This chapter begins the last episode in the book of Judges. This is one interrelated section of 103 verses. The only narrative event that takes up more space in the book is that of the Gideon story, including that of his son. Abimelech. This ought to cause us to give it some attention. When we get into the Scriptures one thing is proportion, especially when studying narrative literature. When studying narrative we need to pay attention to almost the speed or the rhythm of the events because sometimes, all of a sudden, things really slow down. When things slow down and the Holy Spirit is paying attention to what seem to be to be normal details in normal everyday life we need to stop and pay attention to that. We tend to blow through what seem to be the normal mundane things to get to what we think are the real issues, but it is there for a reason. The second thing we need to notice is proportion. That is, when the human writer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tends to emphasize something so much, or repeat it, and it seems disproportionate to what is around it, then the Holy Spirit is really emphasizing it. A third thing we need to note whenever we read Scripture, and it is especially true in this particular passage, is when some events that border on the disgusting occur it is because the Holy Spirit has a reason for drawing our attention to this. The Holy Spirit is so efficient in the way He uses vocabulary and the way He describes events that when we see things like this they are not there simply because it is part of the story. The entire end of this book is emphasizing the internal destruction of the nation Israel because they have rejected God as their absolute point of reference. There was no king in the land which means they had rejected God as the authority so that everyone does what was right in their own eyes. The writer points out that the first thing that starts in Israel is that they do evil in the sight of the Lord and they reject Him and return to idols of the fertility religion.
When we come to the end of Judges this principle is laid out in the two episodes that are tacked on at the end. They are not tacked on as if they are irrelevant, they are there significantly at the end because from 3:5 to the end of chapter 16 the writer of Judges is emphasizing the decline of the leadership. Just as spiritual apostasy affects the people as a whole it affects the leadership. The leadership come out from the mass of the people and they gradually mirror the pagan environment around them until we get to looking at Samson, and Samson is no different from any other pagan leader. Then there is a shift. In 18 & 19 there is one episode, and in 19 through 21 there is another. Chapters 17 & 18 shows the spiritual apostasy and 19-21 shows the social degradation that occurs as a result of the spiritual apostasy. In the book of Judges spiritual apostasy is always the core problem and all of the other things that are going on in the culture—military defeat, economic defeat, degradation of women, revolts from different segments of society, the fragmentation of the tribes—are secondary in nature. They are all the consequences of a spiritual reversionism at the core of the nation. As the nation goes apostate these things happen. The same dynamic occurs in a person's life. As a person goes through life sometimes a believer si relaxed about life and everything seems to be going well, and then they fail the test of prosperity. Bible doctrine becomes less and less important in their life and they end up replacing doctrine as the ultimate authority in their life with something else. And that is idolatry. Once that occurs in a person's life, then they will start making a number of decisions that are bad decisions. They are not overtly bad, it is not like all of a sudden they become a mass murderer or a rapist, or something like that, but they start making foolish decisions just based on priorities, and over a period of time there is a cumulative effect and consequence from those bad decisions. Then, all of a sudden they wake up one day and it seems that their life is an absolute wreck. All kinds of things are happening but there doesn't seem to be any direct connection between any sin and all of this fragmentation that is going on in their life. Those are simply the symptoms that are the consequence of a spiritual problem. Once that person gets back with the Lord and puts doctrine first, then things clear up. But we tend to want to loom for things that have a direct cause and effect linked, but there is not always that direct cause and effect link because when things finally fall apart, and it may take some time, you can't necessarily point to one bad decision or one event that brought everything about. It is cumulative. We see the same thing in the nation of Israel. That is, they have made a number of bad decisions and all of a sudden they look around and there is this internal fragmentation in the nation which is demonstrated in the events of this particular episode.
This episode highlights this perversion that has fragmented the internal cohesion of the twelve tribes and how fragmented they have become. We see a tremendous web of problems develop in the social structure of the nation. There is the increase of sexual perversion, violence toward women. Women are treated in this episode as nothing more than mere objects on the periphery of the male agenda. There is sexual abuse, and then we see the abdication by the male of any care or concern for any other people, especially for women. There is a rise in criminality and violence while there is little concern for the victim and more concern for vindicating someone's own personal agenda. Does this sound familiar? So this section emphasizes the degradation that occurred inside the nation of Israel itself.
