Bible’s Major Players: Mary Magdalene

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Mary Magdalene is one from the New Testament.

Mary Magdalene is one of the few women who are named as followers of Jesus. Mary is often listed first among these names. She is often portrayed in movies, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, as a prostitute. Why? Mary Magdalene is often connected with the woman of the street who breaks the jar of perfume and washes Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. In Luke’s Gospel this woman is nameless. Mary Magdalene first appears in Luke 8. As scholar Fred Craddock points out, “Only popular legend has made her a prostitute.” Luke’s eighth chapter tells the reader that Mary was healed of seven demons. Craddock observes, “Demon possession caused various maladies of body and mind but not moral or ethical depravity.”

Monica Bellucci as Magdalen in Gibson's film.
Monica Bellucci as Magdalen in Gibson’s film.

Mary plays a significant role in the Gospel story. All four gospels account for Mary being present at the death of Christ. More importantly, Mary was the first witness of the resurrected Lord. In Luke’s account of the resurrection, the two men “in dazzling apparel” tell the women, “Remember how he told you . . .” (Luke 24:4,6). This assumes that Mary Magdalene and the other women were apart of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. The dazzling men are under the impression that these women were present when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection (“Remember how he told you”).

Luke continues the narrative saying that the women “remembered his words” (24:8). The women are told to go and tell the disciples what has taken place. They recalled what Jesus had said and told the eleven and “all the rest” (Luke 24:8-9). As Craddock points out, these women were not “errand runners for disciples; they were disciples.”

Mary Magdalene, the woman saved from seven demons, is one of the first witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. Her role in being one of the first to communicate the resurrection to others, places her among the Bible’s major players.

How are you living as a witness of the Resurrected Christ?

Resources: Craddock, Fred B. Luke. John Knox Press, 1990.

Bible’s Major Players: Tamar

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. David’s daughter Tamar is one from the Old Testament.

Tamar was the daughter of Maacah and David. She is the only daughter of David’s mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. In an interesting story, worthy of Jerry Springer, David’s oldest son (and first in line for the throne) Ammon finds himself madly – madly – in love with his half-sister Tamar. He pretends to be ill and asks for Tamar to come and prepare food for him. Ammon is able to get  his half-sister with him and rapes her.

Ammon, however, does not stop outdoing himself. Now that Tamar is no longer a virgin, custom says that she must be married. Even if it his her half-brother. She pleas with Ammon to marry her, but he refuses. In fact, Ammon’s love for her has been replaced with hatred. He wants nothing to do with her anymore. It seems that he got what he wanted, and was satisfied.

source: http://thebricktestament.com
source: http://thebricktestament.com

Tamar is forced out the door and into the streets.

Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went. (2 Samuel 13:19, Common English Bible)

This act outside of Ammon’s house, Virginia Stem Owens suggests, is a “symbol of her degradation.” The rape along was enough to humiliate and shame Tamar, but to leave her unmarried was worse. She would be lowered in the eyes of her society. She no longer, without the man who took her virginity, had the possibilities of marriage or children. Her future was taken from her and ruined.  And so, “Tamar, a broken woman, lived with her brother Absalom” (2 Samuel 13:20b).

How have you been left broken by others?

Resources: Owens, Virginia Stem. Daughters of Eve. NavPress, 1995.

Bible’s Major Players: David

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. King David is one from the Old Testament.

The Bible says that when Samuel anointed David, the “spirit of the Lord came mightily upon” him (1 Samuel 16:13). In the very next verse, the reader is told that an evil spirit in Saul replaces the spirit of the Lord. Barry Bandstra notes that in “the Hebrew Bible the spirit of God is the power God bestows on select individuals that enables them to perform their God-given task.” God had chosen David.

