The final chapter of Judges is about reconciliation with Benjamin and about solving a problem that had been created by an oath Israel had made previously. “Now the men of Israel had sworn an oath at Mizpah, saying, ‘None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife.’ Then the people came to the house of God, and remained there before God till evening. They lifted up their voices and wept bitterly, and said, ‘O LORD God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?'” (21:1-3). Although they defeated Benjamin, no one is happy. These are fellow Israelites they had slain in this civil war, and they grieved over the loss (and rightfully so; cf. Ezek. 33:11). Since they had pledged not to give any wives to Benjamin, the 600 men who remained would have no way to perpetuate their tribe (without sinning by marrying foreigners). What could be done? Israel had punished Benjamin but did not want the tribe to become extinct.
A solution is arrived at, and it is connected to another oath they had made at Mizpah. If any city in Israel was not represented in their meeting against Benjamin, that city would be destroyed. The nation had expected complete support from all the tribes against the terrible deed that had been done at Gibeah. Being lethargic or not wanting to get involved was deemed unacceptable and punishable! They learn that no one from Jabesh Gilead had supported the cause. “So the congregation sent out there twelve thousand of their most valiant men, and commanded them, saying, ‘Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead with the edge of the sword, including the women and children. And this is the thing that you shall do: You shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman who has known a man intimately.’ So they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known a man intimately; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan” (21:10-12).
Although they could have completely destroyed all inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead, they spare the virgins in order to give them to the Benjamites. Israel announces peace with Benjamin and the 600 men return to their territory. They receive the 400 virgins as wives, but there remained 200 men of Benjamin who did not have a wife.
“Then the elders of the congregation said, ‘What shall we do for wives for those who remain, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?’ And they said, ‘There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be destroyed from Israel. However, we cannot give them wives from our daughters, for the children of Israel have sworn an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the one who gives a wife to Benjamin.’ Then they said, ‘In fact, there is a yearly feast of the LORD in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.’ Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, ‘Go, lie in wait in vineyards, and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin. Then it shall be, when their fathers or their brothers come to us to complain, that we will say to them, ‘Be kind to them for our sakes, because we did not take a wife for any of them in the war; for it is not as though you have given the women to them at this time, making yourselves guilty of your oath'” (21:16-22).
Although this solution may strike a chord of humor with us, it worked for them and the 200 men of Benjamin followed instructions and caught wives for themselves (i.e., they stole by consent)! The men of Benjamin then returned home and rebuilt their cities. The name of Benjamin was not extinguished in Israel! When reflecting upon Judges 19-21, it is incredible to contemplate that the immoral behavior of a small group of men led ultimately to a civil war where over 65,000 perished! Friends, our actions have consequences. Even behavior that we may deem to be small or insignificant in the scheme of things may have a dramatic impact in ways we cannot calculate. May we always seek to do what is right by God’s standard and trust Him to take care of us! Right always triumphs in the end!
The book closes with a sentiment we have seen previously – “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). If only God had truly been their king! That is what He desired; and His leadership is exactly what the nation needed!