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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Judges 19

Verses 1-30

EXPOSITION

Judges 19:1

When there was no king (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 21:25). It appears from Judges 20:27, Judges 20:28 that the events narrated in these three last chapters of the Book of Judges happened in the lifetime of Phinehas, and while the ark was at Shiloh (see Judges 20:27, note). Phinehas evidently outlived Joshua (Joshua 24:29, Joshua 24:33), though there is no evidence to show how long. The events in these chapters must have occurred in the interval between the death of Joshua and the death of Phinehas. A certain Levite, etc. It is a curious coincidence that both the Levite whose sad story is here told, and the Levite the son of Gershom of whom we read in the preceding chapters, were sojourners in the hill country of Ephraim, and also closely connected with Bethlehem-judah. Perhaps the legitimate inference (see verse 18, and Judges 20:26, Judges 20:27) is that in both cases the Levites were drawn to Ephraim by the ark being at Shiloh, and also that there was a colony of Levites at Bethlehem-judah. Whether there was any connection between the presence of Levites at Bethlehem and the annual sacrifice at Bethlehem which existed in David's time, and which argues the existence of a high place there, can only be a matter of conjecture (see 1 Samuel 9:13, and 1 Samuel 20:29). All we can say is that there was the universal prevalence of high-place worship during the time of the judges, and that the services of Levites were sought after in connection with it (Judges 17:13). On the side. Hebrew, sides. In the masculine form the word means the hip and upper part of the thigh; in the feminine, as here, it is applied only to inanimate objects, as a house, the temple, a cave, the north, a pit, a country, etc; and is used in the dual number (see 1Sa 24:4; 1 Kings 6:16; Psalms 48:3; Psalms 128:3; Isaiah 37:24; Ezekiel 32:23, etc.). It means the innermost, hindmost, furthermost parts. Its application here to the northern side of Ephraim seems to imply that the writer wrote in the south, probably in Judah. A concubine. An inferior wife, who had not the same right for herself or for her children as the wife had (see Genesis 25:6).

Judges 19:2

Played the whore, etc. Perhaps the phrase only means that she revolted from him and left him. Her returning to her father's house, and his anxiety to make up the quarrel, both discourage taking the phrase in its worst sense. Four whole months. Literally, days, four months; meaning either a year and four months, as in 1 Samuel 27:7, where, however, the and is expressed; or days (i.e. many days), viz; four months. For the use of days for a year see Exodus 13:10; Judges 17:10, etc.

Judges 19:3

To bring her again. So the Keri. But the Cethib has to bring him, i.e. it, again, viz; her heart. But the phrase to speak to her heart is such a common one for to speak friendly or kindly to any one that it is not likely that it should here be used otherwise, so that the pronoun should refer to heart. If the masculine is here the right reading, it may be an archaism making the suffix of the common gender like the plural suffix in Judges 19:24, which is masculine, though applied to women, and like the masculine pronoun itself, which is so used throughout the Pentateuch and elsewhere (see also Judges 21:12; Exodus 1:21). A couple of asses. One for himself and one for her. He rejoiced. No doubt, in part at least, because the expense of his daughter's maintenance would be transferred from himself to his daughter's husband.

Judges 19:4

Retained him. See the same phrase 2 Kings 4:8, where it is rendered she constrained him. The full phrase is in Genesis 21:18, hold him in thy hand.

Judges 19:5

Comfort thine heart, etc. Compare Genesis 18:5.

Judges 19:6

For the damsel's father had said, etc; or rather, And the damsel's father said. He had not at first intended to stay on, but to go on his way after he had eaten and drunk (Judges 19:5). But when they had prolonged their carousal, the father of the damsel persuaded him to stay on another night.

Judges 19:7

He lodged there again. Literally, he returned and lodged there. The Septuagint and one Hebrew MS. read, And he tarried and lodged there.

Judges 19:8

And they tarried. It should rather be rendered in the imperative mood: And tarry ye until the afternoon. So they did eat both of them. The imperative comfort thine heart is in the singular because only the man and the father-in-law are represented throughout as eating and drinking both of them together. The imperative tarry ye is in the plural because it applies to the wife as well as the man.

Judges 19:9

Draweth toward evening. The Hebrew phrase, which is uncommon, is, The day is slackening to become evening, i.e. the heat and the light of the day are becoming slack and weak, and evening is coming on. The day groweth to an end. Another unusual phrase; literally, Behold the declining of the day, or, as some render it, the encamping of the day, as if the sun after his day's journey was now pitching his tent for the night. Go home. Literally, to thy tent, as in Judges 20:8. So the phrase, To your tents, O Israel, means, Go home (see 1 Kings 12:16, etc.).

Judges 19:10

Jebus. See Judges 1:21, note. Jerusalem is numbered among Joshua's conquests at Joshua 10:23; Joshua 12:10. But from this verse it would appear that the Israelite population had withdrawn and left the city to be entirely occupied by the Jebusites, who held it till the time of David (2 Samuel 5:6). Jerusalem is only about two hours from Bethlehem.

Judges 19:12

Gibeah (or ha-Gibeah, the hill).. In the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28); Saul's birthplace. Its modern name is Jeba It would be about two and a half hours' further journey from Jerusalem.

Judges 19:13

Ramah (ha-Ramah, the height). Now er-Ram, less than an hour's journey from Gibeah, both being about equi-distant from Jerusalem.

Judges 19:15

A street of the city. Rather, the broad space or place near the gate, such as is usual in an Oriental city (cf. Ruth 4:1). There was no man that took them into his house. This absence of the common rites of hospitality toward strangers was a sign of the degraded character of the men of Gibeah

, saying, It shall come to pass that all who see it will say, There hath been nothing done and nothing seen like this from the day, etc. But the A.V. makes very good sense, and the Hebrew will bear it. Consider of it, etc. The general sense of the whole nation was to call a national council to decide what to do. The Levite had succeeded in arousing the indignation of the twelve tribes to avenge his terrible wrong.

HOMILETICS

Judges 19:1-30

The downward progress.

It is certainly not without a purpose that we have in Holy Scripture from time to time exhibitions of sin in its most repulsive and revolting forms. The general rule which tells us that "it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" is, as it were, violated on these occasions, because it is more important that the depravity of which human nature is capable at its worst should be revealed, than that the blush of shame should be prevented by its concealment. Sin, in some of its forms, is so disguised, and toned down, and softened, that the natural mind of man does not shrink from it with abhorrence, or perceive its deadly nature, or its fatal consequences. But it is essential that sin should be known to be what it is, and especially that it should be made clear by what gradual descents a man may glide from one stage of wickedness to another, fill, under favouring circumstances, he reaches a depth of vileness which at one time would have seemed impossible. The process by which this descent is reached is not difficult to trace. There is in every man a certain moral sense which restrains him from the commission of certain acts, whether of falsehood, dishonesty, cruelty, injustice, sensuality, or any other form of sin. And while that moral sense is maintained in its vigour, such acts may appear to him impossible for him to commit. But this moral sense is weakened, and more or less broken down, by every action done in contradiction to its authority. At each successive stage of descent there is a less shock to the weakened moral sense by the aspect of such or such sins than there was at the preceding stage. The sin appears less odious, and the resisting power is less strong. It is very true that in many instances, even after the moral sense is broken down, the force of public opinion, the sense of a man's own interests, habit, the authority of the law, and other causes external to a man's self, operate to keep him within certain bounds, and to restrain him from certain excesses of unrighteousness. But, on the other hand, it may and often does happen that these counteracting causes are not in operation. A man is placed in a society where public opinion countenances vice, where he does not seem to be in danger of any loss in reputation or in fortune by the basest acts of villainy, where the authority of law is in abeyance, and, in a word, where there is no barrier but the fear of God and his own moral sense to restrain him from the lowest depths of wickedness. Then the melancholy transition from light to darkness takes place without let or hindrance. Self-respect, honour, decency, kind feeling towards others, reverence for mankind, justice, shame, burn gradually with a dimmer and a dimmer light within, and finally the last spark of the light of humanity goes out, and leaves nothing but the horror of a great darkness, in which no crime or wickedness shocks, and no struggle of the conscience is kept up. The men of Gibeah had reached this fearful depth. Not suddenly, we may be sure, for nemo repente fiet turpissimus; but by a gradual downward progress. There must have been for them a time when God's mighty acts by the Red Sea, in the wilderness, in the wars of Canaan, were fresh in their thoughts, or in their, or their parents', memories. The great name of Joshua, the living example of Phinehas, the traditions of the surviving elders, must have set before them a standard of righteousness, and impressed them with a sense of being the people of God. But they had not acted up to their high calling. Doubtless they had mingled with the heathen and learnt their works. Their hearts had declined from God, from his fear and service. Idolatry had eaten as a canker into their moral principle. Its shameful licentiousness had enticed and overcome them. The Spirit of God was vexed within them. The light of his word was quenched in the darkness of a gross materialism. Utter callousness of conscience came on. They began to sneer at virtue, and to scoff at the fear of God. When the fear of God was gone, the honour due to man and due to themselves would soon go too. And thus it came to pass at the time of this history that the whole community was sunk to the level of the vilest heathenism. Hospitality to strangers, though those strangers were their own flesh and blood, there was none; pity for the homeless and weary, though one of them was a woman, there was none either; respect for neighbours and fellow-townsmen, common decency and humanity, and every feeling which distinguishes a man from a wild beast or a devil, had wholly left their vile breasts, and, people of God as they were by privilege and covenant, they were in their abandonedness wholly the children of the devil. The example thus recorded with unflinching truth is needed for our generation. The Israelites were separated from God by abominable idolatries. The attempt of our age is to separate men from God by a blasphemous denial of his Being. The result is the same, however it may be arrived at Let the fear of God be once extinct in the human breast, and reverence for man and for a man's own nature will inevitably perish too. Virtue cannot survive godliness. The spirit of man is fed by the Spirit of God. Extinguish the spiritual, and nothing of man remains but the corrupt flesh. And man without spirit is no man at all. It is in the cultivation of spiritual affections, in the constant strengthening of the moral sense, in steady resistance to the first beginnings of sin, and in steadfast cleaving to God, that man's safety lies. It is in the maintenance of religion that the safety of society consists. Without the fear of God man would soon become a devil, and earth would become a hell.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

Judges 19:1

Cf. on Judges 18:1-13.—M.

Judges 19:4-10

Troublesome hospitality.

There is no more vivid picture of this extravagance. The Levite is delayed beyond all his reckoning, and perhaps through this is exposed to the evils subsequently narrated. There is a latent purpose betrayed by the anxiety of his host, which robs the offer of its simplicity and true hospitality. Like all who simulate a virtue for other than the mere love of it, he oversteps the bounds of modesty and decorum, and becomes an inconvenience instead of a help.

I. TRUE HOSPITALITY SHOULD BE FOR THE SAKE OF THE GUEST, AND NOT THE HOST.

II. EXCESS OF HOSPITALITY MAY ENTAIL INCONVENIENCE AND WRONG UPON OUR GUEST.

III. WHERE HOSPITALITY IS OFFERED FOR SOME EXTRINSIC PURPOSE, IT LOSES ITS TRUE CHARACTER.

IV. CHRIST THE GRAND EXAMPLE OF THE HOST. His moderation; careful calculation as to needs of his guests; fulness of human sympathy; impartation of spiritual grace to the humbler viands.—M.

Judges 19:14-21

Exceptional hospitality. How welcome!

Few of us but have at some time or other been belated in a strange place. We know nobody, and perhaps the people are reserved and suspicious. In such a case one friend, the only one, and, like this man, depending upon daily work for daily bread, becomes of inestimable service. The feeling of homelessness would be deepened in the case of the Levite when he recalled the good cheer from which he had come.

I. THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN STRANGERS THEMSELVES ARE BEST ABLE TO SYMPATHISE WITH STRANGERS. "He sojourned in Gibeah."

II. THE POOR ARE OFTEN MORE HOSPITABLE THAN THE RICH. Their occupation often introduces them to persons in distress. "What would the poor do if it were not for the poor?" Simplicity of life tends to cultivate true sympathy.

III. THERE IS NO PLACE SO WICKED AND UNLOVING AS TO BE WITHOUT SOME WITNESS TO TRUTH AND GOODNESS. What a hell this Gibeah! Yet in it was one "like unto the Son of man." What judgments he may have averted from its guilty inhabitants! Exceptional piety like this is no accidental thing; still less can it be the product of surrounding social influences. There are many ways in which we nay serve our fellows, if the love of God be in our hearts. Perhaps the people thought him eccentric; many would despise him as poor and a stranger; but he was the one man who did God's work at a time when it sorely needed to be done. Shall not such hospitality be remembered in the kingdom? "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in," etc. (Matthew 25:35, Matthew 25:40).—M.

