“And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote mountains of Ephraim. He took for himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine played the harlot against him, and went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there four whole months.” Then the Levite goes to retrieve her and ends up staying with the father-in-law for several days. While journeying back home, the Levite refuses to stay in a pagan town because he assumes they will be safer in the town of Gibeah, an Israelite town belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. However, in Gibeah no one invites them in except an older man from Ephraim who is staying there.
As they are enjoying themselves in the house of the older man, perverted men from the city come to the house to rape the Levite, similar to what happened at Lot’s house in Sodom. Eventually, in order to protect himself, the Levite throws his concubine out to these wicked men, who abuse her all night. When the men finally release her, she walks to the door of the house where the Levite is staying, falls down, and dies. The next morning her callous master, the Levite, the man who should be caring for the people physically and spiritually and guiding people toward the Lord, opens the door and tells her to get up because they are leaving. But when he discovers she is dead, he loads her on his donkey and takes her home.
Then the Levite chops her body into twelve pieces and sends a body part to each of the tribes of Israel. This gets everyone’s attention. So all the children of Israel gather together before the Lord at Mizpah to hear the Levite’s story. Then Israel asks Benjamin to “deliver up the men, the perverted men who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove the evil from Israel.” However, the Benjamites refuse to rid the land of evil, igniting a war between the tribe of Benjamin and the tribes of Israel.
The Lord instructs the Israelites to attack Benjamin, but Israel is defeated twice by the Benjamites. Keep in mind that it isn’t just the Benjamites living lives of rebellion against the Lord; it is all of Israel. Therefore the Lord is using these defeats to humble Israel as a nation. After a total of forty thousand Israelites are slaughtered, “all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.” Once the people are humble and brought to repentance, the Lord gives them victory over Benjamin. The entire tribe of Benjamin is nearly wiped out by Israel, with only six hundred men remaining.
After some time passes, the Israelites weep at the thought of completely losing the tribe of Benjamin since the Benjamite women were all killed in war, and the Israelites made an oath at Mizpah not to give their daughters to the Benjamites. So when Israel realizes that the people from Jabesh Gilead failed to come to the congregation at Mizpah, the Israelites attack them and take four hundred of their women for the tribe of Benjamin. Then the Israelites give the Benjamites permission to kidnap two hundred of their daughters while they come out to dance at the annual festival at Shiloh, giving each of the remaining Benjamite men a woman.
The book of Judges ends today with this statement which explains why the Judges Era was such a dark period in the history of Israel – “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own sight.” Today’s reading is a perfect example of how wicked a nation can become when everyone is doing what they believe is right in their own sight without regard to God’s word. It started with a Levite taking a concubine, the concubine leaving the Levite, the Levite handing her over to be abused, the men of the city raping and killing her, the shock of the body parts sent out, war against their brothers, killing of others, and kidnapping of women. What a tragic mess! This is why we so desperately need the word of God! We need guidance outside of ourselves for living and relating to others or we will act out of the wickedness of our own hearts. We need the Lord, His word, His Spirit, and His promises.
And that concludes the book of Judges. Tomorrow we get a glimmer of hope in the book of Ruth, as we will see that the Lord is still on the throne. Behind the scenes He is working His plan to send a Savior, just as He promised at the beginning of this story. So keep reading. (Judges 19:1-21:25)