A Sermon on Judges 19

[TW: rape, murder]

This semester, i am enrolled in my first Preaching class. This sermon was delivered on the 24th of September, 2015.

Text: Judges 19: 1 – 30 CEB 


I am a lectionary preacher.

I love the rhythm of my Episcopal services where we have ordered texts, something from each part of the ordered Bible – an Old Testament, an Epistle, a sung psalm if we’re feeling extra high on the church ladder and a Gospel.

I love the lectionary. I love that we go through the whole Bible every three years – years of completion, years spent with the texts in a waltz with one another – how Paul is speaking to Moses, how Hagar is drawing water with the Samaritan woman – i love that the lectionary weaves all our stories together.

Except.

Except that the lectionary – my beloved, ordered, sensible lectionary – is not the whole story. There are pieces of the Bible missing from the lectionary.

I knew i had never heard a sermon in church on the infamous rape and dismemberment of the concubine in Judges. I had asked a lot of questions about why these horrifying texts of terror were in the Bible.

But i had not thought to ask why they were not in the pulpit.

I wonder what our silence is saying.

So when i was preparing to preach for you today i went to the lectionary website, as is my custom, but this time, i searched for a list of texts not included in the lectionary. And yet even the tab that tells you what texts are ex-cluded is a list of the texts that are in-cluded – even in our list of what is out I had to do some excavating through what is considered “in”!

What is our silence saying?

This text today is a text of silence.

And perhaps, the most notable silence is the silence of God.

I know i’m preaching to a room full of bible folk so i imagine most of you know that this Judges text is strikingly similar to the famous Genesis text of Sodom and Gomorrah – if you recall, two angels of the LORD are taken in by Lot when the evil people of the city surround the house and attack, yelling that they want to have sex with the men. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to sate their evil appetites.

But in Sodom and Gomorrah, these angels blind the attackers and save Lot’s life, along with his family.

There is no such saving here.

When the men of Gibeah close in around the house of the Levite and his host, when the men of Gibeah began howling for the blood and rape of the Levite, the host mimics what Lot did – he offers his own daughter and the secondary-wife of the Levite.

But no angels intervene.

The anger of the crowd worsens, we are told “the men refused to listen to him” and so the Levite grabs his secondary-wife and throws her out to the crowd.

The host has told these men they can “abuse” her and “do whatever you want.”

So they do.

She is raped

and abused

all night long

until,

morning,

as dawn

breaks.

God does not swoop in, there are no angels protecting her from her husband’s cruelty or these men’s unspeakable evil. In this Bible we hold as holy – in this Bible’s arguably most gruesome scene against a human God

is

silent.

What does our silence say?

I think our silence on this text says a whole lot about our fear of God’s silence.

I think we are afraid of this text – we are afraid that there is such obvious evil and such obvious failure on God’s part. So out of our fear, we stay silent.

But God’s silence is not the only silence in this story.

The Levite, after he throws his wife out to men he knows will rape and abuse her all night long – this Levite has the callous audacity —

to go to sleep.

Did you catch that? While the secondary-wife is collapsing on the doorstep where her husband was staying, the narrator of the story casually drops that her husband – some time later – “got up in the morning.”

While his wife faced this agony, this man chose to close the door, turn down the lamp, and go to sleep. It did not matter her screaming, or her begging for mercy, or the battered torment her body was enduring – her soul being ripped out, piece by piece. It did not matter that she was the unceremonious sacrificial lamb because she was never anything more than a disposable object of sexual pleasure.

It did not matter what horror she endured, so long as he could get some shut-eye.

Who do we throw out the door so that we might sleep in comfort?

What farmworkers have we ignored, dwelling in shacks not so different from slave quarters on the plantation, facing sexual trafficking and abuse and underpay? Who have we thrown out so that we might buy organic and think that this is exoneration for the sin of empire that we are each of us complicit in?

What homeless have we scurried past on the street, anxious to avoid their guilting stare as we plea “no change, sorry,” because we know one dollar won’t change a damn thing? What people have we let rot in the street so our three bedroom homes might have enough “breathing room” for us in them?

What womyn have we ignored, when we see someone fondling her when she is drunk or when we whisper “in that shirt, she deserves it”? What womyn have we told repeatedly that they must push down, cut off, pull apart and shut up so we can keep sleeping in comfort?

Who have I thrown out the door so that I might sleep in peace?

Who have you?

What is our silence saying?

When the Levite woke up from that peaceful slumber, he found his wife clutching the doorframe.

“Get. up.” he says.

She does not move.

“Let’s go!” he says.

She does not move.

Grunting in annoyance or frustration or guilt or all three, he heaves her limp body and throws her on the donkey. So that they can go to his home.

We do not know if she is alive or dead. The text is silent. But we do know when the Levite gets home, he decides this horror of his own making must be addressed. So he takes up his knife, and he slices her apart – limb by limb – until the twelve pieces that were once a soul-body are the call to a man’s war.

Her silence is the most painful for me in this whole text. The Levite’s evil i can understand, because it is an evil i know i participate in everyday. The evil inherent to empire – the evil that builds up society so that i woke up in a house with room enough and want enough for me, but not everyone did. He throws her out for his own comfort.

God’s silence, too, i can understand. The silence of a parent who watches their children turn from tender, innocent infants to people capable of genocide, of murder and rape. It is the silent, stunned horror of:  I raised you to do this? Despite all the love – and all the joy – this?

But her silence. Her silence kills me.

Not once have we heard her story; when the Levite comes to fetch her, we do not know why she left. When she allows the Levite into her home – as if she had much choice – it is her father that speaks. Her father speaks so much he delays their journey. Her father’s clamoring sets them on the course for what will be her demise. Her husband’s fear and desire for security rips her into pieces.

And all the words she is given are grasping hands at the door.

When have you been the secondary-wife? When have you been so silenced, so cast aside and so ripped apart that there was nothing left but to claw your way toward a door, hoping it was open, only to find it shut?

What is our silence saying?

Judges 19, verse 30: “think about it, decide what to do,

and speak.”



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3 thoughts on “A Sermon on Judges 19

  1. Miriam Cantor-Stone says:

    This particular text has always haunted me, and you put into powerful and thoughtful words exactly why it does. Thank you for your words, lovely lizzie! Keep up the incredible work 🙂

    • elizabeth mcmanus says:

      THANK YOU Miriam! It’s always a nerve-inducing thing to get a comment notification on a blog as, well, touchy as this one, but seeing your name flooded me with both relief and longing to see you! Thank you for you sisterhood! xo

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