Saul’s Spiral: 1 Samuel 18 – 31

The Spiraling Fear into Rage into Death.

Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul.

1 Samuel 18:12 (NIV)

(This is the sort-of second part of a sort-of two-part entry. Check out the kind-of first part here)

Saul began his Spiral all the way back in Chapter 13, when Samuel rebuked him for improperly sacrificing animals to the Lord. The punishment? “Your kingdom will not endure,” said Samuel, and while set aback, Saul did not let this get him down (13: 14). He then went on to rout the Philistines in battle, a successful tour of duty. The Spiral slowed.

Then, He disobeyed again with much more devastating consequences. He failed to complete a genocide of the Amalekites, sparing some choice cattle and the king. Finished – God rejected him as king. The Spiral started up again, but now at a much quicker pace.

So we meet Saul as he starts to hone in on his true self, the king Samuel predicted him to be, the monster God destined him to become. David has just defeated Goliath, and the people in the street sing his praises:

 Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands. (18:7)

Saul’s anger grows at the thought of someone above him, and God hardens his heart and sends an evil spirit into him, to spiral his anger ‘round and ‘round. His feelings do fluctuate; sometimes, Saul possesses an extreme fondness for David. But it never lasts.

David spends an evening playing the lyre for Saul, but the evil spirit pounces. Saul drives a spear towards his head, but David escapes by a sullen breath. Deeper and down…

Saul’s son Jonathan shows affection and pity for David, protecting him from his father. Saul catches wind, and the rage swells. Faster and faster…

David flees for fear of his life and takes refuge with Ahimeleck, one of the priests of Nob. Saul arrives and strikes them down as retribution.

But then, while lying-in-wait, an unsuspecting Saul uses the restroom just inches from David’s hiding place. David spares Saul’s life and rushes out to announce his benevolence. But Saul pursues. Later, David sneaks into Saul’s camp and refuses to kill again. But no truce. The hunt continues.

The pursuit begins to run thin, and Saul’s faith in the mission wanes. So he calls upon a medium to bring up the spirit of Samuel, who voice echoes before him. His prediction is grim. “For you sins,” he says, “You and your sons will be with me tomorrow.” A staggering blow – Saul falls to his knees in agony. The prophecy comes to pass – his sons, including David’s beloved friend Jonathan, are killed swiftly in battle. And in despair, Saul impales himself on his sword, killing himself. His Spiral converges in the center – Saul becomes his true self – in death, so ends the life of an angry, angry man.

The Spiral I refer to is neither downward nor upward, as we typically think about burgeoning behavior of any sort. But rather, it is on a flat plane, a line moving around a fixed point, inching closer and closer with each swing. The center is the true self, and the line is time. It is not a pretty line, not clean like a well-drawn spiral that tracks a linear path inward. It wobbles, going in and out, slowing to a halt sometimes. There is a process.

Saul is an angry man. In the beginning, he is handsome… he begins far from his true self, and his Spiral indicates that. But soon, off he goes around, an attractor with strange properties, unpredictable turns. And in the end, he falls on his sword; he is an angry man.

I am a queer man. I have spent years in my own Spiral, but it is not downward. It isn’t even upward. It is just around and closer and farther and whatever. I am inching bit by bit to the center, to my true self. And the result, whatever that may be, is unstoppable.

The Spiral: 1 Samuel 18 – 31

The Spiral began the morning after.

The light in the room felt unusually bright, and then I remembered – the blizzard that had holed us up. I rolled out of the guest room bed and approached the frosty window. The streets were clear – the blizzard turned out to be merely a dusting, so my parents would not be stuck in Boston for much longer. It needed to end anyhow, like these things do. Time to return to the normal swing of things, to enter my room and get Dan to leave, to let things be silent for a suitable amount of time, and then finally, to tell him I am just not interested in guys. The plan would work if I stuck to the script. The snow began melting as the heat cranked up from the day’s sun, and soon it would be gone completely.

Time to go Dan. And let’s never discuss this again.

It took less than a day for Dan to ask to discuss it. He messaged me that night on AOL Instant Messenger well into the evening, almost 24 hours from the initiation. I gave him the updates – slept most of the day, parents got back, hid any evidence – but he cut straight to the chase. This shouldn’t be the last time we hang out like this. I let the comment stand before he said We could be boyfriends.

