Posts Tagged old testament
I have mentioned before that our Sunday School ideals of David’s kingdom are painfully mistaken. David formed an uneasy alliance between Judah and Ephraim, which Ephraim often tried to violate. The Ephraimites claimed that they were meant to rule because Israel (Jacob) had chosen Joseph to lead and had specifically blessed Joseph’s younger son Ephraim (Genesis 48). This claim was in conflict with David’s claim to rule which came from both Israel’s proclamation (Genesis 49) and Samuel’s anointing (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
In the wake of Absalom’s failed coup, David returned to Jerusalem to the acclaim of his fellow Judahites but the Israelites, led by Ephraim, complained about the way that Judah welcomed him home. (2 Samuel 19) This led to a rebellion by a man named Sheba b. Bichri (שבע בנ-בכרי) who is initially referred to as being from the tribe of Benjamin (2 Samuel 20:1) but then later Joab says he is from the country of Ephraim (2 Samuel 20:21). Both Benjamin and Ephraim were troubled regions under David, and Joab seemed to be more than willing to equate them.
Regardless where Sheba was from, he led Ephraim and the other ten tribes in a rebellion against Judah and David.
David’s Cousin Amasa
In response, David sent his new commander Amasa to gather the Judahite soldiers. The first time we encounter Amasa in the narrative, he is leading Absalom’s armies in rebellion against David.
How did he manage to switch sides? And who was Amasa, and what was his relationship to David and Joab?
Amasa was David’s nephew through David’s sister Abigail. According to 1 Chronicles 2:13-17, David had six brothers and two sisters – Zeruiah and Abigail. The two sisters were the daughters of Jesse’s wife Nahash, and the fact that she is identified this way probably indicates that she was not the mother of David and his brothers.
Zeruiah mothered Joab, Abishai and Asahel. These three sons of Zeruiah, which is how they are always referred to in the narrative, were some of David’s closest friends and most ferocious warriors. Abigail and her husband Ithra had one son we know of, Amasa, who first appears in the narrative as the commander of Absalom’s armies.
This would make Zeruiah and Abigail David’s half-sisters and Joab, his brothers, and their cousin Amasa David’s nephews. Easily the most dangerous of this group of cousins was Joab.
Keeping track of who everybody is in the David narrative is tough, especially when they keep killing each other! In reality, it is pretty simple. Just remember that Joab kills pretty much EVERYBODY.
Joab’s brother Asahel was killed by Saul’s uncle Abner (2 Samuel 2:18-23). When Abner turned on the House of Saul and joined David, Joab took revenge upon him. (2 Samuel 3:26-30).
Then, when Joab led David’s armies against David’s son Absalom, Joab defied David and killed Absalom despite the fact that Absalom was helpless and could have been captured easily. (2 Samuel 18:9-15)
Joab’s brother Abishai recommended killing all the leaders of the factions that opposed David, which drew David’s scorn. (2 Samuel 19:22)
Because he had killed Absalom against orders, David replaced Joab with Amasa – who had been commanding Absalom’s armies. David sent Amasa out to put together an army to stop Sheba’s rebellion, but Amasa faieds to appear at the appointed time. Due to the press of time, David dispatched Joab to find the army and route Sheba.
When Joab found Amasa and stabbed him in the gut, leaving him to bleed to death on the side of the road. The spectacle was so gruesome that eventually, someone dragged Amasa off the road and covered him with a cloak.
Joab then led the combined army against Sheba, who had holed up in the town of Beth-Maacah or “The house of Maacah.” The name Maacah should sound familiar. She was Absalom’s mother, and this may very well have been a stronghold with affinities to her and her father, the king of Geshur.
An old woman inside the city talks with Joab, the population dispatches Sheba and sends his head to Joab. That rebellion ends a bit abruptly.
Joab is a paradox. He is both David’s closest friend and often the only person to tell him the truth in the midst of tragedy, but he also kills people with an almost psychotic fervor. He is a strange character indeed - loyal to David but also absolutely ruthless in his own interpretation of what that loyalty means.
Because of Joab’s reckless method of dispatching enemies – both real and perceived – he severely handicaps David’s influence over the tribes of Israel. He kills a number of men who could have proven worthwhile allies – Abner and Amasa are the ones we know about – which puts David in difficult straits. Eventually, Joab will even try to subvert David’s succession in favor of David’s fourth and oldest remaining son, Adonijah.
It is hard to judge Joab in light of history. In one sense, he was the strong arm that made David’s pre-eminence possible. But his actions also weakened that pre-eminence. History is full of these confusing characters with multiple dimensions. When we try to make them two dimensional, we lose the complicated interactions that make them so important.
