Friday, June 29, 2012


It's been hot here, as it has in many places this week. The heat seemed to reach its high yesterday, with temperature readings above 100 and the heat index even higher.

The rain is scarce. The grass is browning and any water that gets to it via sprinklers is quickly soaked up by the soil or evaporated by the ever present scorching sun.

When the house was unusually dark this morning and a look outside revealed grey, heavy clouds I smiled. We needed rain. I stood over the sink putting away dishes and looking out through the open window as small drops formed a polka-dot pattern on the sidewalk. Soon, it was a storm. Thunder rumbled in the distance, the familiar plink-plink-plink of raindrops hitting the house filled my ears. I closed my eyes to listen to the symphony.

I miss Southern storms, especially the lullaby of rain on the metal roof of the trailer in which I grew up. I miss the hot humid nights that are often lit up by the lightning flashing across the sky long before the rain made it to us.

The storm here today was short. By the time I had my coffee in hand and was sitting at my desk to work on a project, the sound of the rain was already slowly drifting away. It left behind cooler air and my window remained open. The quiet peace of the rain was replaced with the normal sounds of my urban life. A jackhammer tore up concrete somewhere. The wind blew and brought with it the sound of the train announcing it's next stop. The wheels of cars and bikes make distinct noises on the street outside of my house. I enjoyed the short peaceful rain, but this is my new symphony.

I wonder what chorus of noises awaits me in my next home. I wonder if I'll miss the beeps and dings of the train, the ever-present road noise, the various sounds of evidence of this thriving community in which I live.

a woman named Damaris

I borrow the title of my post from the title of a book by Janette Oke. But, as she borrowed it from Acts 17 I don't feel too badly about that.

It's probably been 15 years since I read the short piece of historical(ish) fiction, but I remember the general idea surrounding the name. The woman in the book had always heard that her name was a Biblical name, but didn't know the significance. One day, someone shows her where that name is found in the Bible and how it is a very significant name indeed. As a result of that short novel, the name and it's associated implications has always stuck with me.

Acts 17 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. Paul is in the midst of his missionary travels and he is Athens where he gives a message proclaiming Jesus as God while standing at the altar "to the unknown God." The Athenians remind me a lot of our contemporary culture (at least that of the Western developed world) - they spent time listening and asked to hear more, but it is recorded in Acts that "all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." (17:21)

After Paul gives his message at the Areopagus the crowed reacted in various ways. Some mocked, some said they would listen to more.

However, there at the end of chapter 17 we see that for a few Athenians the words Paul spoke went deeper than simply another new idea. We see that some joined Paul and believed the message. Among them were "Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris" (17:34).

And, that's all we get on Damaris.

Like the character Damaris in the Oke novel, it would be easy to dismiss this as "what's the big deal?" at a literal one-off mention in the entire Bible.

But, indeed, it is a big deal.

In a city of "tolerance," where ideas flowed and people enjoyed the pleasure of thinking without ever really grasping a solid truth, she was one of a few who decided to commit to an idea and believe.

We can assume that the fact that her name was mentioned and that she was at the Aeropagus, the court of Athens, in the first place means she was a woman of some social standing. She likely had something to lose, if only her reputation as a reasonable person, for choosing to believe in Paul's message rather than to just listen. Perhaps the mockery of family or friends. If she was indeed a woman of social standing and wealth, she would likely be giving up that in order to follow Christ. In a culture where it was completely acceptable to entertain ideas without accepting anything specific, she chose to be counter-cultural. It mattered.

While looking up information on Damaris I discovered that there is a street named for her in modern Athens. She is honored as a saint in some Christian traditions. Her legacy of belief is long-lasting.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Shiphrah and Puah engage in Civil Disobedience

At the beginning of the book of Exodus we see the the King of Egypt growing increasingly wary of the Israelites and we meet two women. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah and they are Hebrew midwives.

The king instructs them to commit gendercide at the births of the Hebrew children. The females may live; the males must be killed.

However, "the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live." (Ex 1:17)

They are called in front of the king and he asks them why.

Their response makes me giggle a bit. I can almost see them feigning perplexity, "The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian Women. They are just so strong and full of life that they pop those babies out before we can get there!"

The King seems to accept that all the women of the nation are blessed with speedy labor and deliveries and the Shiprah and Puah do not appear to receive any type of punishment from the King for their inability to follow his orders. Their quick thnking has spared not only the lives of the children, but their response has also seemed to spare them from any anger or repercussion from the king.

Shiphrah and Puah find favor with God for their refusal to obey the order of the King of Egypt. We read "God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families."

The King, however, does come up with a new plan to kill the male infants - he orders all of his people to throw the male babies into the Nile.

At first glance I think, "Ok. They saved one round of births from murder, but ultimately the king still had baby boys dumped into the Nile. Was it really that effective?"

