So I’ve finished a reread of Judges and I have a couple of observations.
One of the most awful stories in the Bible is in the book of Judges (19): the story of the Levite and his concubine.
(Why did he have a concubine? The Levites were priests, yes? Yes, I know it was a common practice in The Day … maybe it’s only considered to be adultery if it’s a woman outside your care, like an issue of ownership, or social responsibility. You bonk it, you bought it; if it’s not yours, you don’t bonk it.)
This Levite lived in the hill country of Ephraim (the Levites had no allotted lands, though they did have towns of their own). His concubine was of Judah. And they got stranded in Benjamin. (Why was the girl’s father living in Benjamin and not at home in Judah)? It took four tribes to make this mess, though the main of the fault goes to Benjamin.
The short version is, the concubine left him and went home, he gave chase, won the girl back, the father-in-law delayed him, and when they finally started for home their overnight stopover resulted in the girl being gang-raped in his place. He dismembered the girl’s dead body & sent pieces to each tribe in proof of his outrage; the tribes gathered and demanded the rapists; the city refused; they went into battle three times and won.
First observation: the main of the outrage was that the travellers refused to spend the night in Jebus (which was still Canaanite territory) and went on to their own people in Gibeah, Benjamin – only to find that their own people treated them worse than the pagans would have.
Second observation: middle-eastern hospitality must be a very, very big deal to them. When the rapists surrounded the stopover house, demanding the Levite be sent out to them for sex, the host (who was from the same area the Levite lived in) was willing to push his own virgin daughter out the door to them. Consider: this girl (of unknown age) would have been stoneworthy if she lost her virginity while living under her father’s roof. So either the man had no regard whatsoever for his family, or no regard whatsoever for the Law of Moses (“there was no king*, everyone did what they felt like”), or an incredibly inflated regard for the protocols of hospitality. “Not under my roof” seems to sum it up; the Levite was under his protection to a degree that outranked the man’s own family. That is … inconceivable. I cannot tell if this is a norm, or if the man was almost as twisted as his town. Yet the Levite himself was willing to push his concubine out the door to them! “Here, defile my bed; help yourselves!” Was she not similarly under hisprotection? So much for ownership and responsibility; in this emergency the girl became a mere chattel. Contrast this with Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
Third observation: the wicked men could have had the Levite, his servant AND his concubine, if they had simply troubled themselves to pick him up in the town square where he sat for hours waiting for a (traditional) offer of accommodation. In short: they wanted to have sex with him, but not to feed him & his people & donkeys. This makes the guy who took them in even *more* odd. Clearly he lived in a town where hospitality had lost its prestige. His actions in saving the man from rape and his home from shame for the sake of etiquette would not have been honoured in that place – not by his neighbours, anyway.
*And yet Israel’s first king was to come from the salic descendants/resettlers of Gibeah!
Now for the interesting bit.
When the rest of Israel sought God about how they should handle this matter, they decided on a delegation to arrest the offenders. The city refused to give them up, and responded by preparing to attack. So the rest of Israel prepared likewise to attack. Israel outnumbered Benjamin by a ratio of 4000:267.
They asked God who should lead the attack, and God said “Judah.” I wonder if this was because the concubine was a Judahite – was God saying, “Let’s not forget who this is about – not some random nameless chattel, but a girl whose name *I* know, with a family and a heritage!”? … In any event, the troops would have received this as confirmation that battle was within God’s will.
So they took up battle positions against Benjamin – and lost. They encouraged each other, checked that God was in it, and tried the same thing again – and lost. They mourned and prayed and fasted and asked God if they should try again, and He said “Yes.” This time they got more strategic, and planned an ambush; they killed almost the whole Benjamite army and torched the city while they were still in battle. The rout was complete; they slaughtered & burned the rest of the state into the bargain.
It’s a horrible story – and I’m relieved that there was no joy in it for them, because they mourned the loss of their brother tribe – wholly avoidable if one stubborn city had only yielded up its handful of criminals.
Fourth observation: don’t let one sin, however large, escalate into a major catastrophe that takes others down with you.
My last observation is this: the Israelite army had God’s sanction for this war … yet it took three battles to gain a victory. The final strategy – ambush and cutting off retreat – seems to have come out of the ether. All God said was, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” He didn’t give them the strategy itself; nor did He tell them to kill & burn everything in sight. When they stepped out with faith AND brains – they got the victory.
I conclude that there are times when God does it all, and times when He sits back and lets us do it. It is never wise to go into battle (or any other undertaking) without His permission. But having His permission and even His guarantee, doesn’t mean a sweet, brain-free ride. He expected these guys to come up with a strategy that would work. Only when they did, was there a meeting between God’s “give” and Israel’s “take”. Adrian Plass says it like this : “We’ve got to pray like prayer’s the only thing that works, and work like work’s the only thing that works.” Seldom does victory fall on us from the sky. I don’t know if this leans more towards Calvinism or Arminianism, but I like the idea that life with God is a partnership. Occasionally the stronger partner does all the heavy work; but for the most part it’s a two-way street. It means that while God is still God, my actions matter, and my initiative matters. I cannot save myself, but I can facilitate God’s saving of me. He offers the victory – but I must win it.