You will find the content of this study to be most unpleasant. You will need to be very sensitive, and sensible!
Read Judges 19:1.
Before we start, we are reminded again of what happens when a nation has turned its back on God, and the people are leaderless.
1 In those days Israel had no king.
Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.
Levites were allowed to marry. The term Concubine can simply mean a wife with no dowry. But what do we make of the word ‘took’?
Read Judges 19:2-15.
2 But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her parents’ home in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there for four months, 3 her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her parents’ home, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. 4 His father-in-law, the woman’s father, prevailed on him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.
5 On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, ‘Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.’ 6 So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterwards the woman’s father said, ‘Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.’ 7 And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. 8 On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the woman’s father said, ‘Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!’ So the two of them ate together.
9 Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the woman’s father, said, ‘Now look, it’s almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.’ 10 But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went towards Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine.
11 When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, ‘Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.’
12 His master replied, ‘No. We won’t go into any city whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.’ 13 He added, ‘Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.’ 14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them in for the night.
Why did the father keep delaying their departure? We don’t know!
Read Judges 19:16-21.
16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the inhabitants of the place were Benjaminites), came in from his work in the fields. 17 When he looked and saw the traveller in the city square, the old man asked, ‘Where are you going? Where did you come from?’
18 He answered, ‘We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the Lord. No one has taken me in for the night. 19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants – me, the woman and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.’
20 ‘You are welcome at my house,’ the old man said. ‘Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.’ 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.
Hospitality would have been normal in most parts – but it seems not here.
22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.’
23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, ‘No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.’
25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, ‘Get up; let’s go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.
Does anyone have a question, or a comment?
(Compare Genesis 19:1-11).
Would they have been treated better in the foreign city of Jebus (v11-12)?
29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, ‘Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!’
If we can find a correlation with Sodom, I’m sure the Israelites could too.
Now read Judges 20:1-13a (quite a long section, perhaps people could share)
1 Then all Israel from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came together as one and assembled before the Lord in Mizpah. 2 The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, four hundred thousand men armed with swords. 3 (The Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) (But obviously they did not join in)
Then the Israelites said, ‘Tell us how this awful thing happened.’
4 So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, ‘I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. 5 During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. 6 I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and outrageous act in Israel. 7 Now, all you Israelites, speak up and tell me what you have decided to do.’
8 All the men rose up together as one, saying, ‘None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. 9 But now this is what we’ll do to Gibeah: we’ll go up against it in the order decided by casting lots. 10 We’ll take ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred from a thousand, and a thousand from ten thousand, to get provisions for the army. Then, when the army arrives at Gibeah in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for this outrageous act done in Israel.’ 11 So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city.
12 The tribes of Israel sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What about this awful crime that was committed among you? 13 Now turn those wicked men of Gibeah over to us so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.’
That would have been a sensible action, even a straightforward legal response, but it seems that the Israelites expected the Benjaminites to refuse – hence the army they had raised.
Now read Judges 20:13b-18
But the Benjaminites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. 14 From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. 15 At once the Benjaminites mobilised twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. 16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
It was considered that left-handed swordsmen would be at a disadvantage, so instead they were trained as artillerymen (I have seen Israelis with slings – they are lethal!).
17 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle.
18 The Israelites went up to Bethel (here and later in this chapter Beth-El means house of God. it may well have been at Shiloh where the Tabernacle was situated – see Chapter 21 verses 2 and 12) and enquired of God. They said, ‘Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjaminites?’
The Lord replied, ‘Judah shall go first.’
Now read Judges 20:19-25.
19 The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. 20 The Israelites went out to fight the Benjaminites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. 21 The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. 22 But the Israelites encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. 23 The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they enquired of the Lord. They said, ‘Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjaminites, our fellow Israelites?’
The Lord answered, ‘Go up against them.’
24 Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. 25 This time, when the Benjaminites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.
What was going on? They had enquired of the Lord which tribe should attack first (v18), Then with much weeping they asked again if they should fight the Benjaminites (v23), so why were they being defeated?
We are told that they had ‘assembled before the Lord in Mizpah’ but there is no mention that they had actually enquired of him before gathering their whole army for war. If they had asked, would God have needed such a vast army?
The first question they actually asked God (v18) – probably in the form of drawing lots (the short straw) – was very specific and guaranteed an answer.
So he let them have what they asked.
The second question (v23) was more a yes/no choice, but the Lord still allowed them to test their own strength.
Only when they had tried and failed were they really ready to seek the Lord.
Now read Judges 20:26-28
26 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. 27 And the Israelites enquired of the Lord. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, 28 with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, ‘Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjaminites, our fellow Israelites, or not?’
The Lord responded, ‘Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.’
At last they had the answer they needed ‘I will give them into your hands’
(It may be helpful to provide a map so the action can be followed)
29 Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. 30 They went up against the Benjaminites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. 31 The Benjaminites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads – the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah. 32 While the Benjaminites were saying, ‘We are defeating them as before,’ the Israelites were saying, ‘Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.’
33 All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. 34 Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjaminites did not realise how near disaster was. 35 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjaminites, all armed with swords. 36 Then the Benjaminites saw that they were beaten.
Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah. 37 Those who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword. 38 The Israelites had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, 39 and then the Israelites would counterattack.
The Benjaminites had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites (about thirty), and they said, ‘We are defeating them as in the first battle.’ 40 But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjaminites turned and saw the whole city going up in smoke. 41 Then the Israelites counterattacked, and the Benjaminites were terrified, because they realised that disaster had come on them. 42 So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness, but they could not escape the battle. And the Israelites who came out of the towns cut them down there. 43 They surrounded the Benjaminites, chased them and easily overran them in the vicinity of Gibeah on the east. 44 Eighteen thousand Benjaminites fell, all of them valiant fighters. 45 As they turned and fled towards the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, the Israelites cut down five thousand men along the roads. They kept pressing after the Benjaminites as far as Gidom and struck down two thousand more.
46 On that day twenty-five thousand Benjaminite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. 47 But six hundred of them turned and fled into the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed for four months. 48 The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.
Deuteronomy states in many places ‘You must purge the evil from among you’ (e.g. 17:12) and in Judges 20:13 the same expression had been used ‘purge the evil from Israel.’
It seems very bloodthirsty and not like the God of love that we know. But we must remember that first and foremost God is a holy God, and his people were to be holy too. Leviticus 20:26 ‘You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.’(and 5 other places in Leviticus alone)
That left the tribe of Benjamin with just six hundred men (v47) of marriageable age, but with no women or children to continue their line.
The next study completes the story and is short, so you could take it here if you have time.