Numbers 5

Purity in the camp. Infectious people to be segregated. A test for women suspected of infidelity.

I imagine the test is one of those cultural relative issues. Seems primitive to us but probably a lot gentler than treatment of women in the rest of the ancient world. 

Meta message: God judges, husband’s don’t own wives like chattels. Jealousy must be proven. 

But gee whiz… No remedy for male cheating?

Leviticus 15

At the end of ch14 it said that it was the end of rules about infectious skin diseases, and I thought “well that’s a relief”.  So to genital emissions, male and female, normal and abnormal. Sigh.

There is a public health element blended with spiritual metaphors.  So we have periods of quarantine and cleaning where there are diseased emissions.  But we also have shorter and more minor times of uncleanliness for normal reproductive emissions, semen and menstruation.

I’ve been contemplating the element of equal opportunity here.  Both men and women are made unclean for God by reproductive emissions, but women are unclean longer. The rest of the day for men (and women if they get the semen on them) and 5 days for women (and men if they get the blood on them).

Thing is, men have emissions more often, multiple times a week.  So perhaps as a percentage of time being spent unclean, from a practical point of view, its about equal.

Some have argued the menstruation rule is an early recognition of women’s period pain and quite progressive in full social context… I don’t know about that.

On balance, it does blunt the misogyny accusation somewhat, particularly the parallel structure of the chapter, male and female rules alongside each other, its quite striking.

It also clear that none of it is individually blameworthy, Jesus said we are born into sin.  To me this is a recognition of that, by saying that human reproduction is not the way of producing rightness with god, only gods cleansing intervention can do that.

Rather than pointing fingers at groups: at foreigners, criminals, men, women, sick, well etc. its actually saying actually dramatically and emphatically of course you need God’s cleansing grace, all of you. None is right before God.   

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 12

Are you allowed not to like things in the Bible?  I don’t like this chapter about unclean things much, I think it is sexist. I will now proceed to rationalise it a bit, but I still think its sexist and don’t like it much.  It doesn’t lessen my faith in God, but it does lessen or justify lessening the faith of many people. Its one of those awkward passages that people raise to say that christianity is stupid. Which I don’t know what to make of.

So to the lame rationalisation. I don’t think “unclean” is meant to have the connotation “shameful” for one thing, which is natural for it to have.  But if you think about it, if I’ve worked hard in the garden all day and then go out without having a shower, I’m sort of unclean.  Its not sociable to my friends and fellow diners who have to smell me, or who’s clothes get dirty if I pat them on the back, and I feel grotty and sweaty. But the fact that I got that way is not shameful.  It would have been more shameful if I never did the gardening.  I just worked up honest sweat, and I needed a shower.  Likewise I think this is an issue of context rather than shame.

So if a man has an emission or a woman is menstruating, I don’t think its saying those are bad things, its just saying, don’t go to the temple then.  Put it this way, if you didn’t show up and someone said “oh, its your period, how are you” and you said “its not my period”, that would be more of a problem.  So its as much like a “you’re excused”.

Colds are similar, I mean we know that staying away decreases the risk of infection, but even if we didn’t know that, its sometimes just a politeness to spare people your company if you are coughing and snivelling. When I am at work with a cold and my boss says “go home, we don’t want you here” he is not condemning me for having a cold, he’s giving me and everyone else a break.

Similarly I don’t think the bible doesn’t wan’t us to think that the rules for “purification” after childbirth mean that childbirth is shameful or makes you an undesirable outcast.  Its a good reason not to be at church.

I read a passionate commentary from a woman who said she thought it was actually much more enlightened than similar surrounding cultures would have been in respecting women’s excuses for needing a break – thinking of them as real people with needs.

I was less convinced reading her justification than I was when I’ve written this one.  I’m starting to talk myself into it, a bit. But not much.

Sexist views of menstruation include regarding it as a reason for treating women as too emotionally unstable for serious responsibilities, or treating it like it doesn’t exist, or if forced to acknowledge it, finding it disgusting.  This chapter is not directly guilty of the first two, but arguably the last, unless you buy the line that its actually a thoughtful treatment for women, which I really don’t.

In the rest of Leviticus we have a male only priesthood, which is consistent with the first kind of sexism. Arguably since they were in a world where religions with priestesses seemed to be built around a lot of bonking and exploitation of women, it could mean the male only thing was a statement about that. But it would have been more of a statement to build a religion where women simply had a role that wasn’t built around sex.

Anyway, it makes the point that God deserves your sunday best, scrubbed up and groomed.