Five opening principles to remember as we go through this section.
1) As goes the believer, so goes the nation. This is the overall principle. There is no indication that this Levite in chapter 19 is not a believer, but he doesn't act very differently from anybody else in the pagan culture around him. So we see how the apostasy of the nation has destroyed them. Another principle to remember is that in reversionism believers lives often seem to be as bad, if not worse, than unbelievers.
2) The assault on sexuality. There is an assault on sexuality in this chapter that is absolutely revolting and it is an assault on divine institution #2, marriage, and an assault on divine institution #3, the family. And that is the ultimate problem with sexual sin, it assaults marriage and the family, and that, if left unchecked, ends up fragmenting and destroying a nation. Once the divine institutions of marriage and the family break down then the nation is on the verge of self-destruction.
3) A state of antagonism exists between the sexes as a result of the Adamic curse. Genesis 3:16ff. General trends, not specific trends. Not every woman is going to demonstrate this to the same degree; some more so, some less, depending on the trends of their sin nature, but this is a general statement. It is a desire to control, dominate, usurp authority. On the other hand, the man is going to want to dominate the woman, and so there is this authority struggle in male-female relationships that is going to continue down through history. What we conclude from that is that the more a culture rejects establishment principles and the biblical doctrines related to male-female relationships the more that antagonism is going to be emphasized and exacerbated.
4) In a pagan culture one sex or the other is going to dominate and attempt to dominate. Remember that there are only two ways of looking at life: human viewpoint and divine viewpoint. Human viewpoint is called in the Scriptures "worldliness." It is identified with cosmic thinking, worldly thinking, and the doctrine of demons. It is called the doctrine of demons because it is ultimately based on arrogance and antagonism to the truth. Human viewpoint thinking in terms of human relationships always moves towards one or two extremes. Despite all the rhetoric of the feminist crowd of egalitarianism, seeking equality, notice it never moves towards just equality. It always moves to either some sort of human viewpoint patriarchy—there's a difference between human viewpoint patriarchy and divine viewpoint patriarchy—or human viewpoint matriarchy. In human viewpoint patriarchy the male ends up defining everything and is basically insensitive and non-compassionate towards the female. He uses his leadership to dominate and control. The same thing will happen in a matriarchy. Incidentally, there has never been a successful matriarchy in human history. So both tend to fall apart but they are the result of sin nature dominance in a culture, so a culture is going towards one or the other. In divine viewpoint you have the emphasis on role distinction, and the male is the leader and the female is the helper, the assistant. What has happened in the war of words in feminism is that being a helper or assistant or subordinate is viewed as something that is insignificant. Yet when God created the woman in the garden she was to be a helper or an assistant. That same word is used many times in Scripture: God is our helper. And to say that to be a helper is somehow derogatory, somehow demeans the woman, is to make a theological statement against God that is pure blasphemy. At the core of this entire feminist debate is nothing but pure blasphemy. It is an assault on the person of God and the roles in the Trinity, because in the Trinity there are also role distinctions. The persons of the Trinity are completely equal, but they are distinct in role and there is an authority structure in the Trinity. So authority in itself is not evil, it is necessary for the function wherever there is more than one person involved. There needs to be role distinction and an authority relationship.
5) The only solution is a divine viewpoint recognition of the roles of male and female, their equality as image bearers but distinction of role.