Judges 19:30

Unparalleled crime: the spirit and method in which its problems are to be met

The narrative of the book has been gradually deepening in tragic interest and moral importance; it now reaches its climax. The sentence which the people themselves passed upon this crime is repeated, that public inquiry may be directed to the significance of it, to the causes of its production, and the means for preventing the recurrence of similar enormities. To the author the unity of the nation, publicly represented in the tabernacle at Shiloh and the throne of the new kingdom, as the outward symbols of theocratic government, is the grand specific, and the proof of this may be said to be the dogmatic purpose of his work. Studying the same problem in its modern illustrations, we are carried onward to a deeper and more radical cause, and, consequently, to the need of a more potent and inward influence of restraint and salvation. But do we study sufficiently, from the higher philosophic and religious standpoint, the great crimes that startle us from day to day? Would it not be a "means of grace" by no means to be despised were we to grapple with the spiritual and practical bearings of such occurrences? There could not well be a more judicious course in such events than that advised by the writer. It is terse, natural, philosophic.

I. PERSONAL MEDITATION. "Consider it." In all its relations; our own as well as others. Let it show us the measure of public declension in morals and religion. Ask what neglect in the matter of education, social fellowship, or religious teaching and influence will account for it. How far am I as an individual in sympathy with the ideas, customs, and whole cast of public life in my time? How far am I my brother's keeper? Can anything be done to rouse the public conscience to a keener and more influential activity? How easy or how difficult would a similar clime be to myself? Prayers that I may be kept from such a thing, and may lead others into a better way.

II. CONSULTATION. Not at random, but of persons qualified to advise. The deliberations of the "Prisoners' Aid Society" would furnish a model for practical discussion. But "statistics" will never solve the problem. It is a question of human depravity, and a general repentance and alarmed attention is needed.

III. JUDGMENT. A careful, mature, well-informed and advised opinion; but, as being the opinion of the nation, it must be carried into effect. Something must be done, as well as thought. How valuable and influential such a judgment! It carries within itself the seeds of reformation and the conditions of recovery.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

Judges 19:16-21

Hospitality.

I. THOUGH MEN WHO ARE ABANDONED TO SINFUL PLEASURES MAY DELIGHT IN THE SOCIETY OF BOON COMPANIONS, THEY WILL SHOW THEMSELVES WANTING IN THE GENEROSITY OF TRUE HOSPITALITY. The men of Gibeah would unite in seeming friendliness for riotous wickedness; but they were wanting in the almost universal Eastern kindness to the stranger. The intemperate and vicious may appear to be more generous in their boisterous freedom than persons of more strict habits; but they are too selfish for real generosity. Self-indulgence is essentially selfish; vice is naturally morose.

II. WE SHOULD ENDEAVOUR TO DO RIGHT, THOUGH THIS MAY BE CONTRARY TO THE EXAMPLE OF OUR NEIGHBOURS. The old man was shocked at the inhospitality of the men of Gibeah. He was not a native of the place, and though he may have lived there long, he retained the kinder habits of his native home. When at Rome we are not to do as Rome does if this is clearly wrong. Englishmen abroad may find it difficult to resist the bad social influences of foreign towns; but if they are Christians they will feel that the universal prevalence of a bad custom is no justification for their adoption of it. Yet how difficult it is to see our duty when this is contrary to the habits of the society in which we live, and how much more difficult to be independent and firm in performing it!

III. KINDNESS TO STRANGERS IS A DUTY OBLIGATORY UPON ALL OF US. The graphic picture of the old man returning from his work in the fields at even and taking note of the houseless strangers is the one relieving feature in the terrible story of that night's doings. Modern and Western habits may modify the form of our hospitality, but they cannot exonerate us from the duty to show similar kindness under similar circumstances. From the mythical gentleman who excused himself for not saving a drowning man because he had not been introduced to him, to the Yorkshire native, who, seeing a strange face in his hamlet, cried, "Let's heave a brick at him!" how common it is for people to limit their kindness to persons of their acquaintance! The parable of the good Samaritan teaches us that any one who needs our help is our neighbour (Luke 10:29-37).

IV. KINDNESS TO STRANGERS MAY BE REWARDED BY THE DISCOVERY OF UNKNOWN TIES OF FRIENDSHIP. The old man finds that the Levite comes from his own part of the country. Doubtless he was thus able to hear tidings of old acquaintances. The world is not so large as it appears. The stranger is often nearer to us than we suspect. Though true hospitality expects no return (Luke 14:12-14), it may find unlooked-for reward in newly-discovered friendly associations.—A.

Judges 19:22-28

Monstrous wickedness.

Now and again the world is horrified by the news of some frightful atrocity before which ordinary sin looks almost virtuous. How is such wickedness possible?

I. MONSTROUS WICKEDNESS IS A FRUIT OF SELFISHNESS. The men of Gibeah were abandoned to gross self-indulgence till they utterly ignored the rights and sufferings of others. Nothing is so cruelly selfish as the degradation of that most unselfish affection love. When selfish pleasure is the one motive of conduct, men are blinded in conscience more than by any other influence.

II. MONSTROUS WICKEDNESS IS ATTAINED THROUGH SUCCESSIVE DEGREES OF DEPRAVITY. NO man suddenly falls from innocence to gross licentiousness and heartless cruelty. The first step is slight; each following step seems but a small increase of sin, till the bottom of the very pit of iniquity is reached almost unconsciously. If the wicked man could have foreseen the depth of his fall from the first he would not have believed it possible. Men should beware of the first step downward.

III. MONSTROUS WICKEDNESS IS MOST ADVANCED IN THE SOCIETY OF MANY BAD MEN. As fire burns most when drawn together, vice is most inflamed when men are companions in wickedness. Each tempts the rest by his example. Guilt appears to be lessened by being shared. Men excuse their conduct by comparing it with that of their neighbours. Thus the greatest depravity is most often seen in cities—in the concourse of many men. In the excitement of a mob men will commit excesses from which they would shrink in solitary action. Yet responsibility is still individual, and each man must ultimately answer for his own sins.

IV. MONSTROUS WICKEDNESS IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE VERY GREATNESS OF MAN'S NATURE. Human nature has a wide range of capacities. Man can rise infinitely above the brute, and he can fall infinitely below the brute. He can rise to the angelic, he can fall to the devilish. His originality of imagination, power of inventiveness, and freedom of will open to him avenues of evil as well as pathways of good which are closed to the more dull life of the animal world. The greater the capacity of the instrument, the more horrible is the discord which results from its getting out of tune. Those men who have the highest genius have the faculty for the worst sin. So tremendous is the capacity of the soul both for good and for evil, that the wise and humble man, fearing to trust it alone to the temptations of life, will learn to "commit it to the keeping of a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19).—A.

Judges 19:30

The duty of considering painful subjects.

I. IT IS WRONG FOR THE CHURCH TO IGNORE THE WICKEDNESS OF THE WORLD. The Church is not at liberty to enjoy the flowers and fruits of her "little garden walled around" to the neglect of the waste howling wilderness outside. She has no right to shut her eyes to the world's sin while she dreams fair dreams of the ultimate perfection of mankind. A good deal of foolish optimism is talked by people who will not take the trouble to inquire into the real state of society. That is a false fastidiousness which refuses to take note of dark subjects because they are revolting and contaminating. True purity will be shocked not simply at the knowledge of evil, but more at the existence of it, and will find expression not merely in shunning the sight of it, but in actively overcoming it. Such action, however, can only be taken after the evil has been recognised. It is, therefore, the work of the Church to consider seriously the fearful evils of profligacy, intemperance, and social corruption generally. The duty of contemplating heavenly things is no excuse for ignoring the evil of the world, which it is our express duty to enlighten and purify by means of the gospel of Christ.

II. MONSTROUS WICKEDNESS SHOULD EXCITE DEEP AND SERIOUS CONSIDERATION. It is easy to be indignant. But the hasty passion of indignation may do more harm than good. It may strike in the wrong place; it may only touch superficial symptoms and leave the root of the evil; and it is likely to die down as quickly as it springs up. Great sins should be visited not with the rage of vindictiveness, but with grave, severe justice. We should "consider and take advice," reflect, consult, discuss the cause and the remedy. Undisciplined human nature will express horror and seek revenge at the revelation of a great crime. It wants Christian thoughtfulness and a deep, sad conviction of duty to practise self-restraint in the moment of indignation, and to investigate the painful subject with care after the interest of a temporary excitement has flagged.

III. IT IS OUR DUTY TO SPEAK OUT AND TAKE ACTION IN RELATION TO PAINFUL SUBJECTS WHEN ANYTHING CAN BE DONE TO EFFECT AN IMPROVEMENT. Evils are allowed to go unchecked because a false modesty dreads to speak of them. The men and women who overcome this and bravely advocate unpopular questions should be treated with all honour by the Christian Church. If the Christian does nothing to check the vicious practices and corrupt institutions which surround him, he becomes responsible for their continued existence.—A.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/judges-19.html. 1897.