Wandering the savage garden…

April 2014Monthly Archives

Samuel was a loan to the Lord?

In my Bible-in-a-Year task, I am in the books of Samuel at last; I’m in for another strong dose of history. It should be interesting.

Today included I Samuel 1, which is where Hannah prays to the Lord for a son; this son is Samuel. She takes him after he is weaned to Shiloh, where he will serve the Lord under Eli.

[26] And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. [27] For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. [28] Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there. (1 Samuel 1:26-28 ESV)

Verse 27 is what stood out to me about this text: Hannah lends Samuel to the Lord, even though Samuel was given to her by the Lord in the first place.

It says something about how the creation belongs to its creator, albeit abstractly. I don’t think it’s something from which to derive copyright law, mind, but still…

Man, Gideon didn’t end well

In my Bible-in-a-year quest, I’m still way behind, but at least I’m in Judges now. I just got done reading about Gideon, and it’s pretty sad; it doesn’t end well.

To really see the whole, I needed to step back and consider the whole narrative. (And, of course, I still could be missing quite a bit.)

First off, this is Israel in the time of the tribal league. D’vorah is no longer a judge. Israel has yet again turned from God. (This is a recurring thing with Israel, just as it is with us.)

Because of the terms of the Covenant, God has invoked the curses; Midian is oppressing Israel. The text – in Judges 6:1-6 – doesn’t make it sound quite like a military invasion. It sounds like the Midianim are simply moving in, overwhelming the Israelites through numbers; they “devoured the produce of the land” and left nothing for Israel; as a result, the tribes fled to the mountains.

This is, of course, an inverse of what Israel itself did to the Kenanim: a foreign, numerous host comes in like a plague of locusts. Is there a difference? Well, it depends on whose perspective you use.

For the Kenanim, well, Israel was a foreign invader; numerous, hungry, convinced, the invader was victorious, and aggressive about asserting cultural purity. The Canaanites fought back militarily as well as subversively; the Gibeonites, for example, lied to the Israelites to convince them that there was not a cultural conflict, with the result that the Gibeonites were a local cultural influence – and for Israel, a foreign culture, with foreign idols, was a bad thing.

From the Israelite perspective, the culture war was necessary; a pure culture, arranged around the Covenant, was a mandate. Any violation of this was an offense, and here we see part of the result of the failure to assert a monoculture.

The Midianites were a foreign culture, invading the Israelite culture. The result is conflict.

Anyway: Gideon. Israel has violated the monoculture, God has allowed the Midianites to move in on Israel. As we’ve seen before in Hebrew history, God raises a messiah – Gideon – to rescue Israel.

God called Gideon from his father’s land as he worked a winepress (according to Judges 6:11-12). Gideon is struggling with doubt; if God saved Israel, why has Midian attacked and been successful? Why has God not delivered Israel already?

The messenger of God then tells Gideon that he is the one who will deliver Israel; Gideon, echoing Moshe, says that he is unable to do it, that he’s the least of his father’s house. He demands signs and proof; he receives them.

I’m not quite sure how well this plays with D’varim 6:16, which says “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” I suppose it doesn’t matter; in the end, Gideon agrees.

The next part of the story is fairly well-known (or it was to me, at least) – Gideon goes to war with the Midianites, using a small force of 300 men; armed with trumpets and torches, they frightened the army of the Midianites into fleeing.

Pursuing the army (in part for revenge for killing his brothers at Mount Tabor), they asked for help from Succot and Penuel, being denied in both cases (Judges 8:4-9) – a move that both Succot and Penuel would regret, after Gideon was victorious.

Speaking of his total victory – avenging his brothers, conquering the Midianites – Gideon takes their treasure and screws up. After denying the tribal league’s desire to make him a king, he makes a breastplate, an ephod; it becomes a “snare to Israel,” according to Judges 8:27.

The irony of the kingship comes home: Gideon (known now as Jerub-Baal, “contends with Baal,” although it could also mean “one who defends the Name” or “one who strives with the Name”) has many sons, one of whom is named Abimelech, which means “son of the king.” (Melech is “king” in Hebrew.)