And then I realized, the kings plan B gave the Israelites much more knowledge and notice of the evil happening around them.

I'm certain, that as midwives, Shiphrah and Puah could've found ways to quickly and quietly kill the male babies, making it look like an accident or a natural consequence of birth. As it went on, the people may have begun to suspect something when only female babies survived. But, the king's proclamation spoken to only these two women could've gone undetected for a while.

However, with the womens' fear of God the king's hand was forced into a more overt tactic. He "commanded all of his people" to take the male babies and cast them into the Nile. There is nothing quiet, underhanded, or sneaky about that. He was brazenly declaring his edict and the Israelites knew immediately to fear for the lives of their sons.

At least one family in particular made use of this knowledge and was able to protect their son. Their son's name was Moses.

Had Shiphrah or Puah attended the birth of Moses and followed the king's command, there would've not been time for the familiar story of months of hiding and a float down a river in a basket to be discovered and saved by the house of Pharaoh.

Shiphrah and Puah's civil disobedience did not stop the killing of all of the Hebrew male children, but it did make the king choose another plan. And that change of course enabled a storyline that allowed a child named Moses to grow. A child that would indeed, lead the people to protect their firstborn with the blood of a lamb and ultimately lead them into a promised land of freedom.

Our counter-cultural decisions that we make out of fear and respect for the Lord may not seem immediately beneficial. It may feel as though we only temporarily delayed the destruction we were hoping to avoid entirely, but we must trust that the fear of the Lord and obedience to Him will bring about His purposes and make His name great.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Linking Up

I'm traveling this week, so I'm taking the easy way out and linking you to a blog someone else wrote.

This is a great (if long) summary of some of the female leaders in the Bible:

Who's Who Among Biblical Woman Leaders
By Rachel Held Evans


Friday, June 8, 2012

Rizpah: A Woman of Passion

Rizpah is the mother of two sons born to Saul: Armoni and Mephibosheth. (Not to be confused with the Mephibosheth who is the son of Jonathan.)

The Story (Found in 2 Samuel 21)
During the reign of King David there was a famine in the land. When David inquired of the Lord concerning the famine, the Lord said, "There is bloodguilt on Saul and his house because he put the Gibeonites to death." So, David called the Gibeonites to see what they wanted in order to make amends for this bloodguilt and hopefully end the famine. The Gibeonites wanted seven of Saul's sons. David chose the two sons of Rizpah along with the five sons of Merab. David "game them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together."

Rizpah takes a sackcloth, speeds it on a rock, and endures the elements in order to protect the bodies of her sons and the other five men. "She did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day, or the beasts of the fields by night."

David is eventually told what Rizpah is doing and in response he gathers the bones of Saul, Jonathan, and the men who were hanged and gives them a burial.

At the end of the story we see, "And after that, God responded to the plea for the land."

When I first began thinking about Rizpah earlier this week my mind immediately went to another grieving mother. In Luke 7 we see Jesus have compassion on a widow who has lost her only son. Not only does Jesus tenderly approach her and entreat her to not cry, he raises her son from death.

However, while I think there can be parallels between the two stories, the more I thought about it the more I saw the striking difference.

Rizpah was not simply grieving, she was passionate and outraged. She literally devoted her days and her nights to keeping the bodies of her sons free from harm. She likely did not have much, if any, of a voice in the culture at the time. She could not hold peace rallies or start an organization to advocate for the cessation of needless violent deaths. She could not theorize or theologize about the implications of hanging young men to erase a bloodguilt. Her voice was most likely silenced, but her presence and her being was not.

If you google "Rizpah" (which I did) you will run across a quotation from a Jewish theologian, Jonathan Magonet, who describes Rizpah as "every mother who sees her sons killed before their time for reasons of state, be they in time of peace or in war. All that remains is for her to preserve the dignity of their memory and live on to bear witness and call to account the rulers of the world." (From his book, Bible Lives)

Her protest, her witness, her ability to get the rulers of the world to face their decisions that leave men hanging in the fields as food for the fowl and the beast brings about a response. David hears of her vigil and he takes the time to bury the bones of her children, to give them that bit of dignity.

And after that. After that. After King David responds to the actions of this woman Rizpah, then "God responded to the plea for the land." (vs. 14)

While the widow of Luke 7 was the first woman I thought of while thinking about Rizpah this week, I come to find that there is a different woman who I think of now.

Another woman who stood and grieved the death of a son hung to die. A man whose life was given to erase a bloodguilt. The men of the time mostly scattered, perhaps convinced now that it was all the same politics and an ending in death is a tale as old as time. Her name is Mary and his is Jesus. The Gospel according to John says that Mary the mother of Jesus was at the cross and then went with the "Beloved Disciple" to his home before Jesus breathed his last. The other gospel accounts tell of women who remained. They watched and kept vigil as he died, they sat across from the tomb after Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus. Then, when resurrection dawned, it was to one of those women keeping vigil that the risen Lord first appeared.

