Judges 21:8-11: Orders to Destroy Jabesh-Gilead

Verse 8:[1] 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 (1 Sam. 11:1; 31:11) Jabesh-gilead to the assembly.



[Jabesh-Gilead] This is a city in the region of Gilead on the other side of Jordan, in the tribe of Manasseh; concerning which 1 Samuel 11; 31 (Bonfrerius).


Jabesh-gilead: A city in Gilead, and in the tribe of Manasseh; of which see 1 Samuel 11:1, 3, 9, etc.; 31:11, etc.


Verse 9:[2] For the people were numbered, and, behold, there were none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there.


Verse 10:[3] And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, (Judg. 21:5; 5:23; 1 Sam. 11:7) Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children.


[Ten thousand[4]] But the Hebrew, Chaldean, Septuagint, and Josephus all have twelve thousand; whence they suspect that an error has crept into our text (Bonfrerius, Lapide).


[Smite, etc.] The punishment ἀστρατείας (that is, of the avoidance of military service), because they withdrew themselves from the public conflict and the avenging of wickedness (Lapide). Josephus says that they refused to come to their assistance[5] (Bonfrerius).


With the women and children: Who in such public and scandalous crimes were, for the greater terror of such transgressors, and prevention of the like sins, oft involved in the same punishment with the men, as Deuteronomy 13:15; Joshua 7:24, etc.


Verse 11:[6] And this is the thing that ye shall do, (Num. 31:17) Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man (Heb. knoweth the lying with man[7]).



[That hath known men, יֹדַ֥עַת אִ֛ישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּ֥ב זָכָ֖ר] And every woman knowing, or having experienced, intercourse (the bed [Septuagint]) of man (Jonathan, Munster, Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus).


[But save the virgins[8]] For these love their first husbands more intensely than those that have been deflowered (Lapide). Question: How did they identify the virgins? Responses: 1. By searching out the married women (Tostatus). 2. By public reputation (Lapide). Moral certitude was sufficient for this matter. 3. Their very age, scarcely yet marriageable, was able to convince in the case of many (Bonfrerius).


Every woman that hath lain by man: But not the virgins, as appears from the next verses. It is questionable whether they were not obliged to destroy these also by virtue of their oath, and of God’s express command concerning devoted persons, such as these certainly were, that they should surely be put to death, Leviticus 27:29, which was also particularly enjoined and practised in such cases, as Deuteronomy 13; Joshua 7; etc. But the natural and necessary duty of preserving a tribe from total ruin, might seem to render the case difficult and doubtful, and incline their opinions, as well as their affections, to the more favourable side. And it may be, the Lord, whom they were here consulting with upon all their occasions, gave them a dispensation thus to do, though that be not expressed; which is the case of many other things which were done, though not recorded; as this very oath was omitted in its proper place, and had not been recorded if this extraordinary occasion had not been offered.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ מִ֗י אֶחָד֙ מִשִּׁבְטֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־עָלָ֥ה אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה הַמִּצְפָּ֑ה וְ֠הִנֵּה לֹ֣א בָא־אִ֧ישׁ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֛ה מִיָּבֵ֥ישׁ גִּלְעָ֖ד אֶל־הַקָּהָֽל׃


[2] Hebrew: וַיִּתְפָּקֵ֖ד הָעָ֑ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה אֵֽין־שָׁם֙ אִ֔ישׁ מִיּוֹשְׁבֵ֖י יָבֵ֥שׁ גִּלְעָֽד׃


[3] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ־שָׁ֣ם הָעֵדָ֗ה שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֥ר אֶ֛לֶף אִ֖ישׁ מִבְּנֵ֣י הֶחָ֑יִל וַיְצַוּ֙וּ אוֹתָ֜ם לֵאמֹ֗ר לְ֠כוּ וְהִכִּיתֶ֞ם אֶת־יוֹשְׁבֵ֙י יָבֵ֤שׁ גִּלְעָד֙ לְפִי־חֶ֔רֶב וְהַנָּשִׁ֖ים וְהַטָּֽף׃


[4] Thus the Vulgate. Hebrew: שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֥ר אֶ֛לֶף.


[5] Antiquities 5:2.


[6] Hebrew: וְזֶ֥ה הַדָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֣ר תַּעֲשׂ֑וּ כָּל־זָכָ֗ר וְכָל־אִשָּׁ֛ה יֹדַ֥עַת מִשְׁכַּב־זָכָ֖ר תַּחֲרִֽימוּ׃


[7] Hebrew: יֹדַ֥עַת אִ֛ישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּ֥ב זָכָ֖ר.


[8] Thus the Vulgate and Septuagint, but not the Hebrew.

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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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