Friday, December 20, 2013

1 Samuel: God Turns Saul Against David

Welcome back! In our last installment of my Bible blog, we had just seen David defeat Goliath followed by king Saul’s son Jonathan falling deeply in bromantic love with him.

David is now full-time in service to the king, where he proves to be very successful at killing Philistines. Actually, too successful – Saul hears people praising David for killing more Philistines than Saul, and starts getting jealous.

1 Sam 18:10 The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David evaded him twice.”

Apparently even with that jealousy Saul wasn’t quite the murderous dick God wanted him to be, so he sent a spirit to goad him further into just randomly attacking David. You see how free will is clearly of paramount importance to Yahweh.

Anyway, unable to kill David himself, Saul decided to put him in charge of a bunch of men and keep sending him out to battle in the hopes that the Philistines would kill him instead. But the only result was that David kept having more success in war, which only made him more popular. So then Saul came up with the brilliant scheme to take David down by… ummm… marrying him to his daughter? Because somehow this would make the Philistines more likely to kill him. Erm… I think I mentioned in an earlier post that Saul is pretty clearly losing his mind.

But then for no apparent reason, Saul married his daughter off to someone else. However, he had another daughter Michal who was all smitten with David and he decided he’d offer her to him instead. He set the bride price at the foreskins of a hundred dead Philistines in the hopes that the ensuing hunt for penile trophies would piss the Philistines off enough to finally kill David for him. No such luck; David the overachiever managed to secure double the requested number of foreskins without ending up on the tip of anyone’s spear. So Saul had no choice but to let him marry his daughter.

Then there’s more war with the Philistines, bringing more success and popularity to David. So Saul gathers Jonathan and all his servants up and orders them to kill David. Jonathan talks him out of it, though, and Saul swears to his son that he won’t put David to death. But God can’t have any of that “being reasonable” shit going on in his kingdom, so he once again sends that harmful spirit to goad Saul into trying to stab David with a spear.

David finally tips to the fact that maybe Saul doesn’t have his best interests at heart, and flees to his house. Saul sends servants to arrest him, but David’s wife Michal (Saul’s daughter) helps him sneak out of the house and does the “pillows under the blanket” trick to fool the servants into thinking David is sick in bed. When Saul discovers the deception and demands to know why Michal tricked him, she throws her husband under the bus by claiming he had threatened to kill her. But I guess if Saul was determined to kill him anyway, what’s a little extra slander?

David flees to live with Samuel for a bit, but Saul hears about it and sends people to arrest him. The men he sends come across Samuel presiding over a group of prophets, and are overcome by the Spirit of God and start prophesying instead of arresting David. So Saul sends another group, and they start prophesying as well. So Saul goes in person, and the Spirit of God comes over him so that he ends up stripping himself naked and prophesying as well.

Meanwhile, David goes to Jonathan to ask him why Saul wants him dead so badly. Jonathan refuses at first to believe that his dad wants to kill his boyfriend, but agrees to put the king to a test. For some odd reason (insanity?), despite Saul’s repeated attempts to murder David everyone still expects David to show up to dinner with him on the evening of the new moon. Jonathan agrees to tell Saul that he had given David permission to go home to Bethlehem instead for some religious ceremony (he’s actually hiding out nearby) to see if that provokes a reaction.

Well, Saul completely loses his shit. After screaming insults about Jonathan’s mother, he demands that Jonathan bring David to him to be killed. When Jonathan refuses, Saul chucks a spear at him (but missed).

So the next day Jonathan goes to meet David under the guise of doing some archery practice. When he’s done shooting, he sends his servant boy back home ahead of him with his bow so the boy wouldn’t see him meet with David.

1 Sam 20:41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most.”

Yeah… the “gay David” argument is gaining a little traction there.

Our two young maybe-not-lovers separate then, and David flees to Gath after making a quick stop at Nob to con the priests into giving him some food (that they would only give him if he promised he hadn’t touched any women recently, because it was holy bread and pretty much any point in a Biblical story is a good point to throw in some gratuitous sexism) and Goliath’s sword (which they happened to have lying around). He accomplishes the con by lying to them to say he was on his way to perform a secret mission for the king; eighty of the priests would later be executed on Saul’s orders for believing David’s lies and helping him.

When David arrives at Gath, he finds the king there has mistaken him for the king of Israel and isn’t happy about it, so David pretends to be a madman instead so that they’d just let him get about his business. That business consists of going to hide out in some caves, where he is later joined by his father’s family and a ragtag group of about four hundred malcontents.

For a bit, David plays peekaboo with Saul, who starts pursuing him all over the place. The Bible spends some time on the game of cat and mouse, but the details seem largely unimportant until one day when Saul is getting close to catching up. David is hiding out in a cave when Saul shows up with his army. But Saul doesn’t realize David is in that exact cave, and goes into it on his own for some privacy to take a dump. David’s men urge him to kill the king while he’s alone and, erm… caught with his pants down. But David just sneaks up on Saul in the dark and cuts off a corner of his robe while the man is in the middle of relieving himself. Saul doesn’t even notice, and when he’s done he leaves the cave.

At this point David follows him out and makes a show about how he totally could have killed Saul if he’d wanted to, showing off the corner of the robe he’d taken as proof that he’d had Saul unawares and had chosen to spare him. At this point Saul declares that David is the more righteous man, and that he’ll surely be the next king. Then they part ways in peace… for now.

Which seems as good a place as any to call it a day for now. Catch you next time, and until then be well!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

1 Samuel: David and Goliath!

Hello, hello!

It occurs to me that First Samuel is taking a real long time to get through. This is the sixth post on this book, and we’re only about halfway through. If I want to not spend a dozen posts on it, I’m gonna have to streamline things a bit.

Anyway, when last we left off, Samuel had just informed Saul that God didn’t want him to be king anymore because Saul didn’t slaughter some animals exactly when and where God had wanted him to. We pick up with Samuel moping around mourning for Saul, when God pops by to tell him to stop sniveling because he’s picked a new king and needs Samuel to go anoint him.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that while God may say that Saul isn’t king, and Samuel may agree with him, everyone else in Israel thinks he still is.

Anyhow, Samuel goes to visit this guy Jesse, and on God’s orders has each of the guy’s sons paraded in front of him so God can tell him whether or not they’re the chosen king (I guess God couldn’t give a clear indication like just telling Samuel the name of the guy he was looking for). And after rejecting all of the older brothers in turn, the youngest David is brought in front of Samuel and God gives him his seal of approval.

Mind you, God had also approved Saul, and even “gave him a new heart,” to make him a better servant, and we saw how that turned out. So why Samuel should trust God’s judgment any more on David is kind of a mystery.

Anyhow, Samuel takes his holy oil and anoints David. So he’s the new king now, right?

Well… no. For some reason God is unable or unwilling to just tell the Israelites that Saul’s a fuckup in his eyes, so now David is going to be king. Instead there must still be years of drama that look suspiciously like court politics leading to a guerilla rebellion against a king who’s slowly going batshit crazy before God’s chosen king can assume his throne. So to get that all started…

1 Sam 16:14 Now the Spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from Yahweh tormented him.”

So here’s the mysterious Spirit of Yahweh thing turning up again, which is never adequately described nor the supposed effects of having it (other than that having it rush upon Samson seemed to generally drive him into a superhuman killing frenzy). But whatever it is, it has now left Saul and been replaced with a spirit that tortures him. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that the effects of this harmful spirit manifest in psychotic outbursts, melancholy, and raging paranoia, so basically this passage is telling us that God is driving Saul slowly insane.

Anyhow, Saul’s servants recommend that he find himself a good musician to soothe him when the harmful spirit is affecting him.

1 Sam 16:17 So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.’ 18 One of the young men answered , ‘Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and Yahweh is with him.’”

The man he’s speaking of is, of course, David. Saul sends to David’s father Jesse to have the young man sent to him. So David comes to court to play his lyre whenever the harmful spirit is tormenting the king; he immediately becomes one of Saul’s favorites and is made his armor-bearer.

Some time after this, the Philistines once again march into Judah, and Saul takes his army out to oppose them. Among the Philistines is a giant of a warrior named Goliath, who is described as being six cubits and a span (nearly ten feet) tall. And Goliath makes it his habit to step out of the Philistine lines and challenge the Israelites to send a champion to face him in single combat to decide the battle. But the Israelites are all afraid to face him, so the two armies face off for forty days over this bullshit.

One day David’s father sends him to deliver some supplies to his three older brothers who are with Saul’s army, and while he’s there he hears about Goliath’s challenge. He also hears that Saul has offered his daughter in marriage to whoever defeats Goliath. So David goes to Saul and offers to slay Goliath for him. Saul initially objects on the basis that David is just a little shepherd boy. In fact, much is made throughout this part of the story of how David is just a youth and a shepherd, despite the fact that we were told in the previous chapter that he was a mighty man of war and Saul’s personal armor-bearer. But whatever.

David argues that as a shepherd he’s had to kill lions and bears that were trying to eat his sheep, so killing Goliath should be no different. Saul relents, and offers his armor. David tries it on and discovers it fits him so poorly that he can hardly move (I guess being Saul’s personal armor-bearer granted him no actual familiarity with Saul’s armor). So he heads out to challenge Goliath with no armor at all, carrying only his shepherd’s staff and a sling.

Of course most of you know the story. Goliath taunts David for his apparent lack of preparedness, David taunts back that he has God on his side. Then Goliath rushes at David, and David plonks him in the head with a stone from his sling. Goliath collapses, and David marches over and uses Goliath’s own sword to cut the giant’s head off.

Now, the text takes great pains to point out that David didn’t defeat Goliath with a “real” weapon. David, in taunting his foe, claimed that his victory would prove that Israel had a real god, because he would be saved without the use of sword or spear, and the text points out that when David defeated Goliath he “had no sword in his hand.”

What the author seems to be ignorant of (or hopes his audience is ignorant of), is that a sling is a real fucking weapon!

Slings in skilled hands are deadly and accurate weapons. People hunted with slings. People killed each other with slings. Slingers have been used to great effect in armies since time immemorial and many commanders considered them more effective than archers. Aztec warriors are recorded killing goddamn horses with a single slung stone!

You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones runs into the swordsman in the bazaar? The guy goes through a series of flourishes to demonstrate his skill with a sword, then flashes Indy a grin that clearly states how he anticipates carving off a nice piece of Indiana flank steak. So our hero draws a gun and shoots him in the face. The David and Goliath scene is exactly like that! Yeah, it’s kinda clever and kinda badass, but it most definitely does not require the intervention of the omnipotent creator of the universe.

Goliath lost because he failed to anticipate his opponent’s weapon, not because an unarmed man faced him with only the power of a god on his side.

As an aside, if you read only the portion of the text telling the story of David and Goliath, it tries very hard to create the impression that David was just a shepherd boy. But if you read the entire Book of Samuel (bearing in mind that David has been described as a “man of valor, a man of war” before this battle ever took place), you realize that David was “just a shepherd” in exactly the same way that Indiana Jones is “just an archeologist.”

Anyway, with their champion defeated, the Philistines completely lose their shit and start running away. The Israelites set about chasing them down and killing them, while David takes Goliath’s head back to Saul. In the meantime, Saul had been asking his commander who David’s father was, and the commander didn’t know. So Saul asks David when he gets back. Throughout the scene in which nobody seemed to know who David’s father was, Saul only referred to David as “this youth,” and “young man,” as if somehow the identity and provenance of someone we were told earlier was a court favorite has somehow slipped the mind of everyone who should have known him.

At any rate, Saul now decides that David will be a permanent fixture at court and no longer return home to help out with the sheep. Then…

1 Sam 18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”

Aww… isn’t that sweet? Love at first sight!

Much has been theorized about whether Jonathan and David had a homosexual relationship. I don’t know, nor do I particularly care – if they did, it’s never explicitly said. But whether there was sex or not, it’s certainly true that the bromance between these two would profoundly affect the future course of the Israelite royal succession. But we’ll find out more about that another time, since I think we’ve reached a pretty good stopping point for today.

Until next time, you all take care!

Friday, December 6, 2013

1 Samuel: How Saul Loses His Endorsement

Welcome once again to the First Book of Samuel. When we last left off, Saul had just been informed that God would be replacing him as king because Saul made some sacrificial offerings on his own instead of waiting for Samuel to do it. Meanwhile, a large force of Philistines has invaded Israel.

Apparently, Saul isn’t getting replaced right away, so he returns to the business of kicking some Philistine ass. We’re told that this is complicated by the fact that, other than Saul and his son Jonathan, no other soldier in their army owns a sword or spear (in spite of their excessively warlike recent history) because the Philistines don’t permit there to be any Israelite blacksmiths.

So at one point in the campaign Saul and Jonathan are joined up, but with only about 600 men with them. Most of the other Israelites are fighting elsewhere or just hiding out. So one night Jonathan tells his armor bearer that the two of them are going to sneak out of camp all on their own to go attack the Philistines on the chance that maybe God will grant them a victory. Said armor bearer jumps on this plan without a qualm, and off they go. Jonathan then further elaborates that they’re just gonna walk up to the Philistine guards. If the guards tell them to halt and not approach the camp, that means that God isn’t going to let Jonathan defeat them and they should stop approaching. But if the guards challenge them, then tell them to approach, that must mean God intends to grant Jonathan the victory.

