Outrage at Gibeah: A Spiritual and Societal Breakdown
There once was a man who lived on top of a very high mountain. Because of an old war injury, he needed to hire someone to take his little daughter up and down the mountain each day for school. Quite a few people applied for the position. He asked each only one question: “How close can you come to the edge of the mountain without going over?”
One brash fellow said, “I can come within 12 inches.”
“That’s nothing,” said another. “I can come within six inches.”
Still another boasted, “I can come within an inch.”
Standing quietly alone was a simple man. When his turn came, he replied, “There is no way I am going near the edge. I am staying on the clear path for dear life.” He got the job.
Many people think they can live on the edge of spiritual and cultural debauchery. But it’s a dangerous, slippery slope that leads to apathy, sin, and assimilation for the followers of the Christ. The shocking story of the Levite and his concubine (Jud. 19—21) warns God’s people of such a threat. The admonishment is to obey God’s Word and stick to His path.
Panorama of Trouble
But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day (Jud. 1:21).
A Levite from Ephraim had a concubine from Bethlehem. Concubines were secondary wives, usually ranking low in marital status. The ancient custom eventually degenerated, though laws were made to restrain and regulate it (Ex. 21:7–11; Lev. 19:20–22; dt. 21:10–14). Jesus restored the original design for marriage (Mt. 19:4–9). Concubinage, polygamy, and having a mistress on the side are all sin (1 Cor. 7:2).
Apparently, the Levite’s concubine returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem. Four months later the Levite decided to bring her back. Entertained in typical Near Eastern custom by his father-in-law, the Levite stayed for five days. On the afternoon of the fifth day, he and his concubine left for his home, heading toward Jebus (pre-Israelite Jerusalem). It was late, and his servant suggested they stay overnight in the Jebusite city. The Levite didn’t think it was safe to stay where there were no Israelites. So they pushed on another five miles to the Benjamite city of Gibeah. At Gibeah no one took them in for the night. This was a bad reflection on Gibeah, because God commanded hospitality among His people (Lev. 19:33–34; 25:35; Mt. 25:35; Heb. 13:2).
An old man saw the travelers resting in the town square and invited them home for a meal and lodging. That evening some wicked men of the town surrounded the house. They began to bang on the door, shouting, “Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him carnally!” (Jud. 19:22).
The old man stepped outside. “No, my brethren! I beg you, do not act so wickedly! Seeing this man has come into my house, do not commit this outrage” (v. 23). He even offered his virgin daughter and the concubine for their gratification. But it wasn’t women they wanted. To protect himself, the Levite pushed his concubine out the door.
She was brutally abused all night. Released by daybreak, she collapsed at the doorway of the house. Her husband opened the door to leave and found her lying face down, with her hands on the threshold. Unsympathetic, he said to her, “Get up and let us be going.” There was no answer. She was dead (v. 28).
The Levite’s heartlessness toward his concubine unfortunately illustrates aspects of today’s society. Scripture states that in the last days there will be a lack of natural affection (2 Tim. 3:1–5). Sadly, such is the case in many marriages. Even the household of faith is not immune.
So the Levite strapped the woman’s lifeless body to his donkey and resumed his travel. When he arrived home he cut her body into 12 pieces and sent one to each tribe of Israel. Revolted by the sight, Israel demanded justice for Gibeah’s crime (v. 30).
An assembly was called at Mizpah in Benjamite territory. Here the Levite told his experience to the leaders, spinning the story to his own advantage. What he said was true, but he failed to mention the heartless way he discarded his concubine to the gang. The elders demanded the Benjamites hand over the vile men of Gibeah for punishment. However, the children of Benjamin refused. Their tolerance for debauchery had evolved into an attitude of self-defense stoked by pride, which became their downfall. “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom” (Prov. 13:10).
With blind passion and unbending stubbornness the tribe mobilized at Gibeah against their brethren. Sixty-five thousand men, including 25,000 Benjamites, died in three great battles that almost annihilated the tribe of Benjamin. Only 600 survived, hiding four months in the wilderness.
Now there was a new problem. Israel’s other tribes had vowed at Mizpah never to let their daughters marry a Benjamite. But they became alarmed over the possible obliteration of an entire Israelite tribe. The Israelites wept bitterly to the Lord (Jud. 21:2, 6). Then they contrived a plan. They found a town, Jabesh Gilead, that had not participated in the war and punished it by killing all its men and women except for its 400 young virgins, which they captured and gave as wives to the men of Benjamin.
But 200 more virgins were needed. Conniving, the elders of Israel told the remaining men of Benjamin to hide in the vineyards at Shiloh. When the daughters of Shiloh came out to dance at the festival, every man was to rush out and snatch a wife for himself. The elders promised to pacify the girls’ irate fathers and family.
Scripture ends the entire sad episode with these pathetic words: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (v. 25).
The Only Solution
Before he died Joshua had warned the Israelites to obey the Lord. He reminded them of the Lord’s victories over their enemies (Josh. 23), reviewed God’s faithfulness and goodness (Josh. 24), and admonished them to heed the Lord, always be faithful to Jehovah, and not associate with pagans.
However, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lᴏʀᴅ nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lᴏʀᴅ God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lᴏʀᴅ to anger” (Jud. 2:10–12).
The Levite didn’t think it a good idea to stay in Jebus. Why? The city was Canaanite. He felt it would be better for them in Gibeah. What he didn’t know was that Gibeah had become Canaanized.
The appalling narrative of the Levite and his concubine serves as a picture of disintegration. Israel declined spiritually by mingling the idolatrous rites of Canaanite worship with the service of the Lord. It declined nationally by neglecting the continuous war against the Canaanites. The Jebusite city should have been conquered. Its existence allowed the insidious Canaanite culture to spread. Furthermore, as captives of their culture, Gibeah and the Benjamites lost sight of God.
The death of Joshua and the leaders of that day created a void in godly leadership. It’s apparent that the absence of godly leaders will bring out the worst in society. King david declared, “Help, LORd, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men” (Ps. 12:1). Believers, by their separation and godly lifestyle, should influence society. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Ti. 2:11–12).
The slippery path towards apathy, sin, and assimilation is real. The level to which people become captive to worldly culture may vary, but the relentless battle between the gospel and culture is universal. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).