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A Woman Is Murdered

19 Before kings ruled Israel, a Levite[a] was living deep in the hill country of the Ephraim tribe. He married[b] a woman from Bethlehem in Judah, but she was unfaithful and went back to live with her family in Bethlehem.

Four months later her husband decided to try and talk her into coming back. So he went to Bethlehem, taking along a servant and two donkeys. He talked with his wife, and she invited him into her family’s home. Her father was glad to see him and did not want him to leave. So the man stayed three days, eating and drinking with his father-in-law.

When everyone got up on the fourth day, the Levite started getting ready to go home. But his father-in-law said, “Don’t leave until you have a bite to eat. You’ll need strength for your journey.”

The two men sat down together and ate a big meal. “Come on,” the man’s father-in-law said. “Stay tonight and have a good time.”

The Levite tried to leave, but his father-in-law insisted, and he spent one more night. The fifth day, the man got up early to leave, but his wife’s father said, “You need to keep up your strength! Why don’t you leave right after lunch?” So the two of them started eating.

Finally, the Levite got up from the meal, so he and his wife and servant could leave. “Look,” his father-in-law said, “it’s already late afternoon, and if you leave now, you won’t get very far before dark. Stay with us one more night and enjoy yourself. Then you can get up early tomorrow morning and start home.”

10 But the Levite decided not to spend the night there again. He had the saddles put on his two donkeys, then he and his wife and servant traveled as far as Jebus, which is now called Jerusalem. 11 It was beginning to get dark, and the man’s servant said, “Let’s stop and spend the night in this town where the Jebusites live.”

12 “No,” the Levite answered. “They aren’t Israelites, and I refuse to spend the night there. We’ll stop for the night at Gibeah, 13 because we can make it to Gibeah or maybe even to Ramah[c] before dark.”

14 They walked on and reached Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin just after sunset. 15 They left the road and went into Gibeah. But the Levite couldn’t find a house where anyone would let them spend the night, and they sat down in the open area just inside the town gates.

16 Soon an old man came in through the gates on his way home from working in the fields. Most of the people who lived in Gibeah belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, but this man was originally from the hill country of Ephraim. 17 He noticed that the Levite was just in town to spend the night. “Where are you going?” the old man asked. “Where did you come from?”

18 “We’ve come from Bethlehem in Judah,” the Levite answered. “We went there on a visit. Now we’re going to the place where the Lord is worshiped, and later we will return to our home in the hill country of Ephraim. But no one here will let us spend the night[d] in their home. 19 We brought food for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves, so we don’t need anything except a place to sleep.”

20 The old man said, “You are welcome to spend the night in my home and to be my guest, but don’t stay out here!”

21 The old man brought them into his house and fed their donkeys. Then he and his guests washed their feet[e] and began eating and drinking. 22 They were having a good time, when some worthless men of that town surrounded the house and started banging on the door and shouting, “A man came to your house tonight. Send him out, so we can have sex with him!”

23 The old man went outside and said, “My friends, please don’t commit such a horrible crime against a man who is a guest in my house. 24 Let me send out my daughter instead. She’s a virgin. And I’ll even send out the man’s wife.[f] You can rape them or do whatever else you want, but please don’t do such a horrible thing to this man.”

25 The men refused to listen, so the Levite grabbed his wife and shoved her outside. The men raped her and abused her all night long. Finally, they let her go just before sunrise, 26 and it was almost daybreak when she went back to the house where her husband[g] was staying. She collapsed at the door and lay there until sunrise.

27 About that time, her husband woke up and got ready to leave. He opened the door and went outside, where he found his wife lying at the door with her hands on the doorstep. 28 “Get up!” he said. “It’s time to leave.”

But his wife didn’t move.[h]

He lifted her body onto his donkey and left. 29 When he got home, he took a butcher knife and cut her body into twelve pieces. Then he told some messengers, “Take one piece to each tribe of Israel 30 and ask everyone if anything like this has ever happened since Israel left Egypt. Tell them to think about it, talk it over, and tell us what should be done.”

