Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Judges 19


The War with Benjamin (19:1-21:25)

The story in these chapters undoubtedly has a historical basis, but it also includes elements taken from folklore and traditions. The outrage at Gibeah may be hinted at in Hosea 9:9; Hosea 10:9, and the story of the rape of the concubine has a vividness that savors of the early traditions recorded elsewhere in the Book of Judges. The extent of the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin in chapter 20 seems exaggerated, for it suggests almost a complete wiping out of the manpower of the tribe. The capture of virgins of Shiloh in chapter 21 reflects actual events. Since Saul came from Gibeah, it may be that this cycle of chapters was written against him and his tribe of Benjamin by those to whom his memory was odious. We have to remember that Jabesh-gilead was also associated with the Israelite king and owed him special gratitude (1 Samuel 11:1-11; 1 Samuel 31:11-13), a fact which would account for the somewhat extraneous inclusion of the sack of that city in chapter 21.

Verses 1-30

The Outrage of Gibeah (19:1-30)

In the days before the monarchy, a Levite of the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from among the inhabitants of Bethlehem. A quarrel followed, in consequence of which the woman returned to her father’s home. The husband went after her, to "speak home to her heart," the literal meaning of the phrase "to speak kindly to her" (Judges 19:3). Accompanied by his servant and with two asses, he arrived at the father’s house, was hospitably received, and was prevailed upon to prolong his stay. Reconciliation of the man and his concubine naturally called for feasting, and the latter was prolonged by the pressure of a father reluctant to let his daughter depart. At last, as night was falling on the fifth day, the Levite left for the return journey, with his concubine and his servant. They passed by Jebus, still a Canaanite city, more frequently referred to in the Bible by its other early name Jerusalem. The servant besought the Levite to stay here for the night, but he decided to pass on to Gibeah where the inhabitants were fellow Israelites. This city was later the home of Saul and was situated north of Jerusalem. As the party reached Gibeah, the sun set, and in that region the darkness would fall at once. Immediate lodging for the night was a necessity, but, despite their sitting in the market square where the social and business relationships were exercised, no one offered them hospitality. So inhospitable did Gibeah prove to be, despite the Levite’s preferring it to Jebus with its Canaanite inhabitants, that ultimately it was an Ephraimite sojourner and not a resident of Gibeah who took them in.

As the Ephraimite sojourner entertained his guests, lewd fellows of Gibeah demanded that the Levite be sent out to them to satisfy their perverted sexuality. The remonstrances of the sojourner, who offered to send out his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine, availed nothing. At last the Levite put out his concubine, who died of the outrages committed on her. The moral issue of the man substituting his concubine for himself was not an acute one in those early days, when women were regarded as man’s possessions, not his equals and companions. We are apt to forget that the Hebrew world was a man’s world and that women and children were understood to live entirely within the personal orbits of the men. The homosexuality of the lewd men of Gibeah was probably taken over from the Canaanites among whom it was practiced especially on festival occasions.

The Levite carried home the corpse of his concubine, and cut the body into twelve pieces, which he dispatched throughout the territory of Israel to stir up the Israelites because of the enormity of the crime that had been committed. Saul later summoned the Israelites to battle with the Ammonites by cutting up oxen and sending the pieces to the tribes (1 Samuel 11:6-7). Probably the roots of the idea are related to magic; at any rate it was effective. The closing verse is better rendered from the ancient Greek translation which reads that the Levite instructed the messengers who carried the pieces of the body through Israel to say: "Did ever a thing like this happen, from the day when the children of Israel came up out of Egypt unto this day? Take counsel about it and speak out."

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Judges 19". "Layman's Bible Commentary".