It was an era when there was no king in Israel. A Levite, living as a stranger in the backwoods hill country of Ephraim, got himself a concubine, a woman from Bethlehem in Judah.
But she quarreled with him and left, returning to her father's house in Bethlehem in Judah. She was there four months.
Then her husband decided to go after her and try to win her back. He had a servant and a pair of donkeys with him. When he arrived at her father's house, the girl's father saw him, welcomed him, and made him feel at home.
His father-in-law, the girl's father, pressed him to stay. He stayed with him three days; they feasted and drank and slept.
On the fourth day, they got up at the crack of dawn and got ready to go. But the girl's father said to his son-in-law, "Strengthen yourself with a hearty breakfast and then you can go."
So they sat down and ate breakfast together.
The man got up to go, but his father-in-law kept after him, so he ended up spending another night.
On the fifth day, he was again up early, ready to go. The girl's father said, "You need some breakfast." They went back and forth, and the day slipped on as they ate and drank together.
But the man and his concubine were finally ready to go. Then his father-in-law, the girl's father, said, "Look, the day's almost gone - why not stay the night? There's very little daylight left; stay another night and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get an early start and set off for your own place."
But this time the man wasn't willing to spend another night. He got things ready, left, and went as far as Jebus (Jerusalem) with his pair of saddled donkeys, his concubine, and his servant.
At Jebus, though, the day was nearly gone. The servant said to his master, "It's late; let's go into this Jebusite city and spend the night."
But his master said, "We're not going into any city of foreigners. We'll go on to Gibeah."
He directed his servant, "Keep going. Let's go on ahead. We'll spend the night either at Gibeah or Ramah."
So they kept going. As they pressed on, the sun finally left them in the vicinity of Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.
They left the road there to spend the night at Gibeah.
Then, late in the evening, an old man came in from his day's work in the fields. He was from the hill country of Ephraim and lived temporarily in Gibeah where all the local citizens were Benjaminites.
When the old man looked up and saw the traveler in the town square, he said, "Where are you going? And where are you from?"
The Levite said, "We're just passing through. We're coming from Bethlehem on our way to a remote spot in the hills of Ephraim. I come from there. I've just made a trip to Bethlehem in Judah and I'm on my way back home, but no one has invited us in for the night.
We wouldn't be any trouble: We have food and straw for the donkeys, and bread and wine for the woman, the young man, and me - we don't need anything."
The old man said, "It's going to be all right; I'll take care of you. You aren't going to spend the night in the town square."
He took them home and fed the donkeys. They washed up and sat down to a good meal.
They were relaxed and enjoying themselves when the men of the city, 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.
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!'"