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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 19

Introduction

The Levite and His Concubine and the Decimation of the Tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19-21).

Judges 19:0 . The Levite and His Concubine.

This chapter gives an account of the sad story of a Levite and his concubine, and of the evil consequences following it. It describes how she played the whore, and went away from him to her father's house, to which he followed her. There he was hospitably entertained by her father for several days, and then set out on his journey back to his own country. And passing by Jebus or Jerusalem, he came to Gibeah, and could get no lodging, but at length was taken in by an old man, an Ephraimite.

But the house where he was enjoying hospitality was beset by some evil men in Gibeah, with the same intent with which the men of Sodom beset the house of Lot (Genesis 19:1-11). And after some argument between the old man and them, the concubine was brought out to them and abused by them until she died. On this the Levite her husband cut her into twelve pieces, and sent the pieces into all the borders of Israel, as a shocking message to Israel of what had been done in their midst.

Why should such a story have been included in the sacred record? The first reason was because it demonstrated how far the people of Israel had fallen from what they once were. How they had been contaminated by the inhabitants of the land, with their sexually perverted ways, in which they had come to dwell. They no longer obeyed the commandments in the covenant, especially ‘you shall not commit adultery’ and ‘you shall not kill’. Secondly it demonstrated that the leadership of Israel were failing, and that their attitudes of heart were wrong. Every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25). The tribes were not as tightly bound in the covenant as they should have been, although this incident greatly contributed to the cementing of that unity. Thirdly it demonstrated that when the right occasion came along they could act together as Yahweh had intended. And fourthly it stressed the sanctity of Levites. We note that the man’s name is never mentioned. That is because in a sense he represented all Levites. They were holy and not to be treated lightly.

Verse 1

Judges 19:0 . The Levite and His Concubine.

This chapter gives an account of the sad story of a Levite and his concubine, and of the evil consequences following it. It describes how she played the whore, and went away from him to her father's house, to which he followed her. There he was hospitably entertained by her father for several days, and then set out on his journey back to his own country. And passing by Jebus or Jerusalem, he came to Gibeah, and could get no lodging, but at length was taken in by an old man, an Ephraimite.

But the house where he was enjoying hospitality was beset by some evil men in Gibeah, with the same intent with which the men of Sodom beset the house of Lot (Genesis 19:1-11). And after some argument between the old man and them, the concubine was brought out to them and abused by them until she died. On this the Levite her husband cut her into twelve pieces, and sent the pieces into all the borders of Israel, as a shocking message to Israel of what had been done in their midst.

Why should such a story have been included in the sacred record? The first reason was because it demonstrated how far the people of Israel had fallen from what they once were. How they had been contaminated by the inhabitants of the land, with their sexually perverted ways, in which they had come to dwell. They no longer obeyed the commandments in the covenant, especially ‘you shall not commit adultery’ and ‘you shall not kill’. Secondly it demonstrated that the leadership of Israel were failing, and that their attitudes of heart were wrong. Every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25). The tribes were not as tightly bound in the covenant as they should have been, although this incident greatly contributed to the cementing of that unity. Thirdly it demonstrated that when the right occasion came along they could act together as Yahweh had intended. And fourthly it stressed the sanctity of Levites. We note that the man’s name is never mentioned. That is because in a sense he represented all Levites. They were holy and not to be treated lightly.

Judges 19:1 a

‘And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel.’

The idea is that there was no central authority to ensure the administration of justice, and the Kingship of Yahweh was being ignored. Thus there is reference to the fact that they no longer saw God as their king, and by failing to do so had reached this parlous position. It would appear that no strong central figures had replaced Joshua. So they looked to no one, and expected judgment from no one.

The system arranged by God had failed because of the slackness of the people of Israel and their failure to fully augment it. People were free to behave as they wished, in general only observing their local customs, and only accountable for their behaviour locally. This meant that someone from outside often had relatively little protection. So sins such as adultery, sodomy, murder, and so on were committed with impunity against them.

There was a central sanctuary which acted as a unifying force for the tribes, and there were those at the central sanctuary who could theoretically be appealed to, but they clearly had little influence in practise. They were dependent on the support of the tribes. And the tribal unity was spasmodic, and often casual, as the book of Judges has demonstrated. This was not the central living force that God had intended.

Judges 19:1 b

‘That there was a certain Levite sojourning on the farther side of the hill country of Ephraim.’

He lived in a city that was on the side of those mountains of Ephraim furthest from Bethlehem-judah. As all Levites were, he was a ‘sojourner’, one who lived there but was not looked on as of permanent residence, because his portion was in Yahweh. Thus he should be treated differently under the law (Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27). There were also special laws protecting sojourners, and they applied to Levites as well, but they were often set aside in local situations when there was no central authority to exact them. Perhaps he chose to reside there as being near to the tabernacle of Shiloh, which was in that tribal area.