The first narrative of David is when he confronts the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17). In this act of defeating the giant, David was able to gain much popularity with the people, including Saul’s own family. This began Saul’s rich jealously and attempts to kill David, failing again and again. David would spend much of his time in hiding from Saul.

toon119

While in hiding, David becomes something like a Biblical Robin Hood. As Walter Harrelson explained, David “gathers around him a band of desperadoes, and is able both to prevent capture by Saul’s men and to become the most feared and respected man in all Judah.” When he grows tired of being an outlaw and on the run, he and his “band of desperadoes” join the Philistine camp in their struggle against Saul. The whole time, however, they are raiding the tribes south of Judah. This only increased Saul’s determination to rid of David.

Meanwhile, the Philistines have pushed Israel back toward the Jordan River. Saul attempts to take a stand at Mount Gilboa. However, Saul and his sons die in this battle, leaving the throne empty. David would claim his divinely ordained role as King.

David, from the beginning of his kingship, would lead with what many scholars have called “political savvy.” At the news of Saul’s defeat and death, David made a point not to approve nor condone the death of Saul. As Bandstra points out, “He did nothing that might serve to alienate the loyal followers of Saul,” which made up most of North Israel.

michelangelo-sculptures-13
Michelangelo’s David

David would set his capital at Hebron in Judah. David would rule over the southern tribes, and after the northern tirbes fell apart under Ishbaal, he would rule the northern tribes as well. It would be the first time that all the tribes of Israel would be united. David then decided to move his capital to Jerusalem, so as not to give the impression that he was favoring the south, and called it “the city of David” to show that it was under his command. After chasing the Philistines out from around the city, he made another political move that would change things. He moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, setting the city as the political and religious center for the newly unified nation.

David’s heart became troubled after the nation was safe. He was living in a great house, while the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence among God’s people, was in a tent. David set out to build a great house for God. God, however, through the prophet Nathan, told David to not build such a house. Instead, God promised that God would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:16).

This is a play on words, as Walter Brueggemann suggests. The word “house” can mean either “temple” or “dynasty.” Daivd would not build God a temple, but God would build David a dynasty. This will become the first dynasty of the Hebrew people.

As great as David was as a king, he would make some pretty bad decisions. Despite these mistakes, God still supported him. Although Samuel disapproved of the people’s desire for a monarch, God used the line of David to shepherd his people.

How has God used you through your successes and mistakes?

Resources: Bandstra, Barry L. Reading the Old Testament. Wadsworth Publishing, 1999. Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. John Knox Press, 1990. Harrelson, Walter. Interpreting the Old Testament. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Bible’s Major Players: Joseph the Carpenter

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players.  The carpenter Joseph is one from the New Testament.

Though there is not much said about this man, I would argue that Joseph played a significant role in the birth narratives. It took an enormous amount of risk and faith for Joseph to stay married to Mary after she told him that she was pregnant. According to the society of the time, Mary would have been labeled as a woman of the street and could have easily been stoned to death. Joseph, according to Matthew’s birth narrative, was “a just man” and decided to divorce Mary quietly. This implies that instead of acting our of anger towards Mary, Joseph still loved and respected her.

The fact that Joseph decided to quietly divorce her suggests that he made this decision out of his love for God, which is greater than his love for Mary, suggests scholar Douglas Hare. Joseph, Hare writes, “determines to do it secretly, so as not to cause her public humiliation.” This is the kind of compassion that Jesus would grow up with. This is the kind of compassion all of humanity should have towards each other.

family_5337cJoseph, however, changes his mind. An angel appears to him in a dream informing him that the child Mary’s carrying is from God. The text says that when Joseph woke up, he did as “the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:24) and did not know her until “she had borne a son” (Matthew 1:24-25).

I think we can each find ourselves in Joseph. When he was first told that Mary was going to give birth to the Son of God, he was not ready to go out on that limb. He did not want to step outside of his comfort zone and accept what God was doing in his life. The reality is that when God calls us, it is to call us out of our comfort zones. Joseph went out of his comfort zone and embraced Mary and the unborn child.

How is God calling you out of your comfort zone?

