Judges 21:16,20-21

[16]Then the elders of the congregation said, "What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?"

[20]And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying, "Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, [21]and watch; and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.

Did the elders of Israel think it better the violation of the daughters of Shiloh than to break a vow which they had hastily taken?

  • please show why you think this is or may be related to a hasty vow. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 29, 2017 at 18:55
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    It says they were to take the girls as wives, not to rape them. Big difference. Aug 29, 2017 at 20:01
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    It's a valid question. Bride theft during a Canaanite fertility ritual requires a little cultural and historical background to understand in context.
    – Dan
    Aug 29, 2017 at 21:35
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    @AChildofGod: Etymologically, rape comes from the Latin rapere meaning to steal or to kidnap; see, for instance, the famous rape of the Sabine women.
    – Lucian
    Aug 29, 2017 at 21:40
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    Twice we are told in regard to the time of the Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6; 21:25). So the answer is: Yes, they probably thought it better, but what could one conclude from this other than, "it seemed right in their own eyes." The last thing one should be looking for in the book of Judges is examples of God-honouring behaviour.
    – enegue
    Aug 30, 2017 at 8:09

2 Answers 2


It depends on what you mean by “rape”. If you mean sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person's will, that would depend on the response of the women being carried away to be wives once they understood what was happening. If it means an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force, you could say yes. But either way, from the viewpoint of the elders, and consequently legally, it would not have been considered rape. It is hard to understand this story without keeping in mind the times and the culture.

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

When the Israelites heard of the awful rape committed by some Benjamites in Gibeah, they united against the city and ordered them to turn over the offenders so they could be put to death. The city refused so some battles ensued in which over 40.000 Israelites were killed. In the midst of this the men of Israel took an oath to not give their daughters to any Benjamite. Then they ended up wiping out all but 600 Benjamite men.

The Israelites later regretted that a whole tribe would be wiped out, but they didn’t want to break the oath that they had made. Perhaps they made the oath as a milder punishment before they realized Benjamin would fight back and then be nearly eliminated. But they felt they had to figure out a way to get out of their oath. The text shows that Israel consulted the Lord about their battles with Benjamin, but apparently they didn’t consult him about the oath they made nor how to prevent Benjamin from being completely removed as a tribe of Israel. It was an emotional, not very well thought out vow.

Proverbs 20:25 speaks of the danger of making hasty vows and thinking of the consequences later.

Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost. NLT

So we can’t say that God sanctioned their plan. But this does show how much importance was given to a vow made before God. They clearly felt it was better to break God’s law against kidnapping since it was for a “good cause” than to break a vow to him, even if it wasn’t a wise one.

The near total destruction of the tribe appears to have been another hasty mistake. This illustrates another important point. It seems the Israelites only consulted God in crises when their lives were on the line. Why not consult God about other important decisions? Was not wiping out the whole town of Gibeah enough punishment for its sin? Why destroy all the other Benjamites in surrounding towns? If they had been less emotional in their decisions and truly sought out the will of God, there would not have been so many negative consequences down the line. One of the main principles of the OT is not following God and his will leads to more and more problems.


Did the elders of Israel allow the men of Benjamin to rape the daughters of Shiloh in Judges 21?

Yes, indirectly.

Did the elders of Israel think it better the violation of the daughters of Shiloh than to break a vow which they had hastily taken?

Yes, but they were hasty in their thinking. They had found a partial solution already:

13 Then the whole assembly sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon. 14So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them.

They could have just waited until these marriages produce female offspring. The women of Shiloh were not absolutely necessary.

The final lesson was this:

25In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

That includes the elders of Israel.

  • Ask 200 warrior men to wait for years for their lucky fellow's offspring to grow up? I don't know if that would be considered right in anybody's eyes. Oct 9, 2021 at 19:32
  • How about in the eyes of the virgins of Shiloh? :)
    – user35953
    Oct 9, 2021 at 19:55
  • I am not trying to justify what was done. I think they should have consulted God about how to rectify the situation. One would hope that the Benjamites learned their lesson and became very good husbands. Oct 9, 2021 at 20:41

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