Gideon the Judge: Facing God’s angel

Gideon #2 (Judges 6:11)

In chapter 6 the land is occupied by the Midianites, the people of Midian. They destroy the land and rob its produce. In verse 11 we meet the Angel of God, and we meet Gideon.

We have seen in the previous post, that the land of Israel is repeatedly occupied by foreign powers. Then, God chooses a Judge, who is really a military leader rather than what we call Judge today, to free the people of Israel. The Judge leads them into a war and helps them win. The people of Israel repent, go back to God and for forty years the land is quiet. Then the next generation forgets God, sins, God sends a new enemy, and the cycle continued for 300 years.

This time it is Gideon’s turn to save the people of Israel.

Hebrew and translation of the Bible book of Judges, chapter 6 verse 11. In this chapter we meet Gideon and the angel of God

Discussion

In verse 11 we are introduced to the story of Gideon. In this verse we learn about the background for the story and the characters. We also learn that the Midianites were robbing the people of Israel off their produce. 

But first we meet the messenger, or angel of God.

In Hebrew we call him 诪址诇职讗址讱职; in English it is translated to an angel, but I still prefer to use the word messenger.

When we use the word angel, we tend to imagine a winged being with halos and aura. But this is not what a messenger is in the Bible, clearly not in the Old Testament. The first thing we need to understand is that the word 诪址诇职讗址讱职 does not have to refer to God鈥檚 messenger, as the Bible often uses the word to describe a human employed as a messenger by another human.

This, obviously, is not the case here. Here it specifically says 诪址诇职讗址讱职 讬职讛讜指讛, God鈥檚 messenger. But as we will soon see in the next verses, this messenger looks exactly like any other human. That is, you could not recognise him by his look. This is important whenever we read about a meeting with an angel, may it be Abraham, Lot, or Jacob.

When people meet God鈥檚 angels, they cannot tell that the 鈥榩eople鈥 they are meeting are angels, until the angels decide to reveal themselves, give a sign, or show their powers. When angels appear to us, they look just like us. This, of course, raises the question: if angels look just like us, can they be living among us today?

———–

讗值诇指讛 is a common name for a family of trees in the land of Israel.  Terebinth tree is the common translation, but there are other trees in the family that carry the same name. We are not sure exactly what tree the Bible refers to here.

———–

注指驻职专指讛 is a town in the land of Menashe, about 30km (20 miles) north of Jerusalem.

———–

The last point worth thinking about in this verse is why Gideon is beating wheat in the winepress, and how does it hide it from the Midianites?

In the land of Israel, the time of harvesting wheat is straight after the Passover festival 鈥 which falls around March, April or May. The harvesting lasts until the harvest festival Shavuot seven weeks later. On the other hand, the harvesting season for grapes, ends in the Sukkot festival, around September. This is a little hint our verse gives us.

Beating out wheat in the winepress so effectively tells us two things. The first is of the habit of the Midianite to rob people. They would clearly take the harvest if they knew he was beating the wheat. The second hint tells us when the story takes place. That is, in the middle of spring, somewhere around April. This is the time when winepresses are idle. Not a place for the Midianites to look for harvest until the harvest of the Autum. A safe place to hide your produce.

In this one verse, we are given a full introduction to the story, the protagonist, the background and the time of year. In verse 12 the plot will begin.

The Book of Judges: Gideon, the 5th judge – the rise of a powerful leader

Gideon #1 – introduction to Judges (Judges 6:1-10)

Gideon (Book of Judges) leads he people of Israel to win against the Midianites

I love the Book of Judges. So, let鈥檚 start with an introduction to the book. It will give us the background we need for the story of Gideon.

In the twenty-one chapters of the book, we discover a pattern that will characterise the people of Israel for generations 鈥 even until today. It is a pattern of a cycle that repeats endlessly.