The Levites were spread throughout the tribes of Israel. Originally their responsibility had been the maintenance and protection of the Tabernacle, a responsibility they no doubt still fulfilled, and they were entitled to be maintained by tithes from the people (Numbers 18:21). The gathering and policing of tithes was itself a huge operation and the Levites no doubt worked with the priests in this, and had their part in ensuring that religious and sacrificial requirements generally were fulfilled. Certain cities had been set apart for them to live in (Numbers 35:0; Joshua 21:0), but they were not necessarily required to live there, and if tithes were not forthcoming they would need to find methods of survival. They enjoyed special protection under the law (Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27-29). So this man should have enjoyed double protection both as a Levite and a sojourner.

The Levites were also special in another way. As a result of the deliverance of the firstborn in Egypt the firstborn were seen as Yahweh’s. But the Levites took on this responsibility instead of the firstborn so that the firstborn were no longer bound. Thus they were owed a debt of gratitude by all Israelites for they stood in the place of their firstborn sons (Numbers 8:10; Numbers 8:16-19), and they were holy to Yahweh.

“A concubine.” A secondary wife, usually a slave, taken without the payment of a dowry. She did not enjoy the full privileges of a full wife, but was clearly seen here as a genuine wife under the law. The man is called her husband and her father is called his ‘father-in-law’. She may well have been his only wife. But she was of a different class. Or it may be that she was a Canaanite. This would explain her ‘whoredom’, which to her would simply be the fulfilling of the requirements of her religion.

“Out of Bethlehem-judah.” This was the same area as that from which the wicked Levite came, spoken of in the preceding chapters (Judges 17:8), who was the means of spreading ‘idolatry’ in Israel, which tended to go along with sexual misbehaviour in prostitution and homosexual activity. It is apparent that the people had come to look to the Levites in religious matters, for, as mentioned above, it was partly for this that they were spread among the tribes. And Levites were therefore often required, and willing, to act beyond their position. The behaviour of that particular Levite, acting as a priest, had led to the lowering of morals in the area and there may be the hint that Bethlehem-judah was tainted with idolatry. Certainly this woman was eventually to be the cause of a great shedding of blood in Israel, and almost of the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin.

These two instances may be seen as reflecting dishonour and disgrace on Bethlehem-judah. Yet from here would come such men as Boaz, Jesse, David, and eventually the Messiah Himself. The woman the Levite took is called in the Hebrew "a woman, a concubine".

Verse 2

Judges 19:2 a

‘And his concubine played the harlot against him.’

That is, she was unfaithful to him (compare Deuteronomy Genesis 38:24; Genesis 22:21; Hosea 2:5 etc). This may well have been connected with her religious ideas and she may have offered herself as a cult prostitute to Baal. But whatever it was she broke the covenant and agreement between them by unfaithfulness.

Some see it as simply referring to her desertion of him, as the versions suggest, translating, ‘because she was angry with him’. But this is unlikely, as the story may be seen as, among other things, a hint that her end was related to her beginning, and ‘play the harlot’ was a regular phrase for infidelity. Indeed to ‘play the harlot’ was a regular prophetic picture of those whose following after Baal and after idolatry brought them into extreme sexual misbehaviour (Hosea 4:15; Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:8; Ezekiel 16:41; Ezekiel 23:44). The emendation probably arose because the translators could not believe that if she were an adulteress she had been allowed to live.

That the Levite did not demand that she face the penalty of the law may demonstrate that there had been a slackening of obedience to the law and to the covenant, although it may be that he loved her deeply and was willing, somewhat reluctantly, to forgive her. It would have been up to him to charge her. That she was very desirable comes out later in that the would be sodomites forgot their plans when they saw her.

But the Levite did not forget what she had done, and his behaviour in later letting the men have their way with her, and then assuming that she would cope with it, suggests something of this background.

Judges 19:2 b

‘And went away from him to her father's house to Bethlehem-judah, and was there the space of four months.’

The Levites’s wife left him and returned to her parental home. There she was clearly received, in spite of the fact that she had broken a contractual relationship. Strictly some attempt should have been made to restore her to her husband, but they may have feared that she might be put to death for what she had done, and if she was a cult prostitute they may have felt her Levite husband would not want her back.

“And was there the space of four months.” Time enough for some action to have been taken if she were to be sent back.

Judges 19:3 a

‘And her husband arose, and went after her to speak to her heart, to bring her again, having his servant with him, and a couple of asses.’

