Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Samuel 1:1–20

I Samuel 1:1–20: The Birth of Samuel

Synopsis

This passage begins with a man named Elkanah, who has two wives named Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah has children, but Hannah doesn’t have any—and, unfortunately, Peninnah has a habit of “provoking her in order to irritate her” (verse 6). Every year Elkanah and his wives and children go to worship the LORD, and when Elkanah is giving the meat to his wives and children, he gives a double portion to Hannah, because he loves her, and the LORD has closed her womb.

However, as time goes by, eventually Peninnah’s teasing gets so bad, when they’re worshipping the LORD, that Hannah starts to weep, and won’t even eat. Elkanah tries to talk to her, but I’m not sure if he understands the psychology of the situation:

Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (verse 8)

On one such occasion—based on the timing, I guess this would be the last time that it happened—Hannah went to pray to the LORD, and made a vow to Him:

And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (verse 11)

(In other words, she would make the boy a Nazirite.)

The thing is, she is praying silently to the LORD, but because she is so intent on her praying, her lips are moving. Eli, one of the priests, sees this, and assumes that she is drunk. He accuses her of this, and she assures him that no, she is not drunk, just pouring out her soul to the LORD, in her anguish and grief (verses 15–16).

When Eli hears this, he tells her to go in peace, and prays that the LORD will grant her request. She goes away, apparently feeling better, because she eats, and her face is “no longer downcast” (verse 18). The next morning they worship the LORD again, before returning home.

Elkanah then lays with Hannah, and the LORD opens her womb. She conceives and gives birth to a son, whom they name Samuel. The footnote indicates that the name “Samuel” sounds like the Hebrew “heard of God,” and Hannah gave him that name because she asked the LORD for Samuel to be born.

Thoughts

In the last passage, in the book of Ruth, I mentioned the fact that the LORD had kept Ruth’s womb closed, during her first marriage, and then opened it up for her second marriage, and that as a result King David—and, eventually, Jesus—were born. We have a similar thing happening here; the LORD is keeping Hannah’s womb closed, until she vows to devote her son to the LORD’s service, at which point He opens her womb, and Samuel is born, ready to serve Him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ruth Summary

The book of Ruth is a very short book; just four chapters. It takes place during the same time frame as the book of Judges, but it must be towards the end, as it ends with the birth of Obed, David’s grandfather.

For me, reading the book of Ruth is like a moment of fresh air, after the horrors of the book of Judges. In Judges, you read about Israel at their worst—or, at least, very bad—and then you can take a pause, with the book of Ruth, and read a nice love story, before getting into I and II Samuel.

As mentioned in some of the posts below, there is some confusion in my mind as to how hard Boaz had to try to get Ruth as his wife, rather than letting her kinsman-redeemer marry her. But whether it’s difficult or just straightforward, there is no doubt in my mind that Boaz has fallen in love with Ruth, and the whole story feels very nice.

Ruth 4:13–22

Ruth 4:13–22: The Genealogy of David

Synopsis

In the last passage, Boaz managed to arrange it so that he could marry Ruth. This passage simply finishes off the story; it doesn’t say, “and they lived happily ever after,” at the end, but it might as well.

Boaz marries Ruth, and the LORD enables her to conceive and give birth to a son, whom they name Obed. The passage ends by telling us that Obed is going to become the father of Jesse, and that Jesse is going to become the father of David—whom we’ll read about when we get to the books of I and II Samuel.

Thoughts

Verse 13 specifically says that it is the LORD who enables Ruth to conceive. He is in control; He was in control when she didn’t conceive, when she was married to Mahlon, and He was in control when she did conceive, with Boaz.

This becomes even more significant when you realize that Ruth’s new son, Obed, is going to be the grandfather of King David. The LORD didn’t just engineer these events so that we could read about the love story between Boaz and Ruth—although I’m betting that was part of His plan—He was also looking forward, to the future of his chosen people, and their king. (And, to take things even further, to His son, Jesus, who is a descendent of David—and, therefore, also a descendent of Ruth and Boaz and Obed.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ruth 4:1–12

Ruth 4:1–12: Boaz finagles hisself a weddin’

Synopsis

In the last passage, Ruth approached Boaz and, essentially, asked him to marry her. That’s not exactly how it works, she’s really asking him to redeem the family line, but he was thrilled, because he would have expected her to go after a younger man. (For rules on a relative redeeming a man’s family line, see Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19.) But there is a problem, in that there is a closer relative than Boaz, who, by all rights, could/should marry Ruth instead of Boaz.

So, as is the custom for transacting such business, Boaz seats himself at the town gate, and waits for the kinsman-redeemer. (That is, the man who is a closer relative than he is to Naomi.) When the man comes, Boaz invites him to sit down, and then gets ten elders of the town to join them. He then explains to the kinsman-redeemer that Naomi is selling a piece of land that had belonged to her husband Elimelech. Boaz tells the man that he has the right to claim it, but if he doesn’t, Boaz will take it.

The man agrees to redeem the property, however, Boaz then drops the bombshell: If the man redeems the property, he must also “acquire” the dead man’s widow (verse 5), in order to maintain Elimelech’s family line. When the kinsman-redeemer hears this, he changes his mind; he says that he can’t do this, or he will endanger his own estate. So he tells Boaz that he may do it.

Then, because it’s the custom in sealing such a deal, the kinsman-redeemer takes off his sandal, and gives it to Boaz. And Boaz announces the deal to those present; they are witnesses that he has bought the land from Naomi, and, furthermore, has acquired Ruth, Mahlon’s widow, as his wife. Therefore, Boaz will continue on Mahlon’s family line.

Those who are present then verify that they have witnessed the deal, and they pray for the LORD to bless Boaz and any offspring that may result from the union.

Thoughts

There are a couple of things that I’m not clear about, from this passage. First of all, when the kinsman-redeemer refuses the property—and, in this case, the widow—is he in violation of the laws mentioned above, outlined in Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19? Is he refusing to carry on the man’s family line? Or is he okay, in this instance, because he knows that Boaz is ready and willing to do so; so he’s not really abandoning Elimelech’s family line?

Secondly, is it okay that Boaz is going to marry Ruth, or was he supposed to marry Naomi? In a sense, he’s still carrying on Elimelech’s family line, because Mahlon is Elimelech’s son. I’m guessing this is a special case; I’m sure it isn’t often that you have a woman and her daughter-in-law who are both widows, where the family line could be carried on by either.

Thirdly, I think (but am not 100% sure) that Boaz is being a little deceptive here. He talks to the kinsman-redeemer about having to “acquire the dead man’s widow” (verse 5), which, to me, indicates that he’s talking about Naomi, but then when the deal is finalized, Boaz announces that he will be marrying Ruth. Would it have made a difference if the kinsman-redeemer thought he was marrying Ruth, instead of Naomi? (I also have to point out that there is a footnote to verse 5 that indicates that the Vulgate and Syriac manuscripts actually say that the kinsman-redeemer would acquire Ruth the Moabitess. So if those manuscripts are accurate, there is no mystery at all!)

I’ve always read this passage in a very rosy light; that Boaz is in love with Ruth, and is trying to work out the deal so that he can marry her, instead of the closer relative. However, it’s also possible that nothing of the kind is going on, and that it’s a very straightforward transaction happening—although, if that’s the case, this is kind of a boring story!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ruth 3

Ruth 3: Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor

Synopsis

I know it’s my 20th Century upbringing, but the NIV title for this passage sounds a lot more salacious than it really is.

Naomi decides that she needs to try and find a home for Ruth, where she can be provided for (verse 1). So, since Boaz is a close kinsman, she figures that he would be a good choice to marry Ruth. And Naomi knows that Boaz is going to be winnowing barley on a particular night, after which he’ll be eating and drinking, and then going to sleep on the threshing floor.

She advises Ruth to sneak in, wait until Boaz has fallen asleep, and then uncover and lie down at his feet. (There is obviously some kind of cultural thing going on here that I don’t understand; this is not how we do things in the 20th Century!)

So this is what Ruth does. In the middle of the night, something wakes Boaz up, and he discovers someone lying at his feet.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

(verse 9)


Again, when Ruth asks Boaz to spread a corner of his garment over her, I think this is a cultural thing. (As an aside, I do not think that this is anything salacious; i.e. I don’t think this is a euphemism for anything, and I don’t think anything physical is going on between Ruth and Boaz.)

When Boaz hears this, he is overjoyed; he is apparently a fairly old man, and he is thrilled that Ruth would choose him, rather than running after a younger man (verse 10). However, there is one issue: although Boaz is a close relative to Naomi, there is another man who’s an even closer kinsman-redeemer. So Boaz has to give this other man the chance to marry Ruth first.

In the meantime, he tells Ruth to stay with him for the night, and she lays there at his feet until the morning. But the next morning she is sure to get up early, before she can be recognized, and sneak home, so that people won’t find out that a woman was at the threshing floor. (I assume to avoid a scandal.) Before she does, though, Boaz has her hold out her shawl, into which he pours “six measures” (verse 15) of barley for her to bring home.

So Ruth returns home to Naomi, and tells her everything that has happened. Naomi tells Ruth to wait and find out what happens, and tells her that she won’t have to wait long, because Boaz won’t let the matter rest until he’s settled it that very day.

Thoughts

It’s not often that I get to use the word “salacious” in one of my posts—let alone use it twice!

Incidentally, when Ruth says to Boaz “I am your servant Ruth,” in the passage quoted above, don’t put too much weight on the word “servant.” In addition to literally meaning servant, in some instances, the word also seems to be used in a more general sense in the Old Testament. I don’t think I’ve been pointing that out every time I’ve come across the word “servant” on this blog, but I thought I’d mention it in this case; Ruth isn’t calling herself Boaz’ servant literally, as if she wants to be his concubine, it’s just a figure of speech.

It’s interesting that Boaz is so pleased, and seemingly thankful, that Ruth has chosen him. In the Old Testament, it’s usually the other way around; the women are powerless, and at the whims of men. But in this case, Ruth has chosen Boaz, and he is thankful to her for it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ruth 2

Ruth 2: Ruth Meets Boaz

Synopsis

The last passage introduced us to Naomi and Ruth. They’ve returned to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem, but, since Naomi no longer has a husband or sons to care for her, and since Ruth also has no husband or sons, they have only each other—which makes them fiscally poor.

In this chapter, Ruth decides to go to one of the fields, where they’re harvesting the barley, and pick up some of the leftover grain. This is related to some rules that the LORD gave the Israelites in Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19; when the Israelites are harvesting from their fields, they’re not to be too thorough about how they harvest it, so that the poor can come after them and harvest what’s left. This is what Ruth wants to do.

She ends up in a field belonging to a man named Boaz. He comes to visit his field, and asks his men who this woman is. They tell him that she is the Moabitess who came back with Naomi, and that she has worked steadily for the entire day, with nothing but a short rest. Boaz approaches Ruth, and advises her to continue to glean from his fields, rather than going to someone else’s; he has advised his men not to touch her, and has also given instructions that she should be allowed to drink from the men’s water jars.

When Ruth hears this, she bows down with her face to the ground, and wonders aloud why she has managed to find favour in Boaz’ eyes, even though she’s a foreigner. He tells her that he has heard all that Ruth has done for Naomi; that she left her family and homeland, and came to live with the Israelites even though she didn’t know them. He prays that the LORD—under whose wings she has come to take refuge (verse 12)—will richly reward her for what she has done.

Not only this, but when the next mealtime comes, Boaz invites Ruth to come and eat with him, and share some of his food. He gives her more than enough food to eat, so that she even has some left over. Then, as they return to work, Boaz gives his men instructions that they are not to embarrass Ruth, even if she “gathers among the sheaves” (verse 15); if that happens, they are to purposely leave behind some stalks for her to pick up.

She remains in Boaz’ field until evening, and then threshes the barley she’s gathered. She has managed to gather about 22 litres of barley, which, to me, sounds like a lot. She brings it back to Naomi, along with the leftover food from her meal with Boaz. When Naomi sees all that Ruth has brought home, she’s overjoyed. She asks Ruth where she’d been gathering, and Ruth tells her, at which point we find out that Boaz is actually a close relative of Naomi’s. In fact, he’s a kinsman-redeemer. (The best definition of “kinsman-redeemer” that I could find in a quick search was on WikiAnswers.)

Naomi and Ruth decide that it will be best for Ruth to follow Boaz’ advice, and stay in his fields, since she might be harmed if she went to someone else’s field. So she does, until the end of the barley harvest, as she continues to live with Naomi.

Thoughts

I don’t know what it means, exactly, when Boaz tells his men not to embarrass Ruth if she “gathers among the sheaves,” but I think the point is that he doesn’t want her to be penalized if she accidentally does something she’s not supposed to. He may be making a special consideration since she’s a foreigner; maybe she doesn’t know the exact customs of the Israelites. Or he may just be paying her special attention. (Or both.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ruth 1

Ruth 1: Naomi and Ruth

Synopsis

The book of Ruth opens up by introducing a woman named Naomi, who lives in Bethlehem, and her family (her husband Elimelech, and her sons Mahlon and Kilion). The book takes place during the same timeframe as the book of Judges, although I don’t know when in that timeframe (i.e. near the beginning, the end, or somewhere in between).

Because of a famine in Israel, Elimelech and his family move to Moab. While there, Elimelech dies, but his sons Mahlon and Kilion marry Moabite women, named Orpah and Ruth. So they stay in Moab for quite a while, but after ten years, Mahlon and Kilion also die, leaving Naomi without a husband or sons to care for her.

However, after her sons have died—the passage doesn’t state how long after—Naomi hears word that the famine in Israel has ended, and that the LORD has “come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” (verse 6). So she and her daughers-in-law decide to set out from Moab, and go to Israel.

But then she seems to change her mind; she tells her daughers-in-law not to come back with her, to go back to their mothers’ homes, and she prays that the LORD will grant that they find new husbands. But they tell her that they don’t want to return home; they want to go with her, to her people. So she tries again to convince them:

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!” (verses 11–13)

This speech convinces Orpah, who decides to return home, but Ruth continues to cling to Naomi (verse 14).

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

(verses 15–17)


So Naomi realizes that Ruth is serious, and stops urging her to return home. They return to Bethlehem, and cause quite a sensation when the people recognize Naomi.

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

(verses 19–21)


This quote will make a lot more sense if I mention that the footnotes indicate that the name “Naomi” means “pleasant,” and “Mara” means “bitter.” That is, “Don’t call me ‘pleasant,’ call me ‘bitter.’”

Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem just as the barley harvest is beginning. (We’ll find out why that matters in the next passage.)

Thoughts

As the rules stand for the Israelites, I don’t believe Elimelech should have moved his family to Moab, and I’m definitely sure that Mahlon and Kilion should not have married Moabite women. I believe that it would be okay if the women decided to become Israelites, and worship the LORD, but other than that, I don’t believe it was allowed. In this case, it doesn’t seem that Orpah did that, although Ruth seems to have done so. (Although that might be foreshadowing, of the chapters to come…) There is a verse in this passage (quoted above) where Ruth says, “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely,” but I don’t know if that necessarily means that she actually is following the LORD; it may just be a figure of speech.

To a modern-day Christian—somebody who is urged to evangelize as much as possible, and help bring as many souls as possible to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—it seems very odd to read Naomi telling her daughters to return home to their gods. Why wouldn’t she urge them to come with her, and to come and worship her God? Evangelism doesn’t ever seem to be a priority for the Old Testament Israelites—who are the uniquely chosen people of God—even though God does sometimes tell them that He wants to use them to show His Glory to the other nations. And with my poor understanding of the relationship between God and His people in the Old Testament, I’m not even sure if evengelism was supposed to be a priority for them or not. But to make things more complicated, whether they were supposed to evengelize or not, this story happens to take place during the time of Judges, when the nation of Israel seemed to only have a very vague notion of who God is. So Naomi not evengelizing, in this instance, doesn’t really tell us much one way or the other.

All of which I hadn’t meant to type—the keyboard just got away from me. I was really just struck by the fact that it seems odd to my modern-day Christian sensibilities.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Judges Summary

The book of Judges takes up where the book of Joshua left off. The Israelites are in the Promised Land, and they’ve started to take over the land, but they haven’t completed the job. Not every tribe has their land, yet.

In my summary of the book of Joshua, I mentioned that the period written about in that book was probably one of the high points in Israelite history (from a spiritual point of view). I think Judges represents a low point; once they lost Joshua, they seemed to lose their spiritual guidance. They forgot about the LORD and His precepts, and the entire book of Judges seems like a long, downward trend, in terms of spirituality—ending, in chapters 19–21, with some of the most terrible events I’ve read in the Old Testament. This book contains some very memorable stories, such as the story of Gideon testing God, and the story of Samson and Delilah, but when I read the book, those aren’t the stories that stay with me. I come away from the book of Judges with a profound sadness, at the fallen state of mankind, and our inability to follow God, without His explicit help. (I should have a profound sense of gratitude, too, that He does give us that help, but when I read Judges, it’s the sadness that really grips me.)

The book ends with verse 21:25—a verse which sums up the book: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Judges 21

Judges 21: Wives for the Benjamites

Synopsis

In the last passage, the tribe of Benjamin was punished for the brutal rape and murder of a concubine. In fact, the Benjamites were completely wiped out, except for six hundred men. And when I say “men,” I mean men, because the women and children have all been wiped out. This passage goes into the aftermath of the aftermath.

In addition to wiping out the Benjamites, the other tribes of Israel have done something else: They’ve all vowed that they will refuse to give their daughters to the Benjamites in marriage. So not only are there only six hundred Benjamites left, there is not even a hope of the tribe continuing on. After all of the fighting has finished—and perhaps once the Israelites’ blood has cooled down a bit—they gather at Bethel, and sit before God weeping and raising their voices to Him, mourning because one of the tribes of Israel is about to be wiped out. They also build an alter, and present burnt and fellowship offerings to the LORD.

Now the oath that they’d taken, to refuse to give their daughters’ hands in marriage to the Benjamites, took place at a place called Mizpah, and before they met there, the Israelites took an oath that anyone who didn’t come would be put to death. While they’re mourning the loss of the tribe of Benjamin, the Israelites realize that the people of Jabesh Gilead weren’t there, at Mizpah, and they wonder if this might be a solution to their problem: They have to put the people of Jabesh Gilead to death anyway, because of their oath; why not spare any women who are virgins, and then give those women to the remaining six hundred men from the tribe of Benjamin, as wives?

So they do. They put everyone from Jabesh Gilead to death, except for the virgin women, but they only end up with four hundred women. They bring these women to the remaining men from the tribe of Benjamin as a peace offering, but of course there are still two hundred men with no wives. So the Israelites mourn some more, because there will be no heirs for some of the surviving Benjamites; after all, they can’t marry any of the Israelite women, because of the Israelites’ oath.

But then they remember: There is an annual festival that happens in Shiloh. They instruct the Benjamites to go and hide in the vineyards in Shiloh, because the custom at this festival is for the girls of Shiloh to come out dancing during this festival. The Benjamites can then grab the girls and bring them back home as wives. If the fathers and brothers of these girls complain, the Israelites will placate them:

“When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Do us a kindness by helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war, and you are innocent, since you did not give your daughters to them.’” (verse 22)

So this is what the Benjamites do, and all of the six hundred men end up with wives. So the Israelites all go home.

And I think verse 25 sums up the chapter—and the entire book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Thoughts

The sexism of the Old Testament often strikes me, and even more than usual in a passage like this. “We’ll kill everyone at Jabesh Gilead except the female virgins, and then the Benjamites can have them as wives. Oh, that wasn’t enough women? Then they can kidnap women from Shiloh.” The women in this passage are being treated no differently than plunder in war! I’d like to believe this is because the Israelites have forgotten the LORD and His ways—because they obviously have!—but is that really the reason? I’m not sure. It’s not like this is the only place in the Old Testament where women are treated as less than human.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Judges 20

Judges 20: The Benjamites are punished for their crime

Synopsis

As mentioned, I felt that the last passage was terrible to read. Some things are just very hard to take; in this case, a woman was gang raped to death, and there was seemingly no pity for her from anyone. In this passage, we see retribution for that act.

