1. Public Safety
One of the issues that we are constantly faced with in our society is the issue of public safety. In recent times we have heard a lot about the abuse of children and the abuse of the elderly. But we’ve also been reminded that in many of our cities and towns it is not safe to walk in the streets at night, or even to take public transport. And places like parks at night are considered to be very risky indeed.
But it shouldn’t be so. People should be safe. People should be free to go out at night and feel safe in their environment. But they’re not. Which is probably why in the US, for example, so many people carry guns. And in Australia, people carry capsicum sprays, and whatever else they need to defend themselves with, should they find themselves in such a position.
And that’s sad. It is also an indictment on our society.
2. Old Testament
But then, not being safe it’s nothing new. Because wind back the clock to about 1373 BC, and the people and visitors to Gibeah were faced with the same problem. Indeed, the story today is of a Levite who entered the town of Gibeah with his concubine, and was basically told by a fellow Ephraimite, “You are welcome to stay at my house. But whatever you do, don’t spend the night in the town square. It’s not safe” (Judges 19:20).
And why wasn’t it safe? Because the men of the town had the reputation for sexually assaulting and abusing whoever was silly enough to be in the town square at night.
Now nothing really has changed.
But what’s the point of this story in the Bible? After all, it is not in the main part of the book of Judges. It is at the back of the book—one of two stories tacked on as an Appendix. The Levite was not a Judge. Indeed there are no Judges recorded in this story at all. Furthermore, the events in this story better fit, historically, at the beginning of the book of Judges rather than at the end.
So why is it there? Well, it doesn’t say. But it does illustrate the depths of depravity to which God’s chosen people had fallen. As a consequence, it is probably there to describe the kind of situation into which God was required to intervene by sending a Judge.
B. PART 1: THE LEVITE AND THE CONCUBINE
1. The Levite and the Concubine (19:1-28)
So what’s the story all about? Well, it’s about a Levite and his concubine. The Levite was from a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim in the north, and the concubine was from Bethlehem in Judah in the south. And for reasons that are unclear she left him and went back to her father’s home. Which is a tragedy in its own right.
Now the reason she left him will depend upon which translation you are reading. Some Hebrew manuscripts say that she had been angry with him; others say that she had been unfaithful. But whatever the reason, the Levite still cared for her. And so after four months he went to find her and bring her home.
Now the concubine’s father did not treat the reason for the separation as very serious. Which tends to suggest that they had had an argument rather than she had been unfaithful. Nevertheless, the disgrace of their separation reflected on her father. As a consequence, we get this picture of a very welcoming father who is desperate to make it up the Levite. Indeed, he lavishes hospitality on top of hospitality upon him.
So much so, that it takes several days before the Levite can finally extricate himself from the father’s hospitality. They then head back to Ephraim—a distance of no more than about forty-five kilometres. However, since they had only got away sometime towards evening, they had to stop somewhere to rest for the night. And refusing to stop in any town occupied by foreigners—not Israelites—they went on to Gibeah in Benjamin.
And this is where the Levite got his warning. He was met by a fellow Ephraimite, who offered him hospitality and was told that under no circumstances was he to stay in the square.
And so he went to the man’s house. But as the story goes, he wasn’t safe there either. The men of the city—some ungodly men—came and pounded at the door, wanting to get the Levite so they could have sex with him. And no matter what was said, they were not going to stop.
Now it needs to be said here, that the fellow Ephraimite would have been far more concerned about protecting his principal guest—the Levite—than he would have been about the safety of his own virgin daughter or the Levite’s concubine. Having said that, sending either of the girls out to the men would have been a blatant disregard to Hebrew law, regarding the care and protection of the weak and helpless. Furthermore, in sending his concubine out the Levite would have shown a total disregard for the woman he professed to love.
And yet that’s exactly what happened. The concubine was sent out, she was raped and abused throughout the night, and was left on the doorstop to die.
