Israel’s men had made this serious promise to the Lord at Mizpah

Chapter 21

v1 Israel’s men had made this serious promise to the Lord at Mizpah. ‘We will not allow our daughters to marry a man from Benjamin’s *tribe.’ v2 The people went to Bethel. They sat where God was. They sat there until evening. They were weeping very much. v3 They said this. ‘*Lord God of *Israel’s people, this should not have happened to *Israel’s people. Now one *tribe in *Israel has almost gone.’v4 Early next morning, the people built an *altar and they offered *burnt offerings and *peace offerings. v5 Then they asked this. ‘Which group from all *Israel’s *tribes did not meet where God was?’ They had seriously promised to kill anyone that did not go to Mizpah. v6 Now the *Israelites were sorry for their brothers, the men from Benjamin’s *tribe. ‘Today *Israel has lost one *tribe’, they said. v7 ‘How can we provide wives for those that remain? We have made a serious promise to the *Lord. We will not allow our daughters to marry them.’

v8 Then they asked this question. ‘Which *tribe of *Israel did not meet at Mizpah?’ Then they discovered this. Nobody from Jabesh-Gilead had come to meet at the camp. v9 They had counted the people. They had discovered that nobody from Jabesh-Gilead was there.

The *Israelites thought again about their actions. They had fought a holy war. But they had made some promises that were too strong. They had promised that their daughters would not marry the men from Benjamin’s *tribe. So they had not allowed them to marry them. They were sorry about that. Because it meant that the *tribe would not continue. They built an *altar. This was probably at Mizpah, because there was already one at Bethel. They could not change their promise. Then they remembered something. If a *tribe sent nobody to the meeting, people would declare a *curse on that *tribe. As a result, the *tribe would suffer *destruction. Nobody had come from Jabesh-Gilead. (The people in Jabesh-Gilead were relatives of Manasseh, Rachel’s grandson. And so, they were also relatives of Benjamin. Later there was a close connection between Jabesh-Gilead and Benjamin’s *tribe.)

v10 So the people at the meeting sent 12 000 fighting men to go to Jabesh-Gilead. These men had to kill all those that lived there. This included women and children. v11 ‘You must do this’, the people said. ‘Kill every male. And kill every woman that has had sex.’ v12 The men found 400 young women that had not had sex. They brought them to the camp at Shiloh. This was in Canaan. v13 Then the people at the meeting sent some people to Benjamin’s men. These were at the rock called Rimmon. The people offered to make peace with Benjamin’s *tribe. v14 So Benjamin’s men returned at that time. The other *Israelites gave the girls from Jabesh to them. These were the girls that they had not killed. But there were not enough girls. v15 The people were sorry for Benjamin’s *tribe, because the *Lord had broken the unity of *Israel’s *tribes.

The people sent very many soldiers to Jabesh-Gilead. These went there to do something that the people had promised. But they also went to avoid the results of another promise. They killed the people that lived there. This was because these had not come to support the other *tribes. We may think that this seems cruel. But the connections between *tribes were *religious and very strong. It was very wrong to break these connections. One *tribe did not come. It did not consider that the event was serious. It did not want to settle the matter fairly. The soldiers brought back 400 girls that had not had sex. They would be wives for 400 men from Benjamin’s *tribe. But in total, 600 men from Benjamin’s *tribe still lived. The *Israelites did not kill them. This showed that the *Israelites wanted to become friends with them again. The *Israelites did not want one *tribe to disappear completely. They went to Shiloh. This shows that this event happened early. It happened before most other events that the writer describes in Judges. The writer explains here where Shiloh was. This shows that Shiloh was not such an important town then. It was not the main place where the people praised God at that time. It did not become the main place until later.

