By The Rev. A. Katherine Grieb, Ph.D.
Today’s lessons deal with conflict. Judges 4-5 recount the battles between the Israelites and the Canaanites in the time of the prophet Deborah. Psalm 74 appeals to God for help after enemies have ravaged the Jerusalem Temple at the time of the exile (587 BCE). John 8 describes a polemical debate between Jesus and “the Jews” reflecting tensions between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
Judges 4 provides a prose account of the victory of Deborah and Barak over the powerful Canaanite army and the death of its general Sisera at the hands of Jael. Judges 5, the ancient “Song of Deborah,” is a poetic version of the same story. In verses 28-30, we are invited by Scripture to imagine Sisera’s mother looking out the window, waiting for her son to return victorious from the battle. We readers know that he will never return. Even as the desire for revenge is expressed (“so perish all your enemies, O LORD”), the Bible reminds us that for every victor in battle, there is also a vanquished soldier on the other side, who had a mother, a spouse, children.
Psalm 74 expresses faith in God’s saving power even as it describes atrocities done to the Jerusalem Temple. The same God who created the universe also defends the poor and needy. In tender love language, Israel is described as God’s pet dove, in danger of being devoured by wild animals (verse 19).
John 8 also describes Israel: this time Israel divided over the question of the identity of Jesus Christ. The bitter debate here reflects severe tensions between two groups of Jews after 70 CE: Jews who believe that God’s Messiah has come in Jesus and Jews who do not. The consequences of this argument would be played out for centuries to come with tragic results. As with every passage in Scripture, this chapter needs to be read carefully in the context of prayerful study. Only then can we continue in God’s word and know the truth that will set us all free.
Elsewhere (e.g., Matthew 5:44), Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. How are all of these Scripture passages to be read together?
Where am I called to be a peacemaker?
Where am I called to engage in struggle or conflict?
Can there ever be justification for violence performed in the Name of God?
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Help us, as we struggle for truth, to confront one another without hatred and teach us to work together for the common good of all.
The Rev’d Dr. A. Katherine Grieb has taught New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary since 1994.