Saturday, May 26, 2012

War Against The Canaanites (Judges 4-5)

The following quote is taken from

"Rape and the Spoils of War - "They must be dividing the spoils they took: there must be a damsel or two for each man, Spoils of dyed cloth as Sisera's spoil, an ornate shawl or two for me in the spoