Seeing Her

Two weeks ago I was asked by our Psychology Club to share a few thoughts for their Club chapel. The theme for the chapel this semester is to share about characters in the Bible who have affected or inspired your spiritual walk.

I selected the unnamed concubine from Judges 19.

Judges 19 is, perhaps, the most horrific episode in the Bible. I expect this may be the first, last and only time the students hear a message from this text.

I started by reading the whole chapter. When I ended it was pretty quiet in the room.

Looking up I offered these thoughts:

You're likely wondering, I started, why I selected this text and this unnamed woman. Why is she a person in the Bible who has significantly affected my spiritual walk? My answer is this: I selected her because I see her. Just like you see her.

Here's what I want you to notice. When I read that story you couldn't help but read the story from her perspective. And why is that? It's because you are a Christian. You read the story from the victim's perspective naturally and instinctively. And because of that you are rightly horrified and outraged.

We read the story from the victim's perspective because our imaginations have been shaped, through repeated tellings, by the story of Jesus, from the Triumphal Entry to the Crucifixion. We've been trained to read that story from Jesus's perspective, from the victim's perspective. We follow the Innocent One through conspiracy, betrayal, denial. abandonment, perjury, a broken justice system, political posturing, Machiavellian machinations, mob rule, torture, and death. And because we read the story this way we become horrified and outraged. Just like with Judges 19.

The gospels have taught us to read the story from the victim's perspective. This is what defines the Christian imagination. It's how we see the world. How we enter the story.

We see the woman in Judges 19. We read the story from her perspective. Because we have eyes that have been trained by the gospels. As Christians we look for the weakest most voiceless character in the story--and in the world around us--and declare, "We begin here."

After the many outrages in Judges 19 in verse 30 the people say this: "Consider it, take counsel, and speak out." The Hebrew for "consider it" is an idiom for "turn your heart" and this is followed by the phrase "to her." The text asks us to "turn our hearts toward her." Unfortunately, at this point in the story it's much too late. Hearts should have been turned toward her from the very beginning. But they were not.

But our hearts turn.

We see her.

And all the rest.

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27 thoughts on “Seeing Her”

  1. I think such "texts of terror" give us a good look at the depravity of the culture of the time, and hopefully cause us to look more carefully at terror in our own time as well. Also, context is important here as this story plays out in the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. Kings Saul and David are descendants of this very story.

  2. Bold choice of Bible passages, Dr. Beck...  I admire a person who isn't afraid to get into the "messy" passages and find the true meaning.  As Michael has said, I think these horrifying accounts -- even those which attribute violence to God/His will -- are a reflection of the ANE culture, and *their* (faulty) understanding of God's nature and will for them.  Knowing Christ, I can never believe that God was, or will ever be, responsible for some of the dirty deeds that are recorded in the OT, by no less than God's chosen representatives, Israel.  It's generally indicative of their epic fail to accomplish what God desired.  I think about Lamentations 3:22-24, and, one of my favorite passages in Matthew is Ch 9:35-38..."But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them..."  He *SAW*.  He sees me, and He calls me to see others with compassion (being *with* and acting to heal and care for).  Thanks for provoking these good thoughts at the start of my day.  What a blessing this blog is!

  3. I've never seen such a spin on such a horrible passage of Scripture. But I suppose if we claim all Scripture to be inspired, then we should really actually preach as if it is!

  4. Repulsed by the thought  of spending the night among foreigners, this Levite  stays among his own people.  Interesting to see how repulsive his actions and the actions  of his own people are. This woman suffered for purity's sake.

  5. Dr. Beck, 

    Thank you for your blog. I having been reading on and off for abut a year, but have never commented. (Your recent post abut theodicy, personality, and suffering describes me exactly, and incidentally, I’ve found that singing “I’ll Fly Away” is a good temporary reprieve from the maddening “theological nightmares” that plague our minds and hearts of those like us- LOL!)

    Regarding this post, I’d love your thoughts on a couple points. I went back and read Judges 19, as well as 20-21. In addition to what you stated, a few things struck me. a) The Levite husband seems like a wimp. Instead of facing these wicked men himself, he throws (or is complicit in the old man throwing) out his concubine to ‘appease’ the wicked men. b) All-out war then ensues, with the Israelites claiming the Lord’s endorsement of their fight against the Benjamites.  c) Then, in ch. 21, the big concern becomes finding wives for the remaining Benjamites, and the only expression of grief is not over the killing of women and children, but that there is now “a gap in the tribes of Israel.”  The solution to this whole mess is to offer the 400 virgins as part of a “peace offering” and then give the Benjamites instructions on how to kidnap new wives for themselves.  

