The Bible’s Most Notorious Chapter

Posted on March 5, 2020


By David Ettinger

The Dreadful Details
Actually, two chapters are strong candidates for this title, and both are chapter 19. One is Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his daughters), and the other is Judges 19 (the Levite and his concubine). For reasons I’ll explain later, I’ll give the nod to Judges 19.

This most notorious of chapters is fittingly placed within the Bible’s most notorious book – which tells of an era described this way: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6; 21:5).

The story involves a concubine who leaves her master for reasons unclear, and returns to her parents’ home (v. 2). After four months, the Levite decides to reclaim his concubine, does so, and makes the horrible decision to make the return trip after sunset.

Spending the night at Jerusalem is out because the city is controlled by the heathen Jebusites. Therefore, they proceed three miles north to Israelite-inhabited Gibeah, where a kindly older man invites them to stay with him.

We then read: “While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him’” (v. 22).

As the host argues with them – in the process offering his “virgin daughter” and the concubine to them instead – the Levite takes decisive action, giving the perverted mob his concubine to do with as they please. And they do: “… they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” (v. 25).

In the morning, the Levite opens the door to find his abused concubine “fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold” (v. 27). He says to her, “Get up; let’s go” (v. 28), but she is dead.

He takes her lifeless body home, carves it up in 12 pieces, and sends “them into all the areas of Israel” (v. 29). The nation is alarmed, saying “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!” (v. 30).

Breaking it Down
Where to start! First off, the Levite is a horrible man. Levy was Israel’s priestly tribe, and as such the Levites were to live honorable lives set apart for God. They were permitted to marry, but this one chose for himself a concubine. Though not against the Mosaic Law, it was a practice God frowned upon. (Genesis 2:24 is God’s commentary on acceptable marriage.)

But worse than anything is his cruelty and lack of concern for his concubine. He knew full well what would happen to her when he thrust her into the clutches of the mob. That he seemed to sleep without a care in the world speaks volume about his contemptible character. Can you picture Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or a bevy of others acting similarly? Furthermore, it is hard to get past the image of him opening the door, seeing her lying at the threshold, and telling her to get up. A heartless, vile man!

The fact that he summoned Israel for help (by carving up his concubine) at least shows that he recognized the event as an atrocity that should never have occurred among the people of Israel. But nonetheless, his depraved nature led to the atrocity.

The Aftermath
Chapters 20 and 21 tells us of the civil war that resulted from this seemingly solitary event, and it led to the deaths of 65,000 Israelites! What began as a domestic disagreement ended up as a disaster of massive proportions. Furthermore, the tribe of Benjamin – to which the men Gibeah belonged – came close to annihilation.

It seems obvious that God was disciplining and cleansing the nation for its rampant sin as this was a time when society had broken down and immorality was running amok.

Worse Than Genesis 19
I trust you are either familiar with Genesis 19 – and its similarity to Judges 19 – or that you will read it soon. Though both are ghastly, Judges 19 is the more notorious of the two because:

  • It took place within the borders of Israel and involved Israelites. The events of Genesis 19 occurred in the pagan mecca of Sodom.
  • Yes, Lot sleeping with his daughters was horrid (resulting in the nations of Moab and Ammon), but the destruction of 65,000 men is worse.
  • Though Lot was deeply flawed, he was by nature a good man (2 Peter 2:7). The Levite of Judges 19 is a terrible and degenerate man, and representative of Israel’s depraved condition at its darkest period of existence.  

Summing It Up
The final three chapters (19-21) of the Book of Judges give us a tragic picture of a society which has turned its back on God. The approximate 950 years between Genesis 19 and Judges 19 show just how far God’s people had sunk, becoming very much like the people of Sodom.

Today, Western nations founded on a biblical foundation need to take heed of the consequences of forsaking God. Let Judges Chapter 19 – the Bible’s most notorious chapter – stand as a dire warning for what awaits them if they continue to traverse the spiritual path they are traveling on!