Monday, August 7, 2017

Fat Guys, Long Hair, and Gang Bangers: Judges, not Game of Thrones

      This post is an odd one, mainly because I'm still reeling from this book, the book of Judges. I finished reading it last week during the youth camp at which we were helping to lead worship when the Spirit was moving and I was engulfed in flames of holiness. Now I am home in Franklin with the aura of an Emmaus Walk's fourth-day surrounding me, wondering where God is, what the heck He is doing, and why, when everyone around me is moving forward, am I still in my jammies on the couch.
      It's been a rough morning, y'all.
      So I am reflecting on Judges and praising God for promises kept because He inhabits the praises of His people, and I need Him to inhabit my praises, even when they are weak and wandering. I am so blessed to be one of God's peeps. Subsequently, I am providing a brief rundown of this fabulous book for your reading pleasure, in the hopes that you, too, will tackle it. In addition, I am being totally wrecked by this reflection on Judges. While this is not an exegetical representation of the book, it is an effort to spark your interest. Exegesis will come later...
      Before I begin, allow me to fill in some blanks. The author of Judges is never named and therefore has no definitive identity. Some scholars believe Samuel wrote the book, but I have not yet made it to 1st. Samuel and am not familiar with his voice or style to make an educated guess of my own. For now, we'll go with "unknown." I will say this much, whoever wrote it has no filter, which I rather appreciate.
     The gist of the book is that God called select people as judges for the Israelites because, let's face it, the Israelites weren't all that great at following directions. The book states a couple of times that "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,"(17:6 and 21:25), thus reneging in their covenant with God. In other words, the preceding books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and parts of Joshua) contained laws put in place to help them understand God's will and ultimately His love for them. They were covenant vows between God and His people that Israel blatantly violated. They worshiped other gods/idols and did their own thing apart from Him. In response, God allowed foreign oppression to take them over. What did the Israelites do? They turned back to God and he provided a deliverer or judge. It's a constant merry-go-round that will inevitably irritate the living daylights out of you causing you to ask questions such as, "Dang, Israel! Can't you get your life together already?!" Later you will cross examine yourself and whether or not your own life is falling in line, and you will cry out in repentance and possibly pain. I'm just forewarning you.
      At first glance, Judges sounds kind of repetitive and boring, let us be honest. But it's not. Trust me. I already Instagrammed about the king who lost his thumbs and big toes and was made to pick up crumbs, and I already posted about the other king who was so fat that when he was stabbed, his fat rolls wrapped around the hilt of the sword inside of his gut and his bowels emptied, both through the first two judges. I dare anyone to tell me this book is boring.
      From the outset, we are supplied with an overview of Joshua's legacy and death leading to Israel's many screw-ups as they attempt to do life on their own, outside of God's handy-dandy "Set Apart for Dummies" guide provided through the priests and prophets. The stage is then set for understanding the purpose of these judges. (The first two judges chronicled are Othniel and Ehud, which we've previously noted. See "big toes and the fat guy" above and on Instagram.) Israel continues to follow its own agenda. Finally, knowing what they need before they even ask, who does God send to judge these fools? A CHICK, y'all.
      Deborah is a judge and prophetess who rocks Israel like a wagon wheel, takes up her buddy Barak to war with her, and defeats some aforementioned oppressors, then promptly spends a chapter singing about it because she loves God, her job, and she's a BA like that.
      Shortly after Deborah's gig, God calls Gideon because there is yet more oppression, this time from the Midianites. I like Gideon because he is so fickle and flawed before his faith finally kicks into overdrive. He spends the majority of his call from God trying to decipher if God really means what He's asking of Gideon, or if He's just messing around with him. Meanwhile, Gideon is constantly referring to Him as "Lord" or "God." Why would anyone question God's plans or motives? I'm just gonna leave this right here...
      God sends Gideon into battle with an army of twenty-two thousand men, but He dilutes the army to three hundred men, all based on how they drink water from a river. With just those three hundred men and Gideon, God defeats the Midianites.
      I found much that was interesting in the story of Gideon. And while this next tidbit may not interest you, it certainly fired up my nerdy research side: In chapter 8, Gideon has captured two kings, killed them, and taken the precious metaled ornaments from their camels. These ornaments were crescents. As I read over the verse I got a little hung up on it but was having trouble following why this shape, let alone a bunch of camels, was of any importance at all. Sometimes I'll stop and question things I read, pray about them, and I encourage you to do the same. God always shows up with the answer. If He sparks your attention with a certain detail in His Word, it's for a reason. Write it down and go back to it in prayer and analysis. Remember, the Word is alive and active. Within three to four verses, I had most of my answer for this one.
      The writer goes on to say that Gideon makes an ephod, which is the garment worn by the priests. Now, this is an exegetical arena that I don't want to venture into because it's part of Gideon's downfall and a whole host of other issues (one being that this is supposed to be "brief"), but I do want to pull out a section of it that corresponds with the crescent ornaments mentioned earlier.
       Verse 22 says that the men of Israel requested Gideon to rule over them because they respect him for delivering them from the Midianites. He takes up their jewelry, and they had much of it because they were from the Ishmaelites, meaning they descended from Ishmael. Part of this jewelry, particularly earrings, were the crescents that hung around their camels' necks. I looked up the significance of those crescent medallions because we are very familiar with this symbol as it is the symbol of Islam. Now allow me to jump back in time to the book of Genesis and Abraham. Abraham's first son, the one by Sarah's handmaid, was Ishmael, and Islam believes their faith originated from Ishmael. Lots of questions here, one being, was the spirit of Islam already conceived at this point?
