Monday, September 18, 2006

Those Bible stories...

Today, Cowboy has an excellent post about Rehoboam, a king of Israel whose story appears in the old Testament.

Not to be outdone, I submit to you one of MY favorite Old Testament stories. It's found in Judges, chapter 4, and then again (in song form) in chapter 5. It is the story of Sisera, a Canaanite captain who oppressed the Israelites for 20 years; Deborah, a prophetess; Barak, an Israelite captain; and Jael, a tent-dwelling woman whose husband chose to live way out in the boonies (or at least that's what it seems like to me).

In this period of time, the Israelites were under the rule of a Canaanite king and his captain, who, as I said, was a pretty bad dude, with his 900 chariots of iron and all. After two decades of this, the Israelites were very "From the depths we cry to you, o Lord." Finally they went to their prophetess Deborah, who sat under a palm tree, and asked her for judgement. (Seriously, how cool is THAT job? Sit under a tree and wait for people to come ask for judgement/advice from God. And she was married, too! Talk about an excuse not to get the dishes done...)

Anyhoo, Deborah sends for Barak. It's odd, but she seems to be reminding him that God has already told him what to do, which is to take 10,000 men from two specific tribes and go to Mt. Tabor. There the Lord would help him defeat Sisera's army at the river Kishon.

Barak's response is not at all manly, I'm sorry to say. He tells Deborah that he will only go if Deborah goes with him. On the one hand, yeah, he wants the blessing of the prophetess, or a lucky rabbit's foot, or however it is he saw her, but on the other hand, CHICKEN!

Deborah informs him that she will surely go (aww, she's being nice) but that their journey/war campaign will not be for Barak's honor, "for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Heh.

Barak and Deborah and 10,000 men make the trip up Mt. Tabor. Sisera's response after learning of this is the same one you might have if you were outnumbered by more than 10 to 1, which is to hightail it out of there. He and his men run all the way to, you guessed it, Kishon River. Deborah sends Barak down after them, so away the Israelite army goes. In her poem (chapter 5), Deborah says the stars in heaven fought against Sisera (a severe thunderstorm?), the River Kishon swept them away, and the horsehoofs were broken. Sisera is then so "discomfited" (by which we mean panicked), as is all his army, that he jumps right off his stupid chariot and runs away on foot, deserting his men, who all die at the hands of the Israelite army. Yeah, that's right, ALL of them.

Sisera keeps running, probably a good 30 miles toward Kedesh, until he reaches the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, and seeks sanctuary there, knowing that there is a peace between his king and Heber. I can't tell you the actual tone of their conversation, but we can guess that Sisera is looking extremely pathetic here. Jael is all, "Come to my tent, baby, I've got butter." Sisera is very "Gimme some water, tuts, and if anyone comes by, there's nobody here, got it?" Jael gives him milk (and butter?) and a blanket and waits for him to go to sleep.

Then Jael does to most awesome thing ever recorded in the Old Testament (or the most gruesome, depending on your disposition), which is to grab a tent stake and hammer, then creep up on Sisera and pound that stake through his temples all the way to the ground.

Barak, when he finally catches up to Sisera's location (however long that took), finds Jael waiting for him. "Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest." That's all she says. Barak walks in to find Sisera's head nailed to the floor. And by the way, how long did it take Barak to find Sisera? Did he catch up to him the same day Sisera stopped for a glass of milk? Was it the next day? That's a pretty mountainous part of the world; even if Jael's tent was located on a plain near Kedesh, there are certainly plenty of hills and other elevations between Mt. Tabor and that place. It would surely have been simple for a trained man to avoid detection for a while at least. With this in mind, I suspect that Jael might very well have had Sisera nailed to her bedroom floor for several days before Barak even showed up. Excuse me, but ew.

I should point out that Heber and his wife chose to cut themselves off from Heber's family and live far away, presumably on their own or with their own children and grandchildren. I wonder why Heber would do that? Maybe he didn't get along with his family, because he sided with the Canaanite king. Or maybe he knew his wife was crazy, and he wanted to keep her away from too many people. Who knows how many times he caught her with a tent stake? In any case, after this horrific event, Deborah and Barak sang songs of praise, calling Jael blessed above women in the tent.

Sadly, the Catholic church has not canonized Jael as the Patron Saint of Women in Tents, nor of tentmakers (that's Paul the Apostle), nail makers (St. Cloud), housewives (Saints Anne, Martha, Monica, and Zita) or mental illness (there are 17 saints for that one). Deborah is a saint, but apparently not of patronage in particular, not even of judges (that honor goes to three men, including Nicholas of Myra, who is also the patron saint of boot blacks).

What should we learn from all of this? Don't oppress people, because it will come back to bite you in the butt. Do not undervalue women. Beware of ladies who live in seclusion, be it in a tent or under a tree. And above all, when someone invites you in for butter, for the love of crap, say no!

No comments: