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? 

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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.