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!'"
Then all the People of Israel came out. The congregation met in the presence of God at Mizpah. They were all there, from Dan to Beersheba, as one person!
The leaders of all the people, representing all the tribes of Israel, took their places in the gathering of God's people. There were 400 divisions of sword-wielding infantry.
Meanwhile the Benjaminites got wind that the Israelites were meeting at Mizpah. The People of Israel said, "Now tell us. How did this outrageous evil happen?"
The Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, spoke: "My concubine and I came to spend the night at Gibeah, a Benjaminite town.
That night the men of Gibeah came after me. They surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They gang-raped my concubine and she died.
So I took my concubine, cut up her body, and sent her piece by piece - twelve pieces! - to every part of Israel's inheritance. This vile and outrageous crime was committed in Israel!
So, Israelites, make up your minds. Decide on some action!"
All the people were at once and as one person on their feet. "None of us will go home; not a single one of us will go to his own house.
Here's our plan for dealing with Gibeah: We'll march against it by drawing lots.
We'll take ten of every hundred men from all the tribes of Israel (a hundred of every thousand, and a thousand of every ten thousand) to carry food for the army. When the troops arrive at Gibeah they will settle accounts for this outrageous and vile evil that was done in Israel."
So all the men in Israel were gathered against the city, totally united.
The Israelite tribes sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin saying, "What's the meaning of this outrage that took place among you?
Surrender the men right here and now, these hell-raisers of Gibeah. We'll put them to death and burn the evil out of Israel."
Instead they raised an army from all their cities and rallied at Gibeah to go to war against the People of Israel.
In no time at all they had recruited from their cities twenty-six divisions of sword-wielding infantry. From Gibeah they got 700 hand-picked fighters, the best.
There were another 700 super marksmen who were ambidextrous - they could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
The men of Israel, excluding Benjamin, mobilized 400 divisions of sword-wielding fighting men.
They set out and went to Bethel to inquire of God. The People of Israel said, "Who of us shall be first to go into battle with the Benjaminites?" God said, "Judah goes first."
The People of Israel got up the next morning and camped before Gibeah.
The army of Israel marched out against Benjamin and took up their positions, ready to attack Gibeah.
But the Benjaminites poured out of Gibeah and devastated twenty-two Israelite divisions on the ground.
The army took heart. The men of Israel took up the positions they had deployed on the first day.
The Israelites went back to the sanctuary and wept before God until evening. They again inquired of God, "Shall we again go into battle against the Benjaminites, our brothers?" God said, "Yes. Attack."
On the second day, the Israelites again advanced against Benjamin.
This time as the Benjaminites came out of the city, on this second day, they devastated another eighteen Israelite divisions, all swordsmen.
All the People of Israel, the whole army, were back at Bethel, weeping, sitting there in the presence of God. That day they fasted until evening. They sacrificed Whole-Burnt-Offerings and Peace-Offerings before God.
And they again inquired of God. The Chest of God's Covenant was there at that time with
Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, as the ministering priest. They asked, "Shall we again march into battle against the Benjaminites, our brothers? Or should we call it quits?" And God said, "Attack. Tomorrow I'll give you victory."
This time Israel placed men in ambush all around Gibeah.
On the third day when Israel set out, they took up the same positions before the Benjaminites as before.
When the Benjaminites came out to meet the army, they moved out from the city. Benjaminites began to cut down some of the troops just as they had before. About thirty men fell in the field and on the roads to Bethel and Gibeah.
The Benjaminites started bragging, "We're dropping them like flies, just as before!"
But the Israelites strategized: "Now let's retreat and pull them out of the city onto the main roads." So every Israelite moved farther out to Baal Tamar; at the same time the Israelite ambush rushed from its place west of Gibeah.
Ten crack divisions from all over Israel now arrived at Gibeah - intense, bloody fighting! The Benjaminites had no idea that they were about to go down in defeat -
God routed them before Israel. The Israelites decimated twenty-five divisions of Benjamin that day - 25,100 killed. They were all swordsmen.
The Benjaminites saw that they were beaten. The men of Israel acted like they were retreating before Benjamin, knowing that they could depend on the ambush they had prepared for Gibeah.
