Remember Gibeah!

The Book of Hosea refers to stories that made their way into the Hebrew Bible, probably with more frequency than any other prophetic book. In Hosea 12, it mentions the patriarch Jacob as well as an unidentified prophet who brought the Israelites out of Egypt (presumably Moses). But Hosea also cites another tradition, the story of Gibeah. In Hosea 9:9, God says regarding Northern Israel, “They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah; he will remember their iniquity, he will punish their sins” (NRSV). And Hosea 10:9 states, “Since the days of Gibeah you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not war overtake them in Gibeah?”

Most likely, the story that Hosea has in mind is the one in Judges 19-21. In those chapters, a Levite goes with his concubine to Gibeah, a city that belongs to the Israelite tribe of Benjamin. While he is feasting in someone’s house, some thugs gather outside the door and express a desire to gang rape him. In their words and behavior, they resemble the men of Sodom in Genesis 19, people whom God had famously destroyed. In Judges 19, the Levite gives them his concubine, and they proceed to rape her all night before they leave her dead body at the threshold. The Levite then carves up her body into twelve pieces and sends them to the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes gather against Gibeah of Benjamin in battle, for they are outraged that such a heinous act had occurred in their own country. They defeat Benjamin, but they eventually decide to preserve that tribe from ultimate annihilation.

Hosea’s reference to the Gibeah story puzzles me. Hosea is speaking to Northern Israel, telling its inhabitants that they have corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah. But, in Genesis 19-21, the Northern Israelites did not rape and murder the Levite’s concubine. That was done in Benjamin, a tribe that later joined the Southern Kingdom of Judah (I Kings 12:21). The Northern Israelites were part of the company that gathered against Benjamin, for they were outraged at the deed that had occurred in her midst. Why is God blaming the Northern Kingdom for something that occurred in the south?

Maybe Hosea is simply saying that the Northern Israelites are behaving like the people of Gibeah at the time of his prophecy, not that they were participants in Gibeah’s sin at its initial occurrence. But Hosea 9:9 appears to say that the Northern Israelites corrupted themselves the same way that they (the Northern Israelites) did in the days of Gibeah. That seems to imply that the people of Northern Israel did something wrong in the Judges 19-21 period.

A Christian sister of mine suggested another explanation. For her, the Northern Israelites in Judges 19-21 went out against Gibeah thinking that their own sins were not that bad. God was using them to execute his justice against Gibeah, but that gave them a smug sense of superiority. And their punishment of Gibeah did not move them to cease from their own sins. The judged another, but they did not judge themselves.

I will add another detail. Hosea 9:9 is directed against Ephraim, which was the most powerful tribe in Northern Israel. And the Levite of Judges 19 is from Ephraim. In a sense, he was complicit in the sins of Gibeah, since he gave his concubine to the thugs in an attempt to save his own skin. Sure, he was in a really difficult situation, and I’m not sure that I would’ve done the right thing if I were in his shoes. But did he have a right to be so self-righteous, when he himself was partially responsible for his concubine’s death? Perhaps the sin of Ephraim that Hosea cites is self-righteousness: a zealous eagerness to punish evildoers, while failing to acknowledge the sin in its own ranks.

However one sees the situation in Judges 19-21 and Hosea 9-10, there are plenty of passages in the New Testament that criticize judging. The New Testament is not against viewing certain actions as wrong, since (ironically) it is doing precisely that when it says “Judge not.” What it is saying is that we should not look down on others when we are doing the same sins that they are. Or we should not be smug in our approach to another because we ourselves are sinners, period. After all, we are all under the same divine standard. Jesus says so much in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

And Paul states in Romans 2:1, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

History is full of people who have carried out moralistic crusades against others, when their own lives were not exactly in order (to say the least). And the same thing exists in the present, often with disastrous results. People should oppose moral evil, but they should do so with humility, as they work to conform their own lives to God’s righteous standard. We should remember that we are under God, not above others.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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