The period of the Judges is filled with intrigue. Many stories stir the emotion and inflame the heart hearing how God’s people overcame their enemies. But there is one incident in the book of Judges that is rather dark. It is the story of the Levite and his concubine found in Judges 19-21. This passage has a didactic purpose, but it is also quite macabre.
In Judges 19, a Levite takes a woman as his wife who later leaves him and returns to her father’s house. He pursued her and won her back, and they departed from her father’s home a few days later. They pass Jebus (Jerusalem) on their journey, but do not stay in that city since it is a gentile city. Instead, they turn aside to a city of the Benjamites, Gibeah by name, but instead of being taken in by fellow Israelites, they are taken in by a Gentile from the mountains of Ephraim. The scene then unfolds much like the one in Genesis 19:5 where the messengers sent to Lot are protected from the riotous mob. The man of Ephraim, probably after consulting with the Levite, offers the Levite’s concubine and his own virgin daughter in place of the Levite; the concubine is abused and killed by the angry mob and left for dead on the doorstep in the morning. When her husband finds her, she is truly dead. The Levite cuts her up in twelve pieces and sends the parts along with messengers to all of Israel to call them together to avenge the evil brought upon him and his concubine by the men of Gibeah.
This event resulted in the Benjamite War, in which the tribe of Benjamin defended the city of Gibeah against the indignation of all Israel. Because Benjamin refused to turn over the wicked men who had done this evil deed, it resulted in the almost complete annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin. After the war had ended only 600 men of the tribe of Benjamin remained alive (Israel had destroyed all the cities of the Benjamites along with all their men, women and children). To counter this loss, since Israel vowed not to give their daughters to the men of Benjamin for their wives, they killed the men of Jabesh-Gilead since they refused to go to war against Benjamin. They also killed all the women and children, but left only the virgins alive to be given to the men of Benjamin, along with the women kidnapped from Shiloh by those men who were left without wives.
The Benjamite War, though discussed at the end of the book of Judges, does not occur late in the life of Israel, but rather shortly after the conquest of the Land. We know that it probably occurred within a generation or two since the priest officiating was Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron. What is so significant about the timing of this event is that, in a time when God’s people should have been faithful and obedient, having the miraculous events of the wilderness so near at hand, some drifted into wanton sin. The men of Gibeah had no desire to follow God. Instead, they turned against righteousness and pursued evil (cf. Micah 3:1-2).
We can learn several things from this event. To miss both the moral and ethical significance is to miss the reason for its inclusion. The first of these lessons is that this heinous behavior is impermissible among God’s people and he will punish it. “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power and will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nahum 1:3). This principle is seen clearly in the way Benjamin is dealt with by the rest of the nation of Israel. The second is that a misplaced trust can lead to dire consequences. The Levite trusted the men of Gibeah to be more righteous than those of Jebus since they were Israelites. He was then taken in by a Gentile in the city of his nation and refused lodging by his own people. The third lesson (among many others) is that brotherly affections take a secondary place in the relationship we have with God and one another, but played a role in the restoration of Benjamin.
Open defiance of God in the congregation of Israel should not be tolerated. Phinehas had shown his love for God and indignation at immorality by stabbing a spear through the Israelite who defied God and Moses when he intended to participate in the works of evil (Num. 25:1-8). With Phinehas leading the God’s people in spiritual matters, he encouraged them to pursue righteousness. This meant that the offense against the Levite and his concubine must avenged and Israel must put away the evil from among them. To stand in Gibeah’s defense was to endorse the act itself. In Deuteronomy 21:21, we read of the disobedient child; the consequence for his sin is: “And all the men of the city shall stone him with stones that he die: so shalt thou put away evil from among you; and all Israel shall hear and fear.” If this is the way that God feels about sin in the assembly of his people, then Benjamin should not have defended Gibeah. They chose the wrong side and paid dearly for that choice.
Secondly, the Levite made a distinction between the Gentiles of Jebus and the godliness of Gibeah. Unfortunately for him, he trusted in the name they bore as Israelites and brothers. This name had no guarantee for him or his family of safety. The problem was that it should have. It is unfortunate when many place their trust in those who wear the name Christian, only to be deceived and taken advantage of by charlatans and false teachers. John told the early church to “try the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Lastly, brother affection cannot prevent us from doing the will of God. We should love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we cannot overlook sin and still be pleasing to God. Psalm 133:1 makes it clear that dwelling together in unity is a blessing, but that unity is only achieved through everyone’s complicit obedience to the will of God. We are to be unified in the church by faithful obedience to God, not united in sin by Satan against him.
Judges 19-21 is a challenging passage, not because of the punishment, but because of the crime. Those who were perceived to be righteous were wicked and vile and because of the sin of Gibeah and the defiance of Benjamin, an entire tribe of God’s chosen people almost came to ruin.