After Judges III: Apocryphal Histories? 

Apocryphal Histories? 

Maccabees  

Esdras 

Saturday, May 26, 2018 

Your bible may not include these books, just like your TV may not get all the channels or streaming services.  Here you would find the accounts of what happened after Alexander beat back the Persians, his successors split the empire into Seleucid and Ptolemaic regions.   

This is the ‘intertestamental’ period, and the rabbis in Alexandria, Jamnia, and Babylon developed new writings in response, culminating in Talmud, Mishnah, and Midrash, while the same cultures provided the community of discourse from which Christian scriptures were penned.   

Try reading Akenson’s ‘Surpassing Wonder’ (McGill-Queen’s U Press) for a sense of how this stuff comes out of the ‘soup’ of several centuries. 

1 Maccabees recount how Alexander’s defeat of the Persians affected the people in the late 300’s BCE, while 2 Maccabees is framed as a message from Jews in the Holy Land to those in Egypt.   

1 Esdras reaches back to the return from exile, while 2 Esdras (included in the Slavonic bible, not in the greet, and appended to the Vulgate) collects traditions of Esdras, and apocalypses like Revelation.   

3 Maccabees tells a story of insurrection against Ptolemaic rule, exile to Alexandria in Egypt, and return, while 4 Maccabees is an appendix to the Greek bible, a philosophical speculative reinterpretations of the traditions. 

Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant bibles vary in which of these books they include, and in how much weight they are given.   

As we end this week of browsing ‘histories’, or ‘latter prophets’, I hope these thumbnail introductions to Samuel/Kings, Chronicles/Ezra/Nehemiah, and Maccabees/Esdras put our Easter Season study of Joshua/Judges in context. 

Settlers or Anarchy?  What meta-narratives of ‘conquest and settlement’, ‘nation-building’, ‘decline and fall’, and ‘restoration’ help you to construe your own situation?  We are living in a ‘post-colonial’ or ‘post-modern’ culture – these books may matter to give us a longer perspective, and stories with which to compare and contrast our own. 

After Judges II: Revisionist History

Revisionist History:  

4 volumes of Samuel/Kings,  

or: 

1&2 Chronicles 

Ezra & Nehemiah 

Friday, May 25, 2018 

 

1&2 Chronicles 

There’s no “I” in Team, David! 

Skimming your bible with your eyes glazing over, this pair of books may look like a repeat of the Samuels and the Kings.  Slow down, and see the difference, like comparing the spin of newspapers or TV news channels on the issues of our day. Chronicles reframes the story from the beginning with Adam’s start, not just Abraham, or David.  We need a longer critical memory. 

David’s succession, from ruling in Hebron to ruling in Jerusalem, is less focused on the cult of the heroic leader.  It is harder reading, but this account lists many other leaders, including the Levitical and Aaronic priests, and all the civil servants.  This account recognizes the collective contributions of a wider leadership, not just the hero. 

2 Chronicles takes 9 chapters to tell a story of the new temple, focused on the south, then 19 chapters of recitals of kings’ stories.  Watch for the highlights of Hezekiah’s reforms in 29-31, and of Josiah in 24-25.  We are being invited to ‘get with the program’ of the second temple, and recognize the competing orders of priests in the 5th century BCE. 

As we retell our own stories, in abbreviated accounts, what will our ‘spin doctors’ tell us?  Chronicles is harder work than the heroic epics of Samuel and Kings.  It’s not all about the senior ministers, the ‘Rev Dr’ guys of Trinity’s glory days, the moderators of the denomination, the prime ministers of the nation, but about their leadership teams, and the populace supporting them. 

Ezra & Nehemiah

Starting Over isn’t Easy

Ezra and Nehemiah continue the stories of Chronicles, the way Kings continue Samuels’ stories.  If Samuel was the prequel, then Ezra and Nehemiah serialize a story of ‘return from exile’.  Babylonia (Iraq) over-extended into Egypt, and Persia (Iran) beat them at home.  

While the first empire exiled elites, the second liked to keep ethnic states intact but subordinated. After over a century, some of the elite returned to Palestine to mix with the ‘remnant’ who had stayed, and began a struggle to build a 2nd temple, with lot of resistance. 

The style here, like the Chronicles, is a bit dry with lists of names.  Look for Ezra 7 to find the guy assigned by Persia to govern the client state – not unlike those exiles returning to run former soviet states in our generation, after an exile to North America.  

We will object to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ texts, prohibiting intermarriage.  Ezra is against assimilation, popular among the remnant who stayed in the land, and demanding purity, like the ‘settlers’ in Israel today.  The argument has to do with reclaiming a focus on the 2nd temple. 

Nehemiah, the second volume, tells of rebuilding the walls physical and metaphorical, setting boundaries again between ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is a lot of affirmation of administrative heroism, distributing benefit and burden and control, which should make sense to many United Church laity in the world.  We do reinforce ‘us’ and ‘them’. 

This is not popular rhetoric in our subculture and generation.  The setting of boundaries by a majority is exclusive and offensive.  When will we recognize that we are a minority who need to name our boundaries from less power, to invite people to join a clear ‘us’?   

How will we claim our specific identity as ‘Trinity on Church’, to justify our refusals to join other groups already doing the same thing better?  How will we focus our gifts and roles, so that we can be good partners to other complementary groups bringing other gifts and roles? 

After Judges?

After Judges? 

1&2 Samuel 

1&2 Kings 

Thursday, May 24, 2018 

1 & 2 Samuel 

Samuel, Saul, David… 

The events of these books happened, if at all, 1000 years before Jesus. By the time our editions of these books took shape, the writers were marginalized remnants under other empires: Persian, Seleucid, (later Byzantine), and Ptolemaic, Roman (later European).  Whoever signed off on these scrolls, centuries after the fact, had the benefit of hindsight, and a sense of irony! 

‘Why can’t we be like other nations?’  Samuel warns ‘be careful what you ask for!’  We get a story of Saul, David, and Solomon here – each with gifts and tragic flaws.  There was a historic political transition from the anarchy of tribal federations alluded to in Judges, but the Samuel version adds great character studies of Saul, Jonathon, Michal, and David. 

According to this story, David cleans up loyally after Saul’s mess, then over time becomes king, preparing for succession to Solomon.  What makes a king legitimate?  Did David kill the heir apparent Jonathon?  It’s a political story, where David, guerrilla leader in the north, ends up ruler from the south of the whole of Israel. 

The soap opera of David’s seduction of Bathsheba, and incestuous struggles of Absalom, Amnon and Tamar, culminate in insurrection by Absalom in David’s dotage.  This account affirms David’s ascendancy, and the creation of a United Kingdom for Solomon to rule.  However, the original readers knew it was more a complex story – and you should too! 

Sometimes we tell our community and national stories without as much nuance as this.  We deal with heroes and manifest destiny.  Other times, biographers and historians take time to use the foibles and flaws of individuals to introduce wider themes.  Samuel does not suppress the stories of scandal and conflict – perhaps we could try to do the same in telling the stories of Trinity, Calgary, the United Church, and Canada! 

1&2 Kings 

Succession, Division, Decline and Fall 

Think of these as volumes 3 and 4 of the 1 & 2 Samuel volumes.  We begin with succession from David to Solomon.  Expansion and affluence mean a big temple, and dalliances of the ruler with a daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and the African Queen of Sheba.  Take a look at chapter 11 for the recital of Solomon’s women – and their gods. 

This account suggests that Solomon lost focus, being so inclusive with so many partners that he lost the core identity of Israel.  By the time this account is written, the community is scattered in diaspora, and tempted to assimilation and intermarriage – this account resists and warns about such ‘upwardly mobile’ ambition, like Solomon’s. 

Jeroboam revolts first, is exiled to Egypt, but when Solomon dies, the kingdom is divided between Rehoboam in Judah (south) and secessionist Jeroboam in Israel (north).  The account continues, listing the stories of the two kingdoms, their rulers and their wars. 

Browse your way to the Elijah story starting in 1 Kings 17, the prophet challenging King Ahab, wed to Jezebel.   Elijah calls in an ‘air strike’ by God against the prophets of Baal, while the royals steal Naboth’s vineyard – all a challenge to the northern kingdom’s corruption, justifying its fall to Assyria in about 750BCE. 

Browse your way to the Elisha story in 2 Kings.  The southern kingdom tries reforms under Hezekiah and Josiah, closely related to the Deuteronomist editorial voice.  However, you can see that the kings get younger, and rule for shorter periods, until the Babylonian conquest and exile in the early years of the 500’s BCE. 

There are warnings here for a scattered community about nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of wealth and power.  We can be proud of former glories, without aspiring to returning to the sins of pride. Can we claim the virtues of the prophets Elisha and Elisha, without seeking their fate for ourselves? 

Judges 21

Judges 21,
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The only thing weirder than the civil war against Benjamin, with its thin pretext, is the repopulation of Benjamin, by permitting abduction of virgins from the Shiloh festival party.  Nope, this is not a good example, or a story with a moral.

Does it help, with the vow of the Israelites ‘I’d never let my daughter marry one’ to remember Jepthah’s vow?  ‘Never say never’ is good counsel.  This whole episode is about morally compromised and weak people doing rash things, rushing to judgment already.  

What do we owe our brother?  From Cain and Abel to Ishmael and Isaac to Esau and Jacob to Joseph and his brothers, the questions is not only one of personal individual family values.  If we say all are children of Adam, all of ‘us’ are children of Avram, and we name our own tribes, clans, and families – what do we owe each other?

Curses and oaths taken in vain, calling on God, should be left as God’s business.  We can rationalize loopholes, like finding a few hundred wives from punishing Jabesh-Gilead for failing to answer the call to rally at Mizpah.  In the end, grown-ups face ‘tragic moral choices’ between bad and worse.

The text of v22 is hopelessly corrupt and untranslatable, evidenced by the range of English translations we read.  Roughly, permission is granted to 200 Benjaminites to abduct wives from eligible virgins attending the Shiloh festival from all 11 tribes. One result is a blood bond renewed with all the other tribes.

How can the abduction be defended?  Killing in battle to take wives did not happen in the civil war, and can’t happen honourably now.  Giving by those who vowed otherwise can’t be honourable.  After the fact, if an offended family tracks down their daughter to Benjamin, and sees her honourably treated, they might acquiesce.  

Compare the ‘rape of Dinah’ at Shechem in Genesis 37. It’s more than an individualized tale of sexual morality, but one of tribes acting justly – or less justly.  The only thing worse than making tragic moral choices in our time and place is making them in the anarchy before Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon.


Now the Israelites had sworn at Mizpah,
 ‘No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.’

 2And the people came to Bethel, 
and sat there until evening before God, 
and they lifted up their voices
and wept bitterly.

 3They said,
 ‘O LORD, 
the God of Israel, 
why has it come to pass
that today there should be
 one tribe lacking in Israel?’ 

4On the next day, 
the people got up early, 
and built an altar there, 
and offered burnt-offerings
and sacrifices of well-being.

 5Then the Israelites said, 
‘Which of all the tribes of Israel
did not come up in the assembly to the LORD?’

 For a solemn oath had been taken
concerning whoever did not come up to the LORD to Mizpah,
 saying,
 ‘That one shall be put to death.’

 6But the Israelites had compassion for Benjamin their kin, 
and said, 
‘One tribe is cut off from Israel this day.

 7What shall we do for wives
for those who are left, 
since we have sworn by the LORD
that we will not give them
any of our daughters
as wives?’

8 Then they said,
 ‘Is there anyone
from the tribes of Israel
who did not come up to the LORD to Mizpah?’ 

It turned out
that no one from Jabesh-gilead
had come to the camp,
 to the assembly.

 9For when the roll was called among the people, 
not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there.

 10So the congregation sent twelve thousand soldiers there
and commanded them,
 ‘Go, put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword, 
including the women and the little ones.

 11This is what you shall do;
 every male
and every woman that has lain with a male
you shall devote to destruction.’

 12And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead
four hundred young virgins
who had never slept with a man
 and brought them to the camp at Shiloh, 
which is in the land of Canaan.

13 Then the whole congregation sent word to the Benjaminites
who were at the rock of Rimmon, 
and proclaimed peace to them.

 14Benjamin returned at that time; 
and they gave them the women
 whom they had saved alive
 of the women of Jabesh-gilead; 
but they did not suffice for them.

15 The people had compassion on Benjamin
because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.

 16So the elders of the congregation said,
 ‘What shall we do for wives
for those who are left,
 since there are no women left in Benjamin?’

 17And they said, 
‘There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin,
 in order that a tribe may not be blotted out from Israel.

 18Yet we cannot give any of our daughters to them as wives.’ 
For the Israelites had sworn, 
‘Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to Benjamin.’

 19So they said,
 ‘Look, 
the yearly festival of the LORD is taking place at Shiloh, 
which is north of Bethel, 
on the east of the highway
that goes up from Bethel to Shechem,
 and south of Lebonah.’

 20And they instructed the Benjaminite,
 saying, 
‘Go
 and lie in wait in the vineyards,
21and watch; 
when the young women of Shiloh
come out to dance in the dances,
 then come out of the vineyards
and each of you carry off a wife for himself
from the young women of Shiloh,
and go to the land of Benjamin.