Her husband went after her, and thus it was not the husband who was directly responsible for her leaving. He wanted her back. Perhaps he was finding living on his own a little tedious, and wanted someone to look after the household. He certainly took his time over following her, but this may have been because he did not know where she had gone and was waiting to hear from her father. Perhaps it was such a message that sent him on his errand.

“To speak to her heart” This suggests that he loved her and wanted to convince her that he was willing to forgive her, so that she would return and be his wife. But the phrase strictly may only mean that he wanted to remind her that she was contracted to him.

“To bring her again.” To restore her to his own house and bed, as before.

“Having his servant with him, and a couple of asses.” One of the asses would be for her (or him) to ride on, and the other to carry provisions. He was clearly not a poor man. But it seems he was not fulfilling his Levitical responsibilities, or alternatively that the tithes were not being supplied as they should have been, leaving him and other Levites to have to find a living some other way.

Judges 19:3 b

‘And she brought him into her father's house, and when the father of the damsel saw him, he rejoiced to meet him.’

She received him. It may be that she met him at the door, or that they providentially met while he was approaching the house. But at least she did not turn him away, although that may be because she knew her contractual obligations and was aware her father would wish to see him.

“And when the father of the damsel saw him, he rejoiced to meet him.” Whatever his inward feelings he put on a show of rejoicing. Perhaps he was pleased, hoping it would save his daughter from disgrace. He must have recognised that his daughter was at fault, and perhaps he hoped that the Levite would rescue his daughter from the consequences of her wild behaviour

Verse 4

And his father in law, the damsel's father, retained him, and he abode with him three days. So they did eat and drink, and lodged there ’

The welcome was a clear sign of friendship and willingness to maintain the contract. He prevailed on him to stay some time with him.

“And he abode with him three days.” Three days (a complete period, for three is the number of completeness) was probably the length of time required for such a welcome if it was to indicate genuine acceptance, and for the Levite to also indicate friendship. Things like this were never done in a hurry. (‘Three days’ could mean he stayed the night, accepted one day’s hospitality as a gesture of friendship and was ready to go on the third day).

“So they did eat and drink, and lodged there.” That is the Levite and his servant. They were very hospitably entertained, and had everything provided for them for their convenience.

Verse 5

Judges 19:5 a

‘And it happened on the fourth day that they arose early in the morning, and he rose up to depart.’ The necessary time for fulfilling all the formalities had now passed. Seemingly it was agreed that his wife should return with him. There was nothing to keep them further.

“That they arose early in the morning, and he rose up to depart.” They had a long journey ahead, so the Levite and his servant rose early to make final preparations for the journey. Then when the time came he stood up ready to depart.

Judges 19:5 b

‘And the damsel's father said to his son in law, “Comfort your heart with a morsel of bread, and afterwards you shall go your way.” ’

The father was using delaying tactics. It may have been because he was genuinely pleased to have their company, or it may have been because he knew that his daughter was not too keen on setting out. But he was clearly reluctant to see them go. It may be that he hoped that the atmosphere in the home might re-cement the relationship between man and wife.

Verses 6-7

‘So they sat down, and did eat and drink, both of them together. And the damsel's father said to the man, “Be content, I pray you, and stay all night, and let your heart be merry.” ’ And the man rose up to depart. But his father-in-law urged him and he lodged there again ’

There was no friction between them. Both were satisfied with the situation, although possibly the Levite was wishing he could go on his way with his wife. But courtesy demanded that he not be seen to be in a hurry to leave.

“And the damsel's father said to the man, “Be content, I pray you, and stay all night, and let your heart be merry.” ” And the man rose up to depart.’ His father-in-law pressed him to stay a further night, to enjoy further feasting, but the Levite did not want to delay his journey any longer and made as if to depart.

“But his father in law urged him.” There was great entreaty, and firm pleas, that he would stay a further night.

“And he lodged there again.” He stayed another night. The giving and receiving of hospitality was an important part of life in those days, and the Levite did not want to offend his father-in-law.

Verse 8

And he rose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart. And the damsel's father said, “Comfort your heart, I pray you, stay until the day declines.” And they did eat, both of them ’

This time he definitely intended to take leave of his father-in-law. But the father-in-law wanted to keep him as long as possible, perhaps still at his daughter’s urging.

The father-in-law knew that it was not possible to indicate that he wanted to delay him another day, so instead he pressed him to stay until after the evening meal, which was eaten in mid afternoon. And the Levite, probably unwillingly, agreed. And they ate the meal together. But the continued delay was to cost him dearly.

In all this there is no mention of the wife, for she was not considered to be important in the situation, although she no doubt ate with them. This was a matter between man and man. She had to fall in with their wishes.