Now it’s an awful story, and neither the Levite, his fellow Ephraimite, or the men of Gibeah come out well in this story. But before we come to what happens next, there are some issues in this part of the story that need addressing.
a) Sexual Morality
Because first all the Levite—a man of God—had a concubine. Now that might seem a bit odd to us. It may even grate with our idea of sexual morality. But remember, under God’s laws the people who could marry—or have sexual relations with one another—was very different to the laws and practices of today.
Indeed, God’s Laws, as given to Moses, were more about the health of the community, than the wants of the individual. God wanted people to enjoy life, and for families to grow in a healthy relationship with him and with each other. And that’s why he allowed certain relationships which are not included in today’s Marriage Act. It is also why he prohibited others which today’s Marriage Act allows. The Marriage Act today does not have the same concerns. It is more concerned with regulating relationships, and meeting the wants of individuals, rather than on maintaining and building a healthy community.
There is a clear division between what God allowed (or rather disallowed) and the practice of sexual relationships today. And in Old Testament times whilst homosexual practices were condemned, having a concubine was not prohibited. Indeed, it was often seen as a solution to the problem of infertility.
After all, Abraham and Jacob both had concubines (in fact Jacob had two). And those concubines were first of all servants of their wives. But when those wives were unable to present their husbands with children—sons in particular—those servants were asked to take on the role of child bearer. In that way the family could be built up through those servants.
Now this was not considered an abuse of those servants by any of the parties. Concubines were not technically married to their mistresses’ husbands, and they did not enjoy the same privileges as wives. Nevertheless they were considered in high regard in Israelite families. On the other hand it was also seen as a great privilege by the servant, to be given the honour of bearing their master’s children. Particularly, because their children would be treated in the same way as any other children their master had fathered.
As a consequence, this story challenges us regards the issue of marriage and sexual relationships today. God gave us his laws for a reason. And yet if we comply with the Marriage Act, and even as a church uphold the Marriage Act in our ceremonies, then that is in blatant disregard to the laws and principles God provided for building up a healthy community.
And, incidentally, the fact that the Levite had a concubine, tends to suggest he also had at least one wife, and there may had been problems with them having children.
b). Caring for One Another
But the second issue is the aspect of hospitality. Of caring for one another. Of looking after those who are unable to look after themselves. Because this story does not reflect well on the Levite, the fellow Ephraimite, or the men of Gibeah at all.
Indeed, the men of Gibeah should have been welcoming. The Levite and his fellow Ephraimite should not have even considered sending out the virgin daughter or the concubine. And the Levite should not have shown a blatant disregard for the welfare of his concubine.
Every law of God regarding the care of the community is thrown out in this story. And yet how much of this story reflects our society today? Are we safe in our streets? Do people always look out for each other’s welfare? Or are there a lot of people whose only intent is on doing what they think is best for themselves?
In the days of King Hoshea, some 600 years after these events in the book of Judges, the prophet Hosea likened the events of his day to the events of this story in the book of Judges. He said, “They have sunk deep. They have become as depraved as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness. He will punish their sins” (Hosea 9:9). He also said, “Since the days of Gibeah you have sinned, Israel, and there at Gibeah you have remained” (Hosea 10:9)
And that was an indictment on his society. And since things haven’t changed, that is an indictment on our society too.
C. PART 2: THE AFTERMATH
1. The Aftermath (19:29-21:23)
Now if you thought the first part of the story was awful, then what about the second?
The Levite went home and perhaps reflected on his own part in the story. He then cut his concubine’s body into twelve parts and sent them to the twelve tribes of Israel. And of course, he got the reaction he wanted. The people were disgusted, but in being so he did get their attention. An assembly was then called at which the Levite was allowed to tell his story.
Then once told, the people decided what they were going to do. So they sent an army to their fellow Israelites in Benjamin and demanded that the wicked men be handed over. All well and good. Except that the Benjaminites refused to hand them over. Indeed they were prepared to defend the guilty with all their worth.
So then you get this story of a battle, with the eleven tribes fighting the tribe of Benjamin, as the Israelites were determined to wipe the stain from their midst. But they were unable to take the Benjaminites out in one go. And you could easily question why. Except the fact that it serves to demonstrate that the Israelites needed to be whole-hearted—determined to put things right. As a consequence, they were not to give up at the first hurdle.