 22Then if their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us,
 we will say to them,
 “Be generous and allow us to have them; 
because we did not capture in battle a wife for each man. 

But neither did you incur guilt
by giving your daughters to them.” ’ 

23The Benjaminites did so; 
they took wives for each of them
from the dancers whom they abducted.

 Then they went
and returned to their territory,
 and rebuilt the towns,
 and lived in them.

 24So the Israelites departed from there at that time
by tribes and families,
 and they went out from there
 to their own territories.

25 In those days there was no king in Israel; 
all the people did what was right
 in their own eyes.
 

Judges 20

Judges 20,
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

From the northernmost Dan to the southernmost Judahites of beer-shaba, all Israel comes to Mizpah.  (If you have a moment to count, how many tribes invited – not Benjamin, so what 12?)  400,000 armed men is a big, if fanciful, number to respond to a crime.

The Levite presents his side of the story.  Without challenge, the whole body agrees to a 10% draft of all soldiers, to fight Benjamin.  They ask Benjamin to give up Gibeah, but they won’t.  The thing comes to battle- and now 400,000 fight for Israel, the whole crew.

The long story short: 25,000 Benjamanites win day one, killing 22,000, and win day two, killing 18,000.  Then the Israelites think to inquire at the ark of the covenant, and are told to try again.  This time they win, and rout the remaining 600 Benjaminites, while levelling the people and the property left behind.

This is not a historic account, but a lament for fratricide. It’s not a good example, or a great day for Israel.  It’s the consequence of half-baked mobs without leadership, rising from anarchy.  No heroes.
 
Then all the Israelites came out,
 from Dan to Beer-sheba, 
including the land of Gilead, 
and the congregation assembled
 in one body
before the LORD
at Mizpah.

 2The chiefs of all the people, 
of all the tribes of Israel, 
presented themselves
in the assembly of the people of God,
 four hundred thousand foot-soldiers bearing arms.

 3(Now the Benjaminites heard
 that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.)

 And the Israelites said,
 ‘Tell us,
 how did this criminal act come about?’

 4The Levite, 
the husband of the woman
who was murdered, 
answered, 

‘I came to Gibeah
that belongs to Benjamin,
 I and my concubine, 
to spend the night.

 5The lords of Gibeah rose up against me, 
and surrounded the house at night.

 They intended to kill me,
 and they raped my concubine
until she died.

6Then I took my concubine
and cut her into pieces, 
and sent her throughout
the whole extent of Israel’s territory; 
for they have committed a vile outrage in Israel.

 7So now,
 you Israelites,
 all of you,
 give your advice and counsel
 here and now.’

8 All the people got up as one,
 saying, 
‘We will not any of us go to our tents,
 nor will any of us return to our houses.

 9But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: 
we will go up against it by lot.

 10We will take ten men of a hundred
 throughout all the tribes of Israel, 
and a hundred of a thousand, 
and a thousand of ten thousand, 
to bring provisions for the troops,
 who are going to repay Gibeah of Benjamin
for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.’

 11So all the men of Israel
gathered against the city, 
united as one.

12 The tribes of Israel sent men
through all the tribe of Benjamin,
 saying,
 ‘What crime is this
 that has been committed among you?

 13Now then, 
hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah,
 so that we may put them to death, 
and purge the evil from Israel.’

 But the Benjaminites would not listen
to their kinsfolk, the Israelites.

 14The Benjaminites came together
out of the towns
 to Gibeah,
 to go out to battle
against the Israelites. 

15On that day
the Benjaminites mustered twenty-six thousand armed men
 from their towns,
 besides the inhabitants of Gibeah.

 16Of all this force,
 there were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; 
every one could sling a stone at a hair, 
and not miss. 

17And the Israelites, 
apart from Benjamin, 
mustered four hundred thousand armed men, 
all of them warriors.

18 The Israelites proceeded to go up to Bethel, 
where they inquired of God,
 ‘Which of us shall go up first
 to battle against the Benjaminites?’

 And the LORD answered,
 ‘Judah shall go up first.’

19 Then the Israelites got up in the morning, 
and encamped against Gibeah.

 20The Israelites went out to battle against Benjamin; 
and the Israelites drew up the battle line against them
at Gibeah. 

21The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah,
 and struck down on that day
twenty-two thousand of the Israelites.

 23The Israelites went up
 and wept before the LORD
until the evening;
 and they inquired of the LORD,
 ‘Shall we again draw near to battle
against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites?’ 

And the LORD said, 
‘Go up against them.’

 22The Israelites took courage,
 and again formed the battle line
 in the same place
where they had formed it
on the first day.

24 So the Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites
on the second day.

 25Benjamin moved out against them from Gibeah the second day, and struck down eighteen thousand of the Israelites, 
all of them armed men.

 26Then all the Israelites,
 the whole army, 
went back to Bethel
and wept, 
sitting there
 before the LORD; 
they fasted
 that day
until evening. 

Then they offered burnt-offerings
and sacrifices of well-being
before the LORD.

 27And the Israelites inquired of the LORD
(for the ark of the covenant of God
was there in those days,
 28and Phinehas
son of Eleazar, 
son of Aaron, 
ministered before it
 in those days),
 saying,
 ‘Shall we go out once more
 to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites, 
or shall we desist?’ 

The LORD answered,
 ‘Go up,
 for tomorrow
 I will give them
 into your hand.’

29 So Israel stationed men in ambush around Gibeah. 

30Then the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites
 on the third day, 
and set themselves in array against Gibeah, 
as before.

 31When the Benjaminites went out against the army,
 they were drawn away from the city.

 As before they began to inflict casualties on the troops, 
along the main roads,
 one of which goes up to Bethel
and the other to Gibeah, 
as well as in the open country,
 killing about thirty men of Israel.

 32The Benjaminites thought,
 ‘They are being routed before us,
 as previously.’

 But the Israelites said, 
‘Let us retreat
and draw them
away from the city
towards the roads.’ 

33The main body of the Israelites
drew back its battle line
 to Baal-tamar, 
while those Israelites who were in ambush
 rushed out of their place
west of Geba.

 34There came against Gibeah
 ten thousand picked men
out of all Israel,
 and the battle was fierce. 

But the Benjaminites did not realize
that disaster was close upon them.
35 The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel; 
and the Israelites destroyed twenty-five thousand one hundred
men of Benjamin that day,
 all of them armed.

36 Then the Benjaminites saw
 that they were defeated.

The Israelites gave ground to Benjamin,
 because they trusted to the troops in ambush
that they had stationed against Gibeah.

 37The troops in ambush rushed quickly upon Gibeah.
 Then they put the whole city to the sword.

 38Now the agreement
between the main body of Israel
and the men in ambush
 was that when they sent up a cloud of smoke
out of the city
 39the main body of Israel
 should turn in battle.

 But Benjamin had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites, 
killing about thirty of them;
 so they thought,
 ‘Surely they are defeated before us,
 as in the first battle.’

40But when the cloud,
 a column of smoke,
 began to rise out of the city, 
the Benjaminites looked behind them—
and there was the whole city
 going up in smoke towards the sky!

 41Then the main body of Israel turned, 
and the Benjaminites were dismayed,
 for they saw that disaster was close upon them.

 42Therefore
 they turned away from the Israelites
 in the direction of the wilderness;
 but the battle overtook them, 
and those who came out of the city
 were slaughtering them in between.

 43Cutting down the Benjaminites, 
they pursued them from Nohah
and trod them down as far as a place east of Gibeah.

 44Eighteen thousand Benjaminites fell,
 all of them courageous fighters. 

45When they turned and fled
towards the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon,
 five thousand of them were cut down on the main roads,
 and they were pursued as far as Gidom, 
and two thousand of them were slain.

 46So all who fell that day of Benjamin
were twenty-five thousand arms-bearing men, 
all of them courageous fighters.

47But six hundred turned and fled
towards the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon,
 and remained at the rock of Rimmon for four months.

48Meanwhile,
 the Israelites turned back against the Benjaminites, 
and put them to the sword
—the city, the people, the animals, and all that remained. 
Also the remaining towns they set on fire.
 

Judges 19

Eighth Sunday of Easter
May 20, 2018

‘Remember, Resist, Redraw’

Download audio for Week 7, May 14-19, 
Download audio for Week 8, May 21-26, 

Most of last week followed Samson from his birth to his death, over 4 chapters. Some Nazirite – he broke every vow of abstinence, chastity, purity, wholeness which were to bind him.  Pity his Philistine in-laws in his first marriage!  Empathize with his cousins trying to deliver him bound to their angry bosses, or the Philistine managers paying Delilah to deliver him to be bound! 

The current government of the current state of Israel celebrated the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem on the day before its anniversary of 1948 independence. Televangelists open and close the ceremony with prayers anticipating a Second Coming. 

Gaza erupted in peaceful demonstrations fired upon by IDF forces.  Canada asks for independent inquiry, and the UCC objected more strongly, echoing ecumenical and interfaith partners’ cries of alarm.  We do not share the televangelists’ assumptions of shalom in Israel. 

It’s a dark week to have considered Samson’s captivity, shorn, blinded, unclean, but sober.  His hair grows back, and when paraded like a dancing bears, he grasps the pillars (more fitting to the times of Second Temple architecture) and ‘brings the house down around his ears’, killing more than he ever did in life.  Suicide terrorist?

The rest of the week’s readings gave us degenerates, or at least unregenerate people.  Things got worse from Samson on, as communal faithfulness to Torah dissipated, and ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes’, since there was no king.

In the coming week, the degeneracy culminates in a tale of inhospitality and civil war.  We may be reminded off Sodom and Gomorrah, or of the rape of Dinah – or you can wait till next week, where this blog will introduce a reading of Genesis, ‘The Gospel According to Torah’.  I conclude nevertheless with the affirmation that this is not a text about sex crimes amidst genocide, but the prequel for the story of the kings of Israel.

Our lively weekly conversation partners were not eager to follow my lead and keep reading through these ‘Early Prophets’ or histories, into 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, then 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Maccabbees and Esdras…   They did agree I could sum them up this week for future reference, before starting again with Genesis.  I hope that online participants will stick with us!


Settlers and Anarchists: What Side Are We On?
Reading Joshua and Judges - Easter Season, 2018
Trinity UC Kitchener  www.trinityunitedkw.ca

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Judges 19,
Monday, May 21, 2018

Different Levite, travelling in a different direction, but the frame is the same: anarchy.  From up north in Ephraim, this one heads south to Bethlehem.  He takes a concubine (not a wife, nor a prostitute, but some legal status between inheritance and fee for service). 

There is some matrimonial tension, she leaves him for daddy, he follows her to daddy, who welcomes him.  You can run a movie between your ears – but we’re free to have very different scripts!

There is a long, elaborate game of hospitality as the Levite keeps trying to leave and the host daddy keeps convincing him to stay.  Finally, the Levite, concubine, servant, and a couple of donkeys head out, a bit late in the day.

There is another elaborate choice of where to stop on the road trip.  The Jebusites own Jerusalem and there won’t be Israelites there (!) and Gibeah seems like a better bet.  Who ever gets this right?

The tale of the inhospitality of Gibeah is another spare fable, intended to shock us, echoing the language of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot.  The local yobs want to ‘know’ the travellers.  The host offers his daughter, but the host follows through with his concubine.

The next day, there’s a dead, abused concubine at the door, and the man takes her body home to Ephraim.  He cuts her up in 12 pieces, and sends them to rally 12 tribes to avenge him against Benjamin.

Who is responsible for the outrage?  Who will pay the price of vengeance?  The next chapter will seem worse than this, with misogyny and genocidal and fratricidal warfare.  We lack the moral outrage regarding the initiation, but reserve much of our choler for the response.  Does that judge them, or us?

 
In those days, 
when there was no king in Israel, 
a certain Levite, 
residing in the remote parts
of the hill country of Ephraim, 
took to himself a concubine
 from Bethlehem in Judah.

 2But his concubine became angry with him, 
and she went away from him to her father’s house
at Bethlehem in Judah, 
and was there for some four months.

 3Then her husband set out after her, 
to speak tenderly to her and bring her back.

 He had with him his servant
and a couple of donkeys. 

When he reached her father’s house, 
the girl’s father saw him
and came with joy to meet him.

 4His father-in-law,
 the girl’s father, 
made him stay, 
and he remained with him
 for three days;
 so they ate and drank,
 and he stayed there.

 5On the fourth day
 they got up early in the morning, 
and he prepared to go;
 but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law,
 ‘Fortify yourself with a bit of food, 
and after that you may go.’

 6So the two men sat
and ate and drank together; 
and the girl’s father said to the man, 
‘Why not spend the night
 and enjoy yourself?’

 7When the man got up to go,
 his father-in-law kept urging him
 until he spent the night there
again.

 8On the fifth day
he got up early in the morning to leave;
 and the girl’s father said,
 ‘Fortify yourself.’ 

So they lingered until the day declined, 
and the two of them ate and drank.

 9When the man
with his concubine and his servant
 got up to leave, 
his father-in-law,
 the girl’s father,
 said to him,
 ‘Look, 
the day has worn on
until it is almost evening.

 Spend the night. 

See, 
the day has drawn to a close. 

Spend the night here
and enjoy yourself.