Verse 9

Judges 19:9 a

‘And when the man rose up to depart, he and his concubine, and his servant.’

Interestingly this is the first indication that we know that the concubine had agreed to go back with him, although the hospitality shown did suggest it. Night was now approaching and he wanted to be on his way as quickly as possible.

Judges 19:9 b

‘His father-in-law, the damsel’s father, said to him, “See, the day now draws (literally ‘weakens’) towards evening, I pray you stay all night. Look, the day grows to an end. Lodge here that your heart may be merry. And tomorrow get you early on your way, that you may go home (literally ‘to your tents’, a colloquialism).” ’

“The day weakens.” The sun’s heat and light were abating. ‘The day grows to an end.’ Literally the day was ‘making its encampment’ for the night. Once again his father in law suggested he stay the night. This had no doubt been his intention all along. And he tried to play on the fact of how much more attractive it would be to eat and drink the night away, rather than start on a journey as darkness approached, and find lodgings which would be far less comfortable. The day was ‘camping down’ for the night, why did he not do the same?

“And tomorrow get you early on your way, that you may go to your tents.” His father-in-law realised that the Levite’s patience was now strained. There comes a time when too much hospitality can become an embarrassment. So he promised that he would let him go first thing the next day. ‘Go to your tents’ is probably not to be taken literally, unless he is hinting at the fact that for the next night or so they will have to tent out. It was probably an ancient phrase which meant ‘your home’, coming from a time when their tents were their homes.

Verse 10

Judges 19:10 a

‘But the man would not linger that night. But he rose up and departed ’

This time he was determined on his journey. He saw that this could go on for ever, and realised that his father-in-law would continue to seek to keep him there. It definitely seemed as though his wife was very reluctant to go with him. So, come what may, he was determined to go.

“But he rose up and departed.” The decision was made and they finally did leave. There was still some light left before night fell.

Judges 19:10 b

‘And came over against Jebus, which is Jerusalem. And there were with him two asses, saddled. And his concubine also was with him ’

They arrived just outside Jebus. This was Jerusalem, then popularly known as Jebus, because inhabited by the Jebusites. This was about Judges 9:5 kilometres (six miles) from Bethlehem.

“And there were with him two asses, saddled. And his concubine also was with him.” ‘Saddled’ may simply mean ‘laden’. Thus his concubine might ride one and the other would be laden with goods, food, wine, provender, and possibly gifts from the family, a very obvious temptation for unpleasant people. Or it may be that he rode and the concubine walked. She was of a lower class.

“And his concubine also was with him.” Matters had now satisfactorily been settled (at least outwardly) and his concubine wife had agreed to go with him.

Verse 11

And when they were by Jebus the day was far spent. And the servant said to his master, “Come, I pray you, and let us turn in to this city of the Jebusites, and lodge in it.’

“Was far spent.” Literally ‘was gone down very much.’ The sun was low in the sky and night was almost on them.

The servant suggested that as night was approaching it might be wise to find lodging for the night. This could be in an inn or it may have been through seeking hospitality at the gate of the city (Genesis 19:1), from some worthy citizen. In those days inns were few and hospitality was regularly offered to travellers at the gate of the city. It was looked on by the worthy as a sacred responsibility, and once a man was under your roof you were looked on as having sacred obligations towards him.

“This city of the Jebusites.” It is stressed that the city was not one that belonged to the confederation of Israel. It is ironic. There in that city of strangers he may well have found the safety among strangers that he would not find among his own people. The city had once been captured by the Israelites (Judges 1:8) but was retaken when they moved on to more victories. And from then on the fortress had proved invulnerable (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21). The Jebusites continued to live among the people of Judah and Benjamin, safe in their fortified city, although the three lived together in the lower city. Gradually things had become more relaxed and at this time it would seem that peace prevailed.

There can be little doubt that the writer records this incident precisely because it demonstrated that Israel had sunk lower than the Canaanites in many respects, at least in Gibeah.

Verse 12

And his master said to him, we will not turn aside into the city of a stranger, who are not of the children of Israel, but we will pass over to Gibeah.’

The Levite was a patriotic and religious man and preferred not to depend on or trust foreigners if he could help it. The Jebusites were one of the seven nations of the land of Canaan, who were to be dispossessed and destroyed, and were idolaters and worshippers of Baal, with their sexually abandoned beliefs, and he knew that his wife had already been led astray by similar religious beliefs. Thus as a Levite responsible for the maintenance of the religion of Israel he preferred to trust to his own people. He was not aware how debased many of them too had become, permeated as they had been by Canaanite practises, the result of their not having been faithful to God’s demands to totally destroy the Canaanites and their religion.

