Judges 19-21, part 2 (Torah Class Notes)

One of my friends studies Torah Class, and she was kind enough to send me the discussion – it’s VERY good. 

All credit for the following is to Torah Class, not me.


This story probably took place even earlier than the story of Micah, the silver image of God, and the Levite who masqueraded as a priest. It represents one of the most infamous outrages against the Lord that is recorded in Holy Scripture, one that authors of biblical writings of much later eras referred to (so well known and repeated was this sad episode).


The theme of the book of Judges begins the story: “There was no king in Israel”. There was no law and order because there was no central authority. Although this sojourning Levite who lived in the hills of Ephraim sounds an awful lot like our previous story, it is not the same fellow but it does illustrate that Micah’s Levite hireling was not an isolated instance at all; it had become quite common for Levites to seek position and advancement wherever it could be found.


The set-up is that this anonymous Levite living in the more northern area of Ephraim had taken on a concubine whose family home was in Beit-Lechem of Judah, meaning that she was NOT a Levite but a Judahite. But at some point there was a serious problem and the woman left him and went back to her father. Verse 2 explains the nature of the problem; or does it? The CJB along with the KJV and many others says that the concubine was unfaithful to her Levite husband or some say outright that she played the harlot or acted like a whore. Now in the Hebrew the latter translation is absolutely the correct one because the Hebrew word used to describe her was that she was a zonah, meaning a prostitute, or (in some manuscripts) that she behaved zanah, which means she acted in an unfaithful manner.

However other translations will say she was angry with her husband and left him. And, those are equally good translations because they are drawn from ancient Aramaic texts and also from the Greek Septuagint, which speak of anger and NOT unfaithfulness or sexual immorality. The general consensus of Rabbis is that the Levite and his concubine had an argument of some kind and she had NOT been unfaithful to him (at least not sexually speaking). The reason is that by both the Mosaic Law and the customs and traditions of that era, a concubine or wife who had an adulterous affair was to be summarily executed. And there is no hint in this story that she was in any danger of being harmed.


Let me remind you that a concubine (pilegesh in Hebrew) was like a 2nd class wife. Thus it was common for the bible to refer to the man as her husband. Simplistically speaking the difference between a concubine and wife was that the wife had more rights, and had a marriage contract. But concubines were not slaves, could not be mistreated any more than could a legal wife, and they were not acquired as playful sex objects or mistresses as is sometimes erroneously depicted.


We see in verse 3 that her husband was concerned enough for her that after 4 months time (even if it was only a selfish concern that he preferred her company) that he took the rather substantial journey from the northern hill country down to Bethlehem in Judah to try and win her back. He brought a house servant with him (undoubtedly for protection as traveling alone in those days was dangerous) and two donkeys. One was for her to ride on the return journey (hopefully). Undoubtedly several gifts for both the concubine and her father were provided as well.


The fact that she brought her husband into her father’s house shows that whatever caused the split-up it was not irreconcilable; and it also says that her father was glad to meet him. Translation: the father was VERY relieved that his daughter would be going back with her husband. I say that not in the sense it probably sounds to us today (as though he wanted rid of his daughter) but rather in the sense that it was very dishonorable for a family to have a girl get married (or become a concubine) and then become separated from her husband. If (God forbid) the separation grew to an outright divorce it brought great shame upon the whole family regardless of the reason or who might be to blame. Dad had been sweating it out.


On the 4th day after his arrival the Levite man was ready to leave but the father in law wanted him to stay a bit longer. Likely this was a simple matter of Middle Eastern hospitality; visitors were rare and protocol required making the most of your time together. The father in law pressed on the Levite to stay and he agreed to, but on the 5th day he took his concubine and left in the afternoon.


The Levite, his concubine and his servant set out for home and their route took them to Jevus (Jebus); this was the name of the city that would eventually be renamed to Jerusalem. Jebus was around 6 miles from Bethlehem, around a 2-hour walk. The people who founded and controlled the city were called Jebusites, and they were just another group of Canaanites. Since it was getting near to sundown the servant suggested that they spend the night inside the massive defensive walls of Jevus but the Levite refused because indeed Jevus was a city of non-Israelites. Instead he preferred that they travel a little further and stay in a village or city that was occupied by Hebrews: Gibeah or Ramah.


They only made it as far as Gibeah by the time darkness was setting in so they stopped there. Gibeah was in the territory of Benjamin and so it’s residents were Israelites.


Verse 15 explains that they went in side the city and sat down at what we would call the city square, just inside the city gate; such a thing would make him noticeable to the city’s residents as they passed in and out. There is a hint of what was to come, though, in that the reason that he sat in the square is that no one would offer them hospitality; no one would give them a place to stay for the evening. This was a sacred duty in that era and the failure of the local residents to offer rest and sustenance to a traveler (especially one who obviously had the means to feed himself and his animals if needs be) was a sign that these people were of poor character.


At dark an old man came through the city gates, a man who had been working out in the fields that surrounded Gibeah. Coincidentally this old man was from the same area that the Levite hailed, and was neither a permanent resident of Gibeah nor was he of the tribe of Benjamin. That the old man did not share in the morals of Gibeah is evident in that he does the right thing and offers to take the Levite, his concubine and servant, into his dwelling place for the night.


Of course the old man first inquires after them and asks the logical question, “where are you going and where are you from?” The Levite is truthful and explains where he’s from and that he’s returning there; but the latter part of the answer is puzzling. He says that he’s going to the house
of Adonai (or more accurately the Beit-Yehoveh). But what does that mean, that he’s going to the house of Yehoveh? Almost certainly he was merely saying that he was going to go home by way of Shiloh, which was the current location of the Wilderness Tabernacle. He was a Levite and so it would be logical that if he had an opportunity to visit the Tabernacle, home of the priesthood, he would go there to offer a sacrifice. But there is another implication in this scene that some Jewish scholars point out; the Levite traveler was probably recognizable as a Levite. Levites had for some reason quickly developed a dialect or accent (as we saw played a role in our previous story) that was different enough from the other Hebrews that it helped to identify them. He may well have also worn garments or some ritual object of clothing that marked him as a Levite. In any case the REASON that the town of Gibeah wouldn’t offer him hospitality was that they didn’t want anything to do with the Priestly Tribe. They may have been Israelites but their hearts were far from God.


The Levite explained to the old man that even though they would be no burden on anyone (because they carried all of their own provisions with them), the townspeople refused to offer them shelter; so the old man says to come and stay with him, but whatever they do don’t stay out in the city square at night. This matter of avoiding bedding down in the city square (which would have been lawful and safe under most circumstances) had little to do with discomfort; rather it was a dire warning from someone who knew these townspeople well.


The next scene is reminiscent of the sad adventure of Lot while he was living in the city of Sodom. The old man was playing host his guests when suddenly there was a knock on his door. In fact his house was surrounded by some worthless men of Gibeah who were demanding that he send out the Levite so that they could have homosexual sex with him. In the Hebrew these worthless men are called ben-Belial, or sons of Belial, a very derogatory expression. It is used in many places in the bible and is used to label those who commit idolatry, or gross rebellion against God, or who commit lewd and immoral acts. And it says that these sons of Belial daphak upon the old man’s door. This definitely does not mean to knock, nor does it even mean to merely beat. Rather it means to beat VIOLENTLY with ever increasing force. This was a mob that meant business and was not going to take “no” for an answer.


The old man had to address this situation; he couldn’t just huddle inside and hope these perverts went away. So he opened his door to address them. Now before I discuss with you what he offered to the crowd in hopes of appeasing them, let me first explain WHY he offered it. I have explained many times the Oriental mindset concerning hospitality. Among the several things that hospitality

entailed in that era, protection of the houseguests was paramount. There was no greater shame than for a host to allow something terrible to befall a guest in his home. Hosts were obligated (by custom) to defend their guests with the cost of their own lives or their family’s lives if necessary. Just as families today have set up an unspoken hierarchy whereby the children are protected at all costs by the adult family members (and even the younger children are protected almost out of instinct by the older), it was the same sort of thing with families that took in travelers whom they had never before met.


So the old man offers to send out his own unmarried daughter (called a virgin) as well as the Levite’s concubine for them to gang rape, in trade for keeping the males safe. In ancient times,
and still in many Eastern societies today (including the more fundamental sects of Islam) women are chattel. Women have far less value than men, and very often less value than the farm animals. The Laws of Moses were the first to value women equally with men, and to insist on the humane treatment of women, and to give women far more rights than they had ever before known. Don’t get me wrong: the bible still presents a hierarchy whereby men are to be the authority. But men are to be an authority over women in love, and for the purpose of caring for women, not for the purpose of using them or virtually enslaving them.


However worldwide customs and traditions infiltrate everything. And the Hebrew society remained a male-dominated society. What we see happening in this regard to the women in this story is not acceptable before the Lord.


Let me also point out what makes this story so extraordinarily shocking. Certainly that homosexuality is at the center of it is undeniable and it is at the top of the list of godless perversions throughout the bible, Old Testament and New. But what we must also see is that while we’ve witnessed this all before in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, at least the residents of those cities were pagans; they didn’t know God. But the men of Gibeah who are demanding homosexual sex with the old man’s male guests here in the book of Judges are Hebrews; they are Benjamites. They had the Torah. Their parents were part of the Exodus. Joshua had only recently died. This mob consisted of God’s set-apart people who were no more than one generation removed from Moses.


The old man handed over his daughter and the Levite’s concubine to the men of Gibeah (no doubt with the Levite’s consent who chose to sacrifice this woman to save himself). They were abused all night long, and only ceased at daybreak. Nothing more is said of the old man’s daughter; but we’re informed that the concubine somehow made it back to the door step of where her husband was hiding, and there died of her injuries with her hands reaching towards the bolted door.


At daybreak the Levite went outside to leave, and there found his woman. He told her to get up so they could be on their way; but there was of course no response. He immediately knew she was dead so he loaded her corpse on one of the two donkeys and left for home.


It is not only the horrific action of the men of Gibeah that are on display her, but the callous and

cold heart of the Levite who is utterly indifferent to his concubine’s suffering. I said at the beginning of this story that I suspected the entire reason for the Levite going after his concubine, after she angrily left him and went home to her father, was selfish. He preferred to have her company than not, but that’s about as far as it went. Perhaps he thought her leaving him would be an embarrassment. That he went to Bethlehem to fetch her back with gifts and a donkey for her to ride home was simply the price needed for him to get her back; a price he could afford with little discomfort. But that price certainly didn’t include any risk taking or repentance on his part, nor did

it mean that he would love her and protect her.


The sin of Gibeah would long be remembered and mentioned many centuries later in Hosea 9:9 and 10:9, so great was the shame it brought upon all Israel.

CJB Hosea 9:9 They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Giv’ah. He will remember their guilt, and he will punish their sins.

CJB Hosea 10:9 “Since the days of Giv’ah you have sinned, Isra’el. There they took their stand. For these arrogant people at Giv’ah, war was insufficient punishment.


When the Levite arrived home, he did some so drastic that it is hard to even read about without cringing; he took his concubines body and cut it up into 12 pieces, sending one piece by messenger to each Israelite tribe.


I don’t even know where to begin to talk about this. The Levite obviously had no regard for his concubine before or after her death. That he would cut-up her body is a terrible desecration that is simply not allowed by Torah standards. She was to be properly buried, not used as a means for this Levite to display his anger. But the Hebrew word used to for “cutting-up” or (better) “dividing” her body into pieces is a word that is normally reserved for Tabernacle ritual; the word is nathach. Nathach means to divide up the sacrificial animal into pieces for putting onto the Altar of Burnt Offering. That it is used here is out of place and thus seems to indicate that the Levite had some delusional sense of piety or righteous anger or twisted belief that if he was the one doing the cutting up (because he was a Levite) that it made it a proper religious act.


Taken together with the other young Levite of our previous story who allowed himself to become a priest (when he was not of the proper lineage), and even to worship Teraphim (god idols); and then that he would leave Micah to go be a priest for the tribe of Dan and set up cult worship in Laish, paints a pretty bad picture of the Hebrew religious leaders of the era of the Judges.


See, the Levites were the butchers of that era. They were highly trained in just how to dissect an animal for sacrificial purposes, and then later on how to prepare an animal for food according to the kosher traditions that slowly developed. Even today it is usually Levites who will run Kosher butcher shops. This Levite man simply applied his skill to his dead concubine for personal reasons.


Things like this don’t go unnoticed. Verse 30 explains that when the people saw this, they were appalled as they had never seen such an awful thing happen (at least among their own culture).

The question on everyone’s mind was what to do about all this? What should be done about thehomosexual men in Gibeah who literally raped the concubine to death?

But also, what should be done about the tribe of Benjamin in general who apparently didn’t show enough interest in the matter to bring those men to justice? That’s what is dealt with in the final two chapters of the book of Judges, and we’ll get into that next time. 

4 thoughts on “Judges 19-21, part 2 (Torah Class Notes)

  1. Amanda

    So interesting — thanks for sharing! I’ll be looking for the next installment.

    I always thought the men put out their women because it was a lesser sin against God than homosexuality. I don’t know, though. It is all so horrifyingly callous.

  2. RL

    I always interpreted the sacrifice-style cutting-up of the concubine as a reflection on what had happened to her — the worthless men of Gibeah had killed her to satisfy the bloodlust of the demon they served in place of the Living God. It was an accusation of idolatry and apostasy, more than a reflection on the Levite’s feelings for his concubine.


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