 Tomorrow
you can get up early
in the morning
 for your journey, 
and go home.’

10 But the man would not spend the night; 
he got up and departed, 
and arrived opposite Jebus
 (that is, Jerusalem).

 He had with him
a couple of saddled donkeys,
 and his concubine was with him.

 11When they were near Jebus, 
the day was far spent, 
and the servant said to his master,
 ‘Come now,
 let us turn aside
 to this city of the Jebusites, 
and spend the night in it.’

 12But his master said to him,
 ‘We will not turn aside
 into a city of foreigners, 
who do not belong to the people of Israel;
 but we will continue on to Gibeah.’

 13Then he said to his servant,
 ‘Come,
 let us try to reach one of these places, 
and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.’

14So they passed by
and went on their way;
 and the sun went down on them
 near Gibeah, 
which belongs to Benjamin.

 15They turned aside there,
 to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. 

He went in
 and sat down
 in the open square of the city,
 but no one took them in
to spend the night.

16 Then at evening
 there was an old man
coming from his work
 in the field. 

The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, 
and he was residing in Gibeah.
 (The people of the place were Benjaminites.)

 17When the old man looked up
 and saw the wayfarer
in the open square of the city,
 he said,
 ‘Where are you going
and where do you come from?’

 18He answered him,
 ‘We are passing
 from Bethlehem in Judah
 to the remote parts
of the hill country of Ephraim, 
from which I come.

 I went to Bethlehem in Judah;
 and I am going to my home. 

Nobody has offered
to take me in.

19We your servants
have straw and fodder for our donkeys, 
with bread and wine for me and the woman
and the young man along with us. 

We need nothing more.’

 20The old man said,
 ‘Peace be to you.
 I will care for all your wants; 
only do not spend the night
 in the square.’

 21So he brought him into his house, 
and fed the donkeys;
 they washed their feet, 
and ate and drank.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, 
the men of the city,
 a depraved lot, 
surrounded the house, 
and started pounding on the door. 

They said to the old man,
 the master of the house,
 ‘Bring out the man
 who came into your house, 
so that we may have intercourse with him.’

 23And the man,
 the master of the house, 
went out to them
 and said to them, 
‘No, 
my brothers, 
do not act so wickedly. 
Since this man is my guest,
 do not do this vile thing.

 24Here are
my virgin daughter
 and his concubine;
 let me bring them out now.

 Ravish them
and do whatever you want to them; 
but against this man
do not do such a vile thing.’

 25But the men would not listen to him.

 So the man seized his concubine,
 and put her out to them. 

They wantonly raped her, 
and abused her all through the night
until the morning.

 And as the dawn began to break, 
they let her go.

 26As morning appeared,
 the woman came
and fell down
at the door
of the man’s house
where her master was,
 until it was light.
27 In the morning
 her master got up, 
opened the doors of the house,
 and when he went out
 to go on his way, 
there was his concubine
 lying at the door of the house,
 with her hands on the threshold. 

28‘Get up,
’he said to her, 
‘we are going.’ 

But there was no answer. 
Then he put her on the donkey; 
and the man set out for his home.

 29When he had entered his house, 
he took a knife, 
and grasping his concubine
 he cut her into twelve pieces,
 limb by limb, 
and sent her
throughout all the territory of Israel.

30Then he commanded
 the men whom he sent,
 saying,
 ‘Thus shall you say
 to all the Israelites,
 “Has such a thing ever happened
since the day
that the Israelites came up
from the land of Egypt
until this day? 

Consider it, 
take counsel,
 and speak out.” ’
 

Judges 18

Judges 18,
Saturday, May 19, 2018

This bit tidies up the historical fact that Dan was associated with more than one region, and not so successful in the ‘conquest’ model. Scouting out new territory may seem morally neutral to us, in a time of high mobility, when homes are treated as commodities – but readers will make many things of the same action.

The scouts take advice and assurance from Micah’s renegade Levite, find a settled, complacent target that haven’t heard from Sidon or Aram that the tribes are still expansionist.  They conscript Micah’s Levite and idol, and like the band of thugs they are, threaten Micah to shut up about it.  

Is the priest entrepreneurial, or faithless?  Where is your sympathy – should he stick with the little village of Micah, or the tribe of Dan?  We, and each of our families, make choices – upward mobility, ambition – should priests be different?

What authority arbitrates these moral choices?  Rules, laws, or kings, or military might or greed?  The text may be neutral, but we aren’t.

In those days
there was no king in Israel.

 And in those days
the tribe of the Danites
 was seeking for itself
 a territory to live in; 
for until then
 no territory among the tribes of Israel
had been allotted to them.

 2So the Danites sent five valiant men
from the whole number of their clan,
 from Zorah and from Eshtaol,
 to spy out the land
and to explore it; 
and they said to them, ‘

Go, explore the land.’ 

When they came to the hill country of Ephraim, 
to the house of Micah, 
they stayed there.

3While they were at Micah’s house,
 they recognized the voice of the young Levite;
 so they went over and asked him,
 ‘Who brought you here?
 What are you doing in this place?
 What is your business here?’ 

4He said to them,
 ‘Micah did such and such for me,
 and he hired me, 
and I have become his priest.’

 5Then they said to him,
 ‘Inquire of God
that we may know
 whether the mission we are undertaking will succeed.’

 6The priest replied,
 ‘Go in peace.

 The mission you are on
 is under the eye of the LORD.’

7 The five men went on, 
and when they came to Laish,
 they observed the people
who were there living securely, 
after the manner of the Sidonians,
 quiet and unsuspecting, 
lacking nothing on earth,
 and possessing wealth.

Furthermore, 
they were far from the Sidonians
and had no dealings with Aram.

 8When they came to their kinsfolk
 at Zorah and Eshtaol, 

they said to them,
 ‘What do you report?’ 

9They said,
 ‘Come,
 let us go up against them;
 for we have seen the land, 
and it is very good. 

Will you do nothing? 
Do not be slow to go,
 but enter in and possess the land.

 10When you go, 
you will come to an unsuspecting people.
 The land is broad
—God has indeed given it into your hands—
a place where there is no lack
of anything on earth.’

11 Six hundred men of the Danite clan,
 armed with weapons of war,
 set out from Zorah and Eshtaol,
 12and went up
 and encamped at Kiriath-jearim
in Judah. 

On this account
 that place is called Mahaneh-dan
 to this day; 
it is west of Kiriath-jearim.

 13From there they passed on
 to the hill country of Ephraim,
 and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone
 to spy out the land
 (that is, Laish) 
said to their comrades,
 ‘Do you know
that in these buildings
there are an ephod, teraphim, 
and an idol of cast metal? 

Now therefore
consider what you will do.’

 15So they turned in that direction
and came to the house
of the young Levite, 
at the home of Micah, 
and greeted him.

 16While the six hundred men of the Danites,
 armed with their weapons of war, 
stood by the entrance of the gate,
 17the five men who had gone to spy out the land
proceeded to enter
and take the idol of cast metal, 
the ephod, and the teraphim. 

The priest was standing by the entrance of the gate
with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war.

 18When the men went into Micah’s house
 and took the idol of cast metal, 
the ephod, and the teraphim, 
the priest said to them,
 ‘What are you doing?’

 19They said to him,
 ‘Keep quiet!
 Put your hand over your mouth, 
and come with us, 
and be to us a father and a priest.

 Is it better for you
 to be priest to the house of one person, 
or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?’

 20Then the priest accepted the offer.
 He took the ephod, 
the teraphim, 
and the idol, 
and went along with the people.

21 So they resumed their journey,
 putting the little ones, 
the livestock, 
and the goods
 in front of them.

 22When they were some distance
 from the home of Micah, 
the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house
were called out, and they overtook the Danites.

 23They shouted to the Danites,
 who turned around and said to Micah, 
‘What is the matter
that you come with such a company?’ 

24He replied, 
‘You take my gods that I made, 
and the priest, 
and go away, 
and what have I left? 

How then can you ask me,
 “What is the matter?” ’ 

25And the Danites said to him,
 ‘You had better not let your voice be heard among us
or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you, 
and you will lose your life
and the lives of your household.’

 26Then the Danites went on their way. 

When Micah saw
that they were too strong for him,
 he turned and went back to his home.

27 The Danites, 
having taken what Micah had made, 
and the priest who belonged to him, 
came to Laish,
 to a people quiet and unsuspecting, 
put them to the sword, 
and burned down the city. 

28There was no deliverer,
 because it was far from Sidon
and they had no dealings with Aram.

 It was in the valley
that belongs to Beth-rehob.

 They rebuilt the city,
 and lived in it.

 29They named the city Dan, 
after their ancestor Dan,
 who was born to Israel; 
but the name of the city
was formerly Laish.

 30Then the Danites set up the idol for themselves. 

Jonathan
son of Gershom, 
son of Moses,
and his sons
were priests
to the tribe
of the Danites
until the time
 the land went into captivity.

 31So they maintained as their own
Micah’s idol that he had made,
 as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.


 

Judges 17

This Micah is a thief. His mother utters curses, but spoils him when he confesses, and makes an idol.  Like the Samson story, meant to shock our sensibilities as a nazirite drinks, whores around, and eats from a dead carcass, this is supposed to offend us – even though there are no extra adjectives, just verbs for behaviours.

The Levite is no model either.  He’s sojourning in Benjamin, but neither of that clan nor of Judah – he heads north too, into Ephraim.  Again, I find the mendicant travelling evangelist a positive thing, but the implication of the text is less positive – he has no family ties.   Worse, he’ll take pay to pray for this guy’s private idol, rather than serve his people like a good Levite.  

The summary warning should be familiar by now: in those days there was no king, and people did whatever was right in their own eyes.   This will be the problem to be addressed in 1 Samuel – but isn’t it our problem too?  ‘You do your thing, I do my thing, and if by chance we meet, that’s beautiful?’   There’s an ad for Diet Pepsi on that line.

Peter Emberley of University of Ottawa wrote 15 years ago that our society shares moral norms, but not moral sources.  He described that as a situation that works, but won’t work for long, as context changes from our current status quo and modus vivendi….

There was a man
 in the hill country of Ephraim
whose name was Micah.

 2He said to his mother,
 ‘The eleven hundred pieces of silver
 that were taken from you,
 about which you uttered a curse, 
and even spoke it in my hearing—
that silver is in my possession;

 I took it;
 but now I will return it to you.’

 And his mother said, 
‘May my son be blessed by the LORD!’

 3Then he returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver
to his mother;
 and his mother said,
 ‘I consecrate the silver
 to the LORD
 from my hand
 for my son,
 to make an idol
of cast metal.’

 4So when he returned the money to his mother, 
his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, 
and gave it to the silversmith,
 who made it into an idol of cast metal; 
and it was in the house of Micah.

 5This man Micah had a shrine, 
and he made an ephod and teraphim, 
and installed one of his sons,
 who became his priest.

 6In those days
 there was no king in Israel;
 all the people did what was right
 in their own eyes.

7 Now there was a young man
of Bethlehem in Judah,
 of the clan of Judah. 

He was a Levite residing there.

 8This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah, 
to live wherever he could find a place. 

He came to the house of Micah
in the hill country of Ephraim
to carry on his work.

9Micah said to him,
 ‘From where do you come?’

 He replied,
 ‘I am a Levite
 of Bethlehem in Judah, 
and I am going to live
wherever I can find a place.’

 10Then Micah said to him, 
‘Stay with me, 
and be to me a father and a priest,
 and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, 
a set of clothes, and your living.’ 

11The Levite agreed to stay with the man;
 and the young man became to him
 like one of his sons.

 12So Micah installed the Levite,
 and the young man became his priest
 and was in the house of Micah.

 13Then Micah said,
 ‘Now I know
that the LORD will prosper me,
 because the Levite
has become my priest.’
 

Judges 16

Judges 16,
Thursday, May 17, 2018

After all this, would you expect Samson to keep taking side-trips to Gaza for casual patronage of their prostitutes? Of course, the locals try to ambush him in the morning.   Of course, he rises early, and with superhuman strength he rips up the town gates and walks away with them.  He’s a tough one to tie down, this Samson – or these are etiological legends explaining place names and border points.

Finally, we get to Delilah, not to be confused with his first Philistine wife, or generalized as a type for her gender, as unfaithful seductress.  She is asked by the Philistines to act as their spy and agent, in the conflicting interest of blood and partnership, in variation from the first story cycle.  

This is straight folklore, with a pattern of 3 incorrect solutions to the challenge of taking Samson’s strength, then a successful close shave.  This story stuck in our Sunday schools – with a Victorian twist of inhibition, and warning that sexual activity leads to blindness and weakness.  

Samson’s vindication responds to the idolatry of Dagon, and the image of blind Samson, hair grown back, sobriety imposed from involuntary abstinence, wreaking havoc by pulling down the pillars and the stone building on his heads along with all others, a pile of dead bodies.  

The literary symbols of pillars holding a house invite elaboration.  The imposing pillars are more suggestive of Greek columns than 2nd millennium BCE Gaza.  What oppressors’ power and symbols intimidate us, and what self-sacrificing terrorist act is demanded from the penitent?  