I’m going to make a new tag for this chapter #leave-it-to-heaven.  For questions that I simply don’t understand – that don’t destroy my faith, but just seem wrong to me, like this.

Regrettably this marks the point at which my bible blog departs from being a perfect insight into the mind of god and all knowledge.  I had hoped when it was complete to be omniscient. Sigh.

 

Exodus 4

Don’t want to be chosen.

I remember C S Lewis’ autobiography talking about being dragged “kicking and screaming” into the kingdom. 

It’s hard to demand your people’s freedom from the ruler who came up with the male infanticide policy, and threaten to kill his first born. Moses has run away from a life of unique privilege because he fears he may be killed for his rash murder of an abusive Egyptian he came upon. 

He’s given magical signs to show he is speaking with power. But he still doesnt want to speak to the Pharaoh. 

God says memorably “who gave human beings Thier mouths” and burns with anger at his chosen. 

And puts in place a plan B, to use his brother Aaron as mouthpiece.

On the journey back to Egypt, God seems to test the family is loyal to him, even though zipporah, Moses’ wife, is not an Israelite. She gets the gist the way women seem to and circumscises her first baby son. 

The people, when he arrives, worship God for sending a solution, albeit a flawed one, to their slavery and persecution.

Genesis 30

Women are thrown at Jacob and he doesn’t say no. Rachel, not conceiving, sends her servant to him. Bing bing, more Israel tribes. 

Leah, not to be outdone, sends her servant. Bing bing again.

Both women are keen to eat rare mandrakes… a folk infertility cure, found by Leah’s son. Leah let’s Rachel have them in payment for a turn of Jacob. Bing.

The women are treating him like a stud bull. It’s a household that is very pragmatic about sex.

The mandrakes appear to work for Rachel (could she have tried prayer and trust of God?). Bing! Joseph is born. The account ascribes it to God finally having mercy on Rachel.

Jacob prepares to leave laban and set up on his own. He devises a crafty differential breeding program to diddle laban and get all the strong livestock as part of his separation package. 

Business as usual, everyone tricking everyone else. OK we’re getting how the tribes of Israel came to be, but it’s not a glorious process. 

Barely any mention of God at all this chapter. His plans are being realised, but he doesn’t seem present or part of their everyday lives, despite Jacob having had a grand vision of heaven and angels given to him.

2 Samuel 14

One of David’s most promising sons has killed another of his sons as revenge for a nasty rape and put himself in self imposed exile. We left the last chapter with David, over mourning the dead son, now missing the live one too. Its a tragic mess.

Joab, David’s loyal general is a notable bit player here, and he engineers with a wise woman a bit of a play act.  She gets an audience with David to give him a fake petition about two sons… you get the drift. David does too.  “did Joab put you up to this?” he asks.

Absalom, the exiled son is bought home, but David still can’t bring himself to see him. Absalom eventually forces Joab to pay him attention by burning one of Joab’s fields of barley!  He has to come and see Absalom, and they talk about the real problem.

The chapter ends movingly at the end of this long road of forgiveness with David kissing his son.

My grandfather had a brother he stopped speaking to and never did again in his life.  This chapter is about a profound insight about how much God is not like that – as the woman who Joab chose for the fake petition says “God … devises ways for the banished to be restored.”

This was an incredibly hard relationship to heal, but David, with help from some godly friends, and a lifetime of being schooled in grace, did it.

1 Samuel 28

The philistines prepare to attack the Israelites, with David, convincingly a traitor, bizarrely as the philistine king’s bodyguard.  Saul facing the enemy encampment is deserted by God and terrified.

He has banned and purged all witches and mediums. But in desperation he consults one anyway.  She summons up the spirit of Samuel.  Its all very dramatic, but spirit Samuel doesn’t say anything at all remarkable or new in this scene: Saul is stuffed. He will die. He confirms Saul’s dread.

The portrait of the witch is sympathetic.  She forces him to take some food despite his refusal, she goes above and beyond in generosity.

God is supernatural after all.  She may have been faking Samuel’s appearance, but it may have been real, doesn’t really matter. As so often the message from the other side is the same as the message on this side.  The wise men found Jesus by astrology. It works, and sometimes its the only religion people know.

I think issue with mediums is not always that they are fake, its that its an unnecessary way to approach the supernatural that avoids god’s spirit.  Like a back door to the spiritual for people avoiding God.  God is in our hearts, just pray! I’m sure the devil is happy to talk with people attracted to him, but his overriding aim is your destruction.

Saul is in denial.  When confronted, we’ve seen him acknowledge David’s state of grace and bless it, but rebellion against God’s choice keeps overwhelming him.

