And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehemjudah.
Verse 1. - When there was no king (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 21:25). It appears from Judges 20:27, 28 that the events narrated in these three last chapters of the Book of Judges happened in the lifetime of Phinehas, and while the ark was at Shiloh (see Judges 20:27, note). Phinehas evidently outlived Joshua (Joshua 24:29, 33), though there is no evidence to show how long. The events in these chapters must have occurred in the interval between the death of Joshua and the death of Phinehas. A certain Levite, etc. It is a curious coincidence that both the Levite whose sad story is here told, and the Levite the son of Gershom of whom we read in the preceding chapters, were sojourners in the hill country of Ephraim, and also closely connected with Bethlehem-judah. Perhaps the legitimate inference (see ver. 18, and Judges 20:26, 27) is that in both cases the Levites were drawn to Ephraim by the ark being at Shiloh, and also that there was a colony of Levites at Bethlehem-judah. Whether there was any connection between the presence of Levites at Bethlehem and the annual sacrifice at Bethlehem which existed in David's time, and which argues the existence of a high place there, can only be a matter of conjecture (see 1 Samuel 9:13, and 1 Samuel 20:29). All we can say is that there was the universal prevalence of high-place worship during the time of the judges, and that the services of Levites were sought after in connection with it (Judges 17:13). On the side. Hebrew, sides. In the masculine form the word means the hip and upper part of the thigh; in the feminine, as here, it is applied only to inanimate objects, as a house, the temple, a cave, the north, a pit, a country, etc., and is used in the dual number (see 1 Samuel 24:4; 1 Kings 6:16; Psalm 48:3; Psalm 128:3; Isaiah 37:24; Ezekiel 32:23, etc.). It means the innermost, hindmost, furthermost parts. Its application here to the northern side of Ephraim seems to imply that the writer wrote in the south, probably in Judah. A concubine. An inferior wife, who had not the same right for herself or for her children as the wife had (see Genesis 25:6).
And his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father's house to Bethlehemjudah, and was there four whole months.
Verse 2. - Played the whore, etc. Perhaps the phrase only means that she revolted from him and left him. Her returning to her father's house, and his anxiety to make up the quarrel, both discourage taking the phrase in its worst sense. Four whole months. Literally, days, four months; meaning either a year and four months, as in 1 Samuel 27:7, where, however, the and is expressed; or days (i.e. many days), viz., four months. For the use of days for a year see Exodus 13:10; Judges 17:10, etc.
And her husband arose, and went after her, to speak friendly unto her, and to bring her again, having his servant with him, and a couple of asses: and she brought him into her father's house: and when the father of the damsel saw him, he rejoiced to meet him.
Verse 3. - To bring her again. So the Keri. But the Cethib has to bring him, i.e. it, again, viz., her heart. But the phrase to speak to her heart is such a common one for to speak friendly or kindly to any one that it is not likely that it should here be used otherwise, so that the pronoun should refer to heart. If the masculine is here the right reading, it may be an archaism making the suffix of the common gender like the plural suffix in ver. 24, which is masculine, though applied to women, and like the masculine pronoun itself, which is so used throughout the Pentateuch and elsewhere (see also Judges 21:12; Exodus 1:21). A couple of asses. One for himself and one for her. He rejoiced. No doubt, in part at least, because the expense of his daughter's maintenance would be transferred from himself to his daughter's husband.
And his father in law, the damsel's father, retained him; and he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there.
Verse 4. - Retained him. See the same phrase 2 Kings 4:8, where it is rendered she constrained him. The full phrase is in Genesis 21:18, hold him in thy hand.
And it came to pass on the fourth day, when they arose early in the morning, that he rose up to depart: and the damsel's father said unto his son in law, Comfort thine heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way.
Verse 5. - Comfort thine heart, etc. Compare Genesis 18:5.
And they sat down, and did eat and drink both of them together: for the damsel's father had said unto the man, Be content, I pray thee, and tarry all night, and let thine heart be merry.
Verse 6. - For the damsel's father had said, etc., or rather, And the damsel's father said. He had not at first intended to stay on, but to go on his way after he had eaten and drunk (ver. 5). But when they had prolonged their carousal, the father of the damsel persuaded him to stay on another night.
And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again.
Verse 7. - He lodged there again. Literally, he returned and lodged there. The Septuagint and one Hebrew MS. read, And he tarried and lodged there.
And he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart: and the damsel's father said, Comfort thine heart, I pray thee. And they tarried until afternoon, and they did eat both of them.
Verse 8. - And they tarried. It should rather be rendered in the imperative mood: And tarry ye until the afternoon. So they did eat both of them. The imperative comfort thine heart is in the singular because only the man and the father-in-law are represented throughout as eating and drinking both of them together. The imperative tarry ye is in the plural because it applies to the wife as well as the man.
And when the man rose up to depart, he, and his concubine, and his servant, his father in law, the damsel's father, said unto him, Behold, now the day draweth toward evening, I pray you tarry all night: behold, the day groweth to an end, lodge here, that thine heart may be merry; and to morrow get you early on your way, that thou mayest go home.
Verse 9. - Draweth toward evening. The Hebrew phrase, which is uncommon, is, The day is slackening to become evening, i.e. the heat and the light of the day are becoming slack and weak, and evening is coming on. The day groweth to an end. Another unusual phrase; literally, Behold the declining of the day, or, as some render it, the encamping of the day, as if the sun after his day's journey was now pitching his tent for the night. Go home. Literally, to thy tent, as in Judges 20:8. So the phrase, To your tents, O Israel, means, Go home (see 1 Kings 12:16, etc.).
