It is one of the most sordid stories in the Bible – a tale of a Levite who delivers his concubine into the hands of gang rapists to do what they want with her all night – she is left for dead on the doorstep, where the Levite finds her the next morning as he is about to continue his journey. (Judges 19)
There are so many levels to this story, it’s hard to unravel. What was the Levite thinking? How could he have pushed his concubine out the door, knowing what would happen? Was it fear of his own life or fear of being raped himself? Certainly the men had at first asked for him (19:22) and in response, the Levite’s host had offered them instead his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine!
When the Levite finds his dead concubine on the doorstep the next morning, his reaction is scarcely more credible: he takes her home, cuts her up into 12 pieces and sends one piece to each of the 12 tribes of Israel. It may have been intended as ‘righteous’ indignation – but there was no admission of his own fault in the whole sorry saga.
And so there ensued a bloody civil war, where things just went from bad to worse.
How did the nation of Israel come to be in such a state where such events were possible?
Don Carson comments: ‘That is the sort of thing that happens when the rule of law dissolves, when people start acting out of tribal loyalty and not principle, when vengeance overtakes justices, when superstitious vendettas displace courts, when brothers no longer share a common heritage of worship and values, when government is by fear and not by the consent of the governed. There is no logical stopping place. It can start a regional conflict, it can ignite a Bosnia, it can start a world war. It is the stuff of dictators and war lords, the lubricant of gangs and violence.’
The men in this story acted shamefully. Where they should have protected their women, they went inside, shut the door – and shut their eyes to what was happening outside. That is one reaction to the evil in our society – we can shut our eyes to it and pretend it doesn’t exist. Meanwhile the vulnerable are abused and die on our doorsteps.
We can rise in ‘righteous’ indignation and, by acting out of anger and vengeance, we can make matters worse, taking the law into our own hands as we take the moral high ground.
But there is another way. To quote Don Carson again: ‘The sad reality is that every culture is capable of this. The ancient Israelites sink into this quagmire not because they are worse than all others, but because they are typical of all others. A society that no longer hangs together, whether on the ground of religion, shared worldview, or at least agreed and respected procedurals, is heading for violence and anarchy, which, sooner or later, becomes the best possible breeding ground for the ordered response of tyrants – power authorized by sword and gun.’
The Bible doesn’t shield us from the sordid details of what human beings and whole societies are capable of. It is brutally honest. But it also doesn’t refrain from making comment on it. This story begins with the words ‘In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning…..’ (Judges 19:1). And not once but several times in the Book of Judges we read ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).
The men had abdicated their responsibility to protect the vulnerable; there was no king to take the lead against the tide of evil; and the people did what was right in their own eyes.
The people who heard about this incident at the time said, ‘Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak’ (19:30).
We would do well to do the same in our day. Let’s not hide behind closed doors. Let’s not pretend we don’t know what’s happening in our society. Let’s not shirk our responsiblity. Let’s consider, take counsel and speak.