Friday, April 11, 2008

This sign shalt thou have of the LORD (Judges 6)

Okay, I've been a bit too busy for this, and I probably still am, but I've just got to keep going, as I would like to finish someday, although at the rate I've managed, it'll probably take me more than 10 years to finish the whole Bible.

Judges 6 has a few tough questions. Right off the top is the question of the Midianites. I was going to say that obviously, the Israelites in Moses' time didn't do as thorough of a job as they seem to have done, but the way I'm reading the SAB note, that's not really the point being made here. The point is, after killing certainly nearly every male among the Midianites (and most of the adult women as well), just 200 years later, they flourish "as grasshoppers for multitude". One of the two passages is definitely erroneous, I'd have to say, unless one admits the possibility (and why not, other than it's a stretch) that the sort of miraculous growth that turned 70 men of Israel into 600,000 men in 400 years during the time of the Egyptian captivity has happened to Midian. Surely at least there is some exaggeration, as I seriously doubt that the Midianites are "as grasshoppers" (although that verse does admittedly talk about a "plague", not a mere natural swarm) since with numbers like that, how would you even know? Most likely, "without number" simply means the Israelites couldn't manage to count them, which could mean anything. Who stops in the middle of a battle to count their enemies?

Some other thoughts that could apply here though are mostly possibilities of mistaken identity. One would probably have to look at it deeper than I am at the moment, but like the Amalekites, the Bible may be referring to more than one group of people as "Midian". Just as the descendants of Abraham through Israel have split into many tribes, Abraham's descendants through Midian may have done the same, and the former group destroyed may have simply been a tribe. (After all, much later we see "Israel" taken into captivity by the Babylonians, but three tribes remain in the land, at that time called "Judah".) It's also possible that this was a completely different group of people who happened to live in the land of Midian; it's not always 100% clear in the Bible when we're talking about national vs. geographical identity. Also, as I noted previously in Genesis 37, "Midian" and "Ishmael" are inexplicably very interchangeable terms in the Bible, perhaps partly due to the fact that these two men were originally half-brothers of each other and Isaac.

Anyway, the SAB expresses disdain for the idea that God would take Israel's side in the war that is about to come. I'm not sure why this issue should keep coming up as a problem. I obviously have a very different point of view as to the way God should act towards His people than the SAB does. I mean, while I have voiced the opinion that I don't approve of the war in Iraq (at least not for the reasons we were given for starting it in the first place) I do think we were justified to a great extent for going to war in Afghanistan. When you're attacked in your own land, fighting back just makes sense. Well, that's my take anyway, for whatever it's worth.

The SAB also thinks it's absurd that God makes fire come out of a rock. For the umpteenth time, we're talking about a miracle here, so pretty much anything goes. That also goes for the miracle(s) of the fleece at the end of the chapter, although more might need to be said about that.

I am perhaps a bit surprised that the SAB doesn't question Gideon's act of "vandalism" (to quote from the Brick Testament link). Surely this is an act of intolerance if there ever was one. At least here we're not talking about warring with a foreign invading tribe of pagans, but with home-grown paganism. I suppose I've addressed this elsewhere in general, but it does raise some interesting questions for a modern believer: If you truly believe your faith is the one true faith, would that give you the right to, say, burn down a Mormon temple or raze a Mosque? Surely it doesn't seem right, (and in my opinion would do nothing to slow the rise of the LDS Church or Islam anyway) yet why not, if God is on your side? Is Gideon's act any more or less just? What about the reaction of Gideon's father? He says essentially that if Baal is such a powerful God, he hardly needs an angry mob to defend his altar. Seems like a clever response, doesn't it? But then, you could say the same sort of thing when someone in the modern day would firebomb a church, couldn't you? This action on the part of Gideon is full of some fascinating moral ambiguity in my opinion.

I'm not sure what the absurd part is about verse 34, although the link next to it would suggest perhaps it is strange that the "Spirit of the Lord" is so likely to lead men to violence. However, if that's the case, I'd expect more likely to icons for violence and intolerance, as have so many times been used elsewhere, and responded to by me as above.

The chapter ends with the fairly well-known fleece story, which I'll admit does seem a bit absurd for a few reasons. First, it's a pretty wacky miracle. Second, it's probably a far less impressive miracle than the one Gideon already saw, at least in my opinion. Third, as the SAB points out, what the heck does it take to convince this guy that God is really talking to him, and why does God put up with his demands for so many miraculous signs? The fact is, this is one of the odd places in the Bible that perplexes me where God really seems to stretch what He's willing to put up with from someone's questioning. Like the Apostle ("doubting") Thomas, who wouldn't believe in the resurrected Christ until He put in a special appearance just for him, Gideon seems to be asking a lot. In any case, whether or not this is okay to do is a difficult question, one that I have addressed to some extent here, but I really don't have any definitive answers. In short, God goes with this, and Gideon is convinced to do what it is that he does in the next section of the book.

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