(The Levite’s Concubine – painted by Veronica McDonald)
Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here
In one of her landmark works, Texts of Terror, Phyllis Trible says this of Judges 19.
“The betrayal, rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment of an unnamed woman is a story we want to forget but are commanded to speak. It depicts the horrors of male power, brutality, and triumphalism; of female helplessness, abuse, and annihilation. To hear this story is to inhabit a world of unrelenting terror that refuses to let us pass by on the other side.”
Our story begins like many of the other stories we’ve looked at. A man TAKES a woman FOR HIMSELF. She is referred to as a concubine, which would be like a “lesser” wife. Imagine a status lower than a regular wife, but semi higher than a slave. Immediately upon taking her we read,
“But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah” – Judges 19:2 NRSV
What upset this woman so much that she had to leave and return to her Father’s home? In this culture, there was not much choice for a woman separated from her husband but to go back to her Father’s house. Was her husband abusing her? Was she suffering neglect?
After about four months pass, the Levite decides to try and win her back. The Hebrew literally says that he went “to speak to her heart.” Have we heard this story before? An abusive husband goes to try and get her back. I promise it will never happen again! I’ve changed!
Apparently, for this Levite, “speaking to her heart” actually means spending several days partying with her dad. The two eat, drink, and are merry while the woman is completely removed from the situation. For anyone wondering why I just keep calling her “the woman” it’s because she is never given a name in the story. Nor does she ever speak. I think it’s pretty indicative of how this Levite views her.
After several days of partying, the Levite is ready to go. Not once did we read about him actually speaking to this woman as he intended. Again, he is just going to TAKE her FOR HIMSELF. It’s starting to get late and the woman’s father pleads with the Levite to stay, and wait to leave until morning. It’s dangerous to be traveling at night. The Levite doesn’t listen of course. He’s ready to leave, so that’s what he does.
The sun goes down and they finally stop in a town called Gibeah. They hang out in the public square because, that’s what you do. Hopefully someone will be nice enough to invite you in for the night. Thankfully, an old man on his way in from work invites them to stay at his house.
The Levite says to him,
“We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman” – Judges 19:19
Basically, the Levite lumps her in with the animals. “Don’t worry nice old man. I’ve got food for my animals, and the woman…”
Inside, the men begin enjoying themselves (presumably without “the woman”) when they hear a pounding on the door. A group from the city saw the Levite, and now they want to have sex with him. The man of the house confronts them and tells them he will not allow this wicked thing to be done. Right about now, we are really starting to like this old man. He took in these strangers when no one else would, and now he’s standing up to these people trying to attack his guests. Then, he suddenly says,
“Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” – Judges 19:24
What?! It’s that “Good ole Boys” club. Men will protect other men at whatever cost.
Unfortunately, the angry mob is not pleased with this counter offer, and the Levite’s eyes are probably bugging out of his head about now. So what does he do? Does he stand with the old man in protecting the household? Does he say, “do whatever you want to me, just don’t hurt anyone else”?
The Levite “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” – Judges 19:25
Our friends over at the NIV translate this as “sent her outside” as if she went out on her own. The word there literally means “to bring” or “to carry.” He forcibly tossed her out to them and shut the door behind him. They raped and tortured her ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
How terrifying must that have been? How many different people raped her? What sort of abuse was she forced to endure?
At dawn they let her go, and she crawls back to the porch of the house and collapses. In the morning, we read that the Levite got up to continue on his way. The story reads as if he has just assumed the woman is gone for good and he can’t do anything about it. As he steps outside, he sees her lying there and seems surprised. What does he do? Does he rush to her aid? Does he comfort her? Does he beg for forgiveness? Does he go out to bring justice to the people who harmed her?
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. – Judges 19:28
He just looks at her and says “get up, let’s go.” So much for speaking to her heart…
When she doesn’t respond, he throws her over the side of his donkey and goes on his way. If this story isn’t already awful enough, it straight up turns into a scene from a horror film. This Levite decides he’s really gonna “show them.”
“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.” – Judges 19: 29
Now, there are A LOT of problems with this, but one in particular stands out to me. NOWHERE in the story does it say that the woman was dead. That seems like an important detail to leave out. I’m pretty sure this dude cut his still alive concubine into pieces, and sent them out to people Se7en style.
So what do we do with this story? So many women are caught in the cycle of abuse with men. It could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, harassment, assault, or more. When it comes to protecting others, so many men are quick to throw their victims out to the mob rather than face the music. So many men want to protect themselves at all costs. Their image is more important than anything else. This is the story of the #metoo movement, this is the story of child sex abuse cover ups…the story of the unnamed woman in Judges 19 is told over and over again.
If you have experienced abuse at the hands of a Levite, I’m sorry. I wish our world were not this way. Jesus comes to set the example of what it looks like to be truly human, and he is faced with the angry mob in the same way this Levite was. What does he do? Jesus does not throw the vulnerable to the mob to save himself and his image. Instead, Jesus takes the violence of the angry mob upon himself in order to save all of humanity. This is who we should emulate.
Many people believe that there is no redemption to be found in this story, but I disagree. We still have one verse left to read. When the people see what has happened to this woman, they say,
“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!” – Judges 19:30
The call is the same for us today. Levites still exist. The angry mobs still exist. The powerful still use their power to save themselves and their image at the expense of others. I don’t want to be someone who simply stands by while this happens. I don’t want you to be someone who stands by while this happens. This story ends by showing us that we cannot stay silent.
We must do something…so speak up!