Is the idea here that God told Jonathan this would happen, or did Jonathan just make this shit up in the hopes that God would run with it? Also, since the guards do indeed tell them to approach, and they do indeed kick a great deal of Philistine ass, does that mean that God made the guard tell Jonathan to approach, or he just knew that’s what they would do and told Jonathan about it? None of this is explained at all.

Anyhow, Jonathan and his armor bearer walk up to the guards and start beating ass on a wholesale basis. They kill twenty men right off, and this throws the whole Philistine camp into a panic.

Saul’s scouts notice the brouhaha in the Philistine camp, and report the news back to the king. After a quick survey of their own camp reveals that Jonathan and his armor bearer are missing, Saul rounds up his men to go join in the attack. They find the Philistines in such a state that they are actually killing each other (and unless you think it’s reasonable to believe an entire army was so freaked out by an attack from two people that they start killing each other, this would seem to be yet another example of God robbing people of their free will).

Then Saul, for no discernible reason, makes an oath to God that none of his people will eat anything for the rest of the day while they’re busy slaughtering Philistines. So of course, the people start getting fatigued. Meanwhile Jonathan alone among all the people hasn’t heard about this oath, and takes a taste of honey he finds as they’re moving through a forest. Then there’s a confusingly written series of events where Jonathan’s unwitting breakage of Saul’s oath somehow leads to other Israelites breaking Mosaic dietary restrictions against eating blood, and Saul finding out about it being Jonathan’s fault by casting lots (there seems to be a lot of examples of God communicating his desires by having people cast lots, in spite of the fact that divination is itself a practice God forbids). Saul declares that he must kill Jonathan for his sin, but the people ransom Jonathan’s life.

Anyhow, all that nonsense brought their pursuit of the Philistines to a halt, and so the survivors escaped.

Some unspecified amount of time later, Samuel approaches Saul with new marching orders from God. He’s been ordered to attack the Amalekites in retribution for them having attacked the people of Israel when they were escaping from Egypt. And of course the terms of this retribution to be inflicted on the Amalekites for the offense committed by their several-generations-removed ancestors should have a familiar tone.

1 Sam 15:3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Oh look, another divinely ordered genocide, complete with an explicit infanticide mandate. And a little quick research comes up with the fact that the event for which this is retribution occurred approximately 350 years prior. That is some hardcore grudge holding, right there! Three-and-a-half centuries, and God still has such a revenge hard-on for the Amalekites that even the sheep have to die!

So Saul gathers up an army of two hundred thousand men, and heads out to slaughter the Amalekites. Except that when it was all over, he kept their king alive as a prisoner, and his men kept the best of the livestock rather than slaughtering all of them. You just know God’s not gonna be happy about the idea of fewer deaths than he demanded, and sure enough he makes his displeasure known… to Samuel.

1 Sam 15:10 And the word of Yahweh came to Samuel: 11 ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ And Samuel was angry, and he cried to Yahweh all night.”

Regret, huh? Isn’t that something you feel when you’ve made a mistake?

Moving on, Samuel goes out to meet Saul on his triumphant return. And Saul is quite pleased with himself for his successful campaign, but Samuel just demands to know why they have all this livestock with them that was supposed to be destroyed. Saul replies that the people wanted to bring the best livestock back to sacrifice as an offering to God, but Samuel puts the brakes on the explanation. He then goes on a rant that can be summarized as follows: “Sure, God loves a good sacrifice, but the most important thing to him is unquestioning, unthinking, and absolute obedience.”

It may be worth pointing out that God never spoke directly to Saul, but delivered his orders through Samuel. So to any outside observer, it would seem that what Samuel is demanding is absolute obedience to Samuel. But whatever. Samuel now informs Saul that because of his disobedience, God no longer wants him to be king and is going to choose someone else.

The encounter closes out with Samuel having the Amalekite king, Agag, brought to him. Agag is pretty cheerful, no doubt believing that as a king he will be spared and perhaps ransomed. Samuel quickly dispels that notion by hacking him to pieces with a sword.

Well, I think that’s quite enough for today. And anyway, the Bible is about to introduce an important new character. So we’ll leave off for now and pick up next time with the introduction of David. Until then, y’all be well!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

1 Samuel: From Hero to Screwup Is a Short Trip

Welcome back to our cruise through the First Book of Samuel from the Bible. I hope you’ve all been well since my last posting. Let’s jump in, shall we?

When we left off, Saul had just been informed of his impending kingship by Samuel, and given a new heart by God. He also started prophesying among a group of other prophets, though there isn’t a single word mentioned about what he (or they) prophesied and whether any of it actually came true. We’re told this is the origin of the proverb “Is Saul also among the prophets?” though I have no idea why that would be considered a meaningful proverb.

From there Saul goes to the high place at Mizpah, where he runs into his uncle and tells him about his adventures in search of the donkeys. Except for leaving out the whole “I’m going to be king,” part. Samuel, meanwhile, is summoning all of Israel to join him there so he can announce the king. He makes a show of selecting the king by drawing lots, but of course this is just pointless theater because we already know he’s picked Saul.

The Bible seems pretty ambivalent about this whole king thing. Samuel accuses Israel again of rejecting God by asking for a king, but then the people who don’t accept the king are referred to as “worthless fellows.”

But anyway, after this everyone goes home, including Saul with a few notable warriors whose hearts God touched. And nothing much seems to happen for a while, until an Ammonite named Nahash decides to take a force up to attack the Israelite city of Jabesh.

Now the people of Jabesh offer to surrender to Nahash and become his slaves, but Nahash is a colossal dick and says he’ll only accept their surrender on the condition that they allow him to gouge out everyone’s right eye. The people of Jabesh aren’t thrilled with this idea, so they come up with a counteroffer: if Nahash will give them seven days to send messengers to other Israelite cities to see if anyone will come rescue them, they’ll surrender after those seven days if no one shows up. Nahash, it turns out, is not merely a colossal dick, but also a colossal fuckwit because he actually agrees to those terms.

So the messengers go out, and news reaches Saul as he’s coming in from plowing his fields (guess he hadn’t settled into this whole kingship role thingy yet). As he hears the news, the “Spirit of the Lord” came upon him and he flew into a rage (interesting how virtually every time we hear about the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone, it’s to send him into an unreasoning rage. It never seems to inspire a burst of compassion). In his rage, he took his poor oxen and chopped them into bits. Then had messengers take the bloody bits all over Israel to threaten people that if they didn’t come join his army he’d have the same thing done to their oxen. So already we see the style of leadership he’s selected (under God’s direct inspiration) is “tyrannical asshole.”