I stick with the suggestion that the whole text, in Solomon’s court, Josiah’s reform, and Second Temple restoration, addresses the risks and temptations of doing what is ‘right in your own eyes’, of assimilation and conflicting loyalties.  However, I don’t think that Samson is credible as a judge, despite the repeated editorial claim of 20 years of his rule over Israel.  

That ends what I read as the core of Judges – the remaining chapters have been called an appendix, a quarter of the whole book, giving up on the attempt to collect stories of heroes relieving anarchy.  I’d rather just say it continues a trajectory begun with Samson, of degeneration of the promise and unity of Deuteronomy and Joshua into increasing anarchy.  See what you think, this weekend and early next week.


 
Once Samson went to Gaza, 
where he saw a prostitute
and went in to her.
 
 2The Gazites were told, 
‘Samson has come here.’ 
 
So they encircled the place
and lay in wait for him
all night
at the city gate. 
 
They kept quiet
all night, 
thinking,
 ‘Let us wait
until the light
of the morning; 
then we will kill him.’
 
 3But Samson lay only until midnight. 
Then at midnight he rose up, 
took hold of the doors of the city gate
and the two posts, 
pulled them up, 
bar and all,
 put them on his shoulders,
 and carried them
to the top of the hill
that is in front of Hebron.
 
4 After this
he fell in love with a woman
 in the valley of Sorek, 
whose name was Delilah.
 
 5The lords of the Philistines came to her
 and said to her, 
‘Coax him, 
and find out
 what makes his strength so great,
 and how we may overpower him,
 so that we may bind him
 in order to subdue him;
 and we will each give you
eleven hundred pieces of silver.’
 
 6So Delilah said to Samson,
 ‘Please tell me
what makes your strength so great, 
and how you could be bound,
 so that one could subdue you.’
 
 7Samson said to her,
 ‘If they bind me
with seven fresh bowstrings
 that are not dried out,
 then I shall become weak,
 and be like anyone else.’
 
 8Then the lords of the Philistines brought her
 seven fresh bowstrings
that had not dried out,
 and she bound him with them.
 
 9While men were lying in wait
in an inner chamber,
 she said to him,
 
 ‘The Philistines are upon you, 
Samson!’ 
 
But he snapped the bowstrings, 
as a strand of fibre snaps
when it touches the fire. 
 
So the secret of his strength
was not known.
 
10 Then Delilah said to Samson, 
‘You have mocked me
 and told me lies; 
please tell me
 how you could be bound.’
 
 11He said to her, 
‘If they bind me
with new ropes
 that have not been used, 
then I shall become weak, 
and be like anyone else.’
 
 12So Delilah took new ropes
and bound him with them, 
and said to him, 
‘The Philistines are upon you, 
Samson!’
 
 (The men lying in wait
were in an inner chamber.) 
 
But he snapped the ropes
off his arms
 like a thread.
 
13 Then Delilah said to Samson,
 ‘Until now you have mocked me
and told me lies; 
tell me how
you could be bound.’
 
 He said to her,
 ‘If you weave
the seven locks of my head
with the web
 and make it tight
 with the pin, 
then I shall become weak,
 and be like anyone else.’ 
 
14So while he slept, 
Delilah took the seven locks of his head
 and wove them into the web,
 and made them tight
 with the pin.
 
 Then she said to him, 
‘The Philistines are upon you,
 Samson!’ 
 
But he awoke from his sleep, 
and pulled away the pin, 
the loom, 
and the web.
 
15 Then she said to him,
 ‘How can you say
, “I love you”, 
when your heart is not with me?
 
 You have mocked me three times now
and have not told me
what makes your strength so great.’
 
 16Finally,
 after she had nagged him
with her words
day after day, 
and pestered him,
 he was tired to death.
 
 17So he told her his whole secret, 
and said to her,
 ‘A razor has never come upon my head;
 for I have been a nazirite to God
from my mother’s womb. 
 
If my head were shaved, 
then my strength would leave me;
 I would become weak,
 and be like anyone else.’
 
18 When Delilah realized
that he had told her his whole secret, 
she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, 
saying,
 ‘This time come up,
 for he has told his whole secret
 to me.’ 
 
Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, 
and brought the money in their hands.
 
 19She let him fall asleep on her lap;
 and she called a man,
 and had him shave off the seven locks of his head.
 
 He began to weaken,
 and his strength left him.
 
 20Then she said,
 ‘The Philistines are upon you,
 Samson!’
 
 When he awoke from his sleep,
 he thought,
 ‘I will go out
 as at other times, 
and shake myself free.’ 
 
But he did not know
that the Lord had left him.
 
 21So the Philistines seized him
and gouged out his eyes. 
 
They brought him down to Gaza
and bound him with bronze shackles;
 and he ground at the mill in the prison.
 
 22But the hair of his head began to grow again
after it had been shaved.
 
23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered
 to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon,
 and to rejoice; 
for they said,
 ‘Our god has given Samson
 our enemy into our hand.’
 
 24When the people saw him,
 they praised their god;
 for they said,
 ‘Our god has given
our enemy into our hand, 
the ravager of our country,
 who has killed many of us.’
 
 25And when their hearts were merry,
 they said,
 ‘Call Samson,
 and let him entertain us.’ 
 
So they called Samson out of the prison, 
and he performed for them. 
 
They made him stand between the pillars;
 26and Samson said to the attendant
who held him by the hand, 
‘Let me feel the pillars
on which the house rests,
 so that I may lean against them.’
 
 27Now the house was full of men and women;
 all the lords of the Philistines were there, 
and on the roof
there were about three thousand men and women, 
who looked on while Samson performed.
 
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said,
 ‘Lord God, remember me
and strengthen me
only this once, 
O God, 
so that with this one act of revenge
 I may pay back the Philistines
for my two eyes.’
 
 29And Samson grasped the two middle pillars
 on which the house rested, 
and he leaned his weight against them,
 his right hand on the one
 and his left hand on the other.
 
 30Then Samson said,
 ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’
 
 He strained with all his might; 
and the house fell
on the lords
and all the people
who were in it. 
 
So those he killed at his death
 were more than those he had killed during his life.
 
 31Then his brothers
and all his family
came down
and took him
and brought him up
and buried him
between Zorah and Eshtaol
 in the tomb of his father Manoah. 
 
He had judged Israel for twenty years.
 
 
 

Judges 15

Judges 15,
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Even though Samson’s wife is given away, here he comes with a gift, expecting make-up sex.  His father-in-law disagrees, but offers an even ruder suggestion as alpha male who can propose and dispose not only his daughter’s bodies, but Samson’s household.  Is Samson’s anger based on the offence to the women, or more likely to his own autonomy and pride? 

Samson’s vandalism is comical, but effective: tying foxes’ tails, lighting them on fire as incendiaries, to commit arson all around in Philistia.  The justification of his act of quid pro quo revenge is accepted by the Philistines, who kill his father-in-law with Samson’s wife and her sister.  Again, is Samson’s anger based on the moral reasoning of the posse comitatus?  What makes him morally superior, and justifies his slaughter of 1000 of them using the jaw-bone of an ass?  It looks like a mass grave in an ethnic cleansing. 

Vengeance is usually God’s prerogative – this whole series seems strangely and awkwardly forced into the pattern of Judges, perhaps from an earlier folk-tale source or sources.  The Judahites are the ones who have to face the Philistine’s wrath, seeking to bind Samson.

Notice the repeated ‘binding’ of Samson – bind him by ropes and custody, or by Nazirite vows.  I’m reminded of Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between positive and negative freedom, freedom ‘for’ and freedom ‘from’.  The Judahites take over the binding mission – to bring the renegade to heel, and hand him over to Philistine custody.

How often do oppressed people act as the oppressors’ police, in the occupied community, or even between our own ears?  Samson accepts the binding by his own community, but faced with the Philistines, he snaps the ropes easily, and slaughters 1,000.

 The editorial closing of the chapter feels imposed, but qualified – Samson just provides 20 years of peace, not 80 or 40.    How is he filled with the spirit of God or the wisdom of God -  and allowed to resume his binding by naazirite vows without any repentance ritual?

 
After a while, 
at the time of the wheat harvest, 
Samson went to visit his wife,
 bringing along a kid. 
 
He said,
 ‘I want to go into my wife’s room.’
 
 But her father would not allow him to go in.
 
 2Her father said,
 ‘I was sure that you had rejected her; 
so I gave her to your companion.
 
 Is not her younger sister prettier than she? 
 
Why not take her instead?’ 
 
3Samson said to them,
 ‘This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines,
 I will be without blame.’
 
 4So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes,
 and took some torches;
 and he turned the foxes tail to tail, 
and put a torch between each pair of tails
 
. 5When he had set fire to the torches, 
he let the foxes go
 into the standing grain of the Philistines,
 and burned up the shocks
 and the standing grain,
 as well as the vineyards
and olive groves.
 
 6Then the Philistines asked,
 ‘Who has done this?’ 
 
And they said, 
‘Samson, 
the son-in-law of the Timnite, 
because he has taken Samson’s wife
and given her to his companion.’
 
So the Philistines came up, 
and burned her and her father.
 
 7Samson said to them,
 ‘If this is what you do,
 I swear I will not stop
 until I have taken revenge
 on you.’
 
 8He struck them down
hip and thigh
with great slaughter; 
and he went down
and lived
in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
 
9 Then the Philistines came up
and encamped in Judah, 
and made a raid on Lehi.
 
 10The men of Judah said,
 ‘Why have you come up against us?’ 
 
They said,
 ‘We have come up to bind Samson,
 to do to him as he did to us.’
 
 11Then three thousand men of Judah
went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, 
and they said to Samson,
 
 ‘Do you not know
that the Philistines
are rulers over us? 
 
What then have you done
 to us?’ 
 
He replied, 
‘As they did to me, 
so I have done to them.’
 
 12They said to him, 
‘We have come down
to bind you,
 so that we may
give you
 into the hands
of the Philistines.’
 
 Samson answered them,
 ‘Swear to me
that you yourselves
 will not attack me.’
 
 13They said to him, 
‘No, 
we will only bind you
 and give you
 into their hands;
 we will not kill you.’ 
 
So they bound him
 with two new ropes,
 and brought him up
 from the rock.
 
14 When he came to Lehi,
 the Philistines came shouting to meet him; 
and the spirit of the Lord rushed on him,
 and the ropes that were on his arms
 became like flax that has caught fire,
 and his bonds melted
 off his hands.
 
15Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, 
reached down and took it, 
and with it
 he killed a thousand men.
 
 16And Samson said,
‘With the jawbone of a donkey,
 heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
   I have slain a thousand men.’ 

17When he had finished speaking,
 he threw away the jawbone;
 and that place was called Ramath-lehi.
 
18 By then he was very thirsty, 
and he called on the Lord, 
saying,
 ‘You have granted this great victory
by the hand of your servant.
 
 Am I now to die of thirst, 
and fall into the hands
of the uncircumcised?’ 
 
19So God split open
the hollow place
that is at Lehi, 
and water came from it. 
 
When he drank, 
his spirit returned, 
and he revived. 
 
Therefore it was named
En-hakkore,
 which is at Lehi
 to this day.
 
 20And he judged Israel
 in the days of the Philistines
for twenty years.
 
 
 

Judges 14

Judges 14,
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The young man Samson prefers a Philistine woman to an Israelite bride.  I think the importance in the final edit of Judges in the Second Temple is one of assimilation risks.  If our sons just marry whoever is ‘right in my eyes’, there goes the nation!  

The editors justify the romance as instigated by God to pick a fight with the Philistine oppressors, by revealing the conflict between loyalty to blood and to in-laws.

We toy with the fable and the riddle of the hero killing the lion with his bare hands, or harvesting honey from the carcass.  It is, in the text’s terms, a violation of the nazirite vow not to have contact with traif dead and unclean things.  Worse, Samson indulges a drink-fest, another breach of the vows – and in more familiar terms, an inducement to error, as his wife ‘seduces’ him to reveal the riddle.

Samson’s anger seems strange to us, inviting differences of valuation among hearers.  Is he a hero, let alone a judge, or just another brute animal who thinks with the wrong head?  Is the slaughter of 30 men of Ashkelon justified by the deceit of his inlaws?

Who gives Samson’s wife to one of his drinking buddies?  His father-in-law?  What kind of misogyny is this?  It will only get worse tomorrow, and I can only suggest that we don’t ‘lionize’ Samson! 


Once Samson went down to Timnah, 
and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman.
 
 2Then he came up, 
and told his father and mother,
 ‘I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah;
 now get her for me as my wife.’
 
 3But his father and mother said to him,
 ‘Is there not a woman among your kin,
 or among all our people,
 that you must go to take a wife
from the uncircumcised Philistines?’
 
 But Samson said to his father,
 ‘Get her for me,
 because she pleases me.’
 
 4His father and mother did not know
 that this was from the Lord;
 for he was seeking a pretext
 to act against the Philistines. 
 
At that time
the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
 
5 Then Samson went down
with his father and mother
 to Timnah. 
 
When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, 
suddenly a young lion roared at him.
 
 6The spirit of the Lord rushed on him,
 and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands
as one might tear apart a kid. 
 
But he did not tell
his father or his mother
 what he had done.
 
 7Then he went down
 and talked with the woman,
and she pleased Samson.
 