Note: As a notational convenience, any time I mention “the Israelites” in this post, I’m referring to all of the Israelites except for the Benjamites. It would be too much typing to say, “all of the Israelites except for the Benjamites,” or, “eleven of the tribes of Israel,” or something like that—not to mention how tiresome it would get to read it over and over.

At the end of the last passage, the Levite had sent body parts from his concubine to the twelve tribes of Israel, and they were horrified. (Well… I’m not sure if the Benjamites were horrified, because the men who committed the act were Benjamites, but the other tribes were.) So everyone but the Benjamites gather before the LORD at Mizpah, to find out from the Levite what has happened. (Although the Benjamites aren’t there, they know that the other Israelites are gathered there, so they know that something is brewing.)

The Levite explains the situation:

So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict.” (verses 4–7)

The Israelites unanimously decide that they are going to give the Gibeanites what they deserve, for what they have done (verse 10), and that they aren’t going to rest until they do.

They go to the tribe of Benjamin, and demand that the Benjamites give up the men from Gibeah, who had done this thing. But the Benjamites are going to do no such thing; instead, they gather together, to fight the Israelites. And they gather some pretty good fighters, too:

At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (verses 15–16)

In response, the Israelites muster four hundred thousand swordsmen. They then gather at Bethel, where the Ark is currently located, to inquire of God and find out who should go up against the Benjamites first. God tells them that the tribe of Judah should go first.

Unfortunately, the Benjamites defeat the men from Judah, and twenty two thousand men from Judah are killed in the battle. The Israelites encourage one another, for their loss, but then go back before the LORD, where they weep for the rest of the day. They then inquire of Him again, to ask if they should return and battle the Benjamites again. He tells them that they should.

There is no mention of a specific tribe being chosen this time, but the Israelites face off against the Benjamites again, and are defeated again. This time, eighteen thousand Israelites are killed in the battle. They return to the LORD at Bethel, to weep and fast. They then inquire of Him again, but they sound very disheartened this time: “They asked, ‘Shall we go up again to battle with Benjamin our brother, or not?’” (verse 28b) The LORD responds, and tells them to go, and He will deliver the Benjamites into the Israelites’ hands this time.

So they do, but this time the Israelites employ a bit more strategy, and set up an ambush for the Benjamites: Some of the Israelites attack the Benjamites head-on, while others sneak up behind them. The ones in front fall back before the Benjamites, leading the Benjamites to believe that they are beating the Israelites, as they did the last two battles. They are even inflicting casualties on the Israelites, although it’s only thirty men, compared to the thousands and thousands who had died in the previous battles.

But once the Israelites have led the Benjamites away from Gibeah—which is where the battle is being held—the other Israelite force comes in from behind, and sets the city on fire. And as this happens, the main Israelite force also starts inflicting casualties on the Benjamites. At this point, the Benjamites realize that they’re in trouble. They try to retreat, and flee into the desert, but the Israelites follow them, and cut down eighteen thousand more of them; they then try another direction, and the Israelites cut down five thousand more; they then try retreating in another area, and the Israelites cut down two thousand more.

All in all, only six hundred Benjamites escape, and they end up living in the desert for four months. In the meantime, the Israelites decimate the rest of the tribe of Benjamin, putting their towns to the sword—including not just the people but even the animals—and burning the towns down.

Thoughts

I’m not sure if the Israelites went overboard with their retribution or not. They have almost completely wiped out one of the tribes of Israel. However, the Benjamites called it on themselves, by deciding to fight the Israelites.

