For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

21:1.  “Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.”

We have noted in other studies that the wife represents the expression of the man’s spiritual life: either the new spiritual life obtained through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, or the religion that passes for spiritual life with the natural man.  As man without a wife is unable to perpetuate his life physically in children, so is he, without what the wife represents (spiritual life), unable to perpetuate his life spiritually.  This vow, then, becomes the spiritual equivalent of determination on our part to withhold spiritual life from those who are our enemies, and Scripture warns us against such folly, for it is written, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” (Ro 12:20).  That command extends beyond literal food and drink.  We dare not withhold spiritual food and drink (the Gospel) from those who make themselves our enemies.  The Lord was willing to die for such, pleading even as He hung on the cross to which they had nailed Him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

This was the sin of which Israel has always been guilty.  She would not share the knowledge of God with the nations around her, but in haughty pride stood aloof, and called them dogs.

Professing Christendom, as represented by the apostate travesty ruling from Rome, and her evil sister apostate Protestantism, have followed all too faithfully in her proud footsteps.  Neither one preaches the Biblical Gospel.

21:2.  “And the people came to the house of God, and abode there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore;”

Now aware of the folly that had led them to make such a rash vow, they came before God, apparently hoping to find a way out of the dilemma, and we should note that they “abode there till even before God.”  In other words, for that whole day all other activities were put aside.  This matter of Benjamin’s preservation took precedence over all else.  It would be well if the salvation of the lost were given the same priority amongst God’s people today.

We should note also that their sorrow was genuine.  They “wept sore.”  Superficial concern for the lost may deceive men, but we can’t deceive God.  What is needed today is for all of us to get down before God in sincerity, and not to rise until we have a genuine concern for the souls of men and women, that will send us out to them with the Gospel.

21:3.  “And said, O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be  today one tribe lacking in Israel?”

An additional lesson will be learned here if we make another application of the type, and view the 600 remaining Benjamites, whose line would die out unless wives were found for them, as being also types (in this immediate context) of the unsaved members of our own families.  Benjamin was their brother, and they wept to think of his perishing from the earth.  Surely their sorrowful waiting upon God rebukes our own carelessness in regard to our own family members who are also in danger of perishing eternally.  What transformation there would be in our midst if we too were to come before God with the same concern for them, and beseech Him with the same earnestness for their salvation!

21:4.  “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,”

Their rising early speaks of zeal, and their building an altar speaks of a desire to offer something to God; but again, as in 20:26, conspicuously absent is any mention of the Trespass or Sin offering.  All their zealous activity, in fact, appears to have been without direction from God; and in it we see the equivalent of what marked the nation in the days of Christ, in regard to which Paul has written, ... they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Ro 10:2).  Similar ignorant zeal characterizes much of Christendom today.  There is much busy activity, but it is to be feared that much of it is simply the energy of the flesh.

The absence of any reference to the Trespass or Sin offering speaks of an inadequate comprehension of their own sinfulness, and sadly, that same lack is all too apparent in the midst of professed believers today.

21:5.  “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.”

The following verses make it clear that they then conceived the expedient of finding wives for the Benjamites from among those who would be slain in fulfillment of their rash vow relative to those who hadn’t joined them in the conflict with Benjamin.  There is nothing to indicate that they had any command from God to engage in this further slaughter, or that it was His plan to furnish wives of the virgin daughters of those who would be slain.

One lesson is obvious in all of this.  God would have us learn the folly of making rash vows; and He would have us see the circuitous paths into which one disobedience may lead us.  Jephthah is an example of the former (Jg 11:30).  His foolish vow doomed his daughter to perpetual virginity.  Adam is an example of the latter.  What misery has attended his one act of disobedience! 

How much wiser they would have been to wait upon God from beginning to end of the whole tragic affair!

21:6.  “And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.”