Everyone who saw a piece of the body said, “This is horrible! Nothing like this has ever happened since the day Israel left Egypt.”[i]

Israel Gets Ready for War

20 1-3 The Israelites called a meeting of the nation. And since they were God’s people, the meeting was held at the place of worship in Mizpah. Men who could serve as soldiers came from everywhere in Israel—from Dan in the north, Beersheba in the south, and Gilead east of the Jordan River. Four hundred thousand of them came to Mizpah, and they each felt the same about what those men from the tribe of Benjamin had done.

News about the meeting at Mizpah reached the tribe of Benjamin.

As soon as the leaders of the tribes of Israel took their places, the Israelites said, “How could such a horrible thing happen?”

The husband of the murdered woman answered:

My wife[j] and I went into the town of Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. Later that night, the men of Gibeah surrounded the house. They wanted to kill me, but instead they raped and killed my wife. It was a terrible thing for Israelites to do! So I cut up her body and sent pieces everywhere in Israel.

You are the people of Israel, and you must decide today what to do about the men of Gibeah.

The whole army was in agreement, and they said, “None of us will go home. 9-10 We’ll send one tenth of the men from each tribe to get food for the army. And we’ll ask God[k] who should attack Gibeah, because those men[l] deserve to be punished for committing such a horrible crime in Israel.”

11 Everyone agreed that Gibeah had to be punished.

12 The tribes of Israel sent messengers to every town and village in Benjamin. And wherever the messengers went, they said, “How could those worthless men in Gibeah do such a disgusting thing? 13 We can’t allow such a terrible crime to go unpunished in Israel! Hand the men over to us, and we will put them to death.”

But the people of Benjamin refused to listen to the other Israelites. 14 Men from towns all over Benjamin’s territory went to Gibeah and got ready to fight Israel. 15 The Benjamin tribe had twenty-six thousand soldiers, not counting the seven hundred who were Gibeah’s best warriors. 16 In this army there were seven hundred left-handed experts who could sling a rock[m] at a target the size of a hair and hit it every time.

17 The other Israelite tribes organized their army and found they had four hundred thousand experienced soldiers. 18 So they went to the place of worship at Bethel[n] and asked God, “Which tribe should be the first to attack the people of Benjamin?”

“Judah,” the Lord answered.

19 The next morning the Israelite army moved its camp to a place near Gibeah. 20 Then they left their camp and got into position to attack the army of Benjamin.

The War Between Israel and Benjamin

21 Benjamin’s soldiers came out of Gibeah and attacked, and when the day was over, twenty-two thousand Israelite soldiers lay dead on the ground.

22-24 The people of Israel went to the place of worship and cried until sunset. Then they asked the Lord, “Should we attack the people of Benjamin again, even though they are our relatives?”

“Yes,” the Lord replied, “attack them again!”

The Israelite soldiers encouraged each other to be brave and to fight hard. Then the next day they went back to Gibeah and took up the same positions as they had before.

25 That same day, Benjamin’s soldiers came out of Gibeah and attacked, leaving another eighteen thousand Israelite soldiers dead on the battlefield.

26-28 The people of Israel went to the place of worship at Bethel,[o] where the sacred chest was being kept. They sat on the ground, crying and not eating for the rest of the day. Then about sunset, they offered sacrifices to please the Lord and to ask his blessing.[p] Phinehas[q] the priest then prayed, “Our Lord, the people of Benjamin are our relatives. Should we stop fighting or attack them again?”

“Attack!” the Lord answered. “Tomorrow I will let you defeat them.”

29 The Israelites surrounded Gibeah, but stayed where they could not be seen. 30 Then the next day, they took the same positions as twice before, 31-41 but this time they had a different plan. They said, “When the men of Benjamin attack, we will run off and let them chase us away from the town and into the country roads.”

The soldiers of Benjamin attacked the Israelite army and started pushing it back from the town. They killed about thirty Israelites in the fields and along the road between Gibeah and Bethel. The men of Benjamin were thinking, “We’re mowing them down like we did before.”