וְהִנֵּה־בֹעַז בָּא מִבֵּית לֶחֶם וַיֹּאמֶר לַקּוֹצְרִים יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה׃
וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז לְנַעֲרוֹ הַנִּצָּב עַל־הַקּוֹצְרִים לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת׃
וַיַּעַן הַנַּעַר הַנִּצָּב עַל־הַקּוֹצְרִים וַיֹּאמַר נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא הַשָּׁבָה עִם־נָעֳמִי מִשְּׂדֵה מוֹאָב׃
וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלַקֳטָה־נָּא וְאָסַפְתִּי בָעֳמָרִים אַחֲרֵי הַקּוֹצְרִים וַתָּבוֹא וַתַּעֲמוֹד מֵאָז הַבֹּקֶר וְעַד־עַתָּה זֶה שִׁבְתָּהּ הַבַּיִת מְעָט׃
And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”
And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” (2:4-7, ESV)
Greetings. Finally, we meet Boaz. His name means “quickness” or “swiftness” and as I mentioned in the last post, he is a mighty man in the clan of Elimelech.
He greets his reapers with יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם (YHWH ‘ēmakam, literally “YHWH be among you”), to which they reply יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה (abarak-ak YHWH, “blessings of YHWH”). Apparently, this was a traditionally greeting among the Judahites at the time, meant to convey an allegiance to YHWH – their God. Living in a truly pluralistic society where there were many gods, it was important that people remained their allegiance to the God of Judah.
The greeting marks Boaz out as a follower of YHWH, which meant that all his laborers would also have been devotees. Unlike Naomi, Boaz never attributes a duality or consort to YHWH, maintaining YHWH alone as God.
Who’s the girl? Boaz immediately notices Ruth. Again, Bethlehem is a small town so a new woman would be immediately noticed. Boaz knows those of his clan, and Ruth clearly is not one of them. He speaks to one of his na’ar about her as a na’arah. I mentioned these words before, and they are used for people beyond puberty who have not yet been married. This means that Ruth must have been young enough that it was possible she was not yet married.
At the time polygamy was permitted by Torah, so it would not be surprising if Boaz were already married but the indication in the story is that he is a bachelor – older than most, but a na’ar regardless. His interest in Ruth is obvious, and it is really demonstrated in the next passage, which we will get to in a moment.
A worker. Ruth demonstrates three traits that stuck in the mind of this reaper. First, she did not have to be there. She is still identified as the young woman from among the Moabites, and everyone knows she does not belong. Second, he notes that she asked to glean in the fields. This would not have been required since the fields were common property for the most part. Third, she worked with little rest. She is a hard worker.
These traits (and her looks) impress Boaz.
וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז אֶל־רוּת הֲלוֹא שָׁמַעַתְּ בִּתִּי אַל־תֵּלְכִי לִלְקֹט בְּשָׂדֶה אַחֵר וְגַם לֹא תַעֲבוּרִי מִזֶּה וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין עִם־נַעֲרֹתָי׃
עֵינַיִךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר־יִקְצֹרוּן וְהָלַכְתְּ אַחֲרֵיהֶן הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִי אֶת־הַנְּעָרִים לְבִלְתִּי נָגְעֵךְ וְצָמִת וְהָלַכְתְּ אֶל־הַכֵּלִים וְשָׁתִית מֵאֲשֶׁר יִשְׁאֲבוּן הַנְּעָרִים׃
וַתִּפֹּל עַל־פָּנֶיהָ וַתִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַדּוּעַ מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ לְהַכִּירֵנִי וְאָנֹכִי נָכְרִיָּה׃
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”
Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (2:8-10, ESV)
Protection. Boaz tells Ruth to remain in his fields and to stay close to ”my young women.” This again is the term na’arah indicating women eligible for marriage. Although Boaz is a mighty man in his clan, he cannot protect Ruth or the other young women from the men outside his clan; and if they choose to take her (even forcibly) she will belong to them. Even within the clan, this fact remained.
To protect Ruth for himself, he commands his own young men to leave her alone. This means that he has already declared his intentions toward her. This is a woman worth marrying, and Boaz is not about to let some field hand with spring in his heart take her and make her his wife.
By inviting Ruth to drink water from the vessels his young men draw, he is also inviting her into the life of the clan. Normally, a foreigner (נָכְרִי , nokrēy) would wait until the workers of the clan were finished and then draw her own water. Once Boaz welcomes her at the wells, she is welcomed into their homes and at their tables.
Even in the relatively fertile hills of Judea, water is a precious commodity. The laws of hospitality required that you provide for people traveling through, but foreigners who had taken up residence had to wait for someone to invite them into the group. That it is Boaz who invites her is quite significant because his influence rippled through the families of his own clan.