To condemn them for the rash vow and subsequent action that had wrought such destruction, is to declare that we have forgotten how often we ourselves have had equal cause to repent of hasty words, and foolish conduct.  And our guilt is compounded if the memory of their folly and ours doesn’t preserve us from repeating the error.

Their concern for Benjamin reminds us that we should have similar concern, not only for unsaved family members, but for other believers, for they are our brethren.

21:7.  “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?”

The repeated emphasis on the need of wives for the Benjamites continues to confirm the truth that the wife represents the expression of the man’s spiritual life: true spiritual life, or religion which the natural man mistakes for spiritual life.  Note the first Biblical reference to this type in Ge 2:18 “... It is not good that the man should be alone.”  Adam, without a wife, is a type of man in his natural state.

The concern to provide wives for their Benjamite brethren reminds us that we ought to have the same concern to see that the Gospel is brought to the unconverted, for as the Benjamites, without wives, would die out, so will men and women without the spiritual life (of which the godly wife is the typologi­cal expression), die the second death, i.e., enter the fearful lake of fire to endure eternal torment (Re 20:14-15).

21:8.  “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 Jabesh-gilead to the assembly.”

Obviously the recollection of their rash vow (verse 5) had suggested a solution to the problem, but it seems clear that they had neither consulted God before making that vow, nor had they sought His counsel relative to the need of wives for the Benjamites.  Their whole scheme savors of human invention, reminding us that such expedient governs much that passes today for Christian service, and explains why so much that is found in Christendom lacks any Scriptural warrant.  There is no place in the spiritual realm for human innovation.

Jabesh means dry, and Gilead, heap of witness: rolling for ever, so that the name means literally dry heap of witness.  It speaks clearly of an ineffective or nonexistent testimony.  Debate is unlikely to furnish an answer to the question of whether Jabesh-gilead was right in not going with the others against Benjamin; or whether the other tribes were right in keeping their vow to slay the men of Jabesh-gilead, but an obvious lesson may be learnt from the fact that they were put to death.  Failure to be a witness in the Gospel is an indication that the man himself may not possess spiritual life, so that he will discover when it is eternally too late that all he had was an empty profession.  And if he is a believer, but refuses to be a witness for Christ, the Bema will reveal that he might as well have been dead: there will be no reward.

21:9.  “For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there.”

While the questions remain moot as to whether Jabesh-gilead should have gone against Benjamin, and whether the other tribes should have slain the Jabesh-gileadites, one thing is clear - however much may have been wrong in the other tribes, they had at least acted according to such light as their low spiritual state afforded.  They had sought to return to God, and had given evidence of repentance even though it was according to a very imperfect perception of their true condition; but it seems that no such contrition was found among the men of Jabesh-gilead.  Though they had no need to repent of any part in the slaughter of the Benjamites, they did have need to repent of the spiritual state that had made possible the rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine.

The fact that they were put to death reminds us that death is the concomitant of the spiritual state portrayed in the meaning of their name dry heap of witness, for it must not be forgotten that a genuine conversion consists, not only of belief in the heart, but also of confession with the mouth, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Ro 10:9-10).

21:10.  “And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children.”

As ten is the number of God in government, so is twelve the number associated with those under that government, e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church “built upon the foundation of the (twelve) apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20).  In the twelve thousand sent to slay the Jabesh-gileadites, therefore, we are meant to see some spiritual lesson related to the display of divine government, and surely that lesson isn’t difficult to read.  Failure to be a witness for God is a violation of the Lord’s command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).  But disobedience is sin, and the wages of sin is death, so that failure to bear witness for Christ indicates either disobedience, or the fact that there is no spiritual life.  Relative to the former, the Bema will reveal that as far as reward is concerned, the believer might as well have been dead; but relative to the latter, the great white throne judgment will certify that in spite of profession, there was no divine life.

We would do well to examine ourselves as to whether we do bear a testimony for Christ.  If we don’t it may indicate that in spite of profession we have never been born again.

