Judges 19:29 and the judgment of Gibeah by Jack Kettler
“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.” (Judges 19:29)
Why is this shocking account of the Levite and his concubine included in Scripture? Is there a moral message to be learned from this text?
The rape and murder of the concubine by the men of Gibeah:
23 “And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly. 24 Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing. 25 But the men would not hearken to him: so, the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go. 26 Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light.” (Judges 19:23-26)
Gibeah was a city in the land of the tribe of Benjamin. While a small tribe of Israel, Benjamin allowed public, corporate sin to go unchecked, which turned into a national scandal. The men of Gibeah acted in a similar wicked way that the men of Sodom had at Lot’s home.
Extreme examples of depravity are often seen in urban areas involving groups of men, such as rioting. The mob of men will commit extremes from which they would have some level of restraint when acting alone. Sinful men think their identities will be hidden or blend in with the crowd, much like the delusion of committing sins under cover of darkness.
The following three commentary entries explain the actions of the Levite to the concubine’s rape and murder.
John Gill's Exposition of the Bible on Judges 19:29:
“And when he was come into his house
Having taken the dead body of his wife from off the ass, and brought it in thither, and laid it in a proper place and order:
he took a knife; a carving knife, such as food is cut with, as the word signifies; the Targum is, a sword:
and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her
bones, into twelve pieces; cut off her limbs at the joints of her bones, and made twelve pieces of them, according to the number of the tribes of Israel:
and sent her into all the coasts of Israel; that is, to every tribe, as Josephus says F25: there was now no supreme magistrate to apply unto for justice, nor the court of seventy elders, and therefore he took this strange and unheard of method to acquaint each of the tribes with the fact committed; this he did not out of disrespect to his wife, but to express the vehement passion he was in on account of her death, in the way it was, and to raise their indignation at the perpetrators of it. Ben Gersom thinks he did not send to the tribe of Benjamin, where the evil was done; but Abarbinel is of another mind, and as Levi was not a tribe that lay together in one part of the land, but was scattered in it, pieces might be sent to the two half tribes of Manasseh, as the one lay on the one side Jordan, and the other on the other, and so there were twelve for the twelve pieces to be sent unto. So, Ptolemy king of Egypt killed his eldest son, and divided his members, and put them in a box, and sent them to his mother on his birthday F26. Chytraeus F1 writes, that about A. C. 140, a citizen of Vicentia, his daughter being ravished by the governor Carrarius, and cut to pieces, who had refused to send her to him, being sent back again, he put up the carcass in a vessel, and sent it to the senate of Venice, and invited them to punish the governor, and seize upon the city. (y) Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 5. c. 2. sect. 8.) (z) Justia. e Trogo, l. 38. c. 8. (a) Apud Quistorp. in loc.” (1)
Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament Judges 19:29:
“As soon as he arrived there, he cut up the body, according to its bones (as they cut slaughtered animals in pieces: see at Leviticus 1:6), into twelve pieces, and sent them (the corpse in its pieces) into the whole of the territory of Israel, i.e., to all the twelve tribes, in the hope that everyone who saw it would say: No such thing has happened or been seen since the coming up of Israel out of Egypt until this day. Give ye heed to it (שׁימוּ for לב שׂימוּ); make up your minds and say on, i.e., decide how this unparalleled wickedness is to be punished. Sending the dissected pieces of the corpse to the tribes was a symbolical act, by which the crime committed upon the murdered woman was placed before the eyes of the whole nation, to summon it to punish the crime, and was naturally associated with a verbal explanation of the matter by the bearer of the pieces. See the analogous proceeding on the part of Saul (1 Samuel 11:7), and the Scythian custom related by Lucian in Toxaris, c. 48, that whoever was unable to procure satisfaction for an injury that he had received, cut an ox in pieces and sent it round, whereupon all who were willing to help him to obtain redress took a piece, and swore that they would stand by him to the utmost of their strength. The perfects ואמר - והיה (Judges 19:30) are not used for the imperfects c. vav consec. ויּאמר - ויהי, as Hitzig supposes, but as simple perfects (perfecta conseq.), expressing the result which the Levite expected from his conduct; and we have simply to supply לאמר before והיה, which is often omitted in lively narrative or animated conversation (compare, for example, Exodus 8:5 with Judges 7:2). The perfects are used by the historian instead of imperfects with a simple vav, which are commonly employed in clauses indicating intention, "because what he foresaw would certainly take place, floated before his mind as a thing already done" (Rosenmller). The moral indignation, which the Levite expected on the part of all the tribes at such a crime as this, and their resolution to avenge it, are thereby exhibited not merely as an uncertain conjecture, but a fact that was sure to occur, and concerning which, as Judges 20 clearly shows, he had not deceived himself.” (2)
Clarke's Commentary on Judges 19:29
“Verse Judges 19:29. Divided her - into twelve pieces - There is no doubt that with the pieces he sent to each tribe a circumstantial account of the barbarity of the men of Gibeah; and it is very likely that they considered each of the pieces as expressing an execration, “If ye will not come and avenge my wrongs, may ye be hewn in pieces like this abused and murdered woman!”
“It was a custom among the ancient Highlanders in Scotland, when one clan wished to call all the rest to avenge its wrongs, to take a wooden cross, dip it in blood, and send it by a special messenger through all the clans. This was called the fire cross, because at sight of it each clan lighted a fire or beacon, which gave notice to all the adjoining clans that a general rising was immediately to take place.” (3)
The Levite’s response according to modern standards is unconventional. The reader should remember that this event took place prior to the kingship in Israel. There was no central authority to bring attention to this shocking crime. While the method of the Levite seems shocking to the modern reader, it certainly had its desired effect. The tribes of Israel convened a hearing to investigate the case.
It is interesting, as Clarke notes, the Levite’s dividing of the concubine and sending pieces to all of Israel may have inspired traditions such as those of the Scottish Highlanders.
“And the leaders of all the people…” or the elders of Israel according to (Deuteronomy 22:23-29 for rape) and (Numbers 35:30-31for murder) came together and made a determination of who the guilty men in Gibeah were who raped and murdered the Levite’s concubine. The elders of Israel determined that these same men should be put to death. Instead of agreeing with the ruling, the Benjamites decided to defend the guilty ones and refused to turn them over for judgment (Judges 20:12-14). With Benjamin’s defense of wickedness, war was ensured. The tribe of Benjamin was soundly defeated. Only 600 men of Benjamin were not killed (Judges 20:47-48).
At the outset, it was asked, why is this shocking account of the Levite and his concubine included in Scripture? The Scriptures do not candy coat the sins of men. The account is recorded to show that sin is punished, and those who give their approval will face judgment along with the actual perpetrators.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Judges, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), p. 289.
2. Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament Judges, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p. 445-446.
3. Adam Clarke, Commentary on Judges 19:29, The Adam Clarke Commentary, (Concord, NC, Wesleyan Heritage Publications), p. 257.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com