“The children of Israel.” Usually in the predicate the writer uses ‘Israel’. But here the stress is on covenant relationship so that he uses the longer phrase (see Introduction).

“But we will pass over to Gibeah.” Gibeah was in the portion of the tribe of Benjamin, and was inhabited by men of that tribe, and so was more agreeable to this Levite, who thought that it would not have been deeply affected by depraved religion. He thought that they would know how to treat a Levite. It was around Judges 6:5 kilometres (four miles) from Jebus or Jerusalem, and, although it was near sun setting, he chose rather to proceed on to this place than to lodge at Jebus. It was a relatively ‘new’ town, having no natural water supply, and therefore dependent on lime plastered cisterns. It was probably built on a hill (Gibeah means ‘hill’). It was later famous as the birthplace of Saul. It is probably not connected with the Gibeon or Geba which were levitical cities (Joshua 21:17).

Verse 13

And he said to his servant, ‘come, and let us draw near to one of these places, and we will lodge in Gibeah or in Ramah.’

So he decided to set off to one of the nearby Israelite towns, either Gibeah or Ramah, which were close to each other, about two miles apart. Fatally Gibeah was the nearest.

Verse 14

So they passed on, and went their way, and the sun went down on them when they were by Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.’

The choice was made for them by the time of day when they reached Gibeah, for the sun set, and night came on.

Verse 15

And they turned aside there to go in to lodge in Gibeah. And he went in and sat himself down in the square of the city, for there was no man who took them into his house to lodge.’ ’

Instead of going forward, and passing by Gibeah to make for Ramah, they turned off the road, and went into the city to seek a lodging there.

“And he went in and sat himself down in the square of the city, for there was no man who took them into his house to lodge.” Normally someone would welcome strangers at the gate of the city. Inns were mainly on the roads between towns and hospitality in towns was dependent on the inhabitants. But here there was no welcome. In a way this was ominous. Not only did it demonstrate that the people were unusually inhospitable, it raised the question as to why. For hospitality was considered extremely important. But all knew that once hospitality was given there was a sacred responsibility to the person in question. If they wished to do harm to strangers they would not offer hospitality. And others may have been put off being hospitable by what happened to guests in view of the evil propensities of many of the townsfolk.

Verse 16

Judges 19:16 a

‘And behold, there came an old man from his work, from the country in the evening. Now the man was of the hill country of Ephraim, and he sojourned in Gibeah.’

As it happened an old man was returning from his fields out in the country. He was coming back late from working in them, possibly because the fields he rented were some distance from the town. Not being a native of the town, for he was a sojourner, he had not been quite so contaminated by their attitudes towards strangers. And as it happened he came from the same area as the Levite.

Judges 19:16 b

‘But the men of the place were Benjaminites.’

The tribes should have been united and friendly towards each other, but it is clear here that there was some discordancy between the tribes. The aim is to contrast the goodness and hospitality of the Ephraimite with the rank sinfulness and evil of the Benjaminites.

Verse 17

And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the wayfaring man in the city square, and the old man said, ‘Where are you going to, and where have you come from?’

Lifting up the eyes is merely a phrase indicating ‘turning the attention on’. On doing this he saw the wayfaring man in the street of the city, whom he realised to be a traveller by the fact of his two asses and his companions, and by their general behaviour. So he asked where they had come from and what their destination was.

Verse 18

And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem-judah to the far side of the hill country of Ephraim. I am from there. And I went to Bethleham-judah , and I am now going to the house of Yahweh. And there is no man who takes me into his house.” ’

He answered his last question first, giving the starting point of the journey, so as to make clear what he was doing passing Gibeah. In troublesome times it was necessary to make clear that there was nothing suspicious about his circumstance.

Then he explained his destination, and explained that that was where he lived. He did not realise that the old man also came from the same area which would warm his heart towards him. Finally he pointed out that, prior to returning home, he was bound for ‘the house of Yahweh’, the tabernacle of God, possibly at this time at Bethel (Judges 20:26-28), but more probably at Shiloh, presumably to give thanks for his wife’s return and offer appropriate sacrifices.

Thus he was on a kind of pilgrimage which meant that his treatment should, in a godly town, have been of the best. The fact that he was going to the central sanctuary of the covenant emphasises the breach of the covenant by the men of the town.

At no stage does he mention any town from which he came. Thus it may be that he actually dwelt in a house away from the towns. Or it may be that the reason for the non-mention is the same as the reason for the non-mention of his name. He was seen as standing in some way for all Levites, a reminder that they were holy to the Lord and to be protected and cared for.