So the people turn out to make an army of three hundred thousand, who go and smash Nahash’s force like little bugs. And there was much rejoicing (and offers to kill Saul’s detractors, though he turns those down).

After all the celebrating, Samuel gathers everyone around to that he can berate them about how wicked and evil they are for asking for a mortal king when God is supposed to be their king. Then there’s the usual admonition that they still have to follow God and his law, and the usual threats of punishment if they don’t. Samuel even has God create a thunderstorm as a sign to remind the Israelites how wicked they are in his eyes, followed by Samuel reassuring them that, in spite of their evil, he’ll still continue to do right by them by praying on their behalf.

Heh. “You’re evil, but I’ll pray for you.” I guess that line has been floating around for a long, long time.

The next passage starts Chapter 13, and it’s… weird. Let me just quote it for you.

1 Sam 13:1 Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned … and two years over Israel.”

This is the English Standard Version of the Bible, and the footnotes claim that the two blank spaces are places where the numbers are missing from the original documents from which it is translated (the Septuagint and Hebrew versions). A brief look online for other translations renders a wealth of interpretations of this passage, some of which try to supply numbers (though they don’t all agree on what the numbers are), and others just gloss it over by simply changing the meaning of the passage to “…and when he had reigned for two years…” as a preface to the next passage in which he picks three thousand men as his personal standing army. So yet again as is so often the case, nobody knows exactly what the book is trying to say here.

But anyhow, Saul has his army of three thousand. Two thousand he keeps with himself, and he gives his son Jonathan command over the remaining thousand. Jonathan takes his men and stages a successful attack on the Philistine garrison at Geba. So Saul sends trumpeters all over the land to spread news of their great victory, and summon the fighting men to join him at Gilgal. Meanwhile, the Philistines sent a large force into Israel in retaliation for the attack on their garrison, and people start getting scared.

This is where things get a little confusing again. See, we’re told that Saul waited at Gilgal for seven days, “the time appointed by Samuel” (1 Sam 13:8), waiting for Samuel to come and make burnt offerings and peace offerings. And though we don’t appear to have a scene where he’s actually told that, that could be simply written off as the author using the line “the time appointed by Samuel” to inform us that such a meeting had taken place.

Except that (if you recall from my previous post) there actually is a scene where Samuel told Saul to wait seven days in Gilgal for Samuel to make burnt offerings and peace offerings.  That scene took place way back before Saul was actually declared king, and appeared to be instructions for something he was supposed to do right after he had seen all the signs Samuel had prophesied that would demonstrate that Samuel was truly telling him God’s will. The thing is that way back then, he never went to Gilgal, but actually met Samuel again at Mizpah where he was officially declared king in front of everyone (I kind of missed that discrepancy in my previous post: sorry).

So it really looks like this scene is actually the fulfillment of those earlier instructions (which, depending on which version of the Bible you’re reading, could have been as much as two years of lapsed time in between). Or it’s a wholly separate occasion. I don’t know; like I said, it’s confusing. The timeline here is all kinds of fucked up.

But anyway, back to the events. Saul waits his seven days, but Samuel doesn’t show and some of his army is starting to desert for fear of the Philistines. So in desperation, Saul offers the sacrifices himself.

Well, no sooner has he completed all of the sacrifices than Samuel finally shows up. Whereupon he informs Saul that he has done a horrible thing in disobeying God by offering the sacrifices in Samuel’s stead. If only he had obeyed God, the kingdom would have been his and his family’s forever. But since he disobeyed, God has picked somebody else to be king after Saul.

Am I the only one who thinks this reads like Saul was set up? And always remember, at the start of his kingship Saul was “given a new heart” by God himself, so it’s debatable whether any of these decisions are legitimately Saul’s fault to begin with.

But anyway, written enough for today I think. Please tune in next time, when we continue the “Abusing the Hell out of Saul” follies. Until then, be well!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

1 Samuel: The Making of a King

I’m baaaaack! We’re in the middle of the First Book of Samuel, and the Israelites are gonna get themselves a king.

In Samuel’s old age, his sons had become corrupt judges. The Israelites, being sick of this shit and of getting tromped on by the neighboring nations, decided that what they really needed was a king to unite them and see to the rule of law. So the elders of Israel went to Samuel and told him they wanted a king.

And why shouldn’t they? After all, Moses himself said in Deuteronomy 17 that they were permitted to put a king over them so long as he was an Israelite and God got to pick who he was.

Welllll, maybe Moses was talking out of his ass that day. Or maybe just because God says something is allowed doesn’t mean he’ll actually be happy when you do it. Because as it turns out, God is none too thrilled about the request. He basically tells Samuel that, by asking for a king in addition to all their disobedience since he first led them out of Egypt, Israel has rejected God. Therefore, while it’s OK for Samuel to appoint a king, he should first warn the Israelites that the guy God intends to pick is going to be a douchebag.

Samuel delivers the warning, including all kinds of details about the king conscripting people as soldiers, taking their produce, and making slaves of people, but the elders were still insistent on having a king. So Samuel tells them to go home, and he’ll let them know when he’s picked a king.

The narrative then switches to a Benjaminite man named Saul, who is supposed to be the handsomest man in Israel in addition to being a full head taller than anybody else. Saul’s father has lost some donkeys, so he sends the young man and his servant to go and find them. And they travel all over hell and gone looking fruitlessly for the animals. After a few days having no luck, Saul tells his servant that it’s time to give up and go home. But the servant had heard that a man of God (who would turn out to be Samuel) was in the nearby city, and suggests they should go and ask him where to go to find their donkeys.

So they head into the city, where they meet Samuel coming out on his way to a feast. And God tells Samuel that Saul is the guy he’s picked to be anointed king and to save the Israelites from the Philistines. So Samuel greets Saul in a friendly manner, tells him that his donkeys have been found and returned to his father (presumably God told him, though this is never mentioned), and invites Saul to join him at the feast. There, he seats Saul at the head table, and sets aside a choice portion of the meat for him.

Saul spends the night at Samuel’s house, and in the morning Samuel has Saul send his servant on ahead so he can talk to him privately before he leaves. And in this private conversation, Samuel anoints Saul with oil and tells him that God has chosen him to be the king. He further explains that on his way home Saul will experience a bunch of signs to prove that Samuel is telling the truth. These include meeting some dudes who’ll tell him his donkeys were found, some other dudes who’ll give him some bread, and finally some prophets. Upon meeting said prophets…

1 Sam 10:6 ‘Then the Spirit of Yahweh will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.’”

After explaining these signs, Samuel tells Saul to then go wait seven days at Gilgal for Samuel to come tell him what to do from there.

