A Levite and His Concubine
By Mac August 2001
What do you see when you look at this picture?
A Duck (facing to the left)? Or a Rabbit (facing to the right??
You probably saw both, but first one, then the other. That is how I see a lot of the stories God has put in our Bible. Sometimes I see a Duck, sometimes I see a Rabbit. Usually, at a first reading, I see a story. Sometimes interesting, sometimes not. But, when I take the time to analyze the story, often times I see a message. We all know that God gave us the Bible so that He could communicate with us. But, communication is a two-way street…someone has to ‘speak’, and someone has to ‘listen’. God ‘speaks’ through His word; we ‘listen’ by understanding His word.
When I read my Bible, some days I REALLY enjoy it. Some days, I do not. On the days that I DO enjoy reading my Bible, I feel so much better after having done so. In preparing for this sermon, I struggled with what to preach on. We are constantly being reminded of our requirements as Disciples, even though most of the time we don’t DO what we are required. I guess that is why we are constantly being reminded of them. A lot of the time, preachers do not highlight the positives of our lives, but oft time, the negatives. And with good reason: we have a lot of negatives in our daily lives. What I want to preach on today will probably encompass some aspects of both the positive and negative, so bare with me when I go through the negative portions of this sermon.
Turn your Bibles to the book of Judges, Chapter 19.
I suppose all of you have already heard, or read, of this story about a Levite Priest and his ‘half-wife’ concubine. If so, that is good, it will make this sermon easier for you to understand. Maybe. But let me begin by reading this story, starting in verse 1 (chapter 19).
READ Verses 1 through 10.
19 1In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father's house in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, 3her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father's house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. 4His father-in-law, the girl's father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.
5On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the girl's father said to his son-in-law, "Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go." 6So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the girl's father said, "Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself." 7And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. 8On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the girl's father said, "Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!" So the two of them ate together.
9Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl's father, said, "Now look, it's almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home." 10But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine.
This seems like a pretty cool story. Its about a man (A Levite Priest) living in the hill country of Ephraim, in the land north of Bethlehem, and his unfaithful wife (in this case, the women is referred to as a concubine….a concubine was (and is, in some parts of the world today) considered to be a ‘half-wife’, or one that was simply kept around for pleasure (usually meaning, sexual pleasure)). Not only was this unnamed woman unfaithful, but she also left her husband (also known as her MASTER), and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem. But, even though she WAS unfaithful to this Levite Priest, he must have still had a deep love for this woman (or a great sense of lust, I am not sure which), because four months after she left, he went to Bethlehem to get her to move back in with him.
When he arrives at her father’s house, notice how open, generous, and loving the father is to his ‘son-in-law’. He lavishes him with food and drink, and convinces him to stay at his house for five days. Even though the Levite Priest tried to leave on the fourth day, the father persuaded him to stay. And even on the 5th day, the Priest tried to leave early in the morning, but the father convinced him to stay until the afternoon.
My first point today is: Avoid Sin
Let’s do a little comparison between the three characters in this story, with God, His Church, and us. Let’s start with the concubine and us. Because that is what we are. We are God’s concubines. I don’t say this to degrade God in ANY way. But, more to describe us, and our relationship with Him. Before we became Christians, we were lost. As a group, and in some cases, as individuals, we committed most of the sins described in the Bible. Then we repented and got baptized. This is analogous to the Levite taking this concubine as a half-wife. His concubine now ‘belonged’ to him, much the same way we ‘belong to God’. In this story, notice how the writer says that the concubine was ‘unfaithful’ to her husband. We can only ASSUME this unfaithfulness was sexually oriented. It could have been one, or several other sins, but more than likely, remembering the ‘purpose’ of a concubine, it probably was sexual misconduct. BUT, not only did she mess around on her master, but she also LEFT him. Went home to Papa! Once we became ‘married’ to God, through our baptism, we became obligated NOT to leave Him. We are also obligated to fulfill the rest of our marriage vows with him; essentially, not commit sins against Him. The concubine’s primary sin was probably adultery. Ours is probably ‘all of the above’ (referring to the sins described in the Bible). When we sin, we LEAVE God. Even though it may be ‘temporary’ in our minds, we DO leave him. But, thank God for his overpowering love for us…just like the Levite Priest, He comes looking for us, attempting to persuade us to come back to Him. Sometimes God has to travel a long way, just like the Priest did, from the Hill Country in Ephraim to Bethlehem. Our sins sometime take us so far away from God, that it may take quite a long time for God to ‘find’ us again (or in better words, for us to find HIM again.
Let’s quickly look at the woman’s father. In some ways, he can be likened to the Kingdom of God here on earth. Even though his daughter returned to his household, she was still lost. She had lived in sin, and was probably still practicing her immoral ways. Her father realized what errors she had made, and was probably still making, so when the Priest (or God) came searching for her, he gladly welcomed Him in to his house. Through his constant demands that the Priest stay a little longer at his house, he was nurturing the relationship between the Priest and his daughter. By constantly caring for the Priest by providing food, drink and a place to stay, he was demonstrating to his daughter HIS love for the Priest (God), so that she would return to Him. The Kingdom does the same for us. We are still lost when we sin. The kingdom is here to nurture our relationship with God once more; and in some cases, constantly. It sometimes takes more than 5 days to reunite us concubines with our heavenly spouse. As a church, we do that by following such passages as James 5:16 (confessing to one another), Acts 11:23 (encouraging each other), and 2nd Timothy 3:16 (using the word of God to teach, rebuke, correct, and train).
