Painting by Mario Moore (2009)
I am currently making my way through the Old Testament and have landed on Judges 19. I’ve been reflecting and simmering over this text for some time, trying to make sense of the horror of this story. The conclusion I’ve came up with is sin sucks. It sucks really bad, and inevitably leads to destruction and death.
Here’s the recap…
Israel had no king (Judges 19:1): Right away the story is letting us know that the people (Israelites) have no one in authority to follow or be accountable too. No king = free for all. Do whatever you want. What happens when a parent lets their kids do whatever they want? Or a boss who lets their employees work whenever and however they want? No leadership, especially godly leadership, is no bueno. *insert thumbs down*
A Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine.. (Judges 19:1): A Levite is from the tribe of Levi and they are the ones who worked in the temple with the priests (i.e. Levites were the ones who played worship music, handled security, etc.). Even though the practice of taking concubines (ie. legal mistress) is prevalent throughout the Bible, is it right? Especially for a Levite to do so? Levites are supposed to be ambassadors of God’s holy temple. Even in today’s times, just because something is “legal” doesn’t make it right.
She (the concubine) was unfaithful. She left and went back to her parent’s house (Judges 19:2). The concubine cheated on the Levite. This is somewhat ironic, because technically the Levite was “cheating” on his wife by taking a concubine in the first place. Then she left him and went back to her parents house, which shows that her father still had authority over her instead of her pseudo-husband. Once again the cultural context must be taken into consideration, however, the situation just doesn’t seem ideal.
In Judges 19:3-9, the text states that the Levite went to the concubine’s house to persuade her to come back to him. Her father welcomed the Levite with hospitality and kept persuading him with food and drink to stay. Scripture also refers to this man as a “father-in-law” and the Levite is referred to as a “son-in-law,” which makes no sense because they weren’t technically married. Perhaps the father wanted the Levite to present an offering for his daughter? A bride price?
So then the Levite, his servant and concubine finally left together and started heading back to the temple. Along the way, the Levite did not want to stop in any cities whose people were not Israelites. “He said, ‘come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places'” (Judges 19: 13), even though his servant who he was traveling with suggested otherwise. When they reached the town of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin, they “stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them in for the night” (Judges 19:15).
Finally, an old man came and offered them to stay at his house for the evening. This is where the story gets really twisted. The Levite, concubine and servant all end up staying the night at this old man’s house. However, “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.” (Judges 19:22). Once again the irony is thick, because the Levite originally did not want to stop at a city that didn’t inhabit Israelites, assuming that Israelite towns were better. Apparently this is not the case, because “wicked men” were residing in Gibeah. Also, it’s ironic because the Levite technically did this to the concubine when he went to her father’s house. He basically knocked on her father’s door, asking her to come out of the house and come back with him so she can continue to be his “mistress” aka sex slave.
The story ends up getting worse, as the old man refused to give up the Levite, but instead offered his virgin daughter and concubine to be raped and abused all night. “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. 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.” (Judges 19:27-28). We now see a shift in the text. The Levite is no longer referred to as the concubine’s “husband.” He is now referred to as her “master.” Also, we don’t know if she is confirmed dead on the doorway or still alive. We do know that there is no weeping, no sadness, no nothing.
And just when you think things can’t get worse, it does. When the Levite returned 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.” (Judges 19:29). It all seems to be straight out of a horror film, but no, it’s straight from the Bible. Why did the Levite send her body parts to the 12 tribes? To start a war amongst the tribes? Because how dare someone do something to “his property.” Throughout the remainder of the book of Judges, war and punishment ensue and at the end it is once again stated, “in those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (Judges 21:25).
Left to our own devices, we too have the capacity to become murderers, adulterers, rapists, lustful, prideful creatures who treat others like objects. All praises and glory to our King Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, so we don’t have to be like this! We don’t have to be a nameless concubine, a nameless servant, or a nameless Levite. God has given each and every one of us a name to sit alongside Him in the throne room one day. Do you want God to be the King of your life? Or do you want to do whatever you see fit with no oversight or accountability?