1 Sam 10:9 When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.”

Now, there’s a reason I chose to quote those passages. They are explicitly stating that God is going to fundamentally alter Saul’s character. Now I suppose some of you may be ready to say “Great! Saul opened himself to God’s love and had his heart changed! That’s just what we’re talking about!”


There’s something missing here. And that something would be Saul’s consent. See, at no point in the narrative is Saul asked if he wants to become king or be transformed by God, and neither is one word ever said about his agreeing to or wanting any of this. He’s just a dude who was trying to help his dad by finding some missing donkeys.

And if you recall where this post started off, God didn’t promise to give Israel a good king. He promised to give them a douchebag king. We already know that Saul is destined to be the villain of this story, and now we’re told that it all starts with God fundamentally changing his character from the man he otherwise would have been.

I’ve read ahead a little bit, and I can tell you that Saul is headed for some unhappy times. He enjoys some military success against Israel’s enemies for a bit, but after that he descends into madness, torment, humiliation, betrayal of and by those he loves, and finally an ignominious death. All because of the man God turns him into, not the man he actually was.

But hey, David makes out great! We’ll get into the details starting with the next post. In the meantime, you all be well!

Friday, November 8, 2013

1 Samuel: Ark as Plague Dog

When last we left off, the Philistines had just defeated the Israelites in battle, killed the sons of the high priest, and captured the ark of the covenant. So as we pick up in Chapter 5 of the First Book of Samuel, the ark is about to go on its own little adventure in the lands of the Philistines.

The Philistines brought the ark to the city of Ashdod, where they set it up in the temple of their own tribal delusion, Dagon. The morning after this, they found their Dagon idol had fallen over, face down in front of the ark. They set it back up, but the next day they found the statue fallen over again, and this time the head and hands had been cut off and were lying at the threshold of the temple. Meanwhile, the people of Ashdod and the surrounding lands began to break out in tumors.

The people of Ashdod decided to kick their problem down the road by sending the ark to the city of Gath. But then the people of Gath started getting tumors instead, and they tried sending the ark to Ekron. But the people of Ekron said “Oh, fuck no! We ain’t having that shit here!” But, you know, in Bible-speak.

So they sent to the lords of the Philistines to ask them to get the ark out of there. And the lords consulted their own priests and diviners about how best to deal with the ark. The priests came up with the idea that they needed to return the ark to Israel along with some gold as a payment for their sin in taking it in the first place (silly Philistines! Don’t they know God’s preferred offerings are in the form of burnt flesh?). But not just any gold. This gold had to be molded into five representations of tumors, and five mice. Seriously. Golden tumors.

And just so that nobody would have any doubt that sending the ark back was the thing God wanted done, the priests came up with a test. They loaded it and the golden tumors and golden mice into a crate, which they put onto a cart. Then they took two cows that had never been broken for pulling a cart, and who had just had calves (so basically, two cows that should have no clue how to pull a cart and every motivation to return home to their babies), and hitched them to the cart. Then they just let them go, on the theory that if they headed back to Israel then it must mean God was controlling their behavior.

The cows went straight up the road to the city of Beth-shemesh, and the lords of the Philistines followed them to see what would happen.

The cart proceeded to the fields outside of Beth-shemesh, where it stopped beside a large stone in the fields of some guy named Joshua. The Israelites were so thrilled to see it back that they immediately tore the cart apart for firewood and used it to sacrifice the cows as burnt offerings. They set the ark itself and the golden tumors on the big stone. After seeing all this, the lords of the Philistines turned around and went home. All’s well that ends well, right?

1 Sam 6:19 And he struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of Yahweh. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because Yahweh had struck the people with a great blow.”

Guess not.

That pretty much killed the celebratory mood, and the people who had been so thrilled at the return of the ark immediately begged the people of Kiriath-jearim to take it off their hands. So some men came from that city and took the ark with them to the house of Abinadab, where his son Eleazar was given charge of it. And that’s where it stayed, apparently without killing anybody, for about twenty years.

Then, we are told, Samuel told all of Israel (what a shame that his nation-spanning public address system was lost to history) that if they wished to return to God, they needed to set aside all the other gods and worship him only. So they did (that was easy!). Then Samuel told them all to gather at Mizpah, so that he could pray to God on their behalf. And they did that too.

When the Philistines heard about the gathering, they decided to attack Israel. As their army approached, Samuel sacrificed a lamb as a burnt offering to God and begged for his help. And God sent the Philistines into a panic so that they fled from the army of Israel. After that the Philistines no longer attacked Israel, and over time the Israelites recovered from them the cities they had conquered.

So Samuel spent the rest of his life as a judge over Israel. And when he was an old man, he made his sons judges as well. But they were kinda douchebags, and would accept bribes to sway their judgments. And then the elders of Israel got it into their heads that they’d be much better off if they had a king instead of judges. We’ll hear about how swimmingly that plan goes in the next post!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

1 Samuel: Sucks to Be Related to Eli

Hello! Just assume a charming and unique greeting occurs here, and we’ll jump into the first installment of the First Book of Samuel.

We start off with a fellow from the hill country of Ephraim named Elkanah, who had two wives: Hannah, and Peninnah. Peninnah had borne children, but Hannah had not because “God had closed her womb.” Elkanah loved Hannah, but Peninnah was constantly giving her shit about being barren.

So one year when they went to Shiloh (that’s where the tabernacle and ark and stuff were staying) to do the annual sacrificing stuff, she went to the temple where the high priest Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas ministered, to pray. And her prayer was a promise that if God would let her bear a son then she would give the child to God and never shave his head (I believe this is promising to make him a lifelong Nazarite just like Samson was).

She was weeping and mouthing her prayers silently, so at first Eli thought she was drunk and berated her for it. But when she explained that she was just deeply upset and praying, he blessed her instead.

So Hannah and her family returned home, and before too long she got pregnant and did, indeed, have a son whom she named Samuel. Once the baby was weaned, she returned with him to the temple at Shiloh and “lent” him to God for the rest of his life by giving him to the priests. This is followed by twelve verses of Hannah chapping God’s buttocks with her lips. See 1 Samuel Chapter 2 if you really want to read the details – it is some rather poetic ass kissing.

Every year after that, Hannah would bring her son a new robe when the family returned to do their sacrifices. And she continued to have more children – three sons and two daughters (though it’s not clear whether that’s including Samuel, or in addition to Samuel).