 8After a while
 he returned to marry her, 
and he turned aside to
see the carcass of the lion,
 and there was a swarm of bees
 in the body of the lion, 
and honey.
 
 9He scraped it out
 into his hands,
 and went on,
 eating as he went. 
 
When he came to his father and mother,
 he gave some to them,
 and they ate it. 
 
But he did not tell them
 that he had taken the honey
from the carcass of the lion.
 
10 His father went down to the woman,
 and Samson made a feast there
as the young men were accustomed to do.
 
 11When the people saw him,
 they brought thirty companions
 to be with him.
 
 12Samson said to them,
 ‘Let me now put a riddle to you. 
 
If you can explain it to me
within the seven days of the feast,
 and find it out, 
then I will give you
thirty linen garments
 and thirty festal garments.
 
 13But if you cannot explain it to me,
 then you shall give me
 thirty linen garments
 and thirty festal garments.’ 
 
So they said to him,
 ‘Ask your riddle;
 let us hear it.’ 
 
14He said to them,
‘Out of the eater
came something to eat.
Out of the strong
came something sweet.’

But for three days
they could not explain the riddle.
 
15 On the fourth day
 they said to Samson’s wife,
 ‘Coax your husband
 to explain the riddle to us,
 or we will burn you
and your father’s house
with fire.
 
 Have you invited us here
 to impoverish us?’
 
 16So Samson’s wife wept before him,
 saying,
 ‘You hate me;
 you do not really love me.
 
You have asked a riddle of my people, 
but you have not explained it to me.’
 
 He said to her,
 ‘Look,
 I have not told my father or my mother.
 Why should I tell you?’
 
 17She wept before him
 for the seven days
that their feast lasted; 
and because she nagged him, 
on the seventh day he told her.
 
 Then she explained the riddle to her people. 
 
18The men of the town said to him
 on the seventh day
before the sun went down,
‘What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?’

And he said to them,
‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.’
 
19Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, 
and he went down to Ashkelon.
 
 He killed thirty men of the town,
 took their spoil, 
and gave the festal garments
 to those who had explained the riddle. 
 
In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.
 
 20And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, 
who had been his best man.
 
 
 

Judges 13

‘Remember, Resist, Redraw’

The past week provided more of what I characterize as ‘cautionary tales’.  Joshua did tempt us with heroes who might be role models if one didn’t read too closely. Judges puts its subversive ‘yabut’ in your face, with characters like Abimelech or Jephthah who are illegitimate bastards, and prone to excess.  Why are they filled with the rushing spirit of God, for the sake of Israel?  

We are beginning to join a 3000-year-old community of discourse, in which reasonable and faithful people may differ.  The 6 books of the Former Prophets (and several following scrolls like Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Apopcrypha histories) argue with us and with each other.  I am convinced by scholars that we are reading a text taking shape in Solomon’s court of 900BCE, revised in Josiah’s reforms of 650BCE, and edited into this shape in the Second Temple of 500BCE on.   Then we read it in each of our generations!

Why take the trouble?  Too many people speak in my name as Christians, twisting this text as Christian Zionists to justify blind support of the current coalition government of Israel – and proving most of their financial and political support from the USA and Canada while purporting to represent me.  They don’t.  Nor do the anti-Semites who twist these stories with Christian supersessionism of the ‘God of Love’ presented as superior to the ‘old Hebrew god of war’.

Why take the trouble?  To many people dismiss my voice and my people, Canadian mainline/sideline WASPs, as genocidal invaders, or at least settler tools of imperial aggression.   Much of the challenge is true, and must be conceded and repented, not only in our 1986 Apology, but also in action in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Peter Russell’s recent “Canadian Odyssey: Land of Incomplete Conquests” is one model of a repentant mainline/sideline academic confessing the limits and errors of his earlier work. James Laxer’s trilogy, begun with “Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812”, “Staking Claims on a Continent: John A MacDonald, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and the Making of North America” offers another ‘spin’ in more popular language of our Canadian perspective.  I’ve also been promoting Brian Brown’s maps of Canada as if First Nations mattered, and Adam Shoalts’ History of Canada in 10 Maps.

What’s next?  Most of the week will follow Samson from his birth to his death, 4 chapters. He may seem different as you read him this time in relationship with women and men from Gaza. Yes, Philistia lived there on the seacoast on the trade route border to Egypt.  If we’ve been hearing about the West Bank, now it’s the Gaza Strip in the bible.  In this bigger picture of Judges, we let the text provoke arguments among reasonable and faithful people, rather than presenting unambiguous heroes. What context or characters  match? 

Weekly live conversations at ‘The Garret’
Sundays 7-8:30pm (come to one, some, all)
Repeated Tuesdays noon-1:30pm
Private elevator from Apollo Cinema lobby
30 Duke St W (accessible) or 190 Ontario St
call (519) 998-8687 for access

 

Judges 13,
Monday, May 14, 2018

The annunciation and birth of Samson today invites comparison with the gospel infancy narratives for Jesus and John.  More appropriately, it echoes motifs of birth narratives in Genesis.  What’s the idea of an angelic visitation to a barren woman, and of the purity of the child’s life, and of the mother’s pregnancy?

The oppressor state here is Philistia, which we know as the Gaza Strip, the Mediterranean shore adjoining Egypt’s frontier, and astride the main trade route.  Ironic to imagine this area as the centre of domination, given its current status under occupation!

We had some discussion at the garret about the ambiguity in this delivery of whether a person or an angel or divinity offers epiphany and annunciation.  Can you see God and live?  Does the visitor eat, or invite hospitality?  

Nazirite vows are not usually open-ended, nor applied to a mother.  Abstinence from alcohol, haircutting, and unclean carcasses seems odd to us.  Is it possible that gospel reconciliations of Jesus’ life to Nazareth come from mistaken confusion of this term with the town?

On this Monday after Mothers’ Day – that’s all I’ve got – half the usual!

The Israelites again
did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,
 and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines
 for forty years.
 
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, 
of the tribe of the Danites,
 whose name was Manoah. 
 
His wife was barren, 
having borne no children
 
. 3And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman
and said to her, 
‘Although you are barren,
 having borne no children,
 you shall conceive and bear a son.
 
 4Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, 
or to eat anything unclean,
 5for you shall conceive and bear a son.
 
 No razor is to come on his head,
 for the boy shall be a nazirite to God
 from birth.
 
 It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel
from the hand of the Philistines.’
 
 6Then the woman came and told her husband,
 ‘A man of God came to me, 
and his appearance was like that
 of an angel of God,
 most awe-inspiring;
 I did not ask him where he came from, 
and he did not tell me his name;
 
 7but he said to me,
 “You shall conceive and bear a son.
 
 So then drink no wine or strong drink,
 and eat nothing unclean, 
for the boy shall be a nazirite to God
 from birth to the day of his death.” ’
 
8 Then Manoah entreated the Lord,
 and said,
 ‘O Lord, I pray,
 let the man of God whom you sent
 come to us again
and teach us what we are to do
 concerning the boy who will be born.’
 
 9God listened to Manoah,
 and the angel of God came again
 to the woman as she sat in the field;
 but her husband Manoah was not with her.
 
 10So the woman ran quickly
and told her husband,
 
 ‘The man who came to me the other day
 has appeared to me.’
 
 11Manoah got up
 and followed his wife,
 and came to the man
 and said to him,
 ‘Are you the man
 who spoke to this woman?’
 
 And he said,
 ‘I am.’
 
 12Then Manoah said, 
‘Now when your words come true,
 what is to be the boy’s rule of life; 
what is he to do?
 
 13The angel of the Lord said to Manoah,
 ‘Let the woman give heed
 to all that I said to her. 
 
14She may not eat of anything
 that comes from the vine.
 She is not to drink wine or strong drink, 
or eat any unclean thing.
 
 She is to observe everything
 that I commanded her.’
 
15 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord,
 ‘Allow us to detain you,
 and prepare a kid for you.’ 
 
16The angel of the Lord said to Manoah,
 ‘If you detain me,
 I will not eat your food;
 but if you want to prepare a burnt-offering,
 then offer it to the Lord.’
 
 (For Manoah did not know
 that he was the angel of the Lord.)
 
 17Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord,
 ‘What is your name,
 so that we may honour you
 when your words come true?’
 
 18But the angel of the Lord said to him,
 ‘Why do you ask my name?
 It is too wonderful.’
 
19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain-offering,
 and offered it on the rock to the Lord,
 to him who works wonders. 
 
20When the flame went up towards heaven from the altar, 
the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar
 while Manoah and his wife looked on;
 and they fell on their faces to the ground.
 
 21The angel of the Lord did not appear again
 to Manoah and his wife.
 
 Then Manoah realized
 that it was the angel of the Lord.
 
 22And Manoah said to his wife,
 ‘We shall surely die,
 for we have seen God.’
 
 23But his wife said to him,
 ‘If the Lord had meant to kill us,
 he would not have accepted
a burnt-offering and a grain-offering at our hands,
 or shown us all these things,
 or now announced to us such things as these.’
 
24 The woman bore a son,
 and named him Samson
 
. The boy grew, 
and the Lord blessed him.
 
 25The spirit of the Lord began to stir him
in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
 
 
 

Judges 12

Judges 12,
Saturday, May 12, 2018

The big Ephraim army shows up late to the fight, and complains that Jephthah should not have picked a fight with Ammon before asking Ephraim first.  Presumably Ephraim would have taken the lead, and gained the glory.  They threaten to burn the bastard’s house down (using ‘bastard’ in its technical sence of illegitimacy, and as I read the character of Jephthah and his thugs.)

Jephthah retorts that Ephraim was no help when Ammon was oppressing Gilead, so he took matters into his own hands.  Why come to pick a civil war now? Do they accuse Gilead of being fugitive former Ephraimite subjects?  They fight.  Gilead wins, at least in their own side of the Jordan.

Gilead takes control of the fords across the Jordan.  The Ephraimite soldiers trapped on the east side of the Jordan really are fugitives now, trying to cross to the west side to run home.  The password is “shibboleth”.  I was taught that the Ephraimites had a lisp, and said “thibboleth”, revealing themselves, but in case that is now associated with homophobia, we can try their accent and speech impediment as saying ‘sibboleth’.  In either case, it sounds like ethnic cleansing.

Pause at the end of the Jephthah cycle, till he dies 6 years later.  What did you learn about personal role models?  I find only cautionary tales, warning to subsequent generations tempted to romanticize the ‘good old days’ of anarchic freedom and occasional inspired judges to rally the nation.  Here the judge really is a bastard, rejected by his people till they need a thug, then indulging in civil war and ethnic cleansing – not to mention killing his daughter, as we do.

My best parallel in my subculture is a guy who ambitiously craves success at all costs.  He may be a refugee sacrificing everything to get first residency, then citizenship, then more success than anybody else – but at what cost?  Who does he leave behind, or destroy on the way, justifying it by his own earlier oppression?  “I’d give my right arm for that”, or that familiar refrain “I guess I wasn’t much of a husband or father to my wives or their children” is a common plaint of the complacently affluent senior.

The next judge, Izban of Bethlehem, is given short shrift, except a crack about his return to intermarriage, accommodation and assimilation by marrying his kids off to non-Jews – 30 sons, 30 daughters, 6 years

The next judge, Elon, comes from further north, the fringe of Zebulun, and lasts a bit longer – 10 years.

Finally today, Abdon from the tribe of Ephraim.  The centre of power claimed by Jephthah in Gilead has shifted to the tribe he vanquished – like reporting a Tory regime replacing a Liberal run.  That does not include any evaluative words about either side, or even the hint of how long he lasted.  

Reasonable and faithful people may differ in our partisan assessments about judges – or about which parallel our own context and characters.  Judges doesn’t judge with one simple voice!

  

The men of Ephraim were called to arms, 
and they crossed to Zaphon
 and said to Jephthah, 
‘Why did you cross over
to fight against the Ammonites, 
and did not call us
 to go with you? 
We will burn your house down over you!’
 
 2Jephthah said to them, 
‘My people and I
were engaged in conflict
with the Ammonites
who oppressed us severely.
 
 But when I called you,
 you did not deliver me from their hand.
 
 3When I saw
 that you would not deliver me, 
I took my life in my hand,
 and crossed over
 against the Ammonites, 
and the Lord gave them
 into my hand.
 
 Why then have you come up to me this day, 
to fight against me?
 
’4Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead
and fought with Ephraim; 
and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim,
 because they said,
 ‘You are fugitives from Ephraim,
 you Gileadites—
in the heart of Ephraim
 and Manasseh.’
 
 5Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan
against the Ephraimites. 
Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said,
 ‘Let me go over’, 
the men of Gilead would say to him,
 ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ 
When he said, ‘No’,
 6they said to him, 
‘Then say Shibboleth’, 
and he said, ‘Sibboleth’,
 for he could not pronounce it right.
 
 Then they seized him
and killed him
 at the fords of the Jordan. 
Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites
fell at that time.
 
7 Jephthah judged Israel for six years.
 Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, 
and was buried in his town in Gilead.
 
8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel.
 
 9He had thirty sons.
 He gave his thirty daughters in marriage
 outside his clan
 and brought in thirty young women
 from outside
 for his sons.
 
 He judged Israel for seven years.
 
