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Look again at how the theme verses for the book of Judges form the bookends for these appendix chapters of 17-21 as we finish up our study of the book (17:1; 21:25):

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

As we have looked into the sad story of Israel’s religious and moral depravity in these final chapters, we come away with no positive examples or praiseworthy role models. Instead we see people going through the motions of outward religious observances while their heart trusts in their faulty human wisdom. They get themselves into complicated moral messes and then devise imaginative escape plans without ever coming to grips with the real problem of their own pride and idolatry and independent spirit

  • Joshua: Victory Through Faith

  • Judges: Failure Through Compromise – yet surprisingly, the Lord still preserves His people

The book is as much about the Faithfulness of God as it is about the Worldliness of God’s People

What God’s people cannot seem to get a grip on during this time period of the Judges is owning up to their own culpability. They fail to take their own sin seriously enough. The Levite who surrendered his concubine to the lusts of the mob in Gibeah is a prime example. And God’s people are also in denial regarding the impact of their sin on their community as a whole. So they are surprised when brought face to face with the harsh reality of national crisis.

Inrig Illustration: There is an old story of a ship that was traveling across the Mediterranean, and one of the passengers cut a hole through the side of the ship. The sailors came to him and demanded to know what he was doing. “What difference does it make to you?” he asked. “The hole’s under my own bunk.”

For the Israelites, their ship has taken on so much water that it is difficult to find a way to repair it. Imagine coming to a counselor with a life that is all twisted up with complicated sin problems from a myriad of poor choices and ingrained sinful habits. There is no quick fix or simple word of advice that will suffice. The only hope is to reach that state of brokenness and bankruptcy where you cast yourself totally on the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus. Israel does not take that path. Instead we find:


The narrator presents events without any moral critique. He does not wrap everything up for us in a tidy ethical and theological package. We are intended to feel the ambivalence between God’s people acting foolishly on their own and yet still struggling to seek His will.


A. (:1) Rash Oath

“Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, ‘None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.’”

There are two oaths that become prominent in the understanding of their thinking here. Both were made in the heat of battle when they gathered at Mizpah in response to the object lesson of the cut up concubine. These were not carefully thought out game plans that were derived from prayerfully seeking the Lord’s will. These were passionate outcries from hearts that were shocked with outrageous conduct – much like a parent might respond in rage with some type of outlandish punishment.

  • Oath #1 which we have here in vs. 1 – We will not give our daughters to the men of Benjamin in marriage

  • Oath #2 – (vs. 5) placing any city under the ban of destruction if they did not rally with their fellow countrymen to take up this offense

We know how seriously these oaths were treated from the earlier story of Jephthah and his daughter coming out of his door to greet him upon his return from battle. Going back on your commitment does not seem to be an option – even if the oath has been rash and somewhat foolish. So now we have a major problem …

B. (:2) Regret Without Repentance

“So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.”

Four months have passed since the almost total obliteration of the tribe of Benjamin;

Now we see an attitude change on the part of the Israelites – they start to have some concern for God’s overall program of maintaining a nation of 12 tribes. That is part of their core DNA as a people.

Weeping like a funeral dirge for the death of a tribe

Not allowing a lot of time to seek the Lord – just gave it until that evening

Seems like they are lifting up their voices more in complaint than in contrition

James 4:6-10

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

C. (:3) Raising Foolish Questions

“And they said, ‘Why, O LORD, God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?’”

Sounds like they are blaming God for their predicament – They are asking the popular “Why” question – Don’t we do this all the time? Why is this happening to me? As if I am so righteous and blameless that I should expect perfect circumstances when the reality is that I am still a fallen sinner living in a cursed environment that depends solely on God’s mercy and grace for any benefits.

Maybe the Israelites should not have been so quick to follow up on the success that God had given them against the Benjamite warriors by then aggressively pursuing the utter destruction of all of their cities – including the women who could have been potential marriage candidates for the remnant of 600 soldiers seeking refuge at the rock of Rimmon. (20:48)

Block: in the mid of the narrator this grotesque application of Yahweh’s prohibition on intermarriage with Canaanites (Deut 7:1-5) to their own kinfolks serves as a final acknowledgment of the Canaanization of Israel. ..

This question sounds more like a cry of protest than an honest query. Indeed the tone is accusatory. The Israelites are blaming God, as if Yahweh has failed to fulfill his role as divine patron protecting his people. Their query seems to represent an attempt to evade the requirements of covenant justice and to find a scapegoat. Whatever the Israelites’ motive, the silence of God is deafening! In contrast to chap. 20, where the issue was still retribution for gross violation of covenantal standards, this time Yahweh will not be drawn in. He will not accept responsibility for what has happened in Israel.