But the man would not tarry that night, but he rose up and departed, and came over against Jebus, which is Jerusalem; and there were with him two asses saddled, his concubine also was with him.
Verse 10. - Jebus. See Judges 1:21, note. Jerusalem is numbered among Joshua's conquests at Joshua 10:23; Joshua 12:10. But from this verse it would appear that the Israelite population had withdrawn and left the city to be entirely occupied by the Jebusites, who held it till the time of David (2 Samuel 5:6). Jerusalem is only about two hours from Bethlehem.
And when they were by Jebus, the day was far spent; and the servant said unto his master, Come, I pray thee, and let us turn in into this city of the Jebusites, and lodge in it.
And his master said unto him, We will not turn aside hither into the city of a stranger, that is not of the children of Israel; we will pass over to Gibeah.
Verse 12. - Gibeah (or ha-Gibeah, the hill).. In the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28); Saul's birthplace. Its modern name is Jeba It would be about two and a half hours' further journey from Jerusalem.
And he said unto his servant, Come, and let us draw near to one of these places to lodge all night, in Gibeah, or in Ramah.
Verse 13. - Ramah (ha-Ramah, the height). Now er-Ram, less than an hour's journey from Gibeah, both being about equi-distant from Jerusalem.
And they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down upon them when they were by Gibeah, which belongeth to Benjamin.
And they turned aside thither, to go in and to lodge in Gibeah: and when he went in, he sat him down in a street of the city: for there was no man that took them into his house to lodging.
Verse 15. - A street of the city. Rather, the broad space or place near the gate, such as is usual in an Oriental city (cf. Ruth 4:1). There was no man that took them into his house. This absence of the common rites of hospitality toward strangers was a sign of the degraded character of the men of Gibeah (see Genesis 18:3-8; Genesis 19:2, 3; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9.
And, behold, there came an old man from his work out of the field at even, which was also of mount Ephraim; and he sojourned in Gibeah: but the men of the place were Benjamites.
Verse 16. - Which was also of mount Ephraim. The Hebrew is, And the man was from the hill country of Ephraim. It does not mean that he also, as well as the Levite, was from Ephraim.
And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?
And he said unto him, We are passing from Bethlehemjudah toward the side of mount Ephraim; from thence am I: and I went to Bethlehemjudah, but I am now going to the house of the LORD; and there is no man that receiveth me to house.
Verse 18. - The side of mount Ephraim. See ver. 1, note. I am going to the house of the Lord, i.e. to the tabernacle at Shiloh. But some translate the words I frequent, am conversant with, walk in, the house of the Lord, i.e. am a Levite. But the former seems the best rendering on the whole.
Yet there is both straw and provender for our asses; and there is bread and wine also for me, and for thy handmaid, and for the young man which is with thy servants: there is no want of any thing.
Verse 19. - Yet there is both straw, etc., i.e. he only wanted shelter, he had all his provisions with him, it was but little that he asked for, and yet no man would take him in.
And the old man said, Peace be with thee; howsoever let all thy wants lie upon me; only lodge not in the street.
So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.
Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
Verse 22. - Making their hearts merry - as in vers. 6, 9, and in Judges 16:25; Ruth 3:7. But there is nothing in the expression implying any excess in drinking. Bring forth the man. The abandoned character of the men appears in this, that not only did they offer no hospitality to the stranger themselves, but were ready to violate the sanctity of the hospitality of the old man's house by their brutal violence. There must have been a fearful absence of all law and order and government when such deeds could be done without any interference on the part of magistrate or elder or ruler of any kind. The singular resemblance of the whole narrative to that in Genesis 19. suggests that the Israelites by their contact with the accursed Canaanites had reduced themselves to the level of Sodom and Gomorrah. Surely this shows the wisdom of the command to destroy utterly the workers of abomination. Sons of Belial. See Judges 20:13, where the same Hebrew phrase is rendered children of Belial. Belial in this common phrase is not a proper name, but a noun meaning worthlessness. Sons or men of Belial means worthless fellows.
And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.
Verse 23. - He pleads the sanctity of hospitality.
Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
Verse 25. - The man took his concubine, etc. One's blood boils at such selfish baseness and such cowardly cruelty. It is not quite clear whether the man means the Levite or the old Ephraimite.
Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light.
Verse 26. - Till it was light, or, as the words may mean, at daylight.
And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
Verse 27. - The woman was fallen down at the door, etc. Poor thing! with her last breath she turned to the house where he was who should have been her protector, but who had deserted her in her hour of need.
And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
Verse 29. - Compare 1 Samuel 11:8.
And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.
Verse 30. - And it was so, etc. Some translate this verse quite differently. They understand the whole verse as what the Levite said when he sent the twelve pieces of the murdered woman to the twelve tribes, as thus: "He sent her into all the coasts of Israel (ver. 29), saying, It shall come to pass that all who see it will say, There hath been nothing done and nothing seen like this from the day, etc. But the A.V. makes very good sense, and the Hebrew will bear it. Consider of it, etc. The general sense of the whole nation was to call a national council to decide what to do. The Levite had succeeded in arousing the indignation of the twelve tribes to avenge his terrible wrong.