 10Then Ibzan died,
 and was buried at Bethlehem.
 
11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; 
and he judged Israel for ten years. 
 
12Then Elon the Zebulunite died, 
and was buried at Aijalon
 in the land of Zebulun.
 
13 After him Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 
 
14He had forty sons and thirty grandsons,
 who rode on seventy donkeys; 
he judged Israel for eight years.
 
 15Then Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite died,
 and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim,
 in the hill country of the Amalekites.
 
 

Judges 11

Judges 11,
Friday, May 11, 2018

You may recognize the story of Jephthah’s daughter from childhood, but with your adult mind, you may edit the movie between your ears.  Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute, a bit lower in social status than Abimelech’s mother the concubine, but again in this case, illegitimate in terms of land claim.  Perhaps that’s why his father bears the general name of the region, not of Reuben, Gad, or half-Manasseh. 

Gilead.  We know it from Marilynne Robinson’s bestselling trilogy of novels of the Midwestern USA, of a town in a Calvinist voice.  We know it from Margaret Atwood’s novel and subsequent big screen and small screen adaptations, of a dystopian successor to the USA.

Jephthah is denied any patrimony – by his own brothers, the legitimate heirs in the region east of the Jordan.  Outcast, he heads to the frontier of Tob (aka ‘Justice’).  This story might be heard differently in Josiah’s edition since Assyria has already displaced much of Israel’s population from their patrimonies.  Heard in the final form of revision, in the Second Temple, it is easy to identify with Jephthah – we have known exile, and we have known some chance of restoration, like Jephthah’s invitation to come home to fight.

Jephthah rubs the faces of his brothers into their indignity offered him before, a bit like Joseph reunited with his brothers. He takes the job, and begins trash-talking the other team, the Ammonite army.  What’s the problem?  The Ammonites point out that Israel took their land on the east side of the Jordan when they came through en route from Egypt to the West Bank and Israel.  

Jephthah disputes this account of displacement of Ammonites by Israeli refugees from Egypt.  He claims they tried to come from Red Sea, and from the Gulf, heading directly north into the Promised land, but that Edom (Esau’s nation, the red-earthed bottleneck on the trade routes to the south seas) refused them transit.  They scouted around Moab, who also rebuffed their advances, so Israel had to come through Amorites to cross the Jordan, through Sihon and Og in battle. Do the Ammonites propose to take ‘back’ what Israel won from the Amorites?  300 years later, peoples have moved – are the Ammonite claims better than Barak who sent Balaam to stop Israel?

You may not have this sorted in your head.  But can you see parallel patterns today in Israel/Palestine or First Nations land claims? I can.

Perhaps 1.25 million Jewish refugees have exercised their ‘right of return’ to the state of Israel since 1948.  Perhaps 3.5 million Palestinians have been displaced since 1948 occupation, and much more in the 50 years since the 1967 war, called ‘illegal occupation’ by international law. Palestinians, now 75% Muslim, claim roots 1500-2000 years old.  Israel claims are older – assumed to be based here.

Certainly First Nations occupation and roots in North America go back millennia as well, before ‘first contact’ with Europeans 500 years ago.  The epidemics of European plagues through those nations decimated the populations. Indigenous nations moved around through diplomacy, sometimes continued moving through means of warfare, just as the 12 tribes shifted and fought. 

300 years ago, in our region, American settlers pushed across the Alleghenies to push First Nations west. The ‘5 Nations’ whom Haldimand defended against those encroachments in the mid 1700’s joined the British against the American revolutionary war in the late 1700’s, and again in the War of 1812. As the American state expanded its westward claims in genocidal war beyond its Civil War, Peter Russell calls our Canadian experience ‘Partial Conquest’, while James Laxer writes about the ‘unending war’ against first peoples, and 3 peer nations in the 1860’s competing for the continent.

The now ‘Six Nations’ moved north into former Anishanawbe and Neutral land, with British assurances, and Ojibway and Cree nations shifted further northwest in turn.  Who is indigenous, and who is displaced economic migrant, or refugee?   Perhaps my ancestors, who fled potato famine as ‘white trash’ flushed out of British plantations, and found 60% of their neighbours were black refugees from slavery in the south, had the last laugh here, till waves of Mennonites and Germans fled Russian and German upheavals.  Now Mandarin is the second biggest language group in Waterloo region, as Asian migration settles, and Africans follow.

We are all Jephthah – and we were willing to make a deal with the devil or with any god, to sell our first-born to win a foothold here.  Does God make us pay up?  Do we follow through?  Listen again:

 
The Now Jephthah the Gileadite, 
the son of a prostitute, 
was a mighty warrior. 
 
Gilead was the father of Jephthah.
 
 2Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; 
and when his wife’s sons grew up,
 they drove Jephthah away, 
saying to him,
 ‘You shall not inherit anything
in our father’s house; 
for you are the son
 of another woman.’
 
 3Then Jephthah fled from his brothers
 and lived in the land of Tob. 
Outlaws collected around Jephthah
 and went raiding with him.
 
4 After a time
the Ammonites made war
against Israel.
 
 5And when the Ammonites
 made war against Israel, 
the elders of Gilead
went to bring Jephthah
 from the land of Tob.
 
 6They said to Jephthah,
 ‘Come and be our commander,
 so that we may fight
with the Ammonites.’
 
 7But Jephthah said
to the elders of Gilead,
 ‘Are you not the very ones
 who rejected me
and drove me out
of my father’s house? 
 
So why do you come to me now
when you are in trouble?’ 
 
8The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah,
 ‘Nevertheless, 
we have now turned back to you, 
so that you may go with us
and fight with the Ammonites,
 and become head over us, 
over all the inhabitants of Gilead.’
 
 9Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead,
 ‘If you bring me home again
to fight with the Ammonites, 
and the Lord gives them over to me,
 I will be your head.’
 10And the elders of Gilead
said to Jephthah,
 ‘The Lord will be witness between us; 
we will surely do as you say.’
 
 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, 
and the people made him head
and commander over them; 
and Jephthah spoke all his words
before the Lord at Mizpah.
 
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers
to the king of the Ammonites
and said,
 ‘What is there between you and me, 
that you have come to me to fight
 against my land?’
 
 13The king of the Ammonites
answered the messengers of Jephthah, 
‘Because Israel, 
on coming from Egypt,
 took away my land
 from the Arnon to the Jabbok
 and to the Jordan; 
now therefore
restore it peaceably.’
 
 14Once again Jephthah sent messengers
 to the king of the Ammonites
 
 15and said to him: 
‘Thus says Jephthah:
 Israel did not take away the land of Moab
 or the land of the Ammonites
16but when they came up from Egypt,
 Israel went through the wilderness
 to the Red Sea
and came to Kadesh. 
 
17Israel then sent messengers
to the king of Edom,
 saying, 
“Let us pass through your land”;
 but the king of Edom would not listen.
 
 They also sent to the king of Moab, 
but he would not consent. 
 
So Israel remained at Kadesh.
 
 18Then they journeyed through the wilderness, 
went around the land of Edom
and the land of Moab, 
arrived on the eastern side of the land of Moab,
 and camped on the other side of the Arnon. 
 
They did not enter the territory of Moab, 
for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab.
 
 19Israel then sent messengers
 to King Sihon of the Amorites, 
king of Heshbon; 
and Israel said to him,
 “Let us pass through your land
to our country.”
 20But Sihon did not trust Israel
 to pass through his territory;
 so Sihon gathered all his people together,
 and encamped at Jahaz,
 and fought with Israel.
 
 21Then the Lord, the God of Israel,
 gave Sihon and all his people
 into the hand of Israel,
 and they defeated them; 
so Israel occupied
all the land of the Amorites, 
who inhabited that country. 
 
22They occupied all the territory of the Amorites
 from the Arnon to the Jabbok
and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 
 
23So now the Lord, the God of Israel,
 has conquered the Amorites
for the benefit of his people Israel.
 Do you intend to take their place?
 
24Should you not possess
what your god Chemosh gives you
 to possess? 
And should we not be the ones to possess
everything that the Lord our God has conquered
 for our benefit? 
 
25Now are you any better than King Balak
 son of Zippor of Moab? 
Did he ever enter into conflict with Israel,
 or did he ever go to war with them?
 
 26While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages,
 and in Aroer and its villages,
 and in all the towns that are along the Arnon, 
for three hundred years,
 why did you not recover them
within that time?
 
 27It is not I
 who have sinned against you, 
but you are the one
who does me wrong
 by making war on me.
 
 Let the Lord,
 who is judge,
 decide today
for the Israelites
or for the Ammonites.’
 
 28But the king of the Ammonites
did not heed the message
that Jephthah sent him.
 
29 Then the spirit of the Lord
 came upon Jephthah,
 and he passed through Gilead
and Manasseh.
 
 He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead,
 and from Mizpah of Gilead
he passed on to the Ammonites. 
 
30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord,
 and said,
 ‘If you will give the Ammonites
into my hand,
 31then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, 
when I return victorious from the Ammonites,
 shall be the Lord’s,
 to be offered up by me
as a burnt-offering.’ 
 
32So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites
 to fight against them; 
and the Lord gave them into his hand.
 
 
33He inflicted a massive defeat on them
from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith,
 twenty towns, 
and as far as Abel-keramim. 
 
So the Ammonites were subdued
before the people of Israel.
 
34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; 
and there was his daughter
coming out to meet him
with timbrels and with dancing. 
 
She was his only child; 
he had no son
 or daughter except her.
 
 35When he saw her, 
he tore his clothes, 
and said,
 ‘Alas, my daughter! 
You have brought me very low;
 you have become the cause
of great trouble to me. 
 
For I have opened my mouth to the Lord,
 and I cannot take back my vow.
 
’36She said to him, 
‘My father,
 if you have opened your mouth to the Lord,
 do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth,
 now that the Lord has given you vengeance
 against your enemies, the Ammonites.
 
’37And she said to her father,
 ‘Let this thing be done for me:
 Grant me two months, 
so that I may go
and wander on the mountains,
 and bewail my virginity, 
my companions and I.’
 
 38‘Go,’ he said
and sent her away
 for two months. 
 
So she departed, 
she and her companions, 
and bewailed her virginity
on the mountains.
 
 39At the end of two months, 
she returned to her father, 
who did with her
according to the vow he had made.
 
 She had never slept with a man. 
 
So there arose an Israelite custom
that 40for four days every year
the daughters of Israel
 would go out to lament
the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
 

Judges 10

Judges 10,
Thursday, May 10, 2018

Today’s chapter follows the sagas of Gideon and Abimelech by re-establishing the pattern asserted by an editorial voice in chapter 2, last Tuesday.  

Tola is the first judge after Abimelech’s come-uppance.  All we know is that he lives in Ephraim’s region, though of the tribe of Issachar.  Just as the age of patriarchs when their first son is born matters in Genesis, and their lifespans also signal their status relative to each other, notice 23 years as the measure of Tola.  Less than 40, eh?

Jair is a Gileadite.   The region of Gilead is the east bank of the Jordan, including the land of the 2.5 tribes in Joshua:  Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh.  We learn even less about Jair than we did about Tola, and he only judges for 22 years.    

Jair is said to have had 30 sons who rode 30 donkeys in 30 towns. That’s fewer than Abimelech’s 70 legitimate brothers, sons of Gideon, whom Abimelech assassinated for 70 pieces of silver paid by his mother’s brothers in Shechem.  It’s fewer than the 77 leaders of Succoth, whom Abimelech revenged himself against in yesterday’s chapter  after he razed Shechem and purged its leaders.

After Jair, the people follow the formula – their error this time named as idolatry, following other gods, and others’ gods.  Baal and Astarte are fertility, sex and money.  Your mental map should give you Aram on the southeast, Sidon on the northwest, Moab on the northeast, Ammon on the southeast, and Philistia on the south west of the Promised Land region.  

Just as the gods of each bordering peoples had been honoured by Israel, so their nations in turn oppressed Israel.  They are squeezed in a pincer movement from the southwestern Philistines, and the southeastern Amorites and Ammonites across the Jordan.  The squeeze runs for 18 years.  At least it was briefer than either of the previous 2 judges’ rules – it’s less than half a biblical span of 40, while each of them ran over half a biblical span of 40.  If course, Gideon gave us 80 years of peace, a double biblical span of 40!

Israel repents, realizes the other gods are weak and ineffectual, and puts them away to call upon Yahweh.  In response, the Ammonites rally up to Mizpah at the Jordan, on the Gilead (east side) region of the 2.5 tribes, whose commanders look for a generalissimo to rule them in the face of the Ammonite army.  Today’s bridge is crossed.

 
After Abimelech, 
Tola son of Puah son of Dodo,
 a man of Issachar, 
who lived at Shamir
 in the hill country of Ephraim, 
rose to deliver Israel. 
 
2He judged Israel
for twenty-three years.
 Then he died,
 and was buried at Shamir.
 
3 After him came Jair the Gileadite,
 who judged Israel
for twenty-two years.
 
 4He had thirty sons
who rode on thirty donkeys; 
and they had thirty towns, 
which are in the land of Gilead, 
and are called Havvoth-jair
to this day.
 
5Jair died,
 and was buried in Kamon.
 