I said No. The exact words… I cannot remember. There was some dancing around, some sidestepping. I know I told him I was straight (or perhaps I said, I am not gay). Whatever I said, he got the point. Our friendship ended that night, despite the promises to “stay friends,” to “stay normal.” Closet cases cannot recover from such experiences. We cannot face ourselves much less anyone else. And those with our secret… they need to go. It is self-preservation, as primal as the fight-or-flight instinct. Because make no mistake, to be gay is death.

It took a year before I took a second lap around the Spiral. My theater club in college, aptly named No Refund Theatre because all our shows were free, hosted a party every weekend to coincide with our weekly performances. When I joined the club my second day of Freshman year, I believed whole heartedly that I had met a group of people passionate about theater. In fact, they were most interested in drinking, and theater was the excuse. I had not drank since that night with Dan a year earlier, but that did not stop me from going to the cast parties to watch everyone drink.

I did not know Oliver, but I knew of him through a fellow No Refund Thespian. Oliver partook in the booze provided at the parties and insinuated himself around, gliding on sure feet and a swimmer’s demeanor. His voice hovered in a register between distinguishable ages, and his eyes changed color on a daily basis from varied contact lenses. I did not like him right away, and that was his intention. This was Freshman year at a college 50,000 students deep – he did not need to make the life-long friends yet, just the acquaintances to keep him entertained. He had a way of talking to someone just long enough to make an impression and escaping before the real connection was made. And his strategy seemed clear to me from the get go: clipped, broad conversation and repeated physical touch.I think he enjoyed keeping people at arm’s length. Be a myth, not a man. And it worked: Everyone knew of him, but no one knew him.

The party thinned until Oliver and I could not be separated any longer. We waited in line for the bathroom when he told me that he was glad to have met me.

But we didn’t really meet. I said. His eyes were blue that night.

“Well we’re meeting now!” He exclaimed, throwing his voice up a notch and back a few years. We talked for a few minutes while waiting for the bathroom, about theater and friends, college and change. He told me he danced, and I said I had no interest, but I admired it. He leaned against the wall and slid down it to the floor – drunk. He told me to join him down there, but I helped him back to his feet instead. He called me a gentleman and continued to hold my hand even after regaining his footing.

And then he hugged me. He hugged me for about three seconds too long.

Two weeks later while eating brunch – the gayest meal of the day – I sat across from Oliver and stared into his eyes, freshly turned hazel. I told him simply, We could be boyfriends.

And he said No.

Intuitively, you think a rejection might stop the Spiral, but actually it does the opposite. It launches you around at twice the pace as before.

And the moment he said no, off I went for another loop.

The Underdog: 1 Samuel 16 – 17

The Youngest. The Strongest. David Defeats Goliath.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

The third choice is working out much better.

After Samuel abandons Saul, God sends him out to the camp of Jesse in Bethlehem in order to anoint the new king of Israel. Jesse presents his sons, starting with the oldest and most fit to be king, but God rejects each of them until landing on the youngest – a lad, a shepherd named David. God tells Samuel that he looks at people’s hearts, and David is a man after His own heart.

Soon thereafter, the Israelites go to battle the Philistines, who have adopted a most fearsome foe – a ten-foot behemoth named Goliath. Everyday, the Philistines send out this monster to taunt the Israelites into submission. He stands and shouts and demands, “Send me your best fighter to battle, and whoever wins takes it all.” But no one will dare do it… until David comes to visit his brothers on the front lines. He sees Goliath and fears nothing about him.

So then, Goliath rushes over to David, lifts him up into the air, and cracks him in half, and the Philistines storm the rest of the army, tearing limb from limb in absolute carnage until God’s chosen people are wiped from the land!

No no no, of course that is not right; we all know the end to this story. David easily defeats Goliath with a single rock to the forehead, and the Philistines are defeated. I know that every person reading this knows at least the grayest details of this story, because it is perhaps the most relatable story in the entire Bible. The little guy has courage and defeats the big ogre. Perfect for kids (just leave off the whole decapitation at the end). Easy to remember. Clear heroes and villains. It is just perfect.

I am David. I have never thrown a punch in my life and do not own a slingshot. No one considers me to be a notable underdog or a heavy favorite. I do not tend sheep; I am not destined for kingship. My brother is not on a battlefield defending his country but rather works from home in a trendy two-bedroom LA flat that has its own Instagram hashtag. I bear more resemblance to Goliath, towering at 6’ 5” with a penchant for pacing around small (read: normal-sized) people. But I don’t care about that stuff. I am David, because I want to be David. Because we all want to be David – that is why this story has endured.

Maybe I am honing in on a specific personality type, but I think everyone considers themselves a “David.” The desire to defy expectations must be a universal condition, because it keeps us motivated. Not everyone is a busy bee looking to make a mark, but we all want a little something extra up our sleeves – a special skill that enables us to slay a giant, if need be. Because if the Bible teaches us anything, it is that the boy who overcomes the giant will be promoted to king. And who doesn’t want to be king?

Or queen – everyone likes a good queen.

Second Choice: 1 Samuel 8 – 15

A King Demanded. A Prophecy Delivered. Saul Emerges. War Grows. A Regrettable Sacrifice. Jonathan Eats Honey. A Regrettable Pardon. Saul Rejected as King.

But when [the elders of Israel] said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

1 Samuel 8:6-7 (NIV)

I had an anxiety dream about high school a few days ago. These occur fairly frequently, usually involving a plot about a missed important deadline or a lack of proper clothing in a social setting. This one followed a similar trajectory. I was named salutatorian of my graduating class and was told to give a speech, but I totally forgot about it. So as I donned my gown hurriedly in the wings of the auditorium, I began furiously scribbling notes on a pad, trying to create some semblance of a plan. They called my name, and I trotted up onto stage. I don’t remember much of the content of what I said, but I know it began with, “I’m not sure what to say…” The rest was a rambling mess, and the audience received it as such. When I finished, there was no applause.

So in my wildest dreams, I come in second place and improvise a crappy speech.

This dream was inspired by an actual life event. In my graduating middle school class of 14 students, I was ranked second in grade point average. Now, you may think that it is sadistic to rank students’ performances in such a small setting (and you would be correct), but I took this honor very seriously. I knew I would not come in first place, because this perfect Ms. So-and-So never got a damn “B” in her entire life. So, I set my sights on second place, which would be good enough for me. Only first and second got a speech, and I wanted that speech.

So when our principal announced that I was salutatorian, I immediately began writing a masterful graduation speech, complete with sorrowful recollections with my one friend (it was a small school) and a list of “thank yous” a mile long. I didn’t cry as I delivered it, but damn it, I quavered my voice to make it sound as if I cried. I was a master of emotional manipulation. And unlike my recent dream, the audience applauded for me.

And then Ms. So-and-So got up there to deliver her speech. Hers had no recollections about friends or long-winded acknowledgements. No, she told a story about her grandmother – her dead grandmother who died fighting leukemia. And on her death bed, her tragically inspirational grandmamma recited Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You Will Go, amidst tears, as one final moment of encouragement.

She got a standing ovation.


 

Israel wants a king, despite Samuel’s prophetic announcements against it. He predicts that they will despise this leader, that he will raise taxes and lord his power over them, but they do not listen. God tells Samuel that, simply, their desire for a king is a rejection of Him. So Samuel anoints a second choice – Saul.

And things do not go well for Saul. Despite being tall, handsome, and humble, he tends to wander from God’s commandments. For instance, he performs a sacrificial offering to the Lord, but as a Benjamite, he is not allowed to do that (God made that super clear in Leviticus, remember? …No? Well He did). And then God commands Saul to perform a complete genocide of Amalekites – to kill every man, woman, child, and animal with no exceptions. But when Saul routs them, he spares their king Agag as well as the best selections of the cattle for sacrifice. Samuel hears of this and lets him have it. He tells Saul to pack his bags and get out; a new king will be crowned. But something tells me Saul won’t go quietly… (Okay, I actually remember this part of the Bible)

Second may as well be last for God. He wants His followers to behave in a completely pure way which leaves little room for the fault. But these people of His, they are imperfect. If the Bible has made one point so far, it is this:

No one is first.

The Voice of God: 1 Samuel 2 – 7

Hannah’s Song. God Calls Samuel. The Ark Falls. Curse to the Philistines. Ark Returned. The Curse Continues

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

1 Samuel 3:1 (NIV)

I had a ton of problems with Ms. Lynda. First of all, she smiled too much, and my brain couldn’t handle it. Even at four years old, I sensed something off about such never-ending cheer, and I complained often to my mother about it, in an attempt to get Ms. Lynda replaced. She was also always hanging around inside the boys’ bathroom. Nothing nefarious, don’t go there in your brain; she was a pre-school teacher after all. But still, I was no allowed in the girls’ room, and so I did not get why a girl, even a big, big girl, was allowed inside. She also wore too many cardigans.

