Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Judges 19

Judges 19: A Levite and His Concubine

Synopsis

This is a terrible passage. It makes me incredibly sad to read it, every single time. So of course blogging about it—meaning that I have to think deeply about it—will make me even more sad. But there’s nothing for it but to suck it up, and start writing.

The first ten verses aren’t really related to the story, per se. It’s just a prologue, to set up the main story. A Levite living in Ephraim takes a concubine for himself, from Bethlehem. (See the Wikipedia article on what a concubine is.) But she is unfaithful to him, and leaves to go back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, so after four months he and a servant go there after her.

When he gets there, the girl brings him into her father’s house, and the father invites the Levite to stay. He stays for three days, and then prepares to leave, but the father-in-law convinces him to stay for food, first. Then, once they are done eating, convinces him to stay another night. On the fifth day, the man prepares to leave again, but again the father-in-law convinces him to have some food, first. And almost convinces him to stay once again, that night, but the man finally makes up his mind to leave, along with his servant and concubine.

On their way, they pass the city of Jebus, which is inhabited by Jebusites. (Later on, the Israelites will take over this city, and rename it to Jerusalem.) The Levite’s servant suggests that they spend the night there, but the Levite refuses, because he doesn’t want to stay in a city whose inhabitants aren’t Israelites. Instead, he decides that they should push on until they get to the city of Gibeah.

So they do, and come to Gibeah as the sun is setting. They go to the city square, but nobody takes them in. (My rudimentary knowledge of the customs of the time indicates that this was common; when someone was travelling, they would go to the city square, and someone would take that person in for the night. In fact, it was uncommon for them to have to stay in the square for so long, without someone offering this hospitality.)

Later on that evening, an old man comes in from working in the fields, and sees the Levite in the square. He asks him where he’s from, and the Levite tells him. He also mentions that he doesn’t even need food, or straw for the donkeys, because he has everything he heeds; he just needs a place to stay for the night. (I guess he’s getting a little worried, after having sat in the square for so long.) The old man offers his hospitality, and says that the Levite doesn’t need to supply his own food. The old man is from the hill country of Ephraim, which is also where the Levite is from, so I don’t know if that comes into play here.

The old man brings them home, and they get a chance to wash their feet and have something to eat and drink. But while they’re still “enjoying themselves,” the house is surrounded by “some of the wicked men of the city,” who pound on the door and demand that the old man send out the Levite, so that they can have sex with him (verse 22). So the old man responds:

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. 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.” (verses 23–24)

This is the first terrible thing in this passage, that makes me sad. (See my thoughts below.) But the next part is bad, too.

The men won’t listen, so the Levite sends out his concubine. The men outside rape and abuse her throughout the night, and let her go the next morning at dawn. She returns to the house where her master is staying, and falls down in front of the door, where she remains until daylight. I notice that verse 26 calls the Levite her “master,” whereas verse 3 had called him her “husband.” I don’t know if there is any significance to the way the author changes his wording, but the Levite is definitely acting a lot more like a master than a husband…

The Levite gets up that morning, opens the door to continue on his way, and finds the concubine lying there, with her hands on the threshold. (Verse 27 specifically says that she has her hands on the threshold; I don’t know if there is cultural significance to this or not.) He says to her, “Get up; let’s go” (verse 28), but she doesn’t answer him, so he puts her on his donkey and sets out for home. (I believe that she is dead, at this point.)

The Levite returns home, and then takes a knife and cuts the concubine’s body into twelve parts, and sends one part to each area of Israel. (One per tribe, I assume.) When the Israelites see this, they react with indignation:

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!” (verse 30)

The thing is, I don’t know who they’re talking to, when they are asking to be told what to do.

Thoughts

One of the ironies of this story is that the Levite and his concubine wouldn’t have gone to Gibeah in the first place, except that he didn’t want to stay in a city that wasn’t inhabited by Israelites. I’m sure he was expecting the Israelites to be more hospitable than foreigners.

When the “wicked men” surrounded the house, asking for the Levite to be sent out, of course the owner of the house wouldn’t send him out. Again, my rudimentary knowledge of the customs of the time is that the man was responsible for the safety of his guests. But how far does that responsibility go? Surely he wouldn’t be justified in sending out his own daughter to be brutally raped, in the Levite’s place! (I shudder to even think about it, but if his daughter was a virgin, then she was probably young. He was willing to send out a little girl—his own little girl—to be gang raped.)

This is bad enough, but I almost cry any time I read about the concubine being raped to death by a gang of men. Then to read about her returning back to the house, afterward, to her husband, dying on the doorstep, only to see him saying to her “Get up; let’s go.” What type of monster was this man? To send her out to be gang raped, and show so little regard for her the next morning?

Like I said: This is a terrible passage.
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