      Moving on...
      Gideon was a pimp, y'all. No, I'm just kidding, but he did have seventy sons and I'm pretty sure that number did not come from one woman, especially given the marital and cultural practices of the day. One of those sons, Abimelech, eventually goes postal and kills sixty-eight of his brothers on the same stone because he more than likely has daddy issues and he desires to be the head honcho. However, the youngest brother Jotham escapes and convinces Israel to revolt. A battle takes place and because Abimelech was an egotistical control freak, he of course participates. In a twist of fate, a woman climbs to the top of a tower and drops a stone onto Abimelech's skull below, delivering a fatal blow to his enlarged head. Still puffed up with pride in his dying state, Abimelech asks his armor-bearer to run a sword through him so no one knows that he was killed by a girl. And yet someone still found a pen and posted it on the social media of the day so we can all read it 2,000 plus years later. Poor Abimelech.
      For the sake of time, I'm going to skip ahead to Samson. When we talk about Samson, we always couple him with Delilah, and not the Plain White T's "Delilah." Let's back up a bit. Samson was consecrated by God before he was even born. An angel actually came to his parents and said, "This kid doesn't need a haircut and he certainly can't drink any alcohol or eat any unclean foods."  You can find a list of these foods and practices labeled as "unclean" in the previous books. Unclean foods at this time were foods, usually animals, that the Israelites were ordered not to even touch, specifically bacon, I mean, split-hooved animals such as pigs and some other specific animals*.  Praise the Lord for Jesus because of salvation and bacon, y'all. Amen.
       Samson grows up, he's buff, and he makes man-buns cool before Nashville and hipsters can get a leg into their skinny jeans and walk on over to Starbucks for open mic spoken word night. But Samson, in all of his calling, has an appetite like any other red-blooded man, and he falls in love with a hot Philistine, whose nation was ruling over Israel at that time. Therefore, mom and dad did not approve.
       On his way into town to obtain this woman as his wife, he runs into a lion. I love how Judges narrates what Samson does next in 14:5: "...And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat." Samson was a beast. However, he also broke a few rules in his itch to get to this new gal, such as touching a dead carcass which was considered defilement of the law.
      A few days later, he passes the same carcass, only this time it's full of honey bees. Samson reaches in for the honey and eats it, also taking it to his parents to eat, both unknowingly participating in the sin of eating unclean food. (It's "unclean" because it's inside of a dead animal carcass.)
      In order to proceed with a marriage ceremony, there are different marital customs to be practiced, one of which is for Samson to present his fiance's family with a riddle they must solve. When she coaxes the answer out of a drunken Samson, again violating what the angel has ordered, and the Philistines solve it, Samson becomes angry and refers to her as a "heifer." As some know, a heifer is a virgin cow, one that has never been bred. As engagements went historically, a fiance was already considered a wife, but the marriage had not yet been consummated. Samson leaves angry and his "wife" is married off to another man. Either way, if my man called me a heifer, I might run in the other direction, too. It's not a great precursor for what's to come in that marriage. Serious premarital counseling would be required. In retaliation, Samson kills one thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey.
      Delilah enters the picture next and we see just how weak Samson really is emotionally and mentally. He's a boy trapped inside the large frame of a man, and his downfall exemplifies how no man or woman can do anything by his or her own might, regardless of physique or man-bun status.
      Judges is wrapped up in the brutal gang rape of a Levite man's concubine, for lack of a better phrase, that provokes a war between Israel and one of its tribes, the tribe of Benjamin. The last verse leaves everything to be desired as there is no closure, no pretty bow, and no happy ending: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." 21:25
      Did I just watch Conan? After reading the last verse I turned the page expecting a chapter 22, but instead, I found Ruth 1. Maybe my Bible was missing a page. Maybe pages were stuck together. No, that was the end of Judges. Then I realized, again, the entire Old Testament is leading up to the penultimate of our faith and that is Jesus. He is the final judge that gets it all right, He is the final king. But in this reading of our historical and present faith, I'm finding myself in the pages. I am Gideon profusely asking God, "Are you sure," laying out fleece after fleece and still not seeing the miracle in the dew, clothing myself in the things of this world that will melt into nothingness and not make me prettier or wiser or more desirable, spiritually or socially. I am Abimelech, expecting a position at the top because my head is so swollen with pride that the rest of me, all that God wants from me, is crushed under it and hidden in the darkness of a humiliating death. I am Samson, assuming I am so strong that I don't need God to rush upon me and fight my battles for me. I have a theology degree, scholarly muscles that supersede all else. I don't need Him to help me, and i don't need those He sends my way.
      I am Israel.
      I run to God.
      I run away from God.
      I run back again when I am oppressed.
      I'm a freaking spiritual roller coaster.
      But God...
      The thing I'm learning most in reading these books that He continually reveals to me is how fragile my patience is with the human race. I am seven books in and I'm ready for God to wash His hands of Israel and start all over again. Why did You continue with this, God? You could have started over from scratch, dude. It never fails. God always returns that question with one of His own for me: "Think about all the times Lilli has hurt you or disappointed you. Why didn't you start from scratch?"
      Gosh, how I love Him. And He loves us so much. My heart quakes in its home to read this love letter. I don't even have to research anything to enjoy it. I don't care about my degree and the things I learned; they're great and they're a blessing, but nothing compares to just soaking in His logos to me. I imagine God's mouth as He forms these words, as His rich timber pulsates in my ears. And I fall for Him all over again.

*Unclean animals: certain birds, rodents, crustaceans, and creepy, crawly, slimy things that nobody wants to consume anyway (just in case you were wondering).