Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
War of the Congregation with the Tribe of Benjamin on Account of the Crime at Gibeah - Judges 19-20
This account belongs to the times immediately following the death of Joshua, as we may see form the fact that Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the contemporary of Joshua, was high priest at that time (Jdg 20:28). In Judg 19 we have an account of the infamous crime committed by the inhabitants of Gibeah, which occasioned the war; in Judg 20 the war itself; and in Judg 21 an account of what was afterwards done by the congregation to preserve the tribe of Benjamin, which was almost annihilated by the war.
Infamous Crime of the Inhabitants of Gibeah. - Jdg 19:1-14. At the time when there was no king in Israel, a Levite, who sojourned (i.e., lived outside a Levitical town) in the more remote parts of the mountains of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine out of Bethlehem in Judah, who proved unfaithful to him, and then returned to her father's house. הר־אפרים ירכּתי, the hinder or outermost parts of the mountains of Ephraim, are the northern extremity of these mountains; according to Jdg 19:18, probably the neighbourhood of Shiloh. עליו תּזנה, "she played the harlot out beyond him," i.e., was unfaithful to her husband, and then went away from him," back to her father's house.
Some time afterwards, namely at the end of four months (הדשׁים ארבּעה is in apposition to ימים, and defines more precisely the ימים, or days), her husband went after her, "to speak to her to the heart," i.e., to talk to her in a friendly manner (see Gen 34:3), and to reconcile her to himself again, so that she might return; taking with him his attendant and a couple of asses, for himself and his wife to ride upon. The suffix attached to להשׁיבו refers to לבּה, "to bring back her heart," to turn her to himself again. The Keri השׁיבהּ is a needless conjecture. "And she brought him into her father's house, and her father received his son-in-law with joy, and constrained him (יהזק־בּו, lit. held him fast) to remain there three days." It is evident from this that the Levite had succeeded in reconciling his wife.
Also on the fourth day, when he was about to depart in the morning, the Levite yielded to the persuasion of his father-in-law, that he would first of all strengthen his heart again with a bit of bread (לב סעד as in Gen 18:5; the imperative form with ŏ is unusual); and then afterwards, whilst they were eating and drinking, he consented to stay another night.
When he rose up to go, his father-in-law pressed him; then he turned back (ויּשׁב is quite in place, and is not to be altered into ויּשׁב, according to the lxx and one Heb. Cod.), and remained there for the night.
And even in the morning of the fifth day he suffered himself to be induced to remain till the afternoon. התמהמהוּ is an imperative, "Tarry till the day turns," i.e., till mid-day is past.
When at length he rose up, with his concubine and his attendant, to go away, the father entreated his daughter once more: "Behold the day has slackened to become evening, spend the night here! Behold the declining of the day, spend the night here," etc. חנות inf. of חנה, to bend, incline. The interchange of the plural and singular may be explained from the simple fact that the Levite was about to depart with his wife and attendant, but that their remaining or departing depended upon the decision of the man alone. But the Levite did not consent to remain any longer, but set out upon the road, and came with his companions to before Jebus, i.e., Jerusalem, which is only two hours from Bethlehem (compare Rob. Pal. ii. 375 and 379). עד־נכח, to before Jebus, for the road from Bethlehem to Shiloh went past Jerusalem.
But as the day had gone far down when they were by Jebus (רד, third pers. perf., either of ירד with י dropped like תּתּה in Sa2 22:41 for נתתּה, or from רדד in the sense of ירד), the attendant said to his master, "Come, let us turn aside into this Jebusite city, and pass the night in it." But his master was unwilling to enter a city of the foreigners (נכרי( sre is a genitive), where there were none of the sons of Israel, and would pass over to Gibeah. "Come (לך = לכה, Num 23:13), we will draw near to one of the places (which he immediately names), and pass the night in Gibeah or Ramah." These two towns, the present Jeba and er Rm, were not a full hour's journey apart, and stood opposite to one another, only about two and a half or three hours from Jerusalem (see at Jos 18:25, Jos 18:28).
Then they went forward, and the sun went down upon them as they were near (at) Gibeah of Benjamin.
And they turned aside thither to pass the night in Gibeah; and he (the Levite) remained in the market-place of the town, as no one received them into his house to pass the night.
Behold, there came an old man from the field, who was of the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt as a stranger in Gibeah, the inhabitants of which were Benjaminites (as is observed here, as a preliminary introduction to the account which follows). When he saw the traveller in the market-place of the town, he asked him whither he was going and whence he came; and when he had heard the particulars concerning his descent and his journey, he received him into his house. ואת־בּית י הלך אני (Jdg 19:18), "and I walk at the house of Jehovah, and no one receives me into his house" (Seb. Schm., etc.); not "I am going to the house of Jehovah" (Ros., Berth., etc.), for את הלך does not signify to go to a place, for which the simple accusative is used either with or without ה local. It either means "to go through a place" (Deu 1:19, etc.), or "to go with a person," or, when applied to things, "to go about with anything" (see Job 31:5, and Ges. Thes. p. 378). Moreover, in this instance the Levite was not going to the house of Jehovah (i.e., the tabernacle), but, as he expressly told the old man, from Bethlehem to the outermost sides of the mountains of Ephraim. The words in question explain the reason why he was staying in the market-place. Because he served at the house of Jehovah, no one in Gibeah would receive him into his house,
(Note: As Seb. Schmidt correctly observes, "the argument is taken from the indignity shown him: the Lord thinks me worthy to minister to Him, as a Levite, in His house, and there is not one of the people of the Lord who thinks me worthy to receive his hospitality.")
