A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

David Slays Goliath (1 Samuel, Chapter 17)

David slays Goliath.  From kingjamesbibleonline.org

Perhaps one of the most well-known stories of the Bible is about young David killing the giant Philistine champion named Goliath.  

Prior to David's encounter with Goliath, the Israelites and the Philistines have been battling it out for at least 40 days near the Valley of Elah, in a place called Ephesdammin. During each of those days, the 10-foot tall Goliath would start off the day taunting the Israelites, saying that if one of them can defeat him, then the Philistines will be their servants; and vice versa.  No one took him up on this offer.

David wanted to take him up on this opportunity, but he was young and he wasn't part of the Israelite army.  But after hearing about these taunts, David approached Saul (who still thinks he is king) and tells him that as a shepherd, he killed a lion AND a bear at the same time when they took one of his father's lambs.  He even saved the lamb by taking it out of the lion's mouth.  

This story deserves a little attention.  After all, it is highly unlikely that both a lion AND a bear would ever cooperate to take a lamb from a flock.

But this story was meant to convince Saul that he (David) can easily take on Goliath.  Apparently, Saul was convinced!  He offered David his sword and some armor, but David refused and instead chose five smooth stones by a nearby river and his sling.

When Goliath sees David approaching him, he laughs.  After all, David just a youth.   Goliath had a huge sword, a brass helmet, and some heavy mail.  So, Goliath was well armed and armored.  David, on the other hand, just had his robe, a wooden staff, a sling, and some rocks.  David was not put off at all, he said a few choice insults, calmly grabbed a stone from his bag, and then slung it at Goliath.  

Too bad this story is probably not real, because the one shot, one kill with a measly sling would make any sniper proud.  The stone embedded itself into Goliath's head, who then fell face down.  David took Goliath's sword and cut off his head.

The sight of this scared the bejesus out of the Philistines, who turned tail and ran.  The Israelites seized the opportunity and pursued the routing army.  

Needless to say, Saul was thoroughly impressed by David's performance.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yahweh Chooses A New King (1 Samuel, Chapter 16)

Samuel anoints David.  Image from Wikipedia  

Chapter 16 is an interesting chapter.  It's about how Yahweh (God) chooses a new king, largely because the previous king (Saul) did not kill everyone and everything as he was commanded.  This chapter has some contradictions and just overall foolishness.

It starts with God asking Samuel how long he's going to mourn over the loss of Saul as king, because God has someone else in mind and would like to get moving on this new project.  God's idea is to get one of "Jesse's" sons.  I'm not sure who Jesse is.  The author of this chapter must be one of those people who brings up people's names in conversations whom the listener doesn't know but is expected to know.  

Samuel is worried because if he tells Saul that he is no longer king, then Saul might just kill Samuel.  So, God comes up with a clever plan.  First, the "spirit" of God left Saul, and God instead replaces this spirit with an "evil spirit."  The spirit of God had went into David after Samuel anointed him a little earlier in the chapter.

Later, Saul (who apparently hasn't been told yet that he's no longer king) is sitting around his court with an evil spirit inside him, and decides that he wants a musician.  He hears that Jesse's son David is a great harp player, and that God is with him too. Oh, the irony!  He doesn't realize that the God is LITERALLY with David!

So, David shows up and plays harp for Saul.  While David is playing the "evil spirit from God" LEAVES Saul because of David's astounding harp playing.  Saul absolutely loves David, and becomes an instant fan. 

The chapter ends here, but the contradiction is that here we see that Saul knows who David is.  But, in the next chapter, Saul completely forgets who David is!  It's things like this why scholars over the years think that each book of the Bible may have multiple authors, who were using other texts that said slightly different things.  In this case, it's like watching Metallica play and then falling in love with their music, but shortly afterward completely forgetting who they are.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Saul bumbles again (1 Samuel, Chapter 15)

Saul grabs Samuel's robe, and accidentally tears it (15:27).
Image from HTML Bible

Chapter 15 is pretty straight forward.  Basically, God (aka Yahweh) remembers that Amalekites did some pretty mean things to the Israelites a few hundred years ago, so He orders that they should be exterminated - elderly, men, women, children, infants, livestock, EVERYTHING).

Saul does a few things wrong however, he actually let a group of people called the Kenites go, because they were actually kind to the Israelites even though they were living with the Amalekites.  I don't think this is what got Yahweh pissed off, though.  What pissed Yahweh off was that Saul didn't kill everyone.

Saul had the gall to let the Amalekite king live (though all other Amalekites were slaughtered - men, women, children), and Saul decided to keep the best of the animals.

This pissed Yahweh off to no end, and He even said that He regretted making Saul a king.  Imagine that - God has regrets!

Now, to be honest, Saul did this because the people asked.  But, this is not what the Supreme Leader asked, via His spokesperson Samuel.

When Samuel learned that Saul had not followed the God's commands to the letter, He chewed out the king, in a display that showed who the real power was.  The power isn't the king, who is a secular authority of sorts, but through the priesthood and especially via Samuel.  In the picture above, Saul is shamed for his bad behavior and grabs the mantle of Samuel's cloak, accidentally tearing it.

After tearing the cloak, Samuel sees symbolism in it and says that God has torn the Kingdom of Israel away from you, Saul, and has given it to your neighbor.

The chapter ends in a final morbid scene.  Saul, who has been stripped of his kingship, approaches King Agag of the Amalekites - their last surviving member.  "Surely, the bitterness of death has passed," said Agag.

Saul replies, "As the sword has made women childless, so too will your mother (who is probably dead by now) be childless among women."  With that, Saul cut Agag into many pieces.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Should Saul's Son Die Because He Ate Honey? (1 Samuel, Chapter 14)

Archaeologists think these two rocks at Michmach Gorge (forefront), are the rocks named Bozez and Seneh, mentioned in this chapter.  
From LifeInTheHolyLand.com

In this chapter, we're faced with an interesting question.  If a rule is made, but someone who didn't hear the rule breaks it, should that person be punished? 

In this chapter, Saul's son Jonathan and perhaps 600 men secretly leave to go wreak havoc among the Philistines.  As Jonathan made his way to the Philistines, the text mentions him passing through two rocks called Bozez and Seneh (see photo above). 

