Who Is She?

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.  She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5 NASB)

One of the unique elements to this account of God’s deliverance of the Sons of Israel is that His main person is a woman.  The writer of Judges does emphasize this uniqueness in that she’s not just a “prophetess” but a woman prophetess.  Like there’s another kind.  Obviously he’s emphasizing her gender.

Do what you want with that, but also take into consideration that, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the leadership role of a woman is not “moralized”, or characterized as evil, in the Hebrew narratives.  Even the “evil queen”, Athaliah was condemned for her actions in the same way as the other evil kings; her downfall was never tied to her gender.

In most cases, the husband of a woman in leadership is also mentioned.  In the case of Athaliah, it’s mentioned prior to her assuming the throne.  But in the case of Huldah and Deborah, their husbands are introduced along with them.  Deborah’s introduction with her husband is somewhat unique though.

In the case of Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), her husband is given the expected introduction so the hearer/reader gets a sense of who he is.  Even his role or occupation is listed.  But in the case of Deborah, her husband has a weird name, and no sense of his tribal affiliation.  Only their location in the hill country of Ephraim provides a clue as to the tribe to which they belong.

The introduction formula isn’t necessarily a problem.  Yet, another unique quality is that Deborah’s husband has a name in a feminine form.  The word it’s derived from is “torch”, which can also mean “lightning”, “fire brand”, “flame”, etc. In a sense, you could say that Deborah’s husband’s name is “she shines”, or “she’s bright”.  The problem being that “torch” doesn’t have a verb equivalent to the noun.

So, is it possible that the writer of Judges didn’t have any of that info for Deborah, and supplied a “placeholder”?  It’s not necessarily likely, but possible.  If that were the case, though, then God wasn’t really interested in that particular detail.  As it is, that detail isn’t very prominent, not nearly as prominent as it is in the case of Huldah.

So, what’s my point?  The point I see here is that Deborah’s gender is important to the account, but her “marital status” is not.  Even her tribal affiliation isn’t that much of an issue.  The point that is emphasized is her gender (woman prophetess), and that reluctance of the part of a male (Barak), for whatever reason, incites God to give the victory to another woman rather than the “chosen male”.

And I don’t see any reluctance on the part of God to use a woman.  He chose a guy local to the battle, but the guy wanted the prophetess to accompany him. God acquiesces, but then takes the “glory” away from the guy and gives it to a girl.  Once again, God seems to have no problem with that.

So, this entry only deals with God’s use of women as leaders in the Hebrew Scriptures.  And that’s as far as I’m going in it.  I’m not dealing with or addressing Paul’s writings here.  And as far as we’ve gone, I think it’s clear that God seems to have no problem using women as leaders.  Whatever that might mean to you, to me it means that I shouldn’t have a problem with it either.

Well, that’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see through yours?

Pegged By a Woman

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.  Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (Judges 4:10-11 NASB)

Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.  Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.  He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him.  He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.'”  But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. (Judges 4:17-21 NASB)

The account of Deborah and Barak would not be complete without Jael.  You simply cannot get the point without her.  We get so focused on the fact that Deborah led the Sons of Israel as a woman, that we forget that the enemy of God’s people was defeated by a woman from another people.  Not only did God keep the victory from Barak, but also from the Sons of Israel.

Also, much is made about the fact that Deborah prophesies that Barak won’t be given the victory because he asked a woman to go with him.  I think that has more to do with literary irony from the writer than some sort of indictment from God on women involved in leadership.  Deborah remains the judge, and there seems to be no problem on God’s side with her in that role.

The irony for me derives from the layered issue.  This Kenite, Heber, separates from his brethren in the south and is near Kadesh.  He is at “peace” with Jabin, the enemy of the people of Israel.  Yet his wife seems to be the enemy of Jabin and Sisera.  She pretends to be friendly, like her husband, but then secretly assassinates the general.

So, a battle ensues with the chariots being less effective than foot soldiers.  The general escapes on foot, and is killed by a woman while he sleeps.  Just when he thought he was safe, among friends, he wasn’t.  The battle followed him to the tents of his ally.  In all of this, where was Heber, anyway?

