Thursday, July 14, 2005

Turbulence: A Speech Act Reading of Judges 17

Our country is experiencing a severe turbulence right now. We can see in the news the highly-explosive atmosphere in Metro Manila. Not only can you feel the tension in the streets but even more so in the Stock market. Investors are on a high level of alert as that of the PNP. Who would want to invest in a very politically volatile country? No one, I guess.

Being in Baguio somehow makes us feel isolated. It somehow makes us feel detached from the heat in Manila. Nevertheless, we are very much involved with what's happening. All of us have an opinion about what's going on. How many of you have hello garci ring tones? How many of you visited the PCIJ website to listen to the taped conversations? Anybody here who got a free CD from the opposition?

This turbulent time we are experiencing right now reminds me of a segment in the history of the Israelites. Our passage this morning is Judges 17:1-13.

I describe this passage both confusing and shocking to a modern reader. We had a family devotion last week on this same passage and it took an effort to explain this passage to the point that will make enough sense. This is a very unusual passage stuck right in our Holy Scriptures. Those who love proof-texting irregardless of context would find this passage full of land mines.

1Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it.”

Then his mother said, “The LORD bless you, my son!”

The passage begins with a mother-son encounter. We can only infer what preceded this event. Here, Micah is confessing to his mother his sin. He took 1100 silver from his mother without her knowledge. As soon as his mother found out that the silver is gone, she uttered a curse – probably a lethal one – for the thief right in his presence. This could have bothered his conscience. His mother was quick to counter the curse she uttered when he learned that her son was the thief.

From here we learn that Micah and his mother are believers of the LORD – as the used formula for blessing implies.

3When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you.”

This is where con
fusion first comes in. Micah's mother is consecrating the silver to the LORD. However, the consecrated silver was intended for a carved image and cast idol.

I bet that Exodus 20 would flash automatically in your mind. Micah's mother is dedicating her silver to the LORD to be used in something that would violate the LORD's command.

The words carved image and cast idol undoubtedly refer to those things forbidden by the LORD. These two are the most common form of idols found in the Canaanite religions. The carved image is usually made of wood; a sculpture of a god. The cast idol is made by pouring molten metal to a mold, probably in the shape of a bull. This same thing was done by Aaron in the wilderness which earned them the wrath of God.

These same forbidden objects are the objects Micah's mother wanted his son to have – and this is through the silver consecrated to the LORD.

4So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah’s house.

Here is a twist. Earlier, Micah's mother dedicated ALL of the returned silver specifically for making an idol and an image. This is somewhat inconclusive using the English text. But in the Hebrew text, there is no doubt that the entire 1100 was dedicated. Now, she only gave 200 for that. What she did with the rest is left to our imagination.

5Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest.

This is another point of confusion. Micah has his own chapel! This is totally unacceptable. In Joshua 22:10-32, the tribes west of Jordan was ready to eradicate the eastern tribes because they constructed an altar on their shore. The western tribes were willing to do this because they believe that there should only be one altar for the LORD; which at that time was on the western side.

Now in the time of Micah, the tabernacle is in Shiloh; which is not so very far from his town. Micah also had an ephod which is a garment for priests only, in his possession. He also had some idols, aside from what his mother 'donated' to his shrine.

Micah violated the Priestly code when he installed one of his sons as priest. Only the house of Aaron can function as priests.

6In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.

7A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, 8left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim.

9Micah asked him, “Where are you from?”

I’m a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,” he said, “and I’m looking for a place to stay.”

10Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” 11So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons. 12Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. 13And Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.”

After sometime, a Levite joined Micah and became his priest. Again, Micah made another violation of the priestly code when he installed the Levite. Only priests can install/consecrate another priest.

Finally we read of Micah's declaration that the LORD will be good to him for what he has done.

Now we ask the question, How can this person (and his mother) say they are devotees of the LORD after all the things that they have done?

So how do we make sense of this passage?
First we have to understand that Micah belongs to a generation that has a distorted understanding of the LORD. We read in Judges 2:10,

After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.

Second, Israel's partial obedience has allowed some of the surrounding nations to remain. These nations has somehow exerted influence on the Israelites, instead of the other way around.

Finally, we need to realize that these last chapters of the book of Judges, where our passage belongs, is a treaty justifying the need for monarchical rule. The author utilized a literary device called inclusio to drive home his point. This inclusio serves as the marker as well as a unifying theme in this last passages. If you will notice, the phrase “In those days, Israel had no king” appeared at the end of each episode within Chapters 17-21, namely 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25. The first and last occurences have added “everyone did as he saw fit”.

If we will apply Speech Act Theory to our task of interpreting this text, we'll discover that the author is pro-monarchical and either: (a)proposing a change in the current structure of the government; (b)justifying the current form of government.

Speech Act Theory is a theory of language that proposes that words are not only used to state a fact. In the past, words were measured by their truthfulness or falsity. Speech act instead focuses on what you are trying to do with the words you used. In this case, the author is not just merely describing/reporting (as in a news report) what's happening in those days. He is not just stating the fact that there was no king in Israel in those days; nor was he just commenting on “everyone did as he saw fit.” He is trying to communicate a message across. Speech act is after the “illocutionary” meaning rather than the syntactical-grammatical meaning.

If we will follow that line of reasoning, then we can now understand how the author utilized the passages in order to achieve his desired effect. However, speech act theory is not limited to human authors only. I believe that this part of the Scripture is inspired by God to be written where it is right now. I believe that God even inspired the events that our human author could use as his material for this section. The author first painted a very confused Israelites – in their worship, in their morals, and even in their inter-tribal affairs. He described chaos after chaos resulting from the slogan “each to his own”. I could say that they are anachronistic for those the very same slogan of the postmodernists; maybe we can call them primordial postmoderns. Then after each episode, he states “In those days, Israel had no king.” In effect he is saying, this is what happens when we have no leader tying us together.

Does that sound familiar to you, especially when you turn your TV on and watch the latest news?

The Philippines indeed need a leader. We need a monarchical form of government. However, I am speaking of a different sphere here. I am not proposing a change in the temporal political arena. I am speaking about the Kingdom of God.

Someone has told me, without batting an eyelash, that if we only have a Christian president in MalacaƱang, then the Philippines would be better. Yeah right.

The Philippines is in chaos right now. Although we need to address temporal issues as well, we must not lose touch with our original mandate. From the passage we saw that without a king, Israel experienced chaos. The Philippines need a king. That King is Jesus. The Philippines need monarchy. That is the Kingdom of God. Let us not forget that.

1 comment:

Bong said...

hmmmm...interesting reading on this passage. worthy of a dissertation!