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The Unnamed Concubine

Original Publication Date
November 6, 2022
Updated
Nov 7, 2022 1:07 AM
Tags
Character StudyJudgesWomenSexual Assault
Bible References
Judges 19-21
Status
Done
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Trigger Warning: This post contain discussion of sexual assault and violence.

Origin

We aren’t told much about The Unnamed Concubine—we aren’t even told her name. However, we are told that she is from Bethlehem, which was in Judah and lived during the days before Israel had a king. With this information, it is probable that she is a descendant of the Tribe of Judah. Her story is given in

.

Status as a Concubine

Israel was not the only nation where the practice of having concubines was “normal,” but the practice isn’t common in our modern era, at least not in the United States. Because of this, every time I see the word concubine in the Bible, I wonder what exactly is a concubine. Generally, I think of a concubine as being lower than a wife, but higher than a mistress (usually, the wife would know that a concubine existed). According to multiple dictionaries, my interpretation of the word is pretty spot on—the major difference is that many dictionaries list mistress as a synonym for for concubine. In fact, based on the definition, many women today are actually concubines.

Judges 19:2 tells us that the concubine was not faithful to her husband and returned to her father’s house. It is unclear if the husband made her leave after discovering her infidelity, or if she left on her own due to her desire for another man. Since we aren’t given much information about the concubine or the man she is associate with, we also don’t know how many wives or concubines he had. It is possible she was the only woman in the man’s life; it’s also possible that he had multiple wives and other concubines.

Regardless of how many wives the man had, he clearly thought this concubine was worth fighting for. Four months after her departure, he journeys to her father’s house to reunite with her. It seems he convinces her to return with him fairly early in the trip but is convinced to stay by the father-in-law for five days. It is the father-in-law’s insistence that gives the couple a late start back to their home in Ephraim.

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This is part of why the concept of concubine confuses me. When reading the definition of concubine provided in dictionaries, if a couple is “shacking” the woman is a concubine. However, in this situation, the man would never be referred to as a husband. It seems odd that the woman can be not a wife, but the man retains the status of husband. One could argue that because he is providing for the woman he is playing the role of husband and thus considered a husband, but would not the same be true of a concubine? If there is no marriage covenant, how is it that we confer the title of husband upon the man? This is why I thought there was more to the role of concubine, making it more “official” than a live-in girlfriend.

Tragedy

On the journey back to Ephraim, the couple gets a late start. Due to this late start, it is already late when they arrive in Jerusalem which is not yet under Israelite control. Unwilling to stay in a city that didn’t belong to the Israelites, the man pushes on to Gibeah despite how late it is. Gibeah was a territory belonging to the Tribe of Benjamin, and presumably, the man thought it would be safer. Unlike today, where there are hotels, it was common in those days for locals to offer their home to travelers. Since they arrive at dark, they have no where to stay and end up in the equivalent of a city square. Eventually an old man from the same area in Ephraim who happens to be staying in Gibeah comes along and invites them to stay with him for the night.

From here, the story parallels the story of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. Men come to the house and request that the husband is handed over to them so that they may have sex with him.

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I have questions about why the men who approached the house didn’t just invite the family to stay with them. By the time the old man comes along, people have said no to hosting the family or passed by and completely ignored them. Multiple people in the city had to have known and discussed the travelers for the men to know they were not only there, but where they were staying. It speaks to the temporary-ness of what they desired. Providing a shelter and food over night was more than they were willing to give

Reaction

Like Lot, the owner of the house pleads for the men not to rape the man and suggests the men take his daughter and the concubine instead. There is a lot to be said about this reaction.

23 The man whose house it was went out and said to them, “No, my brothers, please don’t do anything as wrong as this. Look, he’s just a guest in my house; don’t do this degrading thing. 24 Here’s my daughter, who’s a virgin, and his concubine. I’ll bring them out. Mistreat them, do what you want to them, but don’t do such a degrading thing to this man.” Judges 19:23-24 CJB

Understanding the Horror of Rape

The first thing the men’s reaction says it that they understand that rape is an atrocity. In the CJB the old man calls the act degrading. Other translations use vile, shameful, horrible, etc. to describe the act. The original Hebrew word could be translated also as crime or moral wickedness.[1] The fact that the owner of the house calls it such not once but twice, proves that he understands it is something bad.

Beyond Homosexuality

Like with Sodom and Gomorrah, many will read this and their only take away will be that this passage is a condemnation of homosexuality. While the owner of the house clearly views the rape of a man to be worse than the rape of a woman, if we pay attention we can see that he is not saying it’s ok to rape the women but not ok to rape the men. In the CJB, he says the men can “mistreat” the women. Other translations say abuse, violate, or humble in reference to the treatment of the women. The original Hebrew essentially means to afflict or oppress.[2] As such, it is clear that the man is not suggesting the act is good regardless of gender.

