I’VE BEEN WATCHING the news closely since a little Russian man started a big war.
He attacked a country weaker than his own. And he did it with the overwhelming force of a gang of men raping a lone woman.
That’s an odd comparison. Yet I can’t help but make it. That’s because the day the war started is the day I coincidentally started paraphrasing Judges 19-20—a disgusting story about a gang rape of a lone woman.
Now, I’m wondering if this Bible story might suggest a way to respond to a pitiful Russian man.
Raping the worship leader’s wife
As the story goes, an Israelite ancestor of today’s Jewish people spent the night in a town a few miles north of Jerusalem, the town of Gibeah. He went there with his slave wife, described as a concubine.
The town was in the territory of one of Israel’s 12 tribes: Benjamin.
The traveler was a Levite. That means he came from the tribe of Levi. Levites were Israel’s priests and worship assistants. He and his wife were just passing through the town of Gibeah. An old gentleman saw them in the city square that evening. He invited them to spend the night at his house—ancient Middle Eastern hospitality.
Under the cover of night, a gang of men attacked the house. They surrounded it and started banging on the doors and walls.
You can read for yourself the sick details about how those thugs got their hands on the woman. But they raped her all night. She died of the trauma the next morning.
Using a corpse to get help
The Levite thought about how to convince Israel’s leaders in the other 11 tribes to punish Benjamin’s tribe with more than a good talking-to, a fine, and perhaps a slap on the wrist for misbehaving.
So, he tied his wife’s body onto one of his two donkeys and hauled it home. He lived in what is now central Israel and parts of the Occupied West Bank of the Palestinian people.
“When the Levite got inside his house, he took a knife and cut the concubine’s body into 12 pieces. He sent the body parts throughout all the tribes of Israel. He told the men carrying the body parts to deliver this message: ‘Has anything like this ever happened in all the years since we left Egypt? Think about that and decide what to do’” (Judges 19:29-30, Casual English Bible).
If this story is more than a legend built on a similar story about what happened to Lot’s family in Sodom (Genesis 19), the Levite’s plan worked.
All the other tribes of Israel united and attacked Benjamin’s tribe, killing almost all the men in Benjamin’s territory. Only 600 survived.
Does UPS ship body parts?
What the Levite did sounds barbaric.
But I find myself wondering what would happen if a raped nation could stir a timid and tired assembly of world leaders with packages shipped by UPS.
This isn’t a recommendation.
FedEx would work, too.
Well, this is what happens sometimes when I read the news after reading the Bible.
I end up wondering what it would take to move people toward selfless compassion and away from the cowardice we might prefer to call pragmatism or a strong survival instinct.
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Was the woman the Levite’s wife or was she his “concubine” (as most translations read)?
Believing the latter actually makes the story even more bizarre. A priest traveling around the country with this mistress — and him throwing her out the door so that the rapists can have their way with her.
Regardless, it’s one of those stories that has always mystified me, Steve. Not every story in the Bible is a happy bedtime story of good triumphing over evil.
And this is one I just don’t get it all.
Stephen M. Miller
Yep, she was a slave wife known as a concubine. It was a legal marriage, but to a secondary wife. It’s like being in the herem without being queen. And in a herem, she’s the one they would send out for donuts and coffee.
The point of the story, like most of the stories in Judges, is to set Israel up for a king…to show them why they needed a king. The final story, involving the concubine shows how bad it got in Israel. Everybody did what they happy well pleased.
We’re see that today in little King Put Put’s attack on the Brave Ones. And in the mostly detached voyeurism of people who say they are “with the Brave Ones.” We might be pulling for them. But unless we can hear the shelling, we’re darn well not with them.
It is interesting that you commented on this passage! I have been thinking about this passage for the last few months after the Tennessee school board started banning books in the curriculum including “Maus” and “To Kill A Mockingbird..” I’m just curious if the Bible will be next since the last few chapters of Judges is loaded with some pretty depraved debauchery!
Stephen M. Miller
If they want to ban the biblical debauchery, have them look me up. I can point them to lines here and there in Leviticus.
Maureen McCarthy Wilson
No coincidence, I believe, that I literally had just finished the last chapter from Judges entered into the CEB (was amazed at Sampson and that the PPM song about him that I sang as a kidlet was right there in print) and then finished reading the last chapters of the book from the NIV. I found myself commenting out loud in chatty “asides” to God as I read these perplexing events and decided to hold further questions in abeyance until later. Took an escape route into my e-mail to detour thinking too much and -smack- your “War Corpse” story lay ready to be clicked upon. Questions may remain but do not paralyze my believing that God is faithful to see us through. That’s not a pollyanna response but rather an earnest expectation. Meanwhile back at the ranch…effectual fervent prayer of those God made righteous thru Jesus Christ is expected.
Stephen M. Miller
Way to go, reading it as I write it. I’m actually done paraphrasing Judges and creating the maps. I was waiting to upload the material because I’m having a new website built and I was hoping it would be ready by now. It’s not, so I’ll probably start loading up the rest of Judges next week. If you’re eager and want to proofread the remaining chapters for typos, let me know. I’ll email you the remaining chapters so you get the first look at them. Peace to you.