Our goal should be to lessen the sin in our lives so that God won’t have to spend so much time searching for us; that the church won’t have to spend so much time trying to patch up our relationship; and we can maintain a healthy relationship with God.
Let’s read a little more of this story. We’ll continue with the last verse we read, verse 10, and go through verse 21.
10But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine.
11When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night."
12His master replied, "No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah." 13He added, "Come, let's try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places." 14So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into his home for the night.
16That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the men of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. 17When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, "Where are you going? Where did you come from?"
18He answered, "We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the LORD. No one has taken me into his house. 19We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants--me, your maidservant, and the young man with us. We don't need anything."
20"You are welcome at my house," the old man said. "Let me supply whatever you need. Only don't spend the night in the square." 21So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.
My second point is: Avoid Temptation
When the Priest went looking for his daughter, he had two donkeys and a servant. As he continued on his journey FROM Bethlehem, he has now added his runaway bride. With only TWO donkeys, and three people, I envision relatively slow movement. But, because the daughter’s father had delayed him from leaving Bethlehem until the afternoon, they hadn’t reached their destination by the time it was dark. And not wanting to travel the countryside for fear of thieves along the roads, and they were probably already tired, they decided to stop at a town and get some rest. Now, as they came from Bethlehem, and were traveling back toward the Hill Country of Ephraim, they were headed north. They had traveled about 5 miles on foot, along with their two donkeys, when they neared Jerusalem (notice that your Bible also refers to the city of Jerusalem, as Jebus. At this point in history, the Jebusites still owned that city, it had not yet been taken over by Israel. That didn’t occur until David became King…you can read about that in 2nd Samuel, Chapter 5.). See how the Priest responded when his servant suggested that they stop THERE overnight. He said that it was an ‘alien’ city, and no Israelites lived there. In retrospect, it would have probably been a much safer place for them to stay…we will read about that in the last part of this chapter. But, back to the story.
Gibeah, the place the Priest suggested they head for, was an additional 3 miles north of Jebus, so the sun had set by the time they arrived there. They arrived at the center of town, at the square, and because no one invited them to stay with them, they decided to go ahead and just sleep in the square. A small history lesson: during these times, people didn’t stay at the Holiday Inn, or the Mariott , or any Inn of any kind. There simply weren’t any (at least in the smaller towns). So when people traveled, they often stayed with relatives or anyone who would offer them a place to stay. Recall how Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and instructed them to stay with people in their homes. Even though inns DID exist in the time of Jesus, He seemed to encourage the use and practice of home-hospitality. Anyway, while the threesome was preparing to bed down, along came an elderly man who had come in from the work fields and spotted them in the square. This man was also from the Ephraim Hill Country in the North, but now lived in Gibeah. Although the Priest told the old man that they had everything they needed, he insisted that they stay at his house for the night. Once they arrived, he not only fed bread and wine to the trio, ensured they had the opportunity to wash their feet, but also took care of the two donkeys. He was a truly hospitable host, much like Mary, the sister of Martha, was to Jesus. You recall THAT story, where Martha was more concerned about her HOUSE, than she was about her GUEST. So that brings us to the end of verse 21.
What can we learn from these verses? Did you see a Rabbit in there? Or a Duck? Or maybe nothing at all. Well, at first, I saw a rabbit, but as I re-read it, and started to study it a little more, I saw it in a different view. I saw a Duck.
The first part of this section seems to deal with avoiding temptation. The Priest knew that the Jebusites would not treat them properly. He also knew of the severe lack of respect they had for ANY God. Throughout Exodus, Deuteronomy and Judges, you will find several references where God said that the Israelites would someday destroy the nations living in the ‘land of milk and honey’, which included the pagan Jebusites.
The Priest probably not only had fears against physical harm in Jebus, but probably also wanted to avoid that city because of the sin prevalent in the streets. After all, his concubine had been unfaithful at least once before, and he probably didn’t want to expose her to any further temptation, nor himself either.
We sometimes don’t think ahead like he did. We sometimes get ourselves into situations where sin IS prevalent, and become tempted to participate. Nightclubs and seedy bars may not be a lure of anyone in here, but, in several cases, hanging out with old buddies, co-workers, and other non-disciples, might be. I guess one good test to see where your heart is for avoiding temptation is to answer this question: Who do you spend the most time with---Disciples, or non-disciples? (And don’t include your spouse in that test). What other ways should you avoid temptation. Well, first of all, figure out what your pet sins are, and avoid those situations where that sin can flourish. If it is pornography, stay out of the magazine sections in the stores. If it is lust, avoid the beach, avoid the mall, avoid places where lust can develop. Be like the Levite Priest.