Nevertheless in the end the Benjaminite’s were finally defeated, with 25,100 of them killed, effectively wiping out the male population of Benjamin. Indeed, only 600 male Benjaminites of fighting age survived.
The story then concludes with the problem of the twelve tribes of Israel now effectively becoming eleven, and what they did to restore themselves back to be the twelve tribes of Israel.
And that, of course, leads us to a third issue in the story. The use of war to effectively wipe out the male population of Benjamin.
Now these days we would say, “That’s barbaric. We’re better than that. We’re more civilised.” And yet wars are being fought in this world every day. If someone doesn’t like what someone says, or stands for, or has done, there is war.
But war in this case—indeed, civil war—has its point. The behaviour of the men at Gibeah was unacceptable. In a society where God’s laws were supposed to rule, their behaviour could not to be tolerated. And, after all, the events described in the town of Gibeah were not an isolated event. The fellow Ephraimite clearly knew that when he told the Levite not to stay in the town square.
God’s laws of kindness and decency, and caring for one another, needed to be upheld. Because if they weren’t, that sort of behaviour would spread, and their whole relationship with God would be in peril. The community needed to be protected; it needed to be healthy. And if the rest of the tribe of Benjamin were not willing to uphold God’s laws, that made them as guilty as the people they were protecting. And if that sort of behaviour was allowed to continue, then people’s eternal welfare was at stake.
Which is why, the Israelites had to act. The Benjaminites had not listened to reason, and there was only one way left for the rest of the Israelites to act. They had to eliminate the disease; they had to fight to uphold God’s laws so that the people could live in peace and safety; they had to fight to restore their relationship with God.
Which is why we have to fight to uphold God’s laws too. Except that our situation is quite different.
The Israelites lived in a country where God’s laws were supposed to rule. But we don’t. We live in a secular country. Indeed, true-believing Christians are a minority in this country. As a consequence we cannot expect our society to abide by God’s laws. If the majority don’t believe, they can hardly be expected to behave—or even pass legislation—based on godly principles. And we need to understand that.
Having said, that does not excuse us as Christians—or the churches to which we belong—from professing and practicing godly principles. Indeed, we should even be noted for speaking out on issues—including marriage and public safety—in godly terms.
We should fight to uphold God’s laws; and we should not embrace the secular laws which are passed, which are contrary to a godly life. As a minority, living in a secular country, we may not strap on swords like the Israelites and have a physical fight, but we do need to express God’s values, and we do need to speak out against the abuses that are so prevalent in our society, and which have infiltrated our churches.
Now who thinks the bible is nice jolly book, with nice stories, where everyone is always terribly nice to each other?
You know, nothing is further from the truth. The bible is about people. It’s about real-life stories. But it’s also about people who think they know better. It’s about people who don’t care about others and are only in it for what they can get out for themselves. It’s about the gap between us and God.
Now there are three issues that I’ve raised today for special mention, from which we can learn much.
It’s about sexual morality. And the need to remember that God’s laws regarding sexual relationships are very different to those in society today. (Even if some of us may not wish to have a concubine ourselves.)
It’s about caring for one another. And the need to remember that God’s Laws are about how to build a healthy and thriving community. A place where everyone should feel safe.
And it’s about the need to fight to uphold God’s laws, which, after all, have all been provided for our benefit.
So do you feel safe at all times? Can you happily walk out on the streets at night? Are you assured that you will not be abused by someone who doesn’t really care? Probably not.
The events I’ve described—this gruesome story from the Old Testament—serves as reminder of the depravity to which mankind has fallen. And in the words of Hosea, commenting on events 600 years later, “The world hasn’t changed.”
And it was to this kind of world, to God’s own people, that God sent his Judges—from Othniel to Samuel. The people should have known better; they had the history of their relationship with God to which that they could refer. But they chose not to. And sometimes we may choose not to as well.
Nevertheless, sexual morality, caring for others, and fighting for God’s standards are all issues that still need to be addressed by us—as individuals as well as by our churches—even today.
Posted 11th October 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis