The story about the Levite and his concubine is very disgraceful and a mentally disturbing one. It is understood that because people make their own choices they face dreadful outcomes. But are there more insights from the story?
The historical account of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19-21 is a horrible event and should be appalling to anyone who has a sense of righteousness. What follows is a brief summary of the account and then an explanation of what we can learn.
The Motivating Problem
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. Judges 19:1 (NASB)
Verse 2 describes the problem that cascades into tragedy. The events that follow in the chapter would not have occurred if the concubine had not sinned by becoming a prostitute.
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. Judges 19:2 (NASB)
We are told that the concubine became a prostitute. Since we are told that she went to her father’s house, it may be that she and the Levite had an argument about her adultery before she fled. Verses 1 and 2 imply they were not happy together. Now before we find fault with the Levite and accuse him of using her as a mistress, read the next two verses.
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. 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. Judges 19:3-4 (NASB)
The Levite Finds His Concubine
Now we learn that the Levite and the concubine are husband and wife because the Levite is described as “her husband,” and the woman’s father is the Levite’s “father-in-law.” We also learn that the Levite travelled to Bethlehem to speak kindly to her and return home together. Because we are told that he planned to “speak tenderly to her,” this once again suggests that they may have argued after she played the prostitute, and as a result she left.
Verses 4-8 tell us that the Levite remained in the home of the father-in-law for five days. Judges 19:9-15 tells us the Levite and his concubine left the house. They passed by Jebus (Judges 19:11), the ancient name for Jerusalem, and stopped at Gibeah or Ramah to spend the night (Judges 19:13).
Lodging in Gibeah
Judges 19:15-26 describes what happened the night the couple stayed in Gibeah, a city of the Benjamites. When they entered the open square of the city an old man invited them to his home (Judges 19:16-21). While the old man and the Levite and his concubine were having dinner, we are told some “worthless fellows” surrounded the house and pounded on the door. Verses 22-24 describe the discussion that occurred with these “worthless fellows.”
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.” 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. “ 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.” Judges 19:22-24 (NASB)
The worthless fellows wanted the old man to send out the Levite so that they could engage in sexual activity with him. But the old man refused and offered the crowd of men his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. The old man said, “you may ravish them” and do “whatever you wish.” He granted them permission to engage in sexual relations with the two women. Now it is obvious the men surrounding the old man’s house wanted to engage in sexual activity when the two women were offered. It is also obvious the men described as “worthless fellows” were homosexuals since they wanted sex with the Levite and two women were offered.[1, 2]
But the men surrounding the house refused the offer of the women. So the Levite brought his concubine outside and the men raped her all night (Judges 19:25). The Hebrew translated as “raped” is yada. It was commonly used to refer to sexual intercourse. That is, the men raped her all night. At sunrise the concubine lay at the door of the house.
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. 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. Judges 19:25-26 (NASB)
In the morning the Levite awoke and found her laying outside of the door of the house. He told her, “Get up and let us go, but there was no answer.”
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. He said to her, “Get up and let us go,” but there was no answer . . . Judges 19:27-28a (NASB)
Journey Back Home
Then the Levite took his dead concubine home.
. . . Then he placed her on the donkey; and the man arose and went to his home. 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. 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!” Judges 19:28b-30 (NASB)
When he arrived home to the remote part of the hill country of Ephraim, he cut her up into twelve pieces. One piece for each of the twelve tribes was distributed throughout Israel. Finally, we are told that nothing like this had ever happened. So the twelve tribes tried to decide how to respond.
Civil War Within the Nation
Judges 20-21 describes the reaction of the tribes of Israel to the horror that occurred in the city of Gibeah, except for those in the tribe of Benjamin. It becomes apparent in Judges 21:1-5 that the Levite had butchered his concubine to send a message to all Israel – a piece of her body for each tribe as a call to action.
Eleven tribes (called Israel in the account) reacted by demanding that the tribe of Benjamin give the guilty men, who caused the death of the concubine, to be released. But the people of Benjamin protected the guilty men and refused to turn them over for justice (Judges 20:12–14).
In response, Israel asked God what they should do. In Judges 20:18, 23, 28, 35 God directed them to engage the tribe of Benjamin in battle and defeat them. This reveals that God saw the great sins that had occurred in Gibeah. He directed that the tribe be killed. In fact, in Judges 20:35, 46 we are told God helped Israel destroy 25,100 men of Benjamin. God directed this punishment of the tribe of Benjamin.
Thus the tribes of Israel (minus Benjamin) invoked capital punishment on the men who raped and murdered the Levite’s concubine and the tribe. In time, a total of forty thousand Israelites died as a result of God’s punishment on the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:21, 25). Six hundred men of Benjamin remained alive (Judges 20:47). Judges 20:48 states that Israel destroyed the cities of the tribe of Benjamin that they could find, including the cattle. Later Judges 21:16 states all the women were killed too!
Judges 21:8-12 records the slaughter of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead because they were not angered by the Benjaminites and did not go to battle against them. The account is important because four hundred virgins from that tribe were found, spared and then taken to Shiloh. It is important to notice that God did not give them direction to slaughter the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead or to take the virgins to Shiloh.
Judges 21:1-7, 13-18 tells us that the Israelites began to feel sorry of the remaining six hundred men from the tribe of Benjamin. Therefore, a plan was created to allow the Benjamite men to abduct one wife from among the virgin daughters of Shiloh of their choosing (Judges 21:20-24) at the feast of the Lord in Shiloh. So when the virgins came out and danced, the men of Benjamin were allowed to “catch his wife from among the daughters of Shiloh” (Judges 21:21).
Lessons For Us
There are ten lessons for us from this historical account.
- The first important lesson from this account is that the Bible indicates God did not approve of the horrible sins that occurred in the city of Gibeah. Judges 20:18, 23, 28, 35 repeatedly reveal that God directed the other tribes of Israel to action against a morally evil tribe. This reveals that the accusation of some that Scripture is silent about the evil that occurred is wrong. The reason the account is recorded is summarized at the end of Judges 21. There God reveals that He condemned the nation of Israel for its actions in Judges 19-21. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It reveals what happens when men and women abandon God. Romans 3:10-18 states the human race is utterly perverted and their actions will demonstrate it. It says no one seeks after God. “There is not even one!” We have all turned aside from God. Jesus said to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:17 that there is only One who is good and He is God. The rest of Romans 3:10-18 describes our utter sinfulness and despicable behavior when we abandon God. That describes the inhabitants of Gibeah and the nation of Benjamin.
- Our second lesson is that our sins affect others and potentially lead others to sin. The first sin in this account occurred in the home of the Levite and concubine. The fact that the Levite planned to “speak tenderly to her” (Judges 19:3) in order to win her back, seems to imply that they had quarreled. The most obvious sin is that she committed adultery when she became a prostitute. The initial sin cascaded into the horrific evils in Gibeah and subsequently to the 400 virgins who were taken alive in Jabesh-gilead to be given as wives to the remaining men of Benjamin. Judges 21:25 says, “. . . everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
- This account also reveals that a husband should forgive an unfaithful wife and even pursue her. He was successful in his attempt. He is to be commended for this action, but not for his horrible decision to give her to the homosexuals in the city of Gibeah, who raped her all night until she died.
- When Judges 21:25 records that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, we must realize that it described how insensitive the entire nation of Israel had become to sin. The reason that God ordered the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin was that they were so insensitive to sin that the tribe was irredeemably sinful and had to be destroyed. In Deuteronomy 8:19-20, God warned the nation that He would destroy it if they abandoned Him. Therefore, He destroyed most of the tribe of Benjamin in order to prevent contamination to the other eleven tribes.
- A fifth lesson is that the account describes what happens when men and women abandon God. Sex and other immoral behavior replace God! The entire story is an example of unrestrained animal lust and human depravity. Total disregard for life occurs. What one desires is all that is important. As Proverbs 30:15 says, “The leech has two daughters, “Give,” “Give” . . . ” Women are less important than men. Men abuse men. Unloving men abusively rule over women. Sex trumps everything else. Why? Judges 21:25 says, “. . . everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
- The sixth lesson is that the homosexuals demonstrated that to them homosexual sexual activity is more desirable than heterosexual activity. However, heterosexual behavior is acceptable if that is all that is available to them. Romans 1:23-24, 26 and 28 teach that when people are given over to homosexual activity, it is a sign that they have rejected God. Homosexual activity is a more serious sin among sins, despite the claims of some. See the study, “Are some sins worse than other sins? – Are all sins equal?” Also notice that Judges 19:22 refers to the men of Gibeah as “worthless fellows.”
- Judges 19-21 demonstrates that God is opposed to the abuse of women in this account. He commanded the destruction of an entire tribe because they did not punish those who raped and abused a concubine and caused her to die. Only when she died did they stop! We are told they abused her all night until dawn. Further, they were so morally bankrupt and corrupt that they left her dead at the door of the Levite. Scripture lifts women above the degradation of the Canaanites and the surrounding nations, but the town of Gibeah had become like the Canaanites. God has a higher view of women than described here. That is why He ordered the destruction of the unjust and morally bankrupt tribe of Benjamin.
- Another lesson is that the Levite was supposedly a godly man and priest. The account does not tell us what ultimately happened to him, but Judges 20:4-5 seems to imply that he lied about his actions in order to save himself. Scripture records what appears to be deception. It is not enough for someone to claim to a godly person. It appears that Scripture records he was not fit for the priesthood. Being a pastor or a priest is not a “job” or “vocation.” Some have said that character does not matter. It is what one accomplishes. But Scripture repeatedly demonstrates that God uses righteous ministers! This man’s behavior demonstrated he was not qualified to be a priest.
- Our eighth lesson reveals the twelve tribes were becoming more like the Canaanites, which were given to sexual perversion: homosexuality, rape, adultery, murder, lies, abuse of women, abduction, absence of justice and the defense of the guilty. What sins did we miss? In truth these are sufficient to demonstrate the utter moral decline of the twelve tribes and one tribe that was worse than the others.
- Finally, as Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” and again in Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” Paul warns us two times!
Daniel Block writes these words, “The Levite had preferred Gibeah over Jebus to avoid the dangers of Canaanism, only to discover that Canaan had invaded his own world.” Sadly, Canaanism is invading our world and some western countries appear to be far worse than the tribe of Benjamin. They do not even seek the Lord for direction. At least the other eleven tribes sought the Lord.
1. Daniel I Block.Daniel I Block. Judges, Ruth. The American Commentary. B&H Publishing. 1999. p. 536.
2. Barry G Webb. The Book of Judges. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing. 2012. p. 467.
3. Daniel I Block. Ibid. p. 543.
Suggested Links:What was a concubine in the Old Testament era? – Wife or mistress?
Are some sins worse than other sins? – Are all sins equal?
What is the difference between holy and righteous in the Bible?
Who were the priests and Levites in the Bible? – Differences and Relationship