|Chapter 3 : 2. The Judges|
We have seen some aspects of the lives of the Patriarchs that do not immediately meet the eye. An example of this is the fact that according to the Bible, Noah's death is dated in the fifty-eighth year of Abraham. Some readers of Genesis might be quite surprised by that fact. The reason for this is that the book of Genesis has an entirely different purpose as it now stands. It was not originally written to portray a concern with the Imamate. Although that concern appears to be of prime importance in the stories themselves and probably in their early survival, the book of Genesis is put together in another way.
Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is with the way the symbolic numbers are used in Genesis. The deepest level of Genesis focuses on the number twelve. This is the number of sons of Jacob and Ishmael, and the number of successive generations of the Patriarchs. The second level is seven. Some liberal scholars suggest that the seven-day creation story is a late addition. The number seven is important in the Flood story as well. Jacob served seven years for his wives. Genesis four focuses on the seventh generation in the line of Cain, and Genesis five on the seventh generation in the line of Seth. The surface structure of the book of Genesis superimposes a different symbolic number. That is the number ten.
Since seven and twelve are numbers having to do with the Imamate, we can conclude that the Imamate is a consideration embedded in the stories of Genesis themselves. The number ten does not relate to the Imamate. Its most direct relationship is with the decalogue or ten commandments. The ten commandments are the heart of the books of Moses. The book of Genesis in its present form is arranged in the Mosaic tradition and not the patriarchal tradition. It is edited as an introduction to the ten commandments following along in the next book of Moses, the book of Exodus.
The number ten is superimposed by the Mosaic tradition upon the stories of the book of Genesis. We find this especially in two areas. The first and most obvious is the division of genealogies by tens. The first genealogy of ten is in Genesis five. The second one is in Genesis 11:10-26. The second area in which the number ten is superimposed on the book of Genesis is structural. The book is divided into ten very uneven sections with an introduction. Each section begins with the words `these are the generations of... or toldot. The whole book is thus structured in ten separate narratives, all but the first of which are named for the principal character. These ten section divisions are found in Genesis 2:4, 5:2, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, and 37:2.
The ten sections of Genesis are not chosen haphazardly. They are clearly of two genres. There are five genealogies and five narratives. An examination of these might give an idea of what the Mosaic tradition is all about. The book of Genesis can then be set in the context of the whole. Although it is fortuitous that the books of Moses are divided into five books, the logical development of the message can still be seen to advance roughly in terms of this division. There is a specific, central message of each book.
The structure of the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:3 is an obvious attempt at giving the Sabbath a cosmic foundation. But even more fundamental in the story is the message that all existing things are created by one God. This one, universal God is the central theme of Genesis. With awesome clarity, Genesis four shows the failure of civilisation to deal with so basic a problem as fratricide. Lamech's despairing lament is followed by the austere comment: `Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.' Genesis 4:26. The first verse of Genesis five sets God above the passing generations of men. The central theme of the Flood story is a God who can and will judge the whole world.
We have already seen how Abraham rose above cultural and national divisions to affirm the unity of God. The story of Abraham is reported with such detail partly because it strikes so directly to the heart of polytheism. The basis of polytheism is the functional division of gods. Ancient man in the Middle East believed that every place was governed by the god of that place. Piety was defined as recognising whatever gods reigned in the place you were. When Abraham went from Mesopotamia to Palestine, piety required that he leave the gods of his fathers and serve the gods of the land. This was an unquestioned and unquestionable mindset. The story of Abraham must have seemed like the wildest science fiction even three thousand years ago. The mind to invent it would have been admired for incredible imagination. But more important was the unequalled daring, not to mention impiety, of a man who travelled about and worshipped only one God. This is far more startling than the modern rise of atheism. It is the central issue of the book of Genesis that must have struck the ancient audience more than anything else. The fact that we hardly notice it today only shows how different we are from ancient peoples.
The unity of God in the book of Genesis is the central theme. This central theme of Genesis becomes the axiomatic point of departure in the book of Exodus. When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, the fact of God's unity is already established. Another issue appears, the issue of justice for the oppressed. Moses goes to Pharaoh with the message of God, `Let my people go'. The structure of the book of Exodus is in two parts, divided at the giving of the ten commandments in chapter twenty. The ten commandments are the heart of the book. The Decalogue defines divine justice. The story of deliverance from oppression is followed by the legislation of justice.
The second half of the book of Exodus looks back on the justice of God in another way. It centres on the building of the sanctuary, `that I may dwell among them'. The last half of the book seems to be dealing with the other side of the coin of divine justice. The other side of the coin is not mercy, although this is an issue throughout the book. It is divine consistency. It is the fact that God can be trusted to be consistent. This is perhaps best brought out in the middle of the sanctuary story when God told Moses He would destroy the people for the sin of worshipping the golden calf. It is Moses who shows mercy. God gives evidence of extraordinary consistency. The whole book of Exodus is an amazing treatise on the justice of God.
The book of Leviticus is a book of ordinances and legislation. The whole book is summed up in Leviticus 10:10, `That ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.' The emphasis is on verbal revelation of the will of God, the central role of a prophet.
The last book of Moses, called Deuteronomy, is made up almost entirely of Moses' farewell speech. Time and again Moses sets forth obedience to God and disobedience. He draws a contrast between success and failure, punishment and reward. The focus is on blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The book comes to a climax in the Song of Moses in chapter thirty-two. Much of the song is couched in the words of God, who finally says, `See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgement; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.' The central issue of the book of Deuteronomy is divine judgement.
The books of Moses, the Torah or Taurat, develop this grand theme. The unity of God logically leads to the realisation that God is just. God's consistency logically leads to the verbal revelation of God's will. The revelation of God's will logically comes to the Day of judgement, the realisation of human responsibility before God. But the fourth book remains unmentioned. This is the book of Numbers, the book of the Imamate. The central theme of the book of Numbers is the Imamate.
Almost every passage in the book of Numbers fits into one of two themes: the first theme is the assignment of people to specific roles. The second is the description of Moses' defence of the role of leadership. Both of these themes are overtly Imamic. The idea that God has assigned certain human beings to a specific leadership role is not far from the idea that God has assigned every human being, in fact, all created things, to a specific place in creation. Of course Moses' defence of the role of leadership is a defence and reaffirmation in every case of the Imamate itself.
With the possible exception of Numbers five, nine and ten, the first part of the book fits into the first theme, the assignment of people to specific roles. The first defence of the Imamate in Numbers begins in chapter eleven and culminates in chapter twelve. The rebellion comes from Moses' own brother and sister. Miriam voices the revolt in the following words, `Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?' Numbers 12:2. Miriam understood the role of the prophet very well. The prophet is one through whom God speaks to the people. She failed to grasp the importance of the Imamate. In this she was like many people today, who recognise the prophet, but not the Imam. She felt that she and Aaron should have equal leadership with Moses because God also spoke through them. They recognised that Moses enjoyed a position of leadership that they did not participate in, but they did not understand that this leadership of Moses was God-given and sacred. The punishment of Miriam was a clear affirmation of the Imamic principle and the specific role of Moses in filling it at that time.
Numbers thirteen tells the story of the twelve spies. Moses sent a representative from each tribe to view the land of Canaan. All spies brought back a good report of the land, but only Caleb and Joshua were ready to enter it. The others were afraid of the inhabitants. They instigated a rebellion against Moses. Again Moses had to come to the defence of his divinely appointed leadership. This story also lays the groundwork for Moses' successor in the Imamate, who turned out to be Joshua.
Chapter fifteen is legislative, but leads into chapter sixteen. A new attack on the Imamate comes in the rebellion of Korah. This was a rebellion of princes in the congregation. They set themselves not only against the Mosaic Imamate but the Aaronic priesthood. Again God takes the initiative and affirms the divine authority of Moses' leadership by destroying the rebels.
Chapter eighteen returns to the first theme along with legislation. Chapter twenty returns to the defence of the Imamate in the event of the water from the rock in Meribah. This chapter draws a clear distinction between the prerogatives of the Imam and the prerogatives reserved for God Himself. As such it forms a logical sequence to the development of the Imamate.
The confirmation of the Imamate continues in chapter twenty-one. The episode of the fiery serpents inspires the people to recognise their sin both against God on one hand, and against His appointed leader on the other. `We have spoken against the Lord, and against thee.'
The episode of Balaam is a sort of interlude in the Imamic development of the book of Numbers. It has its place, however, because the blessings Balaam is forced to pronounce over Israel have Imamic force. They culminate in the great prophecy, `Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion.' Numbers 24:19.
Numbers twenty-six returns to the first theme. But in chapter twenty-seven the Imamate is affirmed in a surprising and delightful way. The daughters of Zelophehad sue for inheritance. This situation illustrates most strikingly how verbal legislation cannot be enough. There must be an on the spot evaluation in order for justice to come about.
The women receive their inheritance because Imamic intervention was able to supersede the law.
Following this event, it seems that Moses himself realised more than ever the necessity of the continuing Imamate. Numbers 27:16-17 contains the great Imamic prayer of Moses. `Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.'
Numbers 27:18-23 describes Moses' appointing of Joshua as his successor in the position of leadership. Joshua's leadership is described in the Biblical book of Joshua. After that the leadership role passed down through a series of people called judges. These are given along with some of their exploits in the book of judges. The interesting thing about the book of Judges is the fact that there are twelve of them. The writer of the book seemed to think that a series of twelve such functionaries was the only appropriate one. He could have construed the judges to be fifteen, since Joshua preceded them and they were followed apparently by Eli and Samuel. The twelve figures of the book of judges are Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson.
At this point we have seen how the books of Moses or Taurat include the Imamate as the fourth in a series of five great themes. We have seen how the fourth book of Moses, the book of Numbers, centres on the Imamate throughout, defining it and defending it. Finally, we have seen how the role of leadership was passed on from Moses to others, first Joshua and then the twelve judges described in the book of judges.
We can now pass on to examine some Imamic actions among these people. These will be authoritative applications of the law. In the patriarchal series we found the witness of the one, universal God, the distinction between clean and unclean, and the practice of taqiyyah or concealing the truth to save life. These Imamic actions are found among the Mosaic figures to be sure. But with Moses there is a new kind of Imamic action.
Already in the experience of Noah the need arose for a means of reducing violence. There was no legal verdict, and the result was the Flood and the introduction of the Imamic role of deliverer in its most primitive form. With Moses, the Imamic role of deliver is fully developed. After the Flood new legislation provided for the execution of murderers. The purpose of this was to prevent murder. The legislation itself, however, seems in conflict with the commandment of the decalogue 'Thou shalt not kill'. In any particular case, only an Imamic verdict can tell us when the execution of a murderer can legally take place.
Probably one of the most often pondered questions of the Bible is the problem of violent warfare. Many a man has spent his life looking for a way of reconciling violent warfare with the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. Many solutions have been offered, but few of them satisfy. Many Jewish commentators suggest that the commandment means 'Thou shalt not murder'. Such readers mean that other killing does not break the commandment. Few Christians are satisfied with that. Generally Christians see the practice of the Hebrew Scriptures as primitive and an advance in the grace and mercy of the Gospel. Besides being parochial, such an explanation ignores the true depth of the Hebrew Scriptures on one hand, and their real emphasis on grace and mercy on the other.
Perhaps the straightest way of coming to the answer is by understanding that God is not bound by His own commandments. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is addressed not to God, but to people. At the command of God, God's representative on earth, the Imam or divinely appointed leader of any given time, may either kill or command to kill without breaking the commandment. The absolute commandment is 'Thou shalt not kill'. If, however, circumstances warrant it, God Himself can override the commandment.
When this type of Imamic action began with Moses, almost every execution or war was carried out directly through the intervention of God Himself. Examples of this are the drowning of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea, and the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. Nevertheless, action by the congregation or even individuals can be found. In Leviticus 24:14 the congregation stones a blasphemer, and in Numbers 25:8 Phinehas kills an Israelite and the woman who had seduced him into idolatry.
Of course the principle is clear. All legislation is at the point in the chain of revelation just preceding the Imamate. An ordinary individual does not have the right to apply the legislation to practice. He must approach it through the Imamate or divinely appointed leader. There is not a conflict between law and Imamate. We do not have the right to judge either of them, for there is no standard for such judgement. Rather, revelation comes to us in a chain, first of all, the law, and secondly, the Imamate, through which the law applies in our practice.
Here is an illustration. We read the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. In a particular situation the reigning Imam tells certain people to kill certain others. If we do not understand the Imamic principle, we will wonder why the divinely appointed leader is inconsistent with the commandment. If we understand the Imamic principle, we understand that the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is part of the verbal revelation on which the Imam makes his verdict. But there are many other verbal legislations which we might overlook that also contribute. Finally, the Imam's direct assessment of the particular situation is crucial as well. When the Imam puts all of these together, his verdict is the consistent and relevant sum of divine revelation.
The same principle holds true with all verbal commandments. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is the one that especially becomes visible in the Mosaic series. Nothing is more typical of the period of Joshua than warfare and violence. The name Joshua means `God delivers'. He is the prototype successor of Moses. All twelve Imamic figures in the book of judges are of the same type. They are deliverers. Their main function is to kill as many enemies of the worshipers of God as possible. This is not inconsistent with the chain of Biblical revelation nor with the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'.
In the area of Imamic verdicts, the Bible sets forth the ones most central to practical needs. If we approach the verbal divine revelation for ourselves, we can often draw valid conclusions on what behaviour is required. But sometimes in practice the matter of what is clean and unclean, as with Noah, requires an on the spot evaluation. The verbal legislation does not cover the details of everything that is right or wrong. Without divine leadership, we would now and then run into trouble knowing what to do. Next comes, with Abraham and Isaac, the issue of taqiyyah. Without Imamic guidance we would be forced to reveal everything we know in every situation, or else take it upon ourselves to make legislative application. These two doubtful areas are the basic ones. Imamic leadership makes verdicts on the details of legislation (what is right and wrong) and on the application of legislation (what principle is appropriate to a specific situation). The matter of violent warfare falls into the latter class.
I fully realise that people unaccustomed to the concept of divine leadership will have difficulty grasping these principles. They will still have problems with Abraham and Isaac and struggle with the idea that they told their wives to lie. They will still have problems with violent warfare in the Bible.
I shall approach this difficulty in two steps. First, we must realise that our verdicts on what is right and wrong are not the criteria. We may think that violent warfare is always wrong, but we do not have the right to that opinion unless we reject Biblical authority. The tragedy of Saul reveals this clearly: 1 Samuel 15. The phrase `to obey is better than sacrifice' has become proverbial. God took the kingdom away from Saul, because he had pity on the enemy and did not kill them all as God commanded. God gave the kingdom to someone who would obey and kill those whom God said to kill. This is the Bible thought. Whether or not we like it, that fact is inescapable. In order to understand divine leadership we have to get used to the idea that a command of God is valid whether we like it or not.
The second step towards comprehension is to realise that our perception of reality is limited. Conflict between the verbal revelation and the practical application arises in our own minds through ignorance of both which legislation is applicable and what the whole situation is. Seeing a part of the whole, we draw conclusions different from those of the divine leader. Rather than accusing Abraham or Isaac of fostering falsehood, we should understand that the fault is in our own ignorance. When we perceive the divine guide as inconsistent, he is in fact carrying out the will of God. To do as we think he should do would be disobedience. When Saul saved the enemy king alive, he was disobeying the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. He was taking the commandment out of its revelatory and practical context. To misapply it is to disobey it.
The problem of violent warfare or even violent acts is perfectly resolved in the Imamate. The pacific principle in practice, however, prevails. Only warfare or violent acts commanded by the reigning divine leader are valid. Since governments on earth today do not even make the pretence of a claim to divine guidance, participation in their armies and warfare is forbidden. One may fight only at the command of a Moses or a David.
Seen from this point of view, the exploits of Samson can be enjoyed and applauded for the mighty feats of honour which they are. This need not, does not detract from our consistent application of the Imamic principle, which prevents us from participating in warfare or violence. On the other hand, according to Biblical principles, if the true divine leader of today mediated a command from God to kill, we would have the duty of endeavouring to obey it.