Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Judges series - Judges 19 - A Levite and His Concubine

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 19

A Levite and His Concubine

1 In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2 But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father's house in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, 3 her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father's house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. 4 His father-in-law, the girl's father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there. [These last few chapters of Judges are difficult chapters for even the best Bible scholars. I scanned the standard Bible commentaries but there was nothing very “solid” written about these chapters. I tell you these chapters are difficult, that explained why I scanned for help myself. Often, we find standard Bible commentaries might omit explanations for verses because they were easily understood but the omissions of much commentaries for these chapters were perhaps intentional, just on the ground that the scholars really did not know what to make out of these stories. Even as I write I am saying it isn’t easy for me either.

The time period of this story is believed to during the early Judges period. That it showed up in later chapters of the Book of Judges does not necessary mean that it occurred at later part of the period. It was early Judges period, because of the mention of the Levite high priest, Phinehas, in Judges 20:28. The morality depicted by this story was really bad, so bad that it makes one wondered why it could be done by God’s people, and allowed to be recorded here. When you finished the story, you will know what I mean.

Conquered lands were for the possession of the people of Israel. Moses distributed some territories, those on one side (the east) of the Jordan River (Moses did not cross over the Jordan River). Joshua was the one who led the Israelites across the Jordan River, took Jericho, and then later on, took other territories in the Promised Land, as the LORD fought and gave the territories over to the Israelites. Joshua distributed captured territories among the tribes of Israel (By the time Joshua was old and died, not all territories of the Promised Land were captured). But in the distribution, the Levi tribe got no land, they being the priestly tribe, was to live among the other tribes and depended on the other tribes to provide for them as they (the Levites) served as priests for the Israelites. This explains this particular Levite (and even the Levite of Judges 17), moving about the lands of various Israelite tribes (although this did not mean that members of other Israelite tribes did not move about/dwell in their brothers’ lands).

In this story, the Levite was in the hill country of Ephraim (this, I believe, was referring to the hill country of Samaria. This, later became part of Israel, the northern kingdom, the first king {Jeroboam} of which, was an Ephraim, the half-tribe of the house of Joseph. But please note that at this time, there were not yet, the duo kingdoms). He took a concubine from Bethlehem, Judah. The concubine, recorded here, in verse 2, was unfaithful to the Levite. She left the Levite and went back to her father’s house in Bethlehem. The Levite went to his father-in-law’s house to get his concubine back. The father-in-law kept asking the Levite to stay longer.]

[Added: 1 Mar 2013: Concerning the statement of the concubine being unfaithful, the word translated “played the whore” (KJV) and “unfaithful” (NIV) in Hebrew is zanah.  According to Dr Claude Mariottini, in his article, http://claudemariottini.com/rereading-judges-192/,

 “The word has a primary meaning of committing fornication, being a harlot. However, according to Koehler-Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958), 261, the word also can mean “to be angry, hateful” or to “feel repugnant against.”

The Professor went on to say:

“Thus, taking the above meaning of the word, the translation of the NRSV makes better sense: But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah.  This is the view also adopted by some ancient translations such as the Septuagint, the Targum, and the Vulgate.  Neither of these ancient translations nor Josephus accused the woman of conjugal infidelity.”
I leave it to you to assess this; as far as I am concerned, it changes NOT, any of my other commentary on this account.]

5 On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the girl's father said to his son-in-law, "Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go." 6 So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the girl's father said, "Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself." 7 And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. 8 On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the girl's father said, "Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!" So the two of them ate together. 9 Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl's father, said, "Now look, it's almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home." 10 But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. [The father-in-law kept asking his son-in-law to stay longer; what exactly was the motive was not revealed. Finally, despite it being almost evening, the Levite still set off with his concubine and servant.]
11 When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night." 12 His master replied, "No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah." 13 He added, "Come, let's try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places." 14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into his home for the night. [Because they set off late, soon it was nearly dark, and they had to spend the night somewhere, before continuing the next day. The Levite’s servant suggested a nearby city of the Jebusites. Jebusites was a local tribe of the inhabitants of the land (not one of the tribes of Israelites). But the Levite insisted on going to an Israelite-occupied city, and so they ended up in Gibeah, in Benjamin. Benjamites was a tribe of the Israelites.