6 The Israelites again did what was evil
 in the sight of the Lord,
 worshipping the Baals
 and the Astartes, 
the gods of Aram, 
the gods of Sidon,
 the gods of Moab,
 the gods of the Ammonites, 
and the gods of the Philistines. 
 
Thus they abandoned the Lord, 
and did not worship him. 
 
7So the anger of the Lord
 was kindled against Israel,
 and he sold them
into the hand of the Philistines
 and into the hand of the Ammonites,
 8and they crushed and oppressed the Israelites
 that year. 
 
For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites
 that were beyond the Jordan
 in the land of the Amorites, 
which is in Gilead. 
 
9The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan
 to fight against Judah
and against Benjamin
and against the house of Ephraim;
 so that Israel was greatly distressed.
 
10 So the Israelites cried to the Lord,
 saying,
 ‘We have sinned against you,
 because we have abandoned our God
 and have worshipped the Baals.’
 
 11And the Lord said to the Israelites,
 ‘Did I not deliver you
from the Egyptians
and from the Amorites,
 from the Ammonites
 and from the Philistines?
 
 12The Sidonians also,
 and the Amalekites, 
and the Maonites oppressed you; 
and you cried to me,
 and I delivered you
out of their hand. 
 
13Yet you have abandoned me
and worshipped other gods; 
therefore I will deliver you no more.
 
 14Go and cry
to the gods whom you have chosen;
 let them deliver you
in the time of your distress.’
 
 15And the Israelites said to the Lord,
 ‘We have sinned;
 do to us whatever seems good to you; 
but deliver us this day!’ 
 
16So they put away the foreign gods
 from among them
and worshipped the Lord;
 and he could no longer bear
 to see Israel suffer.
 
17 Then the Ammonites
 were called to arms,
 and they encamped in Gilead; 
and the Israelites
came together,
 and they encamped
 at Mizpah
 
.18The commanders of the people of Gilead
 said to one another,
 ‘Who will begin the fight
against the Ammonites? 
He shall be head
over all the inhabitants of Gilead.’
 

Judges 8

Judges 8,
Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Ephraimites scold Gideon for not consulting with them before picking a fight with the Midianites.  Presumably they were not part of the 30,000 who had been sent home.  I imagine them sneering at little Gideon, since they carry the enemies’ heads from ‘mopping up’.  Gideon accepts the insults, minimizing his role, compared to theirs.  The leftover grapes after harvest from Ephraim’s vineyard for the poor to scavenge are clearly superior to his own clan Abiezer’s best wine selected from their best stock and year.  Right? (Wrong, eh?)

Gideon picks up the chase, crossing the Jordan, asking for hospitality for his few troops from Succoth and Penuel.  Since he has not already won and claimed trophies from his enemies, they deny help.  Gideon threatens retributive consequences, but his 300 don’t look like a good bet against the remaining 15,000 of the original 120,000  troops of Midian.  The Midianites were complacent, too, and thus easily panicked and vanquished – not be strength of arms, but by successful psychological warfare led by Yahweh.

Gideon’s retributive vengeance is targeted to the 77 leaders of Succoth, though the phrase ‘the people of Succoth’ in v16 might mean a wider genocide.  The next retributive act is destroying the tower at Penuel, and again killing ‘the men’, whom I read as the leaders, but others will read as implicitly ‘all the men’.  The third retributive act is against the Midianite leaders, a brief war crimes tribunal on the issue of killing anybody who looked like a ‘son of a king’ or likely leader of resistance.  Gideon sentences them to death.

Gideon’s son refuses to execute the death sentence, the kings taunt Gideon, and he dispatches them and takes trophies from their camels’ ornamental gear.  The people offer to make Gideon king, a hereditary monarch to be succeeded by his son.  Gideon declines, but accepts payment from the booty in gold ear-rings from Midianite corpses.  He makes a fancy ephod for his luxury home in retirement. The text deems this idolatry shared by Israel, but 40 years of peace is granted, and 70 legitimate sons, plus Abimelech, son of Gideon’s concubine in Shechem, star of the next chapter.

The received text of Judges, part of the set of Latter Prophets (Joshua and Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings), leaves the reading and hearing community to argue about the merits of monarchy, a theme that will be revisited repeatedly in accounts of 500 years of Israel’s history, from 1100BCE to 600BCE.  In our language, what drives nations and people?  Money, sex, power?  What’s the difference between tyranny and just rule?  What does God model, and how do successions of leaders fail?

The closing is familiar by now, in the formulaic edited version of the story:  Gideon gets to live long, but the people forget what God had done, or even Gideon.  They pursue Baal-berith.
 
Then the Ephraimites said to him,
 ‘What have you done to us,
 not to call us
when you went to fight
against the Midianites?’ 
And they upbraided him violently.
 
 2So he said to them,
 ‘What have I done now
 in comparison with you? 
Is not the gleaning
of the grapes of Ephraim
better than the vintage
 of Abiezer?
 
 3God has given into your hands
 the captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; 
what have I been able to do
in comparison with you?’
 When he said this, 
their anger against him subsided.
 
4 Then Gideon came to the Jordan
 and crossed over,
 he and the three hundred
who were with him,
 exhausted and famished.
 
 5So he said to the people of Succoth,
 ‘Please give some loaves of bread to my followers,
 for they are exhausted, 
and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna,
 the kings of Midian.’
 
 6But the officials of Succoth said,
 ‘Do you already have in your possession
 the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna,
 that we should give bread to your army?’
 
 7Gideon replied, ‘Well then,
 when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand,
 I will trample your flesh on the thorns of the wilderness
and on briers.’
 
 8From there he went up to Penuel, 
and made the same request of them;
 and the people of Penuel answered him
as the people of Succoth had answered.
 
 9So he said to the people of Penuel,
 ‘When I come back victorious,
 I will break down this tower.’
 
10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor
with their army, about fifteen thousand men,
 all who were left of all the army of the people of the east;
 for one hundred and twenty thousand men bearing arms
had fallen.
 
 11So Gideon went up by the caravan route
east of Nobah and Jogbehah,
 and attacked the army;
 for the army was off its guard.
 
12Zebah and Zalmunna fled; 
and he pursued them
 and took the two kings of Midian,
 Zebah and Zalmunna, 
and threw all the army into a panic.
 
13 When Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle
 by the ascent of Heres,
 14he caught a young man, 
one of the people of Succoth,
 and questioned him;
 and he listed for him
 the officials and elders of Succoth,
 seventy-seven people.
 
 15Then he came to the people of Succoth, 
and said, ‘Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, 
about whom you taunted me, 
saying, 
“Do you already have in your possession
 the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna,
 that we should give bread to your troops
 who are exhausted?”’ 
 
16So he took the elders of the city
and he took thorns of the wilderness
 and briers
and with them he trampled the people of Succoth.
 
 17He also broke down the tower of Penuel, 
and killed the men of the city.
 
18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, 
‘What about the men whom you killed at Tabor?’ 
 
They answered,
 ‘As you are, so were they, every one of them; 
they resembled the sons of a king.’
 
 19And he replied,
 ‘They were my brothers,
 the sons of my mother;
 as the Lord lives,
 if you had saved them alive,
 I would not kill you.’
 
 20So he said to Jether his firstborn,
 ‘Go, kill them!’ 
 
But the boy did not draw his sword,
 for he was afraid,
 because he was still a boy.
 
 21Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, 
‘You come and kill us; 
for as the man is,
so is his strength.’ 
 
So Gideon proceeded to kill Zebah and Zalmunna; 
and he took the crescents
that were on the necks of their camels.
 
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon,
 ‘Rule over us,
 you and your son and your grandson also;
 for you have delivered us
 out of the hand of Midian.’
 
 23Gideon said to them,
 ‘I will not rule over you,
 and my son will not rule over you;
 the Lord will rule over you.’
 
 24Then Gideon said to them, 
‘Let me make a request of you;
 each of you give me an ear-ring
 he has taken as booty.’
 (For the enemy had golden ear-rings, 
because they were Ishmaelites.)
 
 25‘We will willingly give them,’
 they answered. 
So they spread a garment,
 and each threw into it an ear-ring
 he had taken as booty.
 
 26The weight of the golden ear-rings
that he requested
was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold
 (apart from the crescents and the pendants
 and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian,
 and the collars that were on the necks of their camels).
 
 27Gideon made an ephod of it
and put it in his town,
 in Ophrah;
 and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, 
and it became a snare to Gideon
 and to his family.
 
28So Midian was subdued
before the Israelites, 
and they lifted up their heads no more.
 
 So the land had rest
for forty years
in the days of Gideon.
 
29 Jerubbaal son of Joash
went to live in his own house.
 
 30Now Gideon had seventy sons, 
his own offspring
, for he had many wives.
 
 31His concubine who was in Shechem
 also bore him a son,
 and he named him Abimelech.
 
 32Then Gideon son of Joash died
 at a good old age, 
and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash
at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
 
33 As soon as Gideon died,
 the Israelites relapsed
and prostituted themselves
with the Baals,
 making Baal-berith their god.
 
 34The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God,
 who had rescued them from the hand
of all their enemies on every side;
 
 35and they did not exhibit loyalty
to the house of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) 
in return for all the good
 that he had done to Israel.
 

Judges 7

The past week, starting Judges, we saw a review and recap of the ‘orthodox’ Joshua story, already subverted by admissions that tribes did not always act together as 12, nor did they win as much of the land as was credited to Joshua. The formula was introduced of Israel breaking covenant, assimilating and accommodating neighbours, resulting in God no longer driving those neighbours out.

This week we get a couple of longer-form applications of the formula of failure and relief.  Gideon, Abimelech, and Jephthah are far more complex that the bits you will remember.  These stories explore legitimate leadership, and what motivates rulers and subjects to accept such roles, in relation to money, sex, and power.  Badly done, weak or corrupt leadership results in ‘gangs and guns’ and escalates to civil war, and certainly vulnerability to stronger, better led neighbouring nations in turn.   There are few role models, and lots of invitation to criticize ‘what went wrong’ in times of relative anarchy, with occasional judges rising up.

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Judges 7,
Monday, May 7, 2018

My insistence on reading this chapter as entirely humourous is not widely shared.  God tells Gideon there are too many troops.  Israel will be tempted to think they won, rather than God.  That does remind me of our culture’s complacency about our affluence, and our denomination’s smugness about our entitlement to prominence.

The first cut is ‘if you’re scared, go home’.  I’ve read Gideon as still the improbable young leader from the small tribe, with a high wavering voice, not inspiring confidence.  He’s giving permission to those already ambivalent about his leadership to walk away – and the majority do.  I’ve taken that approach often with congregations – rather than desperately clinging to ‘let’s not lose anybody’.

The next cut is how the soldiers drink at the riverside.  Do they lie prone and put their face to the water and lap like dogs, or do they kneel, and drink from cupped hands?  This is not a test of warriors – if anything, the first group is less dignified than the second.  If not dignity and alert preparedness, which favour the latter group – is it an image of prayer submission?  I just think he keeps the foolish.

So now we’re down from 32,000 to 300 – the 1%, but not, as I was taught as a child, the 1% elite, but a random selection with no merit.  They are over-equipped, with too many jars and torches and trumpets.  They are under-equipped, with not enough soldiers, weapons or shields.  We kept the water-boy and the mascot from the teams, and sent the athletes home.  

God gives Gideon the choice to attack with his 300, or take his servant and spy out the hordes below to build his own confidence.  Gideon is afraid, like the 2/3 majority who already left, so he spies.  What he hears is a Midianite soldier’s dream, and its interpretation.  The dream is comical: a big barley loaf rolls down a hill and overturns a tent.  The interpretation is unlikely: that Gideon the hayseed will vanquish the imperial troops, in the opinion of imperial conscripts.

We are reminded once more of the hordes of Midianites, countless like locusts or sand of the seashore.  The 300 are scattered across an indefensible stretch of ground, with a sound and light show that is hardly ‘shock and awe’ but might suggest to Midianites the light and sound of many more attackers.  The 300 carry a trumpet in one hand and a torch in the other, with no hand left over for weapon or shield.

The Midianites are routed and panicked.  They kill each other in the confusion.  Gideon’s band does not pursue or kill, but stays by the Jordan and invites the northern tribes to rise and fight the fleeing Midianites.    They bring the general’s heads to Gideon.

 
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon)
 and all the troops that were with him
rose early
and encamped beside the spring of Harod;
 and the camp of Midian was north of them, 
below the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
 
2 The Lord said to Gideon, 
‘The troops with you are too many
for me to give the Midianites into their hand. 
Israel would only take the credit away from me, 
saying, “My own hand has delivered me.”
 
 3Now therefore proclaim this
 in the hearing of the troops,
 “Whoever is fearful and trembling, 
let him return home.” ’ 
 
Thus Gideon sifted them out;
 twenty-two thousand returned,
 and ten thousand remained.
 
4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, 
‘The troops are still too many;
 take them down to the water
and I will sift them out for you there. 
 
When I say, 
“This one shall go with you”, 
he shall go with you; 
and when I say, 
“This one shall not go with you”,
 he shall not go.’
 
 5So he brought the troops down to the water; 
and the Lord said to Gideon,
 ‘All those who lap the water with their tongues,
 as a dog laps,
 you shall put to one side; 
all those who kneel down to drink,
 putting their hands to their mouths, 
you shall put to the other side.’
 
