Judges 21:22: Prefabricated Excuse for the Aggrieved Parents of Stolen Daughters

Verse 22:[1] 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 (or, gratify us in time[2]): 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.


[Have compassion upon them (thus the Syriac, Arabic), חָנּ֣וּנוּ אוֹתָ֔ם] Verbatim: have compassion upon our men them (Montanus). We feel pity for them (Jonathan) [rightly, if it were חַנּוֹנוֹ]. Have compassion upon our men because of them (Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus). Our interpreters commonly wander concerning this verb, because they read חננו, or חנו, in the place of חנונו. For here it is written in the order of geminates, with a plural suffix of the first person; and the sense is חֳנּוּנוּ בעבודם [read בַעֲבוּרָם, for their sakes], as we also translate it (Munster). That is to say, We were not able in any other way to give wives to them (Vatablus, Drusius). Bestow upon them this grace (Tigurinus). Bestow (or, give [Piscator]) them for us (Junius and Tremellius). Hebrew: them.[3] An Enallage, of which sort is found in Exodus 1:21[4] and Judges 19:24[5] (Piscator). אוֹתָם/them in the place of אוֹתָן/them;[6] which occurs frequently in this chapter (Drusius, thus Vatablus). That is to say, The young women are regarded as given, not them, but to us (Junius, similarly Piscator). For the gratitude of all Israel, allow them to have them as wives (Vatablus). Kimch expounds אוֹתָם/ them as מֵהֶם, of/from them, or, give them to us as a gift (Drusius). Perhaps that latter נוּ on the word חָנּוּנוּ is able to be reckoned as paragogic, as Pagnine, Forster, Tigurinus, and others have thought, who were informed of no reason for this suffix (Bonfrerius).


Be favourable unto them; pass by their offence, if not for their sakes, whom necessity forced to this course; yet for our sakes, and indeed for your own sakes; for both you and we have done them a great injury in prosecuting them with so much fury, as to endanger the utter extinction of the whole tribe; and therefore this is the least we can do by way of reparation.



[For they did not seize them, כִּ֣י לֹ֥א לָקַ֛חְנוּ אִ֥ישׁ אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֑ה] Because we did not take (or, reserve [English]) each one (or, for each one [Pagnine, Tigurinus, Munster, similarly the Dutch, Castalio, English], אִישׁ/each in the place of לְאִישׁ, for each one [Vatablus]) his wife in the war (Montanus), or, in that battle, namely, at Jabesh-Gilead: In that battle we did not take as many virigins as there are men (Vatablus, thus Piscator). We did not charge to those that we sent to Jabesh-Gilead that, if the number of virgin girls was not great enough to give wives to each Benjamite, they should preserve other women alive also, until they have the right number. As if they should say, It is the fault of our imprudence and thoughtlessness (Piscator). Because they did not keep with them their wives, when they fled (Arabic). Others otherwise: Because we did not remove for each his wife in that battle (Junius and Tremellius), that is, because we undertook promiscuously to destroy their wives with the others in one expedition, as it was narrated in Judges 20:48 (Junius).


In the war; either, first, In the war with Jabesh-gilead, wherein they should have taken care to reserve a sufficient number, which they might have done, by sparing either so many of the married women as were necessary, who, their former husbands being slain, might have been married to those Benjamites; or as many of the younger virgins, who, within a little time, might have been married to them, whom many suppose that they slew. Or, secondly, In the war with the Benjamites, in which they acknowledge their cruelty in destroying the women with such fury, as not to leave a competent number for the men which were left. See Judges 20:48.



[Ye gave them not, and it was a fault on your part,כִּ֣י לֹ֥א אַתֶּ֛ם נְתַתֶּ֥ם לָהֶ֖ם כָּעֵ֥ת תֶּאְשָֽׁמוּ׃] For ye have not to them, neither will ye now be guilty (Junius and Tremellius, Glassius). There is an ellipsis of the negative particle, to be repeated here out of the preceding member: for this negative particle in a divided sequence frequently extends its force, as in Deuteronomy 33:6[7] (Glassius’ “Grammar” 720). The sense: There is no reason that ye should fear that ye have not kept faith; ye did not give, they took: and if there is any fault, we take it unto ourselves (Junius). Because ye gave not to them (understanding, your daughters [Vatablus]), in such a way that ye might offend on this occasion (Pagnine, Vatablus, Munster, Tigurinus), that is, that ye might contravene your oath (Vatablus). For ye gave not to them at this time that ye might therefore be guilty (English). Because ye had not given your daughters to them, as indeed the times now require, ye will sin: that is, If they had especially solicited them, they would have achieved nothing, because of the oath that intervened: wherefore, if ye should wish to demand back those that they seized in this necessity, ye will act what is equitable and good (Osiander).


Ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty. Question: Whether this did really discharge them from their oath? Answer: First, It seems to excuse those parents of these virgins who were not acquainted with the plot, and did neither directly nor indirectly give their daughters to them, but they were taken away by force, without their knowledge and consent. If it be said those parents might and should have retaken their daughters from them; it may be replied, that they could not do so before they were corrupted, and the rulers of Israel would not assist them with their power to recover them. And it is a maxim, That many things which ought not to be done, when once they are done, should not be undone. And for those parents who were conscious of the design, it is probable they kept their daughters at home to avoid this. Secondly, Either the oath was made with an exception of the case of the total extirpation of a tribe, or it was a rash oath to do what was out of their power, or what they could not lawfully do, to wit, utterly to destroy a tribe out of Israel, which therefore they here speak of with horror, Judges 21:3, 6; and if so, as they sinned in making it, so they were not obliged to keep it; it being an acknowledged truth, that rash and sinful oaths are better broken than kept. Thirdly, Yet they cannot be wholly excused from sin in this matter; for as it was folly to take such an oath as it is expressed, so the manner of freeing themselves from their own snare is fraudulent and injurious to the parents, in disposing of their children without their consent.

[1] Hebrew: וְהָיָ֡ה כִּֽי־יָבֹ֣אוּ אֲבוֹתָם֩ א֙וֹ אֲחֵיהֶ֜ם לָר֣וֹב׀ אֵלֵ֗ינוּ וְאָמַ֤רְנוּ אֲלֵיהֶם֙ חָנּ֣וּנוּ אוֹתָ֔ם כִּ֣י לֹ֥א לָקַ֛חְנוּ אִ֥ישׁ אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֑ה כִּ֣י לֹ֥א אַתֶּ֛ם נְתַתֶּ֥ם לָהֶ֖ם כָּעֵ֥ת תֶּאְשָֽׁמוּ׃


[2] Hebrew: חָנּ֣וּנוּ אוֹתָ֔ם.


[3] Hebrew: אוֹתָם/them, in the masculine gender.


[4] Exodus 1:21: “And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them (לָהֶם, in the masculine gender) houses.”


[5] Judges 19:24: “Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them (אוֹתָם, in the masculine gender) I will bring out now, and humble ye them (אוֹתָם, in the masculine gender), and do with them (לָהֶם, in the masculine gender) what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.”


[6] Feminine.


[7] Deuteronomy 33:6: “Let Reuben live, and not die; and let (not must be supplied from the preceding member) his men be few.”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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