Understanding the Old Testament

Civil War

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Chapters 19 and 20 of the book of Judges describe a civil war that occurred during the high priesthood of Phinehas, Eleazar’s son. (See Judges 20:28.) Since Eleazar was a contemporary of Joshua (Eleazar’s death is mentioned in Joshua 24:33), this story probably occurred about the time Othniel was judging Israel (Othniel was Israel's first judge).

The war arose over the mistreatment of a Levite’s concubine within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin.

While traveling to the Levite’s home in Ephraim, he and the woman stopped in the city of Gibeah, where they were given shelter and hospitality by an old man who lived there. But in a scene eerily reminiscent of Sodom, some local thugs demanded that they be allowed to have sexual relations with the Levite. (Judges 19:22) As in Sodom, this was a gross violation of Middle Eastern hospitality traditions.

In what can only be described as a selfish and heartless act, the Levite gave them his concubine, whom they raped and abused all night. (Judges 19:25) The next morning she was dead. 1

He took her body back home and cut it into twelve pieces, which he sent throughout Israel. The Israelites were so incensed that they demanded that the Benjamites hand over the men responsible, in order to execute them. But the men of Benjamin refused and prepared for war.

The Benjamites, although badly outnumbered, managed to win the first two battles against the rest of Israel. (Judges 20:19-25) But in the third battle the Israelites used Joshua’s tactics against Ai, laying an ambush to lure the Benjamites away from Gibeah in order to surround and destroy them. (Judges 20:29-46) Only 600 of the Benjamite fighters escaped. (Judges 20:47)

1 The callousness of the old man and the Levite toward women is striking. The old man offered his own virgin daughter as well as the Levite’s concubine to the men of Gibeah if they would leave the man alone. (Judges 19:24) The Levite, after delivering his concubine to the men, slept peacefully until morning (Judges 19:27). Then upon finding her in the doorway, he seemed unconcerned about her well-being, saying simply, “Get up and let us go,” before he realized that she was dead. (Judges 19:28)

Questions to ponder or discuss: Why do you think the Benjamites chose to go to war rather than hand over the offenders for execution? Where do you draw the line between devotion to the law vs. loyalty to relatives?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Why Reasonable People Should Consider Christianity


Stories of the Faithful (with some church history)


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Understanding the Old Testament


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