Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Devices of the Crafty (Judges 3-5)

Here come the first round of judges! The first of note is Ehud, a Benjaminite. He manages to assassinate Eglon, the king of Moab, who has been oppressing Israel from the east. This is done by securing a secret meeting with the king while presenting him with Israel’s tribute. When they are alone, Ehud stabs him (the Bible is careful to give us all the gruesome details of just what happens when a grossly obese man is stabbed with a short sword) and escapes over the roof. In the immediate chaos that follows, Ehud leads a rebellion resulting in 10,000 Moabite casualties.

Next comes Barak, who is able to rout the Canaanites who have been oppressing Israel from the central plains. Barak had refused to fight without the prophetess Deborah there to hold his hand. For his reluctance, God witholds from him the glory of killing the enemy general, Sisera. That honor goes to the woman Jael. Check out this devious cunning:
But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenit…And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him…But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.
She sure fooled him – the sucker! But I admit I’m rather scandalized at the use of deceit and treachery to liberate God’s people. I’ve generally come to expect more chivalry from my heroes, but here Deborah and Barak praise Jael to high heaven for her treachery:
Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
He asked water and she gave him milk;
she brought him curds in a noble's bowl.

She sent her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen's mallet;
she struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;
she shattered and pierced his temple.

Between her feet
he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
he sank, he fell;
where he sank,
there he fell—dead.

So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.
Looking back, we do have a string of underhanded heroes in the Bible. Jacob steals his brother’s birthright, Rebecca tricks Isaac into blessing her son and not Esau, and Gibeon secures a place in the blessing of Israel with a clever lie. This is all rather troubling – particularly since shrewd guile was a chief characteristic of the diabolical serpent himself.

Perhaps we are meant to reflect on the subtlety of the God of Israel. Though he himself is more powerful than anything in all creation, he loves to use the weak and the powerless as his agents. The overconfident older brother loses out to the younger. The grand old patriarch is foiled by his wife. The imposing king Eglon falls for a dumb trick. The mighty general Sisera is impaled by a woman’s tent peg.

Wisdom as well as power belong to the Lord. Without his guidance and blessing, the strongest among us have the wool pulled over their eyes, and fall prey to the crafty.

This is an interesting take on Scripture's view of deception. You can also point out Moses telling Pharaoh to let the people go so they could make some sacrifices in the wilderness (but they couldn't do it in Egypt because the sacrifices would be loathsome to the pagans, and they had to bring all their sheep and cattle because they wouldn't know what they needed ahead of time).

Perhaps, as you suggest, using deception cunningly is not outside the realm of God's building of his kingdom. It can be used terribly, and it can be use wonderfully, just like power, strength, beauty, and many other gifts that are not necessarily fruits of the Spirit. Both David and Saul were striking leaders. Both Esther and Delilah were beautiful.

I'm not sure if this comes across to me as an exhortation to grow in my gifts or as a grave warning that they can be twisted maliciously.

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