although, as he adds in Jdg 19:19, he had everything with him that was requisite for his wants. "We have both straw and fodder for our asses, and bread and wine for me and thy maid, and for the young man with thy servants. No want of anything at all," so as to cause him to be burdensome to his host. By the words "thy maid" and "thy servants" he means himself and his concubine, describing himself and his wife, according to the obsequious style of the East in olden times, as servants of the man from whom he was expecting a welcome.
The old man replied, "Peace to thee," assuring him of a welcome by this style of greeting; "only all thy wants upon me," i.e., let me provide for them. Thus the friendly host declined the offer made by his guest to provide for himself. "Only do not pass the night in the market-place."
He then took him into his house, mixed fodder for his asses (יבול from בּלל, a denom. verb from בּליל, to make a mixture, to give fodder to the beasts), and waited upon his guest with washing of feet, food, and drink (see Gen 18:4., Jdg 19:2).
Whilst they were enjoying themselves, some worthless men of the city surrounded the house, knocking continuously at the door (התדּפּק, a form indicative of gradual increase), and demanding of the master of the house that he would bring out the man who had entered his house, that they might know him,-the very same demand that the Sodomites had made of Lot (Gen 19:6.). The construct state בני־בליּעל אנשׁי is used instead of בּני־בל אנשׁים (Deu 13:14, etc.), because בליעל בני is regarded as one idea: people of worthless fellows. Other cases of the same kind are given by Ewald, Lehrb. 289, c.
The old man sought, as Lot had done, to defend his guests from such a shameful crime by appealing to the sacred rights of hospitality, and by giving up his own virgin daughter and the concubine of his guest (see the remarks on Gen 19:7-8). נבלה, folly, used to denote shameful licentiousness and whoredom, as in Gen 34:7 and Deu 22:21. אותם ענּוּ, "humble them." The masculine is used in אותם and להם as the more general gender, instead of the more definite feminine, as in Gen 39:9; Exo 1:21, etc.
But as the people would not listen to this proposal, the man (no doubt the master of the house, according to Jdg 19:24) took his (the guest's) concubine (of course with the consent of his guest) and led her out to them, and they abused her the whole night. It is not stated how it was that they were satisfied with this; probably because they felt too weak to enforce their demand. בּ התעלּל, to exercise his power or wantonness upon a person (see Exo 10:2).
When the morning drew on (i.e., at the first dawn of day), the woman fell down before the door of the house in which אדוניה, "her lord," i.e., her husband, was, and lay there till it was light, i.e., till sunrise.
There her husband found her, when he opened the house-door to go his way (having given up all thought of receiving her back again from the barbarous crowd), "lying before the house-door, and her hands upon the threshold" (i.e., with outstretched arms), and giving no answer to his word, having died, that is to say, in consequence of the ill-treatment of the night. He then took the corpse upon his ass to carry it to his place, i.e., to his home.
As soon as he arrived there, he cut up the body, according to its bones (as they cut slaughtered animals in pieces: see at Lev 1:6), into twelve pieces, and sent them (the corpse in its pieces) into the whole of the territory of Israel, i.e., to all the twelve tribes, in the hope that every one who saw it would say: No such thing has happened or been seen since the coming up of Israel out of Egypt until this day. Give ye heed to it (שׁימוּ for לב שׂימוּ); make up your minds and say on, i.e., decide how this unparalleled wickedness is to be punished. Sending the dissected pieces of the corpse to the tribes was a symbolical act, by which the crime committed upon the murdered woman was placed before the eyes of the whole nation, to summon it to punish the crime, and was naturally associated with a verbal explanation of the matter by the bearer of the pieces. See the analogous proceeding on the part of Saul (Sa1 11:7), and the Scythian custom related by Lucian in Toxaris, c. 48, that whoever was unable to procure satisfaction for an injury that he had received, cut an ox in pieces and sent it round, whereupon all who were willing to help him to obtain redress took a piece, and swore that they would stand by him to the utmost of their strength. The perfects ואמר - והיה (Jdg 19:30) are not used for the imperfects c. vav consec. ויּאמר - ויהי, as Hitzig supposes, but as simple perfects (perfecta conseq.), expressing the result which the Levite expected from his conduct; and we have simply to supply לאמר before והיה, which is often omitted in lively narrative or animated conversation (compare, for example, Exo 8:5 with Jdg 7:2). The perfects are used by the historian instead of imperfects with a simple vav, which are commonly employed in clauses indicating intention, "because what he foresaw would certainly take place, floated before his mind as a thing already done" (Rosenmller). The moral indignation, which the Levite expected on the part of all the tribes at such a crime as this, and their resolution to avenge it, are thereby exhibited not merely as an uncertain conjecture, but a fact that was sure to occur, and concerning which, as Judg 20 clearly shows, he had not deceived himself.