    In short, women are used, from beginning to end, as property and forms of appeasement. The unity and purity of Isreal seems to be of highest importance, far beyond the humanity of these women. God offers his blessing and instruction in warfare, but is utterly silent in the treatment of women. 

    On the one hand, I see where there teachings of Jesus subvert all this. That’s what keeps me hanging on.  On the other hand, how do I interpret the ‘audible’ involvement of God in all this? How to I interpret the “truth” of OT passages like this, which seem so utterly horrific, and where God seem to be silent toward the real issues at hand (the treatment of women)  but vocal and encouraging in what seem to be the ways of fallen man (warfare and tribal unity)?   


  6. Noticed a couple typos in the first paragraph: 

    ‘about’ not ‘abut’ - twice

    And, the last line of the first paragraph should have read, “that plague the minds and hearts of those like us” 

  7. I have a lot of thoughts but I don't think space will permit. Let me point this out, though it is no final answer. The whole story starts off in 19.1 with this: "In those days Israel had no king."

    Basically, the story is a bit of propaganda about the moral depravity in Israel before the monarchy. So we have to attend to the intentions of the author. The story is supposed to show humanity, and Israel in particular, at its worst. And that's what we see.

    The assumption at work, then, is that kingly rule, through God's Anointed One, will restore justice and righteousness, which should include the right treatment of women. Trouble is, as we know, the Davidic monarchy doesn't come through on that promise. Which sets up messianic expectations for the coming of David's heir. Thus, for Christians, Jesus is the true king and in his kingdom we see right relations restored, which involves the treatment of women.

    Of course, this doesn't answer the question about why God within the narrative sanctions violence. But the fact the story is polemical and judging those in the story suggests that as readers we should be critically evaluating everything going on, even the invocation of God.

  8. Thank you. This makes a lot of sense. It does very much help to view this text as polemical and evaluate what’s going on here in that light. I am coming to believe that much of the OT requires such an approach. Now, how to approach scripture with this critical/contextual/cultural mind frame and still exist within a popular Christian culture that requires absolute literalness and ‘face-value’ reading of the Bible, that’s the real difficulty . . . 

  9. That is a challenge. I just smile and nod a lot and when I get in the car with Jana exclaim, "That what some crazy s**t those people were saying..."

    And then I go on with my day. Life's too short to sweat "popular Christian culture."

  10. As someone who loves reading Scripture, I'll also mention that the similarities of this story to the Sodom/ Gomorrah story are absolutely intentional. This story begins with the Levite husband deciding NOT to stay in a pagan town, but instead to stay in an Israelite town--because Israelites are safer. The whole story is about how shocking, evil, depraved, and generally terrible the Israelites are being--as bad as, worse than, the pagans like Sodom and Gomorrah ever were.

    For anyone who cares about a close reading of Scripture, this functions as a triple-reminder. First, heterosexual rape every bit as terrible as homosexual rape (i.e., Sodom is not being judged for "sodomy" per se). Second, mistreatment of women is every bit as bad as any imaginable sin--idolatry, etc. Third, people who belong to "our religion" or "our group" are absolutely open to withering critique.

    Dr. Beck is right, Jesus' story primes us to care about the oppressed. But it is a bit Marcionite (and possible anti-semitic) to miss the fact that this text, simply in the way it is written, powerfully shifts our focus away from religiosity and toward human compassion for the victim. Jews get this. Christians get this. Anyone who reads this story can get this. And that fact makes me more hopeful than you (or Dr. Beck, or those who call evangelicalism irredeemable) about "popular Christian culture." Most Christians, even crazy biblicists, are open to reading more closely and learning to see God (and oppressed neighbors) more clearly.

  11. I don't think it's just because we're Christian that we see her. Many people reject Christianity and the bible because of stories like this one where the victim stands out and God does not seem to be doing enough to help.

  12. How can we question the "invocation of God"? I don't understand. I have come to reject the bible because of God sanctioning such violence and abuse. I still believe in Jesus, but it's difficult to hold onto that since everything I know about him is in the bible. 

