Judges 21 Commentary

Chart from recommended resource Jensen's Survey of the OT - used by permission
Chart on Judges - Charles Swindoll
Another Overview Chart of Judges

(The High Cost of Compromise)

Jdg 1:1-3:6

Jdg 3:7-16:31

Jdg 17:1-21:25
Introduction History of the Judges Appendix
Causes of the

Curse of the

Conditions in
the Cycles

Failure to Complete Conquest Jdg 1:1-36
God's Judgment for
Failure Jdg 2:1-3:6
Curse of the
Conditions in
the Cycles
Living with
War with the
Living Like the
About 350 Years of Israel's History - Almost 25%!
From Compromise to Confusion!
"in the days when the JUDGES governed"
(Note: All dates are approximations & time gaps NOT to scale)
Exodus 40 Years Israel Enters Canaan JUDGES Saul David   Messiah

Redemption from Slavery

Wilderness Wandering

Canaan Conquered
Joshua Dies

LIGHT of book of RUTH
Shines forth
in Dark Days of Judges

To obey is better than sacrifice

Man after God's Own Heart

The Lamb that was slain

-- 40 yrs ~24 yrs

350+ yrs

40 yrs 40 yrs Forever
MESSIAH'S LINE   To Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab To Boaz was born Obed by Ruth To Obed was born Jesse To Jesse was born David the King Jesus Christ the Lord

1445 -1405

1405 -1381


1051-1011 1011-971 4AD

Another Timeline of Israel's History
Click to Enlarge

from Jensen's Survey of the OT

Click to Enlarge

Judges 21:1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, "None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage."

A C Gaebelein's Summary

CHAPTER 21 The Repentance About Benjamin

1. Sorrow of the people and Jabesh-Gilead smitten (Jdg 21:1-15)

2. The restoration of Benjamin (Jdg 21:16-25)

A tribe of the nation was almost entirely exterminated. Then the oath they had made not to give their daughters to wife to the Benjamites left assured the complete extinction of the tribe. The dreadful work they had done dawned suddenly upon them and weeping before Jehovah they said, "Why is this come to pass in Israel that there should be today one tribe lacking in Israel ?" The answer surely was, it came to pass on account of their departure from God and their sins. Thus people ask when they behold the scenes of bloodshed and war, as we see in our times, why is this? and are even ready to blame God, instead of thinking of sin and its curse. Then once more they acted themselves and committed another deed of violence. Jabesh-Gilead is destroyed; only four hundred virgins are saved. These were given to the Benjamites. But what hypocrisy they showed in having a feast of Jehovah and commanding the Benjamites to steal the daughters of Shiloh ! Failure and decline is written in this book. God's faithfulness towards His people whom He loves is not less prominent.

"This is Israel , the people of God: infirm and wavering where good is to be accomplished; quick and decisive where patience and forbearance would become them; tolerant of what is only of themselves; scrupulously keeping an insane oath, yet managing to evade it by a jesuitry that deceives no one. Such is the people of God, and such is Christendom today; and such it has been. Let us search our hearts as we read the record,--not given as a record without purpose in it. How solemn is the repetition at the end of what has been the text of these closing chapters: 'In those days there was no king in Israel : every man did what was right in his own eyes'" (Numerical Bible).


  • had sworn -Jdg 20:1,8,10; Je 4:2
  • None of us - Jdg 21:5; 11:30,31; 1Sa 14:24,28,29; Eccl 5:2; Mk 6:23; Acts 23:12; Ro 10:2
  • daughter - Ex 34:12, 13, 14, 15, 16; Dt 7:2,3


1. The God of History uses whoever and whatever He needs to test or correct his errant people. God's ultimate goal, however, is to save, bless and aid His people as they live in close personal relationship to Him.

2. The God of History is able to chose whoever He wants as His instrument: weak, strong, man, woman, highborn, lowborn, righteous, or unrighteous.

3. The God of History often ordains government to punish sinners and protect the righteous. (Judges - Valley Bible Church)

Sworn (saba') , to make to swear an oath. This vow (Click for ISBE article on vow), probably taken in the name of the Lord, was not an ordinary vow but invoked a curse on oneself if the vow was broken.

Once again a hasty vow leads to trouble. In his zeal to assure victory, Jephthah vowed to offer a human sacrifice to the Lord (Jdg. 11:30). In the same way, the Israelites' hasty vow here leads to atrocities being committed against Israelite women on a mass scale. Just as Jephthah's daughter's dance of celebration was turned into tragedy and mourning (Jdg 11:34), so the Shilonite girls' dancing (in Jdg 11:20) was interrupted as they were abducted from their families (Jdg 11:23). This theme of the hasty, foolish oath reappears in 1Samuel 14:24-45, where Saul's vow jeopardizes the life of his heroic son Jonathan.

The Bible emphasizes the importance of keeping one's vow. A vow unfulfilled is worse than a vow never made. While vows do not appear often in the New Testament, Paul made one that involved shaving his head (Acts 18:18).

The apostle Paul came from the tribe of Benjamin. No doubt he was grateful for those four hundred women from Jabesh Gilead (Jdg 21:12) and the two hundred women who were kidnapped at Shiloh, for they kept the tribe alive.


Considering their anger against Benjamin, this probably seemed like the right thing to do. But this foolish oath had unforeseen consequences. Justice not only brings punishment to evildoers, but it also guards against punishment that is too harsh. (Enduring Word Commentary Series)

Preacher's Commentary writes that…

The society of the end of Judges is uncomfortably akin to that of this twilight era of our Western world. The advertising media tempt us to even greater and easier credit facilities until couples end up hopelessly in debt and under strain. The interest rates suddenly rise and whole family units break up under the pressure. The successful young professional is assumed to belong to the company, body and soul, to ditch his private morality in the interests of corporate success, to work all hours to the neglect of his wife and children, with the result that the marriage breaks up, the family disintegrates, and he burns out. Illustrations abound throughout our increasingly godless society, and we do our young people no service if we do not expose the roots of the problem and nerve them to live lives that are distinctively different in an increasingly alien society. Pietistic withdrawal and superspiritual platitudes will not do! If ever things are going to change it will be through those who know that there is a King, the Lord Jesus Christ. Like salt and light, they need to penetrate the godless, hopeless world, as they get stuck into its problems, at every level of society. We can see it in the classic issues such as abortion and euthanasia; but we are often like Israel, failing to see how compromised we are in the ordinary, everyday issues. And that is where it matters most! Perhaps more than any others we Western Christians need to learn the meaning of Christ’s warning: “No servant can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13, emphasis added). (Jackman, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. Vol. 7: The Preacher's Commentary Series, : Judges, Ruth. Page 295. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson)

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21. Through the extraordinary severity with which the tribes of Israel had carried on the war against Benjamin, this tribe had been reduced to 600 men, and thus brought very near to extermination. Such a conclusion to the sanguinary conflict went to the heart of the congregation. For although, when forming the resolution to punish the unparalleled wickedness of the inhabitants of Gibeah with all the severity of the law, they had been urged on by nothing else than the sacred duty that was binding upon them to root out the evil from their midst, and although the war against the whole tribe of Benjamin was justified by the fact that they had taken the side of the culprits, and had even received the approval of the Lord; there is no doubt that in the performance of this resolution, and the war that was actually carried on, feelings of personal revenge had disturbed the righteous cause in consequence of the defeat which they had twice sustained at the hands of the Benjaminites, and had carried away the warriors into a war of extermination which was neither commanded by the law nor justified by the circumstances, and had brought about the destruction of a whole tribe from the twelve tribes of the covenant nation with the exception of a small vanishing remnant. When the rash deed was done, the congregation began most bitterly to repent. And with repentance there was awakened the feeling of brotherly love, and also a sense of duty to provide for the continuance of the tribe, which had been brought so near to destruction, by finding wives for those who remained, in order that the small remnant might grow into a vigorous tribe again.

Judg. 21:1-14. The proposal to find wives for the six hundred Benjaminites who remained was exposed to this difficulty, that the congregation had sworn at Mizpeh (as is supplemented in v. 1 to the account in Judg. 20:1–9) that no one should give his daughter to a Benjaminite as a wife. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:2 So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.

SO THE PEOPLE CAME TO BETHEL: (Bethel - the house - Jdg 21:12; 20:18,23,26; Joshua 18:1)

The two oaths sworn at Mizpah (Jdg 21:1, 5, cp Jdg 20:8) were intended to stop the evil committed by the Benjamites from contaminating the whole nation and to ensure full participation by the other tribes in the punitive action that was required. But the excessive slaughter of Jdg 20:48 had now produced an unexpected result: the entire tribe of Benjamin was threatened with extinction.


Once more they find themselves weeping as a result of hasty action carried out apart from seeking God's will (Jdg 20:23, 26) Earlier the Israelites wept because they were defeated by the Benjamites (Jdg 20:23, 26). Now they weep because the disciplinary action against the Benjamites has nearly annihilated one of the tribes. But their weeping was more from remorse than repentance.

Israel grieved because it appeared that their oath would result in Benjamin's being destroyed. Therefore, they sought to procure wives for the Benjamites from Jabesh Gilead, which had not assisted in the judgment against Benjamin, and so had not sworn to withhold their daughters from them. This only secured 400 virgins for Benjamin, however. Therefore, although no one could "give" their daughters to Benjamin, the Benjamites were allowed to "take" an additional 200 wives at the yearly feast of the Lord at Shiloh.

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Jdg. 21:2, 3. After the termination of the war, the people, i.e., the people who had assembled together for the war (see v. 9), went again to Bethel (see at Judg. 20:18, 26), to weep there for a day before God at the serious loss which the war had brought upon the congregation. Then they uttered this lamentation: “Why, O Lord God of Israel, is this come to pass in Israel, that a tribe is missing to-day from Israel?” This lamentation involved the wish that God might show them the way to avert the threatened destruction of the missing tribe, and build up the six hundred who remained. To give a practical expression to this wish, they built an altar the next morning, and offered burnt-offerings and supplicatory offerings upon it (see at Judg. 20:26), knowing as they did that their proposal would not succeed without reconciliation to the Lord, and a return to the fellowship of His grace. There is something apparently strange in the erection of an altar at Bethel, since sacrifices had already been offered there during the war itself (Judg. 20:26), and this could not have taken place without an altar. Why it was erected again, or another one built, is a question which cannot be answered with any certainty. It is possible, however, that the first was not large enough for the number of sacrifices that had to be offered now. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:3 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?"

AND THEY SAID, "WHY, O LORD, GOD OF ISRAEL, HAS THIS COME ABOUT IN ISRAEL: (Deuteronomy 29:24; Joshua 7:7, 8, 9; Psalms 74:1; 80:12; Proverbs 19:3; Isaiah 63:17; Jeremiah 12:1)

As with Gideon (Jdg 6:13), no answer was given. Yet the book’s larger context gives the clear answer that Israel had sinned and continued to sin in horrible ways.


They cried out to God, almost as if it was His responsibility that the tribe of Benjamin was on the edge of extinction. The question, "Why has this come to pass?" was easily answered: Because of the excessive vengeance of the tribes of Israel against the tribe of Benjamin. (Ibid)

SO THAT ONE TRIBE SHOULD BE MISSING TODAY IN ISRAEL (cp Joshua's question Josh 7:7, 8, 9):

There is here no mourning for sin, no humbling because of national transgression, no return to the LORD. Accordingly no word from the LORD comes to them. They act wholly in self-will (v10). Cp. Da 9:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

This is an amazing irony - the abominable pagan enemy that Israel was supposed to utterly destroy they failed miserably to eradicate to their subsequent duress and discipline (Jdg 1:1-36). But their own offspring they have almost utterly destroyed because of the godless vow they had made in (Jdg 20:8). And this would also explain how in their perverted thinking they vowed not to have a daughter marry a Benjaminite, thus treating him like a Canaanite with which they were forbidden to intermarry. This is fruit basket turnover. Wrong is now right & right is wrong. How could they have regressed so far so fast after Joshua & the elders died? Remember these events although placed in Judges at the "end" of the book, in fact probably occurred at the very beginning of the 300-350 years of apostasy!

G Campbell Morgan commenting on Jdg 21.3 notes that…

This is a very sad chapter, and gives us the last of the illustrations of the conditions obtaining when there was no king in Israel. As we have seen, more than once the writer drew attention to the fact, and so traced the lawlessness to the lack of authority. The truth is that Israel had lost its living relation to its one and only King. Unin­structed zeal, even in the cause of righteous­ness, often goes beyond its proper limits, and does harm rather than good. The terrible slaughter of the men of Benjamin continued until not more than six hundred of the tribe were left. Then another of those sudden revulsions which characterize the action of inflamed peoples occurred. Israel is seen suddenly filled with pity for the tribe so nearly exterminated. They realized that the unity and completeness of the family of Jacob was threatened by their action. The sad part of the story is that, to remedy the threatened evil, they resorted to means which were utterly unrighteous. Wives were provided for the men of Benjamin by further unholy slaugh­ter at Jabesh-Gilead, and by the vilest iniquity at Shiloh. It is impossible to read these last five chapters without realizing how perilous is the condition of any people who act without some clearly defined principle. Passion moves to high purpose only as it is governed by principle. If it lacks that, at one moment it will march in heroic determination to establish high ideals, and purity of life; and almost immediately, by some change of mood, will act in brutality and all manner of evil. Humanity without its one King, is cursed by lawlessness. (Morgan, G. C. Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible).

“O Lord, the God of Israel,” they cried, “why has this happened to Israel?” - Judges 21:3


In his short story, “The Sobbin' Women,” Stephen Vincent Benet tells the story of women taken to the Oregon Territory in 1850 to be wives for the frontier men. His story inspired the 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and was based on the mythic account of the abduction of the Sabine women by the early Romans.

