Poetic Theology

Hebrew Poetry is one of the most difficult types of literature to decipher in Scripture.  To be fair, translating the poetry of any culture is difficult, as is interpreting humor, and understanding colloquialisms, and idiom.  So, part of the problem is the nature of how a culture understands and uses poetry.  Another part of the problem is that some elements may be either missing, misspelled, or their meaning is lost.

In the study of Judges I concluded last year, I skipped chapter 5, the Song of Deborah and Barak.  I knew poetry would be difficult, but I didn’t realize how important this poem was to understanding the people of Yahweh, Yahweh Himself, and His work among His people.  The poem reveals things about the time of Deborah and Barak, and also, about the people and time of it’s writing.  That latter element could be difficult since there could be two times/groups if it was used, as an intact ancient source, by the “editor/author” of Judges.

To start this exploration, let’s look at the beginning, because some of our toughest problems are found in the first lines:

Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. (Judges 5:2 KJV)

When locks are long in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly– bless the LORD! (Judges 5:2 NRSV)

That the leaders led in Israel, That the people volunteered, Bless the LORD! (Judges 5:2 NASB)

The Septuagint isn’t really helpful here either.  In one version it connects “revealing” with what is “revealed”, and another version has beginnings going first.  In both instances, the attempt on the part of the Greek translator was to preserve the sound relationship over the original meaning of the Hebrew.  What I infer from that is that the translators of this Hebrew passage into Greek didn’t know what the Hebrew meant even then.  All they knew is that the two words sounded similar, and so tried to figure it out from the context.

Modern translators do something similar.  And they rely on the Hebrew, but supplement their understanding of the Hebrew with the Greek.  As the Greek texts are actually older in many cases, this isn’t a bad method.

Still, what point can be drawn from the detail that the first lines of this poem are difficult?  Well, perhaps that this isn’t Yahweh’s point.  If it were, He would have preserved something clearer.  So, let’s move on.

The second thing we learn about this defeat of Sisera and his chariots is that a wet storm seems to have come from the southeast.

LORD, when You went out from Seir,
When You marched from the field of Edom,
The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped,
Even the clouds dripped water.
The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD,
This Sinai,
at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:4-5 NASB)

I made the line breaks above to match the Hebrew text more closely.  In any case, a severe thunderstorm seems to have originated from the direction of the land of Edom.  I don’t know how common or uncommon that would have been, but, looking at a map, it would mean that it approached the valley this fight happened in from over Mt. Tabor, where Israel formed their ranks.  It also means that the army of chariots couldn’t see it coming.

Then, this happens:

New gods were chosen; Then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen Among forty thousand in Israel. (Judges 5:8 NASB)

Israel chose new gods, then war was in the gates. Not a shield or spear was seen among 40,000 in Israel. (Judges 5:8 HCSB)

God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. (Judges 5:8 NIV)

And, to be clear (or unclearer than it already is), there are multiple examples of translations with each of these options.  Basically, we’re not sure what this line of the poem really means.  Literally, “He reviewed new gods.”  Who’s “he” and why are new gods being “reviewed in order to select”?  I suspect that “he” really is Israel, and this is a statement of repentance.  The problem beginning this account of Deborah is found in Judges 4:1, “Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.” (NASB)  Unfortunately, we’re not told the specific “evil” they did, but, from the “prelude” it seems “evil” typically had to do with worshiping other gods.  That would make the “choosing” or “reviewing” other gods make some sense as one way to describe “repentance”.

The next line about “war in the gates” would be one possible outcome of defying the “gods” of King Jabin of Hazor.  It’s not the only one, it could be simple local upheaval due to social/religious differences.  It’s a Hebrew idiom, “war in the gates”, and is a general statement of war that affects the local community(ies).

But another peculiarity I found in this poem is a reference to a sub-group within the people of Israel, “peasantry” (ala NASB).  It’s found in verses 7 and 11, and translates the Hebrew word perazon (Strong’s H6520).  Since it’s only used here in those two verses, the suspicion from the context is that it refers to “country-folk”.  The reason I find this ironic is that, among the nations left in Canaan by which to tempt and oppress Israel are the “Perizzites” (Strong’s H6522).  See the relation here?  If not, look up the Strong’s reference.  Both have PRZ as the base, and both words are thought to refer to unwalled cities, or villages.  So, Perizzites are those who live in villages, and Perazon are essentially the same thing, villagers.  This sort of, de-villifies the “Perizzites” is all.  And, who doesn’t like the village people (sorry, couldn’t help it – you were thinking it).