It is tempting to see it as unfair that God deserted him even though he so desperate for spiritual guidance. But I don’t think God deserted him.

He’s literally living the old “two ways to live” pamphlet they used to hand out: he’s clinging to his kingship, and denying God’s. It’s not that he doesn’t know God’s will, he just doesn’t like it. So he keeps asking, like there might be a different answer if he asks a different way.

Its a good idea when tempted to pray “why won’t you answer me God?” to ask yourself if in truth he already has.

Two great sinners, David and Saul.  Only one has truth in his heart.

 

 

1 Samuel 25

An odd chapter. I’m flying solo on it, I haven’t read any commentaries. 

Starts with Samuel dying, very flatly reported and not referred to again. But the chapter is then about what kind of man is David. Samuel has been the voice of God, announcing god’s will. David is now on his own. 

And the episode we’re thrown into has uncomfortable echoes of his greatest sin, his desire for Bathsheba. 

In the last chapter David was noble and godly, full of grace. This chapter seems to exist to tell us not to get too carried away with him.

A greedy man, Nabal  is married to a woman, Abigail, David finds attractive. So you gotta wonder about David’s motives when he sets a test to expose what a scoundrel nabal is, and then resolves to destroy him because of it.

God has given David power, military strength and resources to be king. Not to kill selfish men with gorgeous wives.

The intervention of God in the story saves David from his own abuse of power. First Abigail comes and pleads for nabal with gifts and apologies. Her eloquent beautifully brave persuasion is the heart of the chapter. I’d marry her myself! 

David attributes her intervention to God saving all of Nabals men from slaughter.

Then in a convenient and literal Deus ex machina twist Nabal dies of a mysterious disease, which is also attributed to God. So, happy ending, David gets to marry Abigail, after she has demonstrated her worth, without a corrupting slaughter. 

Yet. But his tendency towards lust and abuse of power has been foreshadowed.

And the narrative coolly notes that David married another wife as well, and that Saul traded his first wife Michal off to another king (remember her… She engineered his escape from the palace a few chapters ago).  A reality faceslap worthy of Jane Austen, just when you were feeling all romantic. 

A woman, Abigail, is the hero and voice of God in this story, but their lives, even the daughters of kings, pretty much sucked.

Ruth 1

“wherever you go, I will go, where you die, I will die and there be buried”

Some goodness.

I’ve just read judges, the period from which this story comes. Despite many great moments it is a harsh and depressing book. We zoom in here on intimate lives with much bad luck and sadness. But also great goodness. The gentleness is a relief.

Naomi is a Jewish woman in a foreign land (Moab) who loses 3 men, leaving just herself and two daughters in law. That makes her about the most weak and miserable person possible in that society.

Naomi is a believer and obviously kind and strong, because the girls both from Moab want to take the dangerous journey back to Israel… Bethlehem.

This is crazy they will be foreigners, doomed to poverty in a patriarchal society. She convinced one of the girls to stay but Ruth sings a song or says a poem where she throws her lot with Naomi and the lord. It’s very moving.

Very quickly we have a portrait of Ruth, she has shown herself to be a person of faith, and reflected how the lord has shone though Naomi. It’s the wonderful touch of grace in these sad, failing lives. Very beautiful.

Thank you for this story lord. For reminding me of grace and hope in the most sad circumstances.

Judges 5

Wow, Deborah’s victory song is a wild celebration of people power… the people are the princes of Israel when they offer themselves willingly for God.  They are strengthened by his blessing as they rise like the sun – stronger the higher they get.

Jael gets her praise here too, from Deborah. Taking down the mighty commander of the oppressing army. She vividly imagines him falling down before Jael.

She illustrates the impact of his loss through the eyes of women: his mother, a chatelain, peering out from behind lattice, wondering why he is taking so long. Her attendants speculating that he is about men’s business, dividing the spoils of war, fine clothes, 2 women each.  Well, he found two women, but not the cowering victims they were imagining!

I love that it is celebrated as a woman’s victory integral to being God’s victory. It is not a cringing recognition of their symbolic weakness – God’s might is shown through using even weak women, Deborah is feeling strong in him. God is the empowerer.  He’s raised up the people, he’s raised up Deborah, he is the source of strength, and they are celebrating strength.

Got to write some music for this one some day, its a stunner. Praise God! “May all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”

I am strong like the sun, rise up with me,
I can beat this world,
drive a tent peg through its head!

Higher and higher, stronger and stronger

Crack the dark, the days first beam
drive the shadows away
rise up like the sun,
kiss the world with love

Higher and higher, stronger and stronger