Rizpah was a concubine. She lost her sons. She had little ranking or power in her world. What we know about her life is found in one chapter of the Bible. And, yet, her story moves us. We identify with the passionate outrage to force people to look at the consequences of their decisions. We understand the grief that will do anything - even camp out on a rock night and day fighting off birds and beast if only we can preserve some time and memories. We relate to wanting to look and to make other people look at the world and the consequences of our actions.

Her actions, and those of women centuries later at the foot of another cross, as well as the response they garnered from Kings of Heaven and Earth are testament to the power of bearing witness.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hannah or Hagar or Hephzibah

One of the movies I watched over and over again as a child is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The seven brothers all have Biblical names in alphabetical order (the oldest is Adam and the youngest is Gideon.) When one of the brothers becomes a father to a little girl, his wife suggests continuing the tradition and naming her "Hannah or Hagar or Hephzibah."

I had two thoughts concerning this suggestion:

1. Uh. Really. Who names a kid Hephzibah?

2. Furthermore, who in the world is Hephzibah?

I'll go ahead and say there are other "H" girl names in the Bible. (There is also at least one boy "F" name, so poor Frank could've avoided that whole Frankincense bit.)

Hannah and Hagar are fairly well known women of the Bible. Hannah is the mother of Samuel - the child for whom she prayed. Hagar is the mother of Ishmael - the child that not the promised one. I may write about them one of these days, Today, though, I'm answering that question from my childhood: Who is Hephzibah?

The name "Hephzibah" appears twice in the Bible.

The first is in 2 Kings 21 where we learn she is the mother of Mannaseh and the wife of Hezzekiah. Both of these men reigned over Judah. We don't know anything else about this Hephzibah as far as I know.

The second time we see the name is in Isaiah 62. This passage is the one that makes me apologize for my crooked face at the suggestion of Hephzibah as a name because it is absolutely beautiful. In Isaiah we find that Hephzibah is God's term of endearment for Israel. Hephzibah literally means, "My delight is in her." The prophet Isaiah records it thus: (NKJV, emphasis mine)

For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
And her salvation as a lamp that burns.
2 The Gentiles shall see your righteousness,
And all kings your glory.
You shall be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of the Lord will name.
3 You shall also be a crown of glory
In the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem
In the hand of your God.
4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,

And your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.

6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
7 And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
8 The Lord has sworn by His right hand
And by the arm of His strength:
“Surely I will no longer give your grain
As food for your enemies;
And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine,
For which you have labored.
9 But those who have gathered it shall eat it,
And praise the Lord;
Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.”
10 Go through,
Go through the gates!
Prepare the way for the people;
Build up,
Build up the highway!
Take out the stones,
Lift up a banner for the peoples!
11 Indeed the Lord has proclaimed
To the end of the world:
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Surely your salvation is coming;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.’”
12 And they shall call them The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
And you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken

This is where I want to focus this week - on the imagery, specifically the feminine imagery, of this name God gives his people. This is only one of the many instances in the Bible where the recipient of the unyielding, abundant, restorative, and lavish love and grace of God is personified as female and/or feminine.

Let's break down verse four a little more.

You shall no more be termed Azubah, (Forsaken)
and your land shall no more be termed Shemamah, (Desolate)
but you shall be called Hephzibah, (My Delight Is in Her)
and your land Beulah. (Married)
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

I love the comparisons and reversals here. From Azubah to Hephzibah. From Shemamah to Beulah. No longer forsaken and forgotten - - you are the delight of the lord. No longer is your land (the very source of your livelihood) desolate and barren, now it is married - claimed, supported, provided for, and loved.

Recently, I have seen articles and blogs where Christian leaders condemn the "feminization" of the church. They speak against what is considered weak or frilly. They call for toughness and ruggedness and strength. I think these people forget the way God speaks of the church - calling Her one in whom He delights. And, he doesn't simply adorn her as something pretty to look at - no, she is the bright bearer of righteousness and holds the burning lamp of salvation. She is described as the crown of glory and the royal diadem - a sign of victory and authority. I know that it is still common in the English vocabulary to refer to the Church as a feminine pronoun, but somewhere in the battle of the genders and whose place is what, I think we have overlooked just how significant that is. This is not the only passage where the church is referred to as feminine, it is simply one of them in the great extended metaphor of Christ the bridegroom and his bride the Church. God values the feminine. God created the feminine and he describes the feminine with terms of strength, beauty, authority, victory, abundance, and power among other things. The feminine is not weak. Yes, she receives delight and love, but she is anything but passive.