Judges 19 (New International Version)
A Levite and His Concubine
1 In those days Israel had no king.
Psalm 84:3 (ESV)
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
“Israel had no king.” Not God, not anyone. So take a deep breath. This chapter is a hard story to read.
Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2 But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, Judah.
“Unfaithful, or angry?” OR “Who is to blame?”
The word translated in the NIV as “unfaithful” in Hebrew is zanah. The word has a primary meaning of committing fornication, being a harlot. However, according to Koehler-Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958), 261, the word also can mean “to be angry, hateful” or to “feel repugnant against.”
Thus, taking the above meaning of the word, the translation of the NRSV makes better sense: But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah. This is the view also adopted by some ancient translations such as the Septuagint, the Targum, and the Vulgate. Neither of these ancient translations nor Josephus accused the woman of conjugal infidelity.
The NIV’s translation places the blame for the problem on the woman: she was the one who committed adultery and left. The NRSV’s translation places the blame on the husband: he did something so outrageous that in anger she left the security of her home to find security in the house of her father.
-Dr. Claude Mariottini,
Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary
After she had been there four months, 3 her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father’s house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. 4 His father-in-law, the girl’s father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.
5 On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.” 6 So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the girl’s father said, “Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.” 7 And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. 8 On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the girl’s father said, “Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!” So the two of them ate together.
9 Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said, “Now look, it’s almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.” 10 But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine.
11 When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.”
12 His master replied, “No. We won’t go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.” 13 He added, “Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.” 14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into his home for the night.
16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the men of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. 17 When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, “Where are you going? Where did you come from?”
18 He answered, “We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the LORD. No one has taken me into his house. 19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, your maidservant, and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.”
20 “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.
22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”
23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”
25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
Each person in this sordid drama was guilty, except of course for the concubine herself.
- The wicked men of Gibeah who were more like men of Sodom and Gomorrah than men of Israel.
- The master of the house who was willing to sacrifice his own daughter.
- The Levite who cared nothing for his concubine.
27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.
29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”
Biblical scholar Phyllis Trible calls this a “text of terror.”
Yes, this story shows the brutality of the times. And because of this horrible event, thousands of Israelites will die in the next chapter. But this is what we are capable of when we leave God out of our lives.
HERE is a truth which this chapter makes painfully clear: “People Need the Lord.” Sung by Steve Green