Backstory: After the Israelites massacred all of the Benjamites in the tribe’s lands except for 600 men who took refuge at Rimmon, they were sorry (Judges chapter 21). They had second thoughts about their actions! Perhaps they were wrong to kill all the Benjamites, particularly the noncombatants. They went to Bethel (“house of God”) and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Leaving Mizpah and going to Bethel signified the Israelites desire to be close to God. One of the main purposes of the burnt offering was to make atonement for the offeror’s sin and gain God’s acceptance. At Bethel, the Israelites wept and asked God why one of the twelve tribes should be missing from their midst. This questions seemed to deny any personal responsibility for killing the Benjamites or their livestock and setting fire to the villages and town in Benjamin tribal lands.
Story Line: When the sacrifices and offerings were over, the Israelite leaders began to think about how to rebuild Benjamin. One of the first questions was, “Did any town or group fail to join the army at Mizpah?” All the Israelites had taken an oath than anyone who failed to assemble before God at Mizpah would be killed. After each tribe took an inventory of who was there and not present, they found that no man from Jabesh Gilead was present. Jabesh Gilead was a town, east of the Jordan, in tribal lands that belong to land belonging to Gad. To keep their vow and punish the men of Jabesh Gilead, Israelite leaders had every male and every woman who was not a virgin who lived in Jabesh Gilead killed. Only 400 young, virgin females remained alive from the Jabesh Gilead slaughter. The reason the virgins were not killed was to obtain women for the surviving Benjaminites to marry and rebuild the tribe. These young women were taken from their home to Shiloh in Canaan.
Pondering Relationships: At no time in the Bible records of the death of the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead do we see that the young women had any voice. Imagine the sorrow of the young girls, mostly in their early teens, when they saw their parents, siblings, and friends murdered before their eyes? Further, the girls were expected to be happy that they would have husbands. Perhaps, the Israelite leaders even had them participate in the week-long marriage ceremony common of early Israelite weddings (see Jacob Paddan Aran).
After securing the 400 virgins, the Israelite leaders sent a message of peace to the 600 Benjaminites at Rimmon. The Benjaminites returned to their tribal land and were given the virgins as wives. Unfortunately, there were 600 Benjaminites and only 400 virgins from Jabesh Gilead. The Israelite leaders continued to grieve and ask where they could get more wives for the Benjaminites so that the tribe would rebuild? All the Israelite leaders had taken the oath, “Cursed by anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite” (Judges 21:19, NIV). None of them wanted to bring a curse down on themselves by giving a daughter to the Benjaminites for marriage. Then, the Israelite leaders had another idea. This time they would not murder to get wives for the Benjaminite. Instead, the planned for the Benjamities without wives to steal women.
The kidnapping occurred at an annual festival to the Lord at Shiloh. Israelite leaders instructed the Benjaminites without wives to hide in the vineyards until after the girls appeared. Then, each wifeless man should seize a girl of Shiloh and take her to Benjamin and marry her. When the girls’ fathers and brothers complained, the leaders would intervene. The leaders would assure the fathers and brothers they were innocent of breaking their pledge to not give their daughters to Benjamite; but to please allow the girls to be taken by the Benjamites. Thus, Benjamin could be rebuilt.
Reflection: Often I read in the Bible that Israelite leaders acted and then regretted their actions. After they offered sin offerings to God, they seemed to disavow their behavior and go forward without guilt. Intuitively, I don’t like that kind of behavior. But, I am so glad that when I confess my own sins to God, he removes my transgressions and takes away my guilt (1 John 1:9). Amen.
Copyright: May 20, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth