jabesh-Gilead. Having found that when the whole body of
the army went against Gibeah the people were thought too many for God
to deliver them into their hands, on this expedition they sent but a
Their commission is to put all to the sword, men, women, and children
according to that law
Whatsoever is devoted of men, by those that have power to do it,
shall surely be put to death.
[2.] An expedient is hence formed for providing the Benjamites with
wives. When Moses sent the same number of men to avenge the Lord on
Midian, the same orders were given as here, that all married women
should be slain with their husbands, as one with them, but that the
virgins should be saved alive,
That precedent was sufficient to support the distinction here made
between a wife and a virgin,
400 virgins that were marriageable were found in Jabesh-Gilead, and
these were married to so many of the surviving Benjamites,
Their fathers were not present when the vow was made not to marry with
Benjamites, so that they were not under any colour of obligation by it:
and besides, being a prey taken in war, they were at the disposal of
the conquerors. Perhaps the alliance now contracted between Benjamin
and Jabesh-Gilead made Saul, who was a Benjamite, the more concerned
for that place
(1 Samuel 11:4),
though then inhabited by new families.
|The Virgins of Shiloh Surprised.
||B. C. 1409.|
16 Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do
for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed
out of Benjamin?
17 And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that
be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of
18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the
children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth
a wife to Benjamin.
19 Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in
Shiloh yearly in a place which 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 Lebonah.
20 Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying,
Go and lie in wait in the vineyards;
21 And see, and, behold, if 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
22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come
unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable
unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his
wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time,
that ye should be guilty.
23 And the children 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.
24 And the children 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.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did
that which was right in his own eyes.
We have here the method that was taken to provide the 200 Benjamites
that remained with wives. And, though the tribe was reduced to a small
number, they were only in care to provide each man with one wife, not
with more under pretence of multiplying them the faster. They may not
bestow their daughters upon them, but to save their oath, and yet marry
some of their daughters to them, they put them into a way of taking
them by surprise, and marrying them, which should be ratified by their
parents' consent, ex post facto--afterwards. The less
consideration is used before the making of a vow, the more, commonly,
there is need of afterwards for the keeping of it.
I. That which gave an opportunity for the doing of this was a public
ball at Shiloh, in the fields, at which all the young ladies of that
city and the parts adjacent that were so disposed met to dance, in
honour of a feast of the Lord then observed, probably the feast
for that feast (bishop Patrick says) was the only season wherein the
Jewish virgins were allowed to dance, and that not so much for their
own recreation as to express their holy joy, as David when he danced
before the ark, otherwise the present melancholy posture of public
affairs would have made dancing unseasonable, as
The dancing was very modest and chaste. It was not mixed dancing; no
men danced with these daughters of Shiloh, nor did any married women so
far forget their gravity as to join with them. However their dancing
thus in public made them an easy prey to those that had a design upon
them, whence bishop Hall observes that the ambushes of evil spirits
carry away many souls from dancing to a fearful desolation.
II. The elders of Israel gave authority to the Benjamites to do this,
to lie in wait in the vineyards which surrounded the green they
used to dance on, and, when they were in the midst of their sport, to
come upon them, and catch every man a wife for himself, and carry them
straight away to their own country,
They knew that none of their own daughters would be there, so that the
parents of these virgins could not be said to give them, for they knew
nothing of the matter. A sorry salvo is better than none, to
save the breaking of an oath: it were much better to be cautious in
making vows, that there be not occasion afterwards, as there was here,
to say before the angel that it was an error. Here was a very
preposterous way of match-making, when both the mutual affection of the
young people and the consent of the parents must be presumed to come
after; the case was extraordinary, and may by no means be drawn into a
precedent. Over hasty marriages often occasion a leisurely repentance;
and what comfort can be expected from a match made either by force or
fraud? The virgins of Jabesh-Gilead were taken out of the midst of
blood and slaughter, but these of Shiloh out of the midst of mirth and
joy; the former had reason to be thankful that they had their lives for
a prey, and the latter, it is to be hoped, had no cause to complain,
after a while, when they found themselves matched, not to men of broken
and desperate fortunes, as they seemed to be, who were lately fetched
out of a cave, but to men of the best and largest estates in the
nation, as they must needs be when the lot of the whole tribe of
Benjamin, which consisted of 45,600 men
came to be divided again among 600, who had all by survivorship.
III. They undertook to pacify the fathers of these young women. As to
the infringement of their paternal authority, they would easily forgive
it when they considered to what fair estates their daughters were
matched and what mothers in Israel they were likely to be; but the oath
they were bound by, not to give their daughters to Benjamites, might
perhaps stick with some of them, whose consciences were tender, yet, as
to that, this might satisfy them:--
1. That the necessity was urgent
We reserved not to each man his wife, owning now that they did
ill to destroy all the women, and desiring to atone for their too
rigorous construction of their vow to destroy them by the most
favourable construction of their vow not to match with them. "And
therefore for our sakes, who were too severe, let them keep what they
have got." For,
2. In strictness it was not a breach of their vow; they had sworn not
to give them their daughters, but they had not sworn to fetch them back
if they were forcibly taken, so that if there was any fault the elders
must be responsible, not the parents. And Quod fieri non debuit,
factum valet--That which ought not to have been done is yet
valid when it is done. The thing was done, and is ratified only by
connivance, according to the law,
Lastly, In the close of all we have,
1. The settling of the tribe of Benjamin again. The few that remained
returned to the inheritance of that tribe,
And soon after from among them sprang Ehud, who was famous in his
generation, the second judge of Israel,
2. The disbanding and dispersing of the army of Israel,
They did not set up for a standing army, nor pretend to make any
alterations or establishments in the government; but when the affair
was over for which they were called together, they quietly departed in
God's peace, every man to his family. Public services must not make us
think ourselves above our own private affairs and the duty of providing
for our own house.
3. A repetition of the cause of these confusions,
Though God was their King, every man would be his own master, as if
there was no king. Blessed be God for magistracy.