Ensuring a Future for Benjamin. 1* The men of Israel took an oath at Mizpah: “None of us will give his daughter in marriage to anyone from Benjamin.” 2So the people went to Bethel and remained there before God until evening, raising their voices in bitter weeping.a 3They said, “LORD, God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel that today one tribe of Israel should be lacking?” 4Early the next day the people built an altar there and offered burnt offerings and communion offerings. 5Then the Israelites asked, “Are there any among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the LORD for the assembly?” For there was a solemn oath that anyone who did not go up to the LORD at Mizpah should be put to death.b
6The Israelites were disconsolate over their brother Benjamin and said, “Today one tribe has been cut off from Israel. 7What can we do about wives for the survivors, since we have sworn by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?” 8And when they asked, “Is there one among the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the LORD in Mizpah?” they found that none of the men of Jabesh-gilead had come to the encampment for the assembly. 9A roll call of the people was taken, and none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gileadc was present. 10So the assembly sent twelve thousand warriors there with orders, “Go put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword. 11This is what you are to do: Every male and every woman who has had relations with a male you shall put under the ban.”* d 12Finding among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgin women, who had not had relations with a man, they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, in the land of Canaan.e 13Then the whole assembly sent word to the Benjaminites at the crag of Rimmon,f offering them peace. 14* So Benjamin returned at that time, and they were given as wives the women of Jabesh-gilead who had been spared; but these proved to be not enough for them.
15The people had regrets about Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach among the tribes of Israel.g 16The elders of the assembly said, “What shall we do for wives for the survivors? For the women of Benjamin have been annihilated.”h 17They said, “There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe will not be wiped out from Israel. 18Yet we cannot give them any of our daughters in marriage.” For the Israelites had taken an oath, “Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin!” 19Then they thought of the yearly feast of the LORD at Shiloh,i north of Bethel, east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah. 20And they instructed the Benjaminites, “Go and set an ambush in the vineyards. 21When you see the women of Shiloh come out to join in the dances, come out of the vineyards and catch a wife for each of you from the women of Shiloh; then go on to the land of Benjamin. 22When their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we shall say to them, ‘Release them to us as a kindness, since we did not take a woman for every man in battle. Nor did you yourselves give your daughters to them, thus incurring guilt.’”*
23The Benjaminites did this; they carried off wives for each of them from the dancers they had seized, and they went back each to his own heritage, where they rebuilt the cities and settled them. 24At that time the Israelites dispersed from there for their own tribes and clans; they set out from there each to his own heritage.
* [21:1–7] The victorious Israelites now become concerned about the survival of the tribe they have defeated. Despite the large number of Benjaminites killed in the final battle (20:46) and the general carnage that followed (20:48), there does not seem to be a shortage of men. The problem is rather a shortage of wives for the surviving men, the result of a previously unmentioned vow the Israelites took not to permit their daughters to marry Benjaminites.
* [21:11] Under the ban: see note on 1:17. In this case the sanction is imposed not because of the rules for the conquest of the promised land (cf. Dt 20:10–18) but because of the failure of the men of Jabesh-gilead to honor their oath and report for the assembly.
* [21:14] Very strong political ties existed between the people of Jabesh-gilead and the Benjaminites, especially those involving Saul, the Benjaminite king of Israel. See 1 Sm 11, where Saul rescues Jabesh from an Ammonite siege, and 1 Sm 31:11–13, where the people of Jabesh exert themselves to ensure that the bodies of Saul and his sons should receive honorable burial.
* [21:22] Release them…guilt: this verse is difficult. Evidently the elders intend to make two arguments in support of their request that the men of Shiloh release their claims on the abducted women. The first argument seems to be that an insufficient number of women were taken “in battle”—i.e., the raid on Jabesh-gilead—to provide “a woman for every man”—i.e., a wife for every Benjaminite. The second argument is that since the women have been kidnapped, the men of Shiloh will not be guilty of having violated the oath mentioned above in 21:1, 7, and 18.
* [21:25] See note on 17:6. This final editorial comment calls attention to the chaos that followed the Benjaminite civil war and the near anarchy that characterized the various efforts to meet the need for wives for the Benjaminites.