A Stranger Comes to Gibeah

The Sodom Series, #9

Chapters 19–21 of Judges recount one of the most heinous crimes recorded in all of Scripture. Its account of brutal abuse is strangely like that of Sodom, although the only person who ends up being harmed is a woman.

We’ll examine portions of this passage to see how it relates to and sheds light on the Sodom account.

A man wants his wife back

A Levite from the tribal territory of Ephraim had taken a concubine—a second wife. (Concubines were like first wives, only their offspring received no inheritance from the father.)

In those days, having concubines was customary. Both wives and concubines were considered property of the man. The Expanded Bible calls the concubine “a slave woman.”

This Levite’s concubine left him to return to her father’s house in Bethlehem. Why, we don’t know. After four months of separation, the Levite travels to Bethlehem to persuade her to reconcile with him, determined to bring her back.

Father delays their departure

The concubine’s father welcomes the Levite and, showing generous hospitality, convinces him to stay in their home for three days. The Levite wanted to return to Ephraim, but his father-in-law persuades him to stay two extra days.

He would have them remain a sixth day, but on the evening of the fifth, the Levite refuses to stay the night. He takes his concubine and travels to Jebus (later known as Jerusalem).

The Levite refuses Jebus

Jebus was a place where desert sojourners could lodge overnight. But the Levite refuses to stay there.

11 When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.”
12 But his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah.”
13 Then he said to his servant, “Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.”
14 So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.
15 They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.
–Judges 19:11–15 NIV

The Levite doesn’t want to stay in Jebus because it is controlled by foreigners. Instead, he desires to sojourn in a city belonging to his countrymen.

Little does he know what lies in store for him from a tribe of his own people.

They arrive at Gibeah

They finally enter Gibeah, a city inhabited by Benjamites (another Israelite tribe).

Gibeah may have had no public inn, for they camp out in the town square.

Like the angels in Sodom’s square waiting for Lot, no one provides them hospitality until an old man comes along.

An old man offers hospitality

16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.)
17 When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, “Where are you going and where do you come from?”
18 [The Levite] answered him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in.
19 We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.”
20The old man said, “Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.”
21 So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.
–Judges 19:16–21

It’s odd that the Levite chooses to stay in a town of his own people instead of in a city of strangers yet finds no hospitality in that town except from a man (another outsider) from Ephraim who happens to be living there temporarily. The word residing in verse 16 is the Hebrew gûr, meaning “sojourner,” as discussed previously.

Is this simply a nice man? No, he’s more: Showing hospitality is an act of righteousness.

But being a sojourner himself, this fellow may have been subject to prejudice and oppression by the native inhabitants of Gibeah and wanted to spare his visitors mistreatment or violence, as Lot did for the angels.

We’ll find out for certain next time.

More information:

To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.
The Sin of Sodom cover

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