The Most Objectionable Story in Scripture.

Disclaimer: This entry discusses centers around some horrible, horrible events in the Bible, but the theme of this entry is how those events were ultimately used as tools for teaching. I believe every detail in the Bible, even the most brutal, is included for a good purpose, and that is what I set out to address in this piece. (Romans 9:22-23, Romans 8:28) To that end, I have omitted due attention to the victim of the story. But God does not condone the atrocities in this passage and never approves of abuse against women. In fact, I think that point is proven when you compare Genesis 19 and Judges 19 side-by-side, as you will see, the threat against the women in Genesis 19 is removed by God's intervention. That such violence is recorded in the Holy Scriptures is a consequence of a fallen man. That such violence can be redirected to an ultimate justice is a evidence of a great God.


The following passage appears right after Jesus' resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, where he meets two men who do not recognize him while he asks them about the current events they are discussing. It reads,

 

Luke 24: 27
 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 

I find the word "all" of interest. It does not say, "some of the prophesies" or "passages in the Scriptures" but all of it. All.  I set out to put this to the test. I decided to look for the most objectionable story in Scripture I could find and determine what it had to do with Jesus. So I looked in the book of Judges and found an extremely objectionable passage. It was not easy to find Jesus in this story. In fact, I worked on resolving this questionable Scripture, on and off, for more than half a year. It took me down quite a few rabbit holes as cross-referencing it with other passages led to other questions which I also felt compelled to answer. Admittedly, a few were dead ends, but that might only mean I, myself, couldn't navigate those routes. Understanding the Bible is always a journey, never a destination, so to emphasize that there really is no finality to the conclusion I ultimately arrived at, I've included a list of other parallels in an appendix to this entry. Not only do I think there is potential for a dozen more lessons to be gleaned from this story, but I also think these other Scriptures provide additional support for the case I am making, should such evidence be needed.  

 

The Most Objectionable Story in Scripture

 

Below is the entirety of Judges 19. Underneath is a brief summary.

 

Summary

So we have a Levite who marries a woman from Bethlehem. Or really, the Bible calls her his "concubine" even though it refers to him as her husband. Often in the Bible, a concubine is like an extra sexual partner or simply someone to provide a male heir. I've even heard that a concubine might be what you call a daughter who is sold by her family to a man because the family hits a financially difficult time. So when it says "took a concubine," I have a theory that her family may have sold her and, if that was the case, she wasn't satisfied with the arrangement. Perhaps she had been in love with a poorer man or perhaps she didn't want to be taken from her family. Whatever it was, the Bible makes it clear that she was adulterous and went back home. Her husband goes after her. He finds her at his father-in-law's house and they are more than welcoming. If this Levite really did buy this woman, perhaps there is a financial incentive behind winning the son-in-law with generous hospitality. Evidently three days is not enough to accomplish their agenda because the Levite is repeatedly invited to extend his stay for up to six days. Well this guy, he sticks around for five days and on the fifth day he and his concubine leave pretty late. By they time they reach the "good" part of the country (where Israelites live), it makes you wonder what they passed up in "scarier" Jebus because Gibeah seems *pretty* bad. Some of the townsfolk are about to break down the door of the house and threatening to rape everyone inside. Inexplicably, it appears the men come up with the *fantastic* idea of appeasing their attackers by offering the women in their stead. At this point in the story, I am shifting in my chair with discomfort... where are they going with this? It isn't clear if both the virgin daughter and the concubine are thrown out of the house, but we can read what happens to the concubine. Approximately eight hours later, this poor woman has been raped to within an inch of her life, she stumbles back to the house and finds the door is still locked. She actually dies at the threshold of the door! If that wasn't outrageous enough, the next day, our *hero* opens the door – apparently after waking up on the wrong side of the bed – and his response is: "Get up; let's go." The woman doesn't respond, and he doesn't even appear to check her pulse or – you know – care in the slightest (which really makes me think he bought her, because he really is only treating her like a possession) so he just throws her on a donkey and heads out. Nice guy. At home, he turns into some kind of mafia boss and tries to incite revenge by sending twelve little pieces of her all over the country .

So yeah, that just happened... in the BIBLE. ...what!? So the question I want to answer (going back to Luke 24:27) is, how does THIS lovely Sunday school story concern Jesus?

 

I asked a few people to explain this passage. I only ever found an answer that was – to me – expected and too simple: "This story exists to provide evidence of the state of Israel during its darkest times and to point to its need for a Savior." I don't think this answer addresses the question. The question is really, why is this amount of detail is included. There are plenty of passages that have a similar effect but omit the specifics. For example, Judges 12:1-16 (same book, only seven chapters earlier) ends with a civil war in which  42,000 Ephraimites were killed. (You will want to remember that, because it comes up later.) The cause of the civil war was merely that the Ephraimites asked Jepththah why he fought the Ammonites without calling them. Slaying 42,000 Ephraimites seems like a disproportional response, don't you think? It seems like some detail, something political, perhaps, may have been left out. But in Judges 20, when 25,000 Benjamites were slayed, the battle was clearly spurred by the outrage incited by the twelve pieces of the concubine that had been sent across Israel. Ultimately, what my question boils down to is: what is it about this particular event that requires a level of detail that similar stories omit?  If I take Luke 24 literally, then it must be that this story of rape somehow points to Christ in a way that is so significant, it cannot be omitted. I need only to figure out why. 

