Chapter 19


The Levite and the Tribe of Benjamin (19:1-21:25)

The Levite and His Concubine

        • In those days there was no king in Israel. There was a certain Levite, living as a foreigner in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim who took a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah.

        • HCSB notes, “Scripture offers certain guidelines regarding whom priests were allowed to marry (Lv 21:14-15), but says nothing about priests having concubines.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “A concubine was a female servant or slave regarded as part of the family. Her usual function was to enlarge the family via childbearing (cf Abraham’s concubine Hagar [Gen 16]; Jacob’s concubines Bilhah and Zilpah [Gen 30:4-13]). Bethlehem in Judah was the origin of Micah’s priest (Judg 17:9) and the eventual hometown of King David.”

        • However, she became angry with him and went back home to her father in Bethlehem in Judah, and was there for about 4 months. Then her husband set out to come speak kindly to her in order to bring her back, bringing his servant and a couple of donkeys with him. So, she brought him to her father’s house and when her father saw him he was glad to meet him. His father-in-law (the girl’s father) urged him to stay, and he remained with him for three days. So they ate, drank, and stayed the night there.

          • Many translations read that the concubine was unfaithful to him. However, I have opted for the reading of the LXX, with states that she was angry with him. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains:

          • The text is open to suspicion. LXX. cod. A reads was angry with him; this suits the context, which implies a quarrel, but not unfaithfulness, on the woman’s part; she left him in anger and returned to her father’s house, whither the Levite followed to pacify her (Jdg 19:3 f.). How are we to account for the reading of the text? Moore ingeniously suggests that by the transposition of two letters she was angry (te’ĕnaph) might have become ‘she committed adultery’ (tin’aph), which was altered by the Jews to ‘played the harlot,’ on the ground that only a wedded wife could be said to commit adultery. It is simpler to suppose that the original she was angry was deliberately altered under a misconception of the relationship.”

        • On the fourth day, they got up early in the morning and prepared to go, but his father-in-law said to him, “Have something to eat to strengthen yourself before you go.” So, they sat down and ate and drank together, and his father-in-law said, “Please stay another night and enjoy yourself.” The man got up to go, but his father-in-law persuaded him to stay another night. On the fifth day, he got up early to go home, but his father-in-law said, “Please keep up your strength and wait until afternoon.” So, they both ate. When the man got up to leave with his concubine and his servant, his father-in-law said, “Look, it is almost evening. Please spend the night, the day is almost over. Spend the night, enjoy yourself, then you can get up early in the morning to journey home.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible provides some context, “An elaborate and extended ritual of hospitality is played out here; the Levite stayed in the home of his concubine’s father for five days on the insistent urging of the father. Strict codes of hospitality still play a part in many tribal Near Eastern cultures…”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “The fact that the man feasted with his father-in-law…indicates that whatever the cause of the tension between the man and his concubine, unlike Samson’s case, the relationship between husband and father-in-law appears not to have been strained.”

        • But the man wasn’t willing to spend the night, so he got up and left with his two donkeys and his concubine and headed in the direction of Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). When they were close to Jebus, and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Please, let’s go to this Jebusite city and spend the night there.” But his master replied, “We will not stay in a city of foreigners who aren’t Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah. Come on, let’s head toward one of those places and spend the night in Gibeah or Ramah.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Jerusalem was in the hands of the Jebusites at this time and is thus referred to as a city of foreigners.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The city’s old name [Jebus] and its foreign status in Israel persisted until its capture by David. The two Benjaminite towns of Gibeah and Ramah have a prominent place in Israelite history, connected as they are with judges (Deborah, 4:5), priests (Eleazar, Josh 24:33), prophets (Samuel, 1 Sam 8:4), and kings (Saul, 1 Sam 10:26). The account of Gibeah’s noble history compounds the tragedy of the events that followed.”

        • They continued on their journey and the sun set as they neared Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, so they went to spend the night there at Gibeah. When they entered, they went and sat down in the open city square, because no one took them into their home to spend the night.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “…The town square was typically located just inside the city gates…On a normal day, all the residents would pass through the square and through the gate in the morning on the way to work out in the fields, and would return through the gate and the square in the evening…The present travelers assumed that, as the residents returned and passed by them, surely someone would invite them to their home for the night. The square is the last place a visitor would choose to spend the night; the Levites’ predicament demonstrates the general inhospitability of the town.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The normal rules of hospitality in Israel and the rest of the Near East obligated a citizen of the town to take them in (cp Isa 58:7; Luke 14:13-14; Rom 12:13; 1 Tim 3:2; 5:10; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9). The Levite had funds and provisions (Judg 19:19), so there was even less excuse. The erosion of common civility is yet another evidence of social dysfunction in the time of Judges.”

        • That evening, an old man came in from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country in Ephraim, but he was living as a foreigner in Gibeah, where the people were Benjaminites. When he raised his eyes and saw the traveler in the square, he said, “Where are you going and where do you come from?” And he replied, “We’re coming from Bethlehem in Judah and going to the remote hill country in Ephraim, because I am from there and I went to Bethlehem in Judah and now I’m returning home. No one has taken me into his home to spend the night, even though we have everything we need- straw and feed for our donkeys, and bread and wine for me, your female servant, and the young man with your servants.”

          • Here again I have sided with the Septuagint rendering which states that the man was returning home instead of the Hebrew reading that the man was headed to the house of Yahweh. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains:

          • the house of the Lord] The marg. is to be preferred; the last letter of bêthî = my house was taken as the initial of the divine name Yahweh. A converse mistake occurs in Jeremiah 6:11, where fury of Yahweh has become my fury in the LXX. There is nothing in the context to suggest that the Levite was going to Shiloh.”

          • Some Bible translations (NLT, ESV) note a comparison to verse 29, which indicates that he went home, not to the house of Yahweh (the Tabernacle).

        • The old man said, “Peace to you. I’ll take care of your needs, only don’t spend the night in the square.” So, he brought him into his house, fed the donkeys, and they washed their feet, ate, and drank.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The note of urgency in the old man’s response foreshadowed the coming trouble (cp Gen 19:2-3).”

        • While they were enjoying themselves, certain worthless men of the city surrounded the house and beat on the door saying to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house so that we can have sex with him!”

          • On the “worthless men of the city” ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “Literally, ‘sons of Belial.’ In the OT, the term ‘Belial’ is used descriptively, speaking of perverted or worthless people (cf 20:13; 1 Sam 10:27; 1 Kings 21:13).

        • The owner of the house went out to them and said, “No, my brothers, don’t do this wicked thing. Since this man has come into my house, don’t do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out. Violate them and do whatever you want, but don’t do this disgraceful thing to this man.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “It was shameful to be inhospitable to a visitor, but the evil demands of the crowd went beyond a lack of hospitality. They intended violence against the visitor (see 20:5). The old man attempted to preserve the social obligation of hospitality at the cost of handing over the vulnerable to be harmed (cp Jas 1:27). There is no way, in our age or theirs, to soften the horror of what followed. The period of the judges was coming to an end in deepest depravity…”

          • Guzik says, “Their request was the same made by the homosexuals who surrounded the house of Lot in Sodom (Genesis 19:5). The picture is clear: During the time of the Judges, Israel was as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah…Though the perverted men of Gibeah were clearly guilty, so were the Levite and the host of the home. They clearly should have been willing to sacrifice themselves before their daughters and companions.”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “…In demanding to have sexual intercourse with the Levite, the residents of Gibeah…violate three fundamental social/moral laws: the law of hospitality, the proscription on intercourse outside of marriage, and proscription on homosexual intercourse, clearly laid out in the laws of the Pentateuch. (Lev 18:22; 20:13).”

        • But the men wouldn’t listen to him, so the man grabbed his concubine and took her out to them. They raped her and abused her all night long, only letting her go at daybreak. As day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the man’s house where her master was, until it was full daylight.

          • Guzik writes, “Centuries later, Israel still remembered this crime at Gibeah, and used it as an example of wickedness. They are deeply corrupted, as in the days of Gibeah (Hosea 9:9); O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah (Hosea 10:9).”

        • In the morning, when her master got up and opened the door to continue on his journey, he saw his concubine lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up. Let’s go.” But there was no response. So the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.

        • Guzik notes, “This is a painfully clear demonstration of the heartlessness of the Levite towards his concubine.”

        • When he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine, he cut her, limb by limb, into 12 pieces, and sent her throughout the whole territory of Israel. Everyone who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen since the day the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt until today. Think about it, discuss it, and speak up!”

            • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The Levite’s matter-of-fact reaction to his concubine’s death illustrates his callousness. His gruesome response was to cut her into twelve pieces and send them to the 12 tribes to rally them against Gibeah. Saul later did the same thing with a yoke of oxen (1 Sam 11:7)…”

            • On the statement that “nothing like this has ever happened or been seen…” the same sources notes, “It is unclear which was being referred to here- the actions of the men of Gibeah or the cutting up of the concubine. Most likely it was the former (cf Judg 20:10).”

          • HCSB writes this poignant summary of this horrific chapter and makes the important observation that the inclusion of atrocities like these point to the reliability and accuracy of the Bible over other ancient religious texts. The Bible isn’t interested in presenting a white-washed history. We get the truth:

            • This passage, with its gory outcome, reveals the degraded condition into which Israelite life had fallen during this period. The Levite’s speaking tenderly to his concubine might suggest that he truly cared for her, but his actions belied his words. First, he waited four months after her abrupt departure before he sought to bring her home (vv. 2-3). Second, he delivered her to the sexual ravages of a mob to protect himself and others (v. 25). Third, the morning after the rape when he found her lying at the doorstep of the house, he treated her without compassion, demanding she rise and leave with him. The narrator does not gloss over the horror of these events, but records them as they happened and does not try to reconcile the attitudes and actions of the people about whom he wrote. The inspiration of Scripture does not require that only comforting and edifying material be presented in historical narrative; inspiration requires that the true picture be laid out, even when events are disgusting.”