First, the people of Israel forget God and His ways. For example, in Judges 2:10

讜职讙址诐 讻指旨诇-讛址讚旨讜止专 讛址讛讜旨讗, 谞侄讗侄住职驻讜旨 讗侄诇-讗植讘讜止转指讬讜; 讜址讬指旨拽指诐 讚旨讜止专 讗址讞值专 讗址讞植专值讬讛侄诐, 讗植砖侄讈专 诇止讗-讬指讚职注讜旨 讗侄转-讬职讛讜指讛, 讜职讙址诐 讗侄转-讛址诪址旨注植砖侄讉讛, 讗植砖侄讈专 注指砖指讉讛 诇职讬执砖职讉专指讗值诇

And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, that knew not about God, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

Second, once sin and the wrong ways have been established, God, removes his protection from the people of Israel, letting them experience the hardship of the world without His protection. For instance, in Judges 2:14

讜址讬执旨讞址专-讗址祝 讬职讛讜指讛, 讘职旨讬执砖职讉专指讗值诇, 讜址讬执旨转职旨谞值诐 讘职旨讬址讚-砖止讈住执讬诐, 讜址讬指旨砖止讈住旨讜旨 讗讜止转指诐; 讜址讬执旨诪职讻职旨专值诐 讘职旨讬址讚 讗讜止讬职讘值讬讛侄诐, 诪执住指旨讘执讬讘, 讜职诇止讗-讬指讻职诇讜旨 注讜止讚, 诇址注植诪止讚 诇执驻职谞值讬 讗讜止讬职讘值讬讛侄诐

And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He gave them over into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.

Only then, in times of pain and suffering, the people rediscover God and the covenant they made with Him. They repent. And God, eternally patient, true to His word, remains loyal to the covenant, forever, as we can see in the Book of Judges 2:1

讜址讬止旨讗诪侄专 讗址注植诇侄讛 讗侄转职讻侄诐 诪执诪执旨爪职专址讬执诐, 讜指讗指讘执讬讗 讗侄转职讻侄诐 讗侄诇-讛指讗指专侄抓 讗植砖侄讈专 谞执砖职讈讘址旨注职转执旨讬 诇址讗植讘止转值讬讻侄诐, 讜指讗止诪址专, 诇止讗-讗指驻值专 讘职旨专执讬转执讬 讗执转职旨讻侄诐 诇职注讜止诇指诐

And he said: ‘… I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said: I will never break My covenant with you;

Finally, God chooses a seemingly ordinary person and raises him to become a JUDGE, a temporary leader to fight the enemy and save Israel.

For a single generation the people of Israel manage to remember the grace of God and follow His ways. But it never lasts more than one generation. The next generation, raised in times of peace and prosperity, forgets God again. Once more, they need to go through pain and suffering to remember.

This cycle lasts in the book for twelve judges and for over 300 years (~1350-1014 BC), all the way until the first king, King Saul.  In this series of blog posts, I will cover the story of the fifth judge, Gideon. (~1191-1151 BC.) which starts Judges 6:5.

Final note about the Book of Judges

Just by looking at the general pattern in the book of Judges, we can learn so much about the people of Israel, who forget the ways of God so often. We learn about God and his eternal patience, and we learn about the relationship between God and the people of Israel, and how despite the infinite number of times that the people of Israel have disappointed God and left His way, God is committed to this relationship forever.

We also learn why suffering is necessary.

We have short memory, and most of us can learn only from our personal experience and never from the experience of others. When we live in a good time, we attribute it to ourselves, our power, and our talent. We become conceited, arrogant. We feel that we are the masters of the world.  God has no place in our hearts and takes no part in our decisions.  It is only at time of hardship and suffering that we realise we are not in control. Only then can we clearly see that each moment of our lives is a precious gift given to us. It is not created by us.

This is what Judges is repeating over and again, so we can learn from the experience of others and not have to go through suffering ourselves. Just like the story of Abraham negotiating with God, the Book of Judges is a guidebook that teaches us and gives us an opportunity to learn from the experience of others. Yet, we always fail to follow.

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The Story of Sodom: Why Shouldn’t They Look Back?

