History as Lesson in the Books of Kings

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of December 6. Enjoy!

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As we begin to conclude this semester’s brisk survey of the Old Testament from Genesis to the fall of the divided kingdoms, I have gained a deeper appreciation of the narrative that Jesus understood. Throughout this study, I have learned to draw more intentionally from the Hebrew Scriptures to comprehend Jesus’ place in the history of Israel, a process sure to continue into the semester to come. But these books are not just a grand prologue to Jesus’ ministry; rather, they are an elaborate history of Yahweh and his revelation to a chosen people who so often failed to worship him authentically and exclusively. While they may be stepping-stones to Jesus, it is important for the modern church to realize that these Scriptures are also preserved for purposes far greater than the trampling of our feet during the walk of faith. It is from this perspective that I look to the book of 2 Kings—writings chiefly concerned with the demise of Israel and Judah and their latter leaders—for three ever-significant theological themes.

2 Kings 4 profiles Elisha’s relationship with a “well-to-do woman” of Shunem (2 Kgs 4:8 NIV), to whom he prophesies that a son will be born almost as a gift in exchange for her hospitality. Some years later the son died after experiencing head pains, and the unnamed woman wishes to plead for help from Elisha. The Shunammite’s husband questions her immediacy, saying, “Why go to him today? . . . It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath” (2 Kgs 4:23 NIV). This man seems rooted in a perspective that also plagues modern believers, namely that our accessibility to God is somehow heightened on Sundays and while sitting in church pews. Knowing that Elisha and Yahweh would be available any day of the week, the Shunammite woman possesses a deeper understanding of this divine truth that we should also not forsake.

Naaman, a Syrian army official of Aram, was granted success from Yahweh and “was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy” (2 Kgs 5:1 NIV). Seeking a cure to his skin disease, Naaman eventually found himself at the doorstep to Elisha’s abode. Elisha’s messenger gave apparently unfavorable advice, as Naaman would say, “I though that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (2 Kgs 5:11 NIV). Naaman found as many who lift prayers and requests to God often do: sometimes the answers we receive are not the answers we want to hear. But even in a round-about way, God’s wisdom prevails; the simple cleansing procedure cured Naaman’s leprous skin.

In the following chapter, a woman approaches King Jehoram of Israel with a heart-breaking story about a hungry acquaintance whose persuasion drove her to cannibalism, an act that was not reciprocated with the sacrifice of the persuasive woman’s son (2 Kgs 6:26-33). Jehoram offers no resolution to the woman’s plea. In effect, the pericope “honors a prophet and assesses a king while ignoring or condemning the desperate situation of two women and their children.”[1] Jehoram, bent on blaming Yahweh—and, by association, his leading prophet—reacts by calling for Elisha’s head. The shocking story is an unfortunate example that some will reject God at every available opportunity, often blaming him and his followers for their problems.

These three theologically insightful themes demonstrate that 2 Kings is more than simple, skip-able historical account of the royal houses of Israel and Judah. Instead, the text is certainly “alive” and worthy of study by modern Christians on its own merits. While believers most often find themselves concerned with the gospels and Pauline epistles, as disciples we should take heart that Jesus himself found inspiration from 1 and 2 Kings, even to the point of inciting a riot at the Nazarene synagogue over comparisons to the works of Elijah and Elisha (Lk 4:24-30). Indeed, the good news—the εὐαγγέλιον—of the books of Kings warrants preaching today. Those who withhold such knowledge are like the lepers of 2 Kings 7, who lamented, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves” (2 Kgs 7:9 NIV).


[1] Gina Hens-Piazza, “Forms of Violence and the Violence of Forms: Two Cannibal Mothers Before a King,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 14, no. 2 (Fall 1998), 91-104.

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The “New” Elijah: Jesus or John the Baptist?

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 29. Enjoy!

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For a biblical character so significant and beloved, Elijah first appears on the scene rather inconspicuously. The author does not provide any background information on the Tishbite; instead, it is enough to present him as the major prophet who will rebuke Ahab, Jezebel, and eventually, the Baals. Elijah’s minor meteorology prophecy to open 1 Kings 17 foreshadows both the miraculous events that occur later in his career and the monsoon of allusions to him that saturate the four canonical gospel accounts. To properly contextualize the 27 explicit gospel references to Elijah, however,[1] the Christian reader must be alerted to the ending of Malachi and the Old Testament, wherein the day of the Lord is prognosticated. Within a lengthy discourse, Yahweh explains, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes” (Mal 4:5 NIV). Failure to accept this Elijah—who was initially expected to be the Tishbite prophet himself rather than a new incarnation[2]—would result in a curse upon the land (Mal 4:6). This begs several questions: Did Elijah return, and if so, in the person of whom?

If we accept the overwhelming volume of New Testament references to Elijah as an indication that he did return from heaven, it is prudent to first consider John the Baptist as the new Elijah. Both John and Elijah were said to have dressed in clothing made of animal hair, with leather belts around their waists (2 Kgs 1:8; Mk 1:6). While this does not seem all that unique given the lack of Ralph Lauren and Express for Men in biblical times, consider that the Greek terminology for “leather belt” in Mark—σώνην δερματίνην—is used in the Septuagint only to describe the clothing of Elijah.[3] But even more than attire, Mark’s introductory description of John the Baptist may be another clue. In opening his gospel by quoting Malachi, the Markan writer reiterates that an ἄγγελος will prepare the Messiah’s way. While both Mark and Matthew overwhelmingly use ἄγγελος to refer to a heavenly host rather than an earthly messenger,[4] John the Baptist is unanimously interpreted in the Markan prologue as a “messenger” (Mk 1:2 NIV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, ASV). It is necessary to at least picture the angelic version of ἄγγελος, for if Elijah himself was to return, would he not do so as an angel? This view of John the Baptist might align with Jesus’ own perspective on the matter: “And if you are willing to accept it, [John the Baptist] is the Elijah who was to come” (Mt 11:14).

As in most reflections upon topics related to the historical Jesus, the answer to the aforementioned questions may depend upon one’s preferred gospel. For example, the Lukan account “removed Elijah traits associated with John the Baptist so that [Luke] could attach them instead to Jesus.”[5] It is understandable that Luke would prefer to make the direct connection from Elijah to Jesus: both were game-changers for Israel, revolutionary prophets with supernatural abilities—especially the uncanny ability to heal. The Elijah story was especially powerful for Luke, given that in his account alone, Jesus cites the pericope of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath just before being rejected in the Nazarene synagogue (Lk 4:24-30). Jesus, however, is better understood as the Elisha to John the Baptist’s Elijah. Just as Elisha served for a period of time as Elijah’s disciple, modern scholars commonly accept Jesus as a disciple of John the Baptist, with the baptism event central to Jesus’ allegiance to John.[6] This is proposed not as a means to suggest the inferiority of Jesus, but rather to investigate the historical relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. In reality, Jesus supersedes Elijah, Elisha, John and all other prophets. That Jesus needed a preparatory ἄγγελος does not diminish his status.


[1] Christine E. Joynes, “The Returned Elijah? John the Baptist’s Angelic Identity in the Gospel of Mark,” Scottish Journal of Theology 58, vol. 4 (2005), 456.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 460.

[4] Ibid., 464.

[5] Ibid., 459.

[6] William B. Badke, “Was Jesus a Disciple of John?” The Evangelical Quarterly 62, vol. 3 (1990), 198.

Rehoboam, Not LeBron James, in “The Decision”

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 22. Enjoy!

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Shortly after he ventured to Shechem to ceremoniously assume the kingship, the newly anointed Rehoboam was saddled with what might well be referred to as “The Decision.” Jeroboam and a massive throng representing the tribes of Israel approached Rehoboam with a plea: reverse your father’s oppressive policies against us, or we will permanently leave your service (1 Kgs 12:3-4). John Bright notes, “As their price for accepting him they demanded that the heavy burdens imposed by Solomon, particularly the corvée, be abated.”[1] Rehoboam’s response would impact the next several centuries of Israelite history, and in buying three days to determine the proper course of action, he must have uniquely understood this. This reflection paper will examine the follies associated with Rehoboam’s response to the assembly of Israel.

