Archive for June, 2013

Judges 21 and Ruth 1

Today’s reading begins with the congregation of Israel finding wives for the remnant of Benjamin and concludes with return of Naomi and Ruth to Bethlehem.

Given the tie in between the end of the reading for the previous day and the start of the reading for today, that material was covered in the previous day’s post.

In the time of the Judges, with the depravity of the people of Israel comes the story of hope of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite woman who was taken in marriage by a man of the tribe of Judah. Ruth’s brief marriage to the man of Judah was spent in the land of Moab. Moab being the people who descended from the incestuous relationship between Abraham’s brother Lot and his first-born daughter. The people of Moab were despised by the Israelites and the fact that a man of Israel had married a Moabite woman was certainly no less than a scandal.

Ruth’s husband died in Moab along with his father and brother. The only remaining people of the family because neither son had any children were the mother Naomi and her two daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth. Naomi told her daughters-in-law that she was going to return to her home in Judah and that they were free to go and remain in their homeland of Moab. Orpah chose to do as her mother-in-law had said and stayed, but Ruth refused to leave the side of Naomi. The reasons for Ruth going to a foreign land to stay with her mother-in-law aren’t entirely clear, but it could be assumed that Ruth was very much attached to Naomi and had a great affection for her.

The hope for Ruth ever finding another husband among the men of Israel was remote at best. Her standing as a widowed woman and from a despised foreign land almost ensured that she would be without a husband for the remainder of her life. Rather than stay in her home, she likely chose a life of singleness to be with Naomi. A strange choice for any woman of that time because of her inability to having any social standing whatsoever because she would likely never marry again.

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Judges 18-20

Today’s reading begins with the tribe of the Danites luring away Micah’s priest and concludes with the conclusion of the conflict people the congregation of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.

In yet another instance of the depravity of the Israelite people during the time of the Judges, today’s reading contains wickedness and brutality. In the reading for today is the story of the Levite passing through the land of Benjamin in the city of Gibeah. A certain priest was traveling through the land of Benjamin on his way to the land of Ephraim. It had become evening and the time for traveling for the day was coming to an end. A certain elderly man in the city of Gibeah in keeping with the traditions of hospitality of the Hebrew people welcomed the Levite traveler into his home to stay for the evening before they continued on their journey.

Late in the evening, certain men of Gibeah came to the house of the elderly man and told him that they wanted him to put out the man they had seen come into his home because they wanted to rape him. The elderly man pleaded with his fellow townspeople to go home, but the men were persistent. The elderly man even offered up his own virgin daughter and the concubine of the Levite staying with him as a way to satisfy the depraved sexual appetites of the men. When they refused even this offer, the Levite opened the door of the man’s house and forcibly threw out his concubine to the wicked men of Gibeah. The men raped and abused the woman all night long and when morning came, she lie dead at the entry to the door of the elderly man.

When the Levite had risen and was getting ready to leave he then came out of the house to find his concubine dead at the entry of the house. The Levite then placed the body of his dead concubine on his donkey and made his way home. Upon his arrival home, the Levite cut his dead concubine into 12 pieces and sent pieces of her throughout the land of Israel. The people of Israel were horrified about the story of the Levites and finding that it was the men of Gibeah who had killed her, the people sought to punish the men of Gibeah. The tribe of Benjamin instead of offering up the men of Gibeah to the congregation of Israel for judgment and punishment, fought against the other tribes of Israel and eventually the people of Israel destroyed the fighting men of Benjamin.

The evil of this passage is shocking, from the men of Gibeah wanting to rape a visitor to their town, to the elderly man offering up his own daughter and the concubine of his visitor as a compromise, to the Levite throwing his concubine to the men, to the rape of the concubine until her death, to the callous treatment by the Levite of his dead concubine; this passage wreaks of depravity, callousness, disconcern, and wickedness. This is one of the most shocking instances of the depths of depravity that the Israelites had sunk to in their brief time of freedom in the Promised Land.

Although the next reading rightly describes the remainder of the story, it’s best to complete the horror of what is the Judges in this post.

