Bible History

I am going to lump the next several books into one thread, starting with Joshua.

When I was 12 or so, I went to Sunday School for a couple of years with a neighbour’s family. I have memories of the stories of Moses and the stories of Joshua from that time. Some things I imagine were just ignored by my teachers.

During the forty years that the Israelites wandered through the desert there was no time to circumcise the male babies. Before crossing the Jordan, a mass circumcision takes place at a site aptly called the hill of the foreskins.

I also don’t remember that two spies had been sent ahead to check out the first city, the famous Jericho. They are noticed and hide in the house of a prostitute. The prostitute promises to keep their secret if her family is spared when the inevitable destruction of the city occurs.

And I also don’t recall (although this I’m sure was taught) that when crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land - just like the Red Sea - the Jordan parted so the people could cross on dry land.

The battle of Jericho I do recall although it is so famous that it might not be from Sunday School that I am remembering it. God has told them that they will win. All they have to do is circle the city once for six straight days. On the seventh day, after circling the city seven more times, trumpets will blare and the people will shout and the walls will come tumbling down. I have tried to avoid nitpicking, but I do have a problem with this. One of those days has to be the Sabbath. In Numbers, some poor guy gets stoned to death for picking up sticks, yet here, it’s perfectly ok to wage war.

Nonetheless, just as God promised the walls of Jericho collapse and everybody is put to the sword, except the prostitute and her family. “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”

Next up is the city of Ai. A problem occurs when a group of Israelites are repelled. It turns out that God had warned the people not to take anything out of Jericho, that everything was accursed. When Joshua learns that some guy called Achan had disobeyed this order, he takes him and his entire family including livestock and “all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.”

They turn their attention back on Ai. The Israelites pretend to retreat and when the Aieans chase after them a hidden band of Israelites attack from the rear. They capture the king of Ai and “when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field … the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand.” Then they hang the king.

Next up is the city of Gibeon. But the Gibeonites are clever. They dress up like people who have been wandering around for a long time. They come to Joshua and ask for a peace treaty. God has told Joshua that all the nearby cities and their inhabitants must be destroyed, but Joshua doesn’t realize that these people are from Gibeon. Joshua agrees to the peace treaty, and when he learns that they are from Gibeon and that he cannot back out of his promise, Joshua asks why they fooled him. And the Gibeonites honestly answer “we were sore afraid of our lives.” Still, they become slaves for the Israelites. I wonder how many modern day Gibeonites can trace their existence back to the foresight of their ancestors?

I can’t remember where I read it, but somebody said if you can get through Joshua and still love God then the rest is easy. The comment means something to me because I am pretty sure that Joshua is the reason I stopped going to Sunday School.

After the destruction of Jericho and Ai, five kings band together but to no avail. This time God gets right into the fight. “The Lord discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter … the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them … and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.” Besides killing with hailstones God also commands the sun to stand still. I remember learning of this event but what I always thought until rereading this passage was that the Israelites needed the time to win a battle. Not quite so. The battle was already won. They just needed the extra time to kill everybody. “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.”

The next couple of chapters have similar descriptions as the Israelites take on one city after another.

“And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, who smote them, and chased them and they smote them, until they left them none remaining.”

“And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe.”

“And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire.”

“For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them.”

At the end of it all 31 cities are utterly destroyed.

Back to Sunday School. Now I am not 100% certain that we were reading Joshua at the time, but I did ask the Sunday School teacher why God was killing all these people when the commandments told us not to kill. The teacher said that they deserved to die. I asked why and he said that they didn’t believe in God. I asked if people today deserved to die if they didn’t believe in God and he said yes!

When I told my father, he flipped. But Dad was not the kind of guy to believe a 12 year old. He figured there must have been a misunderstanding. He phoned the teacher who was probably not much more than an 18 year old himself. The teacher confirmed the conversation. Again, Dad figured this was probably a misinterpretation by an eager young man, so he phoned the minister. I don’t know what exactly was said, but when Dad put the receiver down, he told me, “Well, you won’t be going to that church again.” As it turned out, except for weddings and funerals that was the last church service I attended.

