Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Judges 1-5: Dynamite Dudes and Deadly Dames

Now we're in Judges, which is, in my opinion, one of the Bible's most frustrating books.  The cycle of obedience, disobedience, oppression, repentance, and deliverance, is going to be repeated many times, and by the time we get to the end of the book things are just chaotic.  But there is some really cool stuff in this book too; in fact, a few of my favorite people are in this book.

So Judges begins more or less where Joshua ended, with Joshua having just died and the people of Israel wondering what to do about the Canaanite cities that have not yet been captured.  So they start to go after some of them, and Caleb even offers his daughter as a reward for whoever will capture Kiriath-sepher.  Things seem to be going well, but then we find out that the Benjaminites don't drive out the Jebusites in Jerusalem, and that there are people among Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan that are not conquered or not driven out - in fact, the people of Dan get driven into the hills by the Amorites and they essentially lose their land.  So the angel of the LORD comes and rebukes the people for not obeying Him by not driving out all the people, and warns them that those people are going to become a snare to them.

Here's when things really start to go downhill.  We read again about how Joshua died and the people served God while he was alive and while his successors were alive, but then we read a very ominous verse: "All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel."

Time out.  Wasn't there a big push in the Law for the people to talk about the LORD constantly with their kids?  What happened?  From Abraham all the way till now, we have seen so few examples of good parents that I'm starting to think parenting skills are a genetic deformity with Israel.  So surprise surprise, Israel serves the Baals, which is the collective name for the pagan gods of the Canaanites.  And guess what? those people who didn't get driven out of the land, and a few people outside the land that God had given Israel peace with at the end of Joshua, they now are not so peaceful.

First the king of Mesopotamia oppresses Israel for 8 years.  God sends a dude named Othniel to deliver them, and for forty years things go well.  But once again, Israel is unable to make a good thing last more than one generation, because history repeats itself.  Only this time it's Moab who oppresses Israel, for 18 years this time.

Enter one of my favorite people in the Bible:  Ehud, a leftie.  He stabs the king of Moab, whom the Bible describes as "a very fat man," so deep that his blade gets lost in the king's stomach.  That's just gross, but the story is also really funny.  And after Ehud's display of left-handed cleverness, there are 80 years of peace - I think that's the longest period of rest that the nation is going to have during this whole book, so don't get too comfortable.

Next is a guy named Shagmar.  He only gets one sentence in the Bible, unfortunately.  He killed 600 Philistines using an oxgoad   I didn't know what an oxgoad was so I looked it up.  According to Wikipedia, "The goad is a traditional farming implement, used to spur or guide lifestock, usually oxen, which are pulling a plough or a cart; used also to round up cattle. It is a type of a long stick with a pointed end, also known as the cattle prod. Though many people are unfamiliar with them today, goads have been common throughout the world. Goads in various guises are iconographic device, and may be seen in the hand of Neith and the 'elephant goad' or 'ankusha' (Sanskrit) in the hand of Ganesha, for example."

Now I don't know anything about Shagmar, but he sounds pretty cool just from that.  I wonder why he didn't use a sword though?

After Ehud dies (so apparently Shagmar's oxgoad feat was during Ehud's lifetime), we have a really cool lady named Deborah, a prophetess.  She's not the judge - a guy named Barak is.  But she tells Barak to go fight Canaan, who is the current oppressor of the last 20 years.  Barak says he'll only go if Deborah goes with him.  I'm really not sure why; I guess he thought having a prophetess around would help him with strategy?  So Deborah tells him that Sisera, the army commander, will be given into the hands of a woman.  I thought that meant Deborah was going to get the credit for Canaan's defeat, but that's not at all what she's talking about.  She means, literally, that a woman is going to kill Sisera.  Her name is Jael.

Jael is probably the coolest lady in the Bible.  First, she has a cool name.  But more importantly, when Barak defeats the Canaanites and Sisera runs away, he comes to her tent, and she convinces him that she'll hide him, because apparently her husband's people has a peace treaty with the king of Canaan.  So he hides there and falls asleep, and Jael takes a tent peg and hammers it through his temple.  That's way grosser than what Ehud did.  Jael rocks!

The next chapter is a song that Deborah and Barak sing, and Jael has her own stanza.

So what do we learn about God from this passage?  One, that God is serious when he says there will be bad consequences for sinning.  Two, that God is also serious about forgiveness, and serious about keeping His covenant with Abraham.  I mean technically, God's already fulfilled the covenant; He kept His terms.  But He continues to keep it even after Israel has broken it over and over and over.  Why?  I guess because God has a plan that's bigger than Israel.  And He'll do what it takes to see that plan through, because ultimately it will save us all.

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