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Judges chapter 21

New International Version

1 The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: 'Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.'
2 The people went to Bethel, where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. 3 LORD, God of Israel,' they cried, 'why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?'
4 Early the next day the people built an altar and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.
5 Then the Israelites asked, 'Who from all the tribes of Israel has failed to assemble before the LORD?' For they had taken a solemn oath that anyone who failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah was to be put to death.
6 Now the Israelites grieved for the tribe of Benjamin, their fellow Israelites. 'Today one tribe is cut off from Israel,' they said. 7 How can we provide wives for those who are left, since we have taken an oath by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?' 8 Then they asked, 'Which one of the tribes of Israel failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah?' They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp for the assembly. 9 For when they counted the people, they found that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead were there.
10 So the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. 11 This is what you are to do,' they said. 'Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.' 12 They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan.
13 Then the whole assembly sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon. 14 So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them.
15 The people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a gap in the tribes of Israel. 16 And the elders of the assembly said, 'With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left? 17 The Benjamite survivors must have heirs,' they said, 'so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out. 18 We can't give them our daughters as wives, since we Israelites have taken this oath: 'Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite.' 19 But look, there is the annual festival of the LORD in Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.'
20 So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, 'Go and hide in the vineyards 21 and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin. 22 When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, 'Do us the favor of helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war. You will not be guilty of breaking your oath because you did not give your daughters to them.''
23 So that is what the Benjamites did. While the young women were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.
24 At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.
25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
English Standard Version

1 Now the men of Israel had sworn at Mizpah, “No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.” 2 And the people came to Bethel and sat there till evening before God, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3 And they said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel, that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?” 4 And the next day the people rose early and built there an altar and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. 5 And the people of Israel said, “Which of all the tribes of Israel 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 to Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” 6 And the people of Israel had compassion for Benjamin their brother and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel this day. 7 What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them any of our daughters for wives?”
8 And they said, “What one is there of the tribes of Israel that did not come up to the LORD to Mizpah?” And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead, to the assembly. 9 For when the people were mustered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. 10 So the congregation sent 12,000 of their bravest men there and commanded them, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones. 11 This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.” 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.
13 Then the whole congregation sent word to the people of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon and proclaimed peace to them. 14 And Benjamin returned at that time. And they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead, but they were not enough for them. 15 And the people had compassion on Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
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?” 17 And they said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe not be blotted out from Israel. 18 Yet we cannot give them wives from our daughters.” For the people of Israel had sworn, “Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin.” 19 So they said, “Behold, there is the yearly feast of the LORD at Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” 20 And they commanded the people of Benjamin, saying, “Go and lie in ambush in the vineyards 21 and watch. If the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and snatch each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 And when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Grant them graciously to us, because we did not take for each man of them his wife in battle, neither did you give them to them, else you would now be guilty.’” 23 And the people of Benjamin did so and took their wives, according to their number, from the dancers whom they carried off. Then they went and returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and lived in them. 24 And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
King James Version

1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. 2 And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore; 3 And said, O LORD God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to day one tribe lacking in Israel? 4 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. 5 And the children of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up with the congregation unto the LORD? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up to the LORD to Mizpeh, saying, He shall surely be put to death. 6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day. 7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives? 8 And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the LORD? And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabeshgilead to the assembly. 9 For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead there. 10 And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children. 11 And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man. 12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. 13 And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them. 14 And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead: and yet so they sufficed them not. 15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
16 Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin? 17 And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel. 18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin. 19 Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah. 20 Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21 And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 And it shall be, 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: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty. 23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them. 24 And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance. 25 In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
New American Standard Bible

1 Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, 'None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.' 2 So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and raised their voices and wept profusely. 3 And they said, 'Why, LORD, God of Israel, has this happened in Israel, that one tribe is missing today from Israel?' 4 And it came about the next day that the people got up early and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.
5 Then the sons of Israel said, 'Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not go up to the LORD in the assembly?' For they had taken a solemn oath concerning anyone who did not go up to the LORD at Mizpah, saying, 'He shall certainly be put to death.' 6 And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin, and said, 'Today one tribe is cut off from Israel! 7 What are we to do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters as wives?'
8 And they said, 'What one is there of the tribes of Israel that did not go up to the LORD at Mizpah?' And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9 For when the people were counted, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. 10 And the congregation sent twelve thousand of the valiant warriors there, and commanded them, saying, 'Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, along with the women and the children. 11 And this is the thing that you shall do: you shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman who has slept with a male.' 12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins who had not known a man by sleeping with him; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
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. 14 And the tribe of Benjamin returned at that time, and they gave them the women whom they had allowed to live from the women of Jabesh-gilead; but they were not enough for them. 15 And the people were sorry for Benjamin, because the LORD had created a gap in the tribes of Israel.
16 Then the elders of the congregation said, 'What are we to do for wives for those who are left, since the women have been eliminated from Benjamin?' 17 And they said, 'There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe will not be wiped out from Israel. 18 But we cannot give them wives from our daughters.' For the sons of Israel had sworn, saying, 'Cursed is he who gives a wife to Benjamin!'
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 road that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south side of Lebonah.' 20 And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, 'Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, 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 seize his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 And when their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, 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, otherwise you would now be guilty.’?' 23 The sons of Benjamin did so, and took wives according to their number from those who danced, whom they seized. And they went and returned to their inheritance, and rebuilt the cities and lived in them. 24 And the sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one departed from there to his inheritance.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
New Living Translation