The rest of the book of Joshua is the organization of who will go where. Lists (long lists) of different people from all the tribes are given a specific piece of land. The daughters of the son-less family make a reappearance and they are given the land that was promised to their father.

Near the end of Joshua, God makes sure that the people know why they are where they are and what will happen if they don’t follow God’s path. I find this statement most revealing. “I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not, do ye eat.” God has given them all of this by breaking two of the commandments, by killing and stealing.

Of course, the people are not swift enough to stay in God’s good graces. Once all the people who knew Joshua have died, the people start to drift toward other gods. When that happened, “the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, … and he sold them into the hands of their enemies.” When the people bemoan their fate, God sends a judge to solve the problems. In the book of Judges we learn of several judges. Some get a mere mention. Others have an event highlighted and still others get a whole story.

The Moabite, Eglon, ruled the Israelites when Ehud became a judge. I like this story for its attention to detail. Ehud who happens to be left handed hides a dagger under his clothing when he goes to give tribute to Eglon. He tells Eglon who happens to be fat that he needs a private word with him. He tells him that he has something from the Lord which happens to be a dagger to the guts. “And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.” The imagery is delightful. When Eglon’s people find the door locked, they think that Eglon is relieving himself. (I guess the smell of the dirt was a clue.) By the time they figure things out Ehud is long gone. Later he kills 10,000 Moabites to ensure the Israelites are safe.

The people are ok for a while but once a judge dies they fall back on evil ways.

Years later Jabin the king of the Canaanites controls Israel. Deborah is now the judge and she tells Barak to fight against Jabin’s general, Sisera. Barak says he will go but only if Deborah goes. She says fine but don’t expect any glory, for Sisera will be taken by a woman. Naturally, “all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.” Sisera however does escape and he seeks sanctuary in the tent of Jael. He asks Jael for water; she gives him milk. When he falls asleep, Jael takes “a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground.” Another delightful image.

Then “the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.”

This is an interesting cycle that God has created. The people sin. God hands them over to another group. The people ask forgiveness. A judge destroys the other group. The people sin …

So when does this guy become the loving god that everyone speaks of ?
He’s a dictator, which begs the question …who is following the bible closer…the dictators or the church ?

[quote=“crip75”]So when does this guy become the loving god that everyone speaks of ?
He’s a dictator, which begs the question …who is following the bible closer…the dictators or the church ?[/quote]

I - as I will admit again and again - am no expert. I am just reading the stories and summarizing what I read. There may be a bias in what I summarize although I am trying to be as objective as possible.

Some people might refer us to the New Testament. But I am not sure if that is the answer. In the New Testament, God only shows up a few times. He sends an angel to Mary and he shows his approval of Jesus after John baptizes him. Most of the New Testament is about the thoughts and actions of Jesus and Paul’s interpretations. Revelations on the other hand seems to have an Old Testament ring to it.

Anybody know how we are to interpret the God of the Old Testament? How do we explain the mass killings that are done not just in his name, and not just by his command, but by his own hand as well?

The next judge of interest is Gideon. All I knew of Gideon before reading his story is the Gideon Bibles found in hotel rooms.

The story begins with a familiar ring. “The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian.” An angel of the Lord approaches Gideon and tells him that the Lord is with him. I really love Gideon’s response. “if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of.”

I also love his response when the angel tells him that he will lead Israel against the Midianites. “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor … and I am the least in my father’s house.’

Even when he is told that God will be with him, Gideon asks for a sign. The angel sets a rock on fire. That’s enough evidence for Gideon who tears down the statue of Baal during the night.

This leads to war and Gideon is still not convinced that God is with him. He asks for two more signs and when God performs, Gideon is ready.

I have to admit that I am surprised at how much evidence Gideon demanded of God. When today’s non-believers ask for evidence of God’s miracles, we are told to look around and accept some “miraculous” event (like the Chilean mine rescue) as proof. I want to see a burning rock or wool made wet when it should be dry and dry when it should be wet.

Gideon is convinced that God will be with him so he raises an army of 32,000. God says that that is too many, that if Israel wins they will think that they did it without the help of the Lord. Gideon asks who wants to go home and 22,000 go home. The 10,000 are still too many so God tells them to drink water. God tells Gideon that those who “lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself." Turns out that 300 guys lap like a dog.

But they don’t even have to fight. All they do is blow trumpets and the Midianites start fighting amongst themselves. Once the enemy is in disarray more Israelites attack and 120,000 Midianites are killed.

That is the story of Gideon although there are a few interesting items at the end. After capturing a couple of kings, Gideon asks his son to kill them but the son feared to do so “because he was still a youth.” Gideon kills them. We also learn that Gideon was asked to rule but refused saying that neither he nor his sons would rule. God would rule.

We also learn that “Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives.” I am glad we are told that he had many wives. Poor woman if he had only one.

Finally, and before we have even a few minutes of respite “And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.”

I am not even sure what the lesson is in Judges. God is much more patient with his people. Rather than killing hordes of them like he did in the desert he just hands them over to the enemy. But he keeps coming back to them. I am really not sure what we are supposed to make of that. To me, the biggest lesson is directed at the other tribes. Under no circumstance should they enslave the Israelites, no matter how tempting it may be. They will only get slaughtered in the end.

Joseph Stalin said that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic. We have been reading a lot of statistics. This next story is either horribly tragic or horribly stupid. I will let you decide.

Gilead had a son, Jephthah by a harlot. When Gilead’s legitimate sons grew up, they told Jephthah that he could not inherit land so he moved away. Then the Ammonites made war on Gilead so the people went back to Jephthah and asked him to be their leader. Jephthah agrees but not before ensuring that he would remain leader if he is victorious. They agree.

Some interesting negotiations take place. Jephthah approaches the Ammonite king and asks why they are fighting Gilead. The king replies that the land was once theirs, that the Israelites had taken it from them. (This occurred back when Moses was leader, just before they entered the Promised Land.) Jephthah says that God won them the land and asks if the Ammonites would give up land that their god Chemosh had won.

I find this discussion interesting for several reasons. First, some actual discussion takes place before the battle. Second, there is a reference to the god Chemosh. It appears that Jephthah thinks he is real. (How many gods are there?) Third, and maybe most important is the question of who lays claim to conquered land? All over the world, including Canada, that question is still relevant.

Here it comes down to “Our god won it”. “Our god wants it back.” So they go to war.

And now the tragedy. Before going off to war, “Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return … shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

We can all guess what happens next.

After “the Lord delivered them into his hands and he smote them … twenty cities … with a very great slaughter”, Jephthah’s daughter came dancing out to greet him. To Jephthah’s credit, he does “rent his clothes”, and tell her “Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low,” but - and this is a big but - “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.”

The poor girl doesn’t even complain. She tells her father “if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth.” All she asks is two months “that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity.” After the two months, “she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.”

Who else has a problem with this story? Let’s face it, Jephthah is a moron. Who did he expect to come out of the house? A goat? A bull? His mother-in-law? Yes the lesson is to be careful what you ask for. However, are we expected to be held to some stupid promise that we made without thinking. We can’t ask for a mulligan? We can’t say to God, “Hey, I made a dumb mistake. Can you help me?” If Jephthah had any guts couldn’t he say “I am not following through on this promise. If you don’t like it take me instead.”

I am not even sure what to make of the daughter. Is she to be praised for allowing herself to be sacrificed? Her death is certainly a tragedy, but couldn’t she have just as easily run away instead of lamenting what might have been?

And finally, where is God in this story? It is easy to say that all the problems are human made. Jephthah made the vow and the daughter allows him to carry it out. Free will and all that. But God could easily interfere like he did when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac. God could have seen that Jephthah was loyal and was prepared to carry out this task. He could have easily stepped in and stopped it. But he doesn’t. Slaughtering the enemies of your chosen people is one thing, allowing an innocent child to die is another

For the record, I am leaving out some of the stories and sticking to the main ones. The next section deals with Samson. Like most people I knew about Samson and Delilah and the cutting of Samson’s hair; however, I wasn’t aware of all the events leading up to it.