  13. "The gospels have taught us to read the story from the victim's perspective."

    Maybe when it's laid out in print, or in a sermon. But I don't see most operating with empathy in everyday life. Did you see the video of the father shooting his daughter's computer laptop?

  14. I'm taking a class on Imagination and Interpretation in Postliberal Theology and this seems to fit that approach. It tries to 'absorb' or read or re-imagine events through scripture, which is what you're doing, even though the event itself is in scripture. I think Lindbeck would approve. I know I do.

  15. Thanks for this. I appreciated it so much I used it in class. I'm teaching History & Systems of Psych at a Christian university -- we'd just read and processed Mad in America (Whitaker, 2010), and I read this post (along with Judges 19) as the capper , to encourage students in their work.

  16.  The gospels have taught us to read the story from the victim's perspective. This is what defines the Christian imagination. It's how we see the world. 

    I think this kind of language implies that Jewish people don't read Judges 19 in a 'compassionate' way.  I haven't been able to find many Jewish interpretations of this passage by a quick search, but claiming to sanctify the corrupt Old Testament through the gospels can erase the people who don't believe in the gospels and yet have a gentle interpretation of such passages.  Atheists citing the corrupt Old Testament as evidence of Christian brutality can run into the same issue.  I know this post wasn't intended that way, but it reads like it.

  17. I wish you'd revise this a bit- right now the language carries the strong implication that all Christians and only Christians see things from the victim's perspective instinctively. Which, as an atheist who traces the start of her break from the church to a sunday school lesson on 'the parable of the talents' and being told I shouldn't be empathizing exclusively with the third slave- well. I have some issues, understandably.
    I'm not a christian because I couldn't see a way to reconcile the form of Christianity presented to me with being a person whose eyes I could meet in the mirror. And I'll never regret choosing my soul over my religion. There are good people on all sides of the question, and bad ones too. I look through the eyes of the victim because I can't not.

  18. Hearts do seem to be turned toward this woman from the very beginning. She is unfaithful but her husband comes up to persuade her to return, and her father makes every effort to keep the two of them together.

  19. "Here's what I want you to notice. When I read that story you couldn't help but read the story from her perspective. And why is that? It's because you are a Christian. You read the story from the victim's perspective naturally and instinctively. And because of that you are rightly horrified and outraged."

    Really?  You been watching the news lately, Mister? 

    Sorry.  My own lying eyes tell me that empathy has jack to do with religion.

  20. Hi Rachel,
    If you paint the gospel with the Religious Right you see on TV than I can't help you much. As I said in the post, standing with the victim defines the Christian imagination. And if a person isn't doing that they they aren't a part of the Christian imagination.

    Regarding the relationship between empathy and religion. I'd argue, and here I'm using Rene Girard's body of work, that empathy, historically speaking, is very much a product of the gospel. The empathy of liberal minded folk didn't materialize out of the ether. You can't claim it. Nor can I. We both inherited it. The question is: From where?

  21. "...standing with the victim defines the Christian imagination. And if a person isn't doing that they aren't a part of the Christian imagination. "

    I think I get that this is the way you feel, and I appreciate that.  I am still not at all sure that you can claim empathy as an exclusively Christian product, inasmuch as it is something that has been key to human survival for millenia.  But, again, that depends upon how you define emempathy. 

  22. /edit/ empathy.  I guess I need to know how you, and Girard, are defining it. 

  23. Chapter 19 is not the whole story.  That is the only thing I can get out of the text, I think one *has* to read on.  To see the silence of the woman in the text in chapter 19 is magnified hundreds and hundreds of times in the silence of the victim's perspectives of all the women kidnapped later.

    People once tried to get a "morale" a "lesson" out of this concubine's broken body, and it ended up magnifying the harm.  To me, this story stands as a monument in perpetuity, that will always and ever by incomplete because it never takes any words of those who were harmed in it.

    But I DON'T think taking part of the story and wrapping it up like it has an "ending" or something is the way to go.  We see demonstrated in the text, that taking this story as if it is complete in itself, leads to *more* trauma.

    When I read this story, I read it simply as a window into the lives of the millions of women between then and now and into the future.  The millions and millions of women who's stories and pain aren't told, not even so parenthetically as hers.

    No "nice wrapping up" warranted, or needed, or wanted.

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