Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Essential Passage #2 (Judges 9:7-15)

In my post on 11/3, I speculated on what I might choose as the 50 most essential passages of the Bible. I'm going to attempt to choose my 50. Today's passage is Judges 9:7-15 (NRSV)

When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ The olive tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?’ So all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’"

I know this seems like a strange passage to be "essential", but it is interesting in its context and outside of it. (Incidentally, the book of Judges, while a little violent, is an interesting book, telling the story that leads to Israel's desire for a king.)

In context, the judge Jotham is speaking to the people, using this parable of the trees to remind people how they ruined good leaders and then did even worse with bad leaders. Many people have died and many rulers are being killed, and still people clamor for more solid leadership (something other than the system of judges that existed). By not accepting the judge system, the people are saying, essentially, that they want a king, just like everyone else. It's not good enough to be a people set apart, they want to be the same as their neighbors. (Presumably, if their neighbors jumped off bridges...)

This story, outside of Judges, is also interesting. Notice how the trees and plants that seem to have "real" gifts (something tangible) don't want to give that up to be the leader of the trees. Clearly, the power isn't a strong enough incentive, compared to what they know they already offer and how those gifts are used.

I think it behooves us to consider this "essential" passage on Election Day (US) and in general, when we consider those who seek power. What happened to a system of reluctant leaders who sought to lead for the good of others, who would feel torn about losing (for any amount of time) the opportunity to do the very thing for which they have been created? Here we see trees finally electing a bramble (or a tumbleweed in some translations) because the bramble doesn't have anything else to do.

In our leaders, we might consider the difference between the career politician and the person who is willing to offer their gifts for a time of need. Perhaps we need to overhaul our own system. Once we were a country set apart, but now, with nearly continuous campaigning, we're not special. What would bring back that sense of specialness and wise leadership?

Something to ponder.

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