The sword is a symbol of the Word of God, and it is that Word by which we are to judge ourselves now, for it is that same Word that will eventually judge us, either at the Bema, or at the great white throne (Jn 12:48) when it will be too late for repentance or remedy.

In the present context the Jabesh-gileadite wives represent, not genuine spiritual life, but the counterfeit thing possessed by the natural man; and the children would represent the fruits of mere profession, so that the death of both declares that in the final analysis false profession and its fruits will likewise prove worthy only of death.

21:11.  “And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.”

This continues to emphasize the truth already noted above.  The wife represents the expression of the believer’s spiritual life, or the counterfeit which the unbeliever thinks is spiritual life.  The Jabesh-gileadites, in the present context, represent those who have nothing but an empty profession. 

21:12.  “And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 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.”

We should recognize that the town Jabesh-gilead represents any corporate body claiming, falsely, to belong to Christ, so that we may see here an OT type of the great false church, and in the destruction of that city God is giving us a glimpse of the coming destruction of that false system.  It is to be remembered, however, that within that evil system are some true believers, to whom God’s word is, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Re 18:4).

The four hundred young virgins, therefore, represent those true believers within the apostate travesty of the true Church.  Their being spared declares that true believers within the false church will be spared when she is destroyed.  Since four is the number of earth and testing, and a virgin is one of the Biblical symbols of purity, these four hundred virgins remind us that only genuine believers (those made pure through the blood of Christ) will survive the ultimate testing of God’s Word.

Their being brought to Shiloh peace-bringer: bringer of prosperity, an epithet of Christ  (Ge 49:10), would appear to confirm our interpretation, as would also its being said that they were brought to Shiloh “in the land of Canaan,” for Canaan represents the spiritual sphere into which believers are brought at conversion.

21:13.  “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.”

As noted already, the six hundred Benjamites at the rock Rimmon represent believers foreknown of God, but not yet actually converted.  Israel’s sending messengers to “call peaceably unto them,” i.e. “proclaim peace unto them,” therefore portrays the presentation of the Gospel, for the Gospel is the proclamation of God’s peace to men.

A practical lesson to be learnt from the fact that “the whole congregation sent ....” is that the spread of the Gospel is not a work reserved just for a few: every believer has a part in it, and while certainly not everyone is gifted as an evangelist, everyone who has been saved can at least tell another how to be saved, and all of us can contribute something to that essential work through prayer, and the practical support of those who have been called to this work.  We should be specific in our prayers for the unconverted, and for the workers, and we should be careful to remember the temporal needs of the latter, and to minister to those needs.

21:14.  “And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead: and yet so they sufficed them not.”

This is the moment which typically marked the conversion of four hundred of the Benjamites who had found refuge at the rock Rimmon, and at first sight the lack of wives for the remaining two hundred would seem to indicate some inadequacy in the Gospel, which we know of course not to be so, for it is sufficient for the needs of the whole world. 

Keeping in mind that the terrible slaughter and destruction which are the background for this salvation of the remnant of Benjamin, are a foreshadowing of what will be in the coming Tribulation, this typological conversion of the surviving Benjamites representing the conversion of the remnant in the Tribulation, the first four hundred representing the hundred and forty-four thousand who will be converted at the beginning of the Tribulation, and the remaining two hundred who later received wives, representing the remainder of the Tribulation-age converts.

21:15.  “And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.”

This continues to point to the sorrow which Israel will experience in the Tribulation.

21:16.  “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?”

21:17.  “And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.”

The terrible Tribulation judgments will prompt concern in the hearts of the Jews, not just for the preservation of one tribe, but of the whole nation.  It will seem as though she is about to be destroyed.

21:18.  “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.”

Their failure to see a solution declares the truth that no man can provide salvation for himself, much less for another, as it is written, “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him” (Ps 49:7).

21:19.  “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.”

