05 May 2010

May 5

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we finish Judges and start the short Book of Ruth.

After the events related yesterday, the Israelites vowed not to marry their daughters to men in the tribe of Benjamin. Today, they try to get around that in spirit but not letter because they do not want the tribe of Benjamin to die out. First, they remembered that they decided that anyone who did not participate in that vow must be killed. This allowed them to feel justified as they exterminated the residents of Jabesh-gilead. They murdered all the men and non-virgin women. The women, they gave to the men of Benjamin.

However, this was not enough women for all the men of Benjamin, so the Israelites came up with this stupid plot:
They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, “Go and hide in the vineyards. When you see the young women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to the land of Benjamin to be your wife! And when their fathers and brothers come to us in protest, we will tell them, ‘Please be sympathetic. Let them have your daughters, for we didn’t find wives for all of them when we destroyed Jabesh-gilead. And you are not guilty of breaking the vow since you did not actually give your daughters to them in marriage.’”
Brilliant! Let's have the men of Benjamin kidnap women. That's way better than admitting that we were wrong to make that vow and just letting our daughters legitimately marry the men of Benjamin. So they do this, and that is that.

The last line of Judges is
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
I think that reflecting on the book with this line in mind, we can see that the book does not mean to imply that God approved of all the horrors we have been reading about. However, when you compare the almost absent God in Judges with the God of the earlier books (you know, the God who would kill people in anger over the smallest slights), you have to wonder about God and his motivations.

The Wikipedia article about the Book of Ruth has, at times, an annoyingly Christian perspective. It also does not have a ton of information on the origins of the book itself. Apparently, there are a lot of hypotheses about who wrote the book and when it was written, but none of explanations have a particularly compelling defense. The most interesting bit is probably this:
The Book of Ruth, according to many scholars, was originally part of the Book of Judges, but it was later separated from that book and made independent. The opening verses explicitly place the Book of Ruth in the time of the Judges and it concludes with the Davidic lineage. Therefore, it is likely that the author wrote the story after the time of King David, though it is unknown how long after.
Today's reading introduces Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, had traveled to the land of Moab during a famine. Elimelech died, and later their sons died, but not until after they had married two women of Moab. Naomi eventually decides to return to her homeland. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their families and try to find new husbands. One, Orpah, reluctantly goes. The other, Ruth, begs to stay with Naomi, uttering the famous lines,
Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!
A beautiful description of dedication. Naomi gives in to Ruth's pleadings, and they return to Naomi's homeland.

New Testament

Today's reading contains the story of Jesus and a Samaritan woman. As Jesus sits in a field, a Samaritan woman comes to draw water from a nearby well. Important detail: the well is one said to have been dug by Jacob. Jesus asks her for water. The woman wonders aloud why he is asking her,
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
Jesus starts to go on about how he can give the woman "living water". The woman's response to this is, on the surface, about the well, but it is pretty obvious that what the author of John is really getting at is that Jesus is a better way to salvation than Judaism.
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
 I.e., how is what you are offering better than the spiritual heritage that the Jews have already?

More back and forth, including Jesus telling the woman all about her life and declaring that he is the Messiah. Jesus is sure a lot more willing to declare that in the Gospel of John compared to the rest of the gospels. Eventually, the woman is convinced and runs off to tell all of the people in her town. The reaction of the people in the town in very interesting,
Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Jesus himself is convincing to more of the townspeople than the woman's testimony about him. Throughout all the gospels, it seems like there are examples of people who do not believe until they have directly observed miracles or directly interacted in Jesus. Although the religious teachers are condemned for demanding miracles (or, perhaps, for implying that Jesus was obliged to show them miracles), it does not seem that people were condemned for simply not believing until they had direct support for Jesus' claims.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is a psalm of praise that talks about how God gave Israel the land of Canaan and protected them as they wandered through other lands. You can tell it's going to continue in tomorrow's reading because it ends very abruptly.