Tag Archives: judges

Bible in 90 Days: Day 19


BiND:  Day 19


Well, after our discussion of how there are lots of really horrible stories in the Bible, it seems fitting that we would encounter deceitful Delilah and also a nameless concubine and her abusive “husband”—a man who allows her to be gang raped and then is angry at her for not getting up to come with him (she’s probably dead already) so he cuts her into pieces as a call to action, an excuse for inter-tribal warfare.  Nevermind that he didn’t seem to care when the Benjaminites were actually committing the deed—only when his concubine is dead is he interested.  Great.


These stories, as we have discussed before, may or may not have actually happened the way they’re told here.  What’s important is that they form us, they shape us as God’s people, showing us how God’s people have acted and interacted with each other and with God.  They also show us that even God’s chosen people make horrible mistakes.  You notice that God doesn’t show up in the concubine story?  Or in the Samson and Delilah story?  Nowhere does it say God commanded these things—these are stories of real people that make mistakes and that God still somehow uses to further the kingdom story. Did you notice how many times it said “there was no king in Israel, the people did what was right in their own eyes.”?  The stories in Judges, especially, are also designed to show us WHY a king was needed.  Since they were written down during the period of the monarchs, it’s possible that the whole king-thing wasn’t going as planned, so some stories that show what life was like before the Kings would be a good deterrent to going back to the “good old days.”  It might be interesting to think what those stories would be for us—one that comes to mind for me (which gives away my geographic origins!) is the bandits of the wild west, before the days of organized law enforcement.  What else comes to mind?


Once we get out of Judges we have the story of Ruth and Naomi, a story of loyalty, of care for the least among us, of the way things are supposed to be.  Boaz makes sure Ruth and Naomi are provided for, both before and after Ruth proposes that he marry her.  Granted, this is in some ways also a story of scheming to get an heir, of emotional and sexual manipulation.  But overall Ruth is, I think, one of our more favorite books.  It’s short (only 85 verses), there’s no killing, no fighting.  Instead we have commandment following, caring for one another, and apparently healthy community. 


A little different than the opening of Samuel, with the rival wives, one antagonizing the other while the husband plays favorites.  One of the remarkable things about this story of Hannah is the way she finds her voice—in the beginning, she is talked about.  Even when she prays, she has no voice and is taken for a harlot and a drunk.  But once she’s talked to God (even silently), she has the voice to talk to the men in her life as well—to Eli and to her husband.  When Hannah offers Samuel to temple service, she once again gives up the thing that gave her life value and meaning (barren women were worthless, even if their husbands loved them)—this time of her own will.  She’s found not only a voice, but a choice as well.  And she sings a song, one which will be used again by Mary centuries later, and one which we talked about in our last class—it shows what God’s justice looks like and how it has been played out for a woman who was the lowest of the low, but now has been lifted up. 


What did you notice in the reading today?  Anything that made you think or wonder or want to quit or want to keep going?  

photo is of the countryside around Bethlehem, where Ruth and Naomi went to live. By hoyasmeg, from flickr.


Bible in 90 Days: Day 18


BiND:  Day 18


Today we encounter some of the most famous women in the Bible.  Remember the children’s musical from last spring?  “Deborah, prophetess of God….” they sang, with Emma Koenig dancing.  “Barak, Barak, it rhymes with attack!” they shouted.  So fun.


Deborah is the only named woman judge of Israel during the pre-monarchical period.  In Judges 4.4 she is named first, then called a prophetess, and only then named as “wife of Lappidoth.”  Lappidoth never makes an appearance in this story, which is surprising in such a patriarchal culture.  There’s no mention of Deborah having children, and yet she is held up as one of the heroes of the people.



Then we have Jael, the woman who strikes the final blow against the opposing army by literally nailing the commander’s head to the floor of her tent.  She is the one who gets the “glory” that was taken from Barak in this battle.  She was resourceful and enterprising and brave, inviting a strange man into her tent while her husband is apparently away.


Contrast that with the portrayal of Jephthah’s daugher, who is unnamed and is sacrificed to her father’s careless (and faithless) vow.  In fact, he ends up blaming her for her own death (at his hand) because she came out to give him the traditional victor’s welcome with tambourine and dancing.  She ends up dead, with her father grieving for himself, when perhaps she was about to sing a song like that of Deborah or Miriam, extolling his virtues as a warrior.


The song Deborah sings in Judges 5 is one of the oldest texts in the Old Testament.  Often poetry is older than prose, and in this case the poem dates from around 500 years before the surrounding prose was written down.  This victory hymn (a genre common in the ancient world…and still today) was inserted into the story to give us both another perspective and to give us a sense of the feeling after battle.  Deborah here is playing two roles:  role of prophet/carrier of God’s blessing for military endeavor and also the traditional woman-singing-for-the-victory-celebration role.


