Saturday, 16 September 2006

3rd part of judges

In chapters 6-8, we have the story of Gideon. In terms of length, we can consider Gideon as a 'major' judge. Yet the character of Gideon is 'flawed' at certain points - he is hiding out in the wine press to thresh wheat, he pulls down the atlar of ba'al at night, he asks God twice for a sign. we can already see that the judges are increasingly of a inferior quality. chapter 9 is about Gideon's son, Abimelech, who is not considered a judge but his story is included to show the level the israelites were descending into. chapter 10 records the stories of two minor judges, Tola and Jair. chapters 11-12 record the next judge, Jephthah, who has a longer account of his exploits. again, we see the flawed character of the judge - he hastily makes a vow to sacrifice wahtever came out of his house upon his return from victory. we all know the story - his daughter came out to greet her father! at the end of chapter 12 are recorded short accounts of 3 minor judges - Ibzan, Elon and Abdon. chapters 13-16 detail the last judge, Samson. it is an amazing thing that despite his very flawed character, Samson gets that many chapters. perhaps we can learn lessons in reverse pyschology - what not to do!Samson literally 'brought the house down'!the most ironic part is perhaps the statement that Samson killed more people in his death than those he killed in his lifetime.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

2nd part of judges

We continue our discussion on the book of judges. 2:11-23 is like a standard template that can be applied to the rest of the book. it shows the vicious cycle the people were caught in. Firstly, the people forgot God - Apostasy. Because of their unfaithfulness, God allowed them to fall into the hands of their enemies - Oppression. so the people suffered under the weight of the oppression and they begin to cry to the Lord for help - Cry. The Lord heard them just as He did in the days of the exodus and sent a deliverer, a 'judge' - Deliverance. The judge would lead the people of God to victory over their enemies and the land had rest for 40 or 80 years - Rest. However, one would have thought that the Israelites would have learnt their lesson the first time round but they do not. the cycle continues another round and in all, 12 times.

We have the first judge Othniel (2:7-11), almost 'perfect'. There is nothing wrong to be found in him. The second judge, Ehud (2:12-30), is given a longer story, perhaps to illustrate the fact that there was a little 'weakness' in his character - he had to resort to some sort of deceit to 'get the job done'. The third judge, Shamgar, is one of the 'minor' judges - just a single verse (2:31). The fourth is Deborah, the only female judge. In all, she gets 2 chapters (chaps. 4-5)!Barak, the Israelite commander does not get the 'credit for the kill' of the enemy, Jabin, but  a woman Jael. Aha, but this is no ordinary woman, for a woman who can kill with a tent peg and hammer is worthy of a c.s.i. investigation (I love the twists and turns in hebrew literature). see the attached picture.

Monday, 21 August 2006

20 august 2006

the second section of the jewish torah (or the christian old testament) is called the prophets. it is made up of two sections, the former prophets (we tend to call it historical books) and the latter prophets.

the second book in the historical books is the book of judges. the english translation of sophetim is 'judges' but our modern understanding of the word has clouded the hebrew idea. sophetim here are not the judges we see today in the court, wearing wigs and donning black robes. a sophet would be more of a guy brandishing a sword in his hand and leading an army to war!in other words, a 'judge' in the book of judges was a charismatic leader, endowed with the spirit of God. the book records 12 judges altogether, divided into major and minor judges. this division is not because some of the judges were 'inferior' to others but more in terms of the amount of material recorded of them. out of the mostly male judges stands out deborah, the only female judge.

There are 21 chapters in all in the book. The book starts with an introduction which is quite long (almost 3 chapters) before the first judge, othniel, is introduced in 3:9. The long introduction summarizes the story so far, beginning with the story of joshua again. But chapter 1 gives hints that the so-called conquest of the land of Canaan was anything but complete - there were pockets of resistance left behind by the people of israel. after joshua's death in 2:8, the people are left without a leader. 2:10 records the observations that there arose a new generation who did not know the Lord. these are the children of those who conquered the land, that is, they had no intimate knowledge of this wonderful aspect of God's leading. they were like the 'second-generation'.