Brensinger: To appreciate more fully the severity of such a situation, one need only remember that an entire social safeguard existed in ancient Israel to prevent a single family from dying out! According to the levirate law, if a man died childless, his brother was required to marry the widow and produce an heir for him (Deut. 25:5-10). Otherwise, the deceased man’s name would be forever forgotten, and him with it. How much worse, then, is the prospect of watching an entire tribe disappear.

D. (:4) Religious Rites Without Inward Transformation

“And it came about the next day that the people arose early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”

Just going through external religious motions accomplishes nothing

Notice the silence of God – they have not humbled themselves to the point where God will respond. But they have no patience to wait upon the Lord. They turn to religious activity as something that might ease the burden on their conscience and they decide to move forward in their own human wisdom.

They are still holding on to trying to be in control of the situation rather than putting their dependence upon the Lord. So they wrap things up in some type of religious veneer and aggressively move forward – imagining that the God who remains silent is somehow still with them in their decision making.


A. (:5-9) Perplexing Problem and Expedient Solution

“Then 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.’ And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, ‘One tribe is cut off from Israel today. What 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?’ And 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. For when the people were numbered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there.”

Does not seem to be any concern to investigate the reason why the town of Jabesh-gilead had not responded. Maybe there was some legitimate excuse?? Why had this not been addressed earlier??

Devising a solution that does not have any cost for themselves.

Aren’t they just going to create the same type of problem for Jabesh-gilead in terms of them having the sustainability to maintain their inheritance?

Block: What happens around this verse (:6) represents the people’s own attempt to solve the crisis, made all the more necessary by Yahweh’s silence on its causes and its solution.

B. (:10-12) Snatch and Grab Quick Strike Mission

“And 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. And this is the thing that you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every man and every woman who has lain with a man.’ And 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.”

Introducing more mayhem and violence into the equation – some commentators suggest that maybe the men of the city gave up the virgins willingly rather than suffer destruction … certainly this city still has a role in Israel’s history going forward

C. (:13-15) Incomplete Resolution

“Then the whole congregation sent word and spoke to the sons of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon, and proclaimed peace to them. And Benjamin 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. And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.”

PreceptAustin: Breach or Gap (perets) was usually associated with an outburst of the Lord’s anger (“And David became angry because of the LORD’S outburst [root word parats] against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.” 2Sa 6:8). “Breach” also refers to a break in a wall, and figuratively in this context and would refer to God’s judgment upon the Benjaminites accomplished through battle (Judg. 20:35). Benjamin’s near extinction left a gaping hole in the Israelite tribal structure, much like a breach in a wall.



A. (:16-22) Perplexing Problem Persists and Expedient Solution #2

“Then 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?’ And they said, ‘There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel. But 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.’ So 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.’ And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, ‘Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, and 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. And it 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.’”

Look at their Entitlement Mentality – it is all about each family in Israel being able to enjoy their rightful inheritance. They have forgotten that the land is a gracious gift from God and tied to covenant faithfulness. Now they want to assert their rights.

Block: Although the three festivals prescribed in Exodus 23 and Deuteronomy 165 oblige all males to appear, this celebration is known as a festival of dancing women. The elders again try to sanctify their strategy by calling this event a “festival of the Lord.” But the narrator’s refusal to specify which festival is in mind suggests that in his view this is another symptom of the Canaanization of Israel.

Matter of semantics

B. (:23a) Snatch and Grab Quick Strike Mission

“And the sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to their number from those who danced, whom they carried away.”

I guess each of the 200 got to lie in the weeds and select his bride —

Dennis T. Olson: (The New Interpreter’s Bible) Preoccupation with legalistic and technical obedience to certain rules or laws without an accompanying sense of the principles of faithfulness and love that undergird such laws and temper their rigid application is a recipe for disaster.

C. (:23b-24) Final Resolution

“And they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the cities and lived in them. And the 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.”

Tribe of Benjamin has been preserved – everybody can go home in peace and concentrate on their inheritance

Where is giving the glory to God in all of this?? Strictly a humanistic enterprise


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


Humanistic Solutions are never real answers to our problems. As believers today in the Church Age, we can look forward with confidence to the Righteous King who is coming and who will reign in peace and righteousness. He will take all of the messy situations of today and make the paths straight. But even now the Head of the Church, the precious Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ wants to reign in our lives and in our church to guide us into that pathway of holiness and righteousness. May we bow the knee every day to our King and do what is right in His eyes.