What Did God Want?

People, people who believe and follow the One True God, desire to know what He wants, His will.  Or, they think they do.  Does this Creator we worship, Who we follow, does He also meet our standards or follow our senses of justice and propriety?  I hope not, and we would probably say no, but the alternatives can be frightening and sobering options.

They said, “Why, O LORD, God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?” (Judges 21:3 NASB)

The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were carved into the gold shoulder boards of the high priest.  Think about that.  The man responsible for leading the people in worship before their Creator, Yahweh, the God of Israel, carried the names of all twelve tribes into the tabernacle to perform his duties. Not eleven tribes, or ten, or two, but all twelve were carved on those shoulder boards.  This God having brought these people from slavery in Egypt had their names inscribed in gold.  So, why would He then have one wiped out?

And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. (Judges 21:15 NASB)

Who made a “breach” in the tribes of Israel?  If it was the God of Israel who made the breach, if it was the will of their Creator and Lord that there be a breach, then why try to repair it?  And why would their God desire and bring about a breach in the first place?  Were they truly so evil that there could be no repairing, no restoration, no forgiveness?

Keep in mind that verse 15 is not “dialogue” where the people say this, but rather author explanation.  The author and the people of the events are separated by hundreds of years.  Yet the author preserves this assessment of the situation as he faithfully records the details of the event.  To him, it is as inspired as the rest of the record.

If this assessment is to be taken at face value, if it is true, then was the repair of this breach made by God also His will?  Did the God of Israel also desire for the tribe of Benjamin to be preserved, after such a rebellious defense of such distorted behavior (transgression on top of iniquity)?  I think the repair, but maybe not the methods, were the will of God.

People say stupid things.  In fact, this entry could be considered by some to be pretty stupid.  I don’t think the stuff people say are necessarily the will of God.  I believe the oaths taken by the people of Israel in reaction  against their brother, Benjamin, were not what God wanted them to do.  But they made those oaths before God, and held themselves to them.  It was this behavior of the people that brought about both the destruction of Benjamin, and the busted solution to repair the destruction.  On the one hand they were rash in making the oaths, and, on the other, faithful in keeping them.

This passage serves to illustrate that the Maker and Sustainer of the universe works with flawed human creatures. He doesn’t wipe them out for their ridiculous mistakes, but forgives and works those mistakes into His purpose and design.  This passage also illustrates that, in the cosmic war against the enemy of God, things don’t always go according to plan.  But, in the end, the twelve tribes named on the shoulders of the high priest remained.  It was an expensive victory, much more expensive than intended, but still a victory over the enemy of God seeking the destruction of His people.

That’s my view through the fence this morning.  What do you see through your knothole?


The Wrong Treatment of Women

I have been working through Judges, partly using a commentary I found frustrating.  The writer simply had nothing positive to say about the people of God depicted in Judges throughout the commentary.  While that’s the typical traditional view, and the author does a decent job supporting each view, it’s also very limited in what it reveals of God’s character.  It’s an electronic commentary on the Old Testament, and I recently searched through it for the author of the commentary on Judges.  It was a woman.  That suddenly made a lot of sense.

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and brought her out to them; and they raped her and abused her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of dawn. As the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the man’s house where her master was, until full daylight.  When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, then behold, his concubine was lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold.  He said to her, “Get up and let us go,” but there was no answer. Then he placed her on the donkey; and the man arose and went to his home. (Judges 19:25-28 NASB)

The overall treatment of women in Judges varies.  But, especially in the final chapters, the spectrum is defined by a horrific event in chapter 19.  As one of those attending the study I lead mentioned, it sounded just like Sodom and Gomorrah.  That is partly, or even mostly, because of the proposed solution to the evil men surrounding the house.  In order to preserve the man they would sacrifice the daughters and wives (or concubine).  A father would offer that? Would he carry that out?