Sodom and Gomorrah #22 (Genesis 19:17)

In verse 16 we saw Lot鈥檚 pain and his hesitation before he left his home forever. The angels could see it, too, and with compassion took Lot, his wife, and the two daughters by the hand and led them outside the city. In verse 17 the angels tell them the last instruction how to stay alive – don’t look back.

The Hebrew Bible, Translation and transliteration of Genesis 19:17.  The Angels give Lot his last instructions before he leaves Sodom forever

Looking back 鈥 two schools of thought

It is important that we get familiar with the two opposing schools of thought about the relationship between us, human, and the word of God. In our verse this question arise when the angel tells Lot and his family not to look back.

Why is it important?

Because each school of thought leads to a different explanation for the death of Lot鈥檚 wife. Each way of thinking also paints a different image of God.

The first school of thought believes that Lot鈥檚 wife felt compelled to look back because she could not let go of her past. She did not trust God enough to follow His words. According to this interpretation, God creates a path for us, and our duty is to follow this path, while our devotion is constantly being tested. Not to look back was another test for Lot and his family.

You may ask, why they are being tested? After all, didn鈥檛 Lot bring the angels in, despite the risk to himself and his family? Wasn’t he protecting them from the crowd outside? Weren鈥檛 these tests enough?

But we also have to remember that years of living in Sodom could have corrupted Lot and his family in many subtle ways. After all, living with other people changes our ways and biases our judgment. Suddenly, things that until not long ago used to be unacceptable, creep into our lives to become part of us. God needed to ensure that Lot and his family deserved saving.  Unfortunately, Lot鈥檚 wife looking back proved that she did not trust God enough, and therefore her punishment was rightly deserved.

When I read this text with this interpretation in mind, I can’t help but think of a completely different story. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Greek mythology. If you are not familiar with the story, here is a brief summary:

Like Lot, who was the only righteous person in Sodom, Orpheus had a special talent. He was the most gifted of all musicians. The Gods themselves could not have enough of his music. So when his beloved wife, Eurydice, died, using his music he convinced Hades, the God of the underworld, to let him take Eurydice back to the world of the living. But like in Lot鈥檚 case, there was a condition. Orpheus had to walk before Eurydice, without looking back at her, the wife he had been missing for so long, until they came out of the underworld.

The place was silent. Being the first human to ever walk up along this corridor, Orpheus could not hear Eurydice’s steps behind. He could not be sure she was there, and he started doubting Hades鈥 promise. He decided to have a quick look back to make sure that indeed she was stepping behind him.

She had been.

But to his and her great dismay as he looked back, demon appeared and started pulling her back toward the underworld. His lack of trust killed his wife for the second time.

The similarity between this interpretation of Lot鈥檚 story and the story of Orpheus cannot be ignored. In both cases a person with special talent was rewarded by God, under the condition of total obedience. In both cases the smallest of disobedience put the person back with the with the rest of humanity: Lot鈥檚 wife to die with the people of Sodom, and Orpheus with every other human, who cannot reunite in their lifetime with those they have lost.   

While the above way of thinking is prevalent, it is not the only one. The second school of thought sees the events in exactly the opposite light. According to this way of thinking, God is not punishing people, but rather trying to save them. His words are warning, not threats. He warns us from risks along our path, the risks that we are facing and those we will be facing. But other than warnings, God does not interfere with our decisions. He makes sure we know, but He lets us make our own choices. And when we do not follow, we do not suffer punishment, but the natural consequences of our own doing.

I do not know what was in the fire that destroyed Sodom. But God knew that looking into it will result in death. Lot鈥檚 wife made her choice, and like all of us who ignore warnings, she suffered the consequence. She was not punished.

Which of the two interpretations do you believe is the right one for Lot鈥檚 story? Was God giving a command that had to be followed, or was it a warning by God, who other than forcing us, does all He can do to save us? Which is the God you believe in?

The Garden of Eden, a Transient Safe Place

The story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 has always bothered me. It is not because Adam and Eve sinned; it is not because a snake could talk; it is not even because of the severe, out of proportion, punishment humanity has, allegedly, suffered as a result. It mostly disturbed me because the story I heard over and again, often from proud believers, diminished God and made him either cruel or incompetent 鈥 neither I could accept.