I think God’s sense of humor peeks through here.  Sure, the grisly nature of Jael’s actions is kind of gross.  But a woman driving a tent peg through a guy’s head into the ground?  When you consider he’s the chief warrior for the king of Canaan, it has to be the most embarrassing way to go.  What do you put on that tombstone?

I suppose the point for this is that God uses whoever He likes, and uses them in ways that show off His work.  A seasoned warrior killed in his sleep by a woman with a hammer and nail?  Yeah, that would be God.  Nine hundred chariots out run by foot soldiers?  Yeah, that would be God.  How does anyone else get credit?  They don’t.  They get points for participation.

So, what are we after?  Recognition?  Credit?  Kudos?  What?  God doesn’t give points for anything other than participation.  If we’re not okay with that, then there are s a few layers of problems with our relationship with God.  God has to be the Main Character, the Hero, the One in charge.  Who else can save?  Through whom, other than God, can human creatures be saved from eternal death?  If only Jesus saves, then isn’t it in everyone’s best interest that He get all the attention?

I like getting credit, for people to like me, think well of me, be impressed, and so on.  I need to get passed that.  People won’t be saved through any achievement of mine.  My best day won’t get one more person into eternal life.  Only Jesus accomplishes that.  So, let my Master use Jael, Deborah, Barak, foot soldiers, and tent pegs.  That should gain Him so notoriety, and that is the point, because that’s what brings people to Him.

So, what’s your view of God through the fence today?

A Tale of Two Puns

Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun.  I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.'” (Judges 4:6-7 NASB)

The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. (Judges 4:15 NASB)

I was going to separate these two “puns” into separate entries, but I only have two days, and I can’t pass up the irony of Jael.  If I have time next week, I’ll continue to unpack this amazing chapter of Judges, but my group is moving through this book pretty fast.

So, two puns, two literary features typically missed in English translations, and very difficult to try to bring across.  In fact, you’d have to “accidentally” spot them with something like a Strong’s Concordance or something.  But they startled me, and I find in them this intriguing character of the author of Judges.

When Deborah sends off to Barak to inspire him to lead two tribes into battle, she quotes God as laying out a form of “agreement” before Barak.  The way that adherents to Scripture typically view things, we’d call that a “covenant”.  It has the structure of “If you do this, I’ll do that”, but with more of a command or imperative nature.  In this example, it’s the verb signifying what each party will do that provides the first “pun”.

I suppose it’s not exactly a pun, but each use stretches the meaning of the verb so it sort of jumps out as being somewhat out of place.  When the meaning is understood apart from this account, you can be left with the clear sense of God’s awareness of the reluctance on the part of Barak.  The verb is “mashak”, and it usually means “to drag off” or “to draw out”.  Even knowing that, it’s kind of hard to spot the two uses of it in this passage, no?

The first usage is not what Barak does to the 10,000 troops of Naphtali and Zebulun, but rather to himself.  It’s a singular imperative “march” in verse 6.  And it’s not in the reflexive, or passive sense either, so he’s not causing himself or being acted upon.  In other words, God is basically saying, “Get your butt out of bed and drag it over to Mount Tabor.”

The second use of this word is more clear at the beginning of verse 7.  Yet when combined, you can see that God realizes that Barak is as reluctant to go to war as his eventual victim is to die.  We’re not told the reason for Barak’s reluctance, beyond that there were 900 iron chariots opposing him.  And it’s not hard to imagine that being a inhibiting factor.

The “agreement” is that, if Barak will drag his sorry butt to Mount Tabor, God will drag his opponent out to Barak to be defeated.  Sounds like a good deal.  Barak is still reluctant, so God gives the eventual glory of Sisera’s death to a woman (another story).

But now, let’s ask why God wants Sisera to be defeated.  Look at how God describes the “troops” of Sisera.  He calls them “many troops”.  That’s pretty simple, nothing surprising or interesting in that.  But if you look up the Strong’s Concordance entry for this Hebrew word, you’ll see this.  Look at the “Root Word” and follow the link.  The root of this word has to do with a loud noise.  God is calling Sisera’s army a “noisy bunch”, not just “many troops”.

And this brings us to the other half of this second pun in verse 15. God “routed” Sisera.  How plain and uninteresting.  Unless you examine the Hebrew verb used, here.  The verb is, again, about making noise.  Both this verb, and the adjective used prior have the same root, hamah (to grumble or to roar) or hum (to disturb with noise).  In other words, God shows up Sisera’s army by revealing what real noise sounds like.

Okay, so what?  God uses a pun to point out Barak’s reluctance, big deal.  God shows a noisy opponent what a truly shocking noise sounds like, okay, so?  Relax, sit back, close your eyes, and begin to imagine you’re in the iron age, and a king of Judah rules an unruly bunch of wayward Hebrews.  Some guy is telling a story about God delivering His people being oppressed by an army with iron chariots, against which the people of God had lots of people with sharp sticks, not a fair fight.  How can the storyteller make sure you get the point?  How does the Creator and Savior of the Sons of Israel get them to understand His point?  He uses literary technique.

The first pun points out Barak’s reluctance, but also God’s willingness to use him anyway.  His lame faith is no excuse to continue to sit on the couch, behind the plowing ox, or among the sheep and goats in the field.  So, neither is ours.  The message to us (and them) is to get our butts up and drag them out to face the enemy God is dragging out to be defeated before us.  That’s pun number one.

The second pun points out the ineffectual character of those that oppose God.  Whatever they might be, God is better at that quality, more dangerous,  smarter, bigger, and, as in this case, louder.  So, whatever enemy is faced, God is better.  But that’s sort of obvious.  Notice that the choice of words used also point out they’re ‘noisy’, not truly dangerous, just noisy.

If you read this account carefully, these tactical geniuses drove their iron chariots through a river.  Clearly they knew less about these tools of war than we’d expect.  I suspect that, since Egypt and the Hittites are pretty much the only ones with the ability to work iron, these guys didn’t make the chariots, but scavenged from a deserted battle field.  The battle plains of Meggido to the south, and Charchemesh and Qarqar to the north would be excellent places to find them.  Patch them up (make the wheels round for instance), and voila, instant technological advantage.  Not that you can truly fix them, only make them functional again.  So, the troops facing these hill people of Naphtali and Zebulun looked a lot like extras from some “Mad Max” Post-Apocalyptic movie.  And having something invented by others doesn’t mean you know how to use those things.  But it does mean you appear (or sound, in this case) very dangerous.

In other words, God took them down a peg.  These hoodlums believed in the noise they made with their accumulated chariots of iron.  God showed them what real noise sounded like.  He also showed the Sons of Israel.  The had been believing the noise of the 900 chariots for 20 years.  It was time for some real noise.  Are we believing the noise of our culture over what we read in Scripture?  God can, and will, show us what real noise sounds like.  But we need to drag our butts off the couch.  The culture sounds great, but our God is greater.  Why aren’t we making more noise about Him?  Or, are you?  If you are, keep it up.

Okay, that’s my view this morning.  I know it was long, but thank you for persevering through.  What’s your view of our God through your knothole?

 

A Pair of Triads

11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, 12 and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.  13 So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.  

14 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.  15 Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.
(Judges 2:11 — 15 NASB)

When mom repeated something three times, it was serious.  Either we got it, and all calmed down, or that was the extent of her patience leading to wrath.  It was our choice.  We could push her buttons beyond the sacred three repeats, and incur her swift justice.  Or we could choose to obey the third repeat of the command, diffusing the tension and recovering the peace of the home.  My mom raised two boys, so it was often tense.

It’s kind of like that in Scripture too.  When God repeats Himself three times it’s probably important.  In this passage, the author compiles two sets of threes.  I’m going to say that’s important.  Wait, you don’t see it?  Well, this translation doesn’t help since the verse division an sentence structure don’t exactly match in one point, and the verse structure actually obscures the second set.  Let me help you out.

