What does Judges 19:16 mean?
ESV: And behold, an old man was coming from his work in the field at evening. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was sojourning in Gibeah. The men of the place were Benjaminites.
NIV: That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the inhabitants of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields.
NASB: Then behold, an old man was coming out of the field from his work at evening. Now the man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was staying in Gibeah, but the men of the place were Benjaminites.
CSB: In the evening, an old man came in from his work in the field. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was residing in Gibeah where the people were Benjaminites.
NLT: That evening an old man came home from his work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living in Gibeah, where the people were from the tribe of Benjamin.
KJV: And, behold, there came an old man from his work out of the field at even, which was also of mount Ephraim; and he sojourned in Gibeah: but the men of the place were Benjamites.
A traveling Levite (Judges 19:13–15) has been forced to hunker down in the city square of Gibeah. With him are his concubine and servant (Judges 19:10). Nobody in the town offered the customary hospitality expected in that culture, even though these travelers are also Israelites.
Finally, an old man working in the fields comes through the gate of the city. He is from Ephraim and only temporarily living in Gibeah. Unlike other men of the town, he is not of the tribe of Benjamin. Perhaps the old man had moved to Gibeah for seasonal employment. He will see the travelers and offer them kindness.
As it happens, the man's kindness is more than a formality. He will insist the group not sleep out in the square (Judges 19:20). The old man likely knows Gibeah is more than inhospitable; it's evil (Judges 19:22).
Judges 19:11–21 explains how the Levite, his concubine, and his servant came to stay in the Israeli town of Gibeah. The man refuses to stop in the city of Jebus. Instead, they continue after dark to Gibeah. Oddly, no one there is willing to take them in. An older migrant worker sees the group and insists they avoid the square overnight. This parallels the comments Lot made to a pair of angels he encountered in Sodom (Genesis 19:2–7), and for good reason (Judges 19:22). What happens next is one of the most stomach-turning incidents in the entire Bible.
A Levite man travels to reconcile with his runaway concubine. On their way back home, they spend the night in the city of Gibeah, in the home of an old man. The wicked men of the town form a mob, demanding the Levite be handed over to be raped. Instead, the Levite forces his concubine outside; the mob rapes and beats her until sunrise. The Levite finds her body, carries it home, and cuts it into twelve pieces. He sends these pieces throughout Israel. This shocks the entire nation into demanding some action be taken against Gibeah.
This chapter's stomach-turning depravity provides another example of the great wickedness in Israel, in an era when everyone did whatever they wanted to without regard for law or God (Judges 21:25). A mob of rapists murders a Levite man's concubine. He sends pieces of her body throughout the nation. This shocks the people into demanding justice. In the following chapters, the tribe of Benjamin refuses to hand over their guilty members. Israel is plunged into civil war.
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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