I like how the author played up the conflict.  On the one hand, the Israelites call the Philistines "the uncircumcised".  On the other, the Philistines seem to refer to the Israelites as rats.  "Look," says one Philistine, "the Israelites have come out of the holes in which they've been hiding."

The short battle, affectionately called Jonathan's "first slaughter", resulted in 20 dead Philistines in a one-half acre area.  The Israelite God (Yahweh) was very pleased at this turn of events and caused an earthquake.

This victory enthused the Israelites so much that they joined Saul and Jonathan in the fight against the Philistines, and wreaked plenty of destruction and shed much blood. 

It is here that Saul makes an oath, "Any man who eats before the evening will be cursed, so I can avenge my enemies."  The problem is, at the time of this decree, Saul's son Jonathan was not around.

While Jonathan was out slaughtering Philistines, he had eaten some honey.  (1 Samuel 14:27)

Later on, when Jonathan heard of this decree, he was convinced that he had to die.  Saul was even convinced!  However, the Israelites loved Jonathan so much because of his battlefield victories they asked that he not be sacrificed.

After the Philistines are put into their place, the Israelites take over Israel and continue fighting (and slaughtering) the other tribes - Moabites, Ammonites, Ebonites, the kings of Zobah, and even their old friends the Amalekites. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Samuel Rebukes Paul (1 Samuel, Chapter 13)

Samuel gets pissed at Saul for being impatient and offering a sacrifice too soon.  From Outset Ministry

I guess old Saul started getting a little power hungry, or he was starting to displease the clergy.  Chapter 13 starts off with Saul sending troops to take out the Philistine garrison in nearby Geba.  Naturally, Philistines in surrounding areas were pissed after hearing about this, and started raising an army against the Israelites.

The Israelites were starting to panic, and started hiding all over the place: in caves, in forests, wherever.  Those who were with Saul stayed with him, though they too were a little scared.  Of course, Saul did what any Bronze Age ruler would do when the odds were stacked against him.  He gathered a bunch of animals, and offered them up as a sacrifice.

When finally Samuel came around, he approached Saul and told him he screwed up big time.  What was his big mistake?  Aside from starting another war with the Philistines, Samuel made the burnt offerings too soon.  I know what you're thinking.  GASP!  How could he?!?

Samuel said that Yahweh must have made a mistake.  Even after all the signs which pointed to Saul, apparently he was the wrong guy!  Samuel says, "But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee."

This is a prelude to a future chapter.  After showing that he was willing to take matters into his own hands, and not consult the clergy, the real powermongers (the clergy) decided that Saul was not the easily controlled puppet whom they thought he'd be.  That's just my reading of it.  They will eventually bring in another king, who will be far more pious then Saul.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Samuel Shows Off (1 Samuel, Chapter 12)

Samuel, the guy who with the help of Yahweh crowned the Israelites' first king, goes out to the people and tells them what's up.

"I heard your voice and have made a king for you.  He walks among you today.  Tell me, is there any among you who can say I stole from them, lied to them, or received a bribe?  Anyone?," taunted Sam. (12:1)

Of course, I think that if this story is true there was probably quite a bit of deception going on, as this is basically Samuel playing politics.  He's going to make an argument saying that God (Yahweh) is on his side.  This is where religion meets politics. 

The Israelites, the Bronze Age superstitious tribesmen that they were, had no reason to think that Samuel was lying, so they reply, "No, you haven't lied to us or deceived us!"

I like to imagine Samuel doing flourishes with his hands, like a televangelist, when he recounts how Yahweh led their people out of Egypt, and the early history of the Israelites, with their various eras of slavery and liberation, and all the times that Yahweh killed even them when they chose not to believe.

He's essentially saying that Yahweh brought them to where they are today.

"Behold the king you have chosen, and whom you have desired!  Behold, God has given you a king!" exclaimed Samuel!" exclaimed Samuel, probably to the roar of a crowd.

"If you obey His (Yahweh's) commandments, then you and the king's reign shall continue.  But, if you don't ... you know what happens, and what has happened in the past!" (12:5-15)

Of course, it doesn't say it, and I'm not sure how historical this story is, but if it is indeed a historical account and some scribe was writing down everything Samuel was saying, this next part is pretty cool.

Storm clouds were probably coming their way, and any good shaman could use it as a way to emphasize their message.  "Now see this - today is harvest day, is it not?  I will call upon God, and He will send thunder and rain, so that you will see that by asking for a king, you've actually done a wicked thing."  (12:16)

Samuel "called" upon Yahweh and sure enough, thunder and rain happened; and the people were scared of both Yahweh and Samuel.

"Follow Yahweh, your God, and live; but if you should falter in your faith, both you AND your king will be consumed," concluded Samuel. (12:19-24)

These quotes attributed to Samuel aren't verbatim of course, I'm reading a King James version, but this is basically what is being said.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Slaughter of the Ammonites (1 Samuel, Chapter 11)

David Punishing the Ammonites. By Gustave Dore, created in the 1800s

Strange things start brewing when an Ammonite named Nahash meets up with the elders of Judah.  The elders offer a peace treaty and an alliance (i.e. a covenant), and Nahash essentially says, "We can have peace if you allow me to pluck out each of your right eyes."

The elders are taken aback, and said, "Hm, give us seven days.  If no one wants to save us, then we'll come to you."

The elders go back to the city and tell the inhabitants of their plight, to which they all cry.

The elders then run to King Saul, who gets angry (actually, God gets angry and that's why Saul gets angry) and thus Saul's first task as king will be dealing with the Ammonites.

Saul basically rounded up 30,000 Israelites from Judah and then laid waste to 300,000 Ammonites, "slaying the Ammonites until the heat of the day."  The Ammonites survivors were so few and scattered about that no two were left together.

Afterward, Saul enters Israel (where the Ammonites were), and renews the kingdom in Gilgal.  A celebration of the new king of Israel then ensued, with God knows how many sacrifices, and all the men had fun.  Presumably, the women had to clean up after them.  Wow, not much changed after so many thousands of years!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Coronotion of Saul (1 Samuel, Chapter 10)

Saul preaching at Ramah.    Credit: By David Martin (1639-1721).This painting is more than 100 years old.

