This story should come with a warning. Obviously this is a warning, but there should be a warning in the Bible about it. It’s horrible. I mean Game of Thrones Red Wedding kind of horrible. In fact, I think it’s worse than that. Strike that, I know it’s worse than that. This story makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like a ride at Disneyland.
But you know what, most people don’t even know this story is in the Bible.
Strap in, we’re going for a wild ride.
The idea makes a certain degree of sense in the ancient world. You want to stay with people you know, who have similar values as you. So, you know, others who have agreed to live by the Abrahamic Covenant is not an unreasonable idea. Gibeah is inhabited by Benjamites, that is the tribe of Israel descended from Benjamin, the son of Jacob (AKA Israel).
Once in Gibeah, we are presented with a redux of Sodom and Gomorrah. They go into the square, a man asks them where they’re going, and then agrees to house them for the night, very much as Lot did in Sodom, especially as the man is pretty insistent that they “do not spend the night in the square” (19:20).
Pro Travel Tip: You won’t find this in Zagat, TripAdvisor, or Yelp, but it should be there. If it’s not okay to spend the night in the city square, GET OUT OF THE CITY!
And, again we have shades of Sodom where “the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house” insisting that the Levite priest be brought out “so that we may have intercourse with him” (19:22).
A counteroffer is made with the host’s virgin daughter and the priest’s concubine, that the perverse men can “ravish them and do whatever [they] want to them” (19:24). And then the priest “seized his concubine and put her out to them” (19:25). I need to pause at this point. There is definitely more about this, but this bears a closer examination.
The priest is the one who threw his own concubine out to these perverse men, knowing full well, and even endorsing, her rape. Not just her rape, her gangrape. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t mull it over for a time. He didn’t try to find a different way out. He didn’t condemn the men who wanted to do this. He grabbed her and tossed her out.
Now, we have to spend a moment to look closer at what it actually means to be a concubine in Israel. A concubine is not a simple as a mistress. This is not an illegitimate affair on the side. Almost always, there is a wife, the only one who is fully acknowledge as having all the rights and privileges of a wife according to the law. That didn’t mean that there were not other women, nor that these women didn’t bear legitimate children.
If we look at Jacob, he had children by four different women, Zilpah, Leah, Rachel, and Bilah. Leah and Rachel were the wives, Bilhah and Zilpah the concubines. It wasn’t that big a deal, it mostly came down to legal arrangements. All of the women knew about one another. So when we talk about a concubine, this is not someone to be shrugged off as just a woman having an affair. This isn’t a girl on the side or a prostitute. This is a woman with whom the man had an actual relationship. There was an emotional tie there, or at least there should have been, which is why I have to point out that this priest threw this woman whom he cared about out to be viciously raped by a perverse mob!