Then we’re told about how Eli’s sons were a couple of jackasses, who would use their positions as priests to coerce people into giving them the best part of their offerings to eat and sleep around with the serving girls. Eli heard about it, and bitched them out, but since he was old and feeble they didn’t pay him any mind.

But no matter. God’s got it covered with his patented one-size-fits-all solution to problems: kill the fuck out of it, and then go after its family. But, y’know… lovingly.

So he sends a “man of God” to deliver his message (why he can’t tell Eli directly, him being the high priest and all, the author makes no attempt to explain) to tell Eli that God is pissed about his sons behavior and Eli’s own failure to rein them in. And that even though he’d promised Aaron that his descendants would be his priests forever, now he’s decided to destroy them and raise up a new priest because Eli’s kids are such shits. So Eli’s family will be cursed, in that none of his descendants will ever live to be an old man, and God’s sign to Eli that the curse has started will be for both of his sons to die on the same day.

After this, we return to Samuel, who’s grown into a young man. And one day while he’s lying down in the temple, God calls Samuel. Though in an uncharacteristic burst of subtlety, he does so in such a way that Samuel has no idea it’s him, but instead thinks it’s Eli. So he runs in to where Eli is lying down and asks why he called for him. Eli says he didn’t, and that Samuel should go back to rest.

This goes on a couple more times before Eli clues in that maybe God is trying to talk to Samuel. So he tells the boy that the next time he hears the voice, he should respond “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” Samuel does just this, at which point God tells him that he’s about to curse Eli’s household. And the phrasing is interesting.

1 Sam 3:13 ‘And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.’”

Just a thought, but if Jesus’ sacrifice was supposed to atone for all of humanity’s sins, doesn’t the above verse kind of imply that Eli’s descendants are ineligible for the supposed benefits of that sacrifice? That’s kind of a shitty deal. Wonder when we can expect a Hollywood apocalypse movie based on that idea.

Anyway, in the morning Eli wanted to know what God had told Samuel. At first Samuel didn’t want to say, but Eli eventually gets it out of him. As bad as the news is, Eli’s reaction is basically resignation.

From this point on, Samuel becomes a prophet and minister, and his fame begins to spread throughout Israel.

In due time, Israel and the Philistines come to blows as seems to be their wont. And in the initial engagement the Israelites are soundly defeated. So the elders came up with the brilliant idea that what they really needed to turn the tide was to have the ark of the covenant with them. So they sent to Shiloh to have the ark brought to them, and Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas came with it.

When the ark arrived, the Israelite army started cheering and celebrating. The Philistines were curious about what the hubbub was about, and when they checked it out and discovered that the ark was in camp they had a little freak-out session. “Oh no! They have a god in their camp! Nothing like this has ever happened before!”

Seriously? Nobody had ever carried an icon of their tribal spook into battle before? I find that hard to believe, but whatever.

As it turns out, the Philistines needn’t have worried. They handily beat the Israelites, and killed Hophni and Phinehas (plus about 30,000 soldiers) in the process of capturing the ark. So I guess Raiders of the Lost Ark lied to us: an army that carries the ark can be defeated.

You know… it occurs to me that this story wasn’t refaced with the usual crap about how the Israelites had turned wicked and started worshipping other gods. So if God wasn’t particularly angry with the Israelites at this point in history, I guess we’re just supposed to assume that he let 30,000 of his followers get killed just to prove a point to Eli?

When one of the soldiers returned to Shiloh to tell the news of the defeat, he found old Eli (who was ninety-eight years old and blind) sitting on a rock. When the soldier told him that the ark was captured and his sons both dead, Eli fell over in shock and broke his frail old neck. The shock also sent Phinehas’ pregnant widow into labor, and she gave birth to a son who she named Ichabod. She died shortly thereafter.

So, with the end of Eli’s part in the story, I think we’ll call it a day here. We’ll pick up next time with the story of the ark’s journey through the land of the Philistines.

Until then, be well!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ruth: Totally Straight

Welcome back. This is going to be a first: we’ll complete an entire book of the Bible in only a single post. Of course, the book is only four chapters long, but still.

I’m referring, of course, to the Book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite woman, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, who had gone to Moab with her husband Elemelech as refugees during a famine in Judah. They had taken their sons with them, both of whom married Moabite women. Over the course of time, Naomi’s husband and both of her sons died, leaving her with her two daughters-in-law.

Word came to Naomi that the famine in Judah had ended, so she resolved to go home. Her daughters-in-law intended to go with her, but she pleaded with them to stay behind and find husbands among their own people since she had no more sons for them to marry and no husband to give her more sons (and at any rate they shouldn’t have to wait for any new sons to be grown before they could marry). One of the women, Orpah, was eventually persuaded, but Ruth adamantly refused to be left behind.

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said ‘Do not urge me t leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May Yahweh do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’”

Dude, is it just me, or does that totally sound like a marriage vow? If the authors aren’t trying to convince us that Ruth is head-over-heels in love with Naomi, then they way oversold that scene.

Anyhow, Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in Judah, where their arrival creates quite a stir. The people recognize Naomi, but she tells them to call her Mara (which means “bitter”) instead because she says God has dealt bitterly with her.

Now you may recall that part of the law is that landowners are supposed to leave any gleanings dropped in the field so that widows, orphans, and the poor can gather food for themselves from what’s left over. And since the ladies had arrived in Bethlehem around the start of the barley harvest, Ruth went out and started gleaning. One of the fields she came to belonged to Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s dead husband.

Boaz had come out that day to check with the supervisor of his reapers, and he noticed Ruth moving along behind them gleaning from what they dropped. He asked the supervisor who she was, and was told that she was the young Moabite woman who had come back to Bethlehem with Naomi. So he took Ruth aside and told her to continue gleaning in his field, where he would instruct his men to make sure she was safe and to allow her to drink from their water supplies as well. When she asked why he was being so kind to her, he responded that it was because he’d heard how wonderful she’d been to his relative’s widow.

He even did a little better than what he’d said, sharing bread with her at mealtime and instructing his reapers to leave extra food for her to collect.

When Ruth went home with all that food, Naomi asked where she had been gleaning. Ruth told her about Boaz, and Naomi informed her that Boaz was a relative of her husband’s and one of their redeemers (if you recall, some of the statutes in Moses’ law aimed at keeping land inheritances in the same family require that close relatives of someone who has lost or sold their land must be allowed to buy back, or “redeem,” the property – Boaz is therefore a close enough relative that he is allowed to redeem the property of Naomi’s deceased husband). She advises that Ruth would do well to keep by him. So Ruth spends the rest of the harvest season gleaning on Boaz’s fields.

