A Levite and his Concubine, 1-30

Judg 19:1 In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.

A concubine was normally a second wife or a wife without a normal dowry and, therefore, of lower status.

Judg 19:2 But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months,

Judg 19:3 her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father’s house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him.

Judg 19:4 His father-in-law, the girl’s father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.

Judg 19:5 On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.”

Judg 19:6 So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the girl’s father said, “Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.”

Judg 19:7 And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night.

Judg 19:8 On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the girl’s father said, “Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!” So the two of them ate together.

Judg 19:9 Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said, “Now look, it’s almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.”

Judg 19:10 But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine.

Judg 19:11 When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.”

In vv11-28 we have another story of hospitality, but this time ‘perverted and grotesque, with unmistakable similarities to the description of life in Sodom in Gn. 19:1-13. This is particularly ironical because the travellers had deliberately avoided pagan towns in order to seek hospitality with their fellow-Israelites (v12-14). The rowdies in the streets of Gibeah were clearly morally bankrupt, but so too was the old man who opened his house to the travellers. It was this apparently model host whose perverted sense of duty led him to conceive the idea of casting two innocent women to the dogs (v23-24). Here is moral bankruptcy indeed. When God’s people do whatever is right in their own eyes they are no better than Sodomites.’ (NBC)

Judg 19:12 His master replied, “No. We won’t go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.”

The irony here is that they received an unimaginably pagan reception at Gibeah.

Judg 19:13 He added, “Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.”

Judg 19:14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin.

Judg 19:15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into his home for the night.

Judg 19:16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the men of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields.

Judg 19:17 When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, “Where are you going? Where did you come from?”

Judg 19:18 He answered, “We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the LORD. No one has taken me into his house.

Judg 19:19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, your maidservant, and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.”

Judg 19:20 “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.”

Judg 19:21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.

Judg 19:22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

‘The writer wants you to view Judges 19 this way. “Yes, that’s right,” he says, “it sounds exactly like Genesis 19. It’s the Sodom Connection. Only here you have Sodom-in=the-land-of-Benjamin. Gibeah is “New Sodom”. This is the writer’s way of accusing the people of God. He shows that even in Israel some have plunged into the moral abyss of Sodom and eagerly wallow in its twisted depravity.’ (Davis)

Judg 19:23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing.

Judg 19:24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”

The Sceptic’s Annotated Bible summarises and comments: ‘After taking in a traveling Levite, the host offers his virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine to a mob of perverts (who want to have sex with his guest). The mob refuses the daughter, but accepts the concubine and they “abuse her all night.” The next morning she crawls back to the doorstep. The Levite puts her body on an ass and takes it home. Then he chops the body up into twelve pieces (while still alive?) and sends them to each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Parcel Post?). The story, which must be one of the most disgusting stories ever told, ends with: “consider of it, take advice, and speak your mind.” Those who do consider it will immediately reject the idea that the Bible is inspired by God. Hopefully, they then will speak their mind.’

Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 241) thinks that the passage represents a misogynist view, with the old man offering for his daughter and the concubine to the mob while showing a proper respect for the Levite, ‘who is, after all, male’.

Both the Sceptic’s Annotated Bible and Dawkins are right to characterise this as atrocious behaviour, but wrong to assume that this represents the attitude of ‘the Bible’.  Even in the context of such a far-off culture and age, the actions of the old man were clearly to be viewed with disgust.  Note carefully the way this dreadful account is ‘bracketed’ between the editorial comment: ‘In those days Israel had no king’ (v1) and the exclamation of the people: “Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”

‘It should be noted that women are legal extensions of their husbands in ancient Israel and thus would come under the same legal protections guaranteed to their husbands—as long as their husbands identified them as such. In this instance the Ephraimite apparently shifts his role from hospitable to inhospitable host by “callously” offering the Levite’s concubine to the crowd in order to save his honor and perhaps his own life. Technically the concubine could not be legally separated from the Levite and should have been protected by the customs of hospitality to the same degree.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

Jared Wilson agrees that this disgusting incident is ‘a consequence of everyone doing what was right in their own eyes (Jud 17:6, 21:25), a consequence of having no king over Israel (Jud 19:1). Judges 19:22-30 shows the Bible is honest and realistic about the depravity of man when left to his own devices.’

But, says Wilson, there is gospel truth underlying this text:-

‘When there was no king in Israel, a man betrays his women. A woman is unprotected and given over to the enemy to have his way with her, and then she is made an example of in a murderous way to the twelve tribes. But when Jesus is King over Israel, he protects his bride; he won’t give her over to the enemy to have his way with her. And Jesus leaves the house himself and offers his own body, going in his bride’s stead to be torn apart for the twelve tribes of Israel. Instead of giving us up in some evil bargain, he gives himself up. And his battered body is the sign to his people that he won’t sell them out.’

Judg 19:25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.

Judg 19:26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

Judg 19:27 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.

Judg 19:28 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.

‘It is not only the action of the men of Gibeah which reveals the abysmally low moral standards of the age; the indifference of the Levite, who prepared to depart in the morning without any apparent concern to ascertain the fate of his concubine, and his curt, unfeeling command when he saw her lying on the threshold (27,28), these show that, in spite of his religion, he was devoid of the finer emotions. The sense of outrage does not appear to have influenced him until he realised that she was dead, when he lifted her body on to one of his asses and continued his journey. The whole shocking incident made an indelible impression upon Israel, and was referred to by the prophet Hosea as one of the greatest example of corruption (Hos 9:9; 10:9).’ (Cundall)

‘This passage, with its gory outcome, reveals the degraded condition into which Israelite life had fallen during this period. The Levite’s speaking tenderly to his concubine might suggest that he truly cared for her, but his actions belied his words. First, he waited four months after her abrupt departure before he sought to bring her home (vv. 2–3). Second, he delivered her to the sexual ravages of a mob to protect himself and others (v. 25). Third, the morning after the rape when he found her lying at the doorstep of the house, he treated her without compassion, demanding she rise and leave with him. The narrator does not gloss over the horror of these events, but records them as they happened and does not try to reconcile the attitudes and actions of the people about whom he wrote. The inspiration of Scripture does not require that only comforting and edifying material be presented in historical narrative; inspiration requires that the true picture be laid out, even when events are disgusting.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)

Judg 19:29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.

Judg 19:30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”

Heiser: ‘The appalling nature of this story provides an appropriate context for God’s plan of redemption. It sets the worst of human nature against the need for divine rule. That would come in Old Testament times in the form of David, the chosen king, the man after God’s own heart. And from David, God would produce the King of kings, Jesus, whose mission was to save all humanity, not just Israel, from the curse of sin.’ (I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible)