JUDGES CHAPTER 19
1 A Levite goeth to Beth-lehem to fetch home his wife. 16 An old man entertaineth him at Gibeah. 22 The Gibeonites abuse his concubine to death. 29 He divideth her into twelve pieces, to send them to the twelve tribes.
1. In those days. The narrative recorded in chs. 19 to 21 depicts events in the early history of the tribe of Benjamin (see on ch. 20:28).
No king in Israel. Again the author prefaces his story of the lawless times and the intertribal strife with the explanation that such things were possible because there was no king in Israel to keep law and order. The tranquillity that exists in a country where law is respected and enforced is not always appreciated as it ought to be.
A concubine. She would be an inferior wife, lacking the regular status of even a second wife, and yet it was not a passing affair but seemingly a regular, lasting relationship, as shown by the fact that though her unfaithfulness to him was regarded as reprehensible, the husband sought later to effect a reconciliation.
Beth-lehem-judah. The Levite of the former story also had connections in Bethlehem (see on ch. 17:7).
2. Played the whore. Some of the LXX and Latin manuscripts read “was angry with him.” The Jewish Targums also support this reading. This idea is thought to fit the context better, for when the Levite went after her, he did not scold, but spoke kindly in order to placate her. However, these considerations do not seem to supply a sufficient ground for departing from the reading of the Hebrew.
3. Speak friendly unto her. Literally, “speak to her heart.”
She brought him. His approach was evidently successful, for she brought her husband into the house.
Rejoiced to meet him. The anxious hospitality of the concubine’s father indicates that the separation was probably regarded as a disgrace to the family. The father was outwardly apologetic and showed clearly his pleasure at the reconciliation by insisting that the Levite spend several days visiting with the family.
4. Retained him. The girl’s father strongly urged the Levite to stay longer than the Levite wished. The exaggerated hospitality of the father-in-law was designed, no doubt, to make a good impression on the Levite. Clearly he did not want the couple to quarrel again. He was doing his best to cement their relationship.
5. Comfort thine heart. The marginal reading “strengthen thine heart” is probably the more correct. The word here translated “comfort” means “to prop,” “to uphold,” “to support,” and in connection with “heart” may mean “to refresh [the body] with food.”
Morsel. This of course would be a polite way of saying it. It is likely that a feast was prepared.
8. Tarried. Again the father-in-law persuaded them to delay their departure until he could prepare another meal. Evidently it too was a large feast which the father-in-law did not hurry to prepare and during which there was much leisurely talk.
10. Would not tarry. The Levite, probably recognizing that it would be as difficult to break away the next day as it had been the previous two days, declined the invitation and started his journey homeward at this inappropriate hour. The results were disastrous, as the sequel shows.
The urgency with which, after three days, the father-in-law pressed the Levite to remain even though the latter was anxious to be on his way, was a form of politeness common to Eastern lands, but really contrary to the best form of hospitality. Equally objectionable is the host who hastens the guest who would stay. The author of Judges contrasts the exaggerated hospitality of the father-in-law with the utter lack of it which the Levite soon experienced in Gibeah. As for the Levite, his experience was that of many weak and vacillating souls, first, unnecessary delay, and then overstrained hurry.
Jebus. This was the ancient name of Jerusalem, at this time a city of the Jebusites (see 1 Chron. 11:4, 5; see on Judges 1:21). The city is called Jebusi in Joshua 18:16, 28. The name Jerusalem itself is also ancient, occurring in Egyptian texts of the 19th and 18th centuries b.c. and in the letters of Canaanite rulers (Amarna tablets) written about 1400 b.c., as Urusalim.
11. Far spent. The journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, a distance of about 5 mi., would require about two hours.
12. Of a stranger. According to this statement, Jerusalem was still controlled by the Jebusites. The Levite feared lest in Jerusalem the rights of hospitality might be violated, and he be plundered. Therefore he hastened on, even though nightfall was right upon them, with the desire of reaching an Israelite settlement in which to spend the night. To be caught at nightfall in open country in those days was extremely dangerous. The incident illustrates that a smoldering hostility existed between the Israelites and the Jebusites of Jerusalem.
Gibeah. This city, the destination which the Levite had in mind, lay beyond Jerusalem, about 3 1/2 mi. (5.6 km.) on the road leading to the north. It was this Gibeah that later became the birthplace of Saul and the place where he established the political capital of his kingdom. The site is known today as Tell el–Fūl.
13. Ramah. This city lay 1.9 mi. (3 km.) beyond Gibeah. The two cities are on other occasions mentioned together (Isa. 10:29; Hosea 5:8). Perhaps the Levite knew that Gibeah did not have a good reputation, and that it would be better to proceed to Ramah if possible.
14. Belongeth to Benjamin. This is mentioned to make clear that it was not the Gibeah of Judah (Joshua 15:57) or the Gibeah in the hill country of Ephraim (Joshua 24:33, where the Hebrew for “hill” is gib‘ah).
