See Judging Judges 19 -- Part I (below)
As we push forward with Judges 19, we move into verses 3-5. Four months after she left him, this Levite comes determined to "persuade" his concubine wife to return, or as the Message version puts it: "Then her husband decided to go after her and try to win her back."
Perhaps he was a smooth talker. Perhaps she felt an obligation as his wife, but clearly she is open to prospects of reconciliation. The hows and whys can only be dismissed to speculation. But she brings him into her father's house. The father greets him warmly and an interesting display of hospitality ensues. Consistently, the father urges his son-in-law to stay, day after day. It seems to reach beyond simple hospitality into perhaps a paternal desire for his daughters happiness and perhaps even her protection. But in the end, the girl is this Levite's wife. And when he leaves, she must leave with him. Ironically instead of protecting the girl, the late start proved to be only the first in many events that led to her demise.
So off they go. It's too late to make it all the way home in one day now. The Levite is convinced that they will be safe lodging in a Israelite city and so they push forward to the Gibeah in Benjamanite territory. Inns did not exist in all cities at this time and so travelers had to rely on the hospitality of kinsman or locals for lodging or just camp out.
Things are looking dim as the sun begins to set and no one has offered them a safe place for the night. Perhaps they grew edgy at the thought of sleeping out in the streets unprotected. But what choice did they have?
Finally, a local who was originally from their area of Ephraim stumbled upon them and offered them hospitality at his home. What good fortune! An eleventh hour rescue. Yes, all would be well now.
In the "get to know ya" conversation between the Levite and hospitable local, the Levite explains, "I went to Bethlehem of Judah, but I am [now] going [home] to the house of the Lord [where I serve], and there is no man who receives me into his house."(Amplified)
Where did that come from? This is the first time God has been mentioned in this man's whole story. For some reason he feels the need to put a spiritual spin on his predicament.
Have we ever been guilty of this? We like to pretend that we are "acknowledging the Lord in all of our ways" but in reality, we acknowledge Him only when it serves our purpose, makes us look good. He wants to make sure this guy knows that HE is a LEVITE, a man of the cloth.
The man invites the Levite and his entourage into his home and all is looking good ... until there is a knock at the door. The evil men outside demand the guest. The Levite and his host's response is enough to make us wonder if there were more evil outside that house or inside. The Message records it this way:
A gang of local hell-raisers all, surrounded the house and started pounding on the door. They yelled for the owner of the house, the old man, "Bring out the man who came to your house. We want to have sex with him."
He went out and told them, "No, brothers! Don't be obscene—this man is my guest. Don't commit this outrage. Look, my virgin daughter and his concubine are here. I'll bring them out for you. Abuse them if you must, but don't do anything so senselessly vile to this man."
But the men wouldn't listen to him. Finally, the Levite pushed his concubine out the door to them. They raped her repeatedly all night long. Just before dawn they let her go. The woman came back and fell at the door of the house where her master was sleeping. When the sun rose, there she was.
The world truly becomes an ugly place when " there was no king ... [and] every man [does] what was right in his own eyes."
Here our religious leader of the day, the one who should be helping to establish and hold up the moral fabric of society physically forces his wife out of the house to be raped to death in order to save his own neck. What's worse, he seems to feel no remorse over the whole affair as he still managed to get a good night's sleep that night.
We want our pastors, lay leaders, even Christians in general to be heroes. But they fail us. We all fail each other. While we are repulsed by this story, the fact remains that we are each capable of all kinds of evil when we depose of the King in our lives and chose to do what is right in our own eyes.
And it is ugly. It leaves me cold. But this story from Judges does not end here.
The Message version describes the next scene of this tragedy this way:
It was morning. Her master got up and opened the door to continue his journey. There she was, his concubine, crumpled in a heap at the door, her hands on the threshold.
"Get up," he said. "Let's get going." There was no answer.
He lifted her onto his donkey and set out for home. When he got home he took a knife and dismembered his concubine—cut her into twelve pieces. He sent her, piece by piece, throughout the country of Israel. And he ordered the men he sent out, "Say to every man in Israel: 'Has such a thing as this ever happened from the time the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until now? Think about it! Talk it over. Do something!'"
"Get up"? "Let's get going"? Hello! You just allowed your wife to be raped and abused all night long, you find her collapsed on the doorstep and THIS is how you respond?!?!??!?!?
What's with this "man of God"? It truly makes me sick to my stomach. But the fact remains that evil is capable of infecting even the clergy. And when that happens many innocents suffer on many levels.
And that's exactly what happened here. Never having repented for the role he played in the tragedy, the Levite makes a self-serving call for justice. In violation of Torah law where desecration of the body is forbidden, he cuts up his wife's body and sends it to the tribes, a dramatic, if not grotesque, call to vengence. He was angry, not because they had hurt his beloved wife, but because they had broken his stuff. It was the offense against himself that concerned the Levite most.
The result: War, widespread bloodshed, nearly complete genocide of the tribe of Benjamin, and then in a last ditch effort to save the tribe, widespread kidnapping and rape of countless young women from Shiloh.
The tentacles of evil reach far, wide and deep.
By including this story in Holy Scripture, God acknowledges how the evil of this world reaches out and tears into lives and souls of individuals simply trying to survive this journey we call life. The concubine, the girls of Shiloh, the countless lives slaughtered in this altercation in the name of justice, but motivated only by selfishness and evil -- their blood testifies that when we depose the King and do what is right in our own eyes, evil triumphs.
Very often it is the events of evil in the world that drive people to give up on God. How could a sovereign God of all goodness exist when such tragedies like this occur?
But Evil is not proof that there is no God. If anything it is proof that there is one. If there is no God, then there is no real right or wrong. There is no sin and no real evil. There is just what is. And this story is just a story with no lesson, no bad guy.
But this story IS so unmistakably horrid. There is so much undeniable evil seething from all angles of it that we are forced to recognize that evil exists. And many of us can recall events of evil in our own lives that hurt us very personally and very deeply. It was not just some amoral event of our lives, it was sheer Evil. To explain it away any other way would be to denigrate our suffering.
Since that fateful day Adam and Eve ate from the tree, our world has borne the infection of evil. And it ravages mankind with sorrow and suffering. Perhaps, in light of this, the real question is not "If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world?" But instead, "If there really was a "fall," how do we still manage to "see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living"? (Psalm 27:13). How can there be so many glimpses of goodness in such an sin-infected world?
Granted, there are times, when those glimpses all but disappear as they did for that poor concubine on that night in Gibeah as the dark cloud of evil got its chokehold on her through her husband's betrayal and violent men's abuse, dragging her to her own demise.
As Christians we are not immune. We too may face the darkness of tragedy. What then? How shall we respond when God seems so alien and Evil all too intimate?
CS Lewis put it best in Screwtape Letters: "[Satan's] cause is never in more danger than when a human -- no longer desiring but still intending to do [God's] will -- looks round upon the universe from which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
That is the moment of truth. For it is at that moment that we are forced to truly exercise the faith we claim.