As we begin to get into the text of Judges 19 one thing that hits us right away is that nobody in this section is named. The only person named is Phinehas the high priest towards the end of chapter 20, but everyone else is left unnamed. That is also significant. The anonymity of the characters does not mean that they are not real but that the author is making a point. Their anonymity emphasizes that they represent anyone in the nation, that it indicates what was in the purpose statement of the whole book, that is, that everyone did what was right in their own eyes. That means that the Levite represents any Levite, the concubine represents every woman—this could be true of any woman or every woman in the land, the father-in-law who is a very gracious host represents every host in the land, so he represents the hospitable side. The old man residing in the city also represents every sort of outsider in a Benjamite town. And because everyone did as he saw fit every host was capable of committing the same atrocities that occurred among the Benjamites. Every guest could be mistreated, every woman was a potential victim of rape, murder and dismemberment. It is ironic that just as the Levite would dismember his concubine, that could happen to anyone. It is a picture of the dismemberment of the nation because of the paganism that dominates. So the anonymity of the figures emphasizes that this could happen to anyone and this had become a standard environment of the nation Israel.
A second thing about the anonymity of the characters is that it reflects the dehumanization of the individual in a paganized world. When a world is dominated by pagan thought individuals as individuals rarely matter. There may be a lot of talk about individual rights but it seems rather ironic over the last 30 years when there has been more and more talk about individual rights that people are treated more and more by the government as insignificant cogs in the overall machine. That is the consequence of paganism. Only Christianity provides an intellectual base for saying that people as individuals matter, it doesn't matter what they look like, how old they are, how handicapped they might be, individuals as individuals are created in the image and likeness of God and every person has value and significance because they are image-bearers of God. But in paganism that is rejected, we are just the result of chance plus time in the universe, and so people are no longer significant as individuals. That is what happens in this section. To have a name you are somebody, you have identity and there is something distinct about you.
We should notice is that God doesn't enter the picture in this chapter at all. In fact, He is rarely mentioned except for a few times in chapter 20. The tribes gathered together at Mizpah were called the people of God. They consult Him at Bethel and then they weep before Him again at Bethel. They freely use His name in the 21st chapter, but other than that the decisions that they are making are their own decisions. They are doing what is right in their own eyes and God just seems to be there as some sort of verbal good house-keeping seal of approval—as long as we use God's name sand wave the Bible that somehow it gives validation to our actions—but their actions are the actions are the actions of people operating on pure relativism.
Another thing to note about this episode in Judges 19 is deeply reminiscent of events that happened in Genesis chapter 19. One of the things we should always do whenever we read the Bible, first and foremost, is to read it as if it was written to you, as if you were the original recipient. Judges is written for the nation Israel to Jews as a warning of the dangers of apostasy and idolatry. Obviously they did not heed the warning, the rejected the message of Judges because later on during the period of the monarchy, both in the northern and southern kingdoms they went into idolatrous reversionism and completely ignored the message of Judges. But when this is written it is written to Jews who have knowledge of events in the Pentateuch, they have knowledge of Genesis chapter 19, and as we get into Judges 19 there is a tremendous similarity between this episode and what happened in Sodom. Sodom was one of the five cities of the plain that existed down by the Dead Sea and in Genesis 19 we have the episode where God was coming to judge the five cities of the plain because of their perversion—sexual perversion and sexual deviancy—and so He is going to judge them and destroy the five cities of the plain.
What we find in both episodes is that a small group of travelers arrives in the city in the evening. It is almost too late to find a place to stay and so they are just going to be at the mercy of the people in the town to be hospitable to them. And then a person who himself is not a local to the town observes the presence of these travelers and invites them into the house. But the travelers have an intention, they intend to spend the night in the open square, and host, the person who is not the local native, insists that they are not to spend the night in the square, and there is this sense that something horrible could happen. So they are not to spend the night out in the open but to come inside where there would be protection. The host follows all the various procedures of hospitality in taking care of the guests and feeding them and then as darkness comes—it is under the cover of darkness that sin usually manifests itself—the sexual deviants, the male perverts of the city surround the house and begin to bang on the door demanding that the host deliver the male guests so that they can commit a gang rape on the visitor out in the public square. The host then protests this display of wickedness which then proves to be futile and the host then offers a substitute female to satisfy the deviant lusts of the men. In the similarity of vocabulary between the two chapters is there are about 16 words or phrases that are common and it is clear that the writer of Judges wants the Jewish reader to think about the sexual deviancy of Sodom which the poster child, as it were, of the degradation of the human race. It can't get any worse than Sodom. Sodom was so bad that God had to personally wipe them off the face of the earth and they became a proverb and a byword in the ancient world. What the writer wants us and the Jewish reader to recognize is that in this event things are just as bad as they were in Sodom, and yet we are God's covenant people, how did we ever get so low, this bad, and this degraded? So it is a shock technique to awaken people to what is happening spiritually and socially as a consequence to the sexual deviancy of the nation because of their apostasy.