In the second part of the section we just read, we see Love and Hospitality shown by an Old Man. He knew NOTHING about these travelers before he approached them, except that they appeared to be travelers. His heart went out immediately to them when he learned they had no place to rest for the evening. He had obviously been somewhat of a traveler once himself, as he came from the Hill Country in Ephraim. Sometimes is ‘takes one to know one’. The same goes for sinners. We have all sinned (the Bible says so). So, it shouldn’t take much for us to recognize not only our OWN sin, but the sin of others. It is not difficult to tell by people’s faces, actions, and words that they are struggling with SOME kind of sin. If we truly love one another, we will help each other recognize that sin, so that it may be dealt with. The act of kindness shown by the Old Man is one that we should be practicing more, as well. We should be practicing hospitality, not only to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, but more importantly, to those that are still lost. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 25:31-46 (Inviting in a stranger), and in Luke 14:12-14, when he tells us to invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind INSTEAD of our friends and family.
Is that what you practice? Do you go out of your way looking for people to open up your homes and lives to? Or do you simply think that if we have a bunch of disciples over for dinner that we are truly practicing the type of hospitality that this Old Man did, and that Jesus tells us to do? Fear and laziness tempts us, and usually convinces us, to NOT invite those to our home that truly need us to reach out to them.
We should be avoiding temptations at ALL costs, in a manner similar to Jesus resisting temptation from the devil for 40 days and nights.
Let’s pick up where we left off (verse 22), and read to the end of the chapter.
22While 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."
23The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing. 24Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing."
25But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
27When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28He said to her, "Get up; let's go." But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.
29When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30Everyone who saw it said, "Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!"
WOW. If you hadn’t read this story before, the ending may have seemed somewhat like a Stephen King, or Alfred Hitchcock novel. Also, you may have read, or heard, about a story similar to this. In the book of Genesis, chapter 19, verses 1 through 11, our old friend Lot, went through a similar experience. A gang of ‘wicked’ men wanted to have sex with the two male angels that were staying at his house. And Lot offered his daughters to them, instead of giving up the two men. In that story, God intervened and struck all those wicked men with blindness so they couldn’t see to commit their gross sin.
In this story of the Levite Priest, God doesn’t get involved. What happened was the Priest sent out his concubine (the Old Man’s daughter was obviously spared from the upcoming ordeal by the Priest) to satisfy the mob.
My third point is: Avoid Spiritual Death
Who can we compare these ‘wicked men’ to? Besides those in Sodom, where Lot was threatened? I would tend to believe that God was warning us with BOTH stories that Satan is alive and well. These wicked men were angels of Satan, not only just waiting for an opportunity to ruin spiritual lives, but actually were on the attack. They surrounded the house and pounded on the door. Satan WANTED those souls, and he was doing everything he could to get them. Our sins open us up to the devil’s attack every day and night. And unless we do something to avoid it, he WILL attack, and attack with force. In this story, Satan was satisfied by the offering he received. The wicked men committed obscene sexual and physical acts, resulting in the death of the concubine. And as I mentioned before, WE are that concubine. The death of the woman symbolizes our spiritual death. If Satan attacks and wins, we die spiritually; and he wins. The love of the Old Man (which can also be likened to the Love of the disciples in the Kingdom today), did not help the concubine. She had already dug her spiritual grave by committing her sins and not repenting from them. Even though her master came and got her, nowhere will you find that she had any intention of changing her life. In comparison, no matter how much encouragement, rebuking, and teaching we receive from each other, and other leaders in the Kingdom, if WE don’t repent of our sins, then WE, like the concubine, will lose our lives. She lost her physical life, we will lose our spiritual life.
Again, in the last few verses, I compare the Priest with God. Although God is all-loving, He gives us every opportunity to repent, (1st Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not let us be tempted more than we can bear). If we DON’T repent, we will die. The Priest welcomed his concubine back into his life, because he loved her; the same way God always welcomes us back when we repent, because he loves us. And once we die, just like the concubine, we can serve as warnings to others. It is a shame that people cannot come back from Hell to warn others (see the story about the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:20-31). The Priest was able to warn other nations by doing a Freddy Kruger packaging deal with his concubine, and sending the warnings throughout all of Israel. Our warning comes in the form of the written word. If you do not KNOW the warnings, shame on you. If you know them, and ignore them, God doesn’t have pity on you. God has continuously warned us to “Get Up”, just like the Priest must have done over and over with his concubine. She didn’t hear his last “Get UP!”; she had already died. Don’t let that happen to you when God says to YOU, “Get Up!”. He is only going to do it so many times, and then we die!
I want to encourage everyone to act on the following three things I talked about today:
Avoid Sin, Avoid temptation, and Avoid spiritual death.
I hope you will take the time when you read your Bible, to look for both Rabbits and Ducks. It helps me understand God’s words a little bit better.
I want to close this sermon with the words of someone very famous. You will find these words recorded by the author of the book of Judges. Even though they are quoted from the mouths of Israelites in the last verse of Judges, chapter 19, they, along with all of the other words in the Bible, come from God. HE says:
“Think about it! Consider it!”
And he wants us to say to HIM: “Tell us what to do!”