Monday, 8 May 2006

the first book in the second section of the torah called 'the prophets' is the book of joshua. it is quite a straightforward book with 24 chapters. one can divide the book into two major portions - chaps. 1-12 are mainly on the conquest accounts while chaps. 13-24 are mainly on the division accounts.

what do we mean by these two words - 'conquest' and 'division'? put in a simple way, the first 12 chapters basically concern how the israelites under the new leadership of joshua made preparations to cross the river jordan to conquer the land. the next 12 chapters detail how joshua divided the land into the different portions for the 12 tribes (the tribe of levi not included because they were 'given' to the lord as a special people to serve him wholeheartedly and whose place was taken by one of the sons of joseph, whose share also incidentally went to his other son. thus, both sons, manasseh and ephraim took the place of joseph and levi. Why didn't joseph retain his share as one of the sons of jacob? I don't know! and i think the jews themselves don't know either but the idea was to make up the round number '12').

the book of joshua tells how the israelites were almost successful in conquering the whole land (except for the initial attempt at conquering ai in chap. 7 where 'mr. ah chan' [pun on achan!] jeopardized the conquest with his greed for some of the things that were 'banned' by the lord). incidentally, the 'ban' or 'herem' (where the arabic for 'haram' comes from the same root word) was that the things were 'entirelly devoted' to god and no one could take of it for himself. apart from the little blurb, the rest of the campaigns went on smoothly for the israelites.

the last 12 chapters detail how joshua divided the inheritance (hebrew 'nehala' - inherited land which was to be passed down the family through the eldest son and which was not meant to be sold - something similar to malay reserve land?) among the 12 tribes. the book ends with the covenant renewal service at shechem (pronounced as 'shehem') on the two mountains designated by moses, mt. gerizim and mt ebal. the people followed joshua's call for renewal 'as for me and my family, we will serve the lord'. so far so good!

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

now that we have finished the first section of the old testament called the 'torah', we focus on the second section called the 'prophets'. this is a rather long section making up of 2 sub-sections - the 'former prophets' and the 'latter prophets'. these names were so-given by the jews later in the middle ages to reflect the contents of the 2 sub-sections. the first sub-section is so called because they consist of books like joshua, judges, samuel and kings. these books are termed 'former prophets' because they are 'prophetic' in nature i.e. written by 'prophets'. joshua was written by joshua (considered to be a prophet), judges and samuel were written by samuel (a prophet-judge-king maker) and kings which was written by the prophet jeremiah. the books of samuel and kings were not yet split into 1 and 2 samuel and 1 and 2 kings as we have them today.

the second sub-section was termed 'latter prophets'. these books are strictly the prophetic books as we understand them, i.e. isaiah, jeremiah, ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets. note that the book of daniel is not placed here but in the third section called the writings. we will talk about daniel when we reach the writings.

Monday, 3 April 2006

old testament passion

after a 3 year hiatus, i feel i should resume blogging on this until i reach the last book of the o.t.! that's a mighty tall order, considering the number of books in the o.t.

we have finished the first 5 books of the Torah. let us take an overview of the 5 books. the jews believed moses wrote the Torah. most conservative christians believed that too, following the jewish position. today, more critical scholsrship would deny mosaic authorship. one reason they cite is that moses couldn't have written the last chapter of deuteronomy which concerns his death! someone else would have to write that chapter. another reason quoted is the presence of doublets in the books. doublets are repetitive passages e.g. in the noah's story, there are 2 accounts conflated together. at 1 time, we read of 1 pair of clean and 1 pair of unclean animals going into the ark, at another time, we read of 7 pairs of clean and unclean animals. a third reason is the repetition of laws in the different law codes (the book of the covenant in exod. 20:22-23:33; the holiness code in lev. 17-26, the deuteronomic code in deut. 12-26) which looked like they were being added at different times.

my own thinking is that moses may have written a core of the books but the 5 books were obviously updated, redacted and edited by later hands. that moses wrote something, we can be sure when we read the book of joshua. joshua was given the book of the law written by moses to meditate upon. this was probably a proto-type of the law book, still in its infancy stage. so, moses was responsible at least for kick-starting the Torah. how many hands were involved in the final shape of the book, we will never know. my understanding of inspiration of scriptures cover even the redactors and editors, so that nothing not allowed by God would have made it into scripture. in that sense, all scripture is inspired by God.