Second, third, fourth…chances. (Judges 1-5)

November 19, 2010

If you like gore, you’ll love Judges 1-5, or 3-4 more specifically. Chapter 3 sees a king so large that when he was stabbed to death his belly fat “closed over the blade”. Nice. But wait, it gets better! Chapter 4 sees Sisera, the head of King Jabin’s army stabbed through the head with a tent-peg “until it went down into the ground.” These are not chapters to read over dinner… okay, so not that many people read the Bible over dinner, but if you ever do, don’t read these.

There are some good woman-power elements to these tales though. The tent-peg assassin is Jael; a woman of Israelite extraction who lures Sisera into her tent where he thinks he’ll be safe. When Barak, the rather dull Israelite general, turns up looking for Sisera she lead’s him to her tent saying “come, I will show the man whom you are seeking.” Do you think she said it with a wry smile on her face? Like “you won’t be expecting this”…

Deborah too, can’t forget to mention her. We are told in chapters 2 and 3 of the judges God raises up to judge and defend Israel, and in chapter 4 that she, Deborah was now a judge. It’s said very matter-of-factly; there is no explanation of why a woman is a judge, which suggests that it wasn’t the weirdest thing in the world. And is it she who tells Barak to go into battle against Sisera. Barak, of course, won’t go without Deborah. Some see this as a sign of his weakness, but how about reading it as a sign of Deborah’s strength; he know’s she’s a good person to have by his side. She seems like quite a formidable woman.

As a feminist I feel like I should spend this whole post on Deborah and Jael, but for me the most striking feature of these chapters – fat kings, tent pegs, woman protagonists and all – is the fluctuating fortunes of Israel. The previous book, Joshua, was all about the Israelites’ successful conquests of just-about-everywhere and so is most of chapter 1 here. But then the winds change. The Israelites forget their promises to God (2:1-5) and their fortunes quickly change. They are unsuccessful in battle and given into the hands of their enemies. But God hears their cries when they are oppressed and answers them, sending them judges to remind them who they are and help them organise (2:18). But even this doesn’t last long and again and again the Israelites forget their covenant and fall into ruin (2:19, 3:12, 4:1).

The funny thing is, God keeps hearing their cries. They mess up again and again and He doesn’t say “oh I give up! you people are hopeless! keep your other God’s for all I care, I’m going to find some other people who will really appreciate me!” No, every time his children cry out for him He turns to them, even knowing all their future screw-ups He cannot but hear them when they call.

So it is not God who leaves the Israelites but the Israelites who leave God. And every time they turn back there He is. Of course, God was there all along, but you get my drift…

He’s always here; waiting to hear us cry out.

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