Verse 1 – "in those days" connects this to what happened before. We have gone through the episode of Micah and his own personal priest, and how that priest was wooed away by the tribe of Dan and set up an altar, a worship site, up in the north of Israel, and that that Levitical priest was Jonathan the son of Gershom. He is a grandson of Moses, therefore. That places the events of 17 and 18 within a generation of the Joshua conquest and the Joshua generation. So with regard to the victorious Jews who are spiritually together under Joshua and have victory over the Canaanites, their society begins to fragment and apostasize within one generation of Joshua. The events here take place at approximately the same time but a little later. We will see at the end of this when the Levite puts out a call to arms to the other tribes of Israel to pull together and deal with this problem in Benjamin and they go to war against one of their own, that all the tribes come together, from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north, and across the Jordan in the area of Gilead. Gilead was often viewed on the Trans-Jordan as second class citizens in Israel. So this again shows that this event takes place very early in the period of the judges. We can't help but make the observation that if this occurred early in the period of the judges, and the period of the judges was time of steady decline, apostasy and deterioration, that it must have been an incredibly horrible time in which to live, when there was tremendous social disorder and marital collapse and sexual perversion in the nation. It is a horrible, degrading picture of the nation Israel at this time.
"when there was no king in Israel", and again we are reminded that they had rejected God as the authority. And when God is no longer the authority in our lives then something replaces God and we become our own authority and slip into relativism. One thing we ought to note here is the emphasis on the Levite. Remember that one of the key figures in the previous event was a Levite, and here we have another Levite. The reason for the focus on Levites is because of all the tribes Levites were not given a possession in the land. Forty-two cities were set aside for Levitical habitation but they were basically designed to be travelers in the land who would teach doctrine to the people. They had as their base a home in one of these forty-two cities but they were not localized, they were not in one particular area. So the emphasis on an anonymous Levite brings again to mind the fact that this could be anybody traveling through the land, so he is a picture of general attitude throughout the land as a whole.
Verse 2, "And his concubine played the harlot against him." That is not exactly the correct translation. It is from the Hebrew verb zanah. There is a lot of debate over the meaning of this. The primary word that is most often used does mean to act like a prostitute, to commit immorality, fornication, and to be sexually unfaithful. There is another word that looks very similar and it refers to anger. Some think that this was just a scribal error and that what this is is just a domestic squabble here, and that she detests him. But recent Hebrew scholarship says that there is a second root that is a homonym of zanah. It looks the same but has another meaning, and that means to be angry or to quarrel. That seems to fit the context here best because it doesn't seem that there is any level of infidelity, another person involved. It seems to be that this chapter just begins with an every-day domestic quarrel like any quarrel we might have in our own marriages and families, and she gets mad with him and goes back home to live with poppa. It just starts off with a domestic squabble in this family and it is going to erupt into a major disruption in the entire nation. So it should be translated, "But his concubine became angry with him."
Verse 3, "And her husband arose, and went after her, to speak friendly unto her," and there we have the Hebrew idiom which means to speak to her heart. It is commonly interpreted from the idea to speak tenderly to her or lovingly to her but it probably is an idiom carrying the idea of persuasion, to persuade her. He brought a couple of donkeys, he shows some concern for her. But notice that after this point the woman just moves into the background. She becomes a non-entity. She makes one decision in this whole event, and that is to leave the husband and go home to daddy, but after that she is a non-player, she is totally passive, everybody else is going to make decisions and she is treated as a non-entity. And this is emphasized by the way the writer ignores her in the remainder of the text. He is making an emphasis there that there is such a degradation and such an antagonism between the sexes, the men have become so arrogant, that the women are just simple back-drops to the main action and are really irrelevant to male arrogance and male honor. That is what happens in human viewpoint patriarchy when there is no doctrine.