In this account, the man visiting seizes his concubine, whom he pursued to Bethlehem because he loved her, and shoves her outside to the mob.  He throws her out to save himself and his host.  You’d think the sounds of her abuse all night would keep him up and make him crazy.  But it doesn’t seem so.  He gets up, finds her lying on the threshold, and simply says, “Get up and let’s go.” Granted, narrative in Scripture isn’t necessarily the most descriptive of emotion, but that was callous in any language.

The Levite seems fine, to have slept through the night.  He rises and seems all is well.  “Oh look, my concubine, ‘hey, get up, it’s time to go.'” She goes from a precious person to baggage, in a single paragraph.  But a careful reading shows that this is not God’s perspective of the woman.  And His perspective is preserved by the author/editor of this book.

In relation to the Levite, she’s referred to as a concubine, a type of slavery actually.  Even after her abuse, the Levite refers to her as his concubine.  But to the author, before her abuse, she’s a girl.  And after her death, she is a woman, a word also referring to a wife with legal status.  It’s a slight change, but I believe the term is important for what it says about God’s perspective here.  The world in which she lived thought her trash to be discarded, even cut up to use as a message, objectified in the worst way. But God, saw her different.  She was the “young girl”, and the “woman”.

In verse 26 of chapter 19, she’s a woman.  Prior to that, she’s a “girl” (v.3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9).  This isn’t a literary variety technique, it’s important because the circumstances of her death are what bring the change.  She’s only a concubine in relation to the Levite.  She’s a girl in relation to her father’s house.  It’s always in a reference to her father that she’s a girl. How is that accidental? Jesus calls us to pray to our Father in heaven.  I believe this account provides a glimpse into our Father’s perspective on these final chapters.

To our Father, this girl, discarded by her master, is precious; mistakes and all.  The account says she cheated on her master, possibly for money.  It doesn’t say she’s perfect, or a virgin, but I infer from the writer that she’s precious to her Father in Heaven.  To Him she has status, she’s human, and her abuse breaks His heart.  Notice she remains a concubine to her master, but to the author (and to God), she’s a woman (19:26, 20:4).

This stands as one more account of a period of human history where the Creator holds women in higher esteem than the culture in which they lived.  So, I can understand a woman having a very difficult time with this book.  Even with Deborah and Jael heralding a different perspective, the overall treatment of women in this book isn’t great.  And yet, throughout, there are these glimpses of the Creator’s view.  A woman kills Abimelech with a millstone thrown from a wall.  God honors Manoah’s wife above him.  And there are many others.

The God depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures honors women, and consistently elevates their status among men.  It’s a pattern Jesus continues, not one He invents.

At least that’s what I see of our Master through my knothole this morning.  What do you see through yours?

Stupid Oaths

In the Occidental mind, rule is best when spread among many individuals, either in a parliament or congress.  On the other hand the truly ridiculous is only possible with a group mentality.  Individuals are rarely this creative or destructive.  Once body parts have been sent as invitations, anything becomes possible for the resulting assembly.

Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying, “None of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin in marriage.” (Judges 21:1 NASB)

Considering the problem, that Benjamin seems to persist in defending repulsive transgression, this seems like an acceptable oath.  Which father wants his daughter mixed up in a such a group.  But they are there to fix the problem, not avoid being mixed up in it.  So, actually the oath is truly ridiculous.  Once “repaired”, and Benjamin restored, this might be an important element in restoring the tribe and mitigating further transgression.  But, just as on TV, wait, there’s more!

Then the sons of Israel said, “Who is there among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up in the assembly to the LORD?” For they had taken a great oath concerning him who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah, saying, “He shall surely be put to death.” (Judges 21:5 NASB)

Of course, anyone not answering the summons of a severed body part, that should be a capital offense.  Where is the sense of that?  The sense to them was that something detestable to God had been done (technically twice), and refusing to come deal with it was like approving of the behavior.  On the other hand, this particular oath also put the entire tribe of Benjamin under the ban.  There was no other option with this oath than to leave no survivors in Benjamin since no one from that tribe showed up to the assembly.  So, even before starting out on this expedition, the end was already determined, not by God, but by the ridiculous mob mentality of the assembly.

So, off the people go to battle, and then return, leaving 600 men of Benjamin alive at a rock.  That’s all that’s left of Benjamin.  The other 11 tribes sacked and burned all the cities, all the people were killed, men, women, children, and animals in Benjamin, except for these 600 at the rock.  Then Israel mourns for the lost tribe.  A bit late, somewhat of an afterthought, but they mourn all the same.  The senselessness of their oaths begins to settle on them.  But wait, can they somehow use these oaths to their advantage?  No, not really.

The first oath mentioned, no one gives their daughters to Benjamin, that one causes a problem of the remnant of Benjamin surviving.  There’s really no advantage there.  So, the next oath, kill anyone who didn’t show up to the assembly, they try to use to fix the first one.  They kill the people of Jabesh-Gilead so they can take their virgins to give to the remnant of Benjamin as wives.  The “solution” only nets 400 wives for 600 men, not enough.  The destruction of Jabesh-Gilead is a “sacrifice” because they put the city under the “ban”, like Jericho.  I just don’t think this is the sacrifice God was looking for.

So, what is the perspective of God in all of this?  In the previous chapter, Yahweh gives Israel marching orders, but still they fail twice against underwhelming odds.  Finally the 360,000 men are able to defeat 26,000 men of Benjamin, leaving only 600 alive.  God seems involved at least, but why the first two failures?  The people offer sacrifices, they seek His face, they cry out to Him.  But then there are these oaths?  They are made before Yahweh, and they do keep them.  But, was all that was said before God at this sacred assembly really the will of God?  I think it’s safe to say no, not all that was said was of God.  On the other hand, some was according to His will, and even according to His commandment.

We, the modern scientific human, want consistency, our favorite litmus test of truth!  As our Master reveals Himself in Scripture, He seems to want relationship.  Relationships are messy, don’t follow consistent rules, and even seem chaotic at times.  The way that Yahweh reveals Himself in Scripture, He sets out on a relational adventure, adds some laws, and then tends to ignore or break these rules while holding His chosen people to account for them.  He’s bewildering.  And He does break the covenant obligations:  He tends to be more forgiving than the covenant stipulates, shows more compassion than promised, and is more persistent in His presence among His people than expected.

That’s my view through the fence this morning.  What do you see through your knothole?

Foreshadowing, Forewarning

I am doing something different.  In the next month (February), I will be somewhere else, among other people than those I’ve been with for the last five years.  So, what I’ve been doing, preparing for teaching, will have to change.  I won’t have people to teach.

But, through preparing to teach the book of Judges, I have learned more about my Master than I have in previous books.  I think I’ve learned more about Him than I did in my study of Luke.  Or, it may be more accurate to say what I learned in Luke became much clearer as I studied Judges.

So, I’m going to do something different.  I’m going back through Judges.  Starting in February, I’m going to complete some gaps in my translation of Judges (chapters 2, 3, and 5).  I’m going to complete my study questions (https://whathappenedinthebible.blogspot.com), filling in any gaps.  And then I’m going to assemble and edit it all into a study guide for the book of Judges.

I don’t know if it will be in anything approaching a publishable form.  That would be nice, but my goal is to drive what I’ve learned about my Master deep into my heart.  Others may benefit from it, but I hesitate to make that my goal. I think I have a lot to learn first.

I want to think through all of this, all that my Master has revealed of Himself in His dealings with His obstinate, often ignorant, people.  I believe I am they.  These obstinate ignorant people are me.  And, just as my Master continued to love them, care for them, and rescue them, often from themselves; so He continues to do with me, and, probably, with you.

So, my posts on this site will change.  I’m not sure, but I may start a new set of pages, new blog, something that sets off this new compilation of material from both sites.  If you follow me, you’ll be forewarned.  If you don’t, then consider this foreshadowing.

Blessings upon you, either way.