1 The Israelites had vowed at Mizpah, 'We will never give our daughters in marriage to a man from the tribe of Benjamin.' 2 Now the people went to Bethel and sat in the presence of God until evening, weeping loudly and bitterly. 3 'O LORD, God of Israel,' they cried out, 'why has this happened in Israel? Now one of our tribes is missing from Israel!'
4 Early the next morning the people built an altar and presented their burnt offerings and peace offerings on it. 5 Then they said, 'Who among the tribes of Israel did not join us at Mizpah when we held our assembly in the presence of the LORD?' At that time they had taken a solemn oath in the LORD's presence, vowing that anyone who refused to come would be put to death.
6 The Israelites felt sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, 'Today one of the tribes of Israel has been cut off. 7 How can we find wives for the few who remain, since we have sworn by the LORD not to give them our daughters in marriage?'
8 So they asked, 'Who among the tribes of Israel did not join us at Mizpah when we assembled in the presence of the LORD?' And they discovered that no one from Jabesh-gilead had attended the assembly. 9 For after they counted all the people, no one from Jabesh-gilead was present.
10 So the assembly sent 12,000 of their best warriors to Jabesh-gilead with orders to kill everyone there, including women and children. 11 'This is what you are to do,' they said. 'Completely destroy all the males and every woman who is not a virgin.' 12 Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found 400 young virgins who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.
13 The Israelite assembly sent a peace delegation to the remaining people of Benjamin who were living at the rock of Rimmon. 14 Then the men of Benjamin returned to their homes, and the 400 women of Jabesh-gilead who had been spared were given to them as wives. But there were not enough women for all of them.
15 The people felt sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made this gap among the tribes of Israel. 16 So the elders of the assembly asked, 'How can we find wives for the few who remain, since the women of the tribe of Benjamin are dead? 17 There must be heirs for the survivors so that an entire tribe of Israel is not wiped out. 18 But we cannot give them our own daughters in marriage because we have sworn with a solemn oath that anyone who does this will fall under God's curse.'
19 Then they thought of the annual festival of the LORD held in Shiloh, south of Lebonah and north of Bethel, along the east side of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem. 20 They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, 'Go and hide in the vineyards. 21 When you see the young women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to the land of Benjamin to be your wife! 22 And when their fathers and brothers come to us in protest, we will tell them, 'Please be sympathetic. Let them have your daughters, for we didn't find wives for all of them when we destroyed Jabesh-gilead. And you are not guilty of breaking the vow since you did not actually give your daughters to them in marriage.''
23 So the men of Benjamin did as they were told. Each man caught one of the women as she danced in the celebration and carried her off to be his wife. They returned to their own land, and they rebuilt their towns and lived in them.
24 Then the people of Israel departed by tribes and families, and they returned to their own homes.
25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
Christian Standard Bible

