As already mentioned, also Judges 19-21 form a whole. They deal with a particular event and its results, and expose the moral condition of the people.
God never disguises the condition of His own, neither in the individual nor in the people as a whole. Painfully detailed is described an event that is unparalleled among the people of God. It can be shocking to read such a thing, but it must be done. God has not included this in His Word for nothing. Each of us must become aware that these are actions that each of us can take. He who thinks he is not capable of such a thing, knows himself badly. It is also good and beneficial to know that God also knows the worst of us.
The Lord Jesus also wanted to bear that for all his own. He knows like no other the hidden depths of the human heart and what can arise when the opportunity arises, or the circumstances are appropriate. He knows what it means to be in God’s presence with this. That is why in Gethsemane His sweat has become like large drops of blood. There He felt the suffering on the cross, where He was made sin and God’s wrath struck Him because of sin.
If the connection with God is abandoned – we have seen this in Judges 17-18 – the unity of the people is also broken, and there is no longer any question of building up together in love and peace. After breaking the first tablet of the law, which regulates the connection between the people and God, the second tablet, which regulates the connections between the people, is now broken. The break with God also causes any other connection to be broken.
We can make the following subdivision:
1. Judges 19 describes sin;
2. Judges 20 describes the treatment of it, how the people deal with it;
3. Judges 21 describes the result of that treatment.
1 No Longer Authority in Israel
1 Now it came about in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, who took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah.
The first verse tells us directly in what time the events that take place before our eyes happen. It shows how it is possible that this atrocity, with all its miserable aftermath, which God’s Spirit describes in such detail, can take place. There is no recognized authority to which one has to submit. Everyone is his own law. This creates a fertile ground for the most horrible excesses of the evil heart of man who has turned his back on God. If it is also someone who has an outward connection with God, but does not take the authority of God into account in his life, someone who has even pushed Him aside, then the deepest fall is near.
If there is any recognition of God in the Levite from the previous chapters, there is nothing left of God in the Levite about whom we read here. God does not seem to exist for him. Here the saying is confirmed that the corruption of the best is the worst corruption. We are dealing with matters among the people of God, about which even in the world are condemned (cf. 1Cor 5:1).
2 The Unfaithfulness of the Concubine
2 But his concubine played the harlot against him, and she went away from him to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah, and was there for a period of four months.
If in the course of history we see how the Levite deals with his concubine, she will not have felt very comfortable with him. There is nothing to discover of any affection. This is also evident from the fact that it is only after four full months that he comes to look for her. This does not acquit the woman. She also does what she wants. The fact that she is not happy with her husband is not a license for her to go to bed with another man. The woman’s behavior also depicts what the Levite himself is, namely unfaithful in his relationship with God.
3 - 10 The Reunification and the Departure
3 Then her husband arose and went after her to speak tenderly to her in order to bring her back, taking with him his servant and a pair of donkeys. So she brought him into her father’s house, and when the girl’s father saw him, he was glad to meet him. 4 His father-in-law, the girl’s father, detained him; and he remained with him three days. So they ate and drank and lodged there. 5 Now on the fourth day they got up early in the morning, and he prepared to go; and the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Sustain yourself with a piece of bread, and afterward you may go.” 6 So both of them sat down and ate and drank together; and the girl’s father said to the man, “Please be willing to spend the night, and let your heart be merry.” 7 Then the man arose to go, but his father-in-law urged him so that he spent the night there again. 8 On the fifth day he arose to go early in the morning, and the girl’s father said, “Please sustain yourself, and wait until afternoon”; so both of them ate. 9 When the man arose to go along with his concubine and servant, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Behold now, the day has drawn to a close; please spend the night. Lo, the day is coming to an end; spend the night here that your heart may be merry. Then tomorrow you may arise early for your journey so that you may go home.” 10 But the man was not willing to spend the night, so he arose and departed and came to [a place] opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). And there were with him a pair of saddled donkeys; his concubine also was with him.
It takes four months before the man decides to look for his wife. He wants to bring her back. It is possible that he only wants to bring her back because of the defamation he experiences when people ask where she is. He always has to tell that his wife has run away. He will try to persuade his wife to go with him by working on her mind or, as it says here, “to speak tenderly to her”.