After this, a “role-call” of sorts is taken from the Tribes of Israel.  Some came, others were criticized for sitting out.  Throughout the poem, the fight seems to be woven into various places without much detail.  In verse 19, kings gather to fight near the waters of Megiddo (which, if you’re in an iron chariot, isn’t brilliant).  The stars are involved, like the battle is really between the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.  And then the river sweeps them away (see why it’s not a great idea to mix iron chariots and water?).  And we have this curse on “Meroz” for not showing up.  Technically, this is the end of the “battle”.

The poem sort of slows down, and, like the author of Judges, focuses in on the gory details:

Most blessed of women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
He asked for water and she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay;
Between her feet he bowed, he fell;
Where he bowed, there he fell dead. (Judges 5:24-27 NASB)

This, in poetic form, is the same thing the author does with Ehud as he assassinates Eglon.  Because of that, I’m going out on a limb here, and suggest that the author of Judges wrote the poem, rather than including a source verbatim.  I could be wrong, this could simply be a common literary device, to focus on the gory details.

The point I see in this part of the poem is that this woman, one assumed to be fairly powerless in their culture, becomes the hero.  That’s important.  God delivers His people through the hand of a woman, technically not even an Israelite.  I learn from this, that we don’t get to choose the deliverer, and the deliverer will draw attention to the greatness of God, not the deliverer.

Now the next literary part of the poem is just mean.  It uses a common element of war to drive home a point.

Out of the window she looked and lamented,
The mother of Sisera through the lattice,
‘Why does his chariot delay in coming?
Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’
Her wise princesses would answer her,
Indeed she repeats her words to herself,
‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil?
A maiden, two maidens for every warrior;
To Sisera a spoil of dyed work,
A spoil of dyed work embroidered,
Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’
Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD;
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.”

And the land was undisturbed for forty years. (Judges 5:28-6:1 NASB)

This points to a woman grieving, in shock over the loss of her son, and basically gloats.  I doubt Sisera lived in his mom’s basement, and who knows if his mother was even alive or not.  It simply makes a point.  The assumption of the antagonist is that Sisera cannot lose.  And he lost.  So, let all the enemies of Yahweh perish.  May their mothers know the pain of a parent loosing their child before their time.  I can’t really think of something harsher.  The ending of this poem is “imprecatory“.  And this is what Yahweh inspired to honor Himself.  Scripture is inspired, and, therefore, so is this poem, and, therefore, so is this ending.  Oppose Yahweh, and you may receive a curse.

We would do well to remember with Whom we relate er we enter into His presence to worship.  So says this knight of the realm, servant of the King.  What say you?

Life, a Relationship Restored

As Jesus stands before Pilate, Pilate asks if He is a “king”.  And Jesus replies, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37 NASB)  At this, Pilate seems to mutter under his breath, or at least ask rhetorically, “What is truth?”  Too few people today ask this question because our culture declares that truth is unknowable.

Paul, in his letter to the disciples in Rome, writes of a relationship with God restored.  He continually uses the term “justified”, or in the Greek of the day, “dikaioo”, to make or declare righteous.  Only in verse 1, it’s a passive participle, “having been made righteous”.  “Having been made righteous”, means that we didn’t make ourselves righteous.  It means that whatever made us righteous happened already, not some future event.  It means that our relationship with our Creator has been healed.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NASB)

Having been justified, we stand, and we exult in the future we have with our Maker.  Having been justified, we have peace with the One having formed us.  Hopefully, that gives you chills.  It should, because the alternative is drug along with justification, and lays on the stage just behind the statement.  There is an alternative in which there is no peace with our Creator.

What should we call this state of “having been justified”?  Do we call it “the state of peace”?  That is too long.  Perhaps we can call it “the state of grace”?  But, that’s still long.  Perhaps Paul solves this problem for us later in the chapter.  On in verse 9, Paul says we have been saved from God’s wrath.  The terrifying alternative raises its head and winks, then lies back down.  Still, that’s not a name, not really.