Resources: Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. John Knox Press, 1993.

Bible’s Major Players: Delilah

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Delilah is one from the Old Testament.

The book of Judges tells of a man named Samson, who should be included in the next cast of Expendables. Samson was a Nazirite set apart to God. Nazirites followed strict guidelines. Samson blew most of them in the wind. But one, not cutting his hair, he followed.

It was a tough time. The Israelites were constantly fighting off other -ites. The worse of them were the Philistines. Samson was like Hercules to the Hebrew people. He held great strength. He fought armies single-handedly. He was what legends were made of. Even though he fought and killed Philistine men, Samson had a soft spot for Philistine women.

Delilah being the last of them. Delilah lived in the Valley of Sorek, a place between Israel and Philistine. But this little bit of information does not tell us where Delilah’s allegiances laid. What we do know, is that Delilah owns her own house. Which means, she is either a wealthy widow or a woman whose occupation pays well. And remember, at this time it was rare thing.

And the relationship between Samson and Delilah must have been known in the community. The Philistines came to her, asking her to discover Samson’s secret. And they promised to pay her well.

“Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.” (Judges 16:5)

So, Delilah uses her seducative powers to inquire about Samson’s secret to his strength. She asked more than once, and more than once he tells a lie. The Philistines attack and he is able to escape. As a side note, you’d think he’d know after the first time that something was up. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

samson1cBut, the third times the charm. Delilah uses the oldest trick in the book, “If you love me, if you really, really, love me, you will tell me the secret to your power.” And she is persistent. The text actually says that Samson was tired to death of her nagging. One Bible translates it “annoyed to death.” A children’s Bible translation puts it this way: “He became so tired of it he felt like he was going to die!”

I think the point has been made. Samson had enough. And so he tells her the whole story, from beginning to present:

“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16:17)

And there it is! The secret is out. Delilah, as she did before, tells the Philistines, and they shave his head. Samson awakes, and this time truth as been told. No more lies. And he is as weak as “any other man.”

The thing to remember about Delilah is that betraying Samson was not her idea. The Philistine leadership came to her. Samson was the only thing keeping them from conquering Israel. And with Delilah’s help, they found his weak spot.

Samson had told lies just for fun. Delilah told truth for money. Some have compared Delilah to Judas, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Delilah did betray Samson for a whole lot more than thirty pieces of silver. Samson wasn’t worth all of that silver, but Delilah was. She sold herself to be used as a pawn in someone else’s game. We may never know if Delilah loved Samson as much as he loved her, but the implication is that she did love herself.

In what ways do you risk selling yourself as a pawn in something that is not part of God’s plan?

Bible’s Major Players: The Samaritan Woman

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. The Samaritan woman at the well is one from the New Testament.

When Megan and I traveled to Austin, Texas, we made the decision NOT to rent a car. We decided that we would walk the streets of Austin as much as possible to experience the culture and the city. And to save money. On more than one occasion, we walked miles to get from one end of the city to another to get the tacos we were told we had to get; to go into the store Uncommon Objects; to museums.

Even though it was September, it was hot in Austin! After walking for miles, we had to stop and get some water. We were thirsty. And if you have ever walked or worked out in the heat for a long period of time, you know that feeling of needed ice, cold, water.

well_10562cI imagine that is what Jesus felt in John 4 when he comes to Jacob’s Well. He had been waiting for miles and he needed some cool, refreshing, water. So he stops at this well. In Samaria.

We should for a moment mention that Jews and Samaritans were like oil and water. They did not get along, and that is putting it mildly. Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee. The straight way to get there is through Samaria. Most Jews, however, would take the long way and go around Samaria to avoid interacting with Samaritans. But, Jesus was not most Jews.

Why did Jesus cross through Samaria? To get to the other side.

But also perhaps because the Son of God knew that there was a woman who needed to hear that she, too, is offered the gift of grace.