 

AN IMPORTANT PARALLEL

The most obvious parallel and the one that provided the most guidance in my search, came from Genesis 19:1-13. Before I began this study, I don't think I actually recognized that what happened in Genesis 19 and Judges 19 were actually separate events separated by a span of hundreds of years. While I had read both stories, my mind sorta grouped them into one single occurrence. It wasn't until I began this study that I started to differentiate between the two records and how began to realize how significant they are.

Before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Angel of the Lord, attended by two other men, approached Abraham to tell him to expect a son within the year. During the conversation with Abraham, two of the men attending the Lord departed to head into the valley of Sodom and Gomorrah. At this time, the Lord decided to reveal to Abraham what he was about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham seized the opportunity to negotiate with the Lord that the city might be saved if enough righteous men could be found. After the Lord agreed to save the city for the sake of ten, the narrative jumps to the two men who had departed from Abraham and were just arriving in Sodom. Then, as if to provide evidence of the wickedness of Sodom, the two men experience something almost identical to the Levite in Judges 19. Lot invites the men into his house to stay the night but the men "from every part of the city of Sodom" surround the house asking to have sex with the visitors to the city. As in Judges 19, the host, Lot, offers the women instead (Genesis 19:7-8). The main difference is, while in Judges 19 the women are, in fact, delivered to their attackers, then men staying with Lot instead strike the men of Sodom with blindness and confound them (Genesis 19:10-11). It is as if a verdict has been handed down. The men know that Sodom will be destroyed and they warn Lot to gather his family. Most people are familiar with the end of the Story. Sodom, along with all of the other towns of the valley, (Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim) are obliterated. (Genesis 19:29) Not only that, but references are made to it throughout the Bible. One of these references is very disturbing. In fact, I have never heard this passage talked about in church. It is probably swept under the rug with intention, and with good reason. It is Deuteronomy 28 and 29. From Deuteronomy 29 we read:

 

 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 

So if the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has any purpose, it is to set an example for what will happen to Israel if they disobey. This is reiterated time and time again, throughout the Bible. Isaiah begins by actually calling Israel "Sodom"/"Gomorrah":

9 Unless the Lord Almighty
    had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
    we would have been like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!

Lest you think "Sodom" and "Gomorrah" is just some sort of metaphor, you should read Deuteronomy 28 in its entirety. There is nothing metaphorical about it. It's practically a promise, yet it is easy to underplay the Sodom and Gomorrah comparison, primarily because Israel is still a people this very day. So what should we say then? Israel didn't exactly play all the right cards, as we can read in Hosea:

1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.[a]
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.

It sounds like they did exactly what was written in Deuteronomy 29:26, but the story doesn't end like God promised it would if Israel didn't follow his commands. In fact, in that same chapter of Hosea we read:

8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
    How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
    all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
    the Holy One among you.
    I will not come against their cities.

The Scripture in Hosea 11 appears to completely contradict the Scripture in Deuteronomy 29. By the way, when he says "nor will I devastate Ephraim again," I read that as a reference to the 42,000 Ephraimites who were killed in Judges 12; (it's a pretty convenient connection between the two books, Hosea and Judges.) And did you catch the references to "fierce anger" both here and in Deuteronomy? I find it remarkable that while in Deuteronomy 29:26, he tells Israel he will justify his fierce anger because of how they abandoned their covenant with him, but in Hosea 11:9, making sacrifices to Baal causes his compassion to be aroused so that his fierce anger is not carried out.

If there was every a time to destroy Israel because of their wickedness, it would have been after Judges 19. After all, in Genesis 19, Sodom is destroyed immediately after the men of Sodom exhibit their wickedness. Isn't it interesting that in Genesis 19, Lot's daughters are saved and Sodom is destroyed, but in Judges 19, the Levite's daughter is sacrificed and Israel is saved? Why do the two stories, with identical beginnings, have such contrasting endings? And once again, why is so much detail cast on the plight of the concubine?

Because God promised it would be that way and, despite what appears to be a contradiction in Hosea and Deuteronomy, He does not change his mind. In fact, the entire Bible is about how the penalty of many is taken by one. I now turn to Deuteronomy 28 (which I have dramatically condensed):

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: [...] You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her.

The way I see it, there are two ways Judges 19 can end. In the alternate version, the details of the abuse of the concubine are omitted and the cause of the battle against the Benjamites is glazed over like the details before the battle against the Ephraimites were glazed over. The Bible could have been written that way, but it wasn't because God decided to include the detail that illustrates how, at the time when Israel was most like Sodom, the nation was not obliterated as was promised, but the punishment came down on one. One who was betrayed and forsaken, who fell before a door in dire need and that door remained locked. One who died alone. One who understood the meaning of the words:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

Bookends

There is one final, beautiful illustration that I would close with. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is surrounded on both sides by a promise. In Genesis 18:10, the Lord promises Abraham a son will arrive within a year. In Genesis 21:1-2, Isaac is born. Do you know how the entire story of the events at the end of Judges (from the death of the concubine to the battle against the Benjamites) begins and ends? It's memorable to me because it start and ends with the same verse:"In those days Israel had no king." You might argue that the significance of the verse is to set the historical scene, but I think it does something more than that.

Look again to Abraham and Isaac. Theirs is a story that points to a savior. Everyone knows of how Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice and God intervened. In Judges 19, the fact that "Israel had no king" – though a fact of history – simultaneously leaves a poetic entry point for the conclusion of Hosea 11, with the promise of a king:

8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
    How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
    all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
    the Holy One among you.
    I will not come against their cities.
10 They will follow the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
    his children will come trembling from the west.