The problem of finding suitable wives wasn't isolated to Romans or American pioneers. After the sin of Gibeah and civil war, the men of Benjamin found themselves in this predicament as well. The rest of Israel had sworn not to give their daughters to marry anyone from Benjamin (Jdg 21:1; cf. Deut. 7:1-3). But they weren't happy with the result: with no wives, the tribe of Benjamin would soon die out. The Twelve Tribes of Israel would be forever reduced.

In order to have the right perspective on events in this chapter, we must read the last verse, an echo of the theme of these last chapters in the book: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Jdg 21:25). The writer is recounting this story as yet another example of the chaos and confusion that pervaded Israel during this leadership vacuum.

Not everything that Israel did is necessarily wrong; the writer doesn't say that. Based on the sin and the approval of sin demonstrated by Benjamin, they deserved the harsh oath taken against them. And Israel's compassion for one of their own—a tribe of God's own people—is understandable. But sin often creates messy situations. Israel could only keep the oath if they allowed Benjamin to abduct the girls of Shiloh, for then their fathers hadn't really given them away to marry (Jdg 21:22).

Miraculously, we still see God's grace. He allowed Benjamin to survive, instead of being destroyed like Sodom. Indeed, despite their sin, rebellion, idolatry, chaos, and ethical lapses, He had allowed Israel to survive. As we shall see in the next few days, He was working out His plan of salvation even in the darkest days.


At some point in our spiritual lives, we will go through dark times. If you haven't yet encountered a challenging period—whether a battle with sin or a struggle with difficult circumstances—prepare yourself through the disciplines of prayer and Bible study. If you are in the middle of dark days, lean on the Lord and pray that He will show you His light. And if you have come through darkness, praise the Lord and encourage others by sharing your story of His grace.

Judges 21:4 And it came about the next day that the people arose early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.

AND IT CAME ABOUT THE NEXT DAY THAT THE PEOPLE AROSE EARLY AND BUILT AN ALTAR THERE: (rose early -Psalms 78:34,35; Hosea 5:15; built there - Jdg 6:26; Ex 20:24,25; 2Samuel 24:18,25; 1Kings 8:64; Hebrews 13:10)

The altar was built, not at Bethel, where an altar already stood (Jdg 20:26), but the next day, back at Mizpah, their base camp (Jdg 20:1). This vignette affords some evidence that this was not a regular place of worship, else an altar would have been found in the place; and their act was not according to the law, as may be seen in several places of the Pentateuch. But there was neither king nor law among them, and they did whatever appeared right in their own eyes.

Ad hoc altars of this kind were sometimes built in times of national peril or rejoicing, especially before or after a battle (cf. Ex 20:24,25; 1Sa14:35).

Judges 21:5 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."

FOR THEY HAD TAKEN A GREAT OATH: (Jdg 21:1,18; 5:23; Leviticus 27:28,29; 1Sa 11:7; Jer 48:10)

Oath (shebuah) (07621) is a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says

Shebuah - 29v in the OT - Gen 24:8; 26:3; Exod 22:11; Lev 5:4; Num 5:21; 30:2, 10, 13; Deut 7:8; Josh 2:17, 20; 9:20; Judg 21:5; 1 Sam 14:26; 2 Sam 21:7; 1 Kgs 2:43; 1 Chr 16:16; 2 Chr 15:15; Neh 6:18; 10:29; Ps 105:9; Eccl 8:2; 9:2; Isa 65:15; Jer 11:5; Ezek 21:23; Dan 9:11; Hab 3:9; Zech 8:17. NAS = curse(1), oath(25), oaths(1), perjury*(1), swear(1), sworn(1).


To swear in the Old Testament was to give one’s sacred unbreakable word in testimony that the one swearing would faithfully perform some promised deed, or that he would faithfully refrain from some evil act (Gen 21:23, “swear … that thou will not deal falsely with me”). Occasionally one swore that he freely acknowledged a truth and would continue to acknowledge it in the future. This was the case when Abraham in Gen 21:30,31 caused Abimelech in swear to the truth that he, Abraham, had dug, and hence owned, the well called Beer-sheba.

The adjective modifying oath is literally the "great" or "big" one. This is the only time in the OT that gadol modifies "oath."

The first attempt to deal with the problem (it was only partly successful) is a clear case of using one oath to circumvent another (Jdg 21:6-13). It was a maneuver that was legally justifiable, but morally dubious to say the least, and a terrible price was paid by the people of Jabesh Gilead (Jdg 21:11). The second (Jdg 21:15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23) has exactly the same character. The justification given in [Jdg 21:22] was a clever piece of casuistry which entirely avoided the moral issues involved. The same men who had been so outraged at the rape of the Levite’s concubine now asked the men of Shiloh meekly to accept the rape of their daughters as a fait accompli.!

In spite of this "bankruptcy" the story finally moves to a point of fragile equilibrium, with the Benjamites rehabilitated and calm restored (Jdg 21:23,24). Amazingly, Israel survives, but this was due to God’s overruling more than to the performance of its leaders and its institutions. Israel’s survival in the chaotic period of the judges was a miracle of God’s grace, as salvation always is (Ep 2:8)!


The tribes had a mutual responsibility in times of military action (Jdg 5:13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18). Those who failed to participate were often singled out and sometimes punished (Jdg 5:15, 16, 17, 23). Complicating the situation for Israel was the fact that they had taken a second oath, calling for the death of those who did not participate in the battle.

Lange's Commentary

Israel here also again clearly shows in its history, what every man may observe in his own experience: that repentance and vows, with reference to past precipitate sin, have scarcely been expressed, before the same thing is done again, and frequently with the same blind zeal which was just before lamented. At that time, when indignation at the outrage in Gibeah filled all hearts, an oath was also taken that every city in Israel that did not send its messengers to the national assembly, consequently took no part in the general proceeding against Benjamin, which was the cause of God, should be devoted to destruction. Such a city was considered to make itself, to a certain extent, an ally of Benjamin, and to be not sufficiently disturbed by the outrageous misdeed, to give assurance that it did not half approve of it. Amid the terrible events of the war, it had been neglected to ascertain whether all cities had sent messengers; it is only now, when the question how to help Benjamin up again without violating the oath, is considered, that the absence of messengers from Jabesh-Gilead is brought to light. And what is it proposed to do? To deal with that city as they have just lamented to have dealt with Benjamin. In order to restore broken Benjamin, another and in any view far less guilty city is now to be crushed.

The reconciliation of breaches made by wrath is to be made by means of wrath.

The people lament that they have sworn an untimely oath, and instead of penitently seeking to be absolved from it before God, undertake to make it good by executing another, equally hard and severe, and that after “Jehovah” has smitten the rebellious (Jdg 20:35), and peace has been restored.

Jabesh-Gilead was a valiant city, full of men of courage, as all Gileadites were… Israel sends 12,000 valiant warriors against Jabesh-Gilead—a duly proportioned number, if 40,000 proceeded against Benjamin. The commander of these troops is instructed to destroy everything in Jabesh, except the virgin women, who are to be brought away, in order to be given to Benjamin.

(ED: INTERESTING COMMENT) It may be assumed, however, that these instructions are to be so taken as that the army was to compel Jabesh to deliver up its virgin daughters as an expiation for its guilt, under threat of being proceeded with, in case of refusal, according to its proper deserts. For it is not stated that the destruction was carried out; and, on the other hand, under Saul, Jabesh is again, to all appearances, the chief city of Gilead.

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:5. The congregation then resolved upon a plan, through the execution of which a number of virgins were secured for the Benjaminites. They determined that they would carry out the great oath, which had been uttered when the national assembly was called against such as did not appear, upon that one of the tribes of Israel which had not come to the meeting of the congregation at Mizpeh. The deliberations upon this point were opened (Jdg 21: 5) with the question, “Who is he who did not come up to the meeting of all the tribes of Israel, to Jehovah?” In explanation of this question, it is observed at Jdg 21:5, “For the great oath was uttered upon him that came not up to Jehovah to Mizpeh: he shall be put to death.” We learn from this supplementary remark, that when important meetings of the congregation were called, all the members were bound by an oath to appear. The meeting at Mizpeh is the one mentioned in Judg. 20:1ff. The “great oath” consisted in the threat of death in the case of any that were disobedient. To this explanation of the question in v. 5a, the further explanation is added in Jdg 21:6, 7, that the Israelites felt compassion for Benjamin, and wished to avert its entire destruction by procuring wives for such as remained. The word וַיִּנָּחֲמוּ in Jdg 21:6 is attached to the explanatory clause in Jdg 21:5b, and is to be rendered as a pluperfect: “And the children of Israel had shown themselves compassionate towards their brother Benjamin, and said, A tribe is cut off from Israel to-day; what shall we do to them, to those that remain with regard to wives, as we have sworn?” etc. (compare Jdg 21:1). The two thoughts—(1) the oath that those who had not come to Mizpeh should be punished with death (Jdg 21:5b), and (2) anxiety for the preservation of this tribe which sprang from compassion towards Benjamin, and was shown in their endeavour to provide such as remained with wives, without violating the oath that none of them would give them their own daughters as wives—formed the two factors which determined the course to be adopted by the congregation. After the statement of these two circumstances, the question of v. 5a, “Who is the one (only one) of the tribes of Israel which,” etc., is resumed and answered: “Behold, there came no one into the camp from Jabesh in Gilead, into the assembly.” שִׁבְטֵי is used in Jdg 21:8, 5, in a more general sense, as denoting not merely the tribes as such, but the several subdivisions of the tribes.(Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:6 And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, "One tribe is cut off from Israel today.


In [Ge 42:38] the very prospect of losing Benjamin had brought deep grief to Jacob. It is interesting that the same verb for "cut off" (gada') is in God's command to "hew down" the Asherim (Dt 7:5, 2Chr 14:3) and "cut down the engraved images" (Dt12:3)

Judges 21:7 "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?"


Here is the fruit (of doing what is right in your own eyes) of a heart that has wandered from the LORD, in Whom alone (at least for NT believers) are "hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom & knowledge" (Col 2:3).

"What shall WE do"… since the results of our wisdom has been so wonderful! Men are truly deceived when even in their extremis, they refuse to go humbly & in brokenness & repentance to the Fountain of Living Waters & choose to hew for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer 2:13). Let us all be warned. Run to His Word. Seek His face in prayer. Confess sin. Repent. Walk humbly before your God (Micah 6:8)


Of course it was contrary to the Mosaic Law for the remaining 600 Benjamites to marry non-Israelites (cf. Ex34:16; Dt 7:3).

F B Meyer  Judges 21:7  We have sworn by the Lord.

Amid the gross evils of this time, the people of Israel were very tenacious of their vows, which had been ratified in the presence of God, and under the solemn sanctions of the Tabernacle. Because they had sworn not to give their daughters in marriage to Benjamin, they had to devise an expedient to obtain wives for the six hundred who had escaped massacre, that the tribe should not become extinct.

The same spirit was manifested by Jephthah, when he said, “I have opened my mouth to the Lord; I cannot go back.” No doubt there was the implied conviction that God would avenge the violation of an oath solemnly taken in his name.

What new emphasis is added by this conception to the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “God, willing to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” Since He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself, that He would bless and multiply Abraham and his seed. If then you are of the faith of faithful Abraham, you have the right to claim the fulfillment of God’s promise in this double aspect: He will bless and multiply. And it is impossible for Him to alter or fail in the word He hath spoken.

The Psalmist said that God’s statutes, i.e., the things which He established, were his songs. Surely we have every reason to sing, who know that the covenant of God’s love is as steadfast as his throne. Let us turn his statutes into songs. He has given us exceeding great and precious promises; and we can rejoice that “All the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” “The word of the Lord endureth for ever.” (Judges 21:7, Our Daily Homily)

Judges 21:8 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.

JABESH-GILEAD (1 Samuel 11:1-3; 31:11-13; 2 Samuel 2:5,6) was located about 22 miles S of the Sea of Galilee, 9 miles SE from Beth Shan and 2 miles E of the Jordan. The absence of representatives from Jabesh Gilead was conspicuous, since men had come from other parts of Gilead (20:1) They had sent no troops (cf. Jdg 20:1) and thus all its inhabitants were destroyed except 400 virgins, who were given to the Benjamite men who remained (Jdg 21:12).

Later on Saul of Benjamin rescued Jabesh Gilead from invaders (1Sa11), and they in turn risked their lives to save his body from disgrace (1Sa 31:11, 12, 13). These close ties probably came as a result of the intermarriage in [Jdg 21].

The tragedy of their reasoning right in their own eyes is that they were more zealous and faithful to their manmade vows then they were to their covenant keeping God! How much we all are like them. Men are commonly more zealous to support their own authority than God’s.

Jabesh-Gilead - 21x in the OT - Judg 21:8ff, 12, 14; 1 Sam 11:1, 3, 5, 9f; 31:11ff; 2 Sam 2:4f; 21:12; 2 Kgs 15:10, 13f; 1 Chr 10:11f

Judges 21:9 For when the people were numbered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there.

People were numbered - As when one musters the troops.

Jabesh was the only town in Israel which had not taken part in the exterminating warfare against the tribe of Benjamin.

New American Commentary

So now the question for the Israelites became, Did any tribe or clan (Jdg 21:5) fail to attend the gathering at Mizpah? When they review the roll of those who had appeared “before the Lord” and placed themselves under obligation to the great oath, by a perverse stroke of luck they are relieved to discover one such clan. For whatever reason, the people of Jabesh-Gilead were not represented at the assembly. Consequently they are not bound by the oath to give their daughters to the Benjamites.