John’s gospel says that Jesus arrived at the well at noon. It may seem like a minor detail, but its a significant fact. Noon is the hottest part of the day. While Jesus is sitting there, a Samaritan woman, who is never identified by name in John’s gospel, came to draw water from the well. At noon. The hottest part of the day.

Most women went to the well either early in the morning or later in the evening. This was so they could get the water they need for the day. It was cooler, making it easier to carry the jars of water from the well back into the village. And, the women mostly went to the well in groups.

So for this Samaritan woman to be coming to the well in the middle of the day alone should send up a red flag for us. There is something different about this woman. Not to mention, this guy named Jesus. Tradition says that a man should not speak to a woman in public who is not a relative. Tradition is also pretty clear that a Jewish man should not be speaking to a Samaritan woman.

As far as tradition goes, this nameless woman now has two strikes against her. Despite this fact, Jesus speaks to her. He asks her for a drink. And during the course of the conversation, the third strike is revealed.

Jesus: Go, call your husband and come back.

Woman: I have no husband.

Jesus: You are right. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.

SamaritanWomanOrigOh snap! Jesus knows! Here is a woman who has been married multiple times and is now living with a man whom she is not married too. Without a husband, the Samaritan woman was bound for a life of poverty or worse. She had no basic rights without a husband. Which means, while courting this possible sixth husband, she had no property, no house, no anything.

The fact that she was an unmarried woman living with a man branded her with a scarlet A. She was an outcast, marginalized by her society. We wondered earlier why she would come to the well in the middle of the day? Most likely to avoid the stares and the comments by the other women at the well. She most likely knew what other people thought of her, and it most likely made her feel not too great about herself.

And here is this Rabbi sitting by the well, engaging in a conversation with her about water, faith, and religion. She suddenly felt human again. In the midst of the conversation, she acknowledges that she knows about the Messiah. And then, Jesus relieves that he is whom she speaks of.

Yep, that’s right, early in John’s gospel Jesus relieves himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman who is living with a man she is not married to. Jesus relieved himself to an outcast. To a person whom society had deemed a nobody. Maybe that’s why John doesn’t tell us her name, to reinforce her place in society.

Then, leaving the water jar the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:28-29)

Come and see, she says, as she runs from the well leaving her water jar behind to tell the others in the village. The people want to hear more from Jesus, and he spends two days with them. In old-school Methodism we called this a Camp Meeting. This woman who was an outcast became an evangelist to the Gospel. She became a teacher, a preacher, a sharer of the Word.

And I imagine that once she started, she couldn’t stop talking about Jesus.

How has Jesus relieved himself as the Messiah to you? How do you talk about Jesus to others?

Bible’s Major Players: Lot & His Wife

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Lot and his wife are two from the Old Testament.

In the Genesis story, Lot is Abraham’s nephew. For the longest time the two men shared property. Abraham, of course, was the elder and had the last say on everything. One day, “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10). The land looked greener than where he was. Lot asked his uncle for the greener land, and Abraham granted it.

Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. (Genesis 13:12-13).

It’s a case of country mouse going to the city. A lot has been said about verse 13, and I think it important to note that the text says that the men were wicked and sinned against God. Be weary of those who communicate that this text says more than that. Does God destroy Sodom? Yes. Why? Because “the men . . were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).

mob mentalityGod destroys the city only after Uncle Abraham puts up a good round of bargaining. If there are 10 righteous in the city, God will save the city. God sends angels, messengers, to find the 10 righteous. Lot, practicing the ancient tradition of hospitality, invited the strangers into his home. Shortly after, the Bible reports that all the men in the city came demanding Lot to give up the two strangers so they may have their way with them.

A couple of things worth pondering. Lot and his family are non-Sodomites. They are strangers in a foreign land. Though they may have risen to a prosper lifestyle, they were still not from Sodom. So, when strangers come into town and visit Lot’s home first, it was sure to raise some questions.

