Psalm 105:23–36; Judges 19; Luke 22:39–51

Originally published 9/5/2016. revised and updated 9/5/2018.

Psalm 105:23–36: Our psalmist recalls Israel’s time in Egypt:
And Israel came to Egypt,
Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.
 (23)

[‘Jacob’ of course is the poet’s device to not repeat ‘Israel’ in the next line, since his listeners would understand that all Israel descended from that patriarch.] The ‘land of Ham’ is Egypt, where it was believed Noah’s son migrated following the flood. Israel’s fecundity soon outpaces Egypt’s:
And He [God] made his people very fruitful,
made the more numerous than their foes
. (24)

This population growth creates a deadly transformation among the Egyptians as they feel outnumbered and threatened:
He changed their heart to hate His people,
to lay plots against His servants.
 (25)

Here’s another proof that humanity has changed not a whit in 4000 years. Like the Egyptians, many Americans feel threatened by immigrants, especially those coming from the south. Some even complain that they come here and ‘multiply like rabbits.’ The other interesting aspect of this verse is that for the poet, it is ‘He,’ i.e., God who changes the hearts of the Egyptians from tolerance to intolerance. I’m no sure about that theologically; it seems to me that the human heart has plenty of its own capacity to become intolerant.

Moses and Aaron arrive on the scene, “whom He [God] had chosen.” (26) The plagues come, and it is through Moses and Aaron that God initiates them:
They set among them the words of His signs,
His portents in the land of Ham.
 (27)

Notice here that the poet describes the plagues as “words of His signs.” The plagues are not just random events, but are direct communication—words—from God. The psalmist goes on to list each plague: darkness, the bloody Nile, the frogs, lice, hail, locusts. These are not listed in the same order as they are in Exodus and the psalmist omits the plague of dead cattle and skin disease. Nevertheless, he makes his point quite clearly. The the final plague is the worst:
He struck down each firstborn in their land,
the first yield of their manhood.
 (36)

The phrase ‘first yield of their manhood’ is evocative of the idea of men planting seeds and reaping the harvest of “their manhood.” Women are nowhere to be seen and receive no credit for the birth of Egypt’s firstborn males.

Judges 19: For me, this is one of the darkest most disturbing chapters of Israel’s history. It includes oppression of women, homosexual sex, rape, murder, and a gruesome ending. The story opens with Levite (the same one we’ve encountered in the previous chapters perhaps?) who has a concubine. The “concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah.” (2). Our narrators describe him as her husband, who loves his concubine deeply. After four months heads to Bethlehem and “to speak tenderly to her and bring her back.” (3). The woman’s father is overjoyed to see the Levite and provides seemingly endless hospitality to him. But when the Levite attempts to leave with the woman, her father inveigles him to stay.

After a few more days, the Levite, the woman, and his servant depart. They come to Jerusalem and servants recommends they spend the night. But the Levite refuses, rather testily telling the servant, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel.” (12) Rather than mingle with aliens, he’d rather go to Gilbeah, where the Benjaminites live.

They arrive in the city square, where the custom was for travelers to wait, hoping someone would show hospitality and invite them in for the night. Giving us a clue of the attitudes at Gibeah, no one invites them in until an old man comes in from the fields. In a hint that he knows something evil is afoot, the old man advises them, “do not spend the night in the square” (21) and brings them into his home.

Suddenly in a scene that seems to be ripped out of the pages of Genesis where Lot is staying in Sodom, “the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door.” (22a) They demand that the host send the Levite out into the street “so that we may have intercourse with him.” (22b) The host refuses but instead sends out his virgin daughter as well as the Levite’s concubine, whereuopn the men in the streetrape both and leave the concubine for dead at the doorstep.

The Levite finds “his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold” and commands her to get up. But she is either unconscious or dead, (the authors don’t tell us) so he loads the woman on the donkey and goes home. By the time she gets home, she is clearly dead. The Levite hacks her body into 12 pieces and arranges to have each piece sent as a gruesome message to the leaders of the other twelve tribes: “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.’” (30)

The irony of this ugly story is that the man probably would have been better off staying in Jerusalem full of foreigners than at Gibeah, where unspeakable evil abounded among the Israelites themselves. I suspect consequences of this heinous act of rape and murder will shortly ensue.

The even more disturbing thing to me is that women were seen as having no value other than as sexual objects. While some may interpret this story as an example the evils of homosexuality, for me, there is the far greater sin of treating women as mere property of little value. Even when the Levite sees his concubine lying at the doorstep he roughly tells her to “Get up.” We do not see a scintilla of love or concern for the woman whom the Levite apparently loved—but not enough to have told the host not to send her out into the street or to treat her tenderly.

While I know we should not judge the past based on the values of today’s there is something viscerally disturbing about the host sacrificing his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to rape and probably what he knew would be their death. This is a deep perversion of God’s created order—and anathema to civilized society.

Luke 22:39–51: Following the meal, Jesus and the disciples head out of the city to the Mount of Olives where Jesus tells them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (40)—a clear hint that the end he has been predicting for himself will come sooner rather than later.

Luke does not tell us that they were at Gethsemane, only that Jesus “withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed.” (41) Luke’s transcript of the prayer is brief: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (42) And he provides the detail not found in the other synoptics that “an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength” (43) and that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (44) This last detail says only that the sweat became like “drops of blood,” not the popular image that Jesus was literally sweating blood.

When Jesus is finished praying, he comes upon the disciples “and found them sleeping because of grief.” (45) This interesting detail suggests that the disciples had finally figured out that the party was over and there was a very real chance of losing their leader—or perhaps, less charitably, it was because they finally realized their dreams of power and glory were a mere chimera and they themselves might be in real danger. I think Jesus finally got through to them that he was not there to foment a political revolution but that instead his earthly ministry and activity was about to come to an abrupt end. Luke emphasizes this latter point when Jesus repeats the same thing he said earlier, “Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (46)

Judas and the temple police appear. Unlike other accounts, Judas does not kiss Jesus but Jesus calls him out first, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (48). Luke’s irony is on full display here. He then tells us that “those who were around him saw what was coming.” Finally! They understand what Jesus has been telling them as their denial is stripped away.

An unidentified disciple reaches for a sword and cuts off a slave’s ear. Making it clear that what is about to happen is not going to be a conventional rebellion, Jesus says, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” (51) This is Jesus’ last public act of healing. In the end it is Luke’s clear message that it is Jesus’ compassion, not weaponry, that will be the engine of the revolution about to come.

Speak Your Mind

*