They were at the city square but no one took them into his home for the night. In those days, hospitality to fellow travelers was expected to be the norm (Because of this norm, Abraham, entertained The Three Vistors/Men – you can read this in Who were The Three Visitors/Men), yet none of the Benjamites took the Levite in. What are we to make out of this? What was the intention of the LORD for having this recorded as such? Was it to show to us, with the disobedience of the Israelites as explained in Judges 2, brotherly kindness also went down the drains? The lack of brotherly kindness bothers the LORD, I believe, that was why we find that Jesus, in his earthly ministry, told of the story of the Good Samaritan. By the way, the “love thy neighbor as yourselves” is not a new command from Jesus; it was an Old Testament command (Lev 19:18); many believers are not aware of this! Or was it to indicate that things were so bad, in terms of moral values, that people just were too afraid to take any strangers into their home, lest they get robbed, molested or even killed?

In present times, do you take strangers into your home to stay? If not, what does it tell of the condition of mankind? Yes, perhaps, it is not wise (whose wisdom?) to take in strangers but how about servants of God (itinerant preachers, overseas preachers/speakers, visiting pastors, etc)? This chap, in the story, was a Levite – priestly family, in those days. There is an important point I believe the LORD had wanted to show to the children of the Israelites – I will dwell on it later, in my commentary for the next chapter, Judges 20.]
16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the men of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. 17 When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, "Where are you going? Where did you come from?" 18 He answered, "We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the LORD. No one has taken me into his house. 19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, your maidservant, and the young man with us. We don't need anything." 20 "You are welcome at my house," the old man said. "Let me supply whatever you need. Only don't spend the night in the square." 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. [It is not very clear whether the old man in verse 16, was an Ephraimite (member of the half-tribe of the house of Joseph) or just a local of the Ephraim land, who was then living in Gibeah, the city of the Benjamites.

But I believe the old man should be an Ephraimite. My reason is this: We read earlier on, the Levite did not want to stop at a city belonging to the Jebusites for the reason that the Jebusites were aliens. So, if the old man was an alien, it was likely that the Levite would have again declined. Furthermore, the Levite’s saying that he was going to the house of the LORD, I believe, was an attempt to appeal to old man to take him in for the night – only an Israelite would be bothered whether or not, the strangers were going to the house of the LORD.]
22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him." [Some Bible translations use the phrase, “sons of Belial” which was translated in the NIV version here as wicked men. There are various definitions of the sons of Belial, some referring to demons, some referring to men. In this context, it should be correct to say that men were being referred to. Some definitions included wicked men, worthless men, yokeless men (I take it to mean men without any meaningful work), men never to rise (“men without future”) – generally, scum of society. In the Book of Jubilees (aka Lesser Genesis, an ancient Jewish religious work), uncircumcised heathens were called sons of Belial.

It is important that we know who these people were, because of the offence committed and the consequence and punishment thereafter, which were the “offensive” elements in this story. Many commentators just assumed that since the city belonged to the Benjamites, the Benjamites did the hideous thing that you would read about later on.

If you have been following this series of mine on the Book of Judges, you would remember that the very thing that the Israelites did wrong that broke the Covenant God made with them was this: that they did not destroy the inhabitants together with all the altars of the pagan gods. Therefore, in places dwelled in by the Israelites, there would be local inhabitants amongst them. For some instances, the Israelites only forced the locals into forced labor, in others, inter-marrying happened afterwards, mixing of bloods and cultures, including worship of gods/deities. The latter was what God did not want to see happened, and it was fundamental in the covenant God had with the forefathers of the then Israelites.

I postulate that the wicked men in verse 22 were not Benjamites. I would not say that I have looked at all the commentaries on this story but of those I looked at, none postulated as such - that the wicked men were not Benjamites. If you look at the definitions of sons of Belial that I have talked about above, particularly the definition from the Book of Jubilees, you might agree with me. I am not saying that it was not possible, but I would say it was highly unlikely that the scum of the city of the Benjamites, made up of Benjamites; it would be more likely that the scum included original locals, other tribes from rural areas sojourned into the city and got dysfunctional much like what we see even in some of our societies and cities. Of course, here the owners of the city, the Benjamites could not escape from the responsibility for the city, leaving the scum of society to do what they like.

Some commentators dealt with the phrase “the people in the house were enjoying themselves” as if to imply that was a sin that “brought on” the subsequent hideous event. I think, that would be reading too much into a very “innocent” phrase.  {Added 26/09/2011: The same "enjoy/merry" {yatab, H3190} was also used in verses 6 & 9 above, by the father-in-law of the Levite - surely there was not the connotation of "sin" there.  It is probably and simply equivalent to "make yourself comfortable and enjoy your meal or stay"!}

Just in case, some did not understand what the wicked men were demanding, they were demanding that the Levite man be given to them for sodomy, for homo-sex. Homosexual practices were and are still expressly forbidden by God – Lev 18:22, Lev 20:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, Jude 1:7 {Added 26/09/2011: My understanding is that God loves sinners, and therefore, including homosexual persons, but hates sins, and that included homosexual practices.}]
23 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. 24 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." 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. 27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, "Get up; let's go." But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. [Yes, this account sounded so familiar, isn’t it? There was a similar account just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; yes, compare this old man here with Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Even compare the entire story.

Here is one more reason I think the old man was an Ephraimite, not a local inhabitant sojourned into Gibeah. The locals would remember the destruction of their twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, Lot, then was staying among the locals of the land on the plains of Jordan. But would they, the locals, have known and passed down the generations, the part of the event that had Lot’s proposal of letting his daughters be defiled instead of the men who were guests at his (Lot’s) house {the 2 men at Lot’s house were angels, and they saved the day, the daughters were not defiled and the twin cities were destroyed by God through the raining down of burning sulphur (Genesis 19)}; I think not.

All the people of Sodom and Gomorrah died except Lot and his daughters. From Lot and his own daughters {the girls slept with their father} came the Moabites and Ammonites; and we also have read in Judges, in an earlier chapter, on Judge Jephthah, that Israelites did not destroy the 2 descendant tribes of Lot, when they (the Israelites) came out of Egypt to go to the Promised Land. Lot and Abraham came from the same bloodline of Shem, son of Noah. I believe on the account of the bloodline, the love of Abraham had for his nephew, and the pact Abraham had with his nephew, God did not want the wars between the Israelites and the descendants of Lot, if it could be avoided (see Deu 2:9,16). For these reasons, the part of the story about Lot’s proposal to the vile men of Sodom (to have his daughters) and how he (Lot) escaped death at Sodom, I believe, got passed onto the Israelites, pointing to the old man was an Israelite.

Alternatively, Abraham could be the one who passed down the story to the Israelites because even though the Bible did not record that he (Abraham) went to look for Lot after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, it was highly probable that he searched out Lot after the destruction since he pleaded with the LORD in Genesis 19, because he knew his nephew was in Sodom. I believe the old man had to be an Israelite to care about such a story and approach, and imitated Lot.

While I did not think the scum were Israelites (also, not Benjamites), I am of the opinion that the old man was an Israelite (not necessarily a Benjamite, though), and not an uncircumcised heathen. If the old man had been the latter, old Bible translations would not have recorded the wicked men as sons of Belial, which meant uncircumcised heathens (according the definition in the Book of Jubilees) with the old man in context, for the old man would then fall in the same category.

