Read Judges 19
A Levite and His Concubine
19 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. 2 But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her parents’ home in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, 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 parents’ home, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. 4 His father-in-law, the woman’s father, prevailed on him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.
5 On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.” 6 So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the woman’s father said, “Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.” 7 And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. 8 On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the woman’s father said, “Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!” So the two of them ate together.
9 Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the woman’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.” 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.
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.”
12 His master replied, “No. We won’t go into any city whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.” 13 He added, “Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.” 14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them in for the night.
16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the inhabitants of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. 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?”
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 in for the night. 19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, the woman and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.”
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.” 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.
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.”
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 outrageous thing. 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 as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”
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. 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.
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.
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. 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!”
Reading this story likely leaves a pit in your stomach (as it should). Of all the horrifically dirty deeds and betrayals woven through the Old Testament, today’s passage is one of Israel’s most sordid moments. There is no hero and no hope, only a deep and enduring depravity that comes as a result of a decades-long rejection of God and God’s people being completely untethered from the truth. Since we believe that all scripture is God-breathed and useful (2 Timothy 3:16), we want to learn from each passage that the Holy Spirit preserved for us.
The two primary characters in this story are a Levite and his wife, who is a concubine. Levites were the tribe responsible for producing Israel’s priests, but this man takes as his wife someone who had likely already been a mistress to another man (and she is unfaithful, yet again). There are some shades of Hosea’s story here, but unlike Hosea, it turns out that this man is not a servant of God. Instead we discover that he is a coward, committed to his own pleasure, self-preservation, and self-righteousness, even as he expects righteousness from others. Once the Levite finds his wife to take her home, the woman’s father convinces him to stay night after night. He commits to leave but then is easily persuaded to stay. The Levite is not a man who operates out of conviction or purpose but rather out of self-serving convenience. He stays one night. He eats and drinks. He stays another night. And so on, until each day dissipates.
When he finally does leave with his wife, he wants to make it to an Israeli town rather than a pagan town. He expects to find hospitality and a moral backbone to the community that he himself does not have. They are finally taken into a man’s house, only to be interrupted by knocks on the door that night. The wicked Benjamites of the town demand to have sex with him. The host offers to sacrifice his own virgin daughter to pacify the mob. But the Levite sends his wife—whom he just got back—into the crowd of men. And the two cowardly men shut the door behind her and go to sleep as she is raped throughout the night—given as a sacrifice so that they can live. In the morning, the Levite gets up to take his wife home, but he finds her lying dead on the doorstep.
Rather than expressing any remorse or compassion, rather than reflecting upon his own sin, selfishness, and weakness, he decides to make his wife into a symbol of broader depravity throughout the land. Self-righteousness can blind us to our sin and the compassionate heart of God. The Levite carves his wife’s dead body into twelve pieces and ships her to the tribes of Israel as a sort of judgment on their godlessness—a godlessness that he himself exemplifies.
As we sit in the weight of this story, let’s ask God to show us where our self-righteousness has blinded us and ask Him to teach us all that we should learn from this dark moment in history.
- Read verse 1 again. Why does the author want us to know that no one is in charge of Israel?
- How can we learn from passages like today’s that are particularly heavy and disturbing?
- Read Micah 6:8. How God is asking you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him today? Pray for God’s people to model these traits in their lives.
By the Way
In the Gospels, as Jesus is being held in captivity before his crucifixion, a crowd gathers to demand the release of a prisoner. Pilate can either free a guilty man—Barabbas—or an innocent man—Jesus. He frees the guilty man and sends the innocent man to endure a brutal death. Consider the parallels of this story as you pray this morning, and thank God that Jesus allowed Himself to be sacrificed so that we could live.
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