“And there is no man who takes me into his house.” In most places hospitality was seen as a bounden duty, and he was clearly surprised, especially as a Levite, that he had not been welcomed. But it did explain why they were settling down in the square for the night. It was not that they had refused hospitality but that they had not been asked.

There are certain similarities with the story of Lot, but the event was not one that was so unusual that it was limited to these two incidents. The sexual mistreatment, and even murder, of strangers was probably no uncommon thing. What brought this case to the fore was that the Levite was a man of action, and was a Levite, a holy man.

Verse 19

Yet there is both straw and provender for our asses, and there is bread and wine also for me, and for your handmaid, and for the young man who is with your servants. There is no lack of anything.”

There was no reason for the lack of hospitality for they had all their provisions with them. All they needed was a bed for the night. This was said mainly to persuade the old man to help them. It would be at no cost to him. For the laws of hospitality would usually mean provision for a guest.

“With your servants.” That is, with me and my handmaid. ‘Your servants’ and ‘your handmaid’ are polite expressions, a submission which he would not expect would be acted on.

Verse 20

And the old man said, “peace be to you. However, let all your wants lie on me. Only do not lodge in the square ”

“Peace be to you.” A regular polite greeting between two people, denoting acceptance, still regularly offered today (Genesis 43:23; Judges 6:23; 1 Samuel 25:6; Daniel 10:19).

“However, let all your wants lie on me. Only do not lodge in the square.” He offered the kind of hospitality that would be expected, except from the very poor who possibly would not be able to provide it. It was a matter of honour. ‘All your wants.’ Food, shelter, provender for the asses, and washing for the feet, things which a traveller would need. The washing of the feet was in order to remove the sweat and dust of the journey. ‘Only do not lodge in the street.’ It was not seemly that a traveller should be left in the street. And he probably feared what would happen to them if they did so. He no doubt knew his fellow-townsfolk and about their propensities.

Verse 21

So he brought him into his house, and gave the asses fodder, and they washed their feet, and ate and drank.’

With some relief and gratitude they accepted the old man’s offer and he led them to his house, where every provision was made for them. Note that the animals’ needs were met first as befitted a careful and considerate owner, and an equally careful and considerate host.

“They washed their feet.” This was the second thing they did, for they would be wearing sandals and the roads would be dusty, and their feet sweaty. Then they settled down to eat. Everything was seemingly going well after all, and they no doubt felt greatly relieved.

Verse 22

Judges 19:22 a

‘And as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, beating at the door --.’

“Making -- merry.” With food and wine and good conversation. A traveller was often especially welcome because he could bring news of events from afar.

“Behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, beating at the door.” What a sudden change in atmosphere. While all was content inside the creatures of the night gathered to the house. They were the men of the city, men of darkness, come to do what they had been planning ever since the travellers had arrived. They are seen as representing the whole city.

“Sons of Belial.” See Deuteronomy 13:13; 1Sa 2:12 ; 1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 25:17; 1 Samuel 25:25 etc. The ‘sons of Belial’ led Israel astray into idolatry and the sexual perversions associated with it. The sons of Eli were sons of Belial because they kept for themselves what belonged to the Lord. Nabal was a son of Belial denoting that he was a most unpleasant person. It indicated people of the very basest kind. ‘Belial’ means worthlessness, thus here ‘worthless men’. Alternately, repointed, it could mean ‘swallow up’. Thus the sons of Belial would then be those who do harm, they swallow men up.

“Beset the house round about.” They surrounded it, a crowd slavering with lust and evil desire, intent on perversion and murder, and this to one who was holy before God. There was no way he would escape. ‘Beat at the door.’ In order to gain entrance. They were almost out of control in their perverted lust. Their behaviour was intended to demonstrate that no one could say them nay.

Judges 19:22 b

‘And they spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.”’

As a result of the noise and clamour made the old man went to the door, to enquire what the meaning of all the noise was, although he probably in his heart knew. They replied, making their full intentions clear. They were not even ashamed of the actions and activities they had in mind.

“Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” There was no evasion. They wanted to engage in gang rape on the man. To ‘know’ meant ‘to have sexual relations with’. So low had these people of Israel fallen as a result of being influenced by the Canaanites, probably the Jebusites, that they openly declared their intended sin. Indeed in their hearts they had sinned already. If only Israel had previously heeded Yahweh’s commands this would not have happened (Joshua 17:13).

Verse 23

And the man, the master of the house, went out to them. And he said to them, “No, my brothers, I pray you, do not behave so wickedly, seeing that this man has come to my house. Do not do this folly.” ’

Bravely the old man opened the door and went out to speak with the men. He hoped to appeal to them by reason.

