Hagar in the Wilderness
Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness, Francesco Cozza, 1665

Genesis tells the extraordinary story of an Egyptian slave woman thrown out of the home of Abraham and Sarah. She encounters God in the wilderness and is the only character in all the Bible who gives a new name to God. Why? What is the significance of this story of mistreatment, grace, and deliverance?

The story of Hagar can inspire us to think in new ways about the nature of God and our language about God.
Those of you who attended the class on feminist readings of scripture two years ago led by Susan Rogers, Velma Ferrell, and Micheal Palmer will recognize this story. Feel free to contribute your reflections on its implications for today’s church.
The Woman taken in Adultery, c.1621 (oil on canvas)
DPG18456 The Woman taken in Adultery, c.1621 (oil on canvas) by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666); 98.2×122.7 cm; © Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK; Italian, out of copyright

You may be familiar with the story in John 7:53-8:11 of a woman brought to Jesus by a group of “Scribes and Pharisees” who accused her saying she had “been caught in the very act of adultery.” We will discuss this story on Sunday in a way you may have not heard before. In addition to asking what the surface meaning of the story might be, we will examine it’s history in the development of the canon of the New Testament. What does it’s placement at this point in John’s story mean? How might it’s meaning change in a different context?

Added February 21, 2016
I have uploaded the presentation I used this morning. You can find it here.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, you can find related resources at bibleodyssey.org, a website created and maintained by the Society of Biblical Literature.

RockBuckthornImage
Rock Buckthorn by František Pleva, Public Domain

In this morning’s class we had a stimulating discussion of a rather obscure passage seldom read at church. Jotham’s fable ( Judges 9:7-21) is a strongly anti-monarchy tale that many christians would not find relevant to today’s church, and this is probably why it is seldom read in church. Still, Jotham’s criticism of his brother being declared king is framed in ethical terms (“acting in good faith”), and those ethical questions still remain relevant in our time. What are the implications of our choice of people to govern over us? When we choose candidates, are we acting in good faith?

We also looked at the name of Jotham’s father used in the introduction to the fable (Judges 9:1-7). There he is called Jerubaal. In the previous chapters he has been called by that name only once, and the rest of the references to him use the name Gideon. As is often the case in biblical stories, the names are important. “Jerubaal” could mean “Possession of Baal” (i.e. one dedicated to the Canaanite god, Baal), but the name “Gideon” is related to a Hebrew word meaning “to cut down.” Jerubaal/Gideon is presented in the previous chapters as a charismatic leader who left the worship of Baal and “cut down” the Asherah’s (wooden poles representing the goddess often portrayed as the consort of Baal and sometimes even the consort of YHWH) and destroyed the alters of Baal.

After Gideon’s death, the people of Shechem act in bad faith toward his family, killing all of his sons except two: Abimelech, whom they name king, and Jotham, who condemns them for doing so.

I did not mention the meaning of Jotham’s name (יוֹתָם) this morning, but you may find it interesting: “YHWH is complete, without blemish.” His brother Abimelech’s name means “My father is King.”

 

In this Sunday’s class we will discuss Jotham’s Fable,  Judges 9:7-21.

Here’s the text in the New Revised Standard Version. Reading the preceding verses will help in understanding the context.

When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.

The trees once went out
    to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
    ‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
        by which gods and mortals are honored,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
11 But the fig tree answered them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
        and my delicious fruit,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
12 Then the trees said to the vine,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
13 But the vine said to them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my wine
        that cheers gods and mortals,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
14 So all the trees said to the bramble,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
15 And the bramble said to the trees,
    ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
        then come and take refuge in my shade;
    but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
        and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’

16 “Now therefore, if you acted in good faith and honor when you made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as his actions deserved— 17 for my father fought for you, and risked his life, and rescued you from the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his slave woman, king over the lords of Shechem, because he is your kinsman— 19 if, I say, you have acted in good faith and honor with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you; 20 but if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the lords of Shechem, and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the lords of Shechem, and from Beth-millo, and devour Abimelech.” 21 Then Jotham ran away and fled, going to Beer, where he remained for fear of his brother Abimelech.

I hope to see you tomorrow morning.

Beginning Sunday February 14 you can join the class, Bible Stories You’ve Never Heard This Way Before. We will meet in the Sun Room at Binkley Church (1712 Willow Drive,
Chapel Hill, NC 27514). You don’t need any advance preparation. Just show up ready to join in the discussion!

Here are a few passages we are likely to discuss over the coming weeks:

  • Acts 10 “Cornelius and Peter: Who is the Hero?”
  • Judges 9:7-21 “Jotham’s Fable: What? A Fable in the Bible?”
  • John 8:1-11 “The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Late Story Struggles to Find It’s Place”
  • Genesis 6:9-9:17 “Noah, the Flood and Similar Literature in the Ancient World” (March 13 and 20, 2016)
  • Philemon (April 3, 2016)
  • Genesis 1 and 2 “Creation Stories: Why Do We Have Them?”
  • Mark 2:23-28 “Lord of the Sabbath: Ritual and Necessity”

 

Edited on April 3, 2016 to update the list of topics