Yes, yes. I know it’s been about six months since the last time I wrote one of these. Here’s the problem: writing about the Bible requires reading the Bible. I’m a decent, caring, and above all moral individual. Reading a book that runs completely counter to all those things and having the book and people who read it tell me that’s how the world should be, is a horrible thing. It’s very draining and very hard to do. Nevertheless, I have committed to doing it and will continue to do so, even if I don’t do it as often as some people might like.
That said, on with the show!
We catch up to the story with the arrival of Gideon, the next one of the great judges of the Bible. He’s introduced in chapter six, which begins with what we’ve all come to expect:
The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord… – Judges 6:1
Yep, big shock there. Yet again the Jews are falling away from God. This seems to be the default state of existence for them in the Bible.
Anyhow, the Israelites are being oppressed. God decides it’s time to act, so he sends an angel to chat with a fellow named Gideon (a man who will leave his mark on the world). The angel gives the usual, “The
Force Lord is strong with you!”, but Gideon ain’t having with that.
Gideon said to him, “O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” – Judges 6:13
Seems logical to me. The angel’s reply basically boils down to, “Look, trust me, dude.” Gideon argues a bit more and then decides to put God to the test, asking for a sign that shows it’s really God who wants him to do things (6:17). Now it could just be me, but if an angel turns up and starts saying, “Yo, God wants you to do rizzle in the hizzle,” I’m going to assume the angel was actually sent by God. I mean, were there an overabundance of angels going around working for other gods, or pranking people by saying, “Hey, God wants you to do a mission for him… just kidding!” The skepticism on the part of Gideon is understandable to a point, but he carries it way too far.
Anyhow, God passes Gideon’s little test, which is some weird cook-off type of deal (a precursor to Iron Chef: Kosher Edition perhaps). Gideon is so impressed he builds an altar in the area where it happened and in what I can only assume is a moment of severe irony calls it “The Lord is Peace” (6:21). Yes, apparently that’s a place name. It’s fun when names get translated into English, isn’t it? One of my friends likes to mock San Salvador in El Salvador, pointing out that when being talked about in English, we should refer to it as “Saint Savior, the Savior”.
The next thing Gideon does to verify God’s really on the level with him is some weird test involving wool and dew (6:37). God pass with flying colors and Gideon appears to accept things are as he’s told they are. That squared away, we move on to the slaughter, but not without another very weird scene where our hero tries to decide which people are going to go with him to fight against the enemy.
So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with this tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself: likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” – Judges 75
What. The. Hell? So basically if you cup water into your palm and drink it down like, you know, normal people, you don’t get to go to war. But if you get down like a dog and have a drink you do? This is very confusing. It’s made even more confusing by the fact that apparently there’s different translations of this. In one version people who drink like dogs go to fight and in another people who don’t go to fight. It doesn’t make any sense either way, and one would think the Bible could come up with a better way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Regardless of how the men get picked, we still end up with 300 who go off to fight an enemy. Presumably Xerxes. The enemy is, of course, beaten soundly through cunning tactics and sound military leadership. Actually, I tell a lie. It’s done by blowing trumpets and shouting.
Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitches, and torches inside the pitchers.
And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do.
“When I blow the trumpet, I all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole campe and say, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!’” – Judges 7:16 – 18
Shades of Jericho, what? I’m very confused by this. I suppose this is supposed to represent the hand of God at work, but why doesn’t God just reach down and level the city, smoting them mightily? Why have Gideon and his Merry Troubadours do the music thing? Oh, well. Either way the city falls and therein is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth as the people of the city are killed. Their leaders, however, escape and Gideon and his men set off in hot pursuit. Soon they find their chase stopped by the leaders of Succoth, an Israelite city, who want no part of his insanity and refuse to give food to him and his army.
So Gideon said, “For this cause, when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tea your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!” – Judges 8:7
Basically, “You fucks! Once I’m done with these other guys, I’m returning for you!” Lovely. Great sense of diplomacy. This is why the Bible is not called, “The Holy Bible: How to Make Friends and Influence People”. Not surprisingly he lives up to his threat and once he’s offed the bad guys comes back to kill his neighbors. Nice!
Next we come to a really creepy scene where Gideon wants his oldest son, Jether, to kill a prisoner.
And he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the youth would not draw his sword; for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. – Judges 8:20
A couple years back I saw a video. It was probably shot in the hills of Afghanistan and it featured a smiling, dimple-cheeked boy of about twelve. Lots of older men were around him and it had a rather festive air of some sort of initiation rite. Turned out that was exactly the case, as the boy was brought to a man who was tied down the ground and struggling. Following instructions the boy took a knife and sawed the man’s head off. All the men cheered as the boy held aloft the head of the man he’d just brutally murdered. You can read about it here, and some basic searching will turn up stills and the actual video itself. Now I’d thought this was some sort of weird extremist Muslim thing. Nope, turns out they’re just reenacting what they thought the outcome of this Bible story should’ve been. Talk about your Children’s Crusade. Hey, Sunday school teachers! Share this one with your class!
Moving along we find that Jether was just the first of seventy sons that Gideon had by seventy wives (8:30). I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember that to the ancients of the Levant seventy was a mystical number, which would explain this oddness. And then finally we get a preview of upcoming events that seems strangely similar to what’s gone before…
Thus the children of Israel did not remembrance the Lord their god, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side… – Judges 8:34
File this one under “trouble ahead”.
Next time see what happens when you have a hereditary monarchy and seventy sons vying for the crown! Also, meet the world’s most famous barber, Delilah!