The bad blood between the congregation of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin was so great that the Israelites refused to give any of their daughters to anyone in Benjamin as a wife. Not wanting to exterminate an entire tribe of their brethren, the congregation of Israel sought for wives for the young men of Benjamin to bring up offspring and thus preserve the Benjaminites.

The solution to the dilemma of wives for the young men of Benjamin was to search for a city who had not offered up fighting men to take on the tribe of Benjamin, kill all of the men including all young men and boys and all married women of the city of Jabesh-gilead and give the virgin women of the city as wives to the remaining tribe of Benjamin.

The depravity of the Israelites is almost absolute at this point. The writer sums up horrors of this tragic book with the brief cold concluding verse:

Judges 21:25 (ESV): In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

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Judges 15-17

Today’s reading begins with Samson’s destruction of the wheat fields of the Philistines and concludes with the man Micah welcoming a Levite man into his home.

The story of Samson which began in the previous day’s reading is likely one of the more well known in the Bible. People are familiar with Samson’s deeds and the tales of his great power. Throughout his life Samson committed acts of great strength against a hated enemy of Israel but he lived his life oftentimes contrary to God’s statutes.

In keeping with the requirements of the Nazirite vow, Samson never cut his hair, but from eating honey out of the carcass of a dead animal, to marrying a Philistine woman, and ultimately revealing the secret of his strength, Samson lived a rebellious and often disobedient life. Although rightly regarded as a hero of Israel, there are many reasons to consider Samson as less than a role model or worth of admiration. In fact, even in his last great act of judgment against the Philistines, Samson asked for strength from God one final time for a selfish reason. His request for a final burst of strength wasn’t because of the prevalent wickedness of the entire population of the Philistines, but rather he was so greatly angered by the fact that the Philistines had gouged out his eyes in the process of capturing him.

The story of Samson again follows in the vein of confusing stories of God’s judging in a great number of instances through the acts of weak, impulsive, and disobedient men.

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Judges 11-14

Today’s reading begins with the story of Jephthah’s judging of Israel and concludes with Samson’s deeds against the Philistine’s after his betrayal at the hands of his wife.

Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His father had been unfaithful to his wife and had relations with a prostitute. As a result of the circumstances surrounding Jephthah’s birth he was regarded as an outcast from his family and was driven away from them after his brothers had grown up.

Jephthah must have been considered a valiant warrior, because when the Ammonites began warring with the people of Gilead, the elders of Gilead went to the land of Tob where Jephthah had fled and urged him to return and fight against the Ammonites. Obviously, Jephthah was angry and indignant at the way he had been treated through no fault of his own, but he agreed to come and fight against the Ammonites as the leader of the Gileadite army.

Before he began his campaign against the Ammonites, Jephthah sent word to the Ammonites asking why they were seeking to war with the people of Israel in Gilead. The Ammonites responded that they were angered by the Israelite conquest of their land during the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jephthah, knowing the history of the conflict between Israel and the Ammonites, responded that had the Ammonites simply allowed the Israelites to pass through their land that they would never had made war with the Ammonites and taken their land.

God was with Jephthah in his campaign against the Ammonites, but in his zeal to defeat the Ammonites, Jephthah made a vow to the LORD that if he would give him victory in the fight against the Ammonites that he would offer a burnt sacrifice to the LORD of the first thing that greeted him upon his return from the fight. To his great dismay, the first thing to come out to Jephthah upon his return was his one and only daughter. Jephthah mourned greatly for his actions, but knew that he should keep his vow to the LORD. His daughter after learning the circumstances surrounding her father’s vow, agreed to be offered as a sacrifice to the LORD after being permitted to mourn two months with her friends. Upon her return from her time of mourning, Jephthah’s daughter was offered as a burnt offering to the LORD.

The story of Jephthah and the offering of his daughter as a burnt sacrifice to the LORD is one of the more confusing passages in the Bible. God condemned the practice of human sacrifice that was a regular part of the worship of the pagan peoples in the Promised Land, but in this passage there is no mention of God’s outrage over the act. I don’t have a good explanation as to why God is silent about the event’s of this passage.