v16 The leaders of the meeting said, ‘There are no more women in Benjamin’s *tribe. How can we find wives for the men that remain? v17 The other men from Benjamin’s *tribe must have children. Then a *tribe of *Israel will not disappear. v18 We cannot give our own daughters to them. We have made a serious promise. We will declare a *curse on anyone that does this. v19 But think! There is the yearly *celebration where people thank the *Lord in Shiloh.’ (Shiloh is north from Bethel and south from Lebonah. It is east from the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem.) v20 So they spoke to the men from Benjamin’s *tribe. ‘Go. Hide in the fields where *grapes grow. v21 Then watch. The girls in Shiloh will come out to dance. Then you each must rush out from the fields where *grapes grow. Catch one girl for a wife. Then go back to the area where Benjamin’s *tribe has been. v22 If the girls’ fathers and brothers protest, we will say this to the fathers and brothers. ‘Please help them. Help them because we did not find enough wives for them during the war. You did not give your daughters to them. So you did not do anything that was against your promise.’ v23 So that is what the men from Benjamin’s *tribe did. While the girls were dancing, each man caught one. He carried her off to be his wife. Then they went back to their own area. They built their towns again and they lived there. v24 At the same time, the other *Israelites left the place. They went home to their own *tribes, families and property.

In Benjamin’s *tribe, there were still 200 men that did not have wives. So they made a plan for the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a *celebration because of the harvest. This one was at Shiloh. It included some local customs. For example, people danced. During the dance, those other 200 men from Benjamin’s *tribe would each seize a girl. So they would each get a wife. They would not take these girls as an act of war. And the men in Shiloh would not actually give their daughters to them. So the men in Shiloh would not do anything that was against their promise. (They had promised not to give their daughters to a man from Benjamin’s *tribe.)

E. M. Blaiklock wrote, ‘These last few chapters tell us what happens to a nation that forgets its God.’

v25 At that time there was no king in *Israel. Everyone did what seemed right to him.

This does not mean that a king would make things fair and good. Many kings led the people in the wrong way. ‘Everyone did what seemed right to him.’ This means that everybody had the responsibility to check their own actions. We may want to know who had the final authority. God showed people things about his purpose. That was the final authority. People could still live as true people of God even then. We can see this from the book called Ruth. God was still there. He had not left his people. He made sure that they would not destroy themselves by their own foolish behaviour. In Judges, we read a story about God’s grace. (God forgives us for the wrong things that we have done. And he does good things to us, although we do not deserve it. That is what grace means.) When people were doing more wrong things, God’s grace increased even more. Even when we have no trust, he remains loyal. He cannot act in a way that is different from his character.

This book is particularly important for people that live today. In many countries, people encourage other people to do what is ‘right for them’. They do not believe in absolute truth and moral standards. They do not believe in life that comes after death. They do not believe in judgement either. They laugh at these ideas. Sometimes people do not obey laws and they forget God. In this book, we read what results this has. The terrible events in the story in chapter 19 seem very modern. Judges contains a message for our world today. The world is becoming more and more evil. Its people allow other people to do whatever they like. God will punish what is evil. But he also loves people and he forgives them. He hates to see his people suffer. He can free those who try to find him. But they must also stop doing wrong things. That freedom comes by the *Lord Jesus Christ. He was born. He lived. He died. He rose again. He did not come to punish people. He came to free them. In the book called Judges, God often sent a special man (a judge) to rescue *Israel’s people. And this was similar to something that God would do later. Later he would send someone even more special, his own son Jesus, to rescue the world’s people from their *sins.

Word List

Adonai ~ a name that means ‘my *Lord’; it refers to God.

altar ~ a special table where people put a *sacrifice to God (or to a false god). They usually made it from stone.

Amorites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.

ancestors ~ people that lived before you in your family.

angel ~ a special servant of God. He lives where God lives and he brings messages from God.

angel of the Lord ~ a very special person that God sent from heaven (the place where God lives); or God himself when he came (perhaps as Jesus) to speak to people.

ark of the *covenant ~ a box in which *Israel’s people kept special laws that God had given to them. They carried it from place to place.