Image of Adam and Eve surrounded my animals in the Garden of Eden by Johann Wenzel Peter  1745-1829
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The Story of Sodom: Compassion in time of Tragedy

Sodom and Gomorrah #21 (Genesis 19:16)

The fire of hell is about to hit the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. An entire land is to be wiped out. Whenever I read this part of the Bible, I cannot stop sadness from gnawing inside me. Sadness not only for the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are to be incinerated.  For me deep sadness also raises its head when I realise how rare compassion is among those who read this passage together with me.

So many of the discussions about the passage are about things like the exact nature of the sin of the people of the Sodom; how little of it is thinking about Lot and how he must have felt when he had to evacuate and leave everything behind. Wasn鈥檛 he a man? A human?

If we, the Bible followers, fail to feel compassion when reading about a tragedy at the comfort of our own homes, will we fell compassion towards others when we ourselves are facing hardship?  Can we even feel it at all?  Moreover, is compassion a luxury when a mass tragedy takes place? Verse 16 comes to teach us that our compassion is never a luxury, it must always have place in our hearts.

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Hypocrisy of the Believers – Student’s Frustration

Some time ago, following a lesson about Lot’s wife, I got a letter from a student who was outraged about the hypocrisy of the believers in the Bible. We had a long discussion about how believers in the Bible, that claim to believe in Love and Compassion, judge others so easily without any compassion at all, as though they were the Inquisition aiming to condemn people and find the most horrendous way to punish them, all in the name of Love.

I could not disagree with her. I had to admit that I, too, see great hypocrisy among believers. And it pains me that judgement is more prevalent than compassion. So I decided to bring her letter here, as is, uncensored. I think we can all learn from it.

Hypocrisy of the believers, who prefer harsh punishment on compassion in case of Lot's wife who had to leave her other children in Sodom.
The punishment of Lot’s wife
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Science Battling Genesis: How Old is the Universe?

I have been teaching recently the first chapters of Genesis. As expected, these chapters raise huge controversy, more than any other chapter in the Bible. It is easy to understand. After all, while most of the Bible deals with society, morals, or spirituality, the first few chapters of Genesis deal with the creation of the physical world, presenting a very different view than modern science. This is particularly true when questions about the age of the universe are concerned.

Na茂ve reading of the Bible will tell us that the world is about 6,000 years old. Science, on the other hand, has a different view. By combining data from different disciplines, scientists believe that the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years, and the age of earth is about 4.5 billion years.  

This is huge, hardly imaginable, difference. The age of the universe according to science is about a million times larger than the age according to the Bible.  To make these huge numbers easier to comprehend, let鈥檚 scale them down. If, for instance, the world according to the Bible was scaled down from 6,000 years to 6 hours (in other words, if the Biblical world was created 6 hours ago) then the world according to science was formed nearly 700 years ago. That was during the Spanish inquisition, before Columbus discovered America.

Of course, there are many religious scientists who are familiar with the two versions of creation and find no contradiction between them. How can they do it?

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Escaping Sodom, Desperate and Broken Hearted – Leaving Loved Ones Behind

Sodom and Gomorrah #20 (Genesis 19:15)

Today, after producing a few YouTube episodes of #50DaysOfGenesis series, I return to the story of Lot and his family escaping from Sodom. As you know, I am greatly disturbed by the harsh ways many believers judge Lot and his wife. There are many reasons for that. But most do it just because Lot and His wife lived in Sodom (as if those judging live in the land of righteousness).

We judge Lot and his wife as if they were robots, not as though they were humans with feelings, emotions, and pains. We judge them as if we would have behaved any better if we found ourselves having to leave everyone and everything behind. So why does it disturb me? Because, like many other places in the Bible, this chapter gives us a chance to learn compassion, but instead, we choose only to practice judgment.

So now we are back in chapter 19, and we’ll continue with verse 14.

