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The Old Man Confronts the Ephramites, The Levite Finds His Concubine on the Doorstep, and The Levite Cuts His Wife in Twelve Pieces, by James Tissot (1836-1902)


Literarily, the writer of Judges 19-20 frames the story of the Levite and his concubine to stand in juxtaposition to the earlier Levite story in Judges 17-18. Terms link the two passages – “Bethlehem-Judah” (17:8; 19:1), “Ephraim” (17:1; 19:1), “Levite…sojourned/sojourning” (17:7; 19:1), and “inquired of God” (18:5; 20:18).

The story also has parallels to that of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Therefore, the reader should anticipate a scene in which a local host offers hospitality (Gen. 19:2-3), evil men approach (19:4-5), the evil men rebuke the hospitality standards (19:6-9), and mediating angelic beings rescue the Abrahamic relative (19:10-11). However, no one intervenes, demonstrating that the guest is acting in discord with the covenant of Abraham. Instead, the host offers his own daughter and the guest’s concubine to the evil men (Judg. 19:24). Eventually, the Levite seizes the concubine and gives her to the Sodom-like men (19:25).

Rather than a Moabite offspring coming as a result of the poor choice of the male figure in this story (in comparison to Lot, Gen. 19:37), the narrative witnesses the death of the concubine (Judg. 19:26-27). Israel then must act as their own mediators and provide justice and deliverance (Judges 20). The mercy for which Abraham pleaded on behalf of Lot is absent in the narrative because no one is concerned about pleasing the Lord, as they have rejected him as their King (Judg. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

Significantly, Judges 19 ends with the Levite dismembering the concubine. He uses her death as a rallying cry for Israel to make judgment upon the acts of the Benjaminites. Yet the Levite has not dealt with his own sin—his own disregard for the Law, his rejection of the father-in-law’s hospitality, and the demeaning treatment of the concubine in life and death. The Levite is a hypocrite, blaming the men of Benjamin for the evil he could have prevented if he had obeyed the law of God, listened to the father-in-law, and stood his moral ground in the old man’s home.

In contrast to the Levite, the concubine – who was mistreated in life and humiliated in death – dies in place of the man, saving his life from suffering, disgrace, and death. Her death then stands as an injustice in the eyes of the Levite and greater Israel (Judg. 19:29-30). In this story, she is the type of the one to come who will die in place of those deserving death.


George M. Schwab, Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges (P&R).