Friday, 1 November 2013

The Top Ten Worst Bible Readings To Have At A Wedding - Part II

So. Tenterhooks.
Anyone know what a tenterhook actually is?
I do. I just looked it up. Shall I tell you? Maybe later.

Anyway, about two months ago I left the whole universe on tenterhooks with The Top Ten Worst Bible Readings To Have At A Wedding - Part I. Most of the universe was probably unaware that I'd left it on tenterhooks, but there you go, that's where it's been. For the six of you who did notice, and have been longing to read Part II, I am pleased to announce that your tenterhook tenure is now officially terminated. I hereby unhook you. So have a stretch, grab a cuppa, and join me in The Top Ten Worst Bible Readings To Have At A Wedding - Part II. Punctuated with photos of 80s weddings, because what the world needs now is 80s wedding photos, sweet 80s wedding photos.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Grumpy here is the only one who made it out alive; the other six are still in there somewhere...

Let's dive straight in with the old classic Boy Meets Girl, Boy Marries Girl, Boy Leaves Girl, Sets Fire To Foxes, Starts a War and Gets Girl Killed. Yes, it's a cliche, but only because it's so good.

6) The Classic Boy Meets Girl, Boy Marries Girl, Boy Leaves Girl, Sets Fire To Foxes, Starts a War and Gets Girl Killed Farce

We're in the book of Judges here - Judges 14 and 15 to be precise, and the boy in question is Samson, of Delilah fame. Yes, everyone's favourite hairy hero was wedded once, before the whole Delilah shearing incident. And, as you may have gleaned, it did not turn out especially well for his blushing bride.

The main reason you wouldn't want this passage read at your wedding, of course, is that it's quite long. I'll walk you through the highlights of the story here, but if you've got time, I'd suggest reading the original in all its glory instead.

Boy Meets Girl

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” (Judges 14:1-2)
Well, his parents are not best chuffed, what with the Philistines being ancient enemies of the Israelites and all, but Samson is pretty adamant, so the arrangements are made, leading to the natural next step:

Boy Kills Lion

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. (Judges 14:5-6)

Incidentally, Samson and I are polar opposites. It never once occurred to me to tell my parents when I fancied a girl, but I was forever bringing home bits of the lions I had killed. (Oh, animal lovers be warned - it only gets worse.)

Okay, it's not a lion, but it could still do some damage. It's only the cat's natural fear of parasols that is preventing it from taking out the old lady.

Boy Causes Untold Misery With His Smart-Alekry

Some time later our boy takes a butchers at the beast he's bested, and beholds a bunch of bees abiding in the body. Not being the squeamish sort, he scoops out the honey and has a good old munch, and, since there was no Twitter or Facebook in those days, rather than writing a pithy status update, he composes this pleasing little riddle:

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.” (Judges 14:14)

Well, a riddle like that is clearly too good to waste, so he poses it to his thirty wedding guests, with a hefty bet at stake - thirty sets of clothes. And we're not just talking Moss Bros hire rates here. Now, wedding feasts in those days used to last seven days (try suggesting that to your prospective in-laws...) and by day four what may have seemed like friendly banter has become a little more serious...

On the fourth day they said to Samson's wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father's house with fire." (Judges 14:15)

Needless to say, the new Mrs Samson is not thrilled by the way things are turning out:

And Samson's wife wept over him [Samson] and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. (Judges 14:16-17)

Seven days of weeping and nagging. Sounds like a great time for all involved.

Naturally, Samson is forced to cough up on the bet, because his wife promptly tells the people the answer to the riddle. It doesn't cost him anything though, because he does it by killing thirty other Philistines and nicking their clothes. Then he skulks off back to his parents, leaving his new wife, who gets given to his best man instead. The perfect climax to the celebrations, really.

Things Escalate, More Animals Die

Well, after a while, Samson decides to go and visit his wife, taking her a goat. After all, nothing says "Sorry I nearly got you burned alive" like a goat. But he's turned away by her father, who breaks the news to him that she's now wedded to his best man. Samson is not impressed:

So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards." (Judges 15:4-5)

Yes, Samson invented Firefox.

Anyway, surprisingly enough, this doesn't go down well with the Philistines, who decide to follow through on their original threat: they burn Samson's (ex) wife, and her father, alive.

Samson retaliates and gives them an almighty smiting, causing a major diplomatic incident between Philistine and Judah; the men of Judah consequently arrest Samson and hand him over to the Philistines, at which point he escapes, grabs a donkey's jawbone, as you do, and kills 1000 of them. And, being the jolly, literary sort that he is, he composes a little ditty to round off proceedings:

“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.” (Judges 15:16)

And everyone who was still alive lived happily ever after.
For a bit.

With this hair, I thee wed. With my hair I honour you, all that I hair I hair to you, and all that I hair hair hair hair HAIR.

Actually, this would be a great reading to have at a wedding. Think about it: whatever complications, snarls, family arguments or logistical catastrophes happen on your Big Day, if anyone besides the groom makes it out alive then you are doing better than Samson. And to any fathers-in-law who are worried about your speech: if the guests aren't piling kindling around you, then you are probably doing okay.

What Is This Actually About? Or To Be Serious For A Moment...

Just in case this post is coming across as irreverent, I'd like to pause for a second to reveal where I stand. I believe that the Bible is the word of God. But I want to show that the word of God is rich; as I said in Part One, God doesn't talk in a monotone. For some reason, as a culture, we have come to believe that the holier something is, the more dull it needs to be. The Bible can't just be read out - it must be intoned, all contours eroded into a flat, emotionless chant - preferably in a cold, echoing space by someone well advanced in years, and, for bonus points, in a translation that is almost incomprehensible by today's standards.

One of the reasons I like writing these posts is because I love being able to point out the colour in the Bible - it's full of love, pain, loss, hope, misery, failure, victory, hilarity, farce, fury, horror, sex, intrigue, incest, death, dismemberment, fire, confusion, deceit, devotion, burning foxes and poo. Especially poo. Hopefully you can see that the tale of Samson and his wife is a cracking good yarn. We're meant to be saying "He did what!?"

But it also means something. God does not speak in a monotone, but nor does he speak just to enjoy the sound of his own voice. However extraordinary or random a passage might seem, there is always a reason for it.

Unlike the bubble perm mullet.

The reason for this one is found right at the top, when Samson's parents are pondering why their son wants to marry a Philistine, of all people:

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel. (Judges 14:4)

Yup, this whole fiasco, foxes and all, was a roundabout way of gaining victory against the Philistines... Although this was really just the warm-up act: Samson ultimately defeats the Philistines by bringing their temple down on top of himself, after the even-messier incident with Delilah, in Judges 16.

Samson was, all things considered, not the sharpest piccolo in the orchestra. A hero of the faith no doubt, but he gallivants around like a puppy, throwing his affections in all the worst directions, generally behaving irresponsibly and acting like a petulant teenager. And he set foxes on fire. Who does that? But he was God's chosen man. Flashback to before he was born:

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5)

So, a visitation from an angel, a miraculous birth, a child who is destined to save his people from their enemies, who is caught, imprisoned, tortured, and who eventual rescues his people through his death... ring any bells?

Yes, Samson is a glimpse; a deeply-flawed, fox-burning prototype of the real rescuer to come.
As I said, God does not speak in a monotone.

Right, that's enough for now.

Look out for The Top Ten Worst Bible Readings To Have At A Wedding Part III soon, when maybe we'll pick up the pace a little and actually finish the list... or not.

Oh... and a tenterhook? It's a hook for tenters.

1 comment:

  1. Of course if you don't have a tenterhook, you can just use two fiveterhooks instead.

    As for that passage (which somehow never made it as a reading in any services I can remember at my church - and I think multiple services might be needed if it ever does), my first reaction is a rather stunned "wow" and I'm still waiting for my second reaction. Enlightening and entertaining as ever, though, Dave.