Q&A: Abuse in Judges 11 and 19

Abuse in Judges 11 and 19

Question

Has any significant exegetical research been done on Judges 11 and Judges 19 as they relate to the issue of abuse?

Answer

I have not found any in-depth conservative commentary on Judges 11 and 19 as they relate to the issue of abuse (spousal, child, etc.), but there may be some good material out there of which I am simply unaware. I suspect that you may be able to find such commentary in certain liberal circles that are more focused on feminism. This is not to suggest that more conservative scholars are not interested in opposing such abuse, but rather that the conservative hermeneutic is different from the hermeneutic used by liberal feminism (which is similar to that of liberation theology, and what has often been called in literary circles "reader response criticism"). It would appear that since the authorial intent does not seem to have been to deal primarily with the subject of abuse, conservative commentators have focused their energies elsewhere.

Judges 11 might be used to oppose abuse if one is able to prove that Jephthah erred by carrying out the sacrifice. However, though his vow was certainly rash and dangerous, even stupid, it is different to call keeping that vow sinful. The Bible seems to indicate that even foolish vows must be paid (Deut. 23:21-23; Eccl. 5:1-7), and it does not prohibit all human sacrifice (the best proof of this is the sacrifice of Jesus himself, though holy war presents another good example).

Nevertheless, I suspect that one could make a legitimate case against spousal abuse based on the original meaning and authorial intent of Judges 19. In that passage the Levite certainly shows little or no concern for his concubine when she is raped. While it is worth noting that she had "played the harlot" for four months (Judg. 19:2), and thus was liable unto death according to the law (Lev. 20:10), it appears that the Levite had forgiven this offense (Judg. 19:3). So, his failure to defend her does not seem to be justifiable. The fact that he actually forced her to go out to the rapists is horrifying -- not only is this not a legal remedy, but it is absolutely shocking in light of the care and protection that a husband ought to offer his wife. His brutality becomes more evident the next morning as he sees her lying lifeless with her hands on the threshold where she died while struggling to return to him, and reminding us of the fact that she had been just on the other side of the door from him when she had been assaulted. Coldly, he instructs her dead body, "Get up. Let's go." The dismemberment that follows is hard to analyze, but in any event it is a gruesome picture that shows no honor to the concubine. Of course, the main literary function of the story is to show that life in Israel was terrible when there was no king (Judg. 19:1). But it is also true that one of the things that was so terrible was that men treated their wives in this way.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.