At the end of harvest time, things get a little odd. I mean, the idea seems straightforward enough, but the text goes to such extremes to avoid coming right out and saying it that it gets hard to know for sure exactly what is going on.

Naomi has a conversation with Ruth heavy with implication and short on detail. She seems to be suggesting that she wants Ruth to have a husband so she won’t have to go gleaning in the fields for food all the time, and advising her on how best to arrange to seduce Boaz. She tells Ruth that Boaz will be late at the threshing floor, and she should go down there and spy on him until he’s done eating and goes to lie down for the night.

Ruth 3:4 ‘But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go down and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.’”

Now, I suppose it’s possible that her instructions were meant to be taken literally. It seems a bit more likely to me, however, that it’s some kind of euphemism for a sexual act (“uncover his feet” could easily be interpreted to describe lifting his robe), since it hardly seems productive toward catching a husband to slip up on a sleeping man and remove his shoes.

Anyhow, Ruth agrees to this plan. She goes down to the threshing floor and watches until Boaz has eaten and drunk some wine, and goes off to the end of a heap of grain to lay down and sleep. When he does, she slips up beside him, “uncovers his feet” and lays down with him. Around midnight he wakes up and is surprised to find her next to him (I guess he slept through whatever she was doing, or was only half-awake thinking it a dream, or something). At first he doesn’t know who she is in the dark, but she identifies herself and asks him to “spread his wings (or his garment, depending on translation)” over her as her redeemer.

I think this is supposed to be an expression of desire to marry him. This is part of what’s makes this section hard to understand – I mixes double entendre with legal points from the rather alien (from our modern perspective) Mosaic law. But I did a little digging around, and this is what I think is going on.

Boaz is eligible to redeem the property of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech. But with that comes the responsibility to continue Elimelech’s household by fathering children who will be considered the offspring of Elimielech’s line. Ruth, as the widow of one of Elimlelech’s sons, is the one that would have to bear those children. So by redeeming Elimelech’s house, Boaz would be getting Ruth into the deal. Boaz is evidently quite flattered by the request.

Ruth 3:10 And he said ‘May you be blessed by Yahweh, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.’”

So here we have the implication that Boaz is a good bit older than Ruth, as he seems to feel that she could easily have gone after a younger man. Also… if the kindness of asking him to be her redeemer is greater than “the first,” what was her first kindness? Whatever she did in “uncovering his feet?” Again, the implication that something more than the literal uncovering of feet is present.

And I should point out that I’m not speculating about this in order to cast aspersions on their behavior. I’m just trying to understand the story. Even if something sexual had just gone on between them, I’m not at all convinced it’s a bad thing. Hell, this midnight seduction may possibly be the most mutually healthy sexual encounter described in the Bible thus far. I’d also argue that even from a Biblical perspective there’s nothing wrong with this since, for all the highly specific proscriptions on who can have sex with who, I don’t recall reading anywhere that an unmarried widow was prohibited from sleeping with an unmarried man.

But to get back to the story, Boaz is amenable to Ruth’s request, but he points out that Elimelech has another relation who is ahead of him in terms of having the right to redeem his property (interestingly, this is the first implication in the Bible that there’s a hierarchy of who can be a redeemer). So he’ll have to check with that guy to make sure he doesn’t want to do so. He then asked her to stay the night there with him.

In the morning Ruth gets up to go before it’s light enough for people to be recognized, and Boaz gives her six measures of barley to take back to Naomi. She heads home, where she tells Naomi how the night went. Naomi is confident that Boaz will be quite eager to seal the deal, and in fact he sets about resolving the matter that very morning.

Boaz waits outside the gate of the city until he sees the other potential redeemer heading into town. He takes that guy aside, and tells him the Naomi is planning to sell Elimelech’s property and he’d like to know if the other guy intends to redeem it. At first, the other fellow says that he will. But then Boaz points out that if he does so, he’d be responsible for propagating Elimilech’s line through Ruth.

Ruth 4:6 Then the redeemer said ‘I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.’”

So again, just expressing my understanding of what’s going on here, as I’m not a legal scholar. I believe he’s saying that he doesn’t want to spend any of his own family’s inheritance to purchase property that would be inherited by any kids he has with Ruth (and he’d be obligated to father children), since those children would be legally considered to be of Elimelech’s line and not his own. So he tells Boaz that he’ll step aside and let Boaz act as redeemer.

So Boaz buys Elimelech’s property from Naomi, marries Ruth, and together they have a son named Jesse, who would then be father to David. Naomi stays on as nurse to the baby, end of Book of Ruth, and everyone lives happily ever after.

As confusingly vague and legalistic as the details of this book were, it was certainly a welcome respite from the unremittingly horrible nature of the Book of Judges. I think it’s the first actually pleasant book of the Bible. It’s also the only one so far in which 1) God doesn’t make any personal appearances, and 2) no mass killings occur. I think those two circumstances are related.

Hope you’re enjoying yourself, and that all will be well with you until the next installment when we start tackling the First Book of Samuel. That one’s thirty-one chapters long, so it’ll probably take a few posts to get through.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Judges: If Killing Broke it, Killing Will Fix it.

Welcome once again to my Bible blog. I hope that you’ve all been well, and are ready to go with the continuation of Judges. When last I posted, I discussed the story of Samson, who made life difficult (and in many cases, short) for the Philistines before inventing the suicide terror attack. Today we press on with some less famous episodes.

So we are told about a man named Micah, who lived in the lands of the tribe of Ephraim. And Micah stole 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother, but then in a fit of guilt he gave it back to her and confessed to taking it. His mother is so unreasonably grateful to get the money back that she forgets to be mad at Micah for taking it, and instead blesses him in the name of God and sets 200 pieces of silver aside to be cast into an idol dedicated to God (which, of course, is an explicitly forbidden practice, but I’m fairly sure these next few stories are only meant to illustrate how bad the Israelites became at following the law during the time of the judges). She gave the idol to Micah for his own household.

Micah set up a shrine in his house, with the idol and his own household gods, and ordained his son to be his household priest. But one day a traveling Levite from Bethlehem stopped in seeking shelter, and Micah hired him to be the household priest instead. He figured having a Levite priest would be an upgrade, and thus God would bless him more.

Now, you may recall a very brief mention earlier about the tribe of Dan having had a bit of trouble establishing themselves in the promised land. Well, in the time of Micah, we’re told that they still haven’t established their own tribal lands, and they’re looking for a place to call their own. So they send out five men to scout about and find a likely place. These men happen to come by Micah’s house, and they recognize the Levite. They ask him to tell them whether their mission will be a success, and the Levite assures them that God is looking out for them.

