I love getting “theological” questions because it gives me a chance to dig into subjects that I don’t always have occasion to explore. If you like that sort of thing, welcome to “Theology Thursdays!” If not, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.
— Pastor Phillip
NOTE: This post includes a story from the Bible that contains extremely graphic content, and is not suitable for children or those who are sensitive to violence and abuse.
QUESTION: Have you written/studied this before? I need perspective. I fell asleep listening to this on my reading plan, and it made me upset. I asked God, “why did you allow this to happen?” I know there is a reason, but I am stuck in the anger of the act. I can’t get past it. What did the woman do to wrong God?
It was a standard-sounding question with a link to a Bible website, and the moment I saw the Scripture reference in the book of Judges I thought to myself, “Uh oh, I bet I know what this story is…”
I was right.
The Bible is often presented as a “road map” for life, or as a collection of good moral teachings. The thing is, while it certainly has application for those purposes, it also includes a LOT of stories that are dark and troubling, and this is one of them.
Two things by way of background.
First, the Book of Judges contains stories from the history of Israel from the time they entered the Promised Land up until just before the time that Saul was chosen as their first king. It was likely written after either the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC or the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 586BC. The book is written in such a way as to show the descent of the nation into depravity and sin, as a sort of “morality tale” to explain why God allowed His people to be enslaved again after He had so miraculously delivered them from Egypt.
This is a dark book filled with dark stories, and the key to understanding it is found in the epilogue of the final verse. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Quite simply, this is a book about what happens when people abandon God.
Second, the story in chapter 19 is about a Levite and his concubine. A “concubine” in this time period was a woman who was a hybrid between a mistress and a kind of “second-tier wife.” It was a practice often intended to increase the size of the family or clan, and though practiced by many in Israel, was not endorsed or approved of by God. A Levite was a person who was born as a member of the tribe of Levi and who was supposed to be devoted to the service of God. Of all people in Israel, this man should have been righteous, but as we’ll see in the story, he is anything but.
NOTE: The following text is from the English Standard Version of the Bible. I highly recommend it for reading and study, and you can check out more info here. I use the ESV Study Bible and it’s one of my most prized possessions. You can purchase one from Amazon here.
THE STORY: Part 1
A Levite and his Concubine
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months.
Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. And she brought him into her father’s house. And when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him.
And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him three days. So they ate and drank and spent the night there.
And on the fourth day they arose early in the morning, and he prepared to go, but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Strengthen your heart with a morsel of bread, and after that you may go.” So the two of them sat and ate and drank together. And the girl’s father said to the man, “Be pleased to spend the night, and let your heart be merry.” And when the man rose up to go, his father-in-law pressed him, till he spent the night there again.
And on the fifth day he arose early in the morning to depart. And the girl’s father said, “Strengthen your heart and wait until the day declines.” So they ate, both of them. And when the man and his concubine and his servant rose up to depart, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Behold, now the day has waned toward evening. Please, spend the night. Behold, the day draws to its close. Lodge here and let your heart be merry, and tomorrow you shall arise early in the morning for your journey, and go home.” But the man would not spend the night.
He rose up and departed and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. When they were near Jebus, the day was nearly over, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites and spend the night in it.” And his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah.” And he said to his young man, “Come and let us draw near to one of these places and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.”
So they passed on and went their way. And the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, and they turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. And he went in and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night.
So here’s the scene. An Israelite man with his Israelite concubine need a place to stay for the night. Rather than spend the night in a “pagan” city (the city that would one day be called Jerusalem was at this point in time still under the control of the Jebusite people), they go to a town that belongs to their own people, presumably the people of God. It should be a place of safety. It should be a place of hospitality. Yet, the travelers are callously denied safe lodging and are forced to settle down in the open square.
The story continues, and it gets worse… (NOTE: Words in brackets have been added or replaced for clarity.)
THE STORY: Part 2
And behold, an old man was coming from his work in the field at evening. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was sojourning in Gibeah. The men of the place were Benjaminites.
And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?” And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord, but no one has taken me into his house. We have straw and feed for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and your female servant and the young man with your servants. There is no lack of anything.”
And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.” So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank.
As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door.
And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may ‘know’ [have sex with] him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him.
So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they [violated] her and abused her all night until the morning.
And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer [because she was dead].
Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home.
And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”
This. Is. HORRIBLE!!!
Any person with a shred of decency should be greatly disturbed by this story, and that is precisely the point of its inclusion in the book. It’s a graphic example of just how bad things get when people turn their backs on God. When a people cease looking to God for their guidance and source of law, and instead do whatever is “right in their own eyes,” this is where the road leads. This is what happens to a nation that refuses to acknowledge God as their highest authority, and it only gets worse from here.
This point is driven home by something that many modern readers might not pick up on, but that would have been glaringly obvious to the first audience. The story here is a mirror image of a similar account in the history of God’s people…the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Sodom and Gomorrah
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.
When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.”
But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may [have sex with] them.”
Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”
But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.
But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.
Travelers in the town square are ignored, then finally received into the home of a stranger. The men of the city demand to have their way with the travelers, not the women, but the other men. The host offers vulnerable women as a substitute sacrifice to be raped in place of the men. This is virtually the same dark story… except there was last-minute deliverance of God’s people in Sodom and Gomorrah, but none to be found among the people of Israel in the book of Judges.
The Levite man in Judges responds to the killing of his concubine by cutting her body up and sending it as a message to the rest of the nation that the town of Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin must be punished. The nation assembles and there is a great slaughter that follows, a tale that goes from bad to worse. It is a chilling tale, to be sure, but there is something more frightening to me than reading such a story.
It’s realizing that this story still happens today.
Every day, women and girls of all ages are abused in all sorts of ways. From the institution of sex trafficking and slavery to the growing reports of spousal and child abuse, our world is getting darker as it has surrendered to the demon idol of sexual perversion.
There are institutions and initiatives that are working as hard as they can to intervene, to stop these wicked injustices from occurring, but it is an uphill battle because of one key factor that changes everything. The responsibility for combating the abuses of our day falls to two key people.
You and me.
Like the Levite in the story who did nothing to stop the injustice, we can choose to be silent, or we can speak up. Like the old man who should have stepped up to protect the vulnerable within his reach, we can close our eyes or we can open them and act. Here’s the thing though.
Sexual abuse is a simple market transaction. At one level it is certainly about morality, but at its most basic level it’s simply about supply and demand.
We increase demand when we support pornography, either by paying for it or viewing it on “free sites” that sell advertising.
We increase demand when we choose to patronize adult establishments that objectify women for sexual satisfaction.
But that’s not all…
We increase demand when we support movies whose whole plot is glorify sexuality outside of God’s design all in the name of “entertainment.” (“Knocked Up” or “American Pie” anyone?)
We increase demand when we purchase or listen to music whose lyrics promote a worldview of violence, sexual perversion and objectification of women, whatever the style of the music itself.
We increase demand when we dress or allow our children to dress in ways that highlight certain areas of the body in inappropriate ways, all in the name of “fashion” or “liberty” or “keeping with the times.”
We increase demand when our humor and language point our thoughts to inappropriate things and desecrate the sacred gift of sexuality by using its acts and terms as vulgar slang.
Don’t get me wrong. By no means am I saying that I am innocent or have not failed and fallen in many ways. Yet, I am learning that every choice that I make to compromise puts one more ounce of responsibility on my side of the scale of justice. If I want to drive back the darkness, I have to start where the problem starts: with me.
And so do you.