Cultural Oppression of Women

In Ephesians 5:28-29, we are told that husbands are to love their wife the way they love their own body. From the very first marriage in Genesis it is established that man and wife are one flesh. After the fall, man took the opportunity to blame womankind for the predicament of humans and twisted the punishment of woman in to a second class citizen. In many cultures, women have been treated as less, including the Israelite culture. This is not God’s description of how a woman is to be treated. Nonetheless, we see this idealogy in the response of the old man. Both he and Lot offer their own daughters to be raped by the men of the town. In the end, even the Levite husband hands over his concubine to save himself.

Can you imagine if in the Garden Gethsemane, while Messiah was wrestling with His coming death He decided to let Peter take the fall instead. Even worse, He offers up Mary and Martha. Instead of protecting the women of the house, the men protected themselves. We know that this wasn’t God’s design or plan because in the aftermath there is more death and more suffering.

28 This is how husbands ought to love their wives — like their own bodies; for the man who loves his wife is loving himself. 29 Why, no one ever hated his own flesh! On the contrary, he feeds it well and takes care of it, just as the Messiah does the Messianic Community, 30 because we are parts of his Body. 31 “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and remain with his wife, and the two will become one.” Ephesians 5:28-31 CJB

Death

The assault results in the death of the concubine. We are told that this assault lasted all night. When her husband wakes up in the morning, he has no compassion toward her and merely bids her to leave with him before discovering that she is dead. Although I don’t condone adultery, I kind of see why she thought someone else was a better option.

Aftermath

Despite the husband’s nonchalant reaction to handing her over to be assaulted, he reacts with a vengeance upon her death. Her body is desecrated to send a message to all the tribes of Israel and rally them against the city that committed such a heinous act. 400,000 soldiers come together to avenge her death and 25,000 people die in the ensuing battle to bring the tribe of Benjamin to justice. The biggest take away I took from the story is that even an adulterous, no-named woman was worthy of having the whole country go to war to avenge her honor.

References & Footnotes

  1. Strong’s H5039. נְבָלָה“. Blue Letter Bible; visited November 2022
  2. Strong’s H6031. עָנָה“. Blue Letter Bible; visited November 2022

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You Are What You Eat: 1 Timothy 4:1-7
1 TimothyTimothyFood and DietClean and Unclean
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You Are What You Eat: Mark 7:15
Food and DietClean and UncleanMatthewMark
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You Are What You Eat: Isaiah 66
Food and DietClean and UncleanIsaiahProphecy
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Why ‘The Bride of Christ’ is the Perfect Description
RelationshipsRevelationMessiahProphecy
Would You Rather?: Betray or Deny
Would You RatherJudasPeterRepentance and ForgivenessLuke
Would You Rather?: Feed vs. Heal
Would You RatherSpiritual GIftsJohnMatthew
Would You Rather?: Marriage vs. Singleness
Would You RatherRelationshipsLoveRepentance and ForgivenessHoseaPaul
Would You Rather?: Rahab vs. Mary
Would You RatherRahabMary & JosephWomen
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Theme
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Tragic Hero
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Zoomorphism
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Utopia
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Tragedy
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Tragic Flaw
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Subplot
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Round Character
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Synecdoche
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Symbolism
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Rising Action
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Retorical Question
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Resolution
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Romance
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Plot Twist
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Rebuttal
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Proverb
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Refrain and Repetition
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Plot
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Prologue
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Protagonist
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Pleonasm
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Logos
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Parrhesia
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Personification
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Pathos
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Passive Voice
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Perspective
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Nemesis
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Parallelism
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Omniscient
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Ode
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Non Sequitur
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Parable
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Paradox
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Irony
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Motif
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Intertextuality
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Narrative
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Narrator
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Juxtaposition
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Metonymy
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Jargon
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Inciting Incident
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Imagery
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In Media Res
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Hyperbole
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Illusion
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Idiom
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Homily
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Hypophora
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Flat Character
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Flash Back
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Foil
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Frame Story
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Foreshadowing
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Hero
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External Conflict
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Flash Forward
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Exposition
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Etymology
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Existentialism
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Extended Metaphor
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Exaggeration
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Evidence
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Euphemism
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Enthymeme
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Epilogue
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Elegy
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Epithet
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Enumeration
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Ethos
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Epistle
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Epiphany
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Digression
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Diatribe
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Dialogue
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Dysphemism
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Dynamic Character
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Dilemma
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Dystopia
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Conflict
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Concession
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Comparison and Contrast Essay
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Deus Ex Machina
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Context
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Deuteragonist
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Connotation
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Coherence
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Cliff Hanger
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Colloquialism
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Climax
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Comedy
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Circumlocution
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Chronology
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Cause and Effect Essay
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Bias
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Canon
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Audience
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Atmosphere
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Catastrophe
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Catharsis
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Anthropomorphism
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Archetype
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Aphorism
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Aside
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Apologia
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Anti-hero
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PSALMS to God is a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel that discusses many topics and issues, always keeping YHWH as the anchor. Hosea 4:6 says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”—here, the aim is to always ask questions and study to find the answers. You can keep up with new content by signing up for the weekly newsletter.
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