1 The men of Israel had sworn an oath at Mizpah: "None of us will give his daughter to a Benjaminite in marriage." 2 So the people went to Bethel and sat there before God until evening. They wept loudly and bitterly, 3 and cried out, "Why, Lord God of Israel, has it occurred that one tribe is missing in Israel today? " 4 The next day the people got up early, built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. 5 The Israelites asked, "Who of all the tribes of Israel didn't come to the Lord with the assembly? " For a great oath had been taken that anyone who had not come to the Lord at Mizpah would certainly be put to death.
6 But the Israelites had compassion on their brothers, the Benjaminites, and said, "Today a tribe has been cut off from Israel. 7 What should we do about wives for the survivors? We've sworn to the Lord not to give them any of our daughters as wives." 8 They asked, "Which city among the tribes of Israel didn't come to the Lord at Mizpah? " It turned out that no one from Jabesh-gilead had come to the camp and the assembly. 9 For when the roll was called, no men were there from the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead.
10 The congregation sent twelve thousand brave warriors there and commanded them, "Go and kill the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the sword, including women and dependents. 11 This is what you should do: Completely destroy every male, as well as every woman who has gone to bed with a man." 12 They found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgins, who had not been intimate with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.
13 The whole congregation sent a message of peace to the Benjaminites who were at Rimmon Rock. 14 Benjamin returned at that time, and Israel gave them the women they had kept alive from Jabesh-gilead. But there were not enough for them.
15 The people had compassion on Benjamin, because the Lord had made this gap in the tribes of Israel. 16 The elders of the congregation said, "What should we do about wives for those who are left, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed? " 17 They said, "There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out. 18 But we can't give them our daughters as wives." For the Israelites had sworn, "Anyone who gives a wife to a Benjaminite is cursed." 19 They also said, "Look, there's an annual festival to the Lord in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah."
20 Then they commanded the Benjaminites, "Go and hide in the vineyards. 21 Watch, and when you see the young women of Shiloh come out to perform the dances, each of you leave the vineyards and catch a wife for yourself from the young women of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22 When their fathers or brothers come to us and protest, we will tell them, 'Show favor to them, since we did not get enough wives for each of them in the battle. You didn't actually give the women to them, so you are not guilty of breaking your oath.' "
23 The Benjaminites did this and took the number of women they needed from the dancers they caught. They went back to their own inheritance, rebuilt their cities, and lived in them. 24 At that time, each of the Israelites returned from there to his own tribe and family. Each returned from there to his own inheritance.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him.

What does Judges chapter 21 mean?

Immediately after Israel slaughters nearly the entire population of the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:47–48), the people seem to realize they have gone too far. This results in grief and threatens the extinction of the Benjaminites. The Lord instructed Israel to attack Benjamin at Gibeah (Judges 20:28), bringing judgment on that city for its heinous sins (Judges 20:11–13). Yet there is no hint that God commanded Israel to completely wipe out the entire tribe. Israel, acting on its own, seems to have gone beyond God's judgment to, once again, do what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6).

Only six hundred men of the tribe of Benjamin remain alive. Women, children, and even cities have been destroyed. The tribe will quickly die out unless wives can be found for the surviving men. This is major problem, however, since the Israelites who gathered for battle took a hasty oath. They vowed to God they would not give their daughters as wives to the Benjaminites. Now that no women remain, however, the oath seems to guarantee than no more Benjaminites will ever be born. Marrying Canaanite women is not an option (Deuteronomy 7:1–5). The people mourn and offer sacrifices to God, but He seems prepared to let them suffer the consequences of their actions (Judges 21:1–4).

First, the leaders investigate to see if any clan did not send a representative to aid in the civil war. Israel had taken an oath to put any such clan to death. They soon identify that nobody from Jabesh-gilead in Manasseh came to the assembly. Israel sends soldiers to kill every man, married woman, and child in the clan. Unmarried young women are spared to give to the Benjaminite men as wives. This echoes the methods sometimes used against the depraved, evil Canaanites (Joshua 6:17), but not God's own people. The other eleven tribes find the surviving men of Benjamin hiding in caves, fearful for their lives after the slaughter of the battle. Israel proclaims peace and gives to them the four hundred young women from Jabesh-gilead. Of course, two hundred more wives are needed to restore the tribe (Judges 21:5–15).

The leaders of Israel hatch another scheme that will allow them to keep their oath not to provide wives for Benjamin, while still allowing Benjamin to acquire Israelite wives. This plot involves twisting their vow, warping the intent of the promise by creating a loophole in its literal words. In short, Israel decides that women "taken" are not women "given," so they stage a kidnapping and hasty negotiation. Israelite leaders tell the remaining unmarried men of Benjamin to hide near an upcoming feast. A group of young women are expected to participate in the dances there. The Benjaminites are to each grab one young woman to carry back to their territory as a wife. When the fathers and brothers of these young women object, the Israelites will assure them these young women are needed to save the tribe of Benjamin, convincing them to agree to the marriages (Judges 21:16–22).

In this way, the men of Benjamin begin to produce a new generation. They rebuild their towns and continue as one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The author makes a point of repeating the fact that Israel was without a king during this era (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1). The final echo of this point comes after stories of moral failure, violence, and chaos. Israel is not merely without a central government; the people are not following their Creator God, and the result has been death and misery (Judges 21:23–25).

The next major phase of Israel's history will begin with the ministry of the judge-and-prophet Samuel. He will complete the work begun by judges like Samson (Judges 13:5; 1 Samuel 7:14–15) and oversee the nation's transition into a monarchy (1 Samuel 8:19–22).