The Israelites were running away, but they headed for Baal-Tamar, where they regrouped. They had set an ambush, and they were sure it would work. Ten thousand of Israel’s best soldiers had been hiding west of Gibeah,[r] and as soon as the men of Benjamin chased the Israelites into the countryside, these ten thousand soldiers made a surprise attack on the town gates. They dashed in and captured Gibeah, killing everyone there. Then they set the town on fire, because the smoke would be the signal for the other Israelite soldiers to turn and attack the soldiers of Benjamin.

The fighting had been so heavy around the soldiers of Benjamin, that they did not know the trouble they were in. But then they looked back and saw clouds of smoke rising from the town. They looked in front and saw the soldiers of Israel turning to attack. This terrified them, because they realized that something horrible was happening. And it was horrible—over twenty-five thousand[s] soldiers of Benjamin died that day, and those who were left alive knew that the Lord had given Israel the victory.

42 The men of Benjamin headed down the road toward the desert, trying to escape from the Israelites. But the Israelites stayed right behind them, keeping up their attack. Men even came out of the nearby towns to help kill the men of Benjamin, 43 who were having to fight on all sides. The Israelite soldiers never let up their attack.[t] They chased and killed the warriors of Benjamin as far as a place directly east of Gibeah,[u] 44 until eighteen thousand of these warriors lay dead.

45 Some other warriors of Benjamin turned and ran down the road toward Rimmon Rock in the desert. The Israelites killed five thousand of them on the road, then chased the rest until they had killed[v] two thousand more. 46 Twenty-five thousand soldiers of Benjamin died that day, all of them experienced warriors. 47 Only six hundred of them finally made it into the desert to Rimmon Rock, where they stayed for four months.

48 The Israelites turned back and went to every town in Benjamin’s territory, killing all the people and animals, and setting the towns on fire.

Wives for the Men of Benjamin

21 When the Israelites had met at Mizpah before the war with Benjamin,[w] they had made this sacred promise: “None of us will ever let our daughters marry any man from Benjamin.”

After the war with Benjamin, the Israelites went to the place of worship at Bethel and sat there until sunset. They cried loudly and bitterly and prayed, “Our Lord, you are the God of Israel. Why did you let this happen? Now one of our tribes is almost gone.”

Early the next morning, the Israelites built an altar and offered sacrifices to please the Lord and to ask his blessing.[x] Then they asked each other, “Did any of the tribes of Israel fail to come to the place of worship? We made a sacred promise that anyone who didn’t come to the meeting at Mizpah would be put to death.”

The Israelites were sad about what had happened to the Benjamin tribe, and they said, “One of our tribes was almost wiped out. Only a few men of Benjamin weren’t killed in the war. We need to get wives for them, so the tribe won’t completely disappear. But how can we do that, after promising in the Lord’s name that we wouldn’t let them marry any of our daughters?”

8-9 Again the Israelites asked, “Did any of the tribes stay away from the meeting at Mizpah?”

After asking around, they discovered that no one had come from Jabesh in Gilead. 10-11 So they sent twelve thousand warriors with these orders: “Attack Jabesh in Gilead and kill everyone, except the women who have never been married.”

12 The warriors attacked Jabesh in Gilead, and returned to their camp in Canaan[y] with four hundred young women.

13 The Israelites met and sent messengers to the men of Benjamin at Rimmon Rock, telling them that the Israelites were willing to make peace with them. 14 So the men of Benjamin came back from Rimmon Rock, and the Israelites let them marry the young women from Jabesh. But there weren’t enough women.

15 The Israelites were very sad, because the Lord had almost wiped out one of their tribes. 16 Then their national leaders said:

All the women of the Benjamin tribe were killed. How can we get wives for the men of Benjamin who are left? 17 If they don’t have children, one of the Israelite tribes will die out. 18 But we can’t let the men of Benjamin marry any of our daughters. We made a sacred promise not to do that, and if we break our promise, we will be under our own curse.