The ambush erupted and made quick work of Gibeah. The ambush spread out and massacred the city.
The strategy for the main body of the ambush was that they send up a smoke signal from the city.
Then the men of Israel would turn in battle. When that happened, Benjamin had killed about thirty Israelites and thought they were on their way to victory, yelling out, "They're on the run, just as in the first battle!"
But then the signal went up from the city - a huge column of smoke. When the Benjaminites looked back, there it was, the whole city going up in smoke.
By the time the men of Israel had turned back on them, the men of Benjamin fell apart - they could see that they were trapped.
Confronted by the Israelites, they tried to get away down the wilderness road, but by now the battle was everywhere. The men of Israel poured out of the towns, killing them right and left,
hot on their trail, picking them off east of Gibeah.
Eighteen divisions of Benjaminites were wiped out, all their best fighters.
Five divisions turned to escape to the wilderness, to Rimmon Rock, but the Israelites caught and slaughtered them on roads. Keeping the pressure on, the Israelites brought down two more divisions.
The total of the Benjaminites killed that day came to twenty-five divisions of infantry, their best swordsmen.
Six hundred men got away. They made it to Rimmon Rock in the wilderness and held out there for four months.
The men of Israel came back and killed all the Benjaminites who were left, all the men and animals they found in every town, and then torched the towns, sending them up in flames.
Back at Mizpah the men of Israel had taken an oath: "No man among us will give his daughter to a Benjaminite in marriage."
Now, back in Bethel, the people sat in the presence of God until evening. They cried loudly; there was widespread lamentation.
They said, "Why, O God, God of Israel, has this happened? Why do we find ourselves today missing one whole tribe from Israel?"
Early the next morning, the people got busy and built an altar. They sacrificed Whole-Burnt-Offerings and Peace-Offerings.
Then the Israelites said, "Who from all the tribes of Israel didn't show up as we gathered in the presence of God?" For they had all taken a sacred oath that anyone who had not gathered in the presence of God at Mizpah had to be put to death.
But the People of Israel were feeling sorry for Benjamin, their brothers. They said, "Today, one tribe is cut off from Israel.
How can we get wives for those who are left? We have sworn by God not to give any of our daughters to them in marriage."
They said, "Which one of the tribes of Israel didn't gather before God at Mizpah?"
When they took a roll call of the people, not a single person from Jabesh Gilead was there.
So the congregation sent twelve divisions of their top men there with the command, "Kill everyone of Jabesh Gilead, including women and children.
These are your instructions: Every man and woman who has had sexual intercourse you must kill. But keep the virgins alive." And that's what they did.
And they found 400 virgins among those who lived in Jabesh Gilead; they had never had sexual intercourse with a man. And they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
Then the congregation sent word to the Benjaminites who were at the Rimmon Rock and offered them peace.
And Benjamin came. They gave them the women they had let live at Jabesh Gilead. But even then, there weren't enough for all the men.
The people felt bad for Benjamin; God had left out Benjamin - the missing piece from the Israelite tribes.
The elders of the congregation said, "How can we get wives for the rest of the men, since all the Benjaminite women have been killed?
How can we keep the inheritance alive for the Benjaminite survivors? How can we prevent an entire tribe from extinction?
We certainly can't give our own daughters to them as wives." (Remember, the Israelites had taken the oath: "Cursed is anyone who provides a wife to Benjamin.")
Then they said, "There is that festival of God held every year in Shiloh. It's north of Bethel, just east of the main road that goes up from Bethel to Shechem and a little south of Lebonah."
So they told the Benjaminites, "Go and hide in the vineyards.
Stay alert - when you see the Shiloh girls come out to dance the dances, run out of the vineyards, grab one of the Shiloh girls for your wife, and then hightail it back to the country of Benjamin.
When their fathers or brothers come to lay charges against us, we'll tell them, 'We did them a favor. After all we didn't go to war and kill to get wives for men. And it wasn't as if you were in on it by giving consent. But if you keep this up, you will incur blame.'"
And that's what the Benjaminites did: They carried off girls from the dance, wives enough for their number, got away, and went home to their inheritance. They rebuilt their towns and settled down.
From there the People of Israel dispersed, each man heading back to his own tribe and clan, each to his own plot of land.
At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)