15. Turned aside. The village was off the main road.
In a street. Literally, “the broad place.” This was the customary open space of each city, usually near the gate, that was used as the market place, where farmers and merchants displayed their wares. In small towns like Gibeah there probably were no inns and travelers were dependent upon the hospitality of the inhabitants. The Levite and his company sat down in the market place, hoping for someone to offer them shelter for the night.
No man. Although many of the inhabitants must have observed them sitting there as the darkness fell, no one was willing to fulfill the responsibility of hospitality which, according to ancient custom, was the first duty of the East (see Job 31:32; Matt. 25:35). Even though some may have been inclined to furnish the protection of their homes to the three travelers, they probably feared that such action might invite trouble for themselves from their debauched neighbors. The same neglect might have befallen the angels at Sodom but for the hospitality of Lot (Gen. 19:1–3).
16. Of mount Ephraim. The only person who took any interest in the travelers was not a native of the place. He was an old man who came from the same area as did the Levite, yet he manifested his hospitable interest before he had learned of that fact. He was merely a sojourner, a temporary resident of Gibeah. This point is mentioned by the author to contrast the lack of hospitality on the part of the Benjamite inhabitants with the presence of it on the part of the Ephraimite sojourner.
17. Whither goest thou? Friendly natives still put the same questions to strangers in Palestine.
18. House of the Lord. Evidently the Levite referred to Shiloh, where the ark and the tabernacle were located. Shiloh was in Ephraim, perhaps quite near the home of the Levite, and thither he wished to go perhaps to present a thank offering to the Lord for restoring his wife to him, or to present a sin offering for her or for both of them, or even to perform his regular Levitical offices.
The LXX gives the phrase “to the house of the Lord” as “to my house.” In support of this reading is the clear implication of the context which indicates that the Levite was on his way home. On the other hand, both objectives might easily have been in the Levite’s mind.
19. No want. The Levite had plenty of food for himself, for the people with him, and for his pack animals. All he asked was shelter and the protection that would go with it.
20. All thy wants. The old man courteously insisted on providing food as well as lodging for the strangers.
21. Gave provender. By caring for the animals first they gave evidence of their humane attitudes.
22. Sons of Belial. Literally, “sons of worthlessness.” The expression was used to describe worthless, evil, low-minded, lawless fellows, vile scoundrels. In later times the word Belial came to be used as a proper name, a synonym for Satan (2 Cor. 6:15), but it is doubtful whether it had that signification here. Hence the word should perhaps be translated and not written as a proper name.
Beset the house. The resemblance between this and the equally repulsive narrative of Gen. 19:8 is close. These men were worse than brutes. Their unnatural lust and infamy were recalled with horror for centuries (see Hosea 9:9; 10:9).
23. Do not so wickedly. To violate the right of hospitality and protection of their neighbor was in itself a heinous crime. In Eastern lands it was a rigid rule that after hospitality had been extended to a wayfarer, he was to be safe from harm.
Folly. This word was frequently used for an outrage against the laws of nature, particularly of a sexual nature (Gen. 34:7; Deut. 22:21; 2 Sam. 13:12).
24. My daughter. The similarity between this verse and Gen. 19:8 is marked. Like Lot, with whose experience he was no doubt familiar, the old man offered to sacrifice his maiden daughter to the lust of these vile brutes rather than to have his guest treated in this shameful way. Although we can appreciate his desire to maintain the code of hospitality, yet the nature of his offer fills us with horror. It reflects the ancient low estimate of womanhood. The man must be judged, in part at least, by the conceptions of the times in which he lived (see on Gen. 19:8).
25. Took his concubine. The Hebrew verb translated “took” is chazaq. It signifies “to seize,” or “to take by force.” The husband seized the defenseless woman and forced her to go out. Naturally the concubine would resist so shameful an act. Such cowardice on the part of the Levite was reprehensible in the extreme.
Day began to spring. As daylight approached, the evil men slunk away lest their identity become known.
26. At the door. With her last breath she had turned to the house where he was who should have been her protector, but who had deserted her in the hour of need. She had strength to crawl just to the door, but probably not enough strength to knock for admittance. Outside the door she fell down dead.
27. Upon the threshold. Her hands were upon the threshold as though they had been stretched out toward her husband in one last agony of appeal.
28. Let us be going. After such an experience, the Levite spoke with such apparent nonchalance that we are shocked, and we are prepared to expect almost anything from him. It is, perhaps, no wonder that the poor woman had run away from him in the first place.
29. Divided her. There certainly would have been a less gruesome way to call the tribes together to execute judgment upon the evil men of Gibeah; but by this time the character of the Levite has become sufficiently apparent for us not to be too surprised by his grisly method of notifying the tribes.
Together with her bones. The word “together” has been supplied by the translators. It is better to omit it, and to translate simply “according to her bones.” The idea is that some of the pieces were larger, some smaller, according as the joints would permit the body to be divided.
Coasts. That is, “borders.”
30. No such deed. The Levite calculated correctly. The story of the deed aroused the moral indignation of all the Hebrews in Palestine. They recognized that here was such a foul deed that not even the unsettled times and a lack of a central ruling authority could serve as an excuse to let it go unpunished.