The worst though was her apparent one-on-one connection to God. She would tell us about how the Lord “spoke” to her – to tell her to move to a new house, to have children, to become a preschool teacher. God did not speak to me – I had never heard His voice, had no proof He was even a “he.” So what made Ms. Lynda so special? She was annoyingly happy and had no fashion sense. Why was God so interested in her?

But I was naïve. God did not speak to her in a literal way, but rather, she prayed and felt nudged in certain directions. I learned later that the Holy Spirit was responsible for this type of interaction – but no one could really define exactly what that meant. It was based on a feeling, a rush of energy, a gentle prodding. To me, that just felt like self-absorption, adrenaline, and a breeze. I never really understood it.

Samuel has grown from that small boy dedicated to God. While staying with Eli, he hears a voice calling out to him assumes it is his priest. But it is the Lord reaching out to him in the most obvious of ways. So Eli tells Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9) Samuel does, and God delivers a powerful vision. Eli will fall along due his wickedness, and Samuel will rise to replace him as a wunderkind prophet.

Then everything goes to Hell. Eli dies, and the Philistines attack and defeat the Israelites. The remaining few huddle around the Ark of the Covenant, but the enemy manages to steal it. This leaves God’s people in absolute despair, and they cry out, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines?” (1 Samuel 4:3) Seems that God’s sudden lack of communication is devastating (and deadly) to His followers.

But it is all part of the plan, as God swiftly uses this as an opportunity to punish the Philistines. Plagues befall them in the form of tumors and sickness, and so they decide to return the Ark to head off further punishment.

Nonverbal communication between God and man did not suffice for the Israelites, and yet it is truly all we have to go on today. It is a common understanding that the “Lord works in mysterious ways.” This is practically synonymous with the “Lord works invisibly.” We do not get the benefit of a booming voice from the sky, but the Israelites had the opposite problem. Unless God spoke out loud, He did not speak. And the silence could last for decades.

We would never last for that long. Christians rely on the constant pseudo-communication from God to remain faithful, for they feel their belief is rewarded. But it’s a feeling – that’s what it is. Divinely inspired or not, it is a feeling. I have been accused of acting on my feelings, of allowing homosexual feelings to take over my life. A feeling. Just a feeling.

Dedication to God: 1 Samuel 1

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

1 Samuel 1:27-28 (NIV)

A man named Elkanah has two wives, but he loves one more than the other. There is Penninah with lots of children, and Hannah with none. Can you guess which one he loves more than the other?

Hannah the beloved cries out in such anguish that Eli, a priest, believes she is drunk and chastises her. But then she explains her plight – no children – and hence the tears.

Eli releases her from her curse and asks God to open her womb. And so God does, and she bears Samuel. And she is so overcome with joy that she delivers the baby boy over to the Lord. His path is set. He will be the Lord’s servant all of his life. And since the names of the next two books of the Bible refer to him, I figure that he will fulfill that destiny.

I am named Jesse after the father of David, and soon, the Bible will introduce my namesake. I do not know much about the process of how my parents settled upon my name, but it must have been a dedication of sorts.

So there it is. I was meant to be holy, and my soul was dedicated at a young age. Don’t forget about the choice though. I chose at the age of five to become a Christian. I don’t recall the experience, but my mother told me that I asked to “pray the prayer” and make the choice. That was when my dedication became fulfilled; my prophecy became complete.

Let’s see how Samuel does with his dedication.

Exceptions: Ruth 1 – 4

Ruth Alone. Loyalty to Naomi. Conversion to Judaism. Enter Boaz. Loyalty to Boaz. An Exception Is Made. Married.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Ruth 1:16 (NIV)


No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

Deuteronomy 23:3 (NIV)

Two verses to start this entry. Breaking all the rules. I made an exception.

The Book of Ruth deserves that much, because it so firmly plants itself outside of the norms set forth so far. Firstly, she’s A WOMAN WITH HER OWN BOOK OF THE BIBLE. Yes, this is huge – but with a distinct asterisk. Like Hattie-McDaniel-winning-an-Oscar-for-a-demeaning-Gone-with-the-Wind-role huge, because it acknowledges significance while still maintaining original statuses. Ruth is brought to our attention, seemingly because there are no men around (her husband had previously died). Add that to her submissive role throughout the narrative, and you end up with only a half step forward. Yes, we have a female protagonist, but one who supports all our stereotypes.