But Gideon’s not a king! Whoops. This doesn’t look good, and it will continue to not look good.

Abimelech then declares himself a king in Shechem, a city in the middle of Israel, killing his own brothers – save one, Jotham, the youngest. Jotham makes an impassioned speech against Abimelech to Shechem – the people who declared Abimelech king – and in three years’ time, we see a war between the supporters of Jotham (who is not a claimant to a throne) and Abimelech, with the result that Abimelech chases his opponents to a tower, where a woman throws a stone and wounds him.

Abimelech then commands a soldier to kill him, so that it could not be said that he died at the hand of a woman. The text in Judges 9:57 states that Shechem ended up losing as well: the evil of the men of Shechem “returned on their heads,” as a result of declaring Abimelech as king in the first place.

And Jotham fades from history.

Thus ends the first recorded kingship in Israel.

I wish CNN would stop: today it’s Moses

CNN.com has yet another Biblically-related piece, this time on Moses. I’m glad to see CNN acknowledge the Bible, I suppose, but I wish it was less “surprise!” journalism and more rationally-based.

I totally get the “We’re going to inform you of things you don’t know” vibe – hey, to some degree, that’s the whole point of writing. But they tend to forget that they could be wrong, and very much so.

So let’s look at what they say about ol’ Moshe.

“He was Egyptian.”

Their first point is that moses was an Egyptian, and not Hebrew. Actually, no – let’s try again.

… despite all the indications that Moses was Egyptian — especially his name — he was actually Israelite.

Err… well. The truth is, he might have been an Egyptian, an Egyptian who saw Hebrew (not Israelite) theology as a reflection of Atenism, and bought into the value of all men (unlike what Atenism would dictate). But he also would have had to go against every Egyptian value of humanity in order for this to be true.

Not impossible – Abraham, too, went against the mores of his culture – but it also means that the blanket statement that Moses was Egyptian, based on his name and station, has a lot less strength than it should have. Bad way to phrase it, CNN.

“Moses wasn’t anti-slavery.”

Um. This is based on the edict that Hebrew (not “Israelite!”) slaves were to be freed after seven years – making them bondservants and not slaves – and on the rules regarding injury to slaves who were not of Hebraic descent.

This is a misunderstanding of slavery and the Law. (Surprise; CNN doesn’t understand Hebrew thought! Oh, wait, I just used “surprise journalism.”)

Slaves were not merely property, no matter their descent. To some degree, the Law catered to the culture of the time (and not the culture of the time of Josiah, when some would claim the Torah was created); there’s other Scripture that makes reference to the same point.

So the Hebrews came from a culture where everyone was a slave (except Pharoah); therefore, despite the assertion that they were created in the image of God, slavery would still have been very much the norm. The concept of bondservitude would have been typical – the new idea would have been the mandated freedom (although a servant could choose permanent association with his master.)

Was Moses antislavery? Um… yes, especially by comparison to his compatriots. Were the Hebrews antislavery themselves? Far from it, although having been slaves, they were slightly less favorable toward it than others.

Moses’ edicts towards slavery were revolutionary for the time; the Law moved very much left of center. Claiming otherwise is poor form.

Moses had a black wife.

Surprise! In other news, water is wet. The sun is apparently warm. Ice is cold.

CNN pointed out that the protest might have been culturally-based, rather than based on skin color (especially after making the assertion that Moses was Egyptian, with a suggestion that the Egyptians were black as well.) This is a worthwhile assumption – Moses was death on a stick when it came to idolatry imported from other cultures.

However… um. If Moses was Egyptian, why was Aharon his brother? And Miryam his sister? I’m confused how that would work – with repeated assertions of the common descent – if Moses was Egyptian as being claimed.

Moses didn’t come up with a single law.

The assertion here is an unusual one for CNN: It says that Moses didn’t originate the Laws, but that God did.

Whoa — very unusual for CNN, indeed, to acknowledge God somehow, even if it is Pesach.

But is the assertion worthwhile?

Sort of, maybe. If you squint.

