The (Dis)Honour of Women in Judges

Throughout the Bible, God is reminding us, through story, of who is coming. Our bridegroom, Jesus Christ, is coming (Matt 25:6)!

God tells us over and over again how far we have fallen but also how much He loves us and will save and restore us as His Church through the perfect work of Jesus Christ. At times, the stories He tells give us a small taste of that perfection. This comes to us often in just a few words here, an image there, if only we will pay attention. Ruth is a spark of light, for instance.

At other times, however, we see just what depths we have plunged to, which God shows us often by using stories of relationships between men and women. The Book of Judges in particular is one of the darkest periods in the Bible.

This posts looks at two contrasting stories in Judges which cause us to reflect on men and women in the Bible: the story of Caleb’s daughter Achsah in Judges 1 and the story of the Levite’s concubine near the end of the book (Chpt. 19).

In Joshua 15:15, we first encounter Achsah, daughter of Caleb, who asks for the springs of the Negev, where Isaac met Rebekah. Water and especially springs of water are highly significant symbolically throughout the story of Christ’s redemption. If you are reading along in the Bible and you encounter water, PAUSE and PAY ATTENTION!

Achsah’s story is given to us yet again in Judges 1. God’s really getting our attention with this!

Here, we encounter the first judge of Israel, Othniel son of Kenaz, who captured Kiriath-sepher and had permission to marry Achsah as a reward. We find out more about Othniel’s work as judge in chapter 3, but that’s not what’s important here. In verses 14 and 15, Caleb asks Achsah what she wants as a wedding present, and she asks for a blessing: springs of water. Does this call anything to mind?!

If the mention of water doesn’t strike you yet, note the donkey in verse 14. Donkeys are mentioned quite a few times in Judges. The humble donkey is charged with a rich, important biblical symbolism. Kings might choose a strong and combatant animal for ceremonies – a thoroughbred horse, an imposing elephant or even a camel. But David has a ‘royal she-mule,’ Solomon is anointed as king on a ‘wild donkey’, and of course in the NT, we meet Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt 29:1-11, Mark 11:1-11 and so on)[1].

Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt! John 12:14-15

All of this helps us when we meet Achsah, riding on a donkey, asking for springs of water. Othniel, as judge, a type of Christ, has destroyed the giants of Kiriath-sepher (descendents of the serpent) and won his bride from Caleb the Father. What a picture we have here of our own salvation as a community of believers!

Christ has defeated the evil one and won forever His Bride the church. As our king comes riding on a donkey, we ride with Him. He offers us not the springs of the Negev but LIVING WATER, the power of the Holy Spirit (see John 4; Acts 10:44-45; Eph. 1:13-14). In these first few verses in Judges, then, we meet not only a story of the restoration of men with women but also our union with Christ.

But Judges is bookended with one of the most disturbingly gory stories in the Bible. No wonder so few pastors preach on it! Still, the Gospel is deeply embedded in it. Let’s see how.

In Judges 19, we meet a certain Levite, who takes a concubine for himself from Bethlehem in Judah. This is his first recorded mistake. Already the Levite has departed from God’s design in the garden for how men and women are to relate to one another and enter into marriage.

Next we learn that his concubine is adulterous (see Israel, the unfaithful wife in Jer. 2:23-5:19), and after four months, the Levite takes donkeys (!!) to go after her. He arrives at the concubine’s family home, and for three days, eats and drinks there. This length of time is highly significant, as no doubt you will realize by now (see Gen 42:16-20; Esther 4:16, 5:1,4; and of course Matt 16:21; Matt 27:62-65).[2]

But the Levite, though he prepares to go, is convinced by the concubine’s father to stay for a further period of time. The Levite has overstayed his welcome. This is his next mistake. The Levite has pursued the concubine, but once in the presence of male company, the concubine’s father and even a male servant, he ignores her. The concubine is his sexual toy, not worthy of speech, nameless, not even human.

Finally, on the fifth day, the greedy, selfish Levite departs with his concubine on donkeys. Again with the donkeys. As they travel and are tired, they stop at the house of an old man in Gibeah, the land of the Benjamites.

While they are all celebrating, a group of worthless troublemakers, stirred up with violence in their hearts, surround the house and pound the door of the house, with loud shouts calling for the Levite to be turned over to them (echoing Sodom and Gomorrah but see also Luke 23). The old man offers them his virgin daughter and the concubine, but the mob will not let this go. The dramatic tension is building. Who and what will satisfy this bloodthirsty crowd? Will the Levite offer up himself for this household?

And here we have our answer, in the Levite’s dark betrayal, our story’s climax but not its end. The Levite priest, whose office calls him to works of intercessory service, seizes his concubine and throws her to the crowd, who rapes and abuses her ‘all night until morning’ (v. 25).

When morning comes, the brutalized, nameless woman is lying at the doorway of the house, her hands on the threshold, and the Levite coldly says to her, ‘Get up and let us go.’ Unlike the response to Jesus’s SAME command in Mark 5:41 (Talitha!), there is no answer here. Is the concubine dead? We can only hope. He places her violated body on a donkey, and uses the expert skills all Levites possess to serve the Lord to butcher his bride’s body, living or dead. What are the consequences of this brutality? Certainly not peace. There is indeed no peace. Rather the land and all of Israel erupt in civil war and total rebellion against God. ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ (Judges 21:25).

Here we have before our very eyes complete corruption, reversal even, of the opposite sex relationships and of marriage which God gave us as a sign of Himself and His Love in Eden. Here we see not only what we are capable of, but what we ourselves as God’s people have in fact done. In abusing and brutalizing women, in using our God-given gifts to commit murder, we spit in the face of God’s great love.

There are many other stories of women in the OT that we could point to, highs and lows. By God’s design, women have played a crucial role both actively and symbolically in God’s unfolding plan of saving His people.


[2] We may note here that in Jewish time, the day begins with the onset of night followed by the morning (Leviticus 23:32; Gen. 1:5,8,13,19,23, 31). The fourth day written in Judges 19: 5 is still dark, one night.


  1. Pingback: Names and No Names
  2. Pingback: Ruth and Esther

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