 6The number of those that lapped
 was three hundred; 
but all the rest of the troops
 knelt down to drink water.
 
 7Then the Lord said to Gideon,
 ‘With the three hundred that lapped
I will deliver you, 
and give the Midianites into your hand.
 
 Let all the others go to their homes.’
 
 8So he took the jars of the troops from their hands,
 and their trumpets;
 and he sent all the rest of Israel
back to their own tents, 
but retained the three hundred.
 
 The camp of Midian was below him
 in the valley.
 
9 That same night the Lord said to him,
 ‘Get up, attack the camp;
 for I have given it into your hand.
 
 10But if you fear to attack,
 go down to the camp
 with your servant Purah;
 
 11and you shall hear what they say, 
and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened
 to attack the camp.’ 
 
Then he went down with his servant Purah
to the outposts of the armed men
that were in the camp.
 
 12The Midianites and the Amalekites
and all the people of the east
lay along the valley as thick as locusts;
 and their camels were without number,
 countless as the sand on the seashore.
 
 13When Gideon arrived,
 there was a man telling a dream to his comrade;
 and he said, ‘I had a dream, 
and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, 
and came to the tent, 
and struck it
so that it fell;
 it turned upside down,
 and the tent collapsed.’
 
 14And his comrade answered,
 ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash,
 a man of Israel; 
into his hand God has given Midian
and all the army.’
 
15 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream
and its interpretation, 
he worshipped;
 and he returned to the camp of Israel,
 and said, ‘Get up;
 for the Lord has given the army of Midian
 into your hand.’
 
 16After he divided the three hundred men
 into three companies,
 and put trumpets into the hands of all of them,
 and empty jars, with torches inside the jars,
 
 17he said to them, ‘Look at me,
 and do the same;
 when I come to the outskirts of the camp, 
do as I do.
 
 18When I blow the trumpet,
 I and all who are with me, 
then you also blow the trumpets
 around the whole camp, 
and shout,
 “For the Lord and for Gideon!” ’
 
19 So Gideon
and the hundred who were with him
came to the outskirts of the camp
at the beginning of the middle watch,
 when they had just set the watch;
 and they blew the trumpets
and smashed the jars
that were in their hands.
 
 20So the three companies
 blew the trumpets
and broke the jars,
 holding in their left hands the torches,
 and in their right hands the trumpets to blow;
 and they cried, 
‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’
 
21Every man stood in his place
all around the camp, 
and all the men in camp ran; 
they cried out and fled.
 
 22When they blew the three hundred trumpets, 
the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow
and against all the army; 
and the army fled
 as far as Beth-shittah towards Zererah,
as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.
 
 23And the men of Israel were called out
 from Naphtali
and from Asher
and from all Manasseh, 
and they pursued after the Midianites.
 
24 Then Gideon sent messengers
throughout all the hill country of Ephraim,
 saying,
 ‘Come down against the Midianites
and seize the waters against them,
 as far as Beth-barah, 
and also the Jordan.’
 
 So all the men of Ephraim were called out,
 and they seized the waters as far as Beth-barah,
 and also the Jordan.
 
 25They captured the two captains of Midian, 
Oreb and Zeeb;
 they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, 
and Zeeb they killed at the wine press of Zeeb,
 as they pursued the Midianites.
 They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon
 beyond the Jordan.
 

Judges 6

Judges 5,
Friday, May 4, 2018

Scholars say that yesterday’s prose version of the story of Deborah and Jael is newer than the next chapter’s poetry.  Like the song of  the sea attributed to Miriam at the sea after the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, this is ancient.  Compare several translations to get a hint of how hard it is to translate some of the nouns and verbs.  

Check your maps now, for hints of how the later prose version, focused on events in the future northern kingdom of Israel rather than the southern one of Judah, has origins in a saga addressing wider geography into legend and myth.  

God shakes earth and heaven, entering the land from Edom in the south, the trade routes to the Gulf.  When the passes are blocked, the caravans cease and prosperity is lost.  That’s when the judges Shamgar (in prose attributed to Gaza after Ehud) and Jael (in prose subordinated to Deborah the judge) rise up.

The song is open to interpretation, again revealing our assumptions about why people fight, or hold back and resist joining common cause with allies.  The geographic fringes hang back: Asher in the north stays with their ships, Reuben east of the Jordan, dither with their flocks.  I read economic interests outside the Edom passes.

Strong words are directed to potential allies who fail ‘us’, even as grand cosmic claims are made for the stars battling in a mirror of local wars.  Strong praise is sung for Jael, courageous woman who will not submit to the implied threat of a warrior in her tent. Don’t mess with women like Jael!  

One female heroine is contrasted with Sisera’s household.  Their warrior delayed, they speculate that he is delayed by pillaging and indulgence in the spoils of war, including the enemy’s women (Jael?)  In any age, in relation to any war, such stories are sung – calling blessings on allies, and curses on opponents.  In our generation, when ‘our institutions do our sinning for us’ and others suffer violence, overt and covert, to sustain our comfort, this is unfamiliar.

We are accustomed to an ‘eirenic’ spirituality, a quietism that associates religion and pacifists or innocent victims.  Judges claims a more militant, if not necessarily violent still violent if necessary, for a people claiming their right to exist, claiming their providential place.  Can you see how our ‘tolerant’ age may fit Judges’ caricature of an age of ‘fat and lazy’ infidelity?

 
Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam
sang on that day, 
saying: 

2 ‘When locks are long in Israel,
 when the people offer themselves willingly—
bless the Lord!

3 ‘Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing,
   I will make melody to the Lord, 
the God of Israel.

4 ‘Lord, 
when you went out
from Seir,
   when you marched
from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled,
   and the heavens poured,
   the clouds indeed poured water. 

5 The mountains quaked
before the Lord, 
the One of Sinai,
   before the Lord,
 the God of Israel.

6 ‘In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, 
caravans ceased
   and travellers kept to the byways. 

7 The peasantry prospered in Israel,
they grew fat on plunder,
because you arose,
Deborah,
arose as a mother
 in Israel. 

8 When new gods were chosen,
then war was in the gates.


Was shield or spear to be seen
among forty thousand in Israel?
 
9 My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
who offered themselves willingly
 among the people.

   Bless the Lord.

10 ‘Tell of it,
 you who ride on white donkeys,
you who sit on rich carpets,
   and you who walk by the way. 

11 To the sound of musicians
at the watering-places,
   there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord,
   the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.

‘Then down to the gates
marched the people
of the Lord.

12 ‘Awake, awake, Deborah!
   Awake, awake, utter a song!
Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,
O son of Abinoam. 


13 Then down marched
the remnant of the noble;
   the people of the Lord
marched down for him
against the mighty. 

14 From Ephraim they set out
into the valley,
   following you, 
Benjamin,
 with your kin;
from Machir marched down the commanders,
   and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff; 
15 the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah,
   and Issachar faithful to Barak;
   into the valley
they rushed out
at his heels.

Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart. 

16 Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,
to hear the piping for the flocks?

Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart. 

17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he abide with the ships?

Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
 settling down by his landings. 

18 Zebulun is a people that scorned death;
Naphtali too, on the heights of the field.

19 ‘The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
 they got no spoils of silver. 

20 The stars fought from heaven,
 from their courses they fought against Sisera. 

21 The torrent Kishon
swept them away,
   the onrushing torrent,
 the torrent Kishon.
   March on, my soul, 
with might!

22 ‘Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, 
galloping of his steeds.

23 ‘Curse Meroz,
 says the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants,
because they did not come
to the help of the Lord,
   to the help of the Lord
against the mighty.

24 ‘Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
 of tent-dwelling women most blessed. 

25 He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. 

26 She put her hand to the tent-peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
   she shattered and pierced his temple. 

27 He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, 
there he fell dead.

28 ‘Out of the window
she peered,
the mother of Sisera
gazed through the lattice:

“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
   Why tarry the hoof-beats of his chariots?” 

29 Her wisest ladies make answer,
indeed, she answers the question herself: 
30 “Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?—
   A girl or two for every man;
spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera,
   spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered,
   two pieces of dyed work
embroidered
 for my neck as spoil?”

31 ‘So perish all your enemies, O Lord!
   But may your friends be
like the sun as it rises in its might.’

And the land had rest for forty years.
 

Judges 5

Judges 5,
Friday, May 4, 2018

Scholars say that yesterday’s prose version of the story of Deborah and Jael is newer than the next chapter’s poetry.  Like the song of  the sea attributed to Miriam at the sea after the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, this is ancient.  Compare several translations to get a hint of how hard it is to translate some of the nouns and verbs.  

Check your maps now, for hints of how the later prose version, focused on events in the future northern kingdom of Israel rather than the southern one of Judah, has origins in a saga addressing wider geography into legend and myth.  

God shakes earth and heaven, entering the land from Edom in the south, the trade routes to the Gulf.  When the passes are blocked, the caravans cease and prosperity is lost.  That’s when the judges Shamgar (in prose attributed to Gaza after Ehud) and Jael (in prose subordinated to Deborah the judge) rise up.

The song is open to interpretation, again revealing our assumptions about why people fight, or hold back and resist joining common cause with allies.  The geographic fringes hang back: Asher in the north stays with their ships, Reuben east of the Jordan, dither with their flocks.  I read economic interests outside the Edom passes.

Strong words are directed to potential allies who fail ‘us’, even as grand cosmic claims are made for the stars battling in a mirror of local wars.  Strong praise is sung for Jael, courageous woman who will not submit to the implied threat of a warrior in her tent. Don’t mess with women like Jael!  

One female heroine is contrasted with Sisera’s household.  Their warrior delayed, they speculate that he is delayed by pillaging and indulgence in the spoils of war, including the enemy’s women (Jael?)  In any age, in relation to any war, such stories are sung – calling blessings on allies, and curses on opponents.  In our generation, when ‘our institutions do our sinning for us’ and others suffer violence, overt and covert, to sustain our comfort, this is unfamiliar.

We are accustomed to an ‘eirenic’ spirituality, a quietism that associates religion and pacifists or innocent victims.  Judges claims a more militant, if not necessarily violent still violent if necessary, for a people claiming their right to exist, claiming their providential place.  Can you see how our ‘tolerant’ age may fit Judges’ caricature of an age of ‘fat and lazy’ infidelity?

 
Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam
sang on that day, 
saying: 

2 ‘When locks are long in Israel,
 when the people offer themselves willingly—
bless the Lord!

3 ‘Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing,
   I will make melody to the Lord, 
the God of Israel.

4 ‘Lord, 
when you went out
from Seir,
   when you marched
from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled,
   and the heavens poured,
   the clouds indeed poured water. 

5 The mountains quaked
before the Lord, 
the One of Sinai,
   before the Lord,
 the God of Israel.

6 ‘In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, 
caravans ceased
   and travellers kept to the byways. 

7 The peasantry prospered in Israel,
they grew fat on plunder,
because you arose,
Deborah,
arose as a mother
 in Israel. 

8 When new gods were chosen,
then war was in the gates.


Was shield or spear to be seen
among forty thousand in Israel?
 
9 My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
who offered themselves willingly
 among the people.

   Bless the Lord.

10 ‘Tell of it,
 you who ride on white donkeys,
you who sit on rich carpets,
   and you who walk by the way. 

11 To the sound of musicians
at the watering-places,
   there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord,
   the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.

‘Then down to the gates
marched the people
of the Lord.

12 ‘Awake, awake, Deborah!
   Awake, awake, utter a song!
Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,
O son of Abinoam. 


13 Then down marched
the remnant of the noble;
   the people of the Lord
marched down for him
against the mighty. 

14 From Ephraim they set out
into the valley,
   following you, 
Benjamin,
 with your kin;
from Machir marched down the commanders,
   and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff; 
15 the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah,
   and Issachar faithful to Barak;
   into the valley
they rushed out
at his heels.

Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart. 

16 Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,
to hear the piping for the flocks?

Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart. 

17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he abide with the ships?

Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
 settling down by his landings. 

18 Zebulun is a people that scorned death;
Naphtali too, on the heights of the field.

19 ‘The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
 they got no spoils of silver. 

20 The stars fought from heaven,
 from their courses they fought against Sisera. 

21 The torrent Kishon
swept them away,
   the onrushing torrent,
 the torrent Kishon.
   March on, my soul, 
with might!

22 ‘Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, 
galloping of his steeds.

23 ‘Curse Meroz,
 says the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants,
because they did not come
to the help of the Lord,
   to the help of the Lord
against the mighty.

24 ‘Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
 of tent-dwelling women most blessed. 

25 He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. 

26 She put her hand to the tent-peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
   she shattered and pierced his temple. 

27 He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, 
there he fell dead.

28 ‘Out of the window
she peered,
the mother of Sisera
gazed through the lattice:

“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
   Why tarry the hoof-beats of his chariots?” 

29 Her wisest ladies make answer,
indeed, she answers the question herself: 
30 “Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?—
   A girl or two for every man;
spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera,
   spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered,
   two pieces of dyed work
embroidered
 for my neck as spoil?”

31 ‘So perish all your enemies, O Lord!
   But may your friends be
like the sun as it rises in its might.’

And the land had rest for forty years.