So. This is huge*.

Secondly, there’s the whole interracial marriage thing.

Let’s go back. God deals Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, a tough hand. Her husband dies, and then her sons die. In grief and old age, she releases her daughters-in-law to the world and changes her name to Mara, meaning bitter. Tough times. But Ruth does not accept this release and demands to stay with her mother-in-law and worship her God.

Yes, that means that Ruth is not culturally or ethnically Jewish. She is a Moabite, and the Law of Deuteronomy is none too nice to that group of individuals. We are told in Chapter 23 “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.” That is pretty clear – little room for subtext. Ruth is not a Jew, and despite her belief, she should not be allowed to convert. But she does.

And over time, and with much loyalty to Naomi-now-Mara, Ruth encounters a fine Israelite man named Boaz. He seems suitable to marry – a gentleman, a landowner, and seducible with the right strategy. Naomi convinces Ruth to wait by his feet on the threshing floor until he provides instructions. She strikes at his heel, and all goes well. They marry and with it, sign an agreement over property (like all healthy romantic ceremonies).

So here we have a non-Jewish woman who, by Law, may not become a Jew.
And so she becomes a Jew. And no one says anything.

And then we have this same non-Jewish woman who, by Law, may not marry a Jew.
And so she marries a Jew. And no one says anything.

The pundits are silent. What are we to do when the Law is disregarded and a pillar of fire does not strike from the sky?

Is God asleep at the wheel? Or is He making a point?

Regardless, this proves that there are exceptions to the rule. I know this, because Ruth and Boaz together provide the holy lineage all the way through David and eventually to Jesus. This God has an obsession with the purity of His people. He would never allow a tainted, unclean woman to betray that fleckless heritage.

So, an exception. The first. No subtext required, it is right there in the print. I have a feeling this is a foreshadowing for the Christian revolution that hails ahead a couple dozen Books.

Exceptions will abound. I can feel it.


 

Did you know some characterize the relationship between Ruth and Naomi as intimate and sexual (meaning… lesbians)? I poked around and found a great summary of the Naomi-Ruth-lesbian argument on the website “Would Jesus Discriminate.” Check it out here.

Note: This would have been the focus of my article, but it requires the ability to read these passages in their original languages. I attempt to keep my analysis on the level of Joe-the-Hebrew-Illiterate reading the Bible, like most of us are. 

Collective Responsibility: Judges 17 – 21

Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!”

Judges 19:30 (NIV)

Here’s an effective tool for any teacher struggling with bad classroom etiquette: Punish everyone for the behavior of one.

Tell your class that no one can go to recess until everyone is perfectly still and quiet. No matter how long it takes, don’t let them go. If one pip keeps squeaking, keep them there. Torture them. Don’t budge. Every time you are about to let them go and that one brat chimes back in, make the all sit down. It will drive everyone crazy.

My Middle School teachers used to do that, and it drove everyone crazy. Because no one wants to be punished (or responsible even) for someone else’s behavior. And that is certainly understandable – it is not “fair” to have the actions of one reflect onto the image of many. We live in an age of individual responsibility. We’re a generation of societal libertarians.

Our forefathers were racist? Don’t blame us.
Our country has committed atrocities? Why should we pay for it?
Hold me accountable for what I do.

This is not the case with ancient Israel. The book of Judges rounds out on the verge of a civil war, which like all great wars, begins with a single death. A Levite man travels through the territories of Dan with his concubine. One night, when staying with a hospitable man, some evil homosexuals (read: gang rapists), demand the visitor to have sex with. Instead, they hand over the female concubine and the host’s virgin daughter. They rape them all night. The concubine woman is ravaged to death. Out of his horror, the Levite man cuts up the corpse into twelve pieces and mails them to the heads of the tribes of Israel.

This action gets quite the visceral reaction from the tribesman. They arm up, determined to bring the entire tribe of Dan to justice. In the end, they kill about 26,000 men as retribution. The civil war ends, and as Judges closes out, we are told there is no king of Israel.

We could talk about the whole gay thing (this story sounds mighty familiar).
We could talk about the whole men > women thing.
We should talk about the whole cutting up a dead woman into twelve pieces thing.

But the lingering question to me is this: Why do 26,000 men need to die for the sins of a few?

This idea is so ancient (and thus, so Bible-esque), but I cannot say that I disagree with. Set aside the violence for a moment, and you will see a long forgotten value – collective responsibility. I think we ought to be held responsible for the actions of those who we call neighbors or associates. That is called accountability.

My parents always felt that I was “too hard” on deceptive Christian pundits. I said that Joel Osteen was irresponsible; Pat Robertson was a liar; Bob Lenz was manipulative; Rick Santorum was homophobic. They wondered why I so often called into view the hypocrisy of these religious leaders while giving “free passes” to the liberal/secular world leaders who, in their view, were just as bad. My response? Because they represent us, and we ought to call them out for their damaging rhetoric. There is no doubt that ISIS is an evil organization or that North Korea ought to be punished. But there are tons – literally millions – of people who are deceived on a nightly basis by the people who get on television and proclaim the “facts” on faith healing, prosperity gospels, and gay terrorists. We as a Christian culture ought to stop them.

But I am not considered a part of the Christian community anymore. Now, my thoughts are not insider criticism, but rather, an attack. I don’t mean it as such. I just want to take some collective responsibility. I do care about the Christian community – because I admire it. I am the first to defend it to the outsiders, who see nothing but the loudest haters. Because it is good. And I say that as the most jaded guy in the room. It is good.

I am really trying my hardest to remember the good.

The Spirit of the Lord Left Him: Judges 13 – 16

A Barren Birth. Strength of Spirit. A Philistine Wife. Revenge. Delilah’s Deception. The Destruction of the Temple.

…But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

Judges 16:20b (NIV)

Samson is the Rambo of the Bible. Born miraculously to a barren woman, Samson begins living his own life at a young age. God destines him to be a strong man, the leader of Israel, and God commands that Samson will retain his power as long as a razor never touches his head. And also, Samson has a strong penchant for violent revenge.

So in other words, he is a bona fide man-crusher with Fabio-esque hair. This has the makings of the best Bible story yet.

First, he marries a Philistine woman against the wishes of his parents – but they do not know it was all part of God’s plan. He makes a bet with the men there. He tells a riddle and demands they answer before the end of the seven-day feast. They employ his new wife to help, and when she betrays Samson’s trust and provides the answer, he replies, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle” (Judges 14:18b). Then he passes off his wife to the companions without a thought and collects his prize. Why? Because Samson does what Samson does.

Then, he decides to get revenge on the Philistines. He ties three hundred foxes together in pairs and sets fire to their tails, and as they run away, they effectively burn down all the shocks, grain, vineyards, and groves of their land. Why? Because Samson feels like messing with them.

So the Philistines kill his wife along with her husband – burn them to death. Samson retaliates by slaughtering 1,000 of their men with donkey’s jawbone. Then, he remarks, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them” (Judges 15:16b). Samson wanted revenge.

Samson sleeps with a whore in Gaza. The people of the town surround the brothel to kill him. So he tears the door of the city and places it at the top of a mountain. Samson don’t listen to nobody.

Finally, he makes a misstep. He confides in a newly beloved woman the secret to his power – the untouched nature of his hair. So she tells the Philistines to cut it and do what they will with him.

They cut his hair (and the spirit of the Lord leaves him). They capture him. They gouge out his eyes. They force him into labor. Samson is now powerless, a new state of being for him.

But one day, the Philistines drag him up from prison into their temple to entertain the masses. They make a massive mistake though. His hair has grown back, and with it, the spirit of the Lord has re-entered him. With his renewed strength, he places himself between two pillars, knocks them apart, and kills everyone inside, including himself. And in death, we are told, he kills more than throughout his entire life.

This is one of those go-to stories in Sunday School, mostly for the image of manhood and strength in its protagonist. When approaching this passage, I thought I might have a new reaction to the tale, perhaps a fresh perspective or some wise thoughts. But after reading and rereading, I realize that I have had the same thought about Samson for the past twenty years.

Why does God leave Samson just because someone cuts his hair?

You may have noticed that my reaction to many of the stories since Exodus have appeared negative – like I just caaaaan’t believe what’s going on here!

And reading this, I have a realization, although slight, as to why my heart hardened over the years.

Because I just can’t believe some of these stories to be true.

Let me be clear – that does not mean that I do not believe in God. But these stories often make God out to be like a petulant teenager with strange rules of engagement. Forgive me if this sounds entirely blasphemous, but I would almost prefer these stories to be just stories rather than presented as historical fact. Because I can glean many lessons from a parable of a strong he-man with magic hair and a penchant for mowing down his enemies. But I cannot relate to the actual man who is cut down by a mysterious and arbitrary rule.

Can one be a Christian and regard these stories as just stories? I know plenty of Christians who take the entire book of Genesis to be stylized myth, and they seem to have no issues in their faith. At what point must we believe every word to be unaltered truth to have a functional relationship with God?

Let me know at GodDoesntChangeBlog@Gmail.com or in the comments!

The Unfortunate Vow: Judges 9 – 12

The Rise of Abimaleck. Three Years of Kingship. A War. A Stone. A Sword. Then, Jephthah – the Illegitimate. Promoted to Commander. A Successful Campaign. An Unfortunate Vow. The Sacrificial Daughter.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

I took the Unfortunate Vow somewhere around birth, but it did not kick in until mid-adolescence. That’s when everyone started to notice something. Now I don’t want to mischaracterize my brother as a flaming faggot – one of those gay guys that no gay guy seems to want to be. I think homosexual men run from the phrase, because it implies a shallowness that permeates an entire personality. There were some warning signs for impending homosexuality, and my brother had a few of them. Interest in theater/arts – loud and aberrant – a touch of flamboyance – and an ever-growing collection of deep-v tees. I loved my brother as he was, even if I kicked in my fair share of jokes about his clothing choices, but his budding sexuality meant devastation to me.

I mentioned in a previous entry that my brother and I engaged in a queer sibling rivalry that lasted up until the moment he came out. He came out as gay, and I was in the closet – so it was a race. A race to disappoint the parents first so that other would be stuck with the responsibility of the Unfortunate Vow. And so on Christmas morning 2009, my mother woke me up with her presence alone. She sat in my room until my eyes opened, and I shot up.

What’s going on, Mom? I asked.

Mark had just come out of the closet. On Christmas morning.

And now he was making brunch, complete with eggs benedict on English muffins and mimosas for the family. I suppose us partaking in the gayest meal ever was appropriate given the circumstance.

That evening, I renewed the Unfortunate Vow.

Judges takes us through a few more of its leaders before arriving at Jephthah. He is the illegitimate son born to his father and a prostitute, and so his half brothers drive him away to claim his part of the inheritance. However, Jephthah is an enormously strong man, and so when foes of Israel arrive, they call upon their forsaken brother to come and lead the army. He reluctantly agrees.

So Jephthah does that job and does it well. We are told that after defeating all the enemies with his military prowess and blunt strength, the spirit of the Lord enters him.

Moved, Jephthah instantaneously makes a vow. The first thing to wander from the doors of his home will be given up on the Altar of God as a sacrifice. He arrives home, happy to fulfill this vow, when his only child, a daughter, runs out into the yard.

Jephthah falls onto his knees for making such an Unfortunate Vow. Now, he must sacrifice his only daughter to God. She takes it well, only requesting a two-month respite to mourn and say goodbye. And when the day comes, the deed is done. Jephthah sacrifices his only daughter to the Lord.

The Unfortunate Vow… I am starting to think that we all have taken one – to fulfill a duty that seems both foreign and unfair, and yet it is demanded for no other reason than those in charge of us demand it. God created us, and now we are indebted to Him – so we must honor laws and vows that have absolutely no logical backbone. We must perform symbolic actions in order to please those above us, for their own personal reasons that are completely unexplained. And that obedience to the Unfortunate Vow makes us holy. I must be straight because the other one is gay and the parents need some son to be straight. Why? For manhood and the image of the family and normalcy. Doesn’t that make sense to you?

I think a father who breaks a vow in order to protect the life of his virginal only daughter is a man I would want to emulate.
I think a child who honestly states their interests and passions is a child headed in the right direction.
I think a God who demands a man to kill his daughter for ritualistic reasons is terrifying.
I think parents who encourage many activities for their kids and find ways to challenge them so that they grow beyond their own intentions are doing a damn good job.
I think a God that values the bond between father and daughter is just.

I am no longer the son that my parents want me to be. I have broken my Unfortunate Vow. Because I never truly made it by my own free will. So why keep it?