Second, the crowd chose rape over hospitality. Hospitality was so serious, it was considered a sin against God. Rape is a horrid act of dominating power. Rape is a sin against God. What is just as horrifying is that Lot offers his two, virgin daughters to the crowd. If they were planning to rape the two strangers, you can put money down that will rape Lot’s daughters. Why would he do that? Is hospitality that serious?

The two angels send out a blinding light that actually blinds all the men in the crowd. The angels then tell the family to get out of town before the city is destroyed. But, Lot hesitates. Maybe he wanted to pack a bag of a few belongings. Was Lot so rooted in a lifestyle of prosperity in the big city, that he forgot his humble rural upbringing? This is what the angels do:

. . . the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. (Genesis 19:16)

God was merciful to them. God showed them grace. Go figure. Once the angels got the family out of the city, they them to run! Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200! Do not look back! And these weren’t friendly suggestions, these were commands. Do. Not. Look. Back.

Lot's WifeAnd of course, someone looks back. Surprisingly it is Lot’s wife, who has been silent this whole episode. Why does she look back? She is grieving the life of luxurery she left behind? She is curious to see what is happening to the city? Even though they were told not to look back, she does, and she is instantly turned into a pillar of salt.

Looking back on where we have been can be helpful so that we do not make the same mistakes twice. Or when we reflect on the journey that the Holy One has brought us through. But looking back longingly, especially when God tells us not too, can be dangerous. I wonder if Lot’s wife looked back too soon. If she had waited until they reached a new, safer city and a month or so later, after settling in, and then looked back and reflected on why it was good for her and the family to move.

She stopped to collect her $200 dollars . . . .and it was too soon. We do the same sometimes. We don’t always live in the grace and mercy that God has extended to us. Instead, we too quickly look back at what once was, and what we once had.

How are you looking back?

Bible’s Major Players: Samuel

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Samuel is one from the Old Testament.

Samuel is the son of Hannah, a wife of Elkanah. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah was able to give him children, but Hannah was barren and not able to have children. She prayed to God, asking for a son. God heard Hannah’s prayer, and blessed her with a son whom she named Samuel, meaning “God heard.” She gave the son back to God, devoting his life to the work of the temple in Shiloh. Samuel heard the voice of the Lord as a boy and continued to hear from God was seen as a prophet.

He is often viewed as the last and greatest of all the judges of Israel. One reason for this view can be seen in 1 Samuel 7:3-17. Prior to this episode, Israel has been at war with the Philistines. They had battled and battled, and then remembered that the Ark of the Covenant had been left at Shiloh. The act of forgetting the ark, the symbol of the presence of Yahweh, suggests that Israel, Walter Harrelson says, “has acted without consulting Yahweh at all.” After brining the ark out, the ark is captured by the Philistines – but not for long. Everywhere the Philistines take the ark, plagues follow.

Though Yahweh was not consulted, Yahweh is still in the battle. In the seventh chapter, Samuel gathers all of Israel together at Mizpah. He is the leader, one that is like that of Moses. In the midst of Canaanite culture and religion, along with the Philistine threat, the people are easily distracted and were putting their loyalty in other places. God called Samuel to refocus Israel’s loyalty back to Yahweh.

source: shrove.wordpress.com
source: shrove.wordpress.com

Samuel renews Israel’s commitment to God and the people start fresh. Samuel inspires new beginning. Samuel remained judge and leader of Israel until he reached an old age. It is his role, as Harrelson highlights, in the “establishment of the kingship” that marks “him as more than just another of the judges.”

As Samuel got older, the fun continued. The people requested that they have a king like all the other nations around them. They felt threatened by the growing, neighboring nations and did not have confidence in Samuel’s sons to be their judges. Samuel was not happy about this. How can they ask for a king to rule them on earth when their one sovereign God rules in both heaven and earth? Even so, Samuel seeks counsel from God.

God tells him to listen to the people’s request and give them a king. Samuel does so, but warns them first about what it will be like having a king (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Samuel concludes in verse 18 with a harsh truth:

In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.

