1 Samuel 1-7

More of the same in that people disobey the Lord and are punished for it; others follow the Lord’s commands and are rewarded with the Lord’s blessing.

What I did pick up on from a literary point of view though is the unexplained, the things left out, and the things only explained at a later date – and this is meant to be a book of great literature!  Yes, in a work of fiction you do not want to reveal everything too soon but as a reader you do not want to be confused.  The same should surely go for the Bible – part work of fiction, part historical, part reference, part whatever else I am yet to discover.  As a reader you do not want to be confused whatever it is you are reading.  So why do we not initially find out why the Philistines made five gold mice to go with five gold models of tumours until too late.

And maybe it is not so important but Hannah goes on to have other children after Samuel but no further mention, not even their names.  Names have always intrigued me – it is what marks us each as an individual although there was a time back in history when the options used were nowhere near as numerous as now.  In some countries, the choice is still limited and maybe there is no bad thing in this given what some people are initially saddled with but then you do not have to use or even keep the name you are given at birth, and this precedence goes back to the Bible too.

Ruth

What a relief after Judges!  Peace and goodwill.  I am intrigued by Ruth’s sense of loyalty to the family she has married into, not that she is showing disloyalty to the one she has come from.  This loyalty seems to be very instinctive.  As is the respect that she shows for her mother-in-law.

That some people feel this and some people do not: how does that happen?  And how is it that we feel loyalty to one particular person but not to someone else?  Is it about respecting that person, or a sense of duty?  And is this something instinctive inside some of us, or something that is nurtured or gained from our upbringing and surroundings?

Too many questions to which there is probably no one answer.  We are all individuals after all, although some of us more individual than others.

If anything is to be actually learnt as such here it is almost a ‘Good Samaritan’ tale (although I am still a long way from that).  If you are good to others, then you will be blessed.  But then that seems to me to be generally the case even if you have no faith at all although people will not always acknowledge it.

Judges 17-21

This is by far the most horrendous section of the Bible I have read so far.  If it was a film it would come with a warning that some people (I would hope most people) would find the following distressing.  People living in peace and have no quarrel with anyone are wiped out.  People are used as disposable objects.  Through infighting, one of the twelve tribes of Israel is nearly wiped out.  Violence is the way to go and just taking what you want by force.  What sort of lesson is that to learn?  No wonder the world is in the mess it is in if this is the example that people are following.  Surely that can not be right.  I can not find any reason for having a faith if this is the way that it is followed and I realise that is a very negative thing to say.  I am not writing it off entirely for me personally just yet, after all there is still a long way to go, but so far I am aware that I have probably seemed to be negative in general in this regard and am still waiting to find more of a positive nature.

Judges 13-16

I am clearly missing the point of the story of Samson.  Having taken some time to think about it and let it stew around in my mind, I’m still struggling to find the reason for it and what teaching it is meant to convey to the reader whether I personally would take anything from it or not.  It seems to be a confused narrative of a troubled man.  There are many troubled people in the world who are compelled to carry out acts that others of us find it very hard to contemplate.  And yet we are not in their minds.  How can anyone truly know and understand the intricacies of what goes on in someone else’s mind and how they are feeling?

My grandmother had a saying that went something like ‘everyone is strange except you and I, and even you are a little strange’.  How true this is but then she was a wise woman; a woman who had a faith at that, and always saw the positives and the best in people even if they were a little strange!  Maybe that is my lesson but then I already know that I am perhaps more than a little strange to everyone else.

Judges 6-12

It seems that there is always a bargain to be made in believing in the Lord – in both directions.  If a person shows obedience to the Lord, the Lord will ensure that person succeeds.  If the Lord does something that a person could not possibly do themselves, then someone will believe.  Where is the faith?  The meaning of faith to me has always been tied into I guess having a ‘blind’ faith in that no proof is needed – you just believe.  Yet I am finding very little of this here and that surprises me.

Other surprises thrown up also include a human sacrifice – by Jephthah of his daughter, in thanks to the Lord for his victory.  This appalls me: the sacrifice of the life of another person – what gives anyone this right?  How is this any different from murder?

In nativity plays all over the world, I would hazard a guess that the angels are always depicted by girls and yet the Bible’s angels, so far anyway, seem to be men.  Can you image the uproar that some would make if all angels in a nativity were depicted by boys?  Equally, given the times and all that has gone before all leaders are assumed to be men, and yet earlier in Judges we have first mention of a female leader in Deborah.  And still there are faiths in the world who use the Bible for their teachings but will not entertain women in leadership roles.

It is always going to be the case with any words that people will take their own meaning from them and together their previous assumptions take that as the ‘truth’, just as I am taking my own interpretations and challenging my own assumptions through my own reading.

Judges 1-5

It is very explicitly spelled out that the lesson here is war, and it is one which many in the world seem to have learnt very well whether they follow a Bible-based religion or not.  War is seemingly justified, in this case in the name of the Lord to occupy land, and isn’t that just what anyone thinks who goes to war, namely that it is justified for whatever reason they give.  And yet two of the Ten Commandments the Lord gave his people are in direct contradiction to the idea that war is justified, namely ‘do not commit murder’, and ‘do not desire another man’s house … or anything else that he owns’.

In times of war I know that generally if a soldier kills another it is not considered murder, but what else is it when someone takes another’s life?  The hypocrisy strikes me, and I can’t think of any justification for killing someone.  It also strikes me that we seem to have this image of those who are Christians today being people of peace and yet some do go to war.  In Judges here, peace seems a very simple thing that occurs after the war is won.  Surely it is never that simple and cannot be if war breaks out again.  Peace is of course the desired status, even something the Lord wants with all his people obeying his laws, but peace is not necessarily easy and something that has to be worked at.  Many of the world’s leaders or would-be leaders would do well to acknowledge this.

Joshua 14-24

The need to possess land, belongings and even people is so ingrained in human nature that it is something we are still grappling with today, and no doubt will for time memorial.  That the lands of Israel were seemingly so easily allocated once conquered, and that there seems to be no jealously or coveting of the land allocated to others, seems at odds with all that had taken place before including driving out those that were living there initially.  Maybe we could learn a lesson from this however very few seem to have done: history has told us this.

Maybe the need to possess gives us some sense of security but it is a very insular way of looking at things.  I may own my own home (well with the help of a bank) and all within it, but I certainly have no sense of the country in which I happen to live being MY country – I rather view it as an accident of birth and life; a fortunate one in my case to be living in a relatively peaceful, prosperous and liberal one where people of multi-faiths and none co-exist.  And I feel we are better for this than not associating with people who follow other Gods: that is certainly one lesson I deliberately will not learn from the Bible, whatever else I may, but has been voiced here in Joshua and previously.

Joshua 6-13

I look at news coverage coming out of Syria today and am filled with despair at the destruction and waste.  I wonder how these cities of grey concrete shells could ever become prosperous, thriving cities again.  What is the point of it all?  And yet, here in the Bible just the same sort of thing is described – the mass destruction of property and killing of people with no-one spared.  If this is the lesson to be learned, how can we blame people from following the same path now?  And yet it all feels so wrong to me.  Are we not meant to be a compassionate society caring and helping others, not destroying them?  Christmas having just past, a time for giving and sharing, a time for goodwill, should surely remind us all of this whether we ‘believe’ or not – belief certainly does not prevent people from celebrating Christmas (a subject I’m sure to return to later) so why should the pick and mix attitude to religion not apply to life in general.