Finding favor. Ruth is not stupid. She knows Boaz’s intentions, which is why she asks him why he is doing so much for her. Remember that Ruth has no idea who Boaz is, and she is a widow so she does not appear to be in a hurry to find a new husband.
Beyond this very practical observation, Boaz and Ruth’s interchange represents a beautiful illustration of grace. Grace is favor that we do not merit, the notice of God. In this interchange, Boaz can be seen as a type of God and Ruth as a type of the believer. He extends protection and provision to Ruth when there is no reason for it other than he has “noticed” her.
In the same way, God’s grace extends to us because he has taken notice of us. This theme appears later in David’s psalms. Ruth establishes the redemption motif that resonates throughout David’s psalms, and it is probably because of the formative nature of this story. David and much of Judah was probably familiar with the Ruth story, so it should not surprise us that it changed the way they viewed their relationship to their God YHWH.
וַתֵּלַכְנָה שְׁתֵּיהֶם עַד־בֹּאָנָה בֵּית לָחֶם וַיְהִי כְּבֹאָנָה בֵּית לֶחֶם וַתֵּהֹם כָּל־הָעִיר עֲלֵיהֶן וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הֲזֹאת נָעֳמִי׃
וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן אַל־תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא כִּי־הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד׃
אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי יְהוָה לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי וַיהוָה עָנָה בִי וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי׃
וַתָּשָׁב נָעֳמִי וְרוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה כַלָּתָהּ עִמָּהּ הַשָּׁבָה מִשְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב וְהֵמָּה בָּאוּ בֵּית לֶחֶם בִּתְחִלַּת קְצִיר שְׂעֹרִים׃
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. (ESV)
Name change. Here Naomi chooses to adopt a new name. Where Naomi means “celebration”, Mara means “bitterness.” She accepts that she has been handed a bad hand in life and wants to wallow in it. Of course at her side is a Moabite woman named Ruth, which means “friend.”
The Almighty. If you remember, earlier I mentioned that Naomi seems to believe that YHWH has a female consort. Here is where I first suspected it. Every time that Ruth speaks about her suffering, she does so in a couplet. She speaks of the LORD (יהוה, YHWH) and the Almighty (שַׁדַּי, SHDY). Most Christians have been taught that “The Almighty” is just another name for God, but Naomi does not seem to agree. The actions she speaks of are reciprocal, as in a partnership. SHDY does something, and then YHWH completes the action.
- SHDY has dealt very bitterly with me…YHWH has brought me back empty.
- YHWH testified against me and SHDY has brought calamity upon me.
Of course, there is nothing definitive about this, but archaeology has demonstrated quite plainly that the inhabitants of the Judean highlands believed that YHWH had a female consort, whether Torah allowed for it or not. This does not make their belief correct or normative, but it would not be out of keeping with what we now know. There is no reason why Naomi would not have believed this.
At this point, I need to take a bit of a rabbit trail. I have written elsewhere that David is the keystone of the Hebrew Scriptures, and I need to emphasize the point again. While the Genesis narratives, most of Torah and the Joshua/Judges stories existed in some form before David, the Hebrew language as a literary language did not. David’s reign is vital not just because of his rule but also because he unifies a Hebrew ideology. If you read David and the Monarchy first (1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings) and then go back and read Genesis-Numbers, Joshua and Judges, you will realize that those narratives took form during the Monarchy period. They contain in them the seeds of the Monarchy, of the claims of the House of David and the reasons why Ephraim rebels against them. (Sorry, spoilers.)
Therefore, it is not surprising in the least that early Israelites did not worship YHWH according to Torah. While Torah existed and many of its laws and customs are representative of cultural behavior, there is no reason to assume that they were monotheistic. This is especially true if we consider Deuteronomy to date from the time of Josiah (7th century BCE) instead of pre-dating the Monarchy. (It is called Deuteronomy, after all, which is Greek for “second law”.) But I digress, back to Ruth.
Barley Harvest. It might shock many readers to realize that barley in all its forms was a key component of the Judahite diet. Barley is not a fun grain to eat, and it does not make very good bread. Emmer wheat is far better for that. Barley is, however, good for feeding livestock and for making beer.
We possess cuneiform tablets dating to before 2500 BCE detailing the process of turning barley into beer. The Egyptians did it. The Sumerians did it. Everyone did it.
Beer is a great way to store carbohydrates for winter. The fermentation process produces alcohol which keeps the brew from going bad. Whereas grain can rot relatively quickly during the rainy season (which is all winter is in Judah), beer can last for months if stored underground or in caves where it is cool.
Beer actually features prominently in the story of Ruth. We know from archaeological research that the first beers were made from the spring harvest of the winter barley, which is when Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem.
Emmer wheat, which was the domesticated wheat available in Late Bronze Age Palestine, does not grow in the winter. It requires relatively dry conditions. Barley on the other hand sprouts quickly and grows well under wet conditions. Therefore, it was planted in the winter and harvested in the spring.
Not everyone finds the idea of the Hebrews drinking beer to be something they approve of. The simple question is, “What did the Hebrews offer to YHWH in their drink offerings? Kool-Aid?” A drink offering, or more appropriately a “poured offering” (נָסַךְ, nasak) was given in connection with the wave offering or sheaf offering (תְּנוּפָה, tanuwphah). When taken with the grain/bread offering (מִנְחָה, minchah), it is pretty clear that there is a lot of emphasis on the derivatives of grains. While the drink offerings could be of wine, they were often of beer as well.
Hebrew Feast Days. In fact, the Hebrew religious calendar revolves around three important harvests: the lambing, the barley harvest and the wheat harvest.
The Pesach or Passover is celebrate in the early spring. This was when the lambs are born, and this is why the passover meal revolved around a lamb.
After Pesach, the Israelites were commanded to go home, harvest their barley, lay down their beer and then plant their emmer wheat. Then they were commanded to return and observe a festival of first fruits called Shavuot. This was the celebration of the barley harvest, and it figures prominently in Ruth.
The first in-gathering of barley was threshed then malted in the wetness of the early spring. Then, the malt was turned into loaves which were crumbled into water, boiled and then allowed to ferment. At the end of the harvest, the fermented beer was drunk as a celebration.
Pesach and Shavuot were the important spring festivals of the calendar. They were the first two of the Shalosh Regalim, the holiest days of the year that required the entire nation to gather. The last is Sukkot or Tabernacles, which is observed at the end of the wheat harvest.
It isn’t hard to see the natural rhythms that dictated both spiritual and physical cycles in this agrarian world.
Don’t think, however, that the Hebrews were drunken slobs. Beer was a necessary item for them. Without it, they could not survive from harvest to harvest. The celebrations held at the festivals were not drunken orgies. The mood was not artificially created by alcohol and loss of inhibitions as many modern partiers seem to think is necessary. The harvest was cause for celebration, but the drunkard was still considered a fool.
Back to the Barley. So it is that we find Naomi and Ruth arriving in Bethlehem during the barley harvest. This meant they arrived at the perfect time for eligible bachelors to be looking for a wife. It also meant they arrived too late to plant Elimelech’s fields which had lain fallow for at least ten years.
We cannot be certain that Naomi was leveraging for a new husband for Ruth, but certainly she must have been aware of the presence of kinsman who could marry Ruth and continue the line. This particular arrangement is known as levirate marriage, and it was very common in the region. A man’s close male relation could marry his widow and their first child would inherit the dead man’s property. If they had only one child, then that child would inherit both men’s property. This fact is significant when we get to the end of the book. (No looking ahead!)
Peter Enns, a professor of Old Testament and New Testament Studies at Eastern University, has written a book that is getting a lot of press time in the Christian blogosphere. The book, entitled The Evolution of Adam, attempts to reconcile the Genesis record with modern scientific thought, as well as explain the apostle Paul’s use of Adam in explaining Jesus’ work.
Let me begin by saying that I haven’t read Enns’ book, so this post is not a critique of his work. Instead, I want to plant some seed ideas on the subject and perhaps broaden our perspective on the question of how we read the creation stories in Genesis 1-3. Here is a brief video of Enns speaking on the subject, and then I will make some comments.
This might get me in trouble with my fundamentalist brethren, but I am ambivalent on whether the Genesis 1-3 record is historical fact or not. Officially, my position is “It could be.” My limited studies into the literature of ancient peoples leads me to believe that the authors of the Genesis record were focused on their own place in the world system and not on creating a science textbook. They wrote in a very poetic, measured way that seems to be more related with an understanding of the way the world is as opposed to the way that it came to be. In other words, it was not as important to them that Adam be the historical, biological father of all mankind. What was important is that we can all see Adam and Eve’s sin in ourselves.
That being said, I have no real reason to doubt that there wasn’t a historical person. You can’t prove a negative. That’s why my position is “It could be.” I don’t think people who believe Adam is a historical person are ignorant or foolish or unscientific; and I don’t think people like Enns are heretics or apostates.
As always, the truth is in the tension. I avoid eliminating possibilities, even those that make me uncomfortable (and to be frank, dismissing Adam makes me uncomfortable). We find the greatest richness of the Scriptures when we study them in light of multiple possibilities rather than in ironclad dogmatism.
But that’s just me. I am comfortable with the tension of not really being able to be certain. What do you think?