And then, in verse 12, the terrifying alternative rises to do a little dance number.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14 NASB)

“The law is no excuse, and the lack of law is no protection.”  So the song goes, and then, after a final twirl and a bow, the horror stands mute again in the background. Still, to the fore, this “having been made righteous” stands proud.  But, what do we call this character?

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.  The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. (Romans 5:15-16 NASB)

Again, justification, the “having been made righteous” is our state, and it’s called a “gift”!  The gift isn’t like the failure, which is good, because they look nothing alike.  One is creepy and dark, and with an unnerving smile.  While the other appears strong, even glowing slightly, with a look of serenity about them.  But, what is this character’s name?

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17 NASB)

Houston, we have a name! Life.  What do we call the state of this “having been made righteous”? We call it life.  Which means that the character of wrath, lacking peace, that one is death.  The terrifying alternative to the peace of being made righteous is death, and now we know we live.  That seems to make the alternative a lot less frightening.  I live, and this life is through my Master, Jesus.  But how long?  How long will it last?  Does nothing good last forever?

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21 NASB)

Life eternal, life is eternal, the peace and restored relationship we have with our Creator is eternal, it lasts forever (for those who didn’t know what eternal meant).  Well, I believe that’s the cue for the exit of death, stage left.  See ya, creepy.  The truth Pilate was so sure was unknowable was unfolding right before his eyes.  Pilate could have a restored relationship with his Maker.  Who would have thought?

The crowds shouting for Barabas could have a restored relationship with their Maker!  Even they, those who were so sure their relationship wasn’t broken, even they could have  peace with their God.  Even you.  Even me.  Even that militant atheist pseudo-intellectual philosopher so comfortable in ignorance, so blind, and so wretched, and so intent on keeping themselves that way; even they can be restored to their Maker.

Whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not, regardless of how far or how deep runs our rebellion against our Maker, we can all have a restored relationship with our Creator.  Our Creator is revealed as our Savior, and He brings us into life, eternal life.  We don’t have to, I suppose.  The militant atheist philosopher doesn’t seem to want to, and those who don’t realize they’re dead, they don’t want to either.  Even so, it’s still available.  Which one are you?  Do you live?  Would you like to?

Curtain, house lights down.

This Guy Walks Into A Blog…

I don’t normally do requests, but I do consider recommendations.  From a blog I follow, I was directed to an entry on another blog about biblical perspectives on hell, and from there entered into a discussion about life and death.  That discussion led me to Romans 5.  I don’t typically study topically, my method of study makes topics excruciatingly difficult and inordinately long.  I’ve spent around 30 years, off and on, studying the biblical meaning of life and death…see what I mean?

So, I want to begin by thanking Amanda from “Kindling Truth” for the nudge toward this chapter.  She actually had a very long page of references, but many at the top were from this chapter.  Anyway, she can’t be blamed for what I say here, she’s simply the one the Holy Spirit used to direct me to this chapter.

I believe that Romans 5 is a “hinge” in Paul’s explanation of his understanding of the good news of Jesus.  I see in this chapter a point where Paul’s explanation pivots, swinging from an emphasis on the problem to an emphasis on the solution.  In chapters 1 through 4, Paul describes that we are separated from our Creator, whether we have the law of God from the Hebrew Scriptures or not.  Basically, after chapter 4, the conclusion is that we’re all lost, Jews and Gentiles.

In chapter 5, the discussion swings into a focus on the solution, and how the solution perfectly fits the problem.  In this chapter, Paul uses a lot of different words, all referring to a covenant violation of some sort.  If you want to know how Paul can pin “covenant violations” on Gentiles, the answer is found in Romans 2:12-16.  And, honestly, calling these actions “covenant violations” is simply convenient, more than being accurate.  Essentially, our Creator doesn’t want us to do them.  Call them what you will, define them how ever you like, but the basic truth underlying the problem of humanity is that we do what our Creator doesn’t want, and don’t do what He does want.

But, why? There are lots of answers to this question.  The writer of the blog I followed to find Amanda’s believes that we have no choice.  God’s sovereignty means that every thought and action that follows is predetermined by God, and we are powerless to do otherwise.  I don’t subscribe to that belief, but I don’t fault him for it either.  He supports it through Scripture, Jesus is his Master, and his relationship with God is through the Jesus of Scripture.  So, disagree all you want, he’s still a fellow disciple.

