Reading through the Bible together
This narrative represents the darkest chapter in the history of Israel during the period of the Judges. Of all the moral atrocities committed by the Israelites so far in the book, this is by far the most appalling. The similarities between this story and the story of Sodom’s depravity (Gen 19) are too many to be coincidental. The writer deliberately framed this story to compare the moral depravity of Israel to that of the people of Sodom. The words of the Levite sums up the point of the story: “No such deed has been done or seen from the day that the children of Israel came up from the land of Egypt until this day.”
It is important to note that the narrator does not make value judgments on the actions of the characters. We should not assume that the Levite’s host was correct in preferring heterosexual over homosexual rape. This he did because he thought it right in his own eyes. Similarly, the lack of hospitality is not the real problem here, as some commentators have suggested. The violence committed by these men does not stem from their inhospitable nature, it is prompted by their wicked and depraved hearts. The narrative makes it clear the crime here is rape and murder, perpetrated by the men of Gibeah.
As horrific as these acts were, the truly appalling part is that the children of Israel committed them. Rape and murder were not any less common in the ancient Near East than they are today. But of all nations, such atrocities should not have occurred among God’s chosen people. Even at a time when “there was no king in Israel,” they had a higher standard to live by than the neighboring nations. The Levite’s insistence to go to an Israelite city instead of a foreign one (19:12) only emphasizes this point: the Israelites were expected to be a better people.
The moral decay of Israelite society was the result of living as if there was no king and if God was not around. We live in precisely that kind of world today. The fear of God seems like an antiquated and foreign notion to most people in our society. The followers of Jesus, the chosen people of God, are to be an exception, a light shinning in the darkness. Most of us will probably never be involved in anything as horrific as the events described here (Praise the Lord!). But whenever we take a self-interested approach to sin, we play the part of the Levite’s host. The Irish philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If we allow expediency and convenience to dictate when we should stand up for good, we will miss many opportunities to help those who have been hurt by sin.
Justo E. Morales
Southern Adventist University