Canaanized?

Within Chapters 17 – 19 of the Book of Judges, we see how deeply Canaanite customs and practices infected the Levites and the religious institutions of Israel.

The account of the rape of the concubine by the Benjamites of Gibeah purposefully echoes Genesis 19 in order to demonstrate than the nation of Israel has taken on the character of ancient Sodom. Reminiscent of Paul’s conclusions in Romans 1 regarding the consequences of idolatry, the Jewish nation has been given up to suffer the consequences of its own spiritual idolatry and folly.

 

Throughout this summer, my wife and I have been walking through the Book of Judges as part of our family devotions. As all would attest, Judges is a difficult (and depressing) book to study in depth because of the constant refrain of the book: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes”. The moral decline of the Jewish nation is very pronounced in the book, particular from Chapter 17 to the end of the book. For my wife and I, the hardest chapters of Judges to read are Chapter 19 and 20 because few accounts in Scripture match the heinousness of male criminality against women.

Apart from the institution of concubinage, which is taken for granted in this episode, the Levite from the hill country of Ephraim originally appears to be a gracious man. Even though his concubine had been unfaithful to him and left him, he goes to great lengths to maintain positive relations with her family and to bring her back to his house. The moral degradation of Israel is hinted at in Judges 19:20, but it comes to the light in verses 22 and following. In a scene reminiscent of Lot’s experience in Sodom (cf. Genesis 19), the men of the town come to the house where the Levite, his concubine, and his servant are lodging, demanding homosexual relations with the men. Horrified by the vileness of the townsmen, the host offers them his own virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine. Just as in the account of Sodom in Genesis 19, women are expendable in defense of both male pleasure and male honor. The rights of one’s own daughter must take second place to the rights of one’s male guests. As a father of two girls, I find such actions are utterly reprehensible.

However, the abuse does not end there. After the men of the town had raped and violated the concubine all night, they effectively left her for dead on the doorstep of the house where the men were staying (cf. Judges 19:27). When the Levite gets up the next morning, he displays no compassion at all toward his concubine. Instead of weeping over her desecration and trying to help her, he orders her to get up so they can be on their way. When the concubine doesn’t respond, he cuts her body into twelve parts. Although the Levite accuses the people of Gibeah of murder (cf. Judges 20:4-7), the speech appears to be devoid of any feeling toward the woman. Rather, it appears that the larger concern is male honor rather than the woman’s treatment.

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