“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.” So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.
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.”
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 disgraceful thing. 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 to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”
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. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
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. 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.
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. Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”
I was shocked when I read this. It reads like a horror movie. It wouldn’t be fair to draw conclusions from the excerpt I’ve provided, but imagine if we did. Putting this chapter in the context of the entire book, we might begin to understand the vile nature of the story in light of God, but we must not be mistaken: what happened was gruesome.
The Old Testament, for me, leaves a lot to be desired. What exactly were the authors trying to accomplish with these (hi)stories? It is certainly a violent collection, but why must it be so violent? Didn’t the Israelites struggle with how violent they were as a nation, or were they simply elated that things were going right for them? Why did the man give his concubine to the wicked men? Why did he seem so nonchalant when he saw his concubine on the ground? Why did the old man offer his virgin daughter to these men of questionable morals? Did he have authority to offer his guest’s concubine?
Here’s my take on the passage in light of the book, and a glimpse into how I read the Bible. Maybe the man didn’t really care about his concubine. After all, she was unfaithful to him (Judges 19:2) and he decided to try and convince her to return to him only after four months had passed (19:2-3). The man ended up staying at the woman’s house for 5 days at the beckoning of his father-in-law (19:4-8). Perhaps the father-in-law knew something was fishy. Perhaps he was bound by some cultural code to return his daughter back to her rightful husband, and yet still felt that something wasn’t right.
I also suspect that this man’s selfish motive also reveals the unguided character of the Israelite nation. The wicked men were from the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:12). How could a tribe of God’s chosen people act in such a disgusting manner toward their brother?
It is because the Israelites lacked discipline and faith. God gave them leaders (the judges) because they needed them. We need someone to tell us the right thing to do. I think this is true in morality. Morality, in a very crude sense, will arise naturally from a state of nature, but it will inevitably need refinement, someone to set us straight. Some of us will get morality, but, for everyone else, someone needs to give it to us.
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 17:6, 21:25).