Judges 19-21: A Call To War

Israel finally comes together against a great evil...when it's their own people.


Judges 19 introduces us to another Levite living in Ephraim. This Levite is never given a name throughout the passage discussing his ordeal. I think the reason he remains nameless is to revel in the fact that this man could have been any man and his situation could have been anyone's situation. The purpose of the of this narrative is not only a reminder to us, but was a message to the Israelites living at the time Judges was written. The author wanted to remind them that they had an obligation to their community to treat people well because anyone could become a victim.

This Levite has a concubine, whom we are told left him to return to her father's home in Bethlehem. Again, this is probably something that was common back then. While people weren't allowed divorces, it seems unlikely that arranged marriages always brought happiness. Since women couldn't own property or divorce and remarry (if there was no adultery), it stands to reason that they would end up back at home. After 3 months, the Levite journeys his father-in-law's home to reclaim his wife. The father-in-law is quite delighted at this turn of events and welcomes the man with hospitality for 5 days. The Levite was eager to be on his way, but since it was considered rude to refuse the hospitality, he obliges the man's hospitality each day. On the final day, this causes the couple to take a late start traveling back home. When they reach Jerusalem, which was only a few miles away, darkness is starting to fall. However, the Levite does not want to take chances on foreign hospitality with the Jebusites, so he presses on to Gibeah.

Sodom & Gomorrah Part 2

Photocredit: Meyer
Contrary to the unnamed Levite's mindset, in the Israelite city of Gibeah, hospitality is short. They probably would have been better off in Jerusalem with the Jebusites... Eventually an old man comes to offer them lodging and what follows is almost an exact replica of what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. Men approach the house to have sex with the man and are offered the host's daughter and concubine instead. This time there are no angels present to defend the household and the concubine is abused the whole night. While Sodom and Gomorrah is a famed narrative, this one has been buried in the text, despite it's more tragic outcome.

Strangely, the Levite's reaction is to carry on like nothing has happened. Either this is why the woman left him in the first place, or there was some reason he was powerless in the situation, thus choosing to react apathetically. When he calls for his wife to "come on," she is unresponsive and has collapsed upon the floor. Her death is not specifically recorded, but when the man gets home he divides her body into 12 pieces and sends one piece to each tribe in a call to war.

This is a strange, morbid, and tragic story. The man had just gotten his wife back only to lose her. Of course, we also can wonder why there was not more of a reaction from the man. Perhaps this anger was his reaction. It's unlikely that he could have fought the men alone and the host was too old to fight. If anything would have made Israel jump into action, this should have been it. Not only would it breed compassion for the poor woman, but the recognition of the parallels between Sodom and Gomorrah should have been a huge warning.


The Israelites come together to flush out this evil, drawing 400,000 men to fight. The tribe of Benjamin asks why the Israelites are gather against them, to which the Levite recounts his experience. Since Gibeah was a city within the boundaries of Benjamin, the Israelites who banded together would have been gathering against the tribe of Benjamin if the tribe didn't turn against the city. We've already been told that the Levite sent the scattered pieces of the woman's body to all 12 tribes so unless the author was including Levi but excluding Benjamin (note the only place Levi is counted as a tribe is in Revelation), the Benjamites would have been in the know of what happened. The Israelites request the Benjamites turn over the culprits of the crime, but surprisingly, the Benjamites refuse. Instead the Benjamites rally 26,700 men to fight for them. Does this not sound like an issue of nationalism? Even though they were wrong, they wanted to fight for the honor of Benjamin.

Despite being out numbered by the rest of Israel, Benjamin achieves several victories before God is called upon by the Israelites. Thanks to God, this marks a turning point in the battle. The Israelites consult Phineas—the high priest—and fast before heading back into war. The Lord promises to deliver Benjamin into the hand of Israel. This time, the Israelites employ an ambush to defeat Benjamin and are successful at annihilating the city of Gibeah.

The Benjamites flee toward the wilderness and 18,000 of their men are killed when the Israelites close in on them. The Israelites continued capturing and killing the men who escaped. This brings the total up to 25,000 men killed. Only 600 men survive. Those 600 flee to Rimmon for 4 months. Meanwhile, the Israelites set fire to all the cities of Benjamin. It's odd that the Israelites failed to follow God's commands about the strangers but were ready to execute their own people almost to extinction. This parallels our ability to get angry with those closest to us even though we may not be able to express this anger toward strangers.

The Issue of Wives for the Tribe of Benjamin

The Israelites make a vow not to let their daughters marry Benjamites—again, they are eager to shut out the tribe of Benjamin despite eagerly intermarrying with the Canaanites that God told them not to marry. I think this says a lot about our tendencies as human. The Israelites eventually feel sorrowful about the tribe being cut off from Israel and wish to fix it. The Israelites weep before God and offer sacrifices to God in search of a solution for the near extinct tribe of Benjamin. They come up with the idea that whomever didn't fight with them would be destroyed. So the Israelites rise up against Jabash-gilead. They kill all the men and non-virginal women. They then gather 400 virgins. These women were given to the survivors of Benjamin. They also tell the Benjamites to take wives from Shiloh. At this time Shiloh was likely under Canaanite control. The Benjamites take these women as wives and begin to rebuild their cities.

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