I don’t like everything in the Bible.
There, I said it.
Like take this little gem for example.
Judges 14 and 15.
The story starts out like this: “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”
As if she was something to own.
Samson’s parents say what parents say in these situations: Can’t you find someone more like us, instead of choosing one of them?
Sampson says what sons say in these situations: No really, she’s the one. I have to have her.
At this point in the story, my blood is boiling. This young woman is not an object to have–she is a unique human individual with worth and value and purpose all her own.
But then comes this minor little detail, in parentheses: “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.”
We’ve made the all-too-natural slide from objectification to exploitation.
She is to be had because God has a job to do.
So, she’s being used, but never fear, God is using her.
Then, the rest of the story unfolds as follows. Sampson goes to find her but he encounters a lion first, so naturally, under the power of the Spirit, he rips it up with his bare hands. But he keeps that a secret. Probably a wise choice. Then, he goes and talks to the girl, and decides he likes her (notice this was not a factor in whether or not he had to have her–that part was already decided). Then, he returns some time later to marry her, but, for old times sake, visits the old lion carcass, where he finds bees, and, therefore, honey. He takes the honey to eat, and brings some for his parents, but doesn’t tell them where it came from.
His violence has turned sweet.
Sampson throws a feast and tells the guests a riddle. He places a bet with them, so they want to solve it, but they can’t. So, they threaten to burn his wife and her whole household if she cannot coax it out of him. So she does. But he’s a sore loser, so he goes and strikes down 30 of her people (all in the power of the Lord, of course) and returns home angry. Meanwhile, the wife is discarded, given to one of Sampson’s friends.
He leaves her there.
Deception. Half the truth.
The temporary taste of sweetness, of being satisfied.
It starts with an us and a them and it ends with just a me.
It ends with a man, intent on his own satisfaction–in relationship only as a means to an end.
It ends with a woman who was an individual, a person so unique that Sampson could notice her, go find his parents, return to her town, and pick her out of a crowd. But now, her identity is lost and reduced to just another member of her people group.
She is one of them.
Chapter 15 begins with Sampson, around the time of wheat harvest, going back down to visit his wife.
What use for her he has this time is unclear.
He is then informed by her father that the family was under the impression Sampson hated her, so they gave her to someone else.
She was a hand-me-down.
Even though he is offered another woman in her place, Sampson is angry: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.”
No personal responsibility at all? Obviously, giving your wife away wasn’t your choice, but can you at least own up to creating some of the context?
You selected her like ripe and juicy fruit at a market, married her, told her an answer to a riddle, wished you hadn’t, struck down 30 of her people, and left her, and you are justified in your revenge because you have been wronged in return?
I mean, giving away your wife might be awful, but this isn’t an isolated decision. It had context.
It didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in a system.
And thus begins a deadly and torturous pissing match.
Sampson ties foxes together and lights them on fire and sends them to destroy the Philistines crops. When they find out it was him who lit foxes on fire, they light people on fire and kill his wife and her father. When Sampson finds out they did that, he kills many of them and retreats to a cave. The Philistines come looking for him and so all of Judah is now threatened and waiting on an explanation from him. How could he have put everyone’s safety at risk?
His answer: “I merely did to them what they did to me.”
His people give him over to his enemies but God gives him a power boost, he breaks free, and uses a donkey jawbone and kills a thousand men.
Violence multiples quickly.
Then he was thirsty and God made sure to give him water in exchange for all his hard work (which is another topic for another time).
From one man who couldn’t have the woman to whom he felt entitled to thousands dead.
Because, as Rob Bell observed in his sermon Forgiveness is Personal, revenge always escalates.
Revenge always escalates.
And it takes out those who had nothing to do with it anyway.
Thousands of years later, humans have finally figured out how to build tall towers.
Two of them are knocked down by them flying planes.
Another plane is flown back down into the land.
2,996 people died.
2,996 lives lost.
It was and continues to be staggering.
It was a terrible and evil decision.
And it was a decision made made in a system, not in a vacuum.
It was an act of war, brought to our soil by those who witnessed our war fought on theirs.
It was inexcusable.
And then we acted like we didn’t create any of the context.
We said, we’ll take your 2996 lives and raise you 150,000.
That’s right, according to the website www.iraqbodycount.org, the total number of civilians (not including combatants) who have been killed as a result of the conflict begun in 2003 is over 150,000.
Now, I understand that the United States may not be responsible for all of them, but that’s 50 times the number of deaths in 911.
Because we saw what they did and we had a right.
Because revenge always escalates.
There were houses full of boys.
A boy who was 10 in 2003 would be 22 now.
They spent their childhoods with pounding hearts and vigilant eyes, huddled at home, full of the trauma all around them.
Developmentally, the only way they knew how to make sense of it all was to make us into a very scary them.
Now, they are ready to take their power back in a pissing match all their own. These boys whose childhoods were sacrificed are eager to get their own revenge.
Many of them are willing to give up their lives to get us back.
So, for Christians everywhere, Muslims have lost their individuality.
Muslims are now a corporate they.
Acts of violence are justified. Students are called on to carry guns, to be ready to take life at any moment because of what THEY did to US.
And my first reaction is shock. I think How could all these people actually think this is the way of Jesus? What could possibly motivate that idea?
And then I read Judges, and it’s a little more clear.
The Bible seems to condone this escalating violence. It seems to justify the defense (and quite frankly the offense) of the people of God in a way that dismisses the entire part we’ve played in the problem.
It seems to suggest that after we are done objectifying, exploiting, and deceiving–after the back-and-forth and all the bloodshed–there will be water.
It really does seem to say that.
Or at least half of it does.