The first “triad” is the is what the Sons of Israel did, and is found in verses 11 through 13.  Each verse repeats the sin of the Sons of Israel, but in a slightly different way.  They did evil in His sight serving the Baals, they followed other gods bowing down to them, and they forsook Yahweh to serve Baal and Ashtaroth.  Clearly it’s important we know that the Sons of Israel sinned by following the gods of the people around them.

The second triad, what Yahweh did, is more difficult to spot because verse 14 has two of the three pieces. Yahweh’s anger burns and He has them plundered, He sells them to their enemies so they can’t put up a fight, and His hand is against them for evil (yes, God’s hand does evil).  Without this triad, you might think God abandoned the Sons of Israel.  They did.  This writer isn’t allowing such a conclusion.  God was there, but was against them because of their service to other gods.

We think God has forsaken us sometimes.  Things don’t go well at home, at work, with friends or family.  We get sick, our family gets sick or hurt, and we think God has left us, or hates us.  The Children of Abraham probably thought that when times got hard.  When crops were light, or bad, or sickness struck, where was God?  And then, if successful people worshipped this Baal god, maybe that would help.  These Canaanites also worshipped El, and Baal was his son, so that makes it okay, right?

We don’t like to think ill of God, but we don’t want to understand Him either.  We’d really prefer that He do what we want, be like we want or imagine, and just be more convenient for us.  Whatever we might want, God not only persists being Who He is, but He also refuses to go away.  If we want to get along with Him, then we need to learn how.  And that requires worship of Him as God, time spent with Him in prayer (listening and speaking), and studying Scripture.  If we’re not willing to do that, then this will a bewildering and frustrating relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Anyway, that’s my view this morning.  If you read past my comment that God does evil, then share your view through your knothole?

A Generation Away…

 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land.  The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel.  Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten.  And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.  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.
(Judges 2:6 — 10 NASB)

While this an exaggeration, it makes a frightening point.  All it takes for the people of God to find someone else to worship is one failed generation.  This is an exaggeration because God will always provide for a remnant.  Even in Judges, there was always someone who seems to know God, ready to lead the people back to Him.  The people didn’t listen until it hurt too much to continue to ignore God.  But, there is still enough of the generation walking away from God, walking away because they don’t know.  That’s scary.

I suspect the problem wasn’t the prior generation not passing on the information. I suspect it was the type of knowledge.  I suspect the Next Gen didn’t know God in the same way the prior generation knew Him, experientially.  It’s one thing to pass on knowledge, it’s another thing to train someone else to follow the successful patterns, but it’s an impossible thing to cause someone to experience God.

Some will just get it. They’ll see God working in dad or grandpa, someone they admire, and for them it’s real.  For others, the family isn’t as strong, and the message is correspondingly weak.  Or perhaps the power and influence shifts ever so slightly towards those “compromisers”, seemingly successful people, who are more like the culture. Then the influence of the the devoted ones is diluted.  

Hopefully this sounds familiar enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  It’s them, those faithless people in Judges, and it’s us.  The more things change, the more information we have at our finger tips, the more money we have, the more we’re so much like them.  It’s so different now, you don’t know.  But it was different in our day too, and yet here we are again.  In so many ways, we’re those annoying know-it-all teenagers, telling the previous generation, “We got this, no wories,” oblivious to the train wreck ahead.

I’m guessing it wasn’t that the next generation didn’t know, but it was that they thought they knew better.  Like us, they’d figure out that ignoring God, or rather culturing Him, didn’t provide the results desired.  At that point we either change our desires, as so many have done, or look for that deliverer God raises up.  Somewhere, some weirdo who knows the stories, believes the old tales from the previous generation,  and has remained true to the God of whom they speak, this one will start to make some sense.

Until that happens, it’s probably best to be reading Scripture, you know so we’ll be able to tell the deliverer from the deceiver. That’s important too. It would be pretty embarrassing to call out to God for a deliverer, and then follow the wrong one…of course, I’m pretty sure that’s how we got here in the first place.

What’s  your view through the knothole this morning?