After the mob attacked his house, Lot went to his sons-in-law to talk them into escaping with him from the doomed city of Sodom. As we often see with doomsayers nowadays, his relatives mocked him, and he returned home empty handed. But when morning comes, shortly before the destruction of Sodom begins, Lot and his family must leave. There can be no further delays.

Lot is escaping Sodom. He and his family are getting ready, leaving loved ones behind. 

This is translation and transliteration of the Hebrew Bible; Genesis 19:15

Escaping while leaving family behind

We now know that Lot had other daughters, married ones. He also had sons in law, maybe grandchildren, and maybe (as we have seen in verse 12) even a few sons . But, despite the unavoidable pain of separation, his broken heart, and despite knowing that he survived and they did not, he would have to leave them behind.

They mocked him. Understandably, they did not listen to his words, and they chose to stay with what they knew, rather than venture into the scary, and unfamiliar (most people I know would have stayed. Would you have listened to him?) Lot and his wife will have to carry in their hearts the burden and the guilt of the survivor, not only while escaping, but for the rest of their lives:  

Why did they die while we stayed alive? 
If we tried just a bit harder, we could have convinced them to come with us.
We could have saved them.  
We should have stayed to die with them.

These thoughts have been described over and again by survivors that had left behind loved ones, family, and friends. No reasoning, logic or words of comfort can ever ease their pain and burden of guilt, even if it was not their fault; even if it was their only option; even if they had no choice. 

Adam and Eve were made to leave the Garden of Eden; Cain was forced away from his land, and so did Abraham. Lot and his family are now escaping their home. These are only a few of the many such Biblical examples. But it does not end with the Bible. Our entire history is filled with people forced away from their homes, leaving others behind.

How many times throughout history have those that could foresee danger had to flee, broken heartedly, leaving behind friends, family and loved ones, who remained blind to the situation until it was too late? How many more times will humanity continue to face such horrors? It is not far from home. As we see the refugees in Ukraine nowadays, can we imagine ourselves in such a situation? Is there a guarantee we will never experience such horrors?

Many I have spoken to seem to harshly judge Lot and especially his wife. But can we put ourselves in their position and try to understand the pain that they must have suffered when they had to leave family and friends behind? Can we be sure we will not find ourselves in a similar situation? Can we find a little sympathy for them within ourselves?

The Story of Sodom: The Humane Side of the Bible

Sodom and Gomorrah #19 (Genesis 19:14)

How many children did Lot and Lot鈥檚 wife have in Sodom? This humane question, although critical to understanding of the story, is mostly ignored by the many who judge Lot鈥檚 wife harshly, those who believe she deserved to die. Verse 14, however, reveals the most intriguing fact 鈥 Lot’s wife also had married daughters that did not live with them.

I have discussed many times why she had to die. It seems that many of those who, from the comfort of their sofa, judge how a woman escaping for her life should behave, do not even know how many children she had, and how many children she is about to leave in Sodom to die.

But why is this verse hidden when they tell us the story?

Bible Genesis 19:14 talks about the married daughters of Lot in Sodom, those who did not live with them. Why does this humane side of the story of Lot's wife hardly get mentioned? Old Testament in Hebrew with translation and transliteration

Why is this verse kept secret?

Those who follow me regularly know that in the past few months I have been obsessed with Lot鈥檚 wife and why she had to die. I have written about it in a previous blog post, discussed it in a video, and yet I have no good answer.  

I have discussed this question with many students and Bible followers. Many seem to have clear answers to why she had to die: “She disobeyed God,” they say. “She could not let go of the past”. And the harshest one: “She was missing the sinful pleasures that Sodom offered.”  

Then I ask, 鈥淲hat would you have done in her place?鈥

The answer is nearly always said in great confidence: 鈥淚 would have followed God鈥檚 word!鈥

Unfortunately, I know, firsthand, how impossible it is to know how you would behave when facing real danger, panic, distress, combined with physical exhaustion. I also know that most people need far less than losing their entire city and everyone they know to forgo their commitment to a righteous life. Sometimes, missing a meal or losing some money is enough to throw a person off the path of God. 

But I hardly ever argue it.

