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Judges 17-21 – Intro Post – 1

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#21 Clarity



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Posted 02 May 2011 - 03:32 AM

Judges 17-21 – The Cold Light of Day - 15

The night before, the Levite had made a choice and as the noise receded from outside the besieged door of the residence in which he was guest it would be obvious that the tactic of offering up his concubine had been successful. For now at least, he was safe.

One might imagine that having thrown his concubine to the pack of ‘merciless wolves’ the Levite would be reduced to a trembling mess in agonies over what he had done. Perhaps we might expect to see him fall to his knees in prayer for her deliverance and at the very least keep vigil through the night, looking out from the door periodically to see if there was any sign of her.

If he did so, we are not told and indeed the record is about to paint him in such a way that has us doubting he did any of these things. There is no doubt that this individual is as enigmatic as any character we read in these chapters.

27 And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.

To be fair we are not told specifically that the Levite slept that night and yet when we read that people ‘rose up in the morning’, its usually fair to assume they do so from sleep.

We might deem it impossible for him to do so under the circumstances if it wasn’t for the conundrum this individual presents and the fact that if someone had been watching and listening for any sign of the concubine’s return the door would have been opened to her immediately. No doubt her return would have been accompanied initially by a faintly audible and plaintive cry that a sensitive and alert mind indoors would have heard and immediately responded to.

One can only conclude that the door was locked and barred and the inhabitants asleep. It is an indictment on them. Really.

Having risen ‘in the morning’ and ‘opened the doors of the house’ we might expect the record to say that the Levite did so with the intention of finding his concubine. However, we are told that he ‘went out to go his way’. The record seems to be purposefully painting the Levite as nonchalantly preparing to continue on his way as if nothing unusual had occurred.

Perhaps he had already given up the woman as lost or dead. Either way, he appears surprised to find her sprawled in his path ‘behold!’. Upon discovering such a scene on the doorstep, we desire to read of his desperate attempts to resuscitate her. Having felt pity and sorrow over the ghastly ordeal she has endured we long to see one shred of tenderness towards this poor woman from the man who had so recently delighted her father with their reconciliation.

We are disappointed. And we are dismayed at what follows:

28 And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and got him unto his place.

Her crumpled body bearing all the hallmarks of the abuse she has been subjected to lies before him and all he can summon from within his calloused soul is an imperious command: “Up, and let us be going”. This man had been able to summon tender words when it suited him but his seeming indifference to her suffering scandalizes us.

Is he in denial? In shock? Is it possible he had no idea she could be severely injured? As much as we would like to alleviate our perplexity by grasping at such possibilities, they seem unlikely.

And so, too ‘matter-of-factly’ for our comfort, he takes up her body, places it on his ass and continued his journey home.

As inscrutable as this Levite is, it is a deeply disturbed man that departs Gibeah. No doubt cursing the city as he left, he does appear to be intensely aggrieved at the injustice of what has occurred, and it seems that with every step he took on his homeward journey his anger and outrage increased.

At some point on that journey home he made a decision that was to have profound consequences.
He simply will not allow the sleeping wolves of Gibeah to lie undisturbed and by journey’s end he has calculated what will be necessary in order to engineer retribution on Gibeah.

Thus there will be no dignified burial for this woman. No covering of earth to hide the evidence of Gibeah’s vile deed. Rather the opposite. Everyone would see it. Everyone would feel as he did now. All will experience the outrage and fury that burns in his breast. He will ensure it, and he knows how to do so.

29 And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.

And so this macabre chapter reaches its sickening nadir.

With no common court of law in which to formally appeal and no King with whom to plead his case the Levite finds a way to convey the brutality and shame of what had occurred in Gibeah to all Israel.
He cuts his concubine’s corpse into twelve pieces and sends a grisly stinking portion to every tribe — including Benjamin.

It was a ghastly thing to do and yet it is questionable if any other method could have achieved the result that those gruesome packages did. Eleven tribes were unified in disgust and morally outraged at the miscreants of Gibeah as a result.

30 And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.

Despite the tribes of Israel having recently been involved in battles to obtain their inheritance in the land, and the inevitable proximity to violent death such recent history would result in, it’s intriguing and perhaps instructive to realise that the tribes were shocked and deeply disturbed by the arrival in their midst of the pieces of the concubine’s dismembered corpse.

Evidently, life was still precious in their eyes, and they saw evidence of such brutality as this as unprecedented despite their recent history. This seems to indicate that the wars which were conducted against the Canaanites must have been done so in a judicial and restrained way intentionally devoid of gratuitous murder and sadistic cruelty. Such would be consistent with the revealed character of Yahweh their God.

A brief message of limited explanation must have accompanied the parcels that each tribe received and it evidently ended with an impassioned appeal: ‘Consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds’, perhaps more accurately translated: “Think about her! Consider it! Speak up!”

And think about her they did.
Before long the land was abuzz with the news of what had occurred in Gibeah.
The poor victim consumed their thoughts and one can hear the audible gasps and expressions of disgust as thoughts on the crime of Gibeah were exchanged and hurriedly repeated from village to village throughout the land.

Spontaneously and haphazardly, outraged men gathered, first on street corners and in the market places, but increasingly in a more formal and deliberate manner as serious discussions in the village squares turned into formal councils in which tribal elders met and conferred.

The voices for justice and reprisal grew louder, alarmingly strident and ominously unanimous.

The march to civil war and excessive human vengeance had begun.

Edited by Clarity, 11 May 2011 - 01:16 AM.

#22 Clarity



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Posted 11 May 2011 - 01:16 AM

Judges 17-21 – Chapter 19 in Reflection – 16

In reflecting briefly on chapter 19 before moving on, there is no doubt that there are aspects of this story that seem utterly incongruous to us. We are not likely to have found anyone in this story who impresses us as being morally superior. It doesn’t matter who we examine, we are perplexed and disappointed.

We are outraged and disgusted firstly of course, with the men of Gibeah for their shameful behavior and sickening depravity.
We feel grateful at first to meet the ‘old man’ who was a temporary resident in Gibeah until his hospitality is manifested to such an absurd extreme as to have him offer his daughter and his guest’s concubine to the men of Gibeah.
We might wonder if he only ever had the concubine in view and the mention of his daughter was a mere stratagem to prompt the Levite’s hand, but by this stage we can hardly be sure of anyone’s thinking.
And lastly, perhaps chiefly we are baffled and repulsed by the Levite himself, for his cowardly self-preservation and heartless treatment of his concubine whom he gave over to the men of Gibeah.

How could he do this? What was he thinking?
Had the frustrations in departing from Bethlehem resulted in new tensions in their already fragile relationship?
Having achieved his objective and having her in his possession again, was it time to mete out some punishment for her behaviour 4 months previous?
Did he view her as already defiled in some way so therefore whatever transpired when he put her outdoors was irrelevant?
Or could it be we are being too harsh in our judgment and failing to appreciate the behaviour that mortal fear can engender?

A brief summary of the Levite’s actions in this chapter:

◦ Waits four months to initiate reconciliation with his concubine
◦ Travels some distance and speaks tenderly to her winning her heart again and an invite into her father’s house
◦ Tarries 4 days eating and drinking with his father in law at Bethlehem
◦ En-route home, he refuses to stay in a Canaanite city (Jebus)
◦ He presents himself in Gibeah as a Levite on the way to the House of God
◦ Grabs his concubine and thrusts her into the street to certain abuse in order to save himself
◦ Apparently retires for the night, learning nothing more of her predicament until the morning when he discovers her on his way out
◦ Expects the woman to rise up at his command
◦ Carries her to his home and dismembers her for purposes ensuring vengeance is wrought on Gibeah

An enigma indeed. And it is significant that after one more part to play in chapter 20, he if off the scene and unheard of again. And this probably suits us just fine.

Perhaps at the end of the story we feel the most sympathy for the woman herself who was the victim of the crime and whilst that may be appropriate, we must also remember that at the beginning of this story even her character is depicted in a rather ambiguous light.

The fact is that almost everyone in this story is either flawed, contradictory or inscrutable to some degree and this is partly due to the the brilliance of the narrator. It’s his intention to create this effect and he has done so masterfully. It is, after all, a record of ‘every man doing that which is right in their own eyes’.

I’m going to let Joan Thomas, writing about this chapter in 1972 have the last word for this post:

Perhaps it is significant that in the whole of this distressing chapter there is no mention of God, no prayer for help, no appeal made in His name by any of the people concerned, yet the chief character was a Levite, who was supposed to teach the people the ways of God. We can but deduce that God had ceased to be a part of their lives; there was no personal awareness of His presence, not even when in great trouble. It is a warning.

#23 Clarity



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Posted 11 May 2011 - 09:59 PM

Judges 17-21 – The Muster of the Tribes – 17

It was a spirit of righteous indignation that quickened the step of the marching footmen that were converging on the city of Mizpah. The great muster of the tribes was underway. Never in its short history had the nation of Israel been so united in a cause as they are now marching on their brother Benjamin. There is grave wrongdoing to be punished and it will be done so by means of a holy war. This war will be initiated on the assumption that Yahweh Himself is at one with their spirit and judgment. And how could it be otherwise? Everyone knew what that poor woman had suffered. Gibeah must burn.

The first verse of Judges 20 is jam packed with information. There are keys in this verse that unlock this whole section. Let’s not miss them!

1 Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah.

The assembly that gathers in Mizpah have come from all corners of the land, from the North to the South. How intriguing however, that it doesn’t say that. Instead we come across a phrase that has never been used in scripture before – ‘from Dan to Beersheba’.

Of course, it is not surprising that this is the first time we read this phrase for as we will recall, it is only very recently that this phrase could have the meaning ‘from North to South’.
Up until the events in Judges 18 which we have recently reviewed, Dan had not been situated in the extreme North of the land. Their inheritance had been South of Mount Ephraim.
Significantly, this phrase informs us that these 5 chapters (17-21) are chronological. The events of chapter 19-21 occur after the events of chapters 17 and 18.
This seems like a very obvious point, however the importance of noting it at this stage in our study cannot be overstated.

It also means that among the fighting men assembled against Benjamin are warriors with more recent experience in battle than perhaps any of the other Israelites gathered. Men of Dan.

We are also told that the land of Gilead has assembled. This refers to the three tribes that had settled on the East side of the Jordan, which were the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh (Joshua 22:9). There is an incident in the recent history of the tribes in which these three tribes of Gilead figured rather prominently. It is worth briefly recounting.

We read of it in Joshua 22 which records how the tribes on the West of the Jordan river suspected that the three tribes in the East had fallen into the rebellious sin of idolatry.
Concerned that their sin of idolatry would bring the anger of God upon the ‘whole congregation of Israel’, they had gathered against them for war just as they were now gathering against Benjamin.
Stridently, they reminded the tribes from Gilead of the warning in the law against idolatry. They also reminded them of recent events in which the the sin of one man – Achan in Joshua 7 had resulted in God’s anger falling on ‘all the congregation of Israel’. ‘That man’ they reminded them, ‘perished not alone for his iniquity’.
The tribes of Gilead were innocent. Their actions had been misunderstood. They explained the truth of the situation. Phinehas who had been the spokesman for the tribes of the West accepted their explanation. A crisis was averted. They were not guilty of the sin of idolatry. Everyone was relieved.

And now these three tribes of the East – Reuben, Gad and Manasseh are present with the rest of the tribes – gathered together against Benjamin in a case far less ambiguous than was their own.

There is something odd about the phrase ‘the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah’
Did you pick it up? If the congregation wanted to assemble ‘to the LORD’, then surely the place to do it was at Shiloh where the tabernacle had been set up. (Joshua 19:5, Judges 18:31)
Instead the tribes make their way to Mizpah. Was Mizpah really the place to seek the LORD, or did they assemble there because it was a perfect staging ground for the war they had already decided to wage?

Some 4 miles north-west of Jerusalem, and situated on the loftiest hill in the region, Mizpah, meaning ‘watchtower’ was a border fortress that occupied a commanding position… in Benjamin.
Yes that’s right, it just so happens that Mizpah was one of the 26 cities given to Benjamin as an inheritance. (Joshua 18:26)
An appeal is yet to be made to Benjamin, but when it done so, it is done by representatives of a fighting force of 400,000 footmen already poised and ready for action inside their territory.
One thing is certain, that long before messengers were sent to appeal to the men of Benjamin, the men of Benjamin were already assembling a fighting force of their own.

2 And the chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 men on foot that drew the sword.

Assembled in a solemn and determined fashion, the 11 tribes of Israel come together in an impressive show of unanimity. Verse 1 had described their accordance in a vivid way. They came together ‘as one man’. It’s a phrase that will be repeated twice more in just the next few verses highlighting the extraordinary degree of unity which the tribes felt in relation to the crime of Gibeah and the need for a response.

We later find that only one village in Israel failed to respond to this call. Their absence did not go unnoticed as we will soon discover.

Such a gathering and such obvious unity would result in a heady atmosphere indeed and a phrase in verse 2 reveals to us how the gathered assembly view themselves – they are ‘the people of God’ united in a just and holy cause.

A holy God demands a holy people and a holy people must champion holy ways. Such are the noble and high-minded thoughts which creased the grave and furrowed brows of the ‘chiefs’ of the tribes as they ‘presented themselves’ before the holy congregation of armed foot-soldiers. There is an ugly speck in the eye of Benjamin to be removed – a task for ‘the people of God’ to be sure!

But the great one to come warned that examination of one’s brother should be preceded by an even closer and more searching examination of oneself.

Matthew 7
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Eleven tribes were now united ‘as one man’. It is how they viewed themselves, and tragically for them, God will indulge their perspective and also view them ‘as one man’ – tragically, for in their midst is a traitor. In their midst is a serpent. In their midst is one that with arrogance and hypocrisy stands as ‘one of the tribes of Israel’ to judge a brother guilty and worthy of utter destruction.

Guilty Benjamin will prove to be. Worthy of punishment he will prove to be.

But is he alone in this?

With all eyes turned toward the iniquity of one town in one tribe in which one woman had lost her life, those same eyes failed to look towards the North where a spiritual cancer, deliberately unleashed and hitherto unchecked was already taking the lives of thousands and threatening to spill beyond the tribe it had already permeated to the rest of the nation.

But the perpetrators of this crime had found the perfect place to hide.
Taking their place among the ‘people of God’, they too expressed vehement outrage at the doings of Gibeah and thus escaped human scrutiny.

But there is One who sees all.

And as the Levite of ‘chapter 19 infamy’ stepped in front of the chiefs of the people to give context to his butchery and seal the fate of the whole tribe of Benjamin, someone stepped forward to ask him:

“Tell us, how did this evil happen?”

We are told that ‘the children of Israel’ asked this question.

And we wonder.

Could it be… might it have been… is it possible… that the question was asked by a member of the delegation from the tribe of Dan?

#24 Clarity



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Posted 16 May 2011 - 06:28 PM

Judges 17-21 – The Levite's Story – 18

Although it is stated that ‘all the tribes’ were represented at the great gathering in Mizpah, it is obvious that one tribe was excepted. Benjamin had not responded to the summons. Intelligence had reached Benjamin of the gathering forces and Judges 20:3 informs us that they were acutely aware of the presence of the standing army now mustered in their territory.

The concept of the nation of Israel gathering together to punish a rebellious tribe or city in their midst is not foreign to the law and in fact the law described certain scenarios in which just such a circumstance might occur.
However, the law was clear that prior to any collective action being taken, a painstaking and thorough investigation was to take place.

Deuteronomy 13
14-15 ‘…then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword…’

Armed, in position and of one mind, there was still the matter of thorough investigation and inquiry to go through. The tribes must hear of the matter. They must be given a full report, and so the Levite was summoned to give an account of the events which had occurred in Gibeah.

If the principle in the law that ‘only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established’ (Deuteronomy 19:15) was followed, we might imagine that the servant of the Levite and the ‘old man’ who was sojourning in Gibeah were also called upon to give an account of the events in Gibeah on that fateful night. If they were, we are not told and given the degree to which many of those present seem to have already arrived at their conclusion, we can’t be confident that the gathered tribes deemed further witness than that which the Levite gave as necessary. Perhaps they considered the concubine as having already provided her testimony.

After what we have read in Judges 19 of this man, there is no doubt that we would like to see him subjected to a thorough cross examination. It’s highly probable that we can think of a number of ‘searching questions’ we’d like to put to him. For this reason we watch and listen with interest as the first (and it seems ‘only’) ‘searching’, ‘diligent’ and ‘inquiring’ question is addressed to the Levitical butcher.

Judges 20
3 (Now the people of Benjamin heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the people of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this evil happen?”
4 And the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night.

We are almost tempted to say ‘so far so good’, and yet with his phrase ‘Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin’ he seems to be deliberately widening the circle of complicity. He continues:

5 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.

We are not told in Judges 19 that it was the leaders of Gibeah that surrounded the house in which the Levite and his concubine were guests. This is seemingly new information. It may very well be true. However it does seem calculated to increase yet more the culpability of the tribe of Benjamin. The impression created by testifying that it was the ‘leaders of Gibeah’ is vastly different to if he had merely said ‘certain men of Gibeah’.

The Levite then relates that the men of Gibeah had intended to murder him. It may well be that what they had in mind would have resulted in his death and it may be argued that their intentions were akin to murder, and yet one cannot help but feel that the Levite is veiling some significant details in his recounting of the story here. He explains that they ‘meant to kill me’ and then seems to portray the men of Gibeah as having an inexplicable change of plan. They ‘violated’ his concubine instead. The outcome of their siege of the house, the means by which he escaped their ‘murderous designs’ and how the concubine ended up in their hands is conveniently passed over.
Perhaps the pity of the listeners for one who had endured such a traumatic ordeal caused them to spare him having to relive the incidents in detail resulting in him being allowed to gloss over some of the sordid (and inconvenient) details.

We probably feel as if we would be less inclined to spare him.

6 So I took hold of my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel, for they have committed abomination and outrage in Israel.

The Levite uses a couple of phrases for specific effect as he arrives at the end of his very brief recounting of the events in Gibeah.

It is to the ‘country of the inheritance of Israel’ that he had sent her. He masks the brutal nature of his own actions by presenting them in the light of the higher cause he was intending to achieve – defense of the sanctity of the holy land – ‘the inheritance of Israel’ and by so doing this appeals to their sense of righteous outrage.

The phrase ‘abomination’ (zimmâ) and ‘outrage’ (nĕbālâ) are words deliberately chosen. They echo passages of the law sure to strike a chord with ‘the people of God’. The word ‘abomination’ features prominently in Leviticus 18-20 where it is translated ‘depravity’ and used of incest and prostitution. The word ‘outrage’ is used of adultery and fornication. Both contexts in the law in which these words are used refer to purging out such behaviour ‘from your midst’. This is the Levite’s message.

He finishes with an appeal for their advice and seeming deference to their good judgment.

7 Behold, you people of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.”

Thus the Levite concludes his account of his sojourn in Gibeah. It is now over to the gathered ‘people of Israel’ to judge on the basis of what they have heard.

Will they be content with the facts as they have been presented? Has the Levite convinced them? Will their unity hold?

Edited by Clarity, 17 May 2011 - 05:17 AM.

#25 Jon



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Posted 29 June 2011 - 07:03 PM

After reading Clarity's stuff on this thread, Judges 21 was in the readings a couple of Sunday's ago and so I thought I'd spend a while looking at Judges 19 - 21. On first reading it's such a boggling section of Scripture but definitely rewards careful thunking. My exhortation is attached.

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#26 Evangelion



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Posted 29 June 2011 - 07:08 PM

I always enjoy seeing how other brethren structure their exhorts.

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


#27 Jon



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Posted 29 June 2011 - 07:42 PM

I always enjoy seeing how other brethren structure their exhorts.


Me too! The 'Appendices' at the back are all just for my own benefit and for anyone who asks about details afterwards.

#28 Evangelion



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Posted 29 June 2011 - 07:46 PM

I'm intrigued by the use of footnotes!

My exhorts look very boring compared to yours. Plain black & white in a rich narrative style.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


#29 Jon



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Posted 15 May 2013 - 12:30 AM

Clarity, was there any plans to finish this set of studies off - they are excellent so far!

#30 Jon



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Posted 29 December 2013 - 04:37 AM

Clarity's posts really piqued my interest in this area - it's fascinating! I've had a look at Jud 17-18 in the last few weeks and led a session on Micah's house this week at Castleton - see notes and PowerPoint attached. 

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