Moving from Chapter 18 to Chapter 19 again represents the beginning of a story given out of time sequence. This story takes three chapters, the rest of the book. This certainly leaves one with a negative view of the book and the period. However, we need to remember that the Book of Ruth was separated out, which would mean the book would have originally ended on a much more positive note.
As it is, this story is perhaps the most disturbing in the book on many levels. It is probably not a good bedtime story for your kids unless you want them to have nightmares.
Some of this material was covered in the article “The Just War, Part 8: The Unrighteous Just War”.
Chapter 19 starts with a familiar refrain: “…in those days, when there was no king in Israel….” This is a reminder that whoever compiled the book (some believe it was Samuel) was looking back from a time when there was a king. Again, there was a general lack of control from outside (government) and as the story unfolds we see a lack of internal control (self-control) by certain people as well. All in all, we see a general lack of seeking out God in various situations and the results of that.
A Levite lived in Mount Ephraim. He had a concubine who was from Bethlehem, a bit of a distance. She was not a faithful wife, and she left to live with her father four months, although EW Bullinger points out that some interpret it as a year and four months (he doesn’t mention who, and none of the translations I checked say this).
So, after some time, the Levite misses her and finally follows after her to win her back. Some translations say he goes to her “to speak kindly to her”. He sweet talks her into making up. However, how much he really loves her is questionable considering what occurs after they leave.
Anyhow, the sweet talk apparently worked because she brought him into her father’s house. Her father “rejoiced” and had a party. A long party. One that he seemingly did not want to end. Five days, in fact.
Finally, the Levite resists the urge to stay a fifth evening and leaves in the afternoon. This means he will only travel part of the day and surely not get too far before spending the night somewhere. This turns out to be his first serious mistake.
So, the Levite, his wife and his servant traveled up to Jebus, which later became Jerusalem. The servant wants to stop there for the night, but the Levite doesn’t trust a non-Israelite city. He would rather trust an Israelite city and wants to push on to Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. This is his second mistake. It turns out that an Israelitish city isn’t any safer than one of the Jebusites.
Gibeah is referenced later in Hos 9:9 and 10:9, and not in a flattering light:
9 They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah: therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins.
~ Hos 9:9
9 O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.
~ Hos 10:9
This is an important consideration when you weigh whether or not Israel as a whole were doing the right thing. However, as we will see, things are more complex than they initially seem.
The party from Mt Ephraim are sitting in the open square. None of the Benjaminites take them in, but an elderly man from Ephraim who is living there does. If this is reminiscent of Lot taking in strangers in Sodom, the parallels eerily continue, for as soon as they sit down at some wine, the men of the city gather around and call out for the man to be brought out to be raped (cf Ge 19:4-5).
The old man comes out and gives pretty much the same speech that Lot gave, that the man has come into his house, and then he proposes to send out the man’s concubine and his own daughter. When they won’t listen, “the man”, apparently the Levite, thrust the concubine out the door, and the crowd abused her all night long. Whether the idea came from the story of Lot or not, I do not know, but in Lot’s case his daughters were not actually put out into the street.
It should be noted that what the men intend is considered “vile” (v 24). Yet, somehow the potential abuse of the women is not. This is important, as some contend that the “sin” being committed here is one of “inhospitality”, yet that flies in the face of the facts at hand. Somehow, the sexual molestation, at least in the men’s eyes, was deemed to be a lesser sin than the sexual violation of the man. It’s sort of hard to dance around the fact that it is homosexuality that is being considered “vile” here.
Of course, in reality, both were sins in the eyes of God. By the Levite thrusting his concubine out of the house, he is violating his primary responsibility to love her as his own body. In fact, it seems that he treats her more like property than a companion. Yet, it is his duty as her husband to protect her. This is the same sin that Adam did in the Garden of Eden by not protecting Eve from the influence of the serpent.
We need to notice that these were “sons of Belial” (v 22). This is key to understanding a lot of what happens next and whether or not Israel took the appropriate actions.
When sunrise approached, the men had enough and left the woman who managed to crawl to the doorstep.
27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.
~ Jdg 19:27-28 (NIV)
I will admit that this part of the story is especially difficult for me to understand. Was this the same woman he chased after all the way to Bethlehem? Was this the same woman he apparently went to a lot of trouble to win back? Was this the same woman whose father obviously cared very much for the man? And yet, not only can he thrust her into the midst of a mob who is willing to rape her, but he now callously calls for her to get up and go after her ordeal. It is only when he realizes that she is dead that he does anything otherwise.
Adam and Eve is a story about Eve being deceived by the serpent and then Adam following her actions. He was supposed to be her protector, but instead Adam blamed Eve for all the trouble they were in. This Levite also did not protect his concubine. You would think he would have at least protected her because she was his if not for love. He should have been willing to give his life for her.
Christ gave the example by dying for His bride. Husbands and boyfriends should not forget that.
The Levite now does something even more unusual. He carves up his concubine into twelve pieces and sends a piece to each tribe in Israel.
30 Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!”
~ Jdg 19:30 (NIV)
The question is whether or not what they will do is seek God’s will before acting or if they will do so on their own.
Go on to Chapter 20 here.