Instead, I ask, “And if you left your children behind, what would you do then?”

It seems that most people are not aware that Lot鈥檚 wife also had married daughters, daughters who did not live with her, daughters she is about to leave behind to perish in Sodom.   

I can鈥檛 help but ask myself why they don’t know?  After all, verse 14 is there for everyone to read together with the rest of the story.

The answer is obvious, most people never delve into the text of the Bible by themselves. They mostly know the Bible second-hand. They mostly know only what those who tell them the Bible want them to know.

But why do theses Bible teachers and leaders do not mention this verse and this fact to us when they tell the rest of the story? What else do they hide from us?

The Human und Humane sides of the Bible

Here I can only guess. And my guess is that telling such details would raise the awareness of how complex the Bible is, and the subtle human existence it describes. It would also highlight the complex decisions we have to make, the pains and suffering that real people undergo. That is, they do not want us to be exposed to the human and humane sides of the Bible.

The people in the Bible are real people, with real feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. But when was the last time you tried to think how Abraham felt when he stood in front of God, arguing to save Sodom? Every story of the Bible is about real people, and therefore carries subtle complexities.

This is what many of our religious teachers want us to forget. The Bible is not black and white. It is complex, just the way we, human, are.

So make it a habit to read the Bible carefully by yourself. Put yourself in the mind of the people of the Bible. See what they see, feel what they feel. Only then will you start to understand the true beauty of the Bible and why it is a holy text.  It is not because someone told you so.

The Story of Sodom: Morality is it Absolute or Relative?

Sodom and Gomorrah #18 (Genesis 19:13)

I have now returned from the Italian Alps. So, this time the photo for this post is from there 鈥 for your enjoyment 鈥 and not, as normal, related to the story of the chapter. I hope you are ready to go back to the Bible and discuss morality in our story, the story of Sodom.

We will continue with verse 13 in chapter 19.  As we have seen in verse 12, the angels are warning Lot and asking him to leave the city. We know that they did not have to give Lot any explanation. After all, Lot already knows they are God鈥檚 angels, and he will obey them with or without a reason. Still, they explain. They know that if a person understands the reason for an order, they will obey faster and better. This is a simple secret that many in command nowadays have forgotten. God鈥檚 angels remembered.

The angels explain to Lot why they are destroying Sodom. Translation and transliteration of Genesis 19:13. We learn that morality is absolute, not relative.

Is Morality absolute or relative?

During my years of travels, I have met different people from various cultures. Each culture has its own morals, habits, and customs.  Some habits and customs acceptable in one culture can be unacceptable or even considered abomination by another. For example, while in some cultures telling lies is an acceptable behaviour (and when you are caught you simply shrug your shoulders and laugh) in other cultures it is a big shame to be caught lying. In some cultures, killing for the honour of the family is not only acceptable, but demanded; other places will consider it like any other murder.

Every time I encounter such a discrepancy, or when I see behaviours that deeply bother me 鈥 like the way women are treated by some cultures 鈥 I cannot help but ask myself if I am sure I am right, and whether morality should be judged relative to the culture, or whether it absolute and universal.  The story of Sodom clearly gives us an answer. At least some morals are absolute.

The people of Sodom will be punished, even though they are not familiar with the laws of the Bible, maybe not even with the morals and behaviour code of the desert. Ignorance of morality will not save them.

The angels do not ask if the people of Sodom abide by the laws of their country or the laws of their city 鈥 the city of Sodom. It does not matter. The cry coming from the city is sufficient justification for the severe punishment they are going to face 鈥 the destruction of their city. In the words of the angels:

Because their cry has grown in the face of God, they will be punished, and Sodom will be destroyed. 

Translation of Genesis 19:13

According to this verse, a sufficient criteria of moral judgement is that many people suffer in the hands of others, that many people cry and beg for God鈥檚 help because no human is going to help them. The prophets kept warning that it is how we treat others that God cares the most about and judges us by. To quote Isaiah (1:17). Justice and compassion is what God is asking of us:

Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Is this the morals our society is built upon? Is that how WE see our duty to God?