Notes on Judges 19, verses 1-10
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 19:1, KJV: 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.
This Levite is probably not the same one as mentioned in chapters 17 and 18. The other Levite did not have a concubine, according to the text, and in fact nothing is mentioned about his family (if any). This Levite did have a concubine but it is not mentioned if he had a legitimate wife.
Concubines were women who were not truly married but were not merely slaves either. Their roles and definitions are not easy to describe briefly and accurately. The concubine here was from Bethlehem-Judah, and the Levite had been sojourning on “the side (which side is not described) of mount Ephraim”. How these two found each other is not described in the text.
2 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.
Why she left him and chose to live as a prostitute is not mentioned. There are at least two possibilities: the girl may have chosen to serve as a temple prostitute at one of the shrines in the area. Was Micah’s house of gods, with images, teraphim, etc., the only one existing at that time? Another possibility is that she simply chose that way of life, perhaps like Jephthah’s mother (Judges 11:1). There may be another or any number of reasons why she left him but we are not told why. She was away from him for at least four months, having gone back to her father’s house. Did he know what she had been doing?
3 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.
Here the Levite is called her “husband” and in one sense that is true. He seems to have tried to provide for her as best he could (implied) but she had left him anyway. The Levite decided to try and find her, with the help of his servant (not mentioned before this verse). They brought along a couple of donkeys or other beasts of burden.
The concubine is called a “damsel” in this verse. This same word is used of any girl who is old enough to be married: Rebekah, Gen. 24; Dinah. Gen. 34; Ruth, and Abrshag (1 Kings 1:3-4). Why she chose to violate her marriage or other living agreement is not certain, nor why she chose to break one of the Ten Commandments (“thou shalt not commit adultery”, Ex. 20:14). The Levite loved her enough, apparently, to try and win her back (“speak friendly . . . (and) bring her again”). This is similar to the prophet Hosea many years later (Hosea chapters 1-3).
The two men found the concubine-turned-harlot at her father’s house. Had she decided to stop her life as a harlot once she returned to her father’s house? At any rate, the Levite’s father-in-law “rejoiced to meet him”. Compare this encounter with the time when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, brought Moses’ wife
and sons to him soon after Israel had escaped from Egypt (Exodus 18).4 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.
The father in law of the Levite convinced the Levite (and his servant?) to “lodge” or stay for three days. Why he wanted the Levite to stay for so long is not clear.5 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.
By now the Levite is ready to leave—but where was he going to go? There is no mention of the LORD’s direction or guidance anywhere in the text. The father-in-law offered more food as an incentive for the Levite to stay, maybe for the first meal of the day. Note that he says “go _your_ way”, the plural form, meaning others than just the Levite himself would be free to go.6 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.
By “they”, the writer may be including either the concubine, or the servant, or both, with the Levite. Now the concubine’s father asks them to stay another night.7 And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again.
On the morning of the fourth day, it’s a repeat of the previous day: the concubine’s father persuades the Levite (and, perhaps, his servant) to stay another day.8 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.
The Levite and his concubine were ready to leave on the morning of Day 5 but they waited till after noon.9 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.
The concubine’s father gives his most detailed plea yet for the others to stay for another day. Now, for the first time, he mentions that it’s near the end of the day (twilight?), “so why not lodge here another night?” 10 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.
After five days, the Levite was probably more than ready to leave. He and his party had left Bethlehem-Judah and made it apparently very slowly to Jebus/Jerusalem. Why it took them so long to get there is not certain because Bethlehem-Judah was only a few miles from Jerusalem.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).