“And he said to them, ‘No, my brothers, I pray you, do not behave so wickedly, seeing that this man has come to my house. Do not do this folly.” He made the strongest plea he could think of, that the man was enjoying his hospitality. Once a man had received hospitality the host had a sacred duty to protect him, and the crowd knew that. But he also made clear to them that their actions were wicked. They were ‘folly’. The word indicated action of the basest kind which was seen as a slight on God Himself. It is regularly used of sexual misbehaviour. He also possibly had in mind that the man was a Levite. Not to have welcomed such a man with hospitality was a breach of their sacred duty towards God’s own (Deuteronomy 23:4).

Verse 24

Look, here is my daughter, a maiden, and his concubine. I will bring them out now and you may humble them and do with them what seems good to you. But do not any such folly to this man.”

It may seem incomprehensible to us that he should offer his own daughter, presumably a virgin, to their evil lusts, but the man he was defending was holy to the Lord and enjoying his hospitality. Beside that the women came a very poor second.

It is significant that the concubine was also his guest, and as a wife would surely be seen as more important than the male servant. Yet he offered both women to them. This suggests that the laws of hospitality in Israel were primarily applicable to men, and only to women as companions of the men. He possibly had in mind that at least with the women it would be natural sex, (we note he did not offer the male servant), and he would not therefore share their guilt for sodomy. They would hopefully survive it as the man probably would not. That Lot offered to do the same with his daughters demonstrates the general attitude of people then in such matters (Genesis 19:8). This was a recognised solution in such circumstances. The men must be protected at all costs under the sacred laws of hospitality.

Verse 25

Judges 19:25 a

‘But the men would not listen to him, so the man laid hold on his concubine, and brought her out to them.’

Nothing would at this point divert them from their purpose. They continued beating at the door in their dreadful lust.

“So the man laid hold on his concubine, and brought her out to them.” The Levite presumably thrust her through the doorway, for had he gone out to them they would have achieved their purpose. The concubine was handed over. We must remember that she may well have been a cult prostitute and if so may have been used to multiple sex. It may therefore be that she volunteered to go out to them, not aware of quite how bestial they would be, otherwise the old man would surely have given his daughter first. Yet the force of ‘laid hold’ is against this. It suggests that she was unwilling.

Thus it seems that the Levite acted to save the man’s daughter, and he may certainly have had in mind that his wife was a concubine, and was also used to multiple sex. He certainly expected her to be alive in the morning. All through the emphasis has been on the fact that she was his concubine. He no doubt considered his own worth, and the worth of the daughter, as being superior. The concubine, though beautiful, was more expendable. That she was beautiful comes out in that once the men had seen her they forgot about their chief prey.

It is easy to criticise the Levite. But he was a man who believed he knew his own worth, and whom others respected and looked up to. He was conscious of his social class, and the thought of being sodomised would to such a man have been unbearable. On the other hand his wife was ‘only a concubine’, had already revealed her sexual propensities and was still under the shadow of guilt. And he had the example of Lot to go by.

Judges 19:25 b

‘And they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning, and when the day began to spring they let her go.’

What followed demonstrated their bestiality. They lined up to have sex with her, passing her from one to the other, and no doubt treated her roughly as such men will. And this went on all night. And when day came they let her go, a spent wreck, and disappeared to their homes.

Verse 26

Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house, where her lord was, until it was light.’

The woman struggled back to the house but it would seem that she had been so maltreated that she collapsed there and had no strength to knock. And there she lay until it was light. ‘Her lord.’ That is her husband who was called her ‘lord’, not because she had been his servant, but because she was his wife.

Verse 27

Judges 19:27 a

‘And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way.’

Once he was satisfied that the crowd had gone, and unaware of what had happened to his wife, but realising that her non-return probably meant that he would never see her again, the Levite decided to make his escape as quickly as he could. He had presumably been up all night wondering what was happening and hoping to hear his wife’s knock on the door. He may well have thought that, in view of her past behaviour, she had chosen to go off with the men.

The affair does not reflect well on him but he was at least glad to be alive and knew that he had to make his escape before the men came back. The reference to him as ‘her lord’ may reflect the writer’s disapproval of his behaviour. As her lord he should have watched over her interests. Alternately it may mean that the writer agreed with the behaviour that had made ‘her lord’, the important one, escape maltreatment.

Judges 19:27 b

‘And behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold.’

Her posture suggests that she had almost made it. Her hands were on the very threshhold. When he found her there he clearly thought she was asleep, and his heart was probably lightened. He was a good enough man not to believe that men could be so evil as these men had been.