Samson’s mother had been barren and was told by an angel that she would bear a Nazirite son. Nazirites were discussed back in Numbers in those long discussions about priests that I skipped over. They vowed themselves to the Lord and among other things were not to cut their hair.

Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman. His father was concerned about Samson marrying the enemy and not one of his own, but Samson insisted. The parents did not know that it was part of a plan, “that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines”.

On the way to gain the girl’s hand in marriage, the spirit of the Lord helped Samson rip apart a lion. On the way back after being promised the girl, he finds the carcass of the lion which is filled with bees and honey. He gives the honey to his parents without telling them that he killed a lion or where he found the honey.

Later he returns to marry the girl. There are 30 men there and Samson poses a riddle. If they can solve the riddle in seven days, he will give each man a sheet and a new garment. If they cannot solve it, they must each give Samson a sheet and a new garment. This is the riddle. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

The men are confused. (So was I.) They pester the woman to get the answer. When she asks Samson, he says I haven’t even told my parents. Why would I tell you? (Good start to an open relationship.) When the men threaten to burn her father’s house down, she gets more desperate. Finally, Samson “told her, because she lay sore upon him.” (I am not even going to begin to guess what that means.)

When the men tell him “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” (anybody else figure that out), Samson says “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.” (Which is true, but not a nice thing to say about his wife.)

Samson is so angry that he leaves the village and kills 30 men to get the garments to pay off the bet. Then he goes home to his mom and dad. At that point his father-in-law gives his daughter/Samson’s wife to one of the other men.

A short time later, Samson goes back to his wife only to find that she is now with this other man. The father-in-law explains that he thought Samson hated his wife and offered his younger daughter who he claimed was prettier. Samson is furious and decides to take revenge on the villagers. He captures 300 foxes, ties them tail to tail and sets the tails on fire. The foxes tear around the cornfield, burning everything up. The Philistines are angry and blame Samson’s father-in-law because he gave his daughter to another man. They burn down his house killing the father and the daughter. Samson is more furious and takes revenge on the Philistines. “And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.”

The Philistines then threaten the family of Judah who send 3000 men to capture Samson. Samson allows them to tie him up but when he is handed over to the Philistines, he breaks the cords, grabs the jawbone of an ass and kills 1000 Philistines. He then tells the Lord that he is thirsty and the Lord gives him water.

Finally, he falls in love with Delilah. Now you would think that Samson would have learned his lesson from his first wife who nagged him and gave away his secret. Three times Delilah asks him where he gets his strength. Three times he lies. Finally he gives in and she cuts his hair and Samson is captured by the Philistines. They cut out his eyes and throw him in prison.

One day the Philistines, while praising their god for capturing Samson, decide to mock Samson and drag him to a house large enough to contain 3000 people. He puts himself between two pillars and because his hair is starting to grow back he feels his strength returning. He calls on the Lord to give him enough strength to push down the pillars, killing himself and the 3000. (Does calling on God to destroy a building that kills 3000 sound familiar?)

As a child I remember this last part of the story and feeling sorry for Samson. After reading, the events leading up to his capture, I am not sure how much sympathy he deserves.

The last story of Judges has to be the most horrible of all. As a way of explanation, the whole book of Judges ends with this verse which had been stated at least once before. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” It is interesting that they are looking for a secular ruler rather than a moral one, but for sure people are behaving improperly.

A priest has a concubine who played the whore against him and returned to her father’s house. The man goes to get her back and is successful. On the return journey, they stop at a village of Benjamites. These are one of the tribes of Israel and he presumes that he will be safe. They can’t find a place to stay but a kind man offers them shelter when he sees them lying in the street.

At the house, a group of men pound on the door demanding that they want to know (have sex with) the stranger. The host offers his daughter and the concubine but the men refuse. This sounds a great deal like the story of Lot in Sodom. The men keep pounding and the priest “took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning.”

There are some questions that need answering here. The woman played the whore yet the guy went to get her back. Why? The Bible rarely gives us the inner thinking of characters. But why would he want her back? Then he just hands her over to be gang raped by a mob. Was he bringing her back to punish her and here was an early opportunity? Follow what happens next.

“Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.” Is she alive or dead? When the man sees her, he says “Up, and let us be going.” We can only imagine what she looks like and all he can say is “Let us be going.” She doesn’t respond so he throws her on a donkey and takes her home where he cuts her into 12 pieces and sends those pieces to the various tribes of Israel.

Now we can only assume she was already dead. She didn’t say anything and cutting up a live body is just too horrifying to contemplate. However, given no reason to take an unfaithful woman back (except for revenge), the fact that he gave her to the mob, and his total lack of sympathy at the sight of her broken body, I am not sure if he didn’t kill her himself.

When the tribes gather together and ask the man the meaning of the body parts, he conveniently leaves out the part about his giving the woman to the mob. He just says the mob took her. These Israelites demand that the Benjamites (remember, they too are Isrealies) hand over the people responsible and when they are refused war takes place.

At first the Benjamites are victorious, killing 22,000 one day and 18,000 the next. For the third straight day the people ask the Lord if they should fight the Benjamites and for the third straight day the Lord answers in the affirmative. This time, the people are successful and they wipe out entirely all the cities of Benjamin. All that are left are 600 men who fled into the hills.

Then the story gets strange. The people realize that they have vowed not to give their daughters to the men of Benjamin for wives. (There are the unbreakable vows again.) They realize (after killing everything) that the Benjamites will die out and they decide that that is unacceptable. They must find 600 wives for the 600 soldiers. So they figure out that one city did not help them in the battle. They attack that city and “utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man and kill everybody except the virgins.”

Unfortunately, there are only 400 virgins. So they tell the 200 Benjamites without wives that Shiloh will be having a festival “if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife.”

No wonder they said, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

The book of Ruth is so different from the preceding books that it is hard to understand how it got into the Bible.

A man, his wife, and two daughters leave Bethlehem during a famine and take up residence in Moab. The two sons marry Moabite woman. Within ten years, all three men have died.

The mother, Naomi, decides to return to her homeland and tells the two daughters-in-law to go back to their parents. Orpah goes back, but Ruth loves her mother-in-law so much that she says “whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”

Naomi must have been a very special person to receive this kind of love and loyalty and Ruth, a Moabite, (a foreigner!) has to be special to give it.
When they return to Bethlehem, Ruth goes to the fields to gather the leftover barley and she is noticed by Boaz who is happens to be a relative of Naomi’s dead husband. He appears to fancy her as he gives her extra portions as well as permission to take more than she would normally be allowed.

Naomi then advices Ruth to go into Boaz’s tent at night and while he is sleeping “uncover his feet”. When he awakens she tells him to “spread his skirt over thy handmaiden”. (I am not exactly sure what those terms mean, but we can guess.)

In the morning, a complication arises in the selling of some land. Whoever buys the land must take Ruth as his wife and raise any children as if they were the children of Ruth’s dead husband. The one person who can buy the land ahead of Boaz does not want to mess with his family’s inheritance, so Boaz claims the land and Ruth.

Later, Ruth gives birth to the man who will be the grandfather of the future King David.

No mass murder, just a pleasant love. Coincidentally, God doesn’t make an appearance.

Bonus feature: While reading 1 Samuel, David vows to kill “any that pisseth against the wall.” I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t know if pissing against a wall was a crime punishable by death or what. So I did my google search and learned that “any that pisseth against the wall” is just a biblical expression for men. (Women can’t piss against the wall.) I checked my other Bible and sure enough the single word “men” was used instead. But more interestingly, one of the top hits for my search was this video. Who says ministers are boring.