Judges 17-21: A punishment for Gibeah

Okay, I get that some of the laws concerning rape in the OT don’t seem particularly harsh or adequate, but it’s stories like the concubine here that makes me think the Bible isn’t as accepting of it as people presume.


Chapter seventeen

This is a story of how a carved image came to be in the home of Micah and how he purchased his very own priest.


Chapter eighteen

Micah is visited by another tribe of Israel who are on their way to take some land and who take his priest and carved images. They take the new land and there comes no word from God about it.


Chapter nineteen

There is a mention here of a concubine and then a reference to “her husband.” I had always thought of concubines as mistresses, but this paints it a little differently. Are they second wives? Do they constitute a second tier of wife?

The story part of this is that the concubine was not faithful to her husband and he has to go after her. She just goes home to her father’s house, so unfaithful sounds like a bit of a different meaning than we would give it today. Nevertheless, the husband comes after her there and it seems like all is well, but the father keeps finding excuses to not let them leave. Perhaps he knew how awful the Israelites in the next town were.

These Israelites rehashed the scene from Sodom, but with some more horrifying differences. First of all, let me say that this chapter makes it sound like the man who took them in is condoning rape. Let me clarify that it will later become apparent that it is not the case. These Israelites go to the man and demand “to know” the man who was staying there. The owner of the house replies thusly:

No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.

While “to know” someone is often used for sex, you will see in the next chapter that it was murder. This guy feared for the life of the man he had taken in and possibly himself. Why didn’t he fear for the women? Not sure, but people do bad and stupid things out of fear. He was trying to save his own sorry butt. He didn’t give over both women, though. His daughter was kept safe but the concubine was basically thrown out to appease them. Here’s what happens to her:

knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go.

They basically left her on the doorstep of the guy’s house, returned to her husband. He tries to get her up and doesn’t initially seem too concerned and throws her onto a donkey. On my first reading of this chapter, I had quite a few bad thoughts on these two men who sent her out to the townsmen who were apparently monsters. When I read happens next, I see that they were not as blaise as I had presumed.

The husband gets her back home and cuts her into twelve pieces. That she was unresponsive on the doorstep was probably the point when we were supposed to assume that she was dead, but the cutting definitely solidified it. He sends the pieces to the heads of all twelve tribes with this note:

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.


Chapter twenty

The man meets with the leaders of the tribes and gives an account of what happened. In it, he gives a little bit of missing context to the “know him” part from before, and perhaps from Sodom. In his explanation he says:

And the leaders of Gibeah rose against me and surrounded the house against me by night. They meant to kill me, and they violated my concubine, and she is dead.

So they wanted to kill him and not rape him, or maybe both. I won’t spend time comparing the horrors of murder and the horrors of rape, especially when gang rape is involved. Part of the thing to remember is that if these men were capable of so hideous a rape (not that all rape isn’t awful but they raped her to death) than they probably had a hideous death scene planned for him. It doesn’t excuse the one guy throwing her out there or offering his daughter (nor Lot back in the day, except that Lot was protecting angels so I understand him maybe feeling a little more beholden to their protection than mere humans. not much, but some) but I think it makes fear a substantial explanation as to why the man did nothing about his wife/concubine being out there. It sounds like he was afraid to go out to protect her and that he was dealing with the aftermath carefully.
He sought council instead of going into a rage. It was probably a smart move. One man can only do so much against a whole town.

The decision of the council brought about this turn:

So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man.

They went up against this town three times and on the third day, they destroyed the town the way they had destroyed all the other towns when they had come into the land. Everyone died and the town was burned.

God was consulted three times and the victory was given to Him. So He is taking rape pretty seriously.


Chapter twenty one

During the horror that was that one town of Benjamin, all the rest of Israel made two oaths. One was that none of them would give their daughters to Benjamin and the other was that anyone who didn’t show up against Benjamin would be “put to death.” It was the combination of the two that gave them their first idea for an out on that. It wasn’t all of Benjamin that was bad (perhaps, we don’t really know either way but I’ll give the rest the benefit of the doubt) and the perpetrators had been decimated. In order for the previous conflict to not result in the end of an entire tribe of Israel, they came up with some options.

Realizing that one town didn’t come up, they had their first idea. Let’s go ahead and kill everyone except the virgins and give them to Benjamin!

But they weren’t enough. So they told the Benjaminites to kidnap a bunch of girls from another town and that they would ask forgiveness from the people of that town afterward. That way, the girls weren’t “given” to them. Yes, neither of these are a good way to get a wife. Given the book we are in, I’ll ask the reader to remember that this is the decline of Israel as a nation. None of the acts against the women were condoned here, there was even a war over that horrific gang rape. Such treatment of women was not taken lightly. But the war was the only time they asked God for His input in this whole set of chapters.


The book ends with a great line. It had been iterated throughout the last few chapters as people did bad things. The other times it simply sets up what is to come. The reiteration makes sense of where the book sits in the story as a whole.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.


Chapter links go to the ESV translations at Biblehub.com but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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