Thoughts on the Most Horrific Story in the Bible (Weekly Word)

Last night at CSF we studied the story of a Levite and his concubine from Judges 19-21.  If it is not the most horrific story in the Bible, it is certainly top 5.  The concubine, a sort of second-tier, lesser wife, leaves the Levite and goes back home.  Older translations said the woman prostituted herself out, basically blaming the woman for much of what was about to happen.  Newer scholarship argues that the specific reason she leaves is unclear, leaving it as anger at the Levite.  When the rest of the story is taken into consideration and the Levite’s character is seen, we can see why she left him.

He goes after her and together they begin the journey back to his house.  They are forced to stay in the town of Gibeah for the night and are taken in by an elderly man.  The men of the town come to the house they are staying and, in echoes of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, demand the Levite be sent out so they can rape him.  To make a long story short, he sends his concubine out to save himself.  The next morning, after she is viciously abused, he awakes and finds her laying on the outer doorstep.  Apparently he had no problem sleeping while she was raped.  The text leaves it vague as to whether she is dead or unconscious.

The Levite proceeds to cut her body into twelve pieces and send them out to the twelve tribes, calling for vengeance.  He tells his fellow Israelites what happened, putting himself in the best light.  A few battles follow, the tribe of Benjamin (it was a city of this tribe that committed the crime) is decimated.  The few remaining Benjaminite men have no wives and thus one of the 12 tribes of Israel will die out.  So the Israelites, fresh off decimating them, seek to find them wives.  They do this through further violence and rape.

Its all around awful.

As I prepared for this lesson, two thoughts stuck in my mind.  First is a church I often drive past that has a sign out front that says, “Jesus on every page!”  It sounds nice, but I don’t see Jesus on these pages.  Second is a few websites I came across that use this story as proof the Bible as a whole, and God if one exists, is evil.  The argument seems to be that since this is in the Bible, God is okay with it.

I think both of those are false starts.  Here are the lessons I drew from this story:

  1. The Bible is a Story About Humans and Does Not Hide Humanity’s Depravity – Within this not everything humans do is smiled upon by God.  In other words, just because it is in the Bible does not mean God approves of what happened.
  2. The Bible is Not Simply a “How-To” Manual For Life – Sometimes the Bible is difficult to understand.  We are obsessed with practical application but there does not seem to be much here.  I mean, it can be found – be hospitable, don’t abuse women.  But such lessons are not why this story is in scripture for such lessons could be taught in other ways that do not include horrific narratives.  The point is,the Bible is not always easy, despite what some Christians may say.
  3. The Bible is Not Unbiased – The point of this story – “everyone did what they saw fit because there was no king in Israel”.  That statement is repeated both before the story and at the very end. This shows that the reason Judges was written was to argue for why a king was needed.  Judges is propaganda explaining why we (Israel) need a king.  Yet if we turn the page and go into the books of Samuel and Kings we learn that once kings do show up, violence and evil continue to plague God’s people.  If the problem Judges sees is correct (everyone does as he sees fit), their cure is found to be inadequate (so we need a king).
  4. Ultimately then, this story points to the inadequacy of human systems and even kings – Reading this as a Christian, we do get to Jesus.  The answer is not a king, the answer is Jesus.  Jesus is the one who willingly steps outside, leaving his own safety behind, and gives himself into the hands of the mob to be abused and killed.  Jesus voluntarily takes on violence to say others.
  5. Where is the application then, if there is any?  Well, are we like the Levite, in seeking our own security first?  Or are we like Jesus, giving ourselves for others?  Jesus had the opportunity to harm a woman who was accused of sin but he saved her (John 8:2-11).   And ultimately, as I said above, he gave his life in our place.  This is our example.
  6. Do We Listen to the Voiceless Among us Today? Who is the nameless concubine in our culture today?  It is clear that rape and abuse continue to happen, both on our campus and in our churches.  May we speak in in support of those facing this.  Here are just two resources that are helpful: RAINN  and GRACE .

One thought on “Thoughts on the Most Horrific Story in the Bible (Weekly Word)

  1. Dave, I liked the way you handled this text and actually did bring it around to some thoughtful points about where we are and our relationship to Jesus. The whole story is pretty strange and I have always believed that this was not put in there for our enlightenment, as much as for us to see just how low people can get.

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