For such a momentous a decision, it is only natural that Rehoboam would consult the wisdom of those around him. But in his first—and most overlooked—folly, Rehoboam fails to call on Yahweh for guidance. Instead, the king immediately turns his ears toward “the elders who had served his father Solomon” (1 Kgs 12:6 NIV), who sensibly advise the freshly minted monarch that a down payment of goodwill would be rewarded throughout Rehoboam’s lifetime. At the same time, Rehoboam’s inner circle of friends “who had grown up with him” were also lending their two cents (1 Kgs 12:8 NIV). In an obvious affront to Yahweh and the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, their ill-contrived response of increased ruthlessness and oppression even included a possible penis joke (1 Kgs 12:10-11).[2]

After three days had passed, Rehoboam reconvened with Jeroboam and a hopeful group of Israelites. Our only surviving account of the event is found in Bible, but had the news media also been present, I believe they would have covered the decision with scathing reviews like those that followed a more recent highly publicized and dramatized “Decision.” As it turns out, the parallels between high-profile choices of Rehoboam and LeBron James are numerous:

  • “His bumbling buddy . . . had walked him into the public execution of his legacy.”[3]
  • “‘The whole idea that he makes his own decisions, that [bleep] went out the window with this. . . . Someday, he’s going to look back at this and not believe that he let those kids . . . talk him into doing this.’”[4]
  • “He can never completely rebuild what he let his cast of buddies talk him into losing.”[5]
  • “‘He did this because he can. He’s the king, and he rubbed it in everyone’s face.’”[6]

Inherently, James may have wanted to remain dedicated to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that drafted him first overall in 2003 and the town that witnessed his rise as a high school basketball star. He probably knew the correct decision to make—decency and loyalty over the foolish counsel of his buddies—but instead, James chose a heartbreaking and self-absorbed spectacle, increased earnings potential and a party lifestyle that only the Miami Heat and South Beach could provide. If only King James knew about the follies of King Rehoboam, perhaps he would not have allowed his inner circle of lifelong-friends-turned-business-managers to make a primetime television drama of his first foray into NBA free agency.

In all likelihood, Rehoboam was not stupid, but his decision leaves us with no contrary evidence. Like LeBron James three millennia later, Rehoboam’s reliance on his peers caused uproarious reactions and now serves as an astute warning against rejecting the wisdom of elders.


[1] John Bright, A History of Israel, 4th ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 230.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 418.

[3] Adrian Wojnarowski, “Easy come, easy go for King James,” Yahoo! Sports, http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-lebrondecision070910 (accessed November 21, 2010).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Don Ohlmeyer, “The ‘Decision’ dilemma,” ESPN, http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=ohlmeyer_don&id=5397113 (accessed November 21, 2010).

David and Solomon: A Royal Ideal

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 15. Enjoy!

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The people Israel have come a long way since Yahweh found Abram settled in Haran and promised to make his name and his nation great throughout the earth (Gn 12:1-3). These humble beginnings led to oppression in Egypt and deliverance in Canaan, but the Israelites came to find that the quandary of governance was almost as problematic as the distress of bondage. Their demand for a king produced the anointment of Saul in spite of all of Samuel’s warnings about the ills of fallible royalty (1 Sm 8:10-20). Yahweh raised up David after Saul proved to be his own worst enemy, and through David Israel began to shine among the nations of the world. In David and Solomon, has Israel reached the pinnacle, or is Yahweh giving his tempestuous people a taste of the proverbial apple to teach valuable lessons? This reflection paper will examine the issues associated with Israel’s most exalted kings and their lifestyles of untold “blessing.”

As recorded in 2 Samuel and the beginning 11 chapters of 1 Kings, David and Solomon are accustomed to hosting expansive feasts, offering lengthy prayers, amassing incredible opulence, and in Solomon’s case, building a temple to the Name of Yahweh with unfathomable excess. And while majestic bounty like silver, gold and precious stones were to be expected in Solomon’s palace, it seems that not even “apes and baboons” were outside of his desire (1 Kgs 10:22 NIV). The question becomes: Where was Yahweh in all of this? Perhaps he foretold that David’s son and successor would be the one to build a temple to his name, and obviously he must have allowed it to happen, but did he actually sanction Solomon to import countless cedar logs in exchange for basic staples like olive oil and grain when undoubtedly the poor and needy were among the tribes of Israel? It seems only natural to conclude that the details regarding both the temple and Solomon’s palace were not ordained by the one and only God but rather dreamed by a polytheistic king operating without checks and balances on his rule. As Victor P. Hamilton cleverly remarks, “[Solomon’s] is a life filled with profits but devoid of prophets.”[1]

