Question: "What can we learn from the story of the Levite and his concubine?"
Answer: The concluding chapters of Judges highlight the fact that everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). The account of the Levite and his concubine begins in Judges 19. The Levite’s concubine had run away and been unfaithful to him. From the start, there is the problem of a Levite (from the priestly tribe) having a concubine, and then there is the problem of the woman being involved in a sexual relationship with someone else.
As he travelled to bring the woman back to his home, the Levite stopped for the night in Gibeah, a town of the Benjamites. An older man insisted they stay at his home instead of in the town square. As they were at the man’s home, verse 22 notes, “Some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.’” The host tried to reason with them, but they would not listen. To spare himself, the Levite sent his own concubine outside. The mob abused her that night. When the man opened the door in the morning, the concubine’s dead body was there at the entrance (Judges 19:26–28).
The Levite placed her body on his donkey and traveled home. He then cut her body into 12 pieces—one for each tribe of Israel—and sent the pieces throughout the land. The striking response was, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!” (Judges 19:30).
The tribes of Israel (minus Benjamin) came together and decided to have the men who killed the concubine put to death. But when they confronted the people of Benjamin, the Benjamites refused to turn the guilty men over for their crimes (Judges 20:12–14). A civil war erupted, with the tribe of Benjamin eventually being defeated. All but 600 men of Benjamin were killed (Judges 12:47–48).
Judges 21 records the aftermath of this war. After a period of mourning, the nation’s leaders sought to find a way to keep the tribe of Benjamin alive. Their answer was to punish the city of Jabesh-gilead, who did not respond to the call to gather against the Benjamites. The punishment was that the 600 Benjamite men were allowed to steal young women from Jabesh-gilead to take as their wives.
This grotesque series of events concludes with the fitting words of verse 25: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” Readers reeling from the immoral activities of these closing chapters of Judges can take some comfort in the fact that Scripture clearly condemned these activities. This dark period of Israel’s history would soon lead to the demand for an Israelite king, an act that would help to some degree yet would also reveal the need for a perfect King and Messiah—Jesus Christ, who would come later in the New Testament.