The most interesting thing about reading the Bible is marveling how simple its authors are.  We really get a feel for what impresses them.  We come across obvious errors in the text, which are irreconcilable to the dogma that the Bible is "inerrant".

Chapter 10 is basically about Yahweh's plan to make Saul more credible as a candidate for king.  The fact that Yahweh picked Saul Himself seems to escape the Israelites, who like most people just want a credible person to be in charge.

Using Miracles to Affect Politics

First, Saul has to be convinced so a series of signs happen to help him.  First, he will meet "two men by Rachel's sepulchre" who will speculate on Saul's father, feeling bad for his sons loss of sheep.  Second, he will come across three men, who will give him two loaves and some wine. Then, a public sign is practically staged so that the people will see Saul as being worthy of the crown.  This involves Saul prophesying in the company of 100 prophets.

All these signs happen in order, and when he prophesies with the 100 prophets, the people are impressed.  They ask themselves, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"

Biblical Errancy

Right here is where I want to point out one of the inerrancies.  Later on, in 1 Samuel 19:24, is another story that is supposed to be the origin of the rumor that Saul is a prophet.  The story is completely different, and involves him lying around naked!

Anyways, later on the Israelite tribes vote for a king, and when Saul is selected he is nowhere to be found.  The Israelites asked Yahweh where Saul is, and Yahweh says, "Behold, he has hid himself among the stuff."

Read that again.  I thought that was kind of funny.

Finally, when Saul is found, he stands taller than the rest of the Israelites "from his shoulders upward."  Here, we can see how being tall is an impressive trait to the Israelites.  It still is today!  While the author seems to be using Saul's height as a justification for his kingship, no one can deny that tall height is a desirable characteristic.  

The only people who don't seem to dig Saul are the children of Belial, who grumble among themselves asking, "How will this man save us?"  Their feelings toward Saul were apparently strong enough for them to not give him a coronation gift.

Mention of a Possible Lost Book

Of particular interest is mention of a possible lost book; another Book of Samuel.  Chapter 10:25: "Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book."  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yahweh Chooses Saul As King of the Israelites (1 Samuel, Chapter 9)

In Chapter 9, a young man named Saul is introduced.  He's tall, handsome, and "goodly".  In fact, he's the "goodliest" man of all the Benjamites.  One day he was sent, along with a servant, to look for his father's donkeys, and he went all over the land looking for those damned donkeys, too!

Finally, as fate would have it, he happened upon the city in which Samuel (the current judge) was waiting for him.  The night before, Yahweh (God) told Samuel that around this time tomorrow the man who He chose to be king of the Israelites would appear. 

So, from the humble origins of a man looking for his dad's donkeys, Saul stumbles into quite a conundrum.  He finds the donkeys at least, because they were apparently found by Samuel.  Saul was surprised by all the special treatment he was receiving, for he was a member of the smallest of the Israelite tribes, and was of fairly simple origins. 

The chapter ends in cliffhanger fashion with Samuel just about to break the news to Saul.  After some fine dining, Samuel tells Saul: "Ask your servant to leave (and the servant leaves) and stand still for awhile, for I am going to show you the Word of God."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Israelites Demand a King (1 Samuel, Chapter 8)

King Saul, from Wikimedia Commons

While Samuel was a good judge, his two sons were apparently a couple of crooks; caring mostly about money, taking bribes, and having bad judgment in general.  So, the Israelites didn't want these two guys running the show.  Instead, they wanted to have a king to judge them.

Samuel was a little butthurt about this and consulted old Yahweh.  Yahweh said by wanting a king, they are rejecting Me, and this is made most abundantly clear by the fact that they are still worshiping other gods!  

Yes, the Israelites are still worshiping other gods!  It's almost like this one isn't obvious enough for them.

Yahweh instructs Samuel to let the people know what a king entails, and Samuel does as he is told.
Sammy boy let's the Israelites know that a king will take all their firstborn sons and use them to ride his chariots in battle, or as foot soldiers; and that a tenth of everything they own will belong to the king.

The Israelites didn't mind that all, and still wanted to have a king to rule over them.  Samuel reports this to the Creator of the Universe, and so He instructs Samuel to appoint a king.  The chapter ends with Samuel calling out to the men of the city, "Go ye every man unto his city."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Retrieving the Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant found ... at DragonCon!!!  Photo by Olaf Gradin

Retrieving the Ark of the Covenant (Chapter 7) - Since last time, the Philistines have been in a mad dash to rid themselves of the Ark of the Covenant, which has brought nothing but suffering to them.  In Chapter 7, the Ark finds itself in an old house in the town of Kirjathjearim, where it stays for about 20 years!

Finally, Samuel suggests to the Israelites that if they give up the gods Baalim and Ashtaroth, then Yahweh will free them from the Philistines.  So, the Israelites drop the two other gods and begin worshiping Yahweh fervently. 

After the Israelites do this, Samuel then asks the Israelites to gather in the valley of Mizpeh.  Whent he Philistines get word of this movement, they send men out to deal with what they think was an attempt at rebellion by the already beaten Israelite people.
However, after praying to Yahweh and after Samuel sacrifices a young lamb, God takes out all the Philistines who rose up against the Israelites and the chapter ends very quickly after that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A golden nugget found in a Las Vegas casino.  Does it look like a hemorrhoid?
Photo by Ken Lund, Creative Commons

Give unto God ... um ... golden images of your hemorrhoids? (1 Samuel, Chapter 6) - As I read through the Bible, I am continuously struck by the things that I missed the first time around!  This chapter did not disappoint me in weirdness.

The Philistines, in shock because so many died at the hands of the Israelite god Yahweh, wanted to get rid of the Ark of the Covenant.  They had also suffered mice and a particularly nasty case of hemorrhoids because of their capture of the Ark.  Sure, Yahweh helped them capture it, and oddly enough is punishing the ones He just helped out, but I never said the story was supposed to make sense.

Now, the Philistines just want to return the cursed thing, and so ask the terms in which to return it.  The Israelite representative suggests that the Philistines DO NOT return it empty!  Rather, they must cast five golden mice and five golden hemorrhoids.

Yes, that's right!  Part of the return policy is to cast images of the hemorrhoids that just afflicted them!  Wow, that's really rubbing their nose in their afflictions, isn't it!?!

Well, they do it!

