The Word Made Fresh
1At Mizpah the Israelites had sworn, “None of us will give a daughter in marriage to a Benjaminite.” 2Now they gathered at Bethel, and sat there before the LORD until evening, weeping bitterly. 3They cried, “O LORD God of Israel, why has it happened that today a tribe is gone from Israel?”
4The next day they arose early and built an altar there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. 5Then they asked, ‘Who among our tribes did not come up with us to gather before the LORD?” They had made a vow earlier that anyone who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah would be executed. 8But now they felt sorry for Benjamin, their relatives, and said, “One tribe has been taken away from Israel. 7Of the few that remain, how can we find wives for them, since we have sworn before the LORD that we will not give them any of our daughters?”
That is why they asked, “Are there any from among the tribes of Israel who did not join with us before the LORD at Mizpah?” They realized that no one from Jabesh-Gilead had assembled with them at their camp, 9and when they had called the roll no one from Jabesh-Gilead had answered.
10They chose twelve thousand soldiers and sent them there, and told them, “Go, execute the people who live at Jabesh-Gilead, including women and children. 11No, do this: destroy every man, and every woman who has had sex with a man.” 12When they went, they discovered that there were four hundred young virgins in Jabesh-Gilead. They brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.
13They sent a message to the Benjaminites at the rock of Rimmon to make peace with them, 14and the remaining men of Benjamine returned, and they gave them the women they had saved from Jabesh-Gilead. But there weren’t enough of them.
15They felt sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made a hole in Israel. 16The elders said, “What shall we do to find wives for the ones who are left, since there are no women left in Benjamin? 17It is crucial that the remaining Benjaminites have heirs, or a whole tribe will be erased from Israel. 18But we can’t give our daughters to them as wives because we have sworn that anyone of us who allows a daughter to marry a Benjaminite will be cursed.”
19Finally, someone said, “Every year there is a festival to the LORD at Shiloh, which is located north of Bethel east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem south of Lebonah.” 20So, they told the Benjaminites, “Go and hide in the vineyards 21and watch, and when the young women of Shiloh come to join in the dances, come out of the vineyards and each of you carry off a wife for yourself and take her to the territory of Benjamin. 22If the girls’ fathers or brothers complain about it, we’ll tell them to be generous and allow the girls to go, because we were unable to capture in battle a wife for each man of Benjamin.” And this way we are not guilty of giving our daughters to them.”
23And that’s what happened. The men of Benjamin took wives from among the dancers and returned to their territory and rebuilt their towns and lived in them.
24Then all the Israelites in their family and tribal groups left Shiloh and returned to their own territories. 25In those days Israel had no king. Everybody did whatever they thought was right.
1-14: There is no joy at Bethel. The Israelites mourn the fact that nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin has been wiped from the face of the earth. There are 600 men remaining, of course, but they cannot marry and carry on their tribe because the other tribes swore at the original gathering at Mizpah that they will not give their daughters to the men of Benjamin. What to do? Well, it turns out that one city did not respond to the call to arms — Jabesh-Gilead — and so it seems to them to be a fair and reasonable solution to murder everybody in Jabesh-Gilead except the virgin girls and give them to the Benjaminites. And the beat goes on.
But there are only 400 virgins, and 600 guys, leaving 200 without gals.
15-24: What to do? They finally arrive at a clever solution. They tell the remaining 200 Benjaminites to go hide in the vineyards near Shiloh where a popular festival is taking place. When the young girls come out to dance, they are to spring out of hiding, grab a girl and head for the hills. When the girls’ fathers protest, they will be told it’s alright — after all, they weren’t “giving” their daughters to the Benjaminites, and so their agreement at Mizpah was not being violated. I’m sure the fathers said, “Oh, okay! It’s alright, then!”
(Al Capp, author the popular comic strip “Li’l Abner,” was inspired by this story to invent his imaginary community festival called “Sadie Hawkins’ Day.” But in his version, it is the girls who chase down the guys and marry whichever one they can catch.)
25: After Samson died, we were told that “in those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6). Those very words are repeated at the end of the book of Judges. The last 5 chapters have illustrated what happens to a society when all the people do whatever is right in their own eyes.
There is one important lesson we can take from the book of Judges: If God can straighten this mess out, God can straighten us out, too.