Asherah ~ a female god.

Ashtoreth ~ false female gods.

Baal ~ the false god of rain and good crops.

B.C. ~ 1200 B.C. means the year that was 1200 years before Jesus came to earth, and so on.

blessings ~ when God does good things to people and he protects them.

bowstring ~ a string that people fix between the ends of a long wooden stick. They pull the string to bend the stick into a curve. They do this in order to shoot arrows.

briar ~ plant with sharp points that grow on its branches.

burnt offering ~ something that people burned in order to offer it to God. (Or they offered it to a false god.)

Canaan ~ the country that later was called Israel.

Canaanites ~ people that lived in *Canaan. Sometimes the word means one particular group of people that lived there. And sometimes it means all the people that lived in *Canaan. They lived there already, before the *Jews lived there.

capture ~ take someone as a prisoner; take control of a place in war; or take an object in war.

carve ~ cut away material from wood or stone to make something.

cast ~ put soft material into a box with a particular shape. In the box, the material becomes hard and so it becomes an object with that shape.

cedar ~ a tall tree that is always green.

celebration ~ a social event that people arrange because of a happy or important occasion.

chariot ~ something like a box on wheels. Horses pulled it and someone rode in it. In war, soldiers rode in it.

commandment ~ a special law that God gave to Moses. There were 10 special laws like this.

concubine ~ a woman that lives with a man, but she has a lower position than his wife.

conquer ~ take control of something or somebody by force.

conquest ~ when a person takes control of something or somebody by force.

covenant ~ an agreement between two groups of people; or an agreement between God and his people. In God’s agreement, he promised to bless his people if they obeyed him.

crush ~ press something so that it breaks into pieces.

curse ~ something bad that someone says in order to punish or hurt a person.

descendants ~ members of your family that are born and live after you.

destroy ~ kill people; or damage something so badly that it does not exist any more.

destruction ~ when someone has damaged something so badly that it does not exist any more.

dew ~ drops of water that form on cool surfaces outside. They form at night when the air is damp.

disaster ~ a very bad event that causes great problems.

draw lots ~ select one thing (or person) from several things by luck.

Egyptian ~ a word that describes someone from Egypt or anything from Egypt.

Elohim ~ God, the person who is greater than anyone else.

ephod ~ a coat that priests wore.

faith ~ trust, complete confidence.

faithful ~ loyal to someone.

fig ~ a soft sweet fruit that is full of seeds.

generation ~ a period of time between a father’s birth and his child’s birth.

grape ~ juicy green or purple fruit that grows on the branches of a *vine. People use this fruit to make wine.

Hebrew ~ the Hebrew people were Abraham’s *descendants; and they spoke a language called Hebrew.

Hittites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.

Hivites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.

homosexual ~ when a person has sex with someone who is the same sex.

idol ~ a thing that people make out of wood, stone or metal. It looks like a man or a god. People *worship it and pray to it instead of God.

Iron Age ~ a long period when people used iron to make things.

Israel ~ the nation that consisted of Jacob’s *descendants; the country where they lived; another name for Jacob.

Israelites ~ the people that belonged to the nation called *Israel. God had chosen them as his own special people.

jawbone ~ a bone that contains the teeth in the mouth.

Jebus ~ the town that later was called Jerusalem.

Jebusites ~ the people that first lived in the town called Jebus (Jerusalem).

Jew ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Kenites ~ a group of people that lived near *Canaan.

kingdom ~ country or state that a king rules.

locusts ~ insects that fly as large groups and they destroy plants.

Lord ~ a name for God. It means that he is the master, the ruler over all. Also, people often use this word to translate *Yahweh, a very special *Hebrew name for God.

millstone ~ a flat circular stone that people use to *crush corn. They use two such stones together.

miracle ~ an event that does not follow the laws of nature.

mule ~ a horse with short legs that carries loads.

Nazirite ~ someone who made a special promise to God not to do certain things.