Here’s how I see it: God gave Moses the Torah. (Torah meaning “the law,” not “the five books of the Torah,” although you could make that argument as well. I won’t. Out of scope.)

The Torah is the written Law; that came from God as its source. But at the same time, God set Moses down to judge (Exodus 18:13, for example.) Those judgements are not necessarily part of Torah given directly by God; Moses may have derived them, and they may have been binding.

We don’t know the source of everything. That means the statement from CNN is weakened.

Moses didn’t write the Torah.

Here, we are speaking of the Five Books of Moses, what people usually mean by “The Torah” – the Pentateuch. The assertion is that Moses didn’t actually commit them to scrolls.

It’s hard to argue with this point – Josiah does factor in. Moses probably wrote very little – he may have been literate (probably was, given his station in Egypt, but may not have been literate in Hebrew.) But the “books of Moses” refer to his role as lawgiver, not as author.

In the end, CNN is still not being entirely honest about their approach to the Bible. They’re still looking for some sort of “gotcha!,” how what you believe isn’t right – and even if it’s not, the core of what is believed doesn’t need destruction through smarmy statements of “I know better than you.”


It’s always someone else, isn’t it?

I’m still catching up with my daily Bible reading, and I’m in Deuteronomy 13. This section talks about someone suggesting worship of other gods, and it uses a form of “if someone suggests that you do this, then you shall not do it, and they shall be executed.”

This is all pretty ordinary, I think; nothing really spectacular about vigorously defending monotheism in the midst of Israel. I’d prefer a little more leniency than is indicated here – note that witnesses would still be required, so it’s not a witch hunt situation, where accusation is the same as conviction. But still! There’s little room for wriggling, if one advocates idolatry.

A good example of the verses in question can be found in D’varim 13:6-11:

[6] “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, [7] some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, [8] you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. [9] But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. [10] You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. [11] And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11 ESV)

Here’s what stands out to me, in two main points – with the second being derived from the first, but far more important.

Idolatry, or ‘serving other gods?’

It says that the phrase is “let us serve other gods.” Here’s the text from the Decalogue concerning other gods:

[7] “‘You shall have no other gods before me.
[8] “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. [9] You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, [10] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deuteronomy 5:7-10 ESV)

So we have a command that establishes the primacy of The Holy One, and then a further specification that no graven images of any ‘holy being’ — including the Holy One — shall be used, especially as objects of worship or that lead to worship.

This might even lead to the Cross, in some churches; worship at the Cross, fine, but worship the Cross itself, or being called by the Cross somehow, is (ahem) crossing the line, possibly.

But that’s neither here nor there, really; if you’re talking about a sort of representation of the Holy One, you’re still generally talking about acknowledging Him. But if you worship using a calf – for example – as the avatar for God, well, that’s clearly out of bounds… and if that calf represents a god that’s not the Holy One at all (Hathor, for example), then you’re not only out of bounds, you’re not even playing the right game.

So my question is: where is the request to “serve other gods” — as in, “let us serve other gods” — the same as idolatry? Are they identical? Is there some hair-splitting difference that I don’t see somehow?

I don’t know.

But we’re still not focusing on the main thought.

It’s someone else?

The form you see in D’varim 13 is always someone else. It’s never “If you say ‘let us serve other gods,'” but your friend, or wife, or child, or someone – anyone else.

If they do this, this is the punishment… not “If you do this, this is the punishment.”

I suppose that the injunction against you yourself advocating service to some other god is in the Decalogue itself, but the Decalogue assumes that you accept it, as a participant in the Covenant that the Decalogue comprises. Therefore, the punishment would be included as part of the Covenant itself.. which makes the external injunction here a little odd, because if the statement (“let us serve other gods”) is issued by another who is under the Covenant, their sin would be covered by the Covenant itself, and wouldn’t need clarification here.

It’s a confusing piece of text for me; simple on the surface, because it’s pretty clear that it’s saying “Avoid the service of other gods, like the plague, because of the plague!,” but the permutations of what the terms mean and to whom the statement is addressed are fascinating, scintillating.