Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Bible's Bathroom Joke; Judges 3:12-20

Rev. George Miller
Judges 3:12-30
October 9, 2016

Here is a list of current events:

-tension between groups in the Mid East
-Uncertainty over gender roles
-Power-hungry political leaders who chase after and demean women
-Child and spouse abuse
-Senseless acts of violence
-Moral confusion
-Narcissism (J. Clinton McCann, “Judges”, pp 1-2)

Except these aren’t today’s events, they were the current events taking place in Israel during the time period the Book of Judges covers.

Judges is a book that has familiar names, like Gideon, Samson, and Deborah. But it’s a book that’s rarely preached on in churches. In fact, the Lectionary (which I often use), recommends one reading from this book once every 3 years.


One guess is because Judges is the kind of Old Testament book in which God seems to always be angry, inflicting punishment and revenge, and seems to prefer war over the ways of peace that us progressive, protestant followers of Christ tend to prefer.

But read this book and you are left with deep theological questions about the nature and actions of God, and if God actually cares just about Israel and not one whit about the rest of the citizens of creation.

And then of course we have today’s reading, a raunchy, ribald action-adventure that is fit more for a Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” sequel than a Sunday reading. (And having Jean read it aloud is such a delight.)

Let’s be honest- Judges 3 is vulgar, violent, possibly racist, heroic, and funny as heck.

Not just funny, but punny.

In the original Hebrew, the left-handed Ehud is from the tribe of Benjamin, which literally means “Son of the Right-Hand.”

The name of the fat king is Eglon, which means “calf” or “bull.” So King Eglon is literally a fat cow.

The word for “message” is the same word as “thing”, so when Ehud tells the King he has a secret for him, and then pulls out a sword, Ehud is both lying and telling the truth.

“Dirt” can be a nice way of saying the inside of one’s bowels.

And we have this gratuitous scene in which the King’s staff think they’re smelling him going to the bathroom, but what they are really smelling is the after effects of said “dirt” being spilt out.

Not to mention this story is not easy for any of us men who are rather larger in girth and have been meaning to lose weight for the past 2-20 years but just haven’t gotten around to it.

Why such a story exist? What possible good can come from a vulgar bathroom joke in which 10,000 men die?

Well, we have to remove ourselves from our current station in life to understand.

This was as a story told, and written by, people who had experienced great oppression.

They were people who knew all about impotent rage.

They were people who underwent years, decades, and centuries of being oppressed and experienced all kinds of injustice.

And for people who’ve been oppressed, who are being held down by an oppressor, sometimes the only thing they have is humor.

The ability to laugh at one’s enemies is one of the most powerful balms; poking fun at those who hurt us can diminish their power and make them seem less invincible.

This story’s original tellers and listeners weren’t being cautiously politically correct.

They did not see this as a story of unfair murder, but a story of how their enemy was defeated, and how God rained down righteous vengeance upon people who had held them down for 18 years.

And the questions arise-
-did God really act this way back then or is this how people perceived God as working?
-does God still act this way now, and if so, what does that mean?
-did having a son in Jesus Christ change God?

There are numerous other questions, but for this remaining of our morning, I’d like to ask “How can we apply such a vulgar, violent, funny tale to today’s life?”

I say “easy.”

First thing to do is to think of who or what an enemy or a threat would be.

We just survived Hurricane Matthew. Matthew posed a threat to the entire state and east coast.

Gusts of wind, heavy rain, booming thunder, assured death and destruction.

What if Hurricane Matthew replaced King Eglon in our story?

Then we have a metaphorical tale about how God will deliver us from even the worst of storms, and that even though there is dirt, and mess, and uncertainty, God will prevail.

What if we replace Ehud with Jenny Craig?

Then we have a metaphorical story about how individual fat and America’s chronic-obesity epidemic is able to be slayed and destroyed through God.

That instead of using a knife to cut another piece of rich, decadent cake, Jenny Craig is able to cut down the fat that is enveloping our bodies and health-care system.

What if we replace King Eglon and the Moabites with other kinds of enemies?

What if the Moabites and King represented cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or AIDS?

And this story is about how God is able to come into our lives and destroy illness?

What if Ehud represents the medical community?

Then this story becomes a metaphorical telling of how God is able to use doctors, surgeons, medicine, and technology to care for and protect those living with illness.

If we see the king as disease and Ehud as the presence of God, then we can say that no matter how devastating, no matter how oppressive, no matter how evil cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS are-

-they are not more powerful than God, and they do not get to have the final say.

What if we went back 70 years and simply said Ehud represents our American military, and Eglon represented Hitler?

Then we would have a clear understanding of right and wrong, good and bad, free and oppression, and we would have zero issue with Hitler being taken down in a vulgar, funny, violent way.

Yes, today’s story is not what many expect out of the Bible.

Yes, today’s story is not neat, pretty and smelling like roses and lavender.

But today’s story is once again another instance in which we get to glimpse into the history of God and God’s people, and be reminded:

That God is free. God acts unexpectedly; God cannot be controlled.

Which means if God wants to use a lefty in a world of righties- God will.

If God wants to rely upon crafty word-play that borders on the deceptive- God will.

If God wants to use the tools of the enemy against them, such as their greed, their over-consumption, their false idols- God will.

If God wants to enjoy a good fart joke- God will.

If God wants to stop injustice, unkindness, and egocentrism- God will.

God is free, God is wild, God is funny. God is complex. God is with us in the lofty places, and God is even with us in the outhouse.

That’s amazing when you realize there is not a place in which God will not go; there is not a story in which God cannot be made known.

For that, I believe we can ALL say Amen and amen.

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