19 Then someone suggested, “What about the Lord’s Festival that takes place each year in Shiloh? It’s held north of Bethel, south of Lebonah, and just east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem.”

20 The leaders told the men of Benjamin who still did not have wives:

Go to Shiloh and hide in the vineyards near the festival. 21 Wait there for the young women of Shiloh to come out and perform their dances. Then rush out and grab one of the young women, then take her home as your wife. 22 If the fathers or brothers of these women complain about this, we’ll say, “Be kind enough to let those men keep your daughter. After all, we couldn’t get enough wives for all the men of Benjamin in the battle at Jabesh. And because you didn’t give them permission to marry your daughters, you won’t be under the curse we earlier agreed on.[z]

23 The men of Benjamin went to Shiloh and hid in the vineyards. The young women soon started dancing, and each man grabbed one of them and carried her off. Then the men of Benjamin went back to their own land and rebuilt their towns and started living in them again.

24 Afterwards, the rest of the Israelites returned to their homes and families.

Israel Was Not Ruled by a King

25 In those days Israel wasn’t ruled by a king, and everyone did what they thought was right.


  1. 19.1 a Levite: Someone from the Levi tribe, which had no tribal lands of its own.
  2. 19.1 married: See the note at 8.31.
  3. 19.13 Gibeah. . . Ramah: It was about three miles from Jerusalem to Gibeah, and another three miles to Ramah.
  4. 19.18 spend the night: People usually considered it a duty to ask travelers to spend the night in their homes, since there were often no other places to stay.
  5. 19.21 washed their feet: This was a custom, since people wore open sandals and their feet would be dirty after walking on the dirt roads or working in the fields.
  6. 19.24 wife: See the note at 8.31.
  7. 19.26 husband: Or “owner” ; the Hebrew word may mean that she was his slave and had no legal rights.
  8. 19.28 move: Hebrew; one ancient translation “move. She was dead.”
  9. 19.29,30 he told some messengers. . . since the day Israel left Egypt: One ancient translation; Hebrew “he told some messengers, ‘Take one piece to each tribe of Israel.’ Everyone who saw a piece of the body said, ‘This is horrible! Nothing like this has ever happened since Israel left Egypt. Think of it! Let’s talk it over and decide what to do.’ “
  10. 20.4 wife: See the note at 8.31.
  11. 20.9,10 ask God: The Hebrew text has “use lots to decide” ; small pieces of wood or stone called “lots” were used to find out what God wanted his people to do.
  12. 20.9,10 those men: One Hebrew manuscript and one ancient translation; The Standard Hebrew text “the men of Geba.”
  13. 20.16 sling a rock: By using a sling made from a leather strap.
  14. 20.18,26-28 place. . . Bethel: The Hebrew text has “beth-el,” which means “house of God.” This could refer to the town of Bethel, to the place of worship at Mizpah, or to the sacred tent at Shiloh (see 18.30,31).
  15. 20.18,26-28 place. . . Bethel: The Hebrew text has “beth-el,” which means “house of God.” This could refer to the town of Bethel, to the place of worship at Mizpah, or to the sacred tent at Shiloh (see 18.30,31).
  16. 20.26-28 sacrifices. . . blessing: See Leviticus 1-3.
  17. 20.26-28 Phinehas: Hebrew “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron.”
  18. 20.31-41 west of Gibeah: Three ancient translations; Hebrew “in a field at Geba.”
  19. 20.31-41 over twenty-five thousand: Hebrew “twenty-five thousand one hundred.”
  20. 20.42,43 Men even came out. . . their attack: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  21. 20.43 Gibeah: Or “Geba.”
  22. 20.45 until. . . killed: Or “as far as Gidom, killing.”
  23. 21.1 the Israelites. . . Benjamin: See 20.1-3.
  24. 21.4 sacrifices. . . blessing: See the note at 20.26-28.
  25. 21.12 in Canaan: Jabesh was in Gilead, across the Jordan River from the land of Canaan.
  26. 21.22 on: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text of verse 22.

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