You read this chapter and you feel – or you should feel – very angry. It begins as a normal story of relationships that go badly wrong, as a woman leaves her partner, and they then manage to work at a reconciliation. By the end of the chapter she’s been brutally attacked, raped and left for dead by a gang, within a few feet of the man who should have loved and therefore protected her.
The unnamed Levite makes food and drink his priority. After he finds his partner again in Ephraim, we learn that he spends almost a week doing nothing else but eating and drinking with her father (vv.4-9). And there’s no mention of the woman as he and her father stuff themselves. She is a silent witness to their self-centred greed. Soon, her partner will be a silent witness to her death.
So they travel back to their home, and stop in Gibeah to find lodgings for the night.The basic code of hospitality is broken, though, as no one invites this couple to stay (vv.12-15). It becomes a place of rape and murder. If the gang is desperately wicked, they can only carry out their intentions because of the disgusting behaviour of the house owner and the Levite. Rather than protect their household, they offer them up to the gang. Don’t think for a moment that this behaviour is defensible by any ancient code, let alone a biblical one: this was a cowardly, wicked abuse of their role to protect the women (vv.20-23). They are guilty.
The woman is raped and left to bleed to death while the men cower inside (vv.25-26). We assume that they cowered, terrified about what was going on outside. But that might be a generous reading of the text. They might not have cared at all. The clue that this could be the case is v.27. For the first time here the text calls the Levite ‘her master’. And she was like a piece of property. It dawns on us that this man had actually just gone to bed after the woman was effectively thrown to the dogs. Evidently, he goes outside in the morning when he’s ready, and not for any other reason. There is no concern, no compassion. He barks a word of command to the crumpled woman, and then loads her on his donkey like she is a dead animal. Maybe to him, that is all that she is.
The only emotion he shows in the chapter is rage. I don’t read this as a great wrenching sense of loss, but a fury that he’s been robbed of his property. The butchery of her body and the parceling out to the corners of Israel is his strategy for gaining maximum impact on the nation. He wants war. And war is what he will get. Brave though this sounds, in fact is all stems from his selfishness and cowardice.
This chapter has chilling echoes of our own violent, greedy world where sexual violence is all too common. Men serve their own lusts, and women are made to serve them, too. This is where the church lives, in places where porn, exploitation, rape, food and drink and brutal self-centredness are all legitimate lifestyle choices. We protest. Jesus Christ calls us from this slavery. He calls us to be free by His power, free to serve Him: “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Fight yourself, and you find yourself in a war only for the brave. Fight this war, and you discover the strength of the Spirit of God.