Gibeah’s Violence Toward Strangers

The Sodom Series, #10

A righteous old man, an outsider living in Gibeah, invites the sojourning Levite, his concubine, and servant to stay the night in his home (Jdg. 19:20-21). Yet this good deed meets with violence from the townspeople.

The Levite accepts hospitality

It seems the old man is warning the Levite and his party not to spend the night in the square. Don’t you wonder why?

After exchanging social pleasantries, the Levite accepts the hospitality of the old man and goes home with him. There, the host tends to all the needs of his visitors, even though they already have all they require (19:19).

As mentioned in a previous post, it was the custom of Eastern peoples to provide for their guests as if they were members of their own family or honored dignitaries. If you were an ancient Easterner, whoever came under your roof as a guest could expect your provision and protection, even unto death.

This custom would soon be tried.

The children of Belial arrive

22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.”
23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing.”
–Judges 19:22–23 ESV

The word men here is enôsh, meaning “a mortal, people in general” (Strong’s, H582), the same word used for the citizens of Sodom who showed up at Lot’s door. It includes both men and women.

The King James Version says that “certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about” (Jdg. 19:22). This phrase “sons of Belial” means “worthless fellows, scoundrels, sons of the devil, children of evil” (Miller and Lane, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 303).

(See also Deuteronomy 13:13; 1 Samuel 1:16; 2:12; 10:27; 25:17,25; 30:22; 2 Samuel 16:7; 20:1; 22:5; 23:6; 1 Kings 21:10–13; 2 Chronicles 13:17; Psalm 18:4; 101:3; Proverbs 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Nahum 1:11,15.)

Sons is ben, “not exclusively a reference to the male offspring of human parents,” but an idiom “for children generally, for descendants” (TWOT, 254).

These wicked people, both men and women, are depraved. They discovered someone new in town and determine to dominate and debase him.

This sounds much like the Genesis 19 account of the people of Sodom who demand audience with the angels who visited Lot. We’ll see just how similar the stories are.

The old man negotiates

Bound by the duty of hospitality, the old man slips outside and begs them not to abuse the Levite. He says, “No, my brothers….”

Maybe he is simply trying to be persuasive. Perhaps he has dealt with this group before. In any event, he caters to their unholy spirit and compromises with them in order to protect his guest.

“Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”
–Judges 19:24 NIV

The old man offers them his own virgin daughter, probably yet a teenager, and the Levite’s concubine. Note that he does not offer the young male servant.

Lot did the same thing the night the citizens of Sodom want to debase the angels. It may be that, because of previous dealings with these Benjamites, the old man knows if he doesn’t appease them, he and his guest will be harmed.

The Gibeahites become violent

Verse 22 says the people surround the house and pound on the door. They mean business.

In the same situation in Genesis 19, the angels with Lot at Sodom rescued him and struck the wicked men with blindness (Gen. 19:11), but there are no angels on the scene at the home of the old man in Gibeah.

For “use them” (v. 24), the KJV says, “humble them.” The word anâ contains the meaning “the idea of looking down or browbeating, to debase, deal hardly with” (Strong’s, H6031).

As in Sodom and with the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison, the custom of Gibeah is to interrogate and humiliate foreigners and strangers in their midst as a show of superiority and domination.

But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them….
–Judges 19:25 NRSV

What happens to this unfortunate woman who has reluctantly reunited with her husband? We’ll find out 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

6 thoughts on “Gibeah’s Violence Toward Strangers

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