Jesus says to His disciples: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
The Failure of Hospitality in Judges 19
Judges 19:1-10 ~ The Levite of Ephraim and his Concubine
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, there was a man, a Levite, whose home was deep in the highlands of Ephraim. He took as concubine a woman from Bethlehem in Judah and they set off on their journey home.Judges 19:11-21 ~ The Levite Spends the Night in the town of Gibeah. By the time they were near Jebus, the light was going fast. The servant said to the master, ‘Come on, please, let us turn off into this Jebusite town and spend the night there.’ 12 His master replied, We shall not turn off into a town of foreigners, of people who are not Israelites; we shall go on to Gibeah.’ 13 He then said to his servant, ‘Come on, we shall try to reach one or other of those places, either Gibeah or Ramah, and spend the night there.’ 14 So they kept going and went on with their journey. As they approached Gibeah in Benjamin, the sun was setting. 15 So they turned that way to spend the night in Gibeah. Once inside, the Levite sat down in the town square, but no one offered to take them in for the night. 16 Eventually, an old man came along at nightfall from his work in the fields. He too was from the highlands of Ephraim, although he was living in Gibeah; the people of the place, however, were Benjaminites. 17 Looking up, he saw the traveler in the town square. ‘Where are you going?’ said the old man, ‘And where have you come from?’ 18 ‘We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a place deep in the highlands of Ephraim. That is where I come from. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going home, but no one has offered to take me into his house, 19 although we have straw and provender for our donkeys, and I also have bread and wine for myself, and this maidservant and the young man who is travelling with your servant; we are short of nothing.’ 20 ‘Welcome,’ said the old man. ‘I shall see that you have all you want. You cannot spend the night in the square.’ 21 So he took him into his house and gave the donkeys provender. The travelers washed their feet, then ate and drank.
Judges 19:22-25 ~ The Crime of the Rabble of Gibeah
While they were enjoying themselves, some townsmen, scoundrels [worthless sons of men], came crowding around the house; they battered on the door and said to the old man, master of the house, ‘Send out the man who went into your house, we should like to have intercourse with him [that we may know him]!’ 23 The master of the house went out to them and said, ‘No, brothers, please do not be so wicked. Since this man is now under my roof, do not commit such an infamy. 24 Here is my daughter; she is a virgin: I shall bring her out to you. Ill-treat [abuse] her, do what you please with her [what is good in your own eyes], but do not commit such an infamy against this man.’ 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and brought her out to them. They had intercourse [knew] with her and ill-treated [abused] her all night till morning; when dawn was breaking they let her go [discarded her].
Judges 19:26-30 ~ The Levite Seeks Revenge
At daybreak the girl came and fell on the threshold of her husband’s [lord’s] host, and she stayed there until it was light. 27 In the morning her husband [lord] got up and opening the door of the house, was going out to continue his journey when he saw the woman, his concubine, lying at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold. 28 ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘we must leave!’ There was no answer. He then [ha-is = the man] loaded her on his donkey and began the journey home. 29 Having reached his house, he took his knife, took hold of his concubine and cut her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces; he then sent her throughout the territory of Israel. 30 He gave instructions to his messengers, ‘This is what you are to say to the Israelites, “Have anything like this been done since the day when the Israelites came out of Egypt until today? Take this to heart, discuss it; then give your verdict.”‘ And all who saw it declared, Never has such a thing been done or been seen since the Israelites came out of Egypt until today.
At first reading, this most disturbing story may appear to be an aberration which couldn’t possibly have come from the Bible. Yet, it has much in common with the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. It has been said that the sin there was not the townsmen’s homosexual advances but a violation of the hospitality laws which extended to all males in a host’s care. Since the story of the Levite and his concubine has strong parallels with the Sodom account, the same interpretation has been said to apply. However, females were not protected by hospitality laws, and so, as mere property, they are offered here to the townsmen for their lewd purposes. Our priorities must then shift: the great “sin” is not the lack of hospitality on the host’s part but his failure to protect the lives of his virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine. As we see, he actually keeps the laws on hospitality which safeguard male guests. So the question arises, is he responsible for the concubine’s death? Does she die from her injuries, dead when he finds her on the threshold, or does he kill her in dismembering her body? Ironically too, the Levite refuses to stop for the night in Jebus (Jerusalem) because it is a Canaanite town he considers perilous for Jewish travelers. Instead, he elects to stay in Gibeah, a village in Israel inhabited by members of the Benjamin tribe. When he gets to Gibeah, however, he waits in the town square for someone to offer him lodging for the night to no avail. The Benjaminites’ failure to extend hospitality should have been a warning that there is a problem with these people despite their status as fellow Israelites.Indeed, the narrative’s opening line-“In those days, when there was no king in Israel”– suggests that at this time, in the absence of a monarch, disorder prevails in Israel.
The moral for us today is found in an alternative meaning for “hospitality.” If we can see the word in a political light, then it also entails acceptance. For to invite someone into your home changes his or her standing from stranger to guest, thereby implying a receptivity and tolerance of difference on the host’s part. The tragedy depicted in Judges shows us the price we pay for rejection of those differences, when we disregard our pursuit of the Lord’s justice.
If our journeys in life take us through hazardous territories, then, we pray for shelter to stop for the night, for someone imbued with the holy spirit to keep us from harm, and for the welcome of sanctuary. May the Lord be with us in our passages, may He keep all travelers from danger, and see us safely to the refuge we call home.
by Dianne Armstrong
Just for a change, I am submitting Celtic readings for your contemplation. Their unusual imagery, sometimes mystical in nature, and usually including the natural world in its dimensions, often shows a very personal relation to God the Creator and His Son.
PSALM 14-12 SONG OF SONGS 5:10,16 LUKE 29-37
A Christian is one who points at Christ and says,
‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about His
eyes and His voice. There’s something about the way
He carries His head, His hands, the way He carries
His cross – the way He carries me.’
From: Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community
San Francisco: Harper, 2002.