This statement makes it clear that Samuel did not approve of a monarchy. However, Samuel set aside his own personal thoughts and sought counsel from God.

How do you seek counsel from God?

Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. John Knox Press, 1990. Harrelson, Walter. Interpreting the Old Testament. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Bible’s Major Players: Potiphar’s Wife

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Potiphar’s wife is one from the Old Testament.

The story of Potiphar’s wife is a part of the Joseph narrative found in Genesis 39. Joseph was sold in slavery by his jealous brothers. Through a series of fortunate events, guided by the hand of God, Joseph was purchased by Potiphar, the commander of Pharaoh’s royal guard, and an Egyptian. Joseph was quickly put in charge of the household. The Mr. Carson of Potiphar’s house (Genesis 39:6).

The Bible tells us that Joseph was young, handsome, and smart. He was a natural leader. No wonder he was in charge of the whole household at such a young age. So, here is Joseph the young, handsome, smart leader of the household. He has been rejected by his family, sold into slavery, and sent to a foreign land. He spends the bulk of his day in charge while his master is at work.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Potiphar is at home too. She was an older woman home with her servants most of the day. Maybe she was neglected. Maybe she was needy. Maybe Mr. P worked long hours. Maybe she needed attention.

Mrs. Potiphar is the original Real Housewife. She is attracted to Joseph and makes passes at him. And even though he denies her invitations, she doesn’t stop asking.

One day when Joseph arrived at the house to do his work, none of the household’s men were there. (Gen. 39:11, CEB)

Anyone else think this should cause a red flag?

She grabbed his garment, saying, “Lie down with me.” But he left his garment in her hands and run outside, she summoned the men of her house and said to them, “Look, my husband brought us a Hebrew to ridicule us. He came to me to lie down with me, but I screamed. When he heard me raise my voice and scream, he left his garment with me and ran outside.” (Gen. 39:12-14, CEB)

Joan Collins as Potiphar's wife in Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat
Joan Collins as Potiphar’s wife in Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat

You got to give her an A for effort. We quickly switched channels in this story from the Real Housewives to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. When Mrs. P didn’t get what she wanted, she cried rape. A serious accusation, then and now.

There is no telling how many other housemen she had tried this with. Imagine the Real Housewives anger she must have experienced. Angry enough to blame her husband AND insult Joseph. “Look what this Hebrew my husband gave us did,” she says. But, let us not forget that she still had Joseph’s garments in her hand. But in Joseph’s case, clothes don’t make the man. God does.

But she is still part of the rich and powerful. She pleads her case to her husband, and he sends Joseph to jail. Some have suggested that if Potiphar really truly believed that Joseph had attempted to rape his wife, he would have had Joseph sentenced to death. Perhaps there is something special about this Hebrew.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Genesis, suggests that the two main characters in this episode symbolize a tension between the Kingdom and the empire. (Notice the upper and lower case letters, I did that on purpose). It is the tension between living as a faithful disciple and living as the world demands us to. It is the tension between living as called by the power of God and living as called by the power of society.

Potiphar’s wife represents the empire and those in power. Joseph is a symbol of the faithful. The faithful will be faced with moments when they will be asked by those in power (sex aside) to do something that goes against the Kingdom. Joseph’s response was to not do it, and to remain faithful to his God.

It should be noted that it was in jail that Joseph meets the men who tell him about Pharaoh’s dreams and interprets them. It because of these men in jail that Joseph rises to power as a Governor. Crappy things happened to Joseph, but God was with him through it all, and Joseph was faithful through it all.

What will your response be?

Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. John Knox Press, 1982.

Bible’s Major Players: Jephthah’s Daughter

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Jephthah’s daughter is one from the Old Testament.

The story of Jephthah’s daughter is found in Judges 11. Jephthah was a great warrior.  He was the child of Gilead and a prostitute. When his father’s other sons got older, they drove Jephthah out of town because of who is mother was. He forms together a band of desperadoes and stay at a place called Tov – the Land of Good.