We also started in on the story of Samson today—the two women he loves (besides the prostitutes) are both portrayed as sneaky, deceptive, and unfaithful.  The one we read about today is unnamed, and she wheedles him into telling the answer to a riddle, which she proceeds to tell her family, which loses Samson (and therefore her!) a lot of money and ends up costing her and her family’s lives.  The second is a woman we likely know well—Delilah.  She nags and nags until Samson tells her why he’s so strong (he’s been committed to a vow his mother made to God, he’s been faithful to the Lord).  She then uses this information against him and he ends up blind…and then, as “retribution” for his two eyes, he brings down the roof of a temple, killing “more than those he had killed during his life”—which is to say, a lot of people!  I’m not sure how that fits with the eye-for-an-eye thing, which was designed to guard against just such punishments that were excessive compared to the crime, but in any case Samson goes down with the people as well…all because of a crafty woman who is portrayed entirely in a negative light.


At the same time we can trace the portrayal of women in Judges from positive down to purely negative, we can also trace the decline of Israelite society and faithfulness to God.  While I won’t argue there is an explicit correlation between the decline of the society/religion and the treatment/portrayal of women, I do think it’s interesting to note.  As the situation deteriorates (by Friday we’ll be headed for monarchy), so too does the situation for women and their rights and independence and value.

photo is of a mosaic of Jael (one among several biblical women in the mosaic) in a domed ceiling above an effigy of the Virgin Mary at the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem (site where some believe that Mary went to sleep and then was taken into heaven).  Neither Jephthah’s daughter nor Deborah make an appearance in the mosaic.  photo taken by TCP.


Bible in 90 Days: Day 17


BiND:  Day 17


Well, today we’ve had a verbal map.  Sometimes I wish we could just look at a map instead of reading about it!  It seems like it would be so much easier.  But it was important to be specific about each tribe’s inheritance and boundaries—it would help avoid disputes further down the line (though there were still some disputes right up front!).  It also helps illustrate further the fact that the land doesn’t technically belong to the Israelites—it isn’t “theirs” as individuals or even as families—God has given it to the whole community, and each portion is to be used by a tribe.  And this temporary possession is contingent on covenant obedience.  “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your might”—and “love” here doesn’t mean a feeling, it means an action.  It means obedience and care, trust and loyalty. 


I often feel as if the whole book of Joshua (which, as we learned earlier, was compiled by the deuteronomistic school) leads up to chapter 24.  Joshua challenges the people:  “choose this day whom you will serve” and then he even tells them they aren’t capable of serving the LORD, but they insist!  Joshua (and the writers who wrote this story from the perspective of the exile) knew that the temptations would be too great, but the people choose God anyway.  Unfortunately, as we see as we head into the book of Judges, that is a choice that has to be made over and over, practically every day or even every moment.  To obey and trust and be loyal to God requires repeated commitment.  Once Joshua and his generation die, the Israelites “don’t know the LORD”—which doesn’t necessarily mean that their parents were negligent in their duty to pass on the faith, but that they haven’t chosen to serve God.  Instead, it seems, they serve whoever is convenient.  Baal, Astarte, and Asherah are all fertility gods/goddesses—so they would be attractive to those who make their living off the land.  Worshipping/appeasing a fertility god may seem like a good idea if you depend on the rain or the sun or the general ability for crops to grow.  Interestingly, it seems that the people turn to God whenever their local fertility gods don’t work out—and God answers, just as God promised.  Unfortunately, the way this is written makes it easy to create and maintain a therapeutic and deistic image of God—someone who’s there to help you out when you’re in trouble, no matter what the trouble, but isn’t around much otherwise.  In many ways, that image of God has been the downfall and twisting of religion into self-service rather than God-service.   Interesting to see that we are by no means the first to “use” God for our own personal good!


Just very quickly, and with no discussion on my part:  it’s interesting to note that in the very first chapter of Judges there is a positive portrayal of a woman—and more are coming in tomorrow’s reading.  Keep an eye on the parallels between the portrayal of individuals, especially women, and the trajectory of community life.  It’s interesting!  

photo is of Beth-Shean, mentioned in Joshua 17 and Judges 1 as a place where the Israelites had trouble driving out the Canaanites and so lived together with them.  The hill in the background is a Tel, the place where the city was and so grew up and up over the centuries.  The surrounding plain would have been the pasture land, though now, as you can see, it’s home to the ruins of the Roman-period city.  photo taken by TCP.