This is the first mention of Jabesh-Gilead in the Old Testament. Although the name, which means “well-drained soil of Gilead,” is preserved in modern Wadi el-Yabis, one of the main east-west tributaries of the Jordan cutting through the hills of Gilead, the precise location of the town along this wadi is uncertain. The most likely candidate is Tell Maqlub seven miles east of the Jordan and thirteen miles southeast of Beth-Shan. According to 1Sam 11:1–11, some time later Saul is said to have rescued the town from the oppression of the Ammonites, for which they remained grateful until Saul's death. Being a descendant of one of the six hundred Benjamites, Saul's interest in Jabesh-Gilead was based upon his sense of kinship with the people of this region. When Saul died, David recognized their kindness to him and tried to persuade them to switch allegiance to him (2Sa 2:4, 5, 6, 7). The narrator does not disclose the reason the men of Jabesh-Gilead did not appear in Mizpah (whether ignorance, neglect, or defiance), but the account elicits sympathy for this city. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, their own fellow Israelites will storm the town, slaughtering men, women, and children. Unlike the Benjamites in 21:12, 13, they appear not to have been afforded an opportunity to give an account for their absence.

Mattoon's Treasures

The Gileadites were the descendants of Manasseh who was the grandson of Rachel. The Benjamites had a blood tie with them because Benjamin was the son of Rachel. The closeness between them is seen later in the Scriptures. In 1Samuel 11:1, the Ammorites threaten Jabesh-Gilead. They in turn appeal to Saul, a Benjamite, for aid and deliverance. We also find in 1 Samuel 31 that the men of Jabesh-Gilead recovered the bodies of Saul and his sons from the walls of Beth-shan and buried their bodies at Jabesh-Gilead. The closeness of these two groups may have been one reason why they wouldn't join the army at Mizpeh that was opposing the Benjamites. If they knew about the oath of death, then Jabesh-Gilead knew what was at stake when they remained at home. Their destruction would be their own fault. Desertion had serious consequences… death. Refusal to come to battle was looked upon as having no concern or anger toward the crimes committed and no concern for protecting the nation from God's judgment. Another possible reason why Jabesh-Gilead did not come to arms is they may have never heard the summons to war because they are on the fringe of the territory.

Matthew Henry

There was a piece of necessary justice to be done upon the city of Jabesh-Gilead, which belonged to the tribe of Gad, on the other side Jordan. It was found upon looking over the muster-roll (which was taken, Jdg 20:2) that none appeared from that city upon the general summons (Jdg 21:8,9), and it was then resolved, before it appeared who were absent, that whatever city of Israel should be guilty of such a contempt of the public authority and interest that city should be an anathema; Jabesh-Gilead lies under that severe sentence, which might by no means be dispensed with. Those that had spared the Canaanites in many places, who were devoted to destruction by the divine command, could not find in their hearts to spare their brethren that were devoted by their own curse. Why did they not now send men to root the Jebusites out of Jerusalem, to avoid whom the poor Levite had been forced to go to Gibeah? Jdg 19:11,12. Men are commonly more zealous to support their own authority than God's. A detachment is therefore sent of 12,000 men, to execute the sentence upon Jabesh-Gilead. Having found that when the whole body of the army went against Gibeah the people were thought too many for God to deliver them into their hands, on this expedition they sent but a few, v. 10. Their commission is to put all to the sword, men, women, and children (Jdg 21:11), according to that law (Leviticus 27:29), Whatsoever is devoted of men, by those that have power to do it, shall surely be put to death.

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:9. In order, however, to confirm the correctness of this answer, which might possibly have been founded upon a superficial and erroneous observation, the whole of the (assembled) people were mustered, and not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh was found there (in the national assembly at Bethel). The situation of Jabesh in Gilead has not yet been ascertained. This town was closely besieged by the Ammonite Nahash, and was relieved by Saul (1 Sam. 11:1ff.), on which account the inhabitants afterwards showed themselves grateful to Saul (1 Sam. 31:8ff.). Josephus calls Jabesh the metropolis of Gilead (Ant. vi. 5, 1). According to the Onom. (s. v. Jabis), it was six Roman miles from Pella, upon the top of a mountain towards Gerasa. Robinson (Bibl. Res. p. 320) supposes it to be the ruins of ed Deir in the Wady Jabes. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:10 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.

  • Jdg 21:5; 5:23; Deuteronomy 13:15; Joshua 7:24; 1Samuel 11:7; 15:3
  • Judges 21 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries

Israel's treatment of Jabesh Gilead is excessively severe. This whole episode is full of rashness and confusion, as one would expect when people do what is right in their own eyes! (Jdg 21:25).

Guzik - Here again Israel did something that seemed right at the time, but was actually a horror. They decided to slaughter a whole city of Israel, a city that refused to join with Israel in the fight against Benjamin. This is doing one bad thing to make up for another. Israel instead should have repented of their foolish oath made at Mizpah, and they should have agreed to give their daughters as wives to the men of the tribe of Benjamin, renouncing the foolish vow of Judges 21:1.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge - As they had sworn to destroy those who would not assist in the war (Jdg 21:5) they determined to destroy the men of Jabesh, and to leave none except the virgins; and to give these to the 600 Benjamites who had escaped to the rock of Rimmon. The whole account is dreadful. The crime of the men of Gibeah was of the deepest dye; the punishment involving both the guilty and innocent, was extended to the most criminal excess, and their mode of remedying the evil they had occasioned was equally abominable.

Here is another comment from Cundall and Morris

The action [against Jabesh-gilead] appears cruel in the extreme to the modern reader, but the virtual sacredness of the bond linking the several tribes into the amphictyony must be appreciated, and the sin of Jabesh-gilead seen in its light."

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judg. 21:10ff. To punish this unlawful conduct, the congregation sent 12,000 brave fighting men against Jabesh, with orders to smite the inhabitants of the town with the edge of the sword, together with their wives, and children, but also with the more precise instructions (v. 11), “to ban all the men, and women who had known the lying with man” (i.e., to slay them as exposed to death, which implied, on the other hand, that virgins who had not lain with any man should be spared). The fighting men found 400 such virgins in Jabesh, and brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan. אֹותָם (Jdg 21: 12) refers to the virgins, the masculine being used as the more common genus in the place of the feminine. Shiloh, with the additional clause “in the land of Canaan,” which was occasioned by the antithesis Jabesh in Gilead, as in Josh. 21:2; 22:9, was the usual meeting-place of the congregation, on account of its being the seat of the tabernacle. The representatives of the congregation had moved thither, after the deliberations concerning Jabesh, which were still connected with the war against Benjamin, were concluded.(Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:11 "And this is the thing that you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every man and every woman who has lain with a man."


The phrase utterly destroy is found numerous times in the Book of Joshua in regard to the conquest of the Canaanites & signifies something "under the ban" or totally given to destruction as a sign that it is totally devoted to God. However, there is no hint that God supported this bloodbath at Jabesh Gilead. But they were doing what was right in their own eyes.

Utterly destroy (02763) (charam) - 47x in the OT - NAS = annihilate(1), covet(1), destroy them utterly(1), destroy utterly(1), destroyed them utterly(1), destroying(1), destroying them completely(2), destruction(2), devote(2), forfeited(1), set apart(1), sets apart(1), utterly destroy(11), utterly destroyed(22), utterly destroying(3).

Ex 22:20; Lev 27:28f; Num 21:2f; Deut 2:34; 3:6; 7:2; 13:15; 20:17; Josh 2:10; 6:18, 21; 8:26; 10:1, 28, 35, 37, 39f; 11:11f, 20f; Judg 1:17; 21:11; 1 Sam 15:3, 8f, 15, 18, 20; 1 Kgs 9:21; 2 Kgs 19:11; 1 Chr 4:41; 2 Chr 20:23; 32:14; Ezra 10:8; Isa 11:15; 34:2; 37:11; Jer 25:9; 50:21, 26; 51:3; Dan 11:44; Mic 4:13.

EVERY MAN AND EVERY WOMAN WHO HAS LAIN WITH A MAN (Numbers 31:17,18; Deuteronomy 2:34):

The punishment of Jabesh Gilead seems brutal, but the covenant bond between the tribes was extremely important. Even though delinquency on some occasions was not punished (Jdg 5:15, 16, 17), the nature of the crime in this case, coupled with Benjamin's refusal to turn over the criminals, caused Israel to take this oath (Jdg 21:5) and do what was right in their own eyes. After all they needed wives for Benjamin.

Judges 21:12 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.

AND THEY FOUND AMONG THE INHABITANTS OF JABESH-GILEAD 400 YOUNG VIRGINS: (Jdg 20:18,23; Joshua 18:1; Psalms 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12)

bethulah ("virgin") occurs only in Jdg 21:12, while Jdg 21:11,12 both have the idiom "young women who had never slept with a man" (NIV renders it "virgin in v11; cf. Nu 31:17,18). Codex Vaticanus inserts "But spare the virgins" at the end of Jdg 21:11, probably copying the style of Nu 31:18.


An expedient is hence formed for providing the Benjamites with wives. When Moses sent the same number of men to avenge the Lord on Midian, the same orders were given as here, that all married women should be slain with their husbands, as one with them, but that the virgins should be saved alive, [Nu 31:17, 18]. That precedent was sufficient to support the distinction here made between a wife and a virgin. Their fathers were not present when the vow was made not to marry with Benjamites, so that they were not under any colour of obligation by it: and besides, being a prey taken in war, they were at the disposal of the conquerors. Perhaps the alliance now contracted between Benjamin and Jabesh-Gilead made Saul, who was a Benjamite, the more concerned for that place (1Sa 11:1, 2, 3, 4), though then inhabited by new families.

Shiloh, which figures prominently in this chapter (cf. Jdg 21:19, 20, 21), was the place where the tabernacle was located (cf. Jdg 18:31). Situated about 9 miles north of Bethel and the rock of Rimmon, Shiloh afforded a temporary refuge where the captive girls could mourn the loss of their loved ones.

Judges 21:13 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.

PROCLAIMED PEACE TO THEM: (spoke - Jdg 20:47; Joshua 15:32) (Deuteronomy 20:10; Isaiah 57:19; Luke 10:5; Ephesians 2:17)

Literally = "called peace to them." [Dt20:10] uses same idiom.

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:13. The congregation then sent to call the Benjaminites, who had taken refuge upon the rock Rimmon, and gave them as wives, when they returned (sc., into their own possessions), the 400 virgins of Jabesh who had been preserved alive. “But so they sufficed them not” (כֵּן, so, i.e., in their existing number, 400: Bertheau). In this remark there is an allusion to what follows. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:14 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.

Yet they were not enough for them (Jdg 21:12; 20:47; 1Corinthians 7:2)

Judges 21:15 And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.

AND THE PEOPLE WERE SORRY (had a change of heart) FOR BENJAMIN: (Jdg 21:6,17)

As in [v6], the grief of the nation is mentioned.

"Were sorry" (naham) refers in the present context to the emotional pain caused by the Lord's judgment. In Genesis 6 God was sorry that he had created man. In 1 Samuel 15 He regrets that he had made Saul king. In both cases this regret prompts God to seek to reverse His prior actions by eliminating the source of his regret. Jdg. 21:15 differs in that the Israelites are pained over a prior action, but it is God's, not their own. Nevertheless, this passage is similar to the others in that the Israelites seek to ameliorate the situation by undoing the effect of this prior action.

BECAUSE THE LORD HAD MADE A BREACH (gap as in a wall): (breach - 1Chronicles 13:11; 15:13; Isaiah 30:13; 58:12)

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. See the use of perets in …

Now this was the reason why he rebelled against the king: Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the breach of the city of his father David. (1Kings 11:27, cf Neh. 6:1; Job 30:14; Ps. 144:14; Isa. 58:12; Ezek. 13:5; 22:30; Amos 4:3)

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:15–25. Of the six hundred Benjaminites who had escaped, there still remained two hundred to be provided with wives. To these the congregation gave permission to take wives by force at a festival at Shiloh. The account of this is once more introduced, with a description of the anxiety felt by the congregation for the continuance of the tribe of Benjamin. Jdg 21:15, 16, and 18 are only a repetition of Jdg 21:6 and Jdg 21:7, with a slight change of expression. The “breach (perez) in the tribes of Israel” had arisen from the almost complete extermination of Benjamin. “For out of Benjamin is (every) woman destroyed,” viz., by the ruthless slaughter of the whole of the people of that tribe (Judg. 20:48). Consequently the Benjaminites who were still unmarried could not find any wives in their own tribe. The fact that four hundred of the Benjaminites who remained were already provided with wives is not noticed here, because it has been stated just before, and of course none of them could give up their own wives to others.. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:16 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?"

Judges 21:17 And they said, "There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel.

An inheritance (Numbers 26:55; 36:7)

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:17. Still Benjamin must be preserved as a tribe. The elders therefore said, “Possession of the saved shall be for Benjamin,” i.e., the tribe-land of Benjamin shall remain an independent possession for the Benjaminites who have escaped the massacre, so that a tribe may not be destroyed out of Israel. It was necessary therefore, that they should take steps to help the remaining Benjaminites to wives. The other tribes could not give them their daughters, on account of the oath which has already been mentioned in Jdg 21:1 and Jdg 21:7b and is repeated here (Jdg 21:18). Consequently there was hardly any other course open, than to let the Benjaminites seize upon wives for themselves. And the elders lent them a helping hand by offering them this advice, that at the next yearly festival at Shiloh, at which the daughters of Shiloh carried on dances in the open air (outside the town), they should seize upon wives for themselves from among these daughters, and promising them that when the thing was accomplished they would adjust it peaceably (Jdg 21:19–22). The “feast of Jehovah,” which the Israelites kept from year to year, was one of the three great annual festivals, probably one which lasted seven days, either the passover or the feast of tabernacles,—most likely the former, as the dances of the daughters of Shiloh were apparently an imitation of the dances of the Israelitish women at the Red Sea under the superintendence of Miriam (Ex. 15:20). The minute description of the situation of Shiloh (v. 19), viz., “to the north of Bethel, on the east of the road which rises from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah” (the present village of Lubban, on the north-west of Seilun: see Rob. Pal. iii. p. 89), serves to throw light upon the scene which follows, i.e., to show how the situation of Shiloh was peculiarly fitted for the carrying out of the advice given to the Benjaminites; since, as soon as they had issued from their hiding-places in the vineyards at Shiloh, and seized upon the dancing virgins, they could easily escape into their own land by the neighbouring high-road which led from Bethel to Shechem, without being arrested by the citizens of Shiloh. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:18 "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."


