Difficult Passages Series: Judges 19 and The Gospel

Unlike the Levite in Judges 19, our Lord will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Similarly, today, women associated with the dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, or perhaps enslaved to sexual sin, suffer greatly with identity struggles, due to inherent objectification in society and finding themselves defined by past sexual relations. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes women to become silent, hidden, or even go underground. They, like the Judges 19 concubine, become anonymous entities whose lives matter little to their new masters, or the culture around them.But…. our deep issues of identity as women in societies where illicit sexual circumstances anonymize and silence its victims are redeemable by our Lord Jesus, who is our true King. 

 

Whenever speakers or expositors read the passage in Judges 19, they invariably take great care to caution their listeners about the horrific events contained therein. Such is the depth of the concubine’s suffering, degradation, and circumstances of depravity. At the end of the chapter, even the author declares:

All who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!” (Judges 19:30, New American Standard Bible).

Placing the Judges 19 account within the larger context of the book of Judges brings out the doctrine of the depravity of man and the wretched state of the culture in those days, whereby everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes, because there was no king to rule (Judges 17:619-121-25).

The story of the Judges 19 woman begins with a magnifying glass on her own sinful condition (v. 2), but quickly turns to the sinfulness of those around her and the culture at large. By the end of Judges 19, the concubine’s story graphically depicts the reality that in a culture, given over to autonomous self-gratification, the death wages of sin typically pour out on its weakest members.

With that backdrop, I also hope that women will come to see how the truth of the Gospel of Christ can speak into even the dark, hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman. We can and should bring the Gospel message to bear even in these utterly hard passages.

Covenantal Nature of Identity.

First, let’s consider the covenantal nature of our identity. Contrary to covenant, please note that none of the characters in Judges 19 are named. Each of the participants is essentially an anonymous entity, which is likely intended to achieve several different things. One common view holds that the Levite, the stranger, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman”, who in this case ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, when everyone was doing what they thought right in their own eyes. The collective identity of Israel was indistinguishable from the depraved, pagan surrounding culture.

In this way, the concubine represents the people of Israel as a whole, individually enslaved by sin, and collectively given over to wickedness by the very leaders who were responsible for their well-being. But other layers of meaning concerning the anonymity of the concubine apply here as well. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters generally were not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine would derive her unique identity in the covenant community from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing. Otherwise, she would typically not be remembered by name within the historical covenant narratives.

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