“With her hands on the threshold” may indicate that she had almost made it, or that as she collapsed she had vainly reached out for help. She had almost reached shelter, but had not had the strength for the final attempt. It had been too late.

Verse 28

Judges 19:28 a

‘And he said to her, “Up, and let us be going.” But there was no answer.’

He thought that she was sleeping and spoke to her to wake her and let her know that they were leaving this dreadful place. But the callousness of his words are probably intended to remind us of her position. Or possibly they were said gently and with compassion.

However, when there was no answer, the Levite realised with unbelievable bitterness in his heart what had happened. She was dead. They had killed her. What she had suffered had been too much for her and her heart had given way. And the beasts who had raped her had gone back to their houses, also unaware of what they had finally done, and unaware too of the vengeance they had brought on themselves.

Had she lived that might have been the end of the affair. A lesson learned, an experience endured which was no doubt experienced by many travellers, but life going on. But she died, and her death would have awful consequences.

Judges 19:28 b

‘Then he took her up on the ass, and the man rose up and took himself to his place.’

There was no visit to the house of Yahweh. He had nothing now to give thanks for. So he carried off her dead body, without making any remonstrance to the inhabitants, from whom he could not expect any justice. But the demands for justice and vengeance were in his heart.

Verse 29

And when he was come into his house he took a knife and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her according to her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the borders of Israel.’

Determined to have justice the Levite decided on a dreadful thing. No doubt his mind was temporarily a little deranged from what had happened, although we must remember that as a Levite he was used to seeing carcasses carved up. And he divided up her body with a carving knife, using the lay out of the bones to determine the pieces, until he had produced twelve pieces. These were one for every tribe, including Benjamin. He could not believe that Benjamin could possibly justify what had been done.

Why did he do such a thing? It was so that the most gruesome indication of what had been done should be brought home to the tribes. He wanted to shock them into action. He was only an obscure Levite and he knew from his connections with the central sanctuary how easily such things could be forgotten. But he wanted to make sure that this case would not be forgotten. And coming from a Levite, a servant of the sanctuary, and one set apart as God’s, such a ‘present’ would have even more impact.

The message would be clear. The woman had met a violent death of a most obscene kind in breach of the covenant of Yahweh. He may also have intended to convey the message that it was the equivalent of human sacrifice, that she had been, as it were, sacrificed to Baal. For the behaviour of the men may well have resulted from their contact with the religion of Baal and with sacred prostitutes, and have been excused by them as in accordance with such practises. This, if anything would, should spur the confederate tribes into action.

We can, however, compare how Saul, when he wanted to stress the seriousness of the call to the tribes, took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout Israel as a sign that those who failed to respond would be put to death (1 Samuel 11:7). Saul may have got the idea from the Levite, or Saul’s may have been a regular method of calling the tribes around that time, with the Levite taking it further for the sake of impact.

Thus the Levite may also have been stressing that God would require at their hands, by death, a failure to respond to his plea. But instead of the usual sacrifice of an animal he used a human being. Certainly he achieved what none of the judges were able to achieve, the uniting of the whole confederacy in action.

“And sent her throughout all the borders of Israel.” The ‘twelve’ would appear to be intended to include Benjamin. The point is that the message was sent to every tribe in the confederation These, or at least a faithful proportion of them, would regularly meet to renew covenant at the central sanctuary. They were responsible to uphold the rights of Levites, and to uphold the law of Moses, and a most foul murder had been committed. The parts of his concubine’s body were a call to the tribes to come together and observe the covenant by exacting justice for what had been done and dealing with this evil that was in their midst.

Verse 30

Judges 19:30 a

‘And it was so, that all who saw it, said, ‘there was no such deed done nor seen, from the day that the children of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, to this day.’

The pieces would be delivered by messenger. The Levite may indeed have gone to the central sanctuary and arranged for them to go from there. It was from there that the call to action ought to go. And the messengers would take a report of what had happened and what the pieces meant. They were a call for justice on the terms of the covenant, on penalty of death for failure to give it.

The comment about ‘such a deed’ probably refers to the actions of the men of Gibeah (as the Septuagint makes clear). Certainly they became a byword for sinfulness (Hosea 9:9; Hosea 10:9). But it may have been a reaction to the horror of what they saw.

Judges 19:30 b

‘Weigh it up, take counsel, and declare what you think.’

It was a call for action and judgment in legal jargon. They were to weigh up the situation, discuss the matter together and then come to a decision.

The whole episode demonstrates how low morals in Israel had fallen. The Levite’s attitude to his concubine wife, his failure to protect her, the lack of hospitality from anyone except the old man, the behaviour of the men of Gibeah, all reflected the level to which society had fallen.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 19". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/judges-19.html. 2013.