This is a brutally confronting passage.
For people who aren’t very familiar with the Bible, you need to double check to see if this is actually the Bible. They think the Bible is all love and roses and kindness and softness, and then BAM! A passage like this that shocks you to the core. There’s no way you could possibly minimise or soften the heartless violence perpetrated.
And what makes it even harder is that the passage narrates the heinous events with a detached calmness. Outlining without emotion that even the simplest visualisation of the events would be shocking in the extreme.
We wonder what this text is meant to teach.
We agree that all of the Bible is God’s Word.
But what on earth do we do with a narrative such as the one we have today?
This passage teaches us three important things about sin. It teaches us that sin desensitises, sin is deceptive, and sin is universal. And it does it through the characters in the narrative. What we see in the characters here is the way in which sin has corrupted and distorted and affected everyone. Every character in the passage we look at is sinful.
The first thing we learn about sin is that SIN DESENSITISES.
Let’s start off with the Levite. He is living in the remote parts of the hill country in Ephraim. In other words, he’d abandoned God’s calling on his life to serve in the ministry. And he’s taken himself a concubine.
We’ve had concubines appearing at various points in the Book of Judges. Let me explain what a concubine was. A concubine was a woman taken or purchased to essentially be a baby-making factory. A concubine didn’t have the rights of a wife, and was only useful for increasing the number of family members.
This was important to tribal leaders, who wanted to expand the strength of their families through more children. But here with the Levite, it’s different. He has no place trying to expand his tribe.
And from the text, the absence of any mention of a wife other than this concubine suggests that the Levite doesn’t have a wife. So here, we have a Levite, who not only has abandoned ministry, but he’s got himself a concubine.
In this context where he doesn’t have a wife but has a concubine, she is essentially his sex-slave. He’s thoroughly desensitised to God. This Levite has abandoned his call and is simply satisfying his physical urges.
His concubine leaves him, and yet it takes the guy 4 months to go about seeking to bring his concubine back. After he gets her back, when his life is threatened, he throws out his concubine to be brutally gang-raped all night. And the ghastly thing, as she would’ve screamed in pain and misery all night, he was soundly asleep.
V27 tells us that in the morning, he woke up. And as he walks out, he sees his concubine collapsed on the threshold of the house. And his words, heartbreaking words from a heartless man to a woman who has had all manner of indignity done to her, “Get up, let us be going.” When she doesn’t answer, he loads her up on a donkey, takes her to his home, and calmly cuts her up in to 12 pieces. The capping of this horror story is that we’re not sure if she has actually died or not before this Levite cuts her in to pieces.
Then we get to the random old man who was resettled in Gibeah, but was originally from Ephraim. He offers hospitality that no one else in the city does. As we first meet him, he seems the only good person in the story. But alas, that’s not to be.
When the sex-crazed mob bang on his door demanding he hand over the 2 visiting men – the Levite and his servant – the old man does something which is absolutely shocking and goes to show how sin can desensitise us to what is truly right and wrong. For the sake of upholding his own honour of maintaining the laws of hospitality, the old man offers his own virgin daughter AND the concubine of his visitor. Let’s see this for what it is.
He recognises one sin. But he fails to see the greater sin.
He recognises that the mob demanding to have the men is against the laws of hospitality. But he fails to see their sexual hunger which demands satisfaction is a greater sin. So tries to counter by something which is equally heinous.
He’s been desensitised to the horror of sin.
So too the mob. They’ve become nothing more than automatons bent on satisfying their bodily desires. They see some new men come to their town, and the first thing they think of is, “We need to have sex with them.” And when that’s denied them, they make do with the concubine as they gang-rape her throughout the night. They have been totally desensitised to any sense of right and wrong. And are just out to fulfil their physical urges.
So the first thing we see through these characters is that SIN IS DESENSITISING.
The second is that SIN IS DECEPTIVE.
We have the father-in-law. He seems, on the surface, the model of warm hospitality, even to the point of being excessive. He puts on a five-day party for his son-in-law.
