Work in Progress

Baseball, Seminary, Wrestling, and the Dreams and Days of one Mike Work's Angeles experience

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Going into the summer, I figured that my hebrew exegesis class would be the bane of my existence. I did well in Hebrew this past winter, especially when it came to translation, although I had a definite weak spot: vocabulary. Still, it'd been six months, and the lack of vocab-aptitude meant that I'd be spending a lot of time with the lexicon, looking up words and figuring out roots and parsings. All this to read the book of Judges, in hebrew.

We're now seven of ten classes in, and while the translation has been time-consuming, and the identification of important textual and grammatical issues eludes me, it's been a good experience, especially of late. Last Thursday evening was spent with Gideon's call narrative, and we spent a chunk of class in groups talking about point of view, and the POVs of both Gideon and the messenger of the Lord. Quite illuminating, and my classmates offered perspectives and possibilities that got me thinking about aspects of the story that I hadn't considered.

Tonight's class began with more lecture on Gideon, and the rest of his story, and a friend was overheard at the break, saying ‘that was the best preaching I’ve ever heard on Gideon.’

I've gotta agree, and the time we've spent with him has been quite illuminating. Gideon's story is chock-full of insights on the use and abuse of power, leadership, and other such issues that come up in life. The guy starts out from humble beginnings within an oppressed people, and when he first hears a word of affirmation from God, he double-takes, misunderstands, and protests, telling the angel of the lord, 'You've got the wrong guy. First off, wrong family, wrong tribe, no influence at all here. And furthermore, even if you're right on that front, you'd be better served to go check in with my siblings.'

'But I will be with you.' That enough assurance?

'Okay, do something for me. Show me a sign.'

'Fine, let's see. What if I use that rock over there to burn your dinner?'

'That'll do! Wait a minute...oh wow, i've just seen the angel of the Lord. Please don't kill me!'

And what's God say to him?
'Peace to you.'

So Gideon goes and takes down his family's altar to a foreign god, not even the town's, but his family's, and he goes at night, because he's afraid of family and everyone in town who knows him. He's going to deliver Israel, yet God starts with something small, as Athena put it, a confidence-builder for a guy who we might classify as really insecure.

So this's gone down, and now the Midianites are revved up and ready to go take downthese upstarts. We might think Gideon's ready to lead the people into battle, but what does he do? He asks for more signs, and given the elaborate details that he lays out for God, they bear a close resemblance to parlor games and magic tricks.

'Okay, Gideon, a couple more things to build your confidence. In fact, I'll go even further with you. I'll let you visit the Midianite camp, and hear from their own lips that you're going to beat them. But one thing I will not do, and that's give you a powerful army, so that you can take the credit. Maybe 10% of the group you've got together, at best. Now go.'

So this guy is finally convinced enough to go into battle, yet when he preps the troops, what's the battle cry? 'For the Lord...and for Gideon!' Just great.

And as the story progresses, we see Gideon go from one end of the spectrum to the other, from a complete lack of confidence to a desire to share the spotlight with God. Then by the end, he goes back to Israel, and burns down the cities of everyone who mocked him, a 'so there' gesture. And while he refuses the offer of kingship, what's he name his son? 'My father is king.'

And I really resonate with him, and see all sorts of commonality with the way I go through life. From inexplicable insecurities to overconfidence and glory-hogging, to how I handle leadership, responsibility and authority, dealing with criticism and petty grudge-holding taken to absurdity.

Seems like that's how we humans tend to operate. We start humbly, experience success, and then become arrogant and lord it over others, forgetting our beginnings...yep, there's a screenplay or twenty there. I know this type of stuff pretty well, and my response is a mixture of shock, fear, and relief. 'Oh my god...I'm like this guy, yet he's like me,' and there's a bit of comfort in that, and in witnessing God's dealings with and workings through Gideon.

As I read the Old Testament, I'm struck by the way these stories are told, and the lack of apologies for these characters' lives, complete with their Class A screw-ups. These tales are a lot more descriptive than prescriptive, not really saying 'be like this guy,' but 'here's a flesh-and-blood person, with whom our God was involved.' Sometimes the calls are made for us on the part of the narrator, sometimes they're not. And when they are, they have a tendency to be really disturbing, like the introduction to the book of Judges. 'God did this to teach the Israelites war.' Okay, now what in the world are we to do with THIS part of our sacred text???

Those've been some of the thoughts and goings-on of the past month, and there's been much life in the midst of them. Shalom.


  • At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Ted said…

    Mike, sounds like your study of Gideon has been eye-opening.


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