Their seeing in connection with the annual feast of the Lord in Shiloh, the possibility of a solution to the problem, is the symbolic announcement of the truth that the Gospel is the answer to every problem known to man.  That feast represents the feast of the Gospel, and inasmuch as it was at Shiloh peace bringer: prosperity bringer (both a name and a type of Christ, see e.g., Ge 49:10), we are being reminded that He is the true Shiloh.  He is the Answer to every man’s need.

This is what a broken, repentant Israel will learn in the Tribulation.

Bethel means house of God, and the north is the Biblical direction that speaks of intelligence, so that Shiloh’s being on the north side of Bethel is the symbolic announcement of the truth that salvation is to be found only with God, and that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Pr 9:10).

Its being on the east side of the highway has yet another lesson to teach, for the east is the direction that speaks of sin and departure from God; and the highway represents the highway of life.  Man in his natural state is on the “east” side of that highway: he is estranged from God; but God in incomprehensible grace has brought salvation down to where man is.  The Lord Jesus Christ left the glory of heaven, and came down to earth where men lay spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, so that He might be their Savior through His death on the cross to atone for their sins.  That road led to Shechem shoulder (literally early rising): diligence.  It speaks of the place of security and strength into which faith brings the penitent sinner, like the lost sheep of Lk 15:5 which was sought by the shepherd, and when found, was placed on his shoulders.

It was also “on the south side of Lebonah frankincense,” but the south is the Biblical direction that speaks of faith, while frankincense is the emblem of prayer and worship.  The spiritual lesson is easily read.  The salvation which is to be found only in Christ, produces a life of prayer and worship.

21:20.  “Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards:”

21:21.  “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.”

This continues to emphasize the character of the Gospel.  It is a feast, and associated with it is the joy portrayed both in the dancing, and in the place, for the vineyard is the source of wine which is the Biblical symbol of joy and gladness.  The twice repeated “daughters of Shiloh” adds the further detail that the Gospel received brings peace and prosperity of soul.

In the need of the Benjamites to go to the vineyards, and to catch each man his wife, we have the reminder that salvation involves the individual’s will.  God foreknows who will be saved, but that foreknowledge is not to be confused with predestination.  No one is predestinated either to be saved or lost.  Whether he will be in heaven or the lake of fire eternally is the result of each man’s choice made here on earth to accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

“... and go to the land of Benjamin” is the symbolic declaration of another truth related to salvation, for since Benjamin means son of the right hand, the land of Benjamin, the dwelling place of those sons, tells us that faith brings the believer into that sphere where there are available to him all the privileges and blessings of those who are the sons of God, his own disobedience being the only thing to prevent his enjoyment of those privileges and blessings.

21:22.  “And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favorable 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.”

By this expedient the fathers and brethren of the women were exempt from the curse pronounced upon any who would give a wife to Benjamin, see verse 18.

21:23.  “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.”

21:24.  “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.”

The return of the Benjamites to their inheritance, and their repair of the ruined cities, together with the departure of the other tribes to their families and inheritance, combine to furnish a symbolic picture of what will be in the Millennium after the devastation of the Tribulation judgments.   War will give place to peace, and a converted Israel, together with the converted remnant of the nations, will enjoy the blessings of an earth basking under the beneficent dominion of the Prince of Peace.

21:25.  “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Even though we have been given a brief glimpse of the age that will bring earth’s history to a peaceful close, the fact remains that the book of Judges is the preview of the apostasy and anarchy that will mark the end of the Church age, and of the terrible Tribulation judgments that will follow the rapture of the true Church.  In each of the judges and the brief local deliverances accomplished by each, however, God would have us see a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the universal and eternal deliverance which He has accomplished at Calvary.  The era of the Judges may close with the ominous words of this last verse, those words being applicable also to the present day relative to the world and the professing church, but God would have believers lift their eyes above the ruin which man’s disobedience has wrought, and look with glad expectation for that moment when, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th 4:16-17).




     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough