JUDGES 19: THE TERRIBLE PRICE OF DOING AS WE SEE FIT
A HORRIFYING STORY FROM JUDGES 19
If you are looking for a section of the Bible that illustrates how immoral and violent people (even God’s people) can be, look no farther than Judges 19-21. The story is shocking and repulsive. The whole nation is in moral collapse, and this story proves it.
Timothy Keller notes that unlike every other section in Judges, none of the characters in this section are named (except for Phinehas in Judges 20:28). This is meant to suggest that the men and women described in these chapters stand for all their “type” in Israel. At the time described in chapters 19-21, this is how Levites lived, how fathers thought, and how women were treated. It is a dark picture.
Stop now and read all three chapters, because it’s one sad and disturbing story. It starts with a Levite (not the one we read about in Judges 17-18) taking a woman to be his concubine. Technically, a concubine was a wife, but of second-class status. Practically, most concubines were sex-objects to their husbands and masters (v.26) who viewed them as property. Men having concubines was customary in ancient civilizations, but never approved by God. This concubine leaves the Levite and returns to her father’s house. Four months pass, and the Levite goes to her father’s house to reclaim his concubine.
After several days there, he and his servant and his concubine start their journey back to the Levite’s home. As daylight is fading, the city of Jebus is the closest place to stop for the night, but the Levite refuses to stop there because the inhabitants are not Jewish, and he doesn’t feel safe. So, they travel four miles farther to the town of Gibeah, a city within the Jewish tribe of Benjamin, a place where they assumed they would be offered hospitality and be safe. Although offering hospitality to travelers is considered a sacred duty in ancient cultures, none is offered.
This lack of hospitality is an ominous warning of what is to come. But thankfully, an old man from Ephraim (the same region the Levite was from—see vs. 1 and 16) who was living in Gibeah offers them his home for the night. Unbelievably, some evil men in Gibeah begin trying to beat the door down demanding that the Levite and his servant be sent outside so they can have sex with them.
What happens next is unimaginable to modern western minds. However, in ancient eastern cultures, protecting one’s guests to whom hospitality has been offered is valued above almost anything else. Women were not highly valued in the ancient world. So, rather than putting his male guests in harm’s way, the old man offers to send his virgin daughter outside, and the Levite does send his concubine outside, where the mob rapes her throughout the night. When the Levite awakens the next morning, he sees her lying at the door. Commanding her to get up so they can be on their way, he realizes she is dead. The Levite is a miserable coward who shows callous disregard for a woman he claims to love. How could he go to sleep knowing what was happening outside his door? He was interested only in saving his own skin. This horrific story continues tomorrow.
In reporting this beastly story, the writer of Judges seems to be saying, “If you think the earlier stories are bad, you don’t know yet how much worse things can get when people abandon the Lord God and instead do what is right in their own eyes. In Judges 17:6 and 21:25, we read, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” If you want to know why there is so much evil in the world, it’s because so many people have abandoned God and do as they see fit. The sinful human heart, devoid of God’s influence, does not see the clear path to life. Living as one sees fit leads people and societies to self-destruction. Why does the writer tell us there was no king in Israel in those days? He’s pointing to the need for a godly king who will lead the people in ways of righteousness. Thankfully, Jesus is our King, and if we allow him to rule our lives, our story can read very differently from Judges 19-21.
Father, it's frightening to see and hear about the evil that is done every day in this world, and I am certain that it's because people do not know you, love you, and follow you. Help me to know, love and follow you. And, help me tell others about Jesus, the perfect King who sets and keeps us on the path of true life. In Jesus' name, Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.