But do you see what’s going on here?
The father-in-law isn’t simply being generous with his hospitality. He’s relieved that the Levite has come to collect the shame of a daughter hanging around his neck. And he’s doing everything to suck up enough to his son-in-law so he will take her back and rid him of the shame. The father-in-law is simply protecting his own interests.
That’s what sin is. It’s deceptive. It makes us believe the lie that we’re doing something good – in this case, the father-in-law showing generous hospitality. But it’s for a sinister, selfish motive.
Look also at the concubine. A victim. There’s no doubt she is a victim and what’s done to her is truly horrendous. But she isn’t sin free. Without lessening the horror of what happens to her, we need to be real that she isn’t innocent. Look at the very start of the passage.
V2, and his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house.
Literally, the words in v2 are that “she played the whore”. In other words, she slept with someone else, then decided to leave the Levite who she was legally bound to and return to her father’s house. Now, going by the Levite and his actions later on in the chapter, it’s probably true that he was not a nice person and did not treat her well. But that does not justify the concubine’s sin.
She can’t say, “Because my husband is not treating me well, I’ll sleep with someone else and then run away to my dad.”
Of course, she wouldn’t have said it that way. She probably would have said things along the lines of “I need love in my life. I can’t get it from my husband, but here is a man who cares for and is gentle and kind.”
And she sleeps with him.
Afterwards, she’s probably thinking, “I need protection from the anger of my husband. He may get violent. I know, I’ll go to my father’s house and hide there for a while.”
Sin is deceptive.
It twists and distorts the reality of the situation and excuses wrong motivations as we make ourselves believe that we’re somehow the victim and we’re justified in whatever it is we do.
Finally, SIN IS UNIVERSAL.
We flinch at the horror of what happens within this passage. But the writer wants us to realise that none of us, NOT YOU, NOT ME, are exempt from such sinfulness.
You may have noticed that no names are given for any of the characters that appear.
And that is intentional. This is Israel. The sin and rebellion in this narrative that is so like the sin and rebellion of Sodom and Gomorrah is no longer out there. The very sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is to be found within the very people of God.
V1 starts off with the key phrase. In those days, when there was no king in Israel. There was no king in Israel. Israel had functionally rejected God’s rule and His standards. And when that happens, there is no sin too horrible.
The point of this passage is that human beings, even the so-called people of God, are capable of doing ANYTHING once they have thrown off and rejected God’s rule. This is US.
This is YOU and ME.
We are meant to realise that the unfaithful concubine is you and me. The heartless Levite who has abandoned God is you and me. The self-serving father-in-law is you and me. The old man who would give his virgin daughter to protect his name is you and me. The Benjaminite mob who gang-rapes the young woman is you and me.
This is us.
Romans 3:10-18 quoting from the Psalms.
as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans goes on in 3:23 to tell us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Like Israel in this passage, in our fallen state, every single one of us are more than capable of the most heinous, horrific sin. It’s only when we acknowledge the universal scope of sin and our fallenness that we can move forward.
The realisation that we are all marred by such sinfulness leads to true repentance for sin. Only if we understand that we have no goodness at all and that we are entirely without hope will we be able to see the greatness of our sin and mourn over it as we should. As long as we think there is even the tiniest bit of good in us, we will not be inclined to think of our sins of confess them before God. The opposite is also true. One who does not confess their sins daily before God and mourn for them does not really understand the truth that we are each grave sinners.
With true repentance, we are now free. But true freedom is not just freedom from the enslavement of sin and the condemnation that deserves. True freedom means we are adopted as God’s sons to live in the way which is pleasing to Him and in accord with His purpose. And the implications of this freedom are clearly seen in Galatians 5:1, 13-14.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again tot a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Here, we are urged to stand firm and not let ourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery. In other words, we are being urged to fight against sin. In our new-found freedom, instead of doing whatever we want, we are urged to serve others with love. Instead of selfishly gratifying our fleshly desires, we selflessly serve others for the glory of God.