Forty women: 22. The concubine

There’s some things about this woman that are very hard to pin down. She’s described as a concubine, but for the most part she’s treated as a wife, and in the absence of any other wife, it’s hard to see how she could have had secondary status. She’s said to have been unfaithful to her husband but it’s not absolutely clear that this took the form of adultery. What we do know is that she left him and went home to her parents. Maybe that was the ‘unfaithfulness’. For she left her father’s household in marriage and to return to it could have been interpreted as unfaithfulness to her husband.

He cared enough to go and persuade her to return. Not immediately, admittedly, which suggests that whatever the source of their quarrel, it was serious. Maybe it was adultery, after all. But he is not done with her, whatever she had done. And her family welcome him. They still consider him to be her husband. They like him and they keep persuading him to stay longer. Perhaps they are sorry to say farewell to their daughter again. But in the end, he must go home, and he must take his wife with him.

It’s on that journey that their world ends.

It’s in Gibeah, in Israel, where no one will give their fellow Israelites shelter for the night. They aren’t asking for much – they have provisions with them. They just need a bed and a roof. Doors should have been opened to them.

In the end, one old man offers them shelter. But he is unable to protect them from the wickedness of the city. Just as, centuries earlier, crowds had banged on Lot’s door, demanding that he send out his visitors to be raped, so now the crowds bang on the door of this old man, demanding that he send out his visitor to be raped.

And just as Lot went out to appease the crowds, offering his own daughters, so this old man goes out to appease the crowds, offering his daughter and his guest’s concubine. But Lot was lucky. His guests brought him back inside. They protected him and his daughters and enabled them to escape the city before it was destroyed. This time, there is no such protection. The concubine is sent out to the crowds where she is used and abused and raped and left for dead.

Gibeah, you see, has become Sodom. But Gibeah has not the protection granted to Sodom, when the Lord had promised to save those who were righteous.

Maybe there were no righteous people here. Maybe the concubine was an adulterer. Maybe her husband was weak or wicked or angry or vengeful.

But they did not deserve this. She had not deserved this. Her death could not be allowed to be the end of it: ‘When 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. Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!”’ (Judges 19:29-30).

Speak up. Speak out. Make the secret things known. Make the shameful deeds public. Make the nation see what horror they have been complicit in. Compel them to make amends. Force them to do better.