As if his 700 wives and 300 concubines were not enough (1 Kgs 11:3), Solomon continued to laugh in the face of Yahweh by conscripting both Israelites and foreigners into selecting raw materials and building God’s temple (1 Kgs 5:13-18; 9:15-23). That the NIV text refers to both of these instances as “forced labor” and not “employment” presents a significant redactional clue that either God or later generations (or both) understood the absurdity in the situation. Surely Yahweh did not lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt so Israel could itself take slaves in preparing to exalt the name of Yahweh! Hamilton, with a wink toward the declaration of Jesus (Mt 11:30), takes solace in that “for Solomon’s laborers, the king’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.”[2] But forced labor is still forced labor. Nobody in the history of the world has ever been pleased with compulsory, unreimbursed work. In this light, the Queen of Sheba’s remark to Solomon—“‘How happy your men must be!’” (1 Kgs 10:8 NIV)—exhibits a special sort of irony.

Certainly, no stupid human becomes as rich as Solomon. But is his wisdom the cause of his riches, as Yahweh apparently says in a dream (1 Kgs 3:11-13), or rather the redactional effect of his lifestyle? Regardless, these demonstrations of power and riches become the highest good for an Israelite people who, while in exile, expect certain characteristics of the prophesied Messiah. Jesus was hard to accept because he didn’t match expectations. The Jews wanted reclamation of what they had lost, not redefinition of a proper life with Yahweh. An unfortunate consequence of the lifestyles of David and Solomon was the unconscionable question asked of Jesus by his bewildered disciples just before he returned to God in heaven: “‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6 NIV).


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 380-381.

[2] Ibid., 394.

Samuel, Saul, and David Afresh; Jesus, Nah.

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 8. Enjoy!

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As with any historical text, understanding the Bible is a continuous process of consuming, defining, observing, reasoning and interpreting, both through one’s own lens and the perspectives of wiser thinkers and teachers. Such is especially the case when considering that the overwhelming majority of Bible readers around the world are at least one step removed from the original languages of the texts, to say nothing of their inherent detachment from the nebulous original manuscripts. Therefore, those reading the Bible only in English must be extremely careful of grasping too tightly to individual precepts or, in the case of biblical characters, identifying qualities and labels. In addition, these readers should be willing to defer to scholars who definitively comprehend the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Bible as well as its proper context. With these suggestions in mind, this reflection paper will explore the prevailing societal willingness and unwillingness to re-imagine biblical concepts and persons.

Rightfully so, Victor P. Hamilton is seemingly eager to embrace fresh, explanatory concepts for characters and events in 1 Samuel when encountering conflicting claims.  For example, he harmonizes the contradictory accounts of Samuel’s tribal background by suggesting that though Samuel was an Ephraimite by birth, descendants remembered him functionally as a priestly Levite.[1] This explanation is entirely conceivable, as later generations undoubtedly went through their own process of consuming, defining, observing, interpreting and reasoning with Scripture that engendered new conclusions. Moreover, those involved in writing and redacting 1 Samuel interestingly begin the account of Saul as a post-growth spurt “impressive young man,” rather than from birth (1 Sm 9:2 NIV). Accordingly, readers are not informed of any reasons Kish and his wife give Saul his name, but Hamilton is willing to fill this gap: just as Hannah asked for offspring, the Israelites asked for a king like the other nations. The names of both Samuel and Saul retain enough of the Hebrew framework of “ask,” sh’l, to fit this bill.[2]

Several chapters later in 1 Samuel, readers find the account of Goliath’s lyrical tyranny and David’s apparent bravery (1 Sm 17:4-54). Especially noteworthy, however, is that outside of 1 Samuel, David is not always named as the giant-slayer.[3] There is no easy way to account for the conflicting reports that Elhanan killed Goliath and possibly Goliath’s brother Lahmi, too (2 Sm 21:19, 1 Chr 20:5). Hamilton approaches this mixture of traditions by suggesting either that David had Elhanan’s assistance in battle, or that he-who-tamed-Goliath was always disputed, possibly by a false associative attribution of Elhanan’s deed to the future military leader and “national hero.”[4] If so, this apparently did not sit too well with the Chronicler, who credited Elhanan only with Lahmi’s head.