Still, if the answer to why isn’t predetermination, then what?  In Romans 5:12, Paul introduces a theme he will return to later.  He writes of the “one through whom sin entered the world”, and most readers agree he refers to Adam in Genesis 3.  Paul begins a contrast between Adam and Jesus, point for point, showing how Jesus solves the problem created by Adam.  He will return to it again in Romans 7 in much more detail.  Here, Paul simply touches lightly the points of contrast.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (Romans 5:15 NASB)

Did you notice the “much more” element of the contrast?  Look again at verses 9, 10, and 17, and you will see this same element.  The solution through Jesus overwhelms the problem.  Wait, have you noticed that I haven’t defined the problem?  Okay, here’s the “hint” from Paul:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NASB)

The problem is defined here, by the solution, “…we have peace with God…”.  The problem is that we have been aligned against Him, enemies of our Creator.  And, because of this, we deserved wrath (see verse 9).  This is described in a lot more detail in chapters 1 through 3, but here, in this “hinge” of his discussion, Paul contrasts the resulting “death” with the gift of “life”.  Look at verses 17, 18, and 21.  These are contrasts where our death is traded for life.  Why? Because of what Paul has said in verse 10,

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10 NASB)

The solution through Jesus overwhelms our problem.  We were dead, but the life of Jesus overwhelms our death.  We are supposed to be dead.  We earned it, death is our “wages” earned as a part of the rebellion against our Creator.  Many today embrace it, they love death, revel in it, consider it their privilege.  Yet, read, again, verse 10, “…while we were enemies…”.  Yes, many do wallow jubilant in their death, but that didn’t stop our Creator from solving their problem, and ours, through His Son, Jesus.

What I learn from this is that death is optional.  I know my buddy at Perfect Chaos disagrees, and that’s fine, but even he agrees that the problem of death, predetermined though it may be, is solved in Jesus, even if for another predetermined population.  It’s still Jesus, He’s still the answer to the problem of death.  I believe I have a choice in this, he doesn’t, you may nor may not.  Regardless, a solution exists.  I don’t have to remain in death.  Neither do those who claim to revel in that existence the Scripture defines as death.  Even though they “love” it, they can be saved from it.  Jesus’ willing action in death overwhelms the problem of our death, and, as He rose from death, so His life now becomes ours.  And the life defining our existence has no end, no wrath, and no death.

I have chosen life, others have submitted to the determination of our Creator to live, and both of us call Him Lord.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NASB)

What does your view through the knothole lead you to believe this morning?  Are you bound for eternity in the promised land?

The ‘Tweens

“Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” – Douglas Adams

Time between things is the worst for me.  I don’t like waiting, even though waiting is something my Master has directed me to do. My frustration with waiting makes these times between things particularly difficult for me.  There’s too little time to accomplish any task (even fun ones), and too much time to just leave because you’d be way too early.  It’s an illusion that stems from my selfishness, I know that, but I still don’t like it.

It’s not enough to know that my Master has called me to wait, worship, and walk before Him.  I know that waiting is something He wants of me specifically and personally.  I figure it’s because I don’t like it, and, to do it, shaves more off my self-centered paradigm. It’s His way of making me more into the image of Himself.

Paul probably experienced this frustration at being caught between things in Troas…

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. (Acts 16:6-8 NASB)

I doubt very much that selfishness drove Paul’s attempts to reach into Asia and Bithynia, but, it still had to be frustrating to be working blindly to find where Jesus did want them to go. It turns out Troas was where He wanted them to go, Paul and Silas were simply being directed there.  These times between times are times where my Master is teaching me to look for what He wants.  It’s the “not getting what I want” that creates the frustration.  Wanting what He wants would alleviate that.

It is an important reality that my Master doesn’t waste time and opportunity.  I am to be like Paul, going to the tempo of my Master; being where He wants, when He wants.  Right now, I want to work on a book I’m compiling from my journey through Judges.  But I can’t go at the pace I want.  I need to take it in steps.  I hate that.  On the other hand, going at the pace of my Master is part of obedience as much as doing the thing itself.  Remember, this is relational not legal.  The only ritual is the seeking of His Spirit in any given situation.

So, now I wait in Troas for the vision of the next step.  I’ll try not to twiddle my thumbs so dramatically, and maybe listen for my Master’s still small voice.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What’s your view like this morning?