So the Danite scouts continue on their way and come to the land of Laish. The inhabitants are peaceful, prosperous, isolated, and unsuspecting. In other words, perfect victims for a band of marauding barbarians. So the Danites rush back home to inform the rest of their tribe of this great opportunity. The Danites muster up 600 fighting men to invade Laish.

On the way to Laish, the army stops at the house of Micah. Where they just march right in and steal Micah’s silver idol, household gods, and ceremonial garb. When the Levite confronts them, they just invite him to come along and be their priest, since it would be much cooler to be priest to an entire tribe than to just one guy. The Levite buys this reasoning, and “his heart was glad,” so he joined in the theft and happily abandoned the man we’re told thought of him as a son.

When Micah discovers the theft and chases after the Danites, they basically tell him to shut the fuck up and go home, or they’ll kill him and all his household.

After that, the Danites went to Laish, killed all the inhabitants, and took up residence in their city which they renamed Dan.

The Bible then moves on to a separate story featuring a different Levite and his concubine. This is very much like the story of Lot, except without any angels involved and told as justification for Israelite-on-Israelite genocide rather than God smiting a city.

See, the Levite was from the hill country in Ephraim, but his concubine was from Bethlehem in Judah. And one day she got so pissed at him that she moved out and went back home to her father’s house in Bethlehem. After a couple months, he went to find her and beg her to take him back. His sweet-talking ways woo her back, and after a brief interlude where her father keeps trying to entice the Levite to stay longer, they start back to the Levite’s home in Ephraim.

As an aside, throughout this story the Bible refers to the Levite as being, variously, the woman’s master and her husband. It also refers to his relationship with her father as son-in-law. But the woman is consistently called only his concubine, never his wife. And this isn’t the first time such vagaries have occurred. So I’m just going to throw my hands up and declare that I have no idea what the fuck the Bible considers to be a marriage. You would think that, for all the hoopla people make about “Biblical marriage,” the actual fucking Bible would have actually fucking defined it somewhere.

But anyway, on the way home to Ephraim, it starts to get late. The Levite’s servant suggests they stop at Jerusalem, but the Levite refuses because it’s still controlled by Jubusites (who are not Israelites). Instead they move on to a town called Gibeah, which belongs to the tribe of Benjamin. Since nobody offers them hospitality, they start to set up camp in the town square.

Here’s where the similarity to Lot starts. A man coming in from his work in the fields spots the Levite and strikes up a conversation. Turns out he was originally from Ephraim too, and he offers to let the Levite and his people stay the night at his place. They accept his offer, but soon the men of Gibeah start gathering around the house, beating on the door and demanding that the man send out the Levite so they can have sex with him. And much like Lot, the host bravely offers up his virgin daughters to be raped instead. He’s even willing to throw his guest’s concubine into the deal. But here’s where things get hairy, because unlike in the story of Lot, the man’s guest isn’t an angel who can divinely intervene to keep everyone safe.

Jdg 19:25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go.”

So the Levite gets up in the morning and gets ready to leave, and it’s kind of hard to tell whether he was unaware of the ruckus the night before, or simply uncaring. But as he goes to depart, he discovers his concubine collapsed in the doorway at the front of the house.

Jdg 19:28 He said to her, ‘Get up, let us be going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home.”

Sounds terribly broken up. And in case it wasn’t clear, she died. Or at least, I hope so, since the first thing he did when he got home was cut her up into twelve pieces and send bits of her to every corner of Israel.

And that got some people riled up, let me tell you! So much so that they put together an army of 400,000 people to come punish the inhabitants of Gilead. But the Benjaminites weren’t having any of it, and insisted on defending their own people from the horde by mustering their own army of 26,000. For some odd reason, the Israelites decided to start out the battle piecemeal by sending one tribe at a time to fight the Benjaminites, and God chose the tribe of Judah to go first. They marched out and got their asses roundly kicked, losing 22,000 men in a single day’s fighing (yes, I know these numbers are absurd, but I didn't write it). They asked God if they really ought to try again the next day, he told them yes, and then they lost a further 18,000. So they asked God if they should try again, and he told them yes, but promised that this time he’d let them win.

So the next day they rolled out and, using the exact same strategy Joshua used to defeat the city of Ai (See the Book of Joshua), they defeated the Benjaminites. And in their customary show of graciousness in victory, they proceeded to kill every man, woman, and child in the tribe of Benjamin, except for about 600 men who fled the fighting.

Then, suddenly, it dawned on them that perhaps they shouldn’t completely wipe out one of their own tribes. But now they had a new problem: there were only 600 Benjaminites left alive, all men, and somewhere along the line the Israelites had sworn that they wouldn’t give any of their own daughters as wives to any Banjaminites.

So they took a quick census of themselves and realized that nobody from the city of Jabesh-gilead had come to join their massive vengeance horde. And they said “Ah-ha! These people didn’t take our stupid oath! Perhaps we can persuade them to provide wives for the surviving Benjaminites!”

And when I say “They said ‘Perhaps they can be persuaded to provide wives for the surviving Benjaminites,’” what I really mean is “Without any preamble or negotiation whatsoever, they sent a large force of men to attack Jabesh-gilead, kill every man, woman, and child, and steal the virgin girls so they could force them to marry the Benjaminites.” Because in the Bible, any problem created by combining stupidity with mass killings can also be solved by combining stupidity with mass killings.

Though, as it turns out, a little bit of kidnapping would be required as well. Because slaughtering the people of Jabesh-gilead (who, I feel it should be pointed out, were fellow Israelites) only netted them 400 virgin brides, so there was still a shortage of breeding stock for the 600 Benjaminites. The leftover men had to find brides somewhere else.

Then someone remembered that the city of Shiloh had an annual festival dedicated to God during which the unmarried women would go out dancing in the fields. So they suggested just having the unmarried Benjaminites kidnap all the girls who went out dancing. And if the people of Shiloh should happen to object then everyone else could just tell them to shut the hell up, because the kidnappings get them around their oath not to give their daughters to Benjaminites since, technically, they will have been stolen. So that’s just what they did.

And that brings us to the end of Judges. The last line is:

Jdg 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Which could be read as a lamentation at the behavior displayed in the book. And actually, it’s a repetition of a line that appeared right at the start of the story of Micah, so perhaps it’s meant to be critical of the behaviors bracketed by the two appearances of the line (i.e. pretty much everything in this post). It would be easier to buy that if there weren’t lines where God is seen to expressly, or by implication, approve some of the worst behavior. But no matter.

Next time we’ll be starting the Book of Ruth. And probably finishing it as well – it’s only four chapters long, and seems to exist only to establish the origins of the family from which King David would descend. Until then, you be well!