Bad News From God

Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?  Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”  When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.  So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the Lord. (Judges 2:1 — 5 NASB

Every time I encounter the Angel of Yahweh in Scripture, I believe this is God Himself. Here, though, God goes for a strenuous walk. He goes up from Gilgal to Bochim, which, depending on where you believe Bochim to be, is all up hill. Regardless of how far or in which direction, God begins His walk with His people.  Gilgal is still the place they started their conqpuest of Canaan.

Did you also notice His affirmation that He will never break His covenant? Remember that this how He starts out His harsh words to them. It’s not because they are so good, but because of their father’s righteousness.  Their part of the covenant was to drive out the Canaanites, and they made friends with them instead. At the most, they forced these Canaanites into forced labor. 

Then God declares that, if they will not drive them out now, then He will not help them drive them out later. The covenant doesn’t take a break, there will be no coming back to it later. The people of God, the Sons of Israel, the Children of Abraham, were becoming just like everyone else. They began to lose their distinctiveness. 

This is, more or less, how this sort of thing went in those days. The Babylonians and Assyrians, both were the product of assimilated invaders. Canaan had mixtures of Hittites, Amorites, Egyptians, and several other people groups mixed into the culture. And every time another conquering people showed up, the gods were renamed, old myths retold, and then everything found a new equilibrium. 

The God responsible for bringing these Children of Abraham back to the land of Canaan wasn’t interested in how things had always gone in the past. This counter-culture Deity sought something different. With Him, there would be no pantheon, the stories were all about Him, and He advocated a genocidal approach to the conquest of Canaan. That was not how the cultures around the Tribes of Israel played with others. This God was down right rude.

Who wants to be rude? Why can’t we all just get along? Isn’t compromise the pathway to peace among all peoples? Seriously, you have to kill everyone? When it got tough, when the enemies broke out the iron chariots, when the city walls seemed high and thick, compromise began to look attractive. And, to be honest, it still does. Our culture tells us to put down the swords and Spears, and just compromise. That way, everyone wins. And isn’t that the point?

Anyway, that’s my view of the ball game through the fence today. What’s your view like?

Giants In The Land

So Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. (Judges 1:10 NASB)

Now the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.
Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak. (Judges 1:19-20 NASB)

Because the Septuagint translates some Hebrew words as “gigas” or “giant”, the mythic memory of the battle of the Greek gods against the giants vaguely becomes a background for some of the conflict in Canaan.  But even so, isn’t interesting that both traditions preserve this memory of large powerful people?

There are  several clues for us that this world is not as our scientists would have us believe.  In some ways I wonder if science fiction may be closer to the truth.  The Scriptures, including the Christian Scriptures, paint a scene of heaven where there is conflict.  There is a war among the “Sons of God”, and sides have been chosen.  We are fairly oblivious in our western philosophical arrogance, and it’s in the “third world” that this war clearer.

The problem we face is our prejudices and fears.  We consider every other culture to be ignorant of how the world really works.  And we fear the nagging fact that there seems to be so much we can’t measure but which still seems to have an effect on our world.  But isn’t it the fears and prejudices of ancient cultures that we assume spawned their myths?

What if the world depicted by Scripture isn’t all that different from reality, and we have it skewed by our fears and prejudices?  What if there are giants in the land, or were.  There were lions in Canaan, but we know they were hunted to extinction.  There were bears too, and we know those were destroyed.  What if, before that, there were giants?

It’s possible we, modern western science-minded people, don’t actually know as much as we think we do.  Perhaps the enlightenment wasn’t as enlightening as we thought.  Maybe modernist and post-modernists didn’t improve our perception of the universe.  Perhaps all we’ve done is hobbled our ability to stand against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.

Just kidding.  Probably not.  What a load of hooey.  Go back to your day, enjoy your breakfast.  There’s no bogeyman, no monsters, and no reason to believe in ghosts.  So what if you can’t explain stuff, right?  It’s just a matter of time until we figure it out…

I’ll just be over here praying.  Which for me means I’ll be entering into the spiritual realm of my King, and communicating past an army fighting Him, out for my destruction.  Don’t mind me.  Just put more apple butter on your English muffin, and refresh your coffee mug.

Carry on.  Nothing to see here…