This chapter might be confusing, before you realize that some of the events are being described twice. The author is describing the last battle generally, once, and then again in more detail.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Judges 19

Judges 19: A Levite and His Concubine

Synopsis

This is a terrible passage. It makes me incredibly sad to read it, every single time. So of course blogging about it—meaning that I have to think deeply about it—will make me even more sad. But there’s nothing for it but to suck it up, and start writing.

The first ten verses aren’t really related to the story, per se. It’s just a prologue, to set up the main story. A Levite living in Ephraim takes a concubine for himself, from Bethlehem. (See the Wikipedia article on what a concubine is.) But she is unfaithful to him, and leaves to go back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, so after four months he and a servant go there after her.

When he gets there, the girl brings him into her father’s house, and the father invites the Levite to stay. He stays for three days, and then prepares to leave, but the father-in-law convinces him to stay for food, first. Then, once they are done eating, convinces him to stay another night. On the fifth day, the man prepares to leave again, but again the father-in-law convinces him to have some food, first. And almost convinces him to stay once again, that night, but the man finally makes up his mind to leave, along with his servant and concubine.

On their way, they pass the city of Jebus, which is inhabited by Jebusites. (Later on, the Israelites will take over this city, and rename it to Jerusalem.) The Levite’s servant suggests that they spend the night there, but the Levite refuses, because he doesn’t want to stay in a city whose inhabitants aren’t Israelites. Instead, he decides that they should push on until they get to the city of Gibeah.

So they do, and come to Gibeah as the sun is setting. They go to the city square, but nobody takes them in. (My rudimentary knowledge of the customs of the time indicates that this was common; when someone was travelling, they would go to the city square, and someone would take that person in for the night. In fact, it was uncommon for them to have to stay in the square for so long, without someone offering this hospitality.)

Later on that evening, an old man comes in from working in the fields, and sees the Levite in the square. He asks him where he’s from, and the Levite tells him. He also mentions that he doesn’t even need food, or straw for the donkeys, because he has everything he heeds; he just needs a place to stay for the night. (I guess he’s getting a little worried, after having sat in the square for so long.) The old man offers his hospitality, and says that the Levite doesn’t need to supply his own food. The old man is from the hill country of Ephraim, which is also where the Levite is from, so I don’t know if that comes into play here.

The old man brings them home, and they get a chance to wash their feet and have something to eat and drink. But while they’re still “enjoying themselves,” the house is surrounded by “some of the wicked men of the city,” who pound on the door and demand that the old man send out the Levite, so that they can have sex with him (verse 22). So the old man responds:

The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.” (verses 23–24)

This is the first terrible thing in this passage, that makes me sad. (See my thoughts below.) But the next part is bad, too.

The men won’t listen, so the Levite sends out his concubine. The men outside rape and abuse her throughout the night, and let her go the next morning at dawn. She returns to the house where her master is staying, and falls down in front of the door, where she remains until daylight. I notice that verse 26 calls the Levite her “master,” whereas verse 3 had called him her “husband.” I don’t know if there is any significance to the way the author changes his wording, but the Levite is definitely acting a lot more like a master than a husband…

The Levite gets up that morning, opens the door to continue on his way, and finds the concubine lying there, with her hands on the threshold. (Verse 27 specifically says that she has her hands on the threshold; I don’t know if there is cultural significance to this or not.) He says to her, “Get up; let’s go” (verse 28), but she doesn’t answer him, so he puts her on his donkey and sets out for home. (I believe that she is dead, at this point.)

The Levite returns home, and then takes a knife and cuts the concubine’s body into twelve parts, and sends one part to each area of Israel. (One per tribe, I assume.) When the Israelites see this, they react with indignation:

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!” (verse 30)

The thing is, I don’t know who they’re talking to, when they are asking to be told what to do.

Thoughts

One of the ironies of this story is that the Levite and his concubine wouldn’t have gone to Gibeah in the first place, except that he didn’t want to stay in a city that wasn’t inhabited by Israelites. I’m sure he was expecting the Israelites to be more hospitable than foreigners.

When the “wicked men” surrounded the house, asking for the Levite to be sent out, of course the owner of the house wouldn’t send him out. Again, my rudimentary knowledge of the customs of the time is that the man was responsible for the safety of his guests. But how far does that responsibility go? Surely he wouldn’t be justified in sending out his own daughter to be brutally raped, in the Levite’s place! (I shudder to even think about it, but if his daughter was a virgin, then she was probably young. He was willing to send out a little girl—his own little girl—to be gang raped.)

This is bad enough, but I almost cry any time I read about the concubine being raped to death by a gang of men. Then to read about her returning back to the house, afterward, to her husband, dying on the doorstep, only to see him saying to her “Get up; let’s go.” What type of monster was this man? To send her out to be gang raped, and show so little regard for her the next morning?

Like I said: This is a terrible passage.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Judges 18

Judges 18: The Danites steal Micah’s idols, and find a place to settle

Synopsis

This passage carries on where the last one left off. The tribe of Dan has still not found a place to settle in the Promised Land, so they send out some warriors to spy out the land, and look for a good place to settle. During their travels, they happen upon the Levite, who is living in Micah’s house. They ask him to inquire of the LORD, and find out if their trip will be successful, and he tells them to go in peace, because it has the LORD’s approval. (There is no indication that the priest actually inquired of the LORD; it seems like he just told the Danites that their trip had the LORD’s blessing, without asking. However, there is no indication that he didn’t, either—I might just be reading too much into it.)

So the men leave, and go to a place called Laish. They find that the land is very desirable, and that the people are “unsuspecting” (verse 7), so they decide that it’s the perfect place to settle, and return to tell their fellow Danites about it.

When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers asked them, “How did you find things?”

They answered, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen that the land is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever.”

(verses 8–10)


So six hundred Danites get ready for battle, and start the journey to Laish. On the way they come to Micah’s house, and the five men who had been there before get an idea:

Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, other household gods, a carved image and a cast idol? Now you know what to do.” (verse 14)

And apparently they do. The Danites go in and take the idols and other stuff. The Levite priest asks them what they’re doing, and they urge him to come with them. After all, they reason, isn’t it better for a priest to serve an entire tribe, instead of just one man’s household? This makes the priest happy, and he decides to go with them. So the Danites leave Micah’s house, but they put their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them, as they leave. I am thinking this is because they think that Micah will come after them, and they don’t want their children and livestock to be between the battling men.

If that is what they are thinking, they’re right. Micah calls together some men who live in his area, and takes off after the Danites. They start shouting at the Danites, and the Danites ask what his problem is, that he’s coming to fight them.

He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter with you?’” (verse 24)

But the Danites tell Micah not to argue with them, lest some of the more hot-tempered Danites attack and kill him. Micah realizes that they are too powerful for him, so he gives up and goes back home.

The Danites come to Laish, and take it over:

Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. (verses 27–28a)

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing (see below).

Once they’ve settled the area, they set up Micah’s idols, and some priests. The passage indicates that they will be continuing to serve those idols “until the time of the captivity of the land” (verse 30)—in other words, these idols will be a snare to the Danites for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts

In verses 8–10 (quoted above), I’m interested in the part where the spies say, “Aren’t you going to do something?” There is no indication that the Danites were hesitating, except for the spies mentioning it. I have to wonder, since the Danites still haven’t found a place to settle by this point, if it’s not because they have a history of hesitating and waffling, instead of taking over the land as they were supposed to. But again, this could be me reading too much into the text.

For me, maybe the saddest verse in this passage is verse 24 (quoted above), when Micah laments that the Danites have taken his gods, and asks, “What else do I have?” More than any other verse, this one sums up the Israelites’ problem in this day and age: they’ve forgotten the LORD, and without Him, they are lost.

The Israelites have been commanded to take over the Promised Land, so the Danites should be following the LORD’s command by finding an area to settle in. But this passage words their takeover of Laish in a way that seems to indicate that the Danites were in the wrong, and I’m not sure why. The way it’s worded, it almost seems like the people in Laish are Israelites, but I’m not sure if this is the case or not. This is another reason that I have to wonder whether the Levite really inquired of the LORD or not, when the Danites asked him if their journey would be successful. It really doesn’t seem like this had the LORD’s blessing.