Wanted: 600 virgins
Israel regrets killing most of a tribe1 Men of Israel had taken a vow during the war council meeting at Mizpah, before the fighting started. They had promised, “We won’t let any of our daughters marry a man from Benjamin’s tribe.” 2 Now they regretted it. So, they went to Bethel and cried to God all day, until sunset.
3 They said, “Oh my God, LORD of Israel, what have we done? We’ve lost an entire tribe.” 4 . The next day the people set up an altar. They sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. 5 Then they started asking themselves, “Who didn’t come to Mizpah for the sacred meeting we had before our war with Benjamin?” Tribal leaders had vowed that anyone who didn’t come would face the death penalty.
6 The Israelites were feeling sorry for Benjamin’s tribe—what was left of it. They said, “We’ve lost one of our tribes. 7 Where are we going to find wives for Benjamin’s surviving men? We can’t give them our daughters. We promised God we wouldn’t do that.”
Death, the penalty for a no-show8 Someone said, “What about those no-shows? Was there anyone who didn’t join us at Mizpah?” They discovered that Israelites from Jabesh in Gilead had skipped out on both the meeting and the war that followed. 9 They discovered that when they took a roll call. No one from Jabesh in Gilead said, “Here.”
10 So, the Israelites decided to do what they promised: execute the people of Jabesh in Gilead. They sent 12,000 warriors with these orders: “Kill everyone at Jabesh in Gilead, including the women and children. 11 Kill every man and kill every woman who is not a virgin. Annihilate them.”
Finding 400 virgins for marriage12 The warriors spared 400 virgins in the town. They brought them to the Israelite camp at Shiloh, in Canaan. 13 Israelites sent a message to the men of Benjamin, who had been hiding in exile at Rimmon Rock in the desert. The Israelites offered to make peace with them.
14 Benjamin’s surviving men came home, and the Israelites gave them the 400 virgins from Jabesh in Gilead. It wasn’t enough. 15 Israel felt sorry for Benjamin because the LORD nearly wiped them out.
16 Israel’s leaders said, “Where are we going to find wives for the rest of Benjamin’s men? 17 They’re going to have to make babies if they want to survive as a tribe. Otherwise, they’ll die out as a tribe in Israel. 18 Still, we can’t give them our daughters.” The vow that the Israelites had taken included a curse on anyone who broke the vow and gave a daughter to Benjamin.
Finding 200 more virgins19 Someone said, “Listen, there’s an annual festival going on at Shiloh.” This festival was north of Bethel, east of the road from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.
20 Israel’s leaders told the men from Benjamin who didn’t get one of the 400 virgins, “Go to the festival and hide in the vineyards. 21 Keep your eyes open for women. When they come out to perform their dances there at Shiloh, jump up out of the vineyards and grab yourself a woman. Take her back home with you to Benjamin’s territory.
22 If their dads or brothers come to us complaining about it, we’ll say, “Come on, show some compassion for these men. We all took an oath against giving our daughters to them. But that promise doesn’t involve daughters who are taken from us. So, you’re not guilty of breaking your promise to God. You didn’t give your daughters to them. Those men took your daughters.”
Ever after23 So, the men of Benjamin did as they were told. They went to a dance and came home with a wife. They grew families, rebuilt their towns, and lived their lives on their tribal land. 24 Israelites who had gone to Bethel for this meeting returned home and to their families.
25 Israel didn’t have a king at the time. So, everyone did whatever they wanted.
Bethel is where the Israelites had pitched their tent worship center (20:27). This worship center was where they went to consult God through the priest, and to offer sacrifices.
Pretty much. Only 600 souls were left (20:47)—all of them men in need of a wife.
Burnt offerings involved sacrifices to atone for sinful behavior. The entire animal was burned on an altar. See Leviticus 1. A peace offering, described in Leviticus 3, is one of several prescribed offerings in Jewish tradition. When Jewish people wanted to give thanks to God for something, such as good health or safety, they would sacrifice a sheep, goat, cow, or bull. They would burn part of the animal, including the kidneys and fat covering the intestines. They would eat the rest in celebration, often with family and friends. It takes a fair number of hungry people to eat a cow. But people were eager to eat meat because it was rare in Bible times for common folks to eat meat, many Bible scholars say.
Only 600 men survived. No women or children (20:47-48).
One contender for Jabesh in Gilead is Tell Maqlub, a ruin on Jordan’s side of the Jordan River, about 7 miles (10 km) east of the river and 20 miles (32 km) south of the Sea of Galilee.
The Hebrew word that describes it is herem, meaning “annihilate.” This is the same term used to describe what Joshua and the invading Israelites did to the Canaanites. Moses had told them, “When the LORD your God gives them to you, you’ll need to finish them off. After you defeat them in battle, wipe them out by killing them all. Don’t make any peace treaty with them. Don’t show them mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2). Scholars describe this as a “curse of war” or a “ban.” The “ban” means that when soldiers conquer a city, for example, they are banned from keeping anything for themselves—everything in the city is under the curse of war and must die. This kind of vow in ancient times was considered irrevocable and irredeemable. You couldn’t take it back. And nothing of the enemy was allowed to live. Everything in the city was devoted to God, much like sacrificial animals that are slaughtered and burned. “It’s a vow of devotion. If something is devoted to the LORD—whether human, animal, or land—you can’t have it back. If you devote something in this unique way, it’s holy and it stays holy because it belongs to the LORD…You can’t reverse that. You can’t buy back that person’s life. That person is doomed to die” (Leviticus 27:28-29).
Six hundred men from Benjamin had survived the war.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.