Thursday, March 27, 2008

The holy women also, who trusted in God (Judges 4)

Chapter 4 presents us with a fair amount of repetition of issues I've already addressed. As I already said (and I guess I'll keep saying "I already said"), the book of Judges largely follows a repetitive pattern, perhaps illustrating humankind's tendency to fail to learn from history. Their previous leader dies, they turn back to sin, they reap the results and end up at the mercy of a foreign--well, non-Israelite--power.

The issue of iron chariots comes up again, and here it's labeled as an absurdity, but labeling it as such highlights something about this issue as a supposed contradiction in itself. Even supposing that it is true that God cannot handle it sometimes when iron chariots are involved, it's not really a contradiction. We're talking about warfare and attitudes towards what are state-of-the-art armaments of the day. Note that historically, hostilities between Japan and the USA ended quickly because the USA had nuclear weapons, but hostilities between the USA and the USSR stretched out for decades due to the same reason. Of course the difference was the fact that in the former case, they were actually deployed, and in the latter case, the power balance was much closer, but the point is that having powerful armaments has a great deal of effect on how a war plays out, but by no means determines the outcome. Here, I think we see a generation of people who, although they had turned away from God, turned back to Him with faith that even iron chariots could not stand up to them, if only God was on their side.

You know, a long time ago, I commented on the fact that the SAB's icons were (with the exception of "Good Stuff") always intended to make negative statements about the issues they were aimed at. If this is not true, then I wonder why verse 4 does not have the "Women" icon attached. Here in the book of Judges, we see for the first time in the Bible an instance of a woman holding a true position of power in Jewish society. Deborah is like Israel's Joan of Arc, but without the burning at the stake thing.

The SAB notes briefly that there seems to be a misnaming of Moses' father-in-law. As I said back the first time I came across this, despite the many examples of this given by the SAB, this particular verse is the only one I'll concede to be in error, apparently a typo of some sort, as Hobab was Moses' brother-in-law. (Actually, it may be a translation error, as the Hebrew word here is also elsewhere translated as "marriages"; perhaps it's an all-purpose term for relative by marriage?)

Anyway, war ensues, violence happens, it's pretty nasty, but such is war. What is rather odd, and clearly the author himself finds it noteworthy, is the fate of the Canaanite general Sisera. Fleeing from the battle, he asks for shelter from a woman named Jael. She lets him in, gives him a drink, put him in bed, and then puts a tent spike through his head. I'm not sure what to make of such an action. Sure, it was wartime, but at the same time, it has been noted by many, including myself, that hospitality to guests in the Middle East is taken pretty seriously; it's often used as part of an explanation of why Lot would offer up his daughters to an angry mob rather than give up his house guests. All's fair in love and war, I suppose.

The SAB asks whether Sisera was awake or asleep when he died. I think it's a pretty minor point to argue, but if it must be addressed, I have two thoughts. First of all, the verse from chapter 5 is part of a song, and it tends to be the case in songs like this for details to be embellished. It seems that often, when Israelites pause to sing a song after securing a military victory, they'll say whatever they feel like saying. Secondly, note that the verse in chapter 5 doesn't say Sisera was awake when he died, only that he bowed to Jael before he died, and the spot where he had bowed was the place he eventually died. I guess this is supposed to be ironic.

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