For the 3rd time reference is made to the oath that forbade the giving of daughters to Benjamin (v18; cf. v1, v7). In the absence of wives, the breach (v15) seemed irreparable.


The less consideration is used before the making of a vow, the more, commonly, there is need of afterwards for the keeping of it.

Rather than go through the "charade" in the next few verses, it would have been better for Israel to have confessed their sin of making a foolish oath, and done what was right instead of trying to make two wrongs equal a right.

Judges 21:19 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."

A FEAST OF THE LORD FROM YEAR TO YEAR IN SHILOH (Dt12:5; Jos18:1; 1Sa1:3): (Ex 23:14-16; Leviticus 23:2,4,6,10,34; Numbers 10:10; 28:16,26; 29:12; Deuteronomy 16:1,10,13; Psalms 81:3; John 5:1; 7:2)

Not sure which feast but likely Tabernacles as vineyards (Jdg 21:20) are mentioned and the grape harvest comes in August and September. One of the purposes of the fall Tabernacles Feast was to rejoice over the summer fruit that had been gathered. Samuel's parents traveled annually to Shiloh to worship the Lord (1Sa1:3). Others believe the Passover is intended, for the dancing could imitate the celebrating of Miriam and the women of Israel after the Exodus (cf. Ex15:20, 21). One cannot be dogmatic.

Three times a year every Israelite male was required to appear before the Lord at the central sanctuary (Ex23:14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19; 34:23)

Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you. (Dt 16:16,.17).

Judges 21:20 And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, "Go and lie in wait in the vineyards,

Ironically, the men of Benjamin were told to set an ambush for the girls, the same technique used by the Israelites against the Benjamites at Gibeah (Jdg 20:37). The strategy worked flawlessly, and each man obtained his wife.

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:20. The Kethibh וַיְצַו in the singular may be explained on the ground that one of the elders spoke and gave the advice in the name of the others. חָטַף in v. 21 and Ps. 10:9, to seize hold of, or carry off as prey = חָתַף. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:21 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.

Take part in the dances (see Jdg 11:34; Exodus 15:20; 1Samuel 18:6; 2Samuel 6:14,21; Psalms 149:3; 150:4; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Jeremiah 31:13; Matthew 10:17; Luke 17:25)

Judges 21:22 "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.'"

WHEN THEIR FATHERS OR THEIR BROTHERS COME TO COMPLAIN TO US: (Give them to us voluntarily - Philemon 1:9, 10, 11, 12) (each man - Jdg 21:14; Genesis 1:27; 7:13; Mark 10:6, 7, 8; 1Corinthians 7:2) (Give them to them - Jdg 21:1,7,18; Pr 20:25)

It was customary for the brothers of a girl who had been abducted to demand satisfaction (see Ge 34:7-31; 2Sa 13:20-38). It was therefore important that the elders anticipate this response and be prepared to get cooperation from the girls' families. The Israelites promised to intercede for Benjamin on the grounds that there was no other way to save the devastated tribe. The action against Jabesh Gilead had brought forth only 400 wives, and more were needed. Besides, the fact that the Benjamites stole the maidens absolved the parents from the curse against giving their daughters to Benjamin! These arguments may have been less than convincing, but the leaders of Israel prevented the relatives from retaliating against the Benjamites (cf. Jdg 18:22-26).

Preacher's Commentary notes that…

The casuistry of the argument in verse 22 is truly appalling. When the people of Shiloh complained of the abduction of their daughters, they were to be informed that this kept their oath intact. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, it was a backdoor way of giving their daughters to the Benjamites, by setting up the whole charade and assuring the men of Benjamin that no action would be taken against them. This was to answer injustice with injustice. The point being made, that must be applied to our contemporary situation, is that once God, whose righteous character is the only source and guarantee of truth and justice, is neglected, then such fine-sounding moral concepts are inevitably reduced to hollow verbiage. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “Finite man is meaningless without an infinite reference point.” The existentialist philosophy and the history of nations in the twenty-first century surely confirms this age-old message of the Book of Judges. Even the most advanced technological societies are covered with only the thinnest veneer of civilization when once the Christian foundations are eroded away. As the Duke of Wellington once remarked, the problem is that if you educate devils all you get is clever devils. (Jackman, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. Vol. 7: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Judges, Ruth. Page 294. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson)

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:22. “And when the fathers or brethren of the virgins carried off, come to us to chide with us, we (the elders) will say to them (in your name), Present them to us (אֹותָם as in Jdg 21:12); for we did not receive every one his wife through the war (with Jabesh); for ye have not given them to them; how would ye be guilty.” The words “Present them to us,” etc., are to be understood as spoken in the name of the Benjaminites, who were accused of the raid, to the relatives of the virgins who brought the complaint. This explains the use of the pronoun in the first person in חָנּוּנוּ and לָקַחְנוּ, which must not be altered therefore into the third person. The two clauses commencing with כִּי are co-ordinate, and contain two points serving to enforce the request, “Present them,” etc. The first is pleaded in the name of the Benjaminites; the second is adduced, as a general ground on the part of the elders of the congregation, to pacify the fathers and brothers making the complaint, on account of the oath which the Israelites had taken, that none of them would give their daughters as wives to the Benjaminites. The meaning is the following: Ye may have your daughters with the Benjaminites who have taken them by force, for ye have not given them voluntarily, so as to have broken your oath by so doing. In the last clause כָּעֵת has an unusual meaning: “at the time” (or now), i.e., in that case, ye would have been guilty, viz., if ye had given them voluntarily. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:23 And the sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to their number from those who danced, whom they carried away. And they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the cities and lived in them.


How different is this act [which the sons of Israel gave approval to] from the men of Gibeah taking the concubine and raping her? To be sure they are not identical but there is a touch of bitter irony in this unusual ending to this horrid saga in Israel.


The virgins of Jabesh-Gilead were taken out of the midst of blood and slaughter, but these of Shiloh out of the midst of mirth and joy; the former had reason to be thankful that they had their lives for a prey, and the latter, it is to be hoped, had no cause to complain, after a while, when they found themselves matched, not to men of broken and desperate fortunes, as they seemed to be, who were lately fetched out of a cave, but to men of the best and largest estates in the nation, as they must needs be when the lot of the whole tribe of Benjamin, which consisted of 45,600 men (Nu 26:41), came to be divided again among 600, who had all by survivorship. And soon after from among them sprang Ehud, who was famous in his generation, the second judge of Israel, [Jdg 3:15].

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:23. The Benjaminites adopted this advice. They took to themselves wives according to their number, i.e., two hundred (according to Jdg 21:12, compared with Judg. 20:47), whom they caught from the dancing daughters of Shiloh, and returned with them into their inheritance, where they rebuilt the towns that had been reduced to ashes, and dwelt therein. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:24 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.


The Hebrew words here are the same as those found at the end of the Book of Joshua (Josh 24:28). However, the book’s final comment (Jdg 21:25) indicates that times were far worse than they had been in Joshua’s day.

Ralph Davis makes the cogent point that…

the Book of Judges ends with a miracle. How after chapters 19–21, indeed, after chapters 1–21, can you account for the fact that there is still an Israel? It can only be because Yahweh wished to dwell in the midst of his people in spite of its sin. It can only be because Yahweh’s grace is far more tenacious than his people’s depravity and insists on still holding them fast even in their sinfulness and their stupidity. Nor is he finished raising up saviors for them (Acts 13:23)! (Such a Great Salvation. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990)

Keil and Delitzsch Commentary

Judg. 21:24, 25. In Jdg 21:24 and Jdg 21:25, the account of this event is brought to a close with a twofold remark: (1) that the children of Israel, i.e., the representatives of the congregation who were assembled at Shiloh, separated and returned every man into his inheritance to his tribe and family; (2) that at that time there was no king in Israel, and every man was accustomed to do what was right in his own eyes. Whether the fathers or brothers of the virgins who had been carried off brought any complaint before the congregation concerning the raid that had been committed, the writer does not state, simply because this was of no moment so far as the history was concerned, inasmuch as, according to Jdg 21:22, the complaint made no difference in the facts themselves. With the closing remark in Jdg 21:25, however, with which the account returns to its commencement in Judg. 19:1, the prophetic historian sums up his judgment upon the history in the words, “At that time every man did what was right in his own eyes, because there was no king in Israel,” in which the idea is implied, that under the government of a king, who administered right and justice in the kingdom, such things could not possibly have happened. This not only refers to the conduct of the Israelites towards Benjamin in the war, the severity of which was not to be justified (see p. 331), but also to their conduct towards the inhabitants of Jabesh, as described in Judg. 21:5ff. The congregation had no doubt a perfect right, when all the people were summoned to deliberate upon important matters affecting the welfare of the whole nation, to utter the “great oath” against such as failed to appear, i.e., to threaten them with death and carry out this threat upon such as were obstinate; but such a punishment as this could only be justly inflicted upon persons who were really guilty, and had rebelled against the congregation as the supreme power, and could not be extended to women and children unless they had also committed a crime deserving of death. But even if there were peculiar circumstances in the case before us, which have been passed over by our author, who restricts himself simply to points bearing upon the main purpose of the history, but which rendered it necessary that the ban should be inflicted upon all the inhabitants of Jabesh, it was at any rate an arbitrary exemption to spare all the marriageable virgins, and one which could not be justified by the object contemplated, however laudable that object might be. This also applies to the oath taken by the people, that they would not give any of their daughters as wives to the Benjaminites, as well as to the advice given by the elders to the remaining two hundred, to carry off virgins from the festival at Shiloh. However just and laudable the moral indignation may have been, which was expressed in that oath by the nation generally at the scandalous crime of the Gibeites, a crime unparalleled in Israel, and at the favour shown to the culprits by the tribe of Benjamin, the oath itself was an act of rashness, in which there was not only an utter denial of brotherly love, but the bounds of justice were broken through. When the elders of the nation came to a better state of mind, they ought to have acknowledge their rashness openly, and freed themselves and the nation from an oath that had been taken in such sinful haste. “Wherefore they would have acted far more uprightly, if they had seriously confessed their fault and asked forgiveness of God, and given permission to the Benjaminites to marry freely. In this way there would have been no necessity to cut off the inhabitants of Jabesh from their midst by cruelty of another kind” (Buddeus). But if they felt themselves bound in their consciences to keep the oath inviolably, they ought to have commended the matter to the Lord in prayer, and left it to His decision; whereas, by the advice given to the Benjaminites, they had indeed kept the oath in the letter, but had treated it in deed and truth as having no validity whatever. (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Judges 21 - p458)

Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes

Greek Septuagint (LXX): en tais hemerais ekeinais ouk (absolute negation - absolutely no king of any king, divine or human) en basileus en Israel aner hekastos (each one individually) to euthes (Not found in NT = righteous) en ophthalmois (another translation = enopion = in the face of, in front of) autou epoiei (3SIAI = imperfect tense depicts action occurring over and over!)

IN THOSE DAYS THERE WAS NO KING IN ISRAEL: (No king Jdg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1)

1Sa 8:7 "they have rejected Me from being King" (cp 1Sa 8:22)

If these last chapters teach us anything, they teach that there is no sin committed which affects only one person alone. There is no such thing as victimless sin. Any sin sends ripples into all of society. Do we not see this principle rippling across (and ripping apart) the moral fabric of America! Revival in the Body of Christ is the last bastion of hope for our country. Pray for revival in the true Church.


cp Pr 29:18

Proverbs 29:18 sounds a sobering message similar to Jdg 21:25 declaring that…

Where there is no vision (no prophetic word from God to His people), the people are unrestrained, but happy (blessed - Lxx = makarios = fully satisfied independent of the circumstances) is he who keeps (Lxx = phulasso = guards) the law (the Torah, Divine teaching, the Word of God) (Pr 29:18, cp Pr 11:14, Ezek 7:26)

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Pr 29:18NIV)

Vision (revelation in NIV) (02377) (chazon) describes a divine revelation by means of an oracle, a vision or a word from God (as to His prophets). The meaning is not so much the means (vision, oracle) but the end achieved (the message). This word speaks of God's direct revelation to people via His prophets, His "mouth pieces" as it were. Notice that in this passage "vision" is paralleled with the law, which further supports that the writer intends "vision" to mean a divine word or a word from God and, not someone's personal vision or dream.

Chazon - 34x in OT - 1Sa 3:1; 1Chr 17:15; 2Chr 32:32; Ps 89:19; Pr 29:18; Is 1:1; 29:7; Je 14:14; 23:16; La 2:9; Ezek 7:13, 26; 12:22, 23, 24, 27; 13:16; Da 1:17; 8:1, 2, 13, 15, 17, 26; 9:21, 24; 10:14; 11:14; Hos 12:10; Ob 1:1; Mic 3:6; Nah 1:1; Hab 2:2, 3.

Note the first use of chazon in Scripture is found in 1Sa 3:1. Could this have anything to do with the fact that 1Samuel historically immediately follows the book of Judges (Jdg 21:25)?

The Net Bible notes that chazon

refers to divine communication to prophets (as in 1Sa 3:1) and not to individual goals or plans… The law here refers to scripture, the concrete form of revelation. So the two halves of the verse provide the contrast: When there is no prophetic revelation there is chaos, but those who keep the revelation contained in scripture find blessing… The Hebrew word (with a somewhat misleading translation of "happy") refers to a heavenly bliss, an inner joy, that comes from knowing one is right with God and experiencing His blessing. “Happiness,” on the other hand, depends on what happens. (Bolding added)


It should be emphasized that Proverbs 29:18 is often misinterpreted as indicating that when one does not have a "clear vision" (or a dream), then one has nothing to live for and will perish for lack of a goal. This is clearly not the intended meaning of this passage and to use it from the pulpit for that purpose is to "wrongly" divide the Word of Truth! (2Ti 2:15-note).

