The concluding chapters of Judges highlight the fact that everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). One of the stories that demonstrate the chaos and lawlessness of the time is the account of the Levite and his concubine, which begins in Judges 19. The Levite had a concubine who had run away and been unfaithful to him. From the very start, there is the problem of a Levite (of the priestly tribe) having a concubine, and then there is the problem of the woman being involved in a sexual relationship with someone not her husband.
The Levite found his concubine back at her parents’ home. As the Levite was bringing the concubine back to his own home, he stopped for the night in Gibeah, a town of the Benjamites. An older man insisted, for safety, that the Levite and his concubine stay at his home instead of in the town square. That night, “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’” (Judges 19:22). The host tried to reason with them, but they would not listen. To spare himself, the Levite sent his concubine outside. The degenerate mob abused her all that night (verse 25). When the man opened the door in the morning, the mob had departed, and the concubine’s dead body lay “in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold” (verse 27).
The Levite picked up the concubine’s body and placed it on his donkey and traveled home. He then cut up her body into twelve pieces—one for each tribe of Israel—and sent the pieces throughout the land. The macabre packages provoked the intended response; everyone who learned of the crime began talking: “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 raped and murdered the Levite’s concubine put to death. But when they confronted the people of Benjamin, the Benjamites chose to protect the guilty parties and refused to turn them over for justice (Judges 20:12–14). A civil war erupted, and the tribe of Benjamin was eventually defeated. All but 600 men of Benjamin were killed (Judges 20:47–48).
Judges 21 records the aftermath of the war over the Levite and his concubine. After a period of mourning, the leaders of the other eleven tribes sought to find a way to keep the tribe of Benjamin alive. Their solution 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 and alarming series of events concludes with the fitting words of Judges 21:25: “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 condemns these activities. Crimes such as befell the Levite’s concubine are what happens when the law is spurned and everyone does as he sees fit.
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.