Hamilton displays an appreciable willingness to reinterpret biblical events and characters – both where discrepancies do and do not exist – in light of logic, thematic ambiguities and the perspectives of informed scholars. While the average Christian finds no problem with doing this for Samuel, Saul, or David, re-imagining Jesus is a whole different ballgame. This, despite the fact that he was an apocalyptic prophet who expected some of his followers to see the end of the age (Mt 16:28), admonished everyone to keep his Messianic identity a secret (Mk 16:29-30), never in the Synoptic gospels claimed equality with God and frequently spoke in intentionally ambiguous riddles.[5] Perhaps we should cease our willingness to so flippantly re-imagine Old Testament characters or also open up the floor to fresh perspectives about Jesus.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 213.

[2] Ibid., 215-216.

[3] Ibid., 262.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tom Thatcher, Jesus the Riddler: The Power of Ambiguity in the Gospels, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), xxi.

Ruth and Boaz Doing Whatever on the Threshing-Room Floor

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 1. Enjoy!

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The account of Ruth at the threshing-room floor (Ru 3:6-15) strikes me as a bizarre, logic-defying story. When considering whether the narrative is a historically accurate representation of an actual interaction between Boaz of Bethlehem and Ruth the Moabitess, I could not help but conclude that I was actually reading a cover-up for sexual impropriety. How could an unmarried, drunk forty-something[1], upon awakening up from his euphoric stupor, resist a foreign woman who both uncovered and took rest by his “feet,” a term used and understood to mean “genitalia?” Was he plagued by a hangover? Surely something mischievous may have taken place; even Ruth and Boaz were concerned with how the scene might appear if gossip reached the town square (Ru 3:14). But in attempting to research further support by which to decode this chapter’s sexual innuendo, I found that the author of Ruth constructed a literary masterpiece contrastive to Genesis 19 in order to exemplify both Ruth and Boaz as law-abiding all-stars. This reflection paper will elaborate on the fantastic hidden elements of Ruth 3.

A mountain of research suggests that chronologically, thematically and grammatically, Ruth may have originally been included at the end of the book of Judges, and was only removed later to form its own book.[2] But for Warren Austin Gage, lending the most credence to this theory is the correlation between the sin of Gibeah (Jgs 19) and Ruth 3 as a unit reflective of Genesis 19.[3] For example, in the stories of both Gibeah and the destruction of Sodom (Gn 19:1-28), men of the city seek visiting male strangers for sexual gratification, only for the host to offer two women as a substitute, “suggesting that the author of Judges intended his hearer to identify the sin of Gibeah with that of Sodom.”[4] That leaves the account of Lot and his daughters in their cave as a parallel to Ruth and Boaz at the threshing-room floor. If we take the texts at face value, Lot’s daughters act unlawfully, while Ruth retains her honor. Gage especially appreciates that Lot’s daughters receive their father’s seed, while Ruth receives only Boaz’s grain.[5] Boaz redeems Ruth, but in a sense, her upright actions both redeem and set the proper example for Moab, which had its beginnings in the incestuous act of Lot’s conniving older daughter.

Upon returning to Bethlehem, Naomi takes it upon herself to resolve basic problems through the instrument of Ruth. The first problem – a lack of food – is solved by sending Ruth to glean for barley in Boaz’s fields, which is consistent with Mosaic Law (Lv 23:22). On the other hand, in order to solve the more difficult problem of offspring, Naomi encourages Ruth to approach Boaz alone at night on the threshing room floor while wearing her finest clothes, and only after he had partaken in food and drink. What she asks of Ruth in this case is entirely inconsistent with Mosaic Law, and Boaz is intricately aware of this.[6] Though he must wait until the following day, Boaz responds by addressing the legal proceeding at the town gate and by first offering both Ruth and the fields of Elimelech to the unnamed nearer kinsman (Ru 4:1-12).

What really happened at Boaz’s threshing-room floor? Did Ruth give him a biblical booty call? If she didn’t, would she have if Boaz told her to do so, as Naomi instructed (Ru 3:4)?  For the author, who must have been uniquely aware of the situation he was penning, these questions were apparently less important than presenting Ruth and Boaz as standard-bearers, as personified examples of Mosaic Law gone right. By design, Boaz is a covenant-keeper and kinsman-redeemer, whereas Yahweh rewards the submissive Ruth with a son, Obed.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 198.

[2] Warren Austin Gage, “Ruth Upon the Threshing Room Floor and the Sin of Gibeah: A Biblical-Theological Study,” Westminster Theological Journal 51, no. 2 (Fall 1989), 369-370.

[3] Ibid., 370.

[4] Ibid., 371.

[5] Ibid., 373.

[6] Charles P. Baylis, “Naomi in the Book of Ruth in Light of the Mosaic Covenant,” Bibliotheca Sacra 161, no. 644 (October-December 2004), 430.

On Bloody Icing and Christmas Truces

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of October 18. Enjoy!

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The latter half of the book of Judges is the bloody icing on a cake of senseless violence baked in the book’s first twelve chapters.  With just a handful of generations’ time having passed since Joshua’s renewal of the covenant at Shechem (Jo 24:1-28), Israelites resort not only to aggression against “other” enemies (Jgs 3:12-25; 11:32-33; 16:25-30), but also to acts of brutality and redemptive violence against one another (Jgs 12:4-6; 21:10-12).  But in both casualties and savagery, standing out distinctively among this history of carnage is the civil war pitting the Benjaminites against the rest of Israel, including its precursor event and aftermath (Jgs 19-21).  This paper features reflections on the cyclical, defeating nature of redemptive violence as attested to by the Levite and his concubine and significant wars of the twentieth century.

A lengthy and repetitive set-up involving an unidentified Levite and his unnamed concubine, who is relentlessly raped by a pack of men, eventually leads to the mobilization of Israel to seize “those wicked men of Gibeah” (Jgs 20:13 NIV).  It is only when the tribe of Benjamin collectively refuses to surrender the offenders that this approach escalates into a major war involving many thousands of men (Jgs 20:13-17).  Recognizing the continuation of a theme present throughout the entire book, and especially in the lives of Deborah (Jgs 4-5) and Delilah (Jgs 16), Jo Ann Hackett surmises that not only is violence “a function of the lawless era [Judges] describes,” but it is also closely connected to the actions of women, or in the case of the Levite’s concubine, the inability to act.[1] Her sacrifice, gang rape, death and gruesome postmortem treatment also serve as a metaphor for the greater savagery and lack of peace among the tribes of Israel, for in the same way that she is divided into pieces by the Levite, so too will the tribes become divided.  Alice A. Keefe writes that the violence perpetrated against the violated woman and the “social body” of Israel becomes increasingly redemptive and senseless, noting, “Judges 19 visually presents a woman’s body, broken and dismembered.  There is an element of dark absurdity in both the horror of the woman’s fate . . . and the horror of a war among the tribes which is to no purpose except mass death and more rape.”[2]

History, as the old adage says, repeats itself.  While not involving rape, June 1914 saw the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, an event that sparked declarations of war among world superpowers, including Germany, Great Britain and Russia. This singular event – minor, though tragic – became a catalyst for the cruel devastation of war, much like the Levite and his concubine.  Years later, the United States joined the fray, but only months into the war, British and German trench soldiers must have recognized that they were already sick of the senseless, redemptive and inhumane violence already triggered by the conflict.  For just a few days, soldiers tossed food – not hand grenades – into their enemy’s trench and exchanged not bullets, but favorite carols.[3] The occasion was Christmas Day 1914, and though this truce only lasted a few days, it is a beautiful portrait of what can happen when humans recognize the humanity of “the other.”  Of course, this Great War continued for three more years, costing the lives of many millions worldwide, and its aftermath ignited the Second World War, repeating the cycle of redemptive violence on an even grander scale.  Unfortunately, society has yet to learn from two recent, major wars – let alone the ancient history of bloodshed in the Bible – but the question begs to be asked: What if this “Christmas Truce” lasted longer than just a few days?


[1] Jo Ann Hackett, “Violence and Women’s Lives in the Book of Judges,” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (2004), 356.

[2] Alice A. Keefe, “Rapes of Women/Wars of Men,” Semeia no. 61 (1993): 92.

[3] Peter Simkins, “The Christmas Truce – A Mutual Curiosity,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/historian/hist_simkins_04_truce.html (accessed October 15, 2010).