I’m sure there are explanations from scholars much wiser than me about why God is silent here, but to me it will always be a perplexing series of events.

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Judges 9-10

Today’s reading begins with Abimelech’s treachery against his family and concludes with Ammonites coming out to attack the people of Israel.

Israel had been rescued from the Midianites by Gideon. He had fought valiantly and brought peace to the land. One of the acts of Gideon was that he destroyed one of the statues of Baal, and because of this, he had been given the name Jerubbaal. After Jerubbaal’s death, one of his sons, Abimelech used his father’s fame to manipulate the people of Shechem to put their trust in him.

The people of Shechem gave him 70 pieces of silver and he used this money to hire a gang of thugs to all seventy of his brothers. Only his youngest brother, Jotham, survived and reported what Abimelech had done to the people of Shechem. Jotham felt that the people of Shechem had not acted in good faith and just before fleeing from the leaders of Shechem, he cursed them for their evil deeds against his family.

God had seen what Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem had done and God began to subvert the relationship between Abimelech and the people of Shechem. The tension between these two parties grew stronger until they began plotting against one another for their destruction. In the end, God destroyed Abimelech and returned evil on the people of Shechem because of the curse put upon them both by Jotham.

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Judges 6-8

Today’s reading begins with the oppression of Israel by Midian and concludes with the death of Gideon.

In the continuing saga of the book of Judges comes the story of one of the more famous of the judges, Gideon. Gideon is a portrait in contrasts. At one moment timid, the next valiant. Gideon sought to hide his daily farming activities from the Midianites, but at the command of the LORD struck down the idols of the Midianites–in the middle of the night to escape notice.

He was willing to take men into battle against the Midianites, but first wanted a sign from God. The sign that he asked of God was this: Gideon would lay a piece of fleece on the threshing floor. If it was truly God who was speaking to him to go out to battle, then he asked that God would make dew fall on the fleece but leave the threshing floor completely dry. God did as he asked and the fleece was so wet with dew that when Gideon squeezed out the fleece it filled an entire bowl. Trusting as he was, Gideon on the next night asked for another sign from God: let the ground be wet with dew but the fleece be completely dry. God was patient with Gideon’s timidity and complied with his request for another sign.

After having received word from the LORD and two signs, Gideon set out to battle against the Midianites. Before going into battle, however, Gideon would need fighting men. God would provide fighting men, but this time, God told Gideon that He would be the one to choose who the men would be who would fight. The LORD brought the men willing to go into battle to the spring of Harod. God told Gideon that only the men who lapped water with their tongue would be the men who would fight for Israel. After performing this test, the LORD had narrowed down the number of men fighting to 300.

The 300 fighting men that the LORD had provided to Gideon went into the camp of Midian in the middle of the night and while everyone in the camp was sleeping blew loudly on trumpets and created such a commotion that the warriors of Midian began attacking each other and eventually fled.

Once again, the LORD had provided a judge to fight for Israel. It would not be long, however, until Israel once again walked away from the LORD.

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Judges 4-5

Today’s reading begins with the judgments of Deborah and Barak and concludes with song of Deborah and Barak.

During the previous reason, the judge Ehud fought for Israel by killing Eglon the king of Moab and 10,000 of the strong men of Moab. God had saved the Israelites from servitude to an unrighteous king. In return, the people of Israel again strayed from the LORD. For their unfaithfulness and ungratefulness, the LORD sold the people of Israel into the hand of Jabin the king of Canaan. The king ruled cruelly over the people of Israel at the hands of his General, Sisera, for twenty years and the Israelites called out to the LORD for His help.

God spoke through Deborah the prophetess to call Barak and spoke the words of the LORD to him. The LORD commanded him through Deborah to recruit 10,000 men and go into battle against Sisera. Barak was a brave and valiant warrior and led the people to slaughter the warriors of Canaan. In his attempt to escape, Sisera came to one of the allies of King Jabin, Heber the Kenite. Thinking that he would be able to find escape and rest, Sisera went into the tent of Jael the wife of Heber and while he was resting, Jael took a tent spike and drove it through his head into the ground and killed him.

Once again, the LORD had rescued Israel from its enemies.

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