Nothing shows that he wants to try to convince his wife of her unfaithfulness and the necessity to confess her sin. Nor does the whole story show anywhere that his wife agrees to go with him. Nowhere do we read that she says anything. Her act of harlotry and her gruesome end bear witness to how her life has been. She has no place in the conversation of the man with her father. We can make this out of verse 6 and verse 8 where there is talk of “both of them”, which in both cases means the man and the father.
In this conversation the man makes himself known as a bon vivant who is looking for fleshly convenience. He is easy to persuade. He is a man without a backbone, whose life is filled with food and drink (verse 4) and being merry (verse 6). He stays for three days. When he wants to leave at the start of the fourth day, his father-in-law manages to keep him on a leash with food and drinks so that he stays all day long. He even persuades him to stay the night and be merry. This ‘being merry’ again is because of food and drink. His cheerful life continues day and night. Life becomes one big party.
The father-in-law manages to hold the Levite for a fifth day with food and drinks. So five days have passed. It is only on the evening of the fifth day that he sets off. This time he is no longer persuaded. But the time of his departure does not exactly guarantee a prosperous journey. The delay that he has had will be disastrous for him.
As a general lesson we can learn from this that it is good to know not only that we have to go somewhere, but also that we know when we have to go. With the Levite, there is purely an action according to the situation of the moment and according to the hunch of his own heart. After all, it is the time that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”, isn’t it? These people are characterized by the fact that “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18). The Levite thinks that now is the time to go, so he goes, without wondering if the time is right.
11 - 14 Spend the Night: Jebus or Gibeah
11 When they [were] near Jebus, the day was almost gone; and the servant said to his master, “Please come, and let us turn aside into this city of the Jebusites and spend the night in it.” 12 However, his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners who are not of the sons of Israel; but we will go on as far as Gibeah.” 13 He said to his servant, “Come and let us approach one of these places; and we will spend the night in Gibeah or Ramah.” 14 So they passed along and went their way, and the sun set on them near Gibeah which belongs to Benjamin.
After a short trip, it is time to find a place to spend the night. After all, the day was already going to an end when they left. Jebus comes in sight. The servant proposes to go there. But that’s not what the Levite wants. What are the objections against Jebus? He calls it “into the city of foreigners who are not of the sons of Israel”. That is what is called an example of Pharisaism. Pharisees are people to whom the Lord Jesus says: “Hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Mt 23:25). Apparently the Levite doesn’t want to have a connection with wrong from the outside, but he himself is full of impurity inside.
This contains the warning that we must be careful not to have an unequal proportion between our personal sanctification and our public action, in other words, between doctrine and life. There should be no difference between them. What people see of us should be the result of our inner fellowship with God and what He has made clear to us through His Word. If our actions for people are meticulous, while our personal, inner sanctification for God is not so meticulous, there is no awareness of what sin really is. The remainder of this chapter clearly shows this. The Levite does not take God into account, only what people might say. He acts as if Israel were still living close to God, while the people have already deviated far from God.
In the light of the spiritual state in Israel, what is written in verse 14 – “and the sun set on them near Gibeah” – is more than the description of a natural phenomenon. The sun literally sets, that’s right, it’s going to be night, but it’s also the referral to the decay in Israel and especially here in Gibeah. It is a place where it will soon become clear in a terrible way how great the spiritual darkness in the hearts of the inhabitants is.
It is obvious that the Levite does not know what kind of immoral place he enters. This also shows that he has no interest whatsoever in the honor of God among his people. Surely a Levite is someone appointed by God to teach His law to the people, isn’t he? So Moses said it in his blessing of Levi (Deu 33:10a). Apparently this Levite doesn’t care about that. What does the state of God’s people care to him? He thinks only of his own interest and not that of God and his people (cf. Phil 2:4).
15 - 21 Lodging in Gibeah
15 They turned aside there in order to enter [and] lodge in Gibeah. When they entered, they sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into [his] house to spend the night. 16 Then behold, an old man was coming out of the field from his work at evening. Now the man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was staying in Gibeah, but the men of the place were Benjamites. 17 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city; and the old man said, “Where are you going, and where do you come from?” 18 He said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, [for] I am from there, and I went to Bethlehem in Judah. But I am [now] going to my house, and no man will take me into his house. 19 Yet there is both straw and fodder for our donkeys, and also bread and wine for me, your maidservant, and the young man who is with your servants; there is no lack of anything.” 20 The old man said, “Peace to you. Only let me take care of all your needs; however, do not spend the night in the open square.” 21 So he took him into his house and gave the donkeys fodder, and they washed their feet and ate and drank.