I believe, here is a sad case of these: firstly, people (the old man) not knowing well enough, particularly the dealing of God with His pinnacle creation, Man, and did a wrong thing, thinking that history would kind of repeat itself with angels coming to the rescue; secondly, people (the Levite) conveniently manipulated the same.

Maybe some of the cultish “Christian” sad stories of more recent times, involving loss of many lives, were similarly rooted in the misinterpretation and manipulation of scriptures and our true faith heritage. But this does not point towards the suggestion that, not knowing is better than knowing. Because if we do not know the Word/Bible, although we would not be influenced by it, including misinterpretations thereof, at the same time, we would be deprived of its goodness, and instead be influenced and governed by our other knowledge, acquired in life and in dealings with the non-Christian world. The way out is not to throw out the Bible, but to correctly, interpret the Word of God.

In verse 25, we read that eventually, it was the Levite who gave his concubine to the wicked men, not the old man. So the old man’s daughter did not get implicated. But from verse 24, it was clear the old man had thought like what Lot thought of, but it was the Levite who did it. The Levite must have thought likewise (the thoughts of Lot), or in agreement with the old man, and made use of the Lot’s story to save his own skin. The Levite went to sleep and did nothing the whole night. What the wicked men did to the concubine I need not repeat here, I just want to say that she was so inhumanely abused that she was already dead when her husband found her at the door.]
29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 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!" [These verses just, very crudely, said the Levite took a knife and cut up his concubine in full view of the public, much like one cuts up a dead animal. In those days, being unfaithful deserved death, even by stoning, and so, some commentators tended to say she got what she deserved, death, even if her husband had forgiven her!

But the humiliation she suffered before death, to me, did not point to a punishment by God for her sin. Furthermore, in the Gospel, John 20:23 is capable of being interpreted as Jesus was saying if you forgave someone who had sinned against you, God would also forgive that person. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be too quick to say bad things that happened to people are due to God. Every action of God is justified, even if it appeared “bad” to us, there is no wickedness in God. And many bad things are part of the workings of a fallen world, not the doing of God. I do not think that in this case, it is a doing of God. In fact, I doubt whether the Levite had really forgiven his concubine.

After cutting up the body into 12 parts, the Levite had them sent to the tribes of Israel, all over the land! When the people saw the parts, they were shocked, and wondered what to do.]

What can be learnt here: - a shocking story!
Here is the recap –

In this story, a Levite in the Ephraim hill country took a concubine from Bethlehem, Judah. The concubine was unfaithful, and afterward, had left home and gone back to her father’s house in Bethlehem. The Levite went to fetch her back, and on the way back, when it was late, they decided to spend the night in Gibeah, a city, controlled by the Benjamin tribe. An old man, probably a fellow Israelite, extended hospitality to the couple. In the night, while everyone was inside the house, some wicked men of the city came to the door, demanding the Levite be given over to them to have sex, sodomy! The old man said that, that would be a vile and disgraceful thing to do, and countered, offering to give his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to the men, but the men refused. The Levite took his concubine and gave her to the men outside. The men raped and abused the Levite’s concubine until next morning, and she died. Both the old man, and the Levite did nothing until the next morning! The Levite took the body and went back to his own home. On arrival, he cut up the body into 12 parts, and had them sent to the tribes of Israel, all over the place. When the people saw the parts, they were shocked, and wondered what to do.

The story did not end there, it continued into the next 2 chapters, Judges 20 & 21; and we will look at them in subsequent articles.

What were the lessons here? Apart from the indirect issues I have raised in the body of my exposition of the chapter, I will add no more, but to defer them until the exposition of the next chapter; but you can attempt the question (of what lessons) yourself, first!

Anthony Chia – Perhaps, Lord, what you are trying to say here was that if we, the people of God, do not “guard” our city properly, wickedness will take over, disorder, corruption and vileness can become the order of the day, and it will be a sad state of affair, and a sad day or time. May you awaken your people from slumber, in the land of Singapore to guard this Antioch. Amen.

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