I have personally heard of Pr 29:18 being preached this way (to support a personal "vision" and agenda), and I warned the brother who related this incident to me, encouraging him to speak to his pastor about the mishandling of the passage (cp Acts 20:30NLT). Long story short, shortly after preaching this message (see 2Co 4:2-note - adulterating the Word of God) this pastor's "vision" ended with him being asked to leave the church, with the subsequent catastrophic result that there was a major "church split". This pastor survived about 3 years at the next stop but was finally openly confronted by the same brother I had admonished almost 3 years earlier, and this confrontation was again over mishandling of the Word of Truth! Old dogs don't usually learn new tricks! They practice the maxim that their personal "ends justify the means"! The elders subsequently asked him to leave the church.

One very well known pastor (whom I shall not mention) writes that Pr 29:18 teaches "We are to be… men and women of vision." Wrong! God gives the "vision". We are to hear and heed His "vision" and then we will be blessed.

Here's another example of an inaccurate interpretation of Pr 29:18 by John Phillips a commentator that I greatly admire. This quote emphasizes the point that every believer must continually be a Berean no matter how respected the source! Notice who the Bereans "checked out" and what "plumbline" with which they examined his teachings! (Read Acts 17:10, 11-note)

Eli had no spiritual vision (Ed: I agree with that statement in principle). The Bible says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Pr 29:18). That proverb was true then, and it is true today. It is a serious situation when Christians have no spiritual vision (Ed: While this may be true to a certain degree, that is not what Pr 29:18 is teaching!). Things are happening in our world that would make the angels weep, but some of us are so shortsighted or so preoccupied with personal matters that we cannot see other people's needs, even when they are brought to our attention. (The John Phillips Bible Character Series – Exploring People of the Old Testament, Volume Two)

John Wesley wrote that "no vision" means…

No vision-No prophecy; no publick preaching of God’s word.

Henry Morris rightly explains that

"the word vision does not refer to far-sighted imagination, as this verse is commonly applied, but rather to actual divine revelation."

W A Criswell says that

"The word "revelation" (chazon, Heb. for "prophetic vision"- cf. 1Sa 9:9) refers to the experience of the prophets in receiving a word from God (see Dan. 4:5, note). The "law" (torah, Heb., may also mean "instruction") is not only the Mosaic Law but also the messages to the people from God via His messengers, the prophets. Happiness comes in obeying the word of God however it comes (cf. Isa. 8:16; Amos 8:11, 12). This word, "perish," means "open" or "exposed." When people today reject or ignore the revealed Word of God, they are open and helpless to resist the humanistic and occultic doctrines of men and devils. (Happy speaks of) True happiness, or blessing found only through "keeping"--that is, "guarding" God's Word, then obeying and proclaiming it.

Walter Kaiser, et al writes that…

For many years this proverb (Pr 29:18) has been misinterpreted, probably because the KJV translates it "Where there is no vision, the people perish." One can infer from that translation that wise groups must have a five-, ten- or twenty-year plan for the future if they do not wish to become defunct as an organization. And many have taken just that meaning from this text. However, the word vision does not refer to one's ability to formulate future goals and plans. Instead, it is a synonym for the prophetic word itself. It is what a prophet does. It refers to the prophetic vision, revelation which comes as the word of God

Besides vision, a second key word has been misunderstood in this verse: the word perish. This does not refer to the perishing of churches with inactive planning committees (a fact which may be true on grounds other than those presented here in this text). Nor does it mean the perishing of the unevangelized heathen who will die in their sin if someone does not reach them quickly (a fact which is also true on other grounds). The word translated in the KJV as "perish" has a very impressive background to it. It means "to cast off all restraint." It clearly warns that where the word of God is silenced so that it no longer comments on the local situation, the results are terrifying. The populace becomes ungovernable as they cast aside all that is decent and civil for whatever their own baser appetites wish to indulge in.

On the other hand, this proverb continues, "Blessed is he who keeps the law." Thus, on the one hand, people are in an untenable position when the voice of the preacher ceases, because they let loose and nothing is left to restrain them; but, on the other hand, they are only truly happy when they have the good fortune of possessing the word of God and then place themselves under the hearing and doing of that word. (Hard Sayings of the Bible)

Pulpit Commentary on Pr 29:18…

The fatal effect of the absence of such revelation of God’s will is stated to be confusion, disorder, and rebellion; the people, uncontrolled, fall into grievous excesses, which nothing but high principles can restrain. We note the license of Eli’s time, when there was no open vision (1Sa 3:1,2); in Asa’s days, when Israel had long been without a teaching priest (2Chr 15:3); and when the impious Ahaz “made Judah naked” (2Chr 28:19); or when the people were destroyed by reason of lack of knowledge of Divine things (Hos 4:6, cp Is 1:3, 5:13, Je 8:7).

Charles Bridges on Pr 29:18…

“Thus we may learn the necessity of preaching, and what inconvenience follows when it is not used. ‘Where preaching falls,’ says Solomon, ‘there people perish.’ Therefore, let everyone keep himself in God’s schoolhouse and learn his lesson diligently. For as the body is nourished with meat, so is the soul with the Word of God” (Bishop Pilkington). “The meanest village,” Luther was apt to say, “with a Christian pastor and flock is a palace of ebony.”

Wilmington comments on Pr 29:18…

Needed: Leaders from the Lord. Without good spiritual leadership, people tend to fall deeply into sin (see Ex 32:25; Jdg. 21:25; 1Sa 3:1; Amos 8:11, 12; Mark 6:34; Heb 13:17). (Willmington's Bible Handbook)

Matthew Henry commenting on Pr 29:18 calls us to observe

How bare does a place look without Bibles and ministers! and what an easy prey is it to the enemy of souls!

The misery of the people that want a settled ministry: Where there is no vision, no prophet to expound the law, no priest or Levite to teach the good knowledge of the Lord, no means of grace, the word of the Lord is scarce, there is no open vision (1Sa. 3:1), where it is so the people perish (contrasted with)…

The felicity of a people that have not only a settled, but a successful ministry among them, the people that hear and keep the law, among whom religion is uppermost; happy are such a people and every particular person among them. It is not having the law, but obeying it, and living up to it, that will entitle us to blessedness.

Harry Ironside on Pr 29:18…

When ministry of this nature is lacking among the people of God and the assemblies of His saints, they soon become lawless, substituting for the Spirit’s energy the mere busy meddling of nature, and opening the door to what is simply of man in the flesh. But we would not forget the second part of the couplet. Even let ministry of an edifying character be rarely known, yet where the word of God controls there will be blessing. He who keeps it will be happy amidst the existing confusion, enjoying fellowship with Him who inspired it…

Lack of vision will be manifested in a cold, dry, theological, or philosophical, treatment of the Scriptures, as though given to exercise the intellect, rather than the heart and the conscience. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is one applicable for all Christians while in this scene of trial and testing (Eph. 1:15-23). (Notes on the Book of Proverbs).

Unrestrained (Pr 29:18KJV = perish, Berkley = run wild; "fall into anarchy", "cast off restraint") (06544) (para') means to let go, to let loose (literally was used to describe hair that was "loose" or unkempt - Lev 10:6NIV, cp Lev 13:45, "unbind the hair" = Nu 5:18), to unbind, to let run wild, to become ungovernable, to become unable to be reined in. Para' is used in Ex 32:25 where it is translated out of control. Note that they were out of control when Moses (who received the "vision") was out of vision (pun intended)! The KJV rendering of Pr 29:18 that the people perish is somewhat misleading as it suggests that the writer is referring to eternal loss in the lake of fire, but that is not the actual meaning of the Hebrew word as we have explained above. Thus to interpret this proverb as a call to evangelize the lost (as a number of commentaries and sermons suggest) so that they do not perish eternally is incorrect. If the KJV had been rendered "the people run wild", this evangelistic interpretation most likely would have been much less frequent.

Compare this scene to what happens when God is out of the picture in the life of individuals or nations (Jdg 21:25 = "No King"!) The picture of Para' is of a people who are open and exposed to the subtle errors of deceptive doctrine (cp persuasive arguments Col 2:4-note, Col 2:8-note) which produces corrupt conduct ("out of control"). Belief always effects behavior and this case it births behavior without restraints which in essence equates with our English equivalent anarchy (derived from Greek anarchos = having no ruler <> an- negative = "no" + archos = ruler) and describes a state of lawlessness, an absence or denial of any authority and as a result an absence of order!

So what is the point? Sound doctrine ("vision") that exalts God as Supreme (cp "King" in Jdg 21:25) must not seek to tickle ears (2Ti 4:2-note, 2Ti 4:3,4-note) but must be boldly and uncompromisingly proclaimed by God's appointed and anointed prophets from the pulpits! Could this principle have anything to do with the fact that the modern church in America seems to be having so little "salt" and "light" effect on a decaying, devolving culture which has in effect "cast off all restraints"?

Adam Clarke phrases Pr 29:18 this way…

Where Divine revelation, and the faithful preaching of the sacred testimonies, are neither reverenced nor attended, the ruin of that land is at no great distance.

Para' - 14 uses in OT - Ex 5:4; 32:25; Lev 10:6; 13:45; 21:10; Nu 5:18; 2 Chr 28:19; Pr1:25; 4:15; 8:33; 13:18; 15:32; 29:18; Ezek 24:14

Here is an illustration of Unrestrained -

October 7, 1969 the Montreal, Canada police force went on strike. Because of what resulted, the day has been called Black Tuesday. A burglar and a policeman were slain. Forty-nine persons were wounded or injured in rioting. Nine bank holdups were committed (almost a tenth of the total number of holdups that occurred the previous year) along with 17 robberies at gunpoint. Usually disciplined, peaceful citizens joined the riffraff and went wild, smashing some 1,000 plate glass windows in a stretch of 21 business blocks in the heart of the city, hauling away stereo units, radios, TVs and wearing apparel. While looters stripped windows of valuable merchandise, professional burglars entered stores by doors and made off with truckloads of goods. A smartly dressed man scampered down a street with a fur coat over each arm. With no police around to reign in crime, anarchy reigned! (A modern day picture of the book of Judges!)

The Septuagint (LXX) translation of Proverbs 29:18 is interesting for it reads (my loose paraphrase of the Greek)…

Where there is existing absolutely no revelation from God, the people are undisciplined, out of control (Ex 32:25) and run wild, but in striking contrast are those who will be fully satisfied regardless of the circumstances (meaning of Greek word makarios) because they continually (present tense) guard the treasure (phulasso = like a watchman standing guard to keep something valuable from being lost or snatched away [cp Mt 13:19]) of God's Word.

It is notable that vision is translated with the Greek exegetes the verb form (exegeomai in Lk 24:35) of which means literally to lead out, to unfold, to declare, to tell, to provide detailed information in a systematic manner) Exegetes obviously gives us our English word “exegesis” which can be defined as the unfolding of the interpretation through teaching of Scripture. America's pulpits need modern day prophets who rightly dividing the Word of Truth so that they might proclaim sound doctrine which in turn produces "salty saints"!

The upshot is that when those who have been called as prophets fail to speak thus saith the LORD regardless of whether it is "politically incorrect" or "seeker unfriendly" (Jer 1:17,18,19), the result will be a people that "run wild" (spiritually, morally, ethically) so that it becomes very difficult to discern the difference between the church and the world (see kosmos)! To reiterate, vision in Pr 29:18 does not refer to far-sighted imagination, as is commonly interpreted by some preachers! No wonder the Church is in such ill health. No bread, no growth! (Dt 8:3, 1Pe 2:2,3-note).

Proverbs 29:18 teaches that when there is not correct exegesis of the Scripture, the people are in one sense (emphasized by the Hebrew word para') uncovered and open to deception and on the other side (as emphasized by the Greek word paranomos used to translate the Hebrew para' - paranomos is from para = side + nomos = law and means literally beside the law) act contrary to the Law. It does not mean they did not know the Law but that they act as if it had been placed at their side (para = side + nomos = law) (cp Lk 11:28). We need men and women who will rightly divide Scripture, not just teaching the Law, but teaching how to live the Christ life in His grace and power, because He was the Only One Who was able to truly live the "Christian" life.

Lord, give us men who are controlled by the Holy Ghost and therefore will speak "Thus saith the Lord… " not shrinking back from declaration of the whole counsel of God's Word, so that then Your people will be adequate for every good work and able to glorify (to give a proper opinion of) Your Name. Amen.

Charles Wood has an excellent sermon outline on Pr 29:18KJV entitled "No Vision". Here are the opening points of his outline…

Introduction: Sometimes the Scriptures are misused, especially by ignorance. Sometimes those who know the Bible well misuse it in certain places. Usually it is not serious, but rather a right truth from the wrong passage. This often makes us miss some good teaching. This verse is a case in point.

I. Corrected Interpretation

A. Common

1. “No vision” — failure to see opportunity

2. “People perish” — people are lost and go to hell

B. Correction

1. “Vision” — word which has reference to revelation (word refers to revelation of God’s will through any agent)

2. “Perish” — cast off restraint, become ungovernable

C. Continuation

1. The second part of verse 18 gives the clue to interpreting the first

2. Meaning — “Where there is no proclamation of God’s revelation, people cast off restraint and become ungovernable”

(For the complete outline see Wood, C. R. 1984. Sermon Outlines on the Book of Proverbs.: Kregel Publications - well done

Henry Blackaby commenting on Pr 29:18 writes that…

The world operates on vision. God's people live by revelation. The world seeks grand and noble purposes and goals to achieve. People dream up the greatest and most satisfying things in which they can invest their lives. Institutions establish goals and objectives and then organize themselves to achieve them. God's people function in a radically different way. Christians arrange their lives based on the revelation of God, regardless of whether it makes sense to them. God does not ask for our opinion about what is best for our future, our family, our church, or our country. He already knows! What God wants is to get the attention of His people and reveal to us what is on His heart and what is His will, for God's ways are not our ways! (Isa. 55:8, 9).Whenever people do not base their lives on God's revelation, they “cast off restraint.” That is, they do what is right in their own eyes. They set their goals, arrange their agendas, and then pray for God's blessings. (Experiencing God Day by Day)

Warren Wiersbe sees the book of Judges from an interesting prophetic perspective…

Judges is the book of “no king,” 1 Samuel is the book of “man’s king” (Saul), and 2 Samuel is the book of “God’s king” (David). The world today is living in the Book of Judges because there is no king in Israel. When presented with their rightful King, the Jews said, “We have no king but Caesar.” (Jn 19:15) Next on the agenda is the appearance of “man’s king” (Antichrist) who will usher in world control and chaos. Then “God’s King” will appear, defeat His enemies, and establish His righteous kingdom. Note that the Book of Ruth takes place during the period of the Judges (Ruth 1:1-note) and that it is a love story and a harvest story. God’s people are living in the Book of Ruth, sharing in the harvest and waiting for the wedding (Ed: And for the day when all the kingdoms of earth will be given over to the King of kings - Rev 11:15-note)…

Moses warned that Israel would one day want a king like the other nations and forget that they were a unique nation, unlike the Gentiles (Deut. 4:5, 6, 7, 8; 14:2; 17:14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20; Ex 19:4, 5). What other nation had the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth, as their King? (Wiersbe, W. W. Be Available. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) (Bolding added)

Spiritually speaking, we are living today in the Book of Judges; for there is no king in Israel, and there will not be until Jesus returns. Like Israel in the past, many of God’s people today are living in unbelief and disobedience and are not enjoying the blessings of God. (Wiersbe, W. W.. Be Committed)

A C Gaebelein

A king was needed to remedy these sad internal conditions, this departure from God and strife of one against the other. This is an evident link with and preparation for the history which follows. Even so in this age of evil, darkness and cunning lawlessness; what the world needs is a king, the King of righteousness and peace. When He comes, order will be brought out of chaos, all strife and war, all bloodshed and lawlessness will cease. (Judges 21 Commentary - A C Gaebelein)

A W Pink

Following the deaths of Moses and Joshua, Israel grievously departed from the Lord: cast off His law, worshipped the idols of the heathen, and “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25); darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. Yet even in those days God left not Himself without witness: inexpressibly blessed is it to behold the faith of individuals shining in the midst of a failed testimony; that here and there was a lamp maintained, illuminating the surrounding darkness (See He 11:32-note). (An Exposition of Hebrews)

Block writes that…

No book in the Old Testament offers the modern church as telling a mirror as this book. From the jealousies of the Ephraimites to the religious pragmatism of the Danites, from the paganism of Gideon to the self-centeredness of Samson, and from the unmanliness of Barak to the violence against women by the men of Gibeah, all of the marks of Canaanite degeneracy are evident in the church and its leaders today. This book is a wake-up call for a church moribund in its own selfish pursuits. Instead of heeding the call of truly godly leaders and letting Jesus Christ be Lord of the church, everywhere congregations and their leaders do what is right in their own eyes.” (Judges, Ruth. The New American Commentary Series)

EVERYONE DID WHAT WAS RIGHT IN HIS OWN EYE: (Pr 29:18) (right - Jdg 18:7; Deut 12:8; Ps 12:4; Pr 3:5; 14:12; Eccl 11:9; Micah 2:1,2)

Moses warned the people before they entered the Promised Land…

You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes (Dt 12:8)

Solomon addressed this same problem writing…

Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices. (Ec 7:29).

Every man's way (journey, path, direction, course of life, moral character) is right (upright, just, correct, pleasing, fitting, proper, righteous) in his own eyes, BUT (Beloved, our flesh coerces, cajoles, constrains and compels us to "forget" this vital, important "BUT" [contrast]. Oh, how we need to continually maintain a healthy "fear of the LORD" in our mind's eye, cp 1Pe 1:17-note, Pr 8:13, 16:6, 28:14, 2Co 7:1-note,) the LORD weighs the hearts. (Pr 21:2)

Comment: SELF DECEPTION of SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS … AN AMAZING UNIVERSAL ("every man") HUMAN TRAIT that rationalizes our sins and overt transgressions against the Holy One. There is an amazing ability within us all to explain away that in ourselves which we would severely censure in others (Pr 16:2,22:6, cp Mt 7:1, 2, 3, 4-note). A man will never believe his real character until the divine mirror is held before him (Ro 7:9-note). Pilate considered himself "innocent" of the guilt of putting Jesus to death merely by washing his hands (!!!) (Mt 27:24), and the Jews considered themselves absolved from their part by refusing to enter the judgment hall and by eating the Passover (Jn 18:28). However, one's righteousness is determined by how he stands in the sight of God, who weighs the "heart" and not actions (cf. 1Sa 16:7).

Even imprisoned criminals are commonly found still to be justifying and blaming others for the sinful deeds which caused their problems because of the human heart which "is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick" (Je 17:9). It takes God Himself, the Holy Spirit, to bring true conviction and repentance to the heart of a sinner (Jn 16:7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Self righteousness is a sin common to man. There is an amazing ability within all of us to explain away that in ourselves which we would severely censure in others (Pr 16:2, 22:6, Ro 2:1, 2, 3-note).

They thought that what they were doing was "right" (cp Isa 5:20,21-note) cp What was "righteous" in his own eyes… sounds like "values clarification" or "situation ethics" of the late 20th Century… taking prayer and Bible out of the schools left a void… "no King" (in a manner of speaking). Result? Everyone began to do his own thing. Nike's commercial sadly sums up this pathetic plight of America… "Just do it" (And in late 2009 we see the leading sports face for Nike, Tiger Woods, sadly lived up to this slogan! This would be funny if it were not so tragic and true!) or the beer commercial "You just go around once so grab for all the gusto you can!"

John Witmer - When the individual’s conscience has authority over law, then government by law is jeopardized. At that point a nation is logically only one step removed from the condition of Israel when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 17:6; 25:25). Sooner or later anarchy rules. (The Man with Two Countries - Bib Sac 133:532 Oct 1976)

Ryken writes that "the people, living in a pluralistic society, turn to their own ways and in turn lose a vision of God. The book of Judges describes what happens to a society that loses sight of God and finds meaning solely within the individual. The image of the cycle in the end collapses tragically into a downward spiral. The narrative of Judges becomes an image of decline through its use of plot, characterization and imagery. All the other major images in Judges underscore the reason and result of a leaderless society that loses its sight of God. ( Dictionary of biblical imagery )

Henry Morris - This tragic indictment, first made in Jdg 17:6-note, is repeated in this final verse of the book. In between these accusations (Judges 17-21) is found the most appalling description of moral and spiritual chaos that one can encounter anywhere. Yet these people were the chosen people of God, and were no more than one generation away from Joshua and "the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that He did for Israel" (Jdg 2:7-note). Their fathers had served the Lord during that period, but then "there arose another generation after them" who "did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim" (Jdg 2:10,11-note). It is highly probable that it was during this generation that the tragic events of Judges 17--21 took place (see notes on Judg 18:1-note and Jdg 20:28-note). When the younger generation forsakes the faith of their fathers and begins to compromise with the pantheistic cultures of their ungodly neighbors, it may not be long before they descend into utter wickedness (Ro 1:21-32-note). Almost the same thing is happening to the current generation in America and other Christian nations today. (Morris, Henry: Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing)

This tragic indictment, first made in Jdg 17:6-note, is repeated in this final verse of the book… so Judges does not seem to end like a fairy tale where "they all lived happily ever after." But in God's wonderful merciful providence there is a "Now" in Ru1:1-note which shines forth as a bright flame of hope in the midst of a crooked & perverse generation who did not know God nor know His power (Jdg 2:10-note contrast w the previous generation Jdg 2:7-note).

JUDGES 21:25

The book of Judges is vitally important for our post-Christian culture and the relatively somnolent American Church to consider and comprehend for it stands as a vivid, albeit tragic testimony to the fact that most of the nation of Israel continually went astray in their hearts (not all Israel for God always had a believing remnant). In other words their general "direction" (their walk, their conduct) was toward disobedience, not obedience to God's will and way! Centuries later the writer of Hebrews documented Israel's rebellious heart even from the very beginning. In Hebrews 3:10 (note) we see that the first generation of Israel, despite experiencing the miraculous Divine deliverances through the Passover Lamb (a foreshadowing of Christ, cp Ex 12:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, Jn 1:29, 1Co 5:7, 8, 1Pe 1:18, 19-note, Lk 22:20, Re 5:6-note) and the Red Sea, nevertheless continually went astray in their hearts and did not know God's ways. While the Passover and the Red Sea are clearly beautiful OT pictures of salvation, they were still but shadows of genuine salvation. Salvation then as now is critically dependent upon one exercising his or her personal faith in the Good News (Gospel) of the Messiah (Study the following passages - Jn 1:11, 12, 13, 6:29, 9:35, 36, 37, 38, 12:36, 44, 14:1, Acts 4:12, 16:31, Ro 10:9, 10-note, 1Ti 1:16, 1Pe 1:8,9-note, 1Jn 3:23, 24, 5:13, Jesus' own testimony Mk 1:15). This belief or faith (See studies of pistis = faith and pisteuo = believe) is not merely intellectual assent, but is "directional", in that it puts a new desire in one's heart (2Co 5:17, Ezek 36:26, 27, Php 2:12-note, Php 2:13-note) to walk generally (not perfectly) in the direction of God's will and way (holiness, godliness, righteousness, etc). In other words while salvation was then and is now and forever entered into ONLY by personal faith, that faith is demonstrated to be real, genuine, saving faith by one's subsequent walk of obedience. To reiterate, obedience does not save a person, but it does show that one's faith is genuine.

Related Resources:

Dave Guzik - This kind of moral, political, social, and spiritual chaos could only reign were there was no recognized king over Israel - and where people had forgotten about God as their King. The only standard left was the standard of "if it feels good, do it" - much like America at the close of the twentieth century

Gary Inrig gives us an illustration of the danger of a "Judges 21:25 approach" to life writing about a terrible airline accident that occurred in the Canary Islands in April of 1977.

At the small airport at Tenerife (Read Wikipedia description including a simulated picture of the two airliners just before collision) two 747's collided killing hundreds: The airport was crowded because the main airport at Las Palmas had been closed due to a bombing. As a result, the 747's had to taxi on the runway rather than on the taxiway. It was a foggy day, and the two pilots could not see one another, but, for some inexplicable reason, the Dutch pilot began his takeoff without clearance from the control tower. Obviously, he thought he was doing the right thing (cp Jdg 21:25), but he was not. The other plane was in the way, and he was unable to avoid it. As a result, 575 people died (Ed: 583 in the Wikipedia article).

Every pilot is taught one very basic lesson at the beginning of his training. In an air traffic control zone you do not do what seems best in your eyes. You do what the control tower tells you to do. That is always true, but it is especially true when the visibility is bad. The reason is of course very simple. The controller knows things that you do not know. He has better information and a better perspective to guide a pilot safely to his destination. To act on your own causes disasters. This principle of aviation is also an important principle of life. We live at a time when a thick moral fog has settled upon our society. The old moral landmarks have been obliterated, and no one seems to know the difference between right and wrong. Ethically and morally, the visibility is nil, and people are groping for anything that will help them find their directions. It is very tempting at such a time to fly by the seat of your pants, living by your own standards, doing whatever is right in your own eyes. This epitomizes the book of Judges and especially the last 2 chapters. The other alternative is to be guided by Someone Who can see what we cannot see and who knows what we do not know. The great promise of God's Word is that if we commit ourselves to doing what is right in God's eyes, we will be directed safely through the moral fog. The Lord is not a controller Who makes mistakes. He is the omniscient, loving Father Who wants only the best for His children. (Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay by Gary Inrig. Moody, 1979. pp281,282 - Recommended Commentary for Judges - Very Practical!)

Judges closes with the reflection by the author on the absence of strong leadership and the lack of spiritual discernment (Heb5:14) that had led to the near total disintegration of Israel’s uniqueness as a nation. The tragic comment of the inspired historian who wrote the book of Judges notes that a nation unified under Moses, and miraculously victorious under Joshua, had now fallen into sin, defeat, and disunity. Thus, the book of Judges gives us a picture of the tragic results of sinful compromise with an ungodly world. Fortunately, the appendix of the book of Ruth indicates that God was still at work among His people, even during this dark hour. A ray of hope was about to dawn through which God’s Man, the Son of Man, would come to rule His people.

THE BIBLE contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its stories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.

It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed.

CHRIST is its grand subject, our good the design, and the glory of God its end.

It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

Here in this 21ST century the heads of state would do well to study the Book of Judges. Back in 1928, when the depression first began, a brief editorial appeared in the staid Wall Street Journal, which went something like this:

What America needs today is not Government controls, industrial expansion, or a bumper corn crop; America needs to return to the day when grandpa took the team out of the field in the early afternoon on Wednesday in order to hitch them to the old spring wagon into which grandma put all of the children after she washed their faces shining clean; and they drove off to prayer meeting in the little white church at the crossroads underneath the oak trees, where everyone believed the Bible, trusted Christ, and loved one another.

Thomas Brooks writes that…

There are four times wherein a hypocrite may express a great readiness and forwardness to religious duties:

(1.) First, When he is under terrors and distress of conscience. Oh, now for a little ease, a little rest, a little quiet, a little comfort—what won't the hypocrite do! etc.

(2.) Secondly, When he is under sore and heavy afflictions. Hosea 5:15, "In their affliction they will seek me early." Isaiah 26:16, "Lord, they came to you in their distress; when you disciplined them." Psalm 78:34, "When he slew them—then they sought him." It is a reproach to some: No plague—no prayer; no punishment—no prayer, etc. So Pharaoh and Ahab, etc.

(3.) Thirdly, When religion is in fashion, when it is a credit to be a professor, and when profession is the highway to profit and preferment. In the warm summer of prosperity, when there is no hazard, no danger, no loss to be a Christian, who then so forward in religious duties as the hypocrite? But when the sun of persecution is up—then he falls away, Mat. 13:5-6.

(4.) Fourthly, When others' presence, counsel, and examples have an influence upon them. Oh, now they keep religious duties! Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord—all the days of Jehoiada the priest. But when Jehoiada was dead, Joash serves groves and idols, and turns a deaf ear to those prophets who testified against him, and gives Zechariah his passport out of the world for speaking against his evil manners, and the wicked courses of his princes and people, 2Chr. 24:2, 17-23.

While the good judges lived, the Israelites kept close to the service of God: Judges 2:7, "And the people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel." But when the good judges were dead, the Israelites did what was right in their own eyes: every man's lust was his law, Judges 17:6, and Judges 21:25.

While Moses was present, there was no talking of a golden calf—but no sooner was his back turned, that the Israelites make a golden calf, and worship it when it was finished! Ex 32:1-9, etc. (A Cabinet of Choice Jewels)

Jdg 21:25 The Owner's Manual

Read: Psalm 119:1-8 | Bible in a Year: Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 9

Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! —Psalm 119:5

The Bible is much like the owner’s manual of a car. If the driver doesn’t service his automobile according to the instructions in the little book in the glove compartment, he’s going to run into trouble. But if he carefully follows that guide, he should enjoy many trouble-free miles.

J. I. Packer changes the analogy but makes the same point. In his book Knowing Man, he says, “Keep the law, and in thus serving God you find freedom and delight, because human nature is programmed for fulfillment through obedience.”

We don’t know what circumstances motivated the author of Psalm 119. No doubt he was keenly aware of the consequences of disobedience, but I believe he saw the positive side as well. He knew that the statutes and precepts of God held the key to a full and happy life.

We are living in a time when people everywhere are doing what is right in their own eyes (Jdg 21:25). Life has become cheapened, debased, and joyless. What’s needed is a return to the moral standards of Scripture.

If we want our life to run well, even through stormy situations and rough circumstances, we must take the time to study the “Owner’s Manual.”

Blessed book, God's Living Book,

Through its pages help me look;

May I behold from day to day

New light to guide me in the way. —McClelland

Your life will run smoother if you go by "The Book." (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. — Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)

Free To Do What's Right

Read: Judges 2:11-23

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. —Judges 17:6

What confusion! I had never seen anything like it. On the road from the Leonardo da Vinci Airport to downtown Rome was an intersection where cars had converged from every direction. Each driver was inching his way forward. Horns were blaring. Passions were flaring. No stoplights or traffic cops were there to bring order to this chaos of cars. But there was one positive note: No one was breaking the law—there was no law!

Back in the days before Israel had a king, a similar situation prevailed. Although they had God’s law, people ignored it and did what was right in their own eyes (Jud. 17:6). What a bitter price they paid for such freedom! The book of Judges tells of their disobedience, which resulted in oppression by pagan neighbors.

Still today, many people, and even some professing Christians, ignore God’s clear revelation of Himself in His Word. They think they are free to form their own ideas of what God is like and what He expects. Strongly influenced by a godless culture, they live at the center of their own little world and walk in their own ways. That creates moral and spiritual confusion.

We must take God’s Word seriously if we are to show our world that Christ gives us freedom to do what’s right.

Christ came to give us liberty
By dying in our place;
Now with new freedom we are bound
To share His love and grace. —DJD

Freedom doesn't give us the right to do what we please, but to do what pleases God.

By Dennis J. DeHaan  (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. — Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)

Which Wisdom?

Read: James 3:13-18 | Bible in a Year: Isaiah 59-61; 2 Thessalonians 3

The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield. —James 3:17

Is it wise to be bitterly envious of other people’s possessions, talents, or good looks? Is it wise to be selfishly ambitious—and then brag about what your ambition brings you?

A passage in the Bible actually seems to call such attitudes wise. James used the word wisdom to describe “bitter envy and self-seeking” (3:14-15). That’s surprising, because we normally equate wisdom with something good. But James used the word in a specific context. The source of this wisdom, he pointed out, is evil. It doesn’t come “from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.” It is the wisdom that leads to immoral decisions about how life should be lived.

This kind of “wisdom” is all around us. Bitter envy and selfish ambition threaten many of our institutions and destroy relationships. Society pays the price for this twisted thinking at all levels, for it always leads to “confusion and every evil thing” (v.16).

The prophet Isaiah said, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes” (Isa. 5:21). As believers in Christ, we must pursue a higher wisdom—the wisdom that comes from God. It is pure, peaceable, and gentle. It is merciful and without hypocrisy (Jas. 3:17). Ask God for that kind of wisdom. Is there any doubt which wisdom is better?

The wisdom from above flies in the face
Of what the world holds in death's embrace;
Willing to yield, yet resolutely pure
And peaceable, God's wisdom will endure. —Gustafson

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. —Proverbs 16:25

By Dave Branon (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. — Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)

Fruits of recovery
Judges 21
Henri Rossi

The restoration of Israel had as a result the absolute refusal of any connection with the evil. "Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying there shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife" (Jdg 21:1). Let us remember that, in a day of ruin, when souls, under the action of grace, recover their first love for the Lord, they never become more tolerant of evil.

The closer our communion is with God the more does it separate us from evil, but the affections of the saints' hearts towards their brethren are not blunted by this separation, as we see here. For the third time the people went up to the house of God, for this place having been found again, became indispensable to them. Defeat first drove them on that road, victory led them on to it again. "And they abode there till even before God."

On the previous visit, "they wept and sat there before Jehovah;" on this occasion, the first thing was to abide there. "When thou saidst, seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face Jehovah will I seek" (Ps. 27:8). It is our happiness, amid the evil and the sorrow of the present day, to seek the face of the Lord and abide till even before Him. Tears then flowed and such tears!" They lifted up their voices and wept sore." For the first time feeling all the bitterness they said: "O Jehovah, God of Israel, why is it come to pass in Israel, that there should be to‑day one tribe lacking in Israel?" They did not say: The evil is put away, we are at length in quietness and tranquillity. The bitterness was in proportion to their recovery of their affections for Jehovah and for their brethren. The breach had been made, one tribe was wanting; it was like the body suffering from the loss of a limb. Israel's God had been dishonoured, the God before whose eyes, in His tabernacle, was the golden table with the twelve loaves of shew bread thereon. Israel no longer thought of their own dishonour as they had before their humiliation, for the tears of bitterness were shed before Jehovah; and it was when the unity seemed hopelessly lost, that its realization was made good in the hearts of the people, which, in the eyes of Jehovah was more true unity than the semblance of it by the people in a state of declension in the beginningof Judges 20.

The earliest rays of the morning found Israel at work building an altar. The people might say, with the Psalmist: "Early will I seek Thee." Humiliation and ruin did not hinder worship. What grace that there remained an altar to Jehovah amid such a state of things! Three things preceded this worship and led up to it - resolute separation from all evil, getting back into the presence of God, the ruin deeply felt and acknowledged. It was there that they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings; then that the heart entered into what the sacrifice of Christ was for God, and the portion God has given us with Him in it.

All these blessings recovered in the path of humiliation, were the starting point for the judgment of Jabesh‑Gilead. The inhabitants of that place had not come up to Jehovah to Mizpeh. That was indifference to the judgment of the evil by which God had been dishonoured in Israel's midst, and it was at the same time contempt for the unity of the people established by God, and which had been confirmed in such a striking way by the attitude of the eleven humbled tribes. The people of Jabesh‑Gilead had doubtless said, that it was no concern of theirs. How frequently do we hear such expressions in our days! Their state was even worse than that of the evil‑doer. For such a refusal, there was no mercy; but before, the execution of the judgment, Israel delighted to contemplate mercy. "And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, there is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.

How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing that we have sworn by Jehovah that we will not give them of our daughters to wives?" (Jdg 21:6, 7) Moreover, the judgment was but the exercise of this mercy, for the cutting off of Jabesh‑Gilead was with a view to the restoration of Benjamin. Such was the way that Israel came out of that long and painful conflict. Happy indeed are they who learn from such circumstances, and know how to combine perfect hatred of evil, with unmingled love for their brethren. The four hundred young virgins of Jabesh‑Gilead were given for wives to the poor remnant of Benjamin.

But that did not suffice; the wound must be completely bound up. Love was ingenious in finding the remedy and suggested to Israel a way of helping their brethren without disowning their obligations toward God, or lowering the standard of separation from evil. Israel allowed themselves to be plundered at Shiloh (Jdg 21:17, 18, 19, 20, 21), as it were under the eyes of Jehovah. Exchanging the victor's place for that of the vanquished, they permitted their brother, so sorely tried by the discipline, to have the last word.

"And it shall be," they said, "when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes, because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war" (Jdg 21:22). Israel did not say: They reserved not, but "we reserved not." What delicacy and tenderness did those words evince, and how different from those recorded in Jdg 20:12. "What wickedness is this that is done among you?" Israel no longer separated their cause from that of their brethren and the unity of the people, formed by God Himself, recovered its due place of importance in the eyes of the faithful in those sorrowful days of declension.

God grant that such may be the case with us, my brethren! If men, if Christians even, lightly esteem the divine unity of the church, or, when forced to avow that it is outwardly gone, seek to substitute for it a miserable daubing with untempered mortar and content themselves with an appearance of unity which does not deceive even those upholding it; if, in a word, men form alliances between their various sects, proving the very ruin they seek to justify; - let us turn away from such things, humbling ourselves on account of the ruin of the church (looked at on the side of human responsibility) without conforming to it; boldly proclaiming that "there is one body and one Spirit," "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ep 4:3, 4-note), refusing all fellowship with the moral and religious evil of the day, "and above all these things putting on love, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:14-note).

Such is the instruction contained in the book of Judges, which closes with the solemn repetition of that which characterized the evil days. "In those days there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Jdg 21:25). God did not change that deplorable state of things; He simply states the fact; but He led His own away from the confused light of conscience, which while it judged never guided them; and brought them back to the pure light of His own infallible word which was able to conduct them, to build them up, and to give them an inheritance among all them which are sanctified (cf. Acts 20:32).

"To the law and to the testimony,"
this is our safeguard in a day of ruin! (Isaiah 8:20).

(vv. 1-14)

L M Grant…God had not told Israel to totally destroy Benjamin, including women and children, but Israel had done this except for the 600 men hiding in the Rock Rimmon. Now they realize that a tribe of Israel is on the verge of extinction. Why did they not think of this before? But they had virtually decreed that Benjamin should be extinct by the fact that they swore an oath to the effect that no woman of Israel must be given as a wife to a Benjamite (Jdg 21:1).

Now Israel comes together at Mizpah in bitter weeping to inquire of God why a thing like this had occurred that there should be one tribe missing In Israel (Jdg 21:1, 2). But God was not to be blamed for this. They were to blame. They were to blame for their cruelty in exceeding the punishment of Benjamin beyond what was right, and now also to blame for the oath that they would not allow a woman of Israel to marry a Benjamite. It was they who put themselves in this sad predicament.

The next morning the people built an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, perhaps remembering that when they offered these two kinds of offerings before, that this had resulted in their victory over Benjamin. But they did not enquire of God as to what to do. Instead they relied on their own religious reasoning. For they had made another unscriptural vow that any Israelites who did not come to help in the judgment of Benjamin were to be put to death. Deuteronomy 20:8 tells us that when Israel went to battle, those who were fearful and faint hearted were to be excused from warfare. If so, how could Israel demand death for those who did not come out to fight? But they evidently thought this a very religious thing to do.

Israel inquired as to others of the nation who did not come to the battle, and found that no one from Jabesh Gilead had responded (Jdg 21:5, 6, 7, 8). And again the people were guilty of heartless cruelty against their own brethren. 12,000 men were sent to Jabesh Gilead with instructions to utterly destroy every male and all women and children except those women who were virgins (Jdg 21:10, 11). Did they consider the women and children as wicked people because the men did not go out to fight?

They brought back as captives 400 virgins from Jabesh Gilead (Jdg 21:12). Then they became guilty of breaking the oath they had made to the effect that no Israelite women could be given to the Benjamites. For they sent to the 600 men of Benjamin at the Rock Rimmon, announcing peace to them (v. Jdg 21:13), and gave them the 400 virgins of Israel they had captured from Jabesh Gilead! (Jdg 21:14). Thus, though they had made a very religious, binding oath, they found means of rationalizing their way around the oath to ease their consciences. They added to this heartless cruelty against Jabesh Gilead the dishonesty of hypocritical deceit in breaking their oath.

But 400 women were not enough for the 600 men. The people felt sorry for Benjamin's predicament and rightly wanted to see Benjamin restored as a tribe (Jdg 21:15). But instead of seeking God's guidance as to this, they again resorted to their own reasoning. The elders consulted together, reminding themselves that they had sworn an oath against giving any woman of Israel to the Benjamites. But they had just given 400 of Israel's women to Benjamin!-- though they had killed their parents to do so.

Could they not have done anything different than they did? Yes, they could, and ought to have confessed before God and the people that their oath was totally wrong. Only their own pride stood in the way, just as was true in King Herod's oath to the daughter of Herodias, whom he promised to give her whatever she asked and she asked for the head of John the Baptist (Mt.14:7, 8, 9). Herod's pride concerning his oath did not permit him to confess the oath was wrong. So the elders of Israel, to save face, resorted again to a hypocritical action. How sad it is that we may easily resort to subterfuge to save our outward reputation!

There was only one way in which the elders of Israel could honorably escape from the snare into which their own folly had brought them. This was simply to acknowledge before God that the vow they had made to not allow any woman of Israel to marry a Benjamite was foolish and wrong, and therefore to seek the Lord's gracious release from the vow. But to them this was out of the question. They said very piously that they could not break their vow (though they had already hypocritically broken it); but it occurred to them that they might be able to furnish the Benjamites with wives in another way than by actually presenting the wives to Benjamin. Since there a yearly feast to the Lord in Shiloh (v. 19), they told the men of Benjamin to hide in the vineyards near the place of the feast; then when the young virgins of Shiloh came out to perform their dances, to run out and catch wives for themselves and return quickly to their own land (Jdg 21:21).

Of course, even suggesting such a thing was breaking the oath they had made Israel to swear. Why had they made such an oath? Was it not because they considered the young virgins would be contaminated if they were given to Benjamites? But by having the Benjamites hide and then catch wives for themselves, they were outwardly putting the blame on the Benjamites for stealing the women, while the blame was plainly theirs for suggesting it. Their oath forbad the Benjamites from having wives from Israel, but they themselves encouraged the Benjamites to come and steal women as wives.

But more than this, the elders told the men of Benjamin that if the fathers or brothers of these young virgins came to complain to the elders, the elders would persuade them to be lenient toward Benjamin because Israel had not left wives for them in the war, and that it was not as though they were breaking their oath since the Benjamites had captured the women (Jdg 21:22). The elders did not even consider that it was they themselves who had deceitfully broken the oath!

Certainly God does not approve of such hypocrisy, yet by this means Benjamin was able to revive as a tribe and rebuild their cities (Jdg 21:23). However, the population of the tribe was greatly reduced, due to both their own foolish defense of men guilty of gross evil and to the heartless excess of judgment against them on the part of Israel. How solemn a warning to us is all this. On the one hand it warns us against daring protect evil when it is present, and on the other hand going to unnecessary lengths to punish evil. It appears that after a man had been put away from the Corinthian assembly for morally sinful practice (1Co 5:1ff), the Corinthians were not properly concerned as to his restoration, so that Paul had to tell them, "This punishment which was inflicted by the majority, is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow" (2Co 2:6). Thus we see that in the Church of God too there is danger of such things, just as in Israel.

The Book of Judges ends with the same words given in Chapter 17:6, where the introduction of idolatry is reported in the case of Micah. Because there was no king in Israel, Micah considered he could do what was right in his own eyes. There was no authority to challenge him for insulting God by idolatry. Worse than this, the worship of idols was introduced into the whole tribe of Dan (Jdg. 18:30, 31), with no challenge whatever from the other tribes. Similarly, in the case of moral wickedness and the unscriptural way in which it was handled, Jdg 21:25 makes the significant comment, "In those day there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Would Israel's problems be solved if they had a king? Israel thought so when they demanded of Samuel that they should have a king, like all the nations (1Sa 8:4, 5). Samuel protested since he told them God was their king, but they were insistent, so God allowed them to have a king -- a man who was head and shoulders taller than other men in Israel, but he failed miserably and the whole history of Israel in the time of the kings proved this hope to be futile. Some kings were relatively good, others were very bad and involved Israel in sin and idolatry. Some were strong enough to rescue the two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) from excesses of idolatry and restore some worship of God, but eventually all collapsed, both among the ten tribes and the two tribes, and Israel has been without a king since then. Only when the Lord Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, takes His place in sovereign authority will Israel find a settled, lasting peace.

For believers today, though having no earthly king, we are infinitely blessed by having the Spirit of God dwelling in the Church, the body of Christ, providing guidance, strength and blessing for all His own. Our true authority comes from heaven, where the Lord Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, and those who are willingly submissive to the authority of the Lord Jesus do not need any authority of men on earth by which to be guided. Not that we are to do what is right in our own eyes, but by grace we are enabled to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.


Charles Simeon's Sermon on Judges 21:25Jdg. 21:25. In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

SUCH is the depravity of human nature, that man is always prone to depart from God; and departures once begun, extend rapidly through individuals, communities, and kingdoms: the departure of a few righteous persons, like the removal of a dam, soon opens a way for iniquity to inundate a whole country. During the life of Joshua and his co-adjutors in the government, the Israelites retained a good measure of piety: but no sooner were they called to their eternal rest, than impiety began to deluge the land. The transactions recorded respecting the Danites in the 17th and 18th chapters, and of the Benjamites in the three last chapters, though placed after the history of the Judges, all took place whilst Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, was high-priest; and consequently, very soon after the death of Joshua, and before any Judge in Israel had been raised up: and it is repeatedly noticed in all those chapters, that these overflowings of ungodliness were occasioned by the want of those salutary restraints, which a wise and righteous governor would have imposed upon the people. This is particularly specified in our text; from whence we are very forcibly led to shew,

I. The obligations we owe to Civil Government—

Where there is no government, all manner of iniquities will prevail—

[This is most remarkably illustrated in the history before us. The idolatry of the Danites is ascribed to that. The ease with which the inhabitants of Laish fell a prey to a small handful of invaders, was owing to the dissoluteness of its inhabitants, and a total want of magistrates to enforce some salutary laws. The whole account also of the Levite and his concubine, as connected with the horrid wickedness of the Benjamites, and the extensive miseries consequent upon it, are all referred to the same cause, a want of a civil governor, who should exercise a watchful care over the people, and impose such restraints as should keep them within the bounds of decency and order. To appreciate these evils aright, the three last chapters should be attentively perused: the unheard-of wickedness of the Benjamites; the determination of the whole tribe of Benjamin to protect the offenders; the civil war arising from it; the repeated defeats of the tribe of Judah; the ultimate destruction of the whole tribe of Benjamin, men, women, and children, with the exception of six hundred men who had fled from the field of battle; the demolition of all their cities; the destruction also of the whole population of Jabesh Gilead, except four hundred virgins, who were preserved in order to prevent the utter extinction of the tribe of Benjamin; these and other miseries all arose out of this single circumstance, a want of a regular government sufficiently strong to prevent or punish the violations of the laws.

There is one circumstance in this history which seems unaccountable; namely, That when the eleven tribes were united against Benjamin solely for the purpose of demanding justice against the perpetrators of that enormous wickedness, and when Judah led the battle by divine appointment, no less than forty thousand of that tribe should be slain by Benjamin in two battles, whilst the impious Benjamites suffered no loss at all. But God intended by this to punish the supineness of all the tribes, who had neglected to espouse his cause against the idolatrous Danites. They had united as one man, when the interests of society demanded their interposition; but they had taken no steps to vindicate God’s honour against the introduction of idolatry, though God had expressly required in his law their most determined interference in his behalf. On this account God first made use of the Benjamites to punish them, and then delivered the Benjamites into their hands, that justice should be executed on them also.

But whatever was God’s design in these desolating judgments, they must still be all referred to that cause which we have already noticed.

If any further illustration of the point be wanted, we need only behold the evils which are perpetrated even in the best regulated governments, in defiance of the laws; and then we shall see what evils would obtain, if all the restraints of law and justice were withdrawn — — —]

But a vigilant and energetic magistracy stems the torrent of iniquity—

[Where a good government is, there are known and established laws, to which the highest, as well as the lowest in the state, are amenable. Our persons, our property, yea even our reputation, are secured from injury; or, if any injure them, the law affords us suitable redress. If any sons of Belial will break through the restraints which the law has imposed upon them, no sooner are they convicted of the crime, than they pay the penalty with the loss of their liberties or lives. Hence every man feels himself secure: the weak fears not the invasion of his rights any more than the strong; but all sit under their own vine and fig-tree, none making them afraid.
This security we are apt to overlook: but we can never in reality be too thankful for it. If we were to estimate our state according to truth, we should all consider ourselves like Daniel in the lions’ den: the lions have not lost their nature; but they feel a restraint, which, though invisible, operates for our preservation: if that were once withdrawn, we should then, like Daniel’s persecutors, soon become a prey to the violent and oppressive.]
But the subject may justly lead us also to consider,

II. The obligations we owe to the Gospel of Christ—

The restraints of Civil Government are external only, and have respect chiefly to the welfare of society: they cannot reach to the thoughts or dispositions of the heart. Hence

Ungodly men do precisely what they please—

[They keep within the regulations of human laws, so far at least as to avoid a criminal prosecution; but they will indulge their lusts in ways which come not within the cognizance of the civil magistrate, and will live altogether “without God in the world.” All indeed do not run to the same excess of riot; but all will equally “do what is right in their own eyes.” All mark out a line for themselves: some give themselves a greater latitude; and some are circumscribed within narrower bounds; but all lay down to themselves certain rules, to which they annex the idea of propriety: and if a minister of the Most High God stand forth to testify against their ways as evil, they will find an host to vindicate their cause, and to inflict the deadliest wounds also on those who dare to assault them in the name of God. The language of their hearts is, “Who is Lord over us?” In vain do we endeavour to convince them of their errors; they are determined to think themselves right: to be “right in their own eyes” is with them a perfect vindication of their conduct: they will not come “to the word and the testimony” of Scripture; that is a test to which they will not submit: and, if only they are free from gross and open sin, they despise the sword of the Spirit, and defy the sharpest arrows that are taken from his quiver.

What we here speak is as applicable to the most righteous among them, as to the most unrighteous. Solomon tells us that “there is a generation that is pure in their own eyes, who are not washed from their filthiness.” Their standard of duty, be it what it may, is of their own making: and they follow the laws of God no further than will consist with the regulations which they have formed for themselves — — —]

But the Gospel produces in them a most blessed change—

[This establishes a King in Israel: it represents the Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and the Lord of all; and erects his throne in the hearts of men — — — The Gospel rectifies the views also, of all that receive it. His law, and not our own vain conceits, becomes now the rule of judgment: the smallest deviation from that, whether by excess or defect, is regarded as evil, and nothing is approved any further than it agrees with that perfect standard — — — We may also add, It regulates the conduct. Those who receive the Gospel aright, instantly give themselves up to the Lord Jesus Christ, accounting his service to be perfect freedom, and desiring to live no longer to themselves, but “unto Him that died for them and rose again.” — — — Of course, we must not be understood to say that these effects are produced equally in all, or in any to their full extent. Men are still corrupt creatures, even the best of men; and consequently they will, like brands out of a fire, still bear the mark of the fire, though the flame be extinguished: but still they differ as widely from the unconverted world, as those who live under a well-regulated government do from the most licentious savages: they are thankful for the restraints under which they live; and are ready to die in defence of that King whom they venerate, and that law which they account it their highest privilege to obey. In civilized society, men are happy in being secured from external violence; but, under the Gospel, they are happy in being secured from the assaults of Satan, and from the corruptions of their own hearts.]

From this subject we would take occasion to recommend,

1. A self-diffident spirit—

[By nothing are the delusions of men more strengthened than by a confidence in their own wisdom and judgment. No reasons will weigh in opposition to the conceits of self-opinionated men; nor will an appeal to the Scriptures themselves be allowed to be of any force. Hence men perish in their errors, till it becomes too late to rectify them. How happy would it be if men would distrust their own judgment; and if, when they see how thousands of their neighbours err, they would admit the possibility of error in themselves I God has given us an unerring standard of truth: to that let us refer all our pre-conceived opinions; and remember, that, “if we walk not according to that rule, there is no light in us.”]

2. A cautious judgment—

[Persons are apt to form their judgment on very inadequate grounds. Any one who should have seen the two defeats of Judah, would be ready to conclude, that the cause for which victory had decided, was the right: but we are not to judge from events: righteousness is not always triumphant in this world: it may be oppressed; and the supporters of it may be trodden under foot: but there is a time when God will vindicate his own cause, and evince the equity of all his dispensations. The unalterable word of God must be our only rule of judgment in every thing: if we suffer in following that, let us not doubt the goodness of our cause, but betake ourselves to fasting and prayer, and, above all, to that great Sacrifice which was once offered for sin. Then, though suffering, we shall reap good to our souls; and, though vanquished now, we shall surely triumph at last.]

3. An unreserved submission to the King of Israel—

[This is true happiness: this once attained, no enemy can hurt us, no occurrence can disturb our peace. “I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on me, because he trusteth in me.” O that we were all brought to surrender up ourselves unfeignedly to him! Whether we will submit to him or not, “God has set him as his King upon his holy hill of Zion;” and “He will reign, till all his enemies be put under his feet.” “Kiss the Son then, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way:” and “let every imagination that is contrary to his will be cast down, and every thought be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”]


F B Meyer It is gratifying to find that after the stormy outburst of the previous chapter, there came a return of tender feeling, like rain after claps of thunder. Human tears, as they well forth for others, evidence underlying fountains in the strongest natures, and the existence of those tender feelings of compassion without which the race could not exist.

Judges 21:1-7 Israel's lamentation for Benjamin. -- Those that act in haste repent at leisure. Already there were symptoms that a sweeter and purer spirit was about to rise up in Israel. This yearning after a lost tribe (Judges 21:6) indicated that a flame of love was beginning to burn amid the steam and smoke of the newly-kindled fire; and if only there be love there is a point of contact at which God can reveal Himself to men, for he who loves his brother will presently come on to know God who is Love, and the tears shed over Benjamin are similar in nature to those shed on the Mount of Olives, when He beheld the city and wept over it.

Judges 21:9-14 The sack of Jabesh-Gilead. -- It would have been better to turn their attention to the Canaanites still in the land (Judges 19:11-12). But we are all more disposed to criticize our brethren, than to join forces with them against a common foe.

Judges 21:15-23 The scheme at the dances at Shiloh. -- What an indescribable admixture there is here of a recognized religious worship, and its desecration, keeping avow in outward form, while violating its tenor and spirit.

We cannot admire the method adopted by Israel to preserve Benjamin from extinction. As in so many other cases, a vow made rashly in a moment of excitement would have been better honored in the breach than in the observance. One star at least shone in the black night; truth began to be revered, and they would not go back from their solemn pledge and vow. The morals of the people were evidently lamentably low, but the whole of their course of action is probably to be explained by the fact that they looked upon this war as having been an act of righteousness.

There was an air of satisfaction in the return of the people to their homes (Judges 21:24). But we need to correct our self-estimate by the balances of eternity. As, in those days there could not be settled prosperity or peace till the true King came, so it is now in the kingdom of our hearts. (F. B. Meyer. CHOICE NOTES ON JOSHUA THROUGH 2 KINGS)