The father rejoiced to see the husband and, v. 3, detained him three days. And, v.5, on the fourth day they rose up early to depart. The father is being very hospitable and offers food (breakfast) before proceeding. He is a picture of hospitality, and one of the things that this goes back to is in the second law of the Mosaic law—Jesus summarized the law into two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and, love your neighbor as yourself—that every Jew was under a suzerain vassal treaty with God. So God is saying that everyone in Israel is my vassal, you are to treat one another, whether you know one another or not, in a certain way because you are all my vassals. The same thing becomes applicable in the church. We are to love one another as Christ loved the church. Whether we know some other believer or not we are to love them as Christ loved them because they are another member of the royal family of God, and that is impersonal love. And that involves hospitality. So the writer is painting this detailed picture of the hospitality of the father-in-law, that he is gracious.
In the following verses the time is drawing out. Again and again the writer keeps putting these time factors in there. It is there for a reason and we need to pay attention to it. Time was going by. But, v.10, the man was not willing to spend the night, so he arose and came to a place opposite Jebus. He is leaving near evening, so what does that tell us? He is not going to get very far. If he had waited until the morning nothing in this whole chapter would have taken place. He could have reached home. This whole section has portrayed normal oriental hospitality. Because it is so normal we tend to just read past it, but the fact that it is normal the writer is emphasizing, because it is really abnormal in this setting. Because it is the usual state of affairs he wants us to pay attention to it because now it has become unusual in Israel for this to be taking place, and it is going to be contrasted with the events that take place as he comes to Gibeah. Jebus is the ancient name of Jerusalem. "His concubine also with him," as if it is an afterthought. The woman here is just viewed as an afterthought. The writer is taking pains to emphasize this.
A couple of things about the woman we ought to pay attention to. One is that the only time she seems really positive towards this man is when he comes to see him and she welcomes him, but then she disappears into the background. All of the dialogue is between her husband and her father. So in light of this we see that the narrator is portraying her is a negative light, unlike Achsah the wife of Othniel back in chapter one, who does get involved. But this woman is completely passive, is completely ignored, and just takes up a background role.
Verse 11, the Levite urged the man to lodge in Jebus. But, v.12, his master said, "We will not turn aside into the city of a foreigner, who is not of the children of Israel; we will go on as far as Gibeah. " What he is saying is that the city is dominated by a bunch of pagans and we can't be safe there. The irony is that he is going to press on and go to a town controlled by Israelites, where he is not safe and where she is going to lose her life. The irony is that Israel no longer is a place safe for even Jews to live.
Verse 15, his father-in-law had been wining him and dining him for three days but here nobody even says, Hi. They are not hospitable. The writer wants us to be aware of the fact that there is something very troublesome about this.
Verse 16, "And, behold, there came an old man from his work out of the field at even, which was also of mount Ephraim; and he sojourned in Gibeah: but the men of the place were Benjamites." Note: The writer has now mentioned Benjamin twice now. There are three times he has mentioned Gibeah. Then he makes the point that this other man, this old man, is sojourning in Gibeah, he is not a local and he is not a Benjamite. He really wants to make the point that this man is not a Benjamite, follow the ball, Benjamin is where the place of trouble is, the Benjamites.
This old man was the only one to recognize his vassal responsibility to love his neighbor and is going to be hospitable, and everyone is too concerned with what is going on in their own lives and their own affairs to open up their home and to be kind to this stranger. He invites them to his house. Verse 20, "Do not spend the night in the open square." There is a warning there. This is a walled city to protect the people from trouble outside, but the old man recognizes that the problem is not outside, the problem is inside. Everything we see here is the result of the nation forgetting their responsibilities as vassals to God, rejecting doctrine, rejecting the law, and so it has its impact in the way it tears apart the fabric of society. It tears apart marriages, it promotes an environment where sodomy increases, there is sexual perversion that is taken as being normal, where people are uncaring and uncompassionate, and the only thing they are concerned about is doing whatever pleases themselves. So we see how arrogance and selfishness rise to the top in a pagan society.