The Ammonites attack Gilead, and the elders ask for Jepthah’s help. He says he will after he is promised that he will be made head of the council. Before going into battle, he makes one last vow to God. He promises that if he is granted a victory over his enemies, he will offer the first thing that comes out of his door when he returns home as a sacrifice.

You see where this is going.

StoryOTB082_p207_JephthahMeetsHisDaughterHe and his band of desperadoes win the battle. When he returns home, the first thing to come out and great him is his daughter, “his only child” (Judges 11:34). Jepthah is heart broken! He cannot break his promise to God. Ironically, his daughter does not protest. The only thing she asks for is two months to be alone.

And so, she retreats to the mountains and wails for her virginity. A modern reader of this tale may find this strange that she would want time to mourn for her virginity. It would seem more appropriate that she would mourn her own death. This ancient society, however, puts a huge amount of importance on the woman’s role as child bearer. As Virginia Stem Owens writes, “One was protected forward in time on the catapult of continuing generations.”

When two months had passed, she returned to her father, and he did to her what he had promised. She had not known a man intimately. But she gave rise to a tradition in Israel where for four days every year Israelite daughters would go away to recount the story of the Gileadite, Jephthah’s daughter. (Judges 11:39-40, Common English Bible)

Jephthah’s daughter turned a tragedy into a tradition.

What women in your life have inspired faith traditions for you?

Resources: Owens, Virginia Stem. Daughters of Eve. NavPress, 1995.

Bible’s Major Players: Eve

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Eve is one from the Old Testament.

Eve. The first woman. The first wife. The first mother. The first sinner?

We are familiar with the story of Eve found in Genesis 2 and 3. But, if you’re looking for a unique retelling, I recommend the Slappy Squirrel animated version. God decides that it is not good for Adam to be alone, so God puts Adam in a deep sleep. While Adam is under, God uses one of his ribs to create Eve. And there they are, one happy, newlywed family.

That is, until the serpent enters the drama. The serpent engages Eve in a conversation not with God, but about God. The serpent and Eve have a little God-talk time.  Theologian and scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The serpent is the first in the Bible to seem knowing and critical about God and to practice theology in the place of obedience.” Doing theology is not limited to the Ivory Towers. From the beginning, theology – God-talk – has been accessible.

apple_10632cTheir conversation ultimately leads to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The Bible does not name the fruit. Tradition has taught us that it was an apple. However, apples were not Mesopotamian fruits. Most likely, the fruit was a pomegranate, apricot, or fig. But the identity of the truth, at the end of the day, is that important.

What is important is that the serpent talks about what will happen if Eve does eat the fruit of the tree, and the serpent proves to be convincing. “And she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6). And everything changed! She tasted the fruit and then ate it. Cue the John Williams score, the fall of humanity just got real.

We were taught in Sunday school that Eve ate of the fruit first, and then took it to Adam and he ate without thinking.  The plural use of “you” in the Hebrew suggests that Adam is most likely with her during this conversation. That is to say that we need to stop giving Eve a bad rap. Eve made have eaten first, but she did not act solely alone. She may have been the spokeswoman for the couple, but that does not mean that she and all women after her must submit to their husbands. It does, however, reinforce the idea that this thing we call faith is a communal act. We are in this together.

There is a three fold action in this story. Eve takes the fruit, she eats the fruit, and she gives the fruit. Compare this to the four fold action Jesus and others use in the New Testament when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. They take the bread, bless the bread, break the bread, and give the bread. The connection is striking. Jesus redeems the basic disobedience of humanity through the action of giving his body and blood for us. When we respond to this taking, blessing, breaking, and giving of bread, we are affirming our active participation in the salvation story.

In a sense, Eve set in motion the fall of humanity, but also the salvation story that would redeem all of humanity.

In what ways are you participating in the salvation story?

Resources: Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. John Knox Press, 1982.