Finally, to prove that it was indeed the Israelite god that is responsible for the deaths and the afflictions, the Philistines do one last investigative technique.  After putting the golden hemorrhoids and mice into the Ark, and having the Ark towed by two cows, the Philistines let the cows go.  If the cows go straight to a place called Bethshemeth, then indeed it was Yahweh's doing.  The cows do go to Bethshemeth.  Therefore, it was Yahweh's doing.  There's something fishy about that line of reasoning, and I'll leave that to you the reader to figure out.

When some farmers in Bethshemeth happen upon the Ark, they look inside and find the five hemorrhoids and five mice, and they send each piece of gold to surrounding cities.  However, because they looked into the Ark, Yahweh kills 50,000 people from Bethshemeth!  As the proverb goes, "Curiosity killed the cat."

So now, the men of Bethshemeth want to get rid of the Ark, and plot to give it to the nearby town of Kirjathjearim.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Semitic fertility god Dagon.  Public Domain.

Bad luck follows those who house the Ark of the Covenant (Chapter 5) - A series of unfortunate events followed the captors of the Israelites' Ark of the Covenant, first to the city of Ashdod. 

First, the Philistines lay the Ark next to a statue of Dagon, the Philistine fertility god.  The next morning, Dagon was facedown on the ground.  Thinking it was a coincidence, they set Dagon upright again and the next morning the statue was fallen again, only this time with its head and hands removed. 

Later, Yahweh (the Israelite god) became angry of the Philistines, "destroyed" many of them, and then smote the rest of them with hemorrhoids!!! 

The people of Ashdod then suggest that the statue be moved to the nearby city of Gath, and upon hearing this the people of Gath say, "Hell no, we don't want hemorrhoids!" 

This is a funny story, albeit a little disturbing.  Why would Yahweh be so upset about the Ark being in Philistine hands?  These days, He's always portrayed as being all powerful (and all-knowing), yet He seems unable to do much more than regional punishments.  On top of that, His punishments seem odd and unjust.  If a god is angry that some people stole the Ark that represents His covenant to some other Bronze Age tribe, why doesn't He just kill those responsible? Why kill and cause hemorrhoids to people who had absolutely nothing to do with it?  

More importantly, how did this happen in the first place?  We're talking about the Almighty, right?  I guess not yet.  Yahweh isn't Almighty yet.  That comes much later.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eli falls off his chair.  Image from Souljourner Blog.

Hebrews Suffer an Odd Defeat (1 Samuel Chapter 4) - In Chapter 4, the Israelites (or Hebrews) are at odds with the dreaded Philistines.  The Philistines were about to attack when they heard an immense shout come from the Israelite camp.  I guess the Ark of the Covenant had just come into the camp.

At first, the Philistines were intimidated by this sound that "shook the earth," but after some encouragement were persuaded into attacking the camp.  They succeeded in killing Eli's two sons.  Eli was the current judge who had been holding that position for 40 years.  The Philistines also took the Ark of the Covenant.

Later, when Eli was informed about the loss to the Philistines, and about the death of his sons, he was saddened.  But when he heard that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken too, he fell back in his chair (pictured) and broke his neck.

In memorial of these events, a woman who gave birth to a son shortly afterward named her son Ichabod, because the glory of Israel had been taken.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Samuel sleeping, just before he is "called".  Photo by Amanda Truss

Samuel receives his calling (1 Samuel, Chapter 3) - How awesome would it be to actually know beforehand your calling in life?  Well, in this chapter the young child Samuel receives his calling, and it is fairly amusing story.

Late at night, the child Samuel is awakened by a voice calling him.  He goes to his dad (Eli) and asks what he wants.  Eli says he didn't call him and to go lie back down.  This happens two more times.

The second time it happens, Eli figures that Yahweh (Israelite god) has been calling Samuel, and so Eli tells Samuel to lay down and the next time he hears the voice to say, "Speak, for your servant hears you."

So, on the third time that Samuel is called, he responds, "Speak, for your servant hears you."

Yahweh explains that He's going to do something that will "tickle the ears" of all Israel, and what He's going to do is this: punish the House of Eli!  Because of the horrible things that Eli's sons have done, the House of Eli will be punished.  This brings up a good moral question:  Should the sins of one group of people be brought to bear upon their descendents?

So, the next morning Eli is interested in hearing what Yahweh had told young Samuel.  And Samuel tells him everything.  Eli is content with it, and basically says, "Let Yahweh do whatever He thinks is good."

And that brings up ANOTHER moral dilemma - is what God says always good?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The wrath of God?  Photo by ReubenInStt

Instilling the fear of Yahweh (1 Samuel, Chapter 2) - This chapter is all about instilling a sense of awe and fear toward Yahweh, and in a way it mirrors similar chapters in other books I've already went through.

First, the general impression is this - be faithful and you will get great rewards in life: wealth, family, success, etc.

But if for you don't believe in Yahweh, watch out!  He'll send thunderstorms to break your body, make you poor, make you hungry.  Basically, he's going to make your life suck, if He doesn't kill you outright.

That's basically the idea behind it.  There's also a little ditty that reveals the level of astronomical knowledge of these Bronze Age tribesmen.  At 1 Samuel 2:8, the author writes "for the pillars of the Earth is the Lord's; and He hath set the world upon them."

In other words, these people believed that the world is held up by pillars, and God put the world up on these pillars.

Finally, there is another where Yahweh, much like his contemporary Zeus, visits Hannah (see previous entry) and she conceives a son.

Yahweh is such a sly dog - I mean god.  Ain't He?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hannah pleads to God.  Image from 'My Year of Jubilee'

The Birth of Samuel (1 Samuel, Chapter 1) - Samuel is born into a turbulent, polygamist family; and Chapter 1 focuses largely on his mother Hannah.

Hannah is the true love of Elkanah, though he had another wife.  Hannah was barren (it says God 'shut her womb'), but the other wife did.  The other wife's name was Peninnah.  Peninnah was essentially Hannah's archnemesis.  Hannah and Elkanah were in love, but Peninnah bore sons for Elkanah.  This was essentially the life of women in the Bronze Age, by the way.

Anyways, every year Hannah went to the temple and pleaded to God so that she could have a child.  A priest named Eli notices this, and asks her what's wrong.  She explains, and then he tells her to go home, because God has answered her request.

So, she goes home, finally free of her depression, gets 'jiggy' with her husband Elkanah and lo and behold she has a child, which she names Samuel!

One year later, she takes the child to the temple with Elkanah with three bulls, sacrifice one of them, and then she presents the child to the priest Eli.  She then dedicates Samuel to the service of God.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Boaz purchases Ruth as a wife (Ruth, Chapter 4) - I remember when I first got married, and my wife's father gave her to me.  Though the ritual is largely symbolic these days, we shouldn't remember the tradition from which it came.  In the past, wives truly were the property of the husband.

Ruth, the Moabitess, was a widow.  However, and if I'm wrong someone please correct me, it seems she was still technically the property of her dead husband.  But, since he was dead Ruth was under the care of her dead husband's mother (Naomi).  In order for Boaz to marry her, because he did love her, he basically had to purchase her from Naomi, and to sweeten the deal he purchased Naomi's crops and basically all the belongings of both Naomi and Ruth's dead husbands (who were the true owners).

What happens next is utterly ridiculous.  Ruth and Boaz get married, and they have a son named Obed, who will later be the father of King David.  Naomi, who is too old to conceive, assists in the raising of her "grandson" by nursing him.  Naomi's not really a grandmother, of course.  Because Ruth got married to a new man, Naomi has no claim to the child.

She's just an old friend - a really old friend who happens to be able to produce milk at an advanced age!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Boaz Met Ruth (Ruth, Chapter 3) - Up until now, the story was something that might parallel Thelma & Louise. But it now it has made a twist from the modern story of feminine friendship, to an ancient desert tribeswoman's attempt to get a well-to-do Israelite in the sack.

Ruth's former mother-in-law (Ruth's husband died, remember?), Naomi, comes up with an idea for Ruth to hook up with Boaz, the rich guy whom she works for.  She says for her to wait until he's finished eating and drinking, and then go into his room, expose his penis, and basically wait at his feet until he wakes up.

Ruth, following her mother-in-law's advice, waits patiently for the well-fed and drunk Boaz to stumble to the "end of the heap of corn (again with the corn!)".  She then quietly approaches him, uncovers his genitals, and then waits at his feet. 

If you remember in Thelma & Louise, by this time Louise had already murdered a man who almost raped Thelma.  Now, in the Book of Ruth, we're talking about something entirely different - seduction.

Boaz wakes up, startled that his junk is exposed in the night air, and then notices Ruth at his feet.  Lucky him!

He says, "Who are you?"

And she replies, "I am your handmaid.  Would you want to make love with me, though I'm just a handmaid?  We are near kin."  Sorry, I'm trying to translate the King James version, here.  But that's basically what she is saying.

Naturally, Boaz says, "You are so kind.  I thought you'd be out chasing the young studs, but you've chosen me.  OF COURSE we can make love!"

The next day, he tells Ruth not to tell anyone what happened, and gave her six bales of barley to bring to her mother-in-law. 

Naomi, the mother-in-law, said that be still, my daughter, until you know how this matter will fall.  Boaz will not be at ease "until he has finished the thing this day."

Nice, a cliffhanger!  What is "the thing" that Boaz must finish?  I guess we'll find out next time!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Ruth meets Boaz (Ruth, Chapter 2) - When she got to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth began working.  In particular, she was harvesting "corn" when the local landowner (or lord) approached her.  His name was Boaz.

So right there we have a problem.  Corn is something that was only known in the Americas, and the Americas were not known to the people of the Middle East at that time.  Whoever translated the King James Bible must have confused "corn" with some other crop - perhaps wheat?

Anyways, Boaz basically just told Ruth that he's welcome in his field, that she should feel free to drink water and eat, and that he generally admires her for leaving her homeland to be with them.

Basically, it was just a nice gesture of hospitality to the young woman.

Now, if we could just figure out how they got corn in the field 3,000 years before they knew it existed!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Photo by Robert Bejil Photography, Creative Commons

The ancient story of Thelma and Louise (Ruth, Chapter 1) - Who are the two hotties shown above, and why did I choose their photo?  Because I can't put photos from the movie Thelma and Louise, for copyright reasons.  But the two women pictured tell the story, a story about an intense friendship between two women.  That is the story that is being told in the Book of Ruth.

Ruth is a Moabite; a tribe of people disdained by the Israelites.  Deuteronomy 23:3 even says, "That no Moabite shall enter the congregation of the Lord."  Her husband was the son of another widow named Naomi, who is an Israelite hailing originally from Bethlehemjudah.

After Ruth's husband died, she chose to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, while the other sister-in-law decided to separate from them.

Ruth's vow to Naomi was this (Ruth 1:16 -17):  "Do not ask me to leave you, or to return.  For where you go, I will go; and you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die and there will I be buried.  The LORD do so to me, and more also, only death will part you and I."

With this oath, Naomi saw that Ruth was now her lifelong companion.  I know there's a few people out there who think these two are lesbians, but I don't see any reason to go down that route.  They're B.F.F.'s.  Obviously, Ruth loved her mother-in-law a lot, and enjoyed her companionship.

Together, they set out for Bethlehem.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tribe of Benjamin's emblem.
Image from S.S. Teacher Edition: Holy Bible, 1896

Keeping up the Benjamins (Judges, Chapter 21) - Prior to Chapter 20, the Israelites had formed a loose confederation of 12 tribes which were ruled by a council of judges.  After the events of Chapter 20 at the Battle of Gibeah, the tribe of Benjamin was decimated because they had tried to either kill, or gangrape, one of the other Israelite men, a Levite.   It's not clear whether they wanted to kill or gangrape him, but it sounds similar to the story of Noah and I'm leaning toward gangrape.

Instead, the Benjamite men gangraped the man's concubine.  After the gangrape, the Israelite man cut his wife up into pieces and sent the pieces to different parts of the confederation of tribes, and the tribes responded by basically destroying the Benjamins.  If you look at a map of the 12 tribes of Israel, the Benjamins (Benjaminites?) were a little smudge right smack in the middle of all the other tribes!  Though, they did have the city of Jerusalem within their boundaries.

After the civil war, the remnants of the Benjamites were allowed to live on, but all their women and children had been exterminated.  Since none of the Israelites wanted to give their daughters to be wives to the Benjamites, the judges  decided to give the Benjamites a parting gift -which was to essentially invade neighboring tribes, annihilate their entire population save for women "who had not lain with man".

And that's what Chapter 21 is all about - the decision and the carrying out of a mission.  Invade nearby Jabeshgilead, destroy the population, and take their virgin daughters as wives for the Benjamites.

Again, we are confronted with a stark contrast to what modern day religionists try to portray their God to be - the origin of morality.  By far, what we are witnessing in the Old Testament is merely the record-keeping of an ancient culture - a primary source.  The OT is valuable in that sense, as it preserves the odd behaviors, superstitions, and hangups of at least one group of our ancient ancestors - those men who lived long ago in the arid lands which we now associate with Israel.

Now, on to the Book of Ruth, which promises to be a mercifully short book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Israelites Respond to Women's Dismemberment with Civil War (Judges, Chapter 20) - After the parts of the concubine reach the various regions of Israel, the Israelites gather up and ask the man responsible, "What the hell did you do this for?!?"

They actually said something a little mild, recorded in the King James Bible as "How was this wickedness?"

The man who carved up his concubine responded that while he was staying in Gibeah (a Benjamite town), the house was surrounded by the men of the town who apparently wanted to kill him (or rape him).  Instead, he gave up his concubine to be raped by the Benjamites. After the ordeal, he naturally carved her up and sent her pieces to all of Israel to let everyone know about what happened.

The Israelites gathered a 400,000 man army.  The Benjamites only had a 26,000 man army, plus 700 left-handed slingers.  These slingers apparently could aim at a hair and hit it.  That's right - sniper slingers.

On the first charge against the Benjamites, the Israelites lost 22,000 men.  The second time they lost 18,000 men, despite the okay by God Himself.  It wasn't until a hard-fought third charge that the Israelites managed to rout the Benjamites and when that happened, they went into the Benjamite cities and slaughtered everyone, including their livestock.

And that's how an entire tribe of people were slaughtered because: 1) an Israelite man almost got murdered or raped by a mob people; 2) the Israelite man offered his concubine to be raped by the mob; and 3)after the gangrape, the Israelite man carved up the woman and sent her body parts to various sections of Israelite territory.

Any questions?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Rape at Bethlehemjudah (Judges 19)By far, this story is probably the most grotesque chapter I've read yet.  It doesn't involve the slaughter of thousands, but involves the gangrape of [almost] two women.  As Joseph Stalin said, "You kill one man (or gangrape one women), it is a tragedy.  You kill 10 million, it is a statistic."
What is even worse is the implication at the end of the chapter that what happens is moral.  Verse 19:30 says, "... consider it, take advice, and speak your minds."  I invite you to speak your mind as well.

Essentially, this is what happens in Judges 19.  A Levite man and his concubine seek shelter at the house of an old man and his virgin daughter.  In a story almost eerily similar to that of Lot, a group of horny dudes surround their home and demand to have sex with the old man's guest.  Instead, the old man offers his virgin daughter and the Levite's concubine.

To quote him, he says, " Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.  Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing."

While the gang of men refused the daughter, they took the concubine and abused the poor woman throughout the night and morning.  During the concubine's night of terror, the Levite apparently had a blast hanging out with the old man.

The next day, she laid in front of the door of the house - presumably a ragged mess.  The Levite picked her up, put her on their donkey, and went home.  At home, he took out a knife and then carved the concubine into 12 pieces, which he had sent to "all the coasts of Israel."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Micah returns silver to his mother, which she made into an idol.

The Danites find their homes (Judges 18) - In this chapter, the Danites find a home and settle it.  They basically took it from the "quiet and secure" people of Laish.

The Danites were just looking for a new place to settlement.  Perhaps they too had been displaced by the Philistines.  After all, they had iron chariots, right?  Not even Yahweh could stop one of those!

The Danites sent out five scouts who came upon Laish, and the scouts realized that the people of Laish were pushovers!  They were "quiet and secure", and didn't even have a formal leader or magistrate.  So, they look for a reason to conquer these people.

They find out that these people use idols!  An ephod, a teraphim, a graven image, and - a molten image!  I don't even know what a molten image, but the ephod is an ornate vest/apron.  A teraphim is a small idol, or a 'household god', which would give good fortune to its owner.  They just looked like small statues, basically.  A graven image is basically a drawing.  That's right - the Second Commandment is a rule against artwork.

Anyways, the scouts now have a reason and return to the Danite elite, telling them about the idols.  They then send 600 guys out and they utterly slaughter the poor Laishites, and the Danites move in and settle.

Oddly enough, the Danites still use the graven image of Micah - and set it up "until the day of the captivity of the land."

This is odd, because the authors seem to have no problem with the Danites having an idol; though they just obliterated a small settlement for that very reason.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Physicist Lawrence Krauss Soundly Defeats Apologist William Lane Craig in God Debate - In a stunning but perhaps unsurprising upset, Physicist Lawrence Krauss utterly annihilated professional Christian debater William Lane Craig at a debate at North Carolina State University on March 30.

Craig argued four points of deism, and one point about the historicity of Jesus, to lay the case that God is real, and specifically it is the Christian god.

Krauss did well by avoiding Craig's well-known spin doctoring and semantic game, and instead answered the question of the debate specifically.  Is there evidence FOR God?

Krauss said that while it is plausible that a deist god exists, it isn't as likely to be true given that there isn't much evidence for it.  So, we must conclude there is probably no god, especially not a specific one as described in Christianity.

All in all, it was a good debate.  It's one of the few times that I've seen William Lane Craig visibly flustered.  There were some awkward moments when Craig, a Christian theologian, tried to argue physics with Krauss, a physicist.  Craig even antagonized one of the questioners before fully understanding the question.

All in all, the debate was an almost uneven-handed power play in Krauss's favor.  In Krauss's words, "I'm motivated by physics, and Dr. Craig is motivated by thousand-year-old myths and legends."
Micah, from Book of Judges

Introducing Micah, (Judges Chapter 17) - This is a very short chapter.  It introduces Micah, presumably one of the judges of Judah and Israel.  Micah appears to be a pagan, who uses money to make graven images. 

Later in this chapter, he takes in a Levite priest whom I think will play some role in the upcoming chapters.