The choice is made, Gibeah will be the place where they will spend the night. Arriving there, a very cool reception awaits them. The first acquaintance with this city must have been cold, after the abundant hospitality in his father-in-law’s house. This shows the low moral level of the inhabitants of Gibeah. The usual hospitality is not respected. Where one is focused on the satisfaction of one’s own needs, one loses sight of the care for the members of God’s people and one doesn’t get around to grant hospitality. That was the case then, it is still the case now.
Fortunately, they are noticed by an old man who comes from work and is on his way home. The old man lives there as a stranger, just like Lot in Sodom at the time. He first asks some questions. The Danites did the same (Jdg 18:3). We noted that Levite’s eyes would have been opened to the things he was doing, if he had thought carefully about those questions. We can also apply this here. He tells that he wants to go from “Bethlehem in Judah to the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim” to arrive at “the house of the LORD” (as it also can be translated).
The environment to which he wants to go is that which he has left in verse 1. He adds that he is on his way to the house of the LORD, which in his days is in Bethel or in Shiloh. It is not clear whether he wants to stay there or just pay a visit. In any case, when mentioning those places his conscience does not speak. It does not remind him of his own unfaithfulness to God and of what happened to his wife. A person who is far removed from God with his conscience no longer sees the hand of God. If he indicates that he is on his way to the house of the LORD, it may well have to do with satisfying a religious need that arises from his feelings and not from a desire to meet the LORD.
He complains about the lack of hospitality. He only needs lodging. He doesn’t need anything else, because as far as the rest is concerned, he is provided with everything. Yet his need will turn out to be greater than he thinks. Because the old man knows how things are in the city, he doesn’t let the visitors spend the night on the square, but gives them shelter for the night.
It seems that the Levite has found a good place for the night, where he can give in to his desires for food and drink. But it soon becomes clear that this hospitality does not mean protection against the immoral practices of the citizens of the city.
22 - 26 The Scandal at Gibeah
22 While they were celebrating, behold, the men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.” 23 Then the man, the owner of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly. 24 Here is my virgin daughter and his concubine. Please let me bring them out that you may ravish them and do to them whatever you wish. But do not commit such an act of folly against this man.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and brought [her] out to them; and they raped her and abused her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of dawn. 26 As the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the man’s house where her master was, until [full] daylight.
While the Levite is feasting on eating and drinking, as if life only consists of that, he is confronted with the harsh reality of the “sensual conduct of unprincipled men” (2Pet 2:7), as Lot came into contact with it in earlier times when he lived in Sodom (Gen 19:4-5). However, there is a big difference. What used to take place in the heathen Sodom now takes place in Israel, among the people of God, by people who bear God’s Name. No angels come here to intervene, as they did in Genesis 19 (Gen 19:10-11). Later God will say of His people: “All of them have become to Me like Sodom, And her inhabitants like Gomorrah” (Jer 23:14).
In the New Testament we come across such an equation when we place the section of Romans 1:29-32 next to the section of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (Rom 1:29-32; 2Tim 3:1-5). We then discover that of the sins mentioned in Romans 1, relating to the Gentiles, many can be found in 2 Timothy 3. From 2 Timothy 3 we now know that it is about people who call themselves Christians. Israel has descended here to the level of Sodom and Gomorrah. Christianity has descended to the level of the world. Isn’t that sad for God?
The sin committed in Gibeah is that of homosexual behavior. The men of Gibeah want to have sexual intercourse with the man who has just entered their city. These people surrender themselves with a practice that is clearly forbidden in the Scriptures (Lev 18:22; 20:13). In Romans 1, this sin is mentioned as a judgment that God brings when one deviates from Him and honors and serves the creature above the Creator (Rom 1:25-27).
The Bible condemns the practice, not the person. However, if the person does not want to listen to what the Bible says, the person is identified with the sin and receives the punishment for sin. This applies to every sin that a person commits. God still has the door to forgiveness wide open. His condition is that sin is confessed wholeheartedly: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9).
A single word about homosexual feelings is appropriate here. Sometimes it happens that someone experiences a stronger attraction to people of the same sex than to people of the opposite sex. Whoever has a problem with this and, because he or she is a Christian, does not want to give in to it, needs the support of fellow Christians. The appeal to us as fellow Christians is to support such a person wholeheartedly and to support him/her in the struggle.
The reaction to the attitude of the men of Gibeah is as shocking as what those men want. The old man makes the improbable proposal to use his own daughter and his guest’s concubine to satisfy their perverse lusts. It may well be true that, in an oriental way, a host wants to fully guarantee the safety of his guest. Yet it is incomprehensible that he does this offer. It will be for his understanding that he gives permission and opportunity to commit a “small” sin to prevent a larger one. Lot has done the same with offering his daughters (Gen 19:8). In any case, it remains a disgusting and repulsive affair.
In this way every believer can act who has lost his connection with God, but still wants to uphold a certain ‘honor’ in a certain area. By living in a godless environment there is the danger of the numbing of feelings. Paul warns the believers in Ephesus – and also us – about this. Let’s never think we wouldn’t be able to do anything like that. God knows us better than we know ourselves.
Realistically and powerfully Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, says: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph 4:17-19).
How can I prevent myself from “not run with [them] into the same excesses of dissipation” (1Pet 4:4)? The following verses of Ephesians 4 give the answer. It is to look at Christ and to accept in faith that it is also said to me: “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, … and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self [lit man], which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:20-24). That is the wonderful assurance needed to live for the glory of God, amidst so many excesses and morals around me.
With the old man and the Levite there is no question of calling to God for salvation. The cold-blooded sacrifice by the Levite of his concubine shows why the woman ran away from him. He has no affection for her. He possesses her for Himself. Now he can use her to save his skin.
In sober terms, on which we should not let go of our imagination, the Bible writer tells us that they spend the whole night with her. It is indeed the works of darkness, of which we read: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret” (Eph 5:11-12). This is man who acts according to the lusts of his own heart, which is always at the expense of the other.
The woman does not survive this beastly treatment. Because she can’t go anywhere else, she goes to the house “where her master was”. He is her ‘master’, which typifies the relationship. She apparently has the same relationship with him as the servant (verse 11). She is therefore nothing more than a tool, something he can dispose of according to his will. When she arrives at the house, her strength is exhausted and she dies.
27 - 29 The Reaction of the Levite
27 When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, then behold, his concubine was lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up and let us go,” but there was no answer. Then he placed her on the donkey; and the man arose and went to his home. 29 When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout the territory of Israel.
The woman died of the sin in which she used to live, and which she had given up without repentance. God lets the measure of sin become full. At the dawn of the day, the effects of evil become visible to both woman and man. Here we see how completely indifferent the man is, how callous, how totally insensitive. You can’t imagine that he just slept. Yet it seems that he went to bed and slept well. When he gets up the next day and wants to leave a little later, he sees his wife lying down. Without any feeling of compassion, without any information about her condition, he orders her to get up.
Her hands on the threshold may speak of the appeal for protection that she has made and that every house in Israel should have given her. She must have suffered terribly, both physically and mentally, from the evil of the men of Gibeah. She must have suffered terribly, especially spiritually, because there was no one to protect her. She must have suffered horribly when, after such a horrible treatment, she could not find a hearing in the house where her husband was.
When the man sees what has happened, he loads his wife on his donkey and goes home. Coming home he cuts her into twelve pieces and sends a piece of her body to each tribe of Israel. The man acts in the cold awareness that what happened to his wife affects the whole people. Although the act took place in one particular city, the stain of what happened rests on the whole people. Everyone should know what happened. The sin of a few is the sin of the whole.
30 The Reaction in Israel
30 All who saw [it] said, “Nothing like this has [ever] happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!”
The shock is intense, the indignation great. Never has the condition of Israel been such that such a sin could take place. It is also an unparalleled sin in Israel’s popular life. Centuries later, the prophet Hosea reminds of this history to make clear to the people how deep they, again, have sunk: “They have gone deep in depravity As in the days of Gibeah. … From the days of Gibeah you have sinned, O Israel” (Hos 9:9a; 10:9a).
The people are in turmoil. What needs to be done? They call for consultation and deliberation and the making of a decision. What has happened hurts their national pride. What should the neighboring peoples think of it when they hear this?
The reproach that has been done to God with this and the shame before God that this has happened to them, His people, we read nothing about it. If they had really cared about the honor of God, they would have expressed their indignation earlier, in the previous chapters. But the idolatry of Micah and the tribe of Dan have left them cold. The dishonor inflicted on God in this way does not matter to them, nor has it caused them any turmoil. Now, however, their ‘good’ name is being daubed, now they have to act.