Negev ~ the dry southern area in Israel. (The name means ‘dry country’ in the *Hebrew language.) The area contained wells. And it had routes that people used for trade.

oak ~ a tree with hard wood. People often considered it as a holy thing.

offering ~ something that people give as a gift; a *burnt offering was an animal that people burnt as a gift to God.

Old Testament ~ the first 39 books in the Bible. They deal with God’s old *covenant, which he made at *Sinai.

olive ~ a bitter green or black fruit from which people get oil.

opposition ~ when someone is against somebody or something.

ornament ~ something that people put on a thing to add beauty to it.

palm tree ~ a tree with no branches. It has large leaves at the top.

peace offering ~ a gift to God to make peace with him.

Perizzites ~ a group of people that lived in *Canaan.

Pharisees ~ a group of *Jews who thought that they obeyed all God’s commands. They did not like the things that Jesus taught. They thought that they did not have any wrong ways. So they became very proud.

Philistines ~ a group of people that came from Egypt. They came to live on the coast between Egypt and Gaza. They lived in the plain that was there.

pole ~ a very long piece of wood that usually stands straight up. At that time, it often represented a god.

pregnant ~ when a woman has a baby that is developing inside her.

prodigal ~ someone who wastes his life and resources on pleasure, but he later regrets it. (Look at Luke 15.)

prophet ~ a person who teaches God’s message. A prophet sometimes tells about the results that present actions will have in the future.

prophetic ~ when a statement or event shows what will happen in the future.

religion ~ belief that God exists; and belief that we should obey his rules.

religious ~ when someone or something has a connection with *religion.

rope ~ very thick string.

sacrifice ~ something valuable (usually food or a dead animal) that people offer to God or to a false god.

scriptures ~ the holy texts in the *Old Testament or *New Testament of the Bible.

sexual ~ when something has a connection with a person’s male or female parts.

sin ~ when people do not obey God’s rules.

Sinai ~ the mountain where God gave the 10 *commandments (special laws) to Moses.

skull ~ the bony part in the head.

spear ~ a *weapon that has a metal point and it has a long handle.

spies ~ people that try to get secret information about another person or country.

spring ~ a place where water from under the ground comes up to the surface.

statue ~ a figure that represents a person or animal. People make it from stone or metal.

temple ~ a building where people praise a god.

temptation ~ something that tries to make people do wrong things.

tent peg ~ a piece of metal or wood. People put it into the ground to hold up the *ropes of a tent.

thorns ~ sharp points on a plant.

threshing ~ when people beat corn with a stick to separate the grains from it.

thumb ~ a short thick finger in a position apart from the other 4 fingers.

thummim ~ urim and thummim were two objects that the main priest kept in his *ephod. The priest used those objects to discover God’s decision about a situation.

torch ~ a stick that people burnt to give them light.

tower ~ a tall narrow building.

tribe ~ a large group of people that are all relatives of each other.

trumpet ~ a musical instrument that people blow in order to play it. They make it from metal.

unfaithful ~ not loyal.

urim ~ urim and thummim were two objects that the main priest kept in his *ephod. The priest used those objects to discover God’s decision about a situation.

victory ~ success in war.

vine ~ a plant that climbs. Its fruit is the *grape.

virgin ~ a woman who has not had sex with a man.

weapon ~ a thing that some people use to hurt other people.

weave/wove ~ to weave is to pass long pieces of material over and under other pieces. The material is cotton or wool, for example. People do this to make cloth.

winepress ~ in a winepress people used their feet to *crush *grapes; the juice ran down to a place where something held it.

worship ~ to show honour and respect to God or to a false god. To praise and serve God or a false god.

Yahweh ~ the name of God. It means ‘I am what I am’. Or it can mean ‘the same always’.

yeast ~ a type of plant that people use to make bread become bigger. It has no leaves, no fruit and no green colour.

yoghurt ~ a sour liquid that people make from milk. They add something to the milk to make it sour.