Partially Informed Chapter Rating

Action: N/A  No action here, this is just the introductory chapter.

Cohesion:  8 - So far, the story makes sense.

Morality:  5 - Nothing particularly immoral, save for the pagan references.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Samson's Big Finale (Judges Chapter 16) - I like how Chapter 16 opens up; Samson finds a harlot and goes in unto her.  This guy's a friggin' rock star!  He then wakes up at midnight, grabs the city gates and the two posts and takes them to the top of a hill.  WTF!!!  And the Bible says nothing as to why he did that.

Well anyways, he winds up falling in love with some chick named Delilah, who seems like a sleeper agent for the Philistines.  She asks him three times what the secret of his strength is, and three times he lies to her.  And each time she reported to the Philistines about his weakness, they lay in ambush waiting to subdue him, expecting him to be weak.  Of course, Samson escaped or otherwise defeated the Philistines.

Then, on the fourth time she pleads.  "Don't you love me?  You lied to me and mocked me three times.  If you truly love me, then you'll tell me what the secret to your strength is."

Samson, who is probably more brawn then brains, actually tells her.  At this point, I'm yelling at the Bible.  Come on!  Can he really be that stupid?  But stupid me, it's just a friggin' story.

So, the Philistines finally capture Samson, take out his eyes, and tie him up between two pillars that happen to be supporting the tent wherein thousands of Philistines are praising his capture.  Samson prays to Yahweh for help to avenge the loss of his eyes. Then, with mighty tug, the two pillars topple over and the whole thing collapses on the Philistines and himself, creating the prototype for the first pre-explosive suicide bombing.

The chapter ends by saying that in death, Samson slew more Philistines then in life.

Partially Informed Chapter Rating Rating the Scripture on a scale of 10 (10 being highest)

Action: I'm giving this chapter a "9" because it is action packed.  Samson is truly an action hero.

Cohesion: I'm giving this chapter a "3" because while I understand the story, I can't help but think Samson is a complete idiot.  Why, after successfully showing that Delilah was basically an agent for the enemy, would he stoop to telling her his secret?

Morality:  A "3".  Not only does he start off sleeping with whores and playing pranks, but he lies three times (which was actually a good thing) and then tells the truth (which was actually a bad thing), and then slaughters wholesale perhaps thousands of Philistines, most of whom were innocent.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Samson slays a Philistine with the jawbone of an ass.

Samson the Superhero (Judges 15) - Imagine if, after being married, your spouse's father suddenly thought that you didn't love his child enough, and instead GIVES them to another person.  What would you do? Of course, you'd probably be angry, but there is a litany of possible things that you could do.  You could reason with him.  You could find the person who now owns your husband/wife and get them back.  There's all sorts of options.

In fact, Samson illustrates this by doing the least expected thing.  He catches 300 foxes, ties them up by their tail, and lights them on fire in the Philistines' cornfield.

The Philistines, puzzled, figure out it's Samson and that he did it because of the weird dispute between him and his father-in-law, over Samson's wife.  What do the Philistines do?  In response, perhaps just as unreasonable as Samson, they light afire both Samson's wife and father-in-law.
Samson gets into such a rage he slaughters a bunch of Philistines, presumably the ones responsible, and then retreats to some rock or a hill.  Then 3,000 men from Judah come to bind him and bring him to the Philistines, so the Philistines won't attack Judah.

When they transport Samson to the Philistines, the Philistines begin to shout at Samson angrily.  Then "the spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson", who grabs a nearby donkey jawbone, and proceeds to slay a thousand men.   I'm starting to think that when "the spirit of the Lord comes upon someone", that's just an Old Testament euphemism for getting into a rage.

Anyways, after the bloodfest, God is happy with Samson's behavior and rewards him with water, found in the hollow of the jawbone.  I'd be thirsty too after killing 1,000 men with a jawbone!!!  

Perhaps the scariest part of this story is that today, perhaps 3,000 years later, people still believe this story is literally true only because it can be found in the Bible.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Samson rasslin' with a lion.  Photo from Paul K, Creative Commons

Samson gets his girl, tears a lion apart with his bare hands, and other fun stuff, (Judges 14) - Samson is such a dude.  He's that hyper-male action hero that we've been watching on TV for so long, like John Wayne, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, Schwarzenegger, etc. that many of us guys looked up to.  Except, he could probably put all of them to shame.  Because he's not just a male action hero, he's the enemy of 20th century progress.  

No matter the complaints against feminism, civil rights, or even animal rights - and there some good ones out there - Samson is totally against female equality and civil rights.

Samson saw a woman who he fancied among the Philistines.  He told his parents, who were a little bit grossed out because those Philistines are unclean and uncircumcised!  (14:3)

When on an outing with his parents to some vineyard in Timnath a lion appeared.  Samson tore it apart with his bare hands.  He went to go visit the Philistine woman, and upon returning he stopped by the lion's carcass and saw bees and honey inside the gut torn out gut of the lion.

He then does something really weird.  He tells a riddle to the Philistine woman's friends and family.  "What is sweeter than honey, and stronger than a lion?"

After seven days they couldn't get the riddle, and after inquiring of Samson the riddle's meaning he falsely accuses them of sleeping with the woman.  In fact, he said, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, then you had not found out my riddle."  

Wow, he calls her a heifer!!!  That was probably a compliment in the Bronze Age.

In any case, the notion that he could just TAKE a wife, that the Philistines are uncleaned, and even the little bit about killing the lion just show that Samson is nothing more than a Bronze Age legend, and that his adventures are counterintuitive to anyone coming from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Samson is one the most famous of Biblical heroes, but he was also one of the most sadistic.

Samson, the Beginning (Judges Chapter 13) - One again, the Israelites start "doing evil in the sight of God."  More than likely, they've sunk into their old ways and began worshiping OTHER gods!  This fake problem is portrayed as the biggest issue for the Israelites, and one of the biggest fears for the author(s) of Judges.

So, a new savior will have to lift these people out of their rut.  If you remember, we recently covered Jephthah, and prior to him Gideon, and so on.  Each of these heroes showed up when the previous hero died, and the Israelites sank back into paganism.  And when they sink into paganism, God gives them to other people.  This time, God gives all the Israelites to the Philistines.  Now, we come to Samson. 

Of course, the woman who was to carry baby Samson was barren, and could not bear any children.  She is, at least in this chapter, nameless.  After all this "coming unto her" by God and angels, you'd think it would be common courtesy to know who this chick is.  But her husband is a man named Manoah.  Yahweh (aka God) sent an angel to tell her that she will, in fact, have a child.  There a few stipulations - she shouldn't drink alcohol, and after the boy is born no one should cut his hair, ever. 

This is just the introduction, of course, and the story continues into the next chapter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Senseless Violence in Judges (Judges Chapter 12) - This chapter is thankfully very short, but in its few words is chronicled the alleged deaths of 42,000 people.

Why were these people killed?  Because they failed to say "Shibboleth" correctly.  Seriously.  Apparently, the victims accent led them to say "Sibboleth" instead.

Here's what happened: some of Ephraim's men were pissed that the Jephthah slaughtered the Ammonites without them.  Jephthah replied that he tried to call them, but they never answered.   After some further taunting, they wind up finding and Jephthah's Gileadites fought and killed many of Ephraim's men.  In the ensuing rout, the Gileadites had to sort through the refugees to see who was an Ephraimite and who was not.  Their test was to ask each person to pronounce "Shibboleth".  Those who said "Sibboleth" were killed outright.

After this brief segment, the book speaks briefly about Jephthah's death, and some of the other judges who came after him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jephtha's Daughter (Judges, Chapter 11) - History repeats itself.  You know what else repeats itself?  The Bible.

Judges, Chapter 11 is basically the same struggle to control land that has been spoken of in almost every chapter of the Old Testament so far.  The Israelites get screwed, a new holy man rises up and leads them to conquer, the new guy dies, the Israelites fall back into their pagan ways, and then they get screwed.  It's a vicious cycle.

This time the holy warrior is Jephthah, a family man with a wife and a daughter.  He conquers, with the help of Yahweh, a number of nations (i.e. Sihon), and people (i.e. the children of Ammon).  It's with the Ammonites that probably one of the most tragic stories appear in the Bible.

Jephthah makes an oath to God:  "Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering."

Remember, he's a family man.  He's got a wife and a daughter.  There's not much else that would come out to greet him, unless he was hoping for Fido.  Or maybe he was hoping it was his wife?!?

So after he massacres the Ammonites, he returns home and not surprisingly, his DAUGHTER comes out to greet him.  Any family man knows what it's like, right?  You come home from work, your daughter sees you, and runs toward you yelling, "Daddy!  Daddy!" and then she leaps on you and you pick her up.  That's my experience, at least, because my daughter's still young.

I'm not sure how hold Jephthah's daughter is, but she's probably a teenager because though she agreed to what her father promised to do, she asked first that she go up to the mountains for two months to mourn her virginity.  That's right.  She was more concerned about her virginity.  She came back two months later, and though apologists try to say that was all there was to it, the Bible says, "
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man."

Any honest person can plainly see that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to Yahweh, as payment for the victory over the Ammonites.  Some apologists do some crazy mental gymnastics and spin doctoring to get out of the mess that this story wreaks upon their "worldview", but the Bible is plain.  Jephthah made a vow to offer a burnt offering to Yahweh, and "he did with her according to his vow which he vowed."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

God sells the Israelites into slavery, Judges Chapter 10 - Aside from the mention of thirty "ass colts", there's not much to say about Chapter 10 except that Yahweh gets angry because the Israelites start worshiping other gods (yet again!).  In response to this travesty, He sells them to the Philistines.

Here's a weird thought - why would God sell an entire population of people into slavery just because He is failing at making Himself a believable deity?  And more importantly, why would God even need the money?

Maybe Yahweh might be a little miffed about His own people not believing in Him, but isn't it His problem really?  Wouldn't the reason that the Israelites continuously fail to believe in Him be that life without Yahweh is conceivable?   This portion of the Bible is probably all myths and legends, but it deals with a universal problem for religious people - doubt.  It also shows the hybridization that often happens when people who worshiped another god(s) are introduced to a new god.

And seriously, if the Philistines bought the Israelites off  Yahweh - what would He spend the money on?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This tree looks like he's got something interesting to say. - Image from Gabriel Millos, Creative Commons

Lord of the Israelites: A Tale of Talking Trees, mass fratricide, and Divine vengeance (Judges Chapter 9) - Abimelech was one of the 70 or so sons of Gideon.  He gained power by killing all of the other brothers, "on one stone" no less.  Seventy brothers killed on one stone - perhaps he was going for a world record (a joke I'm borrowing The Scripture Project).

Only the youngest son, Jotham, lived because he hid from his sadistic brother.

After this slaying come a strange conversation between trees, which in my head sound like the Entmeet in Lord of the Rings.  The conversation goes something like this: the trees (in general) ask the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grape vine (separately) if they'll rule over them.  Each one gives a reason, which is basically that they provide things that are good for God and man (i.e. wine, fruits, olives, etc.) and if they spent all their time ruling over the trees they wouldn't be able to provide God and man their goods.

Finally, the trees ask a bunch of brambles (that's right - brambles) if he'd rule over them, and since brambles have hardly any use for men (or God, for that matter), he volunteers.  However, he warns them, "If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon."

While I'm not sure what that means, I think it has something to do with brambles being a poor source of shade and an excellent source of fuel for fire.  
Meanwhile, God (aka the Creator of Universe) sends an evil spirit among Abimelech and his men.  Let me repeat that - GOD sends an evil spirit.  There might be some sort of translation problem here, as I'm familiar with the Greek notion of spirit, which isn't really an entity but a kind of mode of being.  None the less, God still causes Abimelech and his men of Shechem to be treacherous toward one another, scheming and lying to each other.  But a man named Gaal of Ebed goes to the men of Shechem, and they put their trust in Gaal instead.

They wind up fortifying themselves in a tower  in opposition to Abimelech.  Abimelech lays siege and kills approximately 1,000 men and women by burning the tower down.  Apparently, there were some gigantic towers back then.  

Abimelech then attacks another tower at Thebez, but during the assault a woman casts a millstone and cracks open his skull.  In his shame, Abimelech asks one of his soldiers to slay him so that no one would say that "a woman killed him."  Oh, the shame!