Friday, April 30, 2010

project 4:4: the prodigal weeks, week 12

There is a distinct possibility, if it doesn't take me five days to write this post, that I will actually be finished with my March readings before April ends.  My lack of catching up is truly starting to feel ridiculous, so I have every good intention of buckling down and being caught up by May 11.  Up-to-date readers are in Psalms right now and will continue to be through the 11th, so I think I can get through the lives of Saul and David pretty easily and catch up to the Psalm-readers.  Your continued encouragement and support will make it all possible, I'm sure.

In this seven days of reading, I finished Judges, covered all of Ruth and began I Samuel.  Saul is going to enter the picture in the next day that I read, so the time of the judges is at its end.  It's been an interesting journey, peaks and valleys and such. A notably odd story from early in this section of reading is Jephthah and the vow he makes when asking for God's help in a victory, promising that in exchange for God's intervention, he'll sacrifice whatever comes out to meet him when he returns home.  How can Jephthah possibly believe there will be a good outcome here?  How can he really expect that God will delight in a human sacrifice?  Did he think a goat was going to wander out and greet him?  Surely he'd realize that there the potential was there for some near and dear person to come out first.  I've done no research here, but I'm supposing there's some religious influences from the surrounding pagans at work here that Jephthah would make such a vow that had the obvious potential to end in the sacrifice of some person from his household.  God told us back in Leviticus (week 6 or 8 or something) that people who sacrificed their children to other gods should be put to death, so I don't think it was His idea.  It also makes me wonder what would have happened if Jephthah had refused to kill his daughter and keep the vow.  Would God have really been displeased?  Or would He have struck Jephthah dead instead?  It seems fair to me--or as fair as killing one's own daughter.  Jephthah unsettles me.

But on the next page is Ruth, and Ruth makes me happier with its inspiring virtues of loyalty and kindness and selfless devotion.  But though I think there are great lessons to be learned from Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi and Boaz's compassion and commitment to honoring his family, I don't have big important things to say. (But seriously, do I ever?)  Naomi's role in hooking up Boaz and Ruth is a little disturbing.  I'm sure when I learned the flannelgraph version of this story, it definitely lacked the pimping overtones that the biblical account contains.  (Yes, I just said pimping.  Hope you weren't letting the kids read the blog.)

Speaking of flannelgraphs, this week's reading also covered the tumultuous life of Samson.  He really had terrible taste in women.  Using Samson as an example, let's talk about whether or not it's okay to have secrets from your spouse or significant other.  Normally, I'd say it's not, but it sure seems like Samson could have saved himself some heartache if he'd ever been able to keep his own counsel (and then I'd listen and agree with all of you who told me that I shouldn't get an opinion on this one since I don't have a dog in the hunt).  But really, I do think it comes back to choosing a better mate, one who is worthy of trust and able to keep a secret rather than someone who will conspire against you with your enemies.  Frankly, Samson comes across like an idiot in parts of this story.  Wasn't it suspicious that each time he told Delilah the source of his strength, she attempted to subdue him in that way?  Seriously, bro. 

Also recently I heard someone talking about Samson and eating the honey out of a lion's carcass.  It might have been cousin, theologian, scholar, and #1 blog fan.  If it wasn't, we can still count on him to take credit.  But the thing that doesn't get emphasized in the text that the person was saying about it is that because Samson was under a Nazarite vow, he wasn't to have any contact with dead things.  If any old Jew had touched this dead (not to mention unclean before it even died) thing, they'd be unclean and have to wash and do whatever, but Nazarites couldn't be near a dead body without ending their vow.  So how does he get away with it?  How does that not take away his strength?  Why does God give him this wiggle room?  Does it have significance in our lives?  Why don't I know anything today?  I definitely should have gotten that guest blogger because as it turns out, I don't feel full of insights about Samson either.

Just so we're on the same page and I'm being completely honest and stuff, I'm also going to skip over the remaining characters from Judges with no guilt whatsoever.  You can read about them yourselves, if you want, but I've already told you the best bits, though if you're the sort of person who thinks killing and battle and body parts being sent as a message are the good bits, you really should check it out for yourself.

So let's talk Hannah and Samuel and Eli and stuff.  Surely I'll find something to say here.  I've always liked the story of Hannah, of a woman who prayers earnestly and is heard by God, a woman who keeps her word and gives up the child that has been the object of her longing and prayer for years, a woman who entrusts the keeping and protection of her son to God so that he can be equipped for a life of service.  It's sort of like a voluntary, non-killing version of the Isaac sacrifice.  Here's a highly anticipated, beloved child given back to God.  I admire it and respect it and feel a sort of fascination about it because it's the kind of selfless thing that I don't think I could ever do.  It's a story that reminds me that I have a long way to go, but I like the fact that the example is there.  Hannah did a very difficult yet obedient thing, so maybe I can too.

Speaking of obedience, or lack thereof, sometimes good men turn out some really bad offspring.  Nadab and Abihu spring to mind as well as Abimelech.  Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were cut from the same cloth.  It always makes me wonder what Aaron, Gideon and Eli did or didn't do as fathers, but ultimately everyone's responsible for their own choices, so I shouldn't go blaming the dads here, I guess.  Unless my #1 blog fan tells me I should.

Samuel's a stand-up sort of guy, and I'm looking forward to digging into more of his life in the next week or so.  I know you are too, imaginary reader.

1 comment:

  1. Jephtha - In ancient Israel, the animals stayed inside with the family, and so Jephtha's expectation would have been that an animal would have come out as he came home. As far as whether or not he killed his daughter, it seems to me that you can make at least a moderately strong case that he dedicated her to God similar to the way that Hannah did with Samuel and had her serve in the tabernacle rather than marrying. You'll notice that her period of weeping is devoted not to her death, but to her virginity, and that Hebrews holds Jephtha up as a man of faith. I think that there's at least a chance that he didn't kill her at all.

    Samson - I kinda think that we did have that conversation while you were looking at my slides the other day at Momma's. The point of the whole scene is that God can bring goodness even out of the most unclean kind of situation, and that scene is the paradigm for the entire Samson story. Samson doesn't have to be righteous or good. He merely has to be the vessel through which God brings his own good salvation for Israel. Remember that we're not supposed to see the judges as good leaders; we're supposed to see them as inadequate leaders for Israel so that we will anticipate and appreciate David's kingship.

    Dads - Don't blame them. The OT is full of stories about how a righteous generation/father was followed by an unrighteous generation/son or visa versa.

    Samuel is great, and you're in the middle of what I think is the most readable section of the OT.


what do you think?