Editors Note: Rose Bowrie continues her discussion of women in the Bible, this time tackling a thorny passage from the end of Judges.
This article is going to address a particular passage in the Old Testament that is brought up a lot. This is the passage at the end of the book of Judges, chapters 19 through 21. This particular passage is considered a rather strange and is often quoted by both atheists and feminists, and the other thing they say about it is that this passage means that God condones the behavior of the people mentioned in the passage. So, this blog article will address the passage, and talk about what God does condone.
The passage is actually pretty long, so I think a summary of the account will work, and then we can discuss particular verses as we go along. The account begins with the statement that there was no king in Israel at the time this occurred. There was a certain Levite who was staying in Ephraim, and he took for himself a concubine. However, the concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went to her father’s house and lived there for four months. The Levite then goes to get her and bring her back. Finally, after being detained at the woman’s father’s house for a number of days, the Levite and the woman leave. As they are traveling home, they travel through an area of Israel that is controlled by the tribe of Benjamin. They come to a town called Gibeah, and a man there asks them to stay with him, so that they will not stay in the open square. While they stayed with the man, some evil men came and began to beat on the door of the house, and they said they wanted the man who was staying there, so they could abuse him in some very vile ways. The man of the house, then says no, don’t harm this man, so here is my virgin daughter, and my guest’s concubine, you can do to them whatever you want, just don’t harm the man who is staying with me. Well, they send the concubine out, and the men abuse her sexually, all night until she dies. The Levite, in the morning, picks her up and takes her home. He then cuts her up into twelve pieces and sends the message out about what happened to her. Now the rest of Israel then goes to war with the tribe of Benjamin, and twice the Israelites are defeated. The third time they gain victory over the Benjamites, and the Israelites almost wipe out the whole of the tribe of Benjamin. Then, the Israelites, being grieved over the loss of a tribe, come up with a plan to save the tribe of Benjamin, by wiping out almost everyone in a town that did not participate in the battle with Benjamin and taking all of the virgins of the city captive. The Israelites then tell the remaining Benjamites to kidnap these women and take them for wives, so that the tribe can be saved and they do so. The last verse in the book of Judges really captures the essence of this last section of the book well.
“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Now, let us back up a few pages and go over some of what we went over in some previous articles. Back in Genesis, God made Adam and Eve equal, but He made them with different roles. Adam was to be the head of the household, and Eve was to be his helpmeet. In part II of this article series, we saw that the law was given to everyone equally and that women had a redress in the law for crimes against them. These were laws that were given by God to the people. This passage from Judges illustrates perfectly what happens when those laws are thrown aside by the Israelites. This is exactly what happens when people do not follow God’s law, and when they choose to do what is right in their own eyes. As we learned from part II, God does not condone this behavior at all. In fact, one thing that does stand out about this passage is how little God is mentioned at all. This passage shows just how far the people of Israel had fallen since Mount Sinai. God had told them what He expected of them, gave them some very specific laws to follow, and had even told them what would happen to them if they did not obey, and they threw it all out the window anyway, and this particular thing happened.
This last passage in Judges does not say that God condones this behavior at all. Marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman as is illustrated in Genesis 2:24, and He gave specific laws that were to be followed. Also, In Genesis 19, Sodom and Gomorrah were both destroyed for this type of behavior. And they were destroyed by God, in judgment, for their behavior. If God would destroy two cities for the behavior that the men of Gibeah were also exhibiting, why would he condone it? In fact, they were judged by God, because almost the whole tribe of Benjamin was wiped out by the rest of the tribes of Israel! And the Levite was also wrong in how he treated his wife. This is also stated in the laws that God gave to Israel. I like what the MacArthur Study Bible notes say about this passage:
“Judges 17-21 vividly demonstrates how bizarre and deep sin can become when people throw off the authority of God as mediated through the king. This was the appropriate, but tragic, conclusion to a bleak period of Israelite history.” (The MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV pg. 365.)
And that is the truth of this passage. This is an account of how bad things can get when you do not obey and fear God, and you follow your own path. This passage does not say that God condones the behaviors or the sins of anyone in these passages, as they all pretty much do what is against God’s given law. This account also shows exactly why we need the foundations of our faith to be strong, why we need to give the gospel of Christ from the very beginning, right at the foundations, and why we need to teach it and tell it to others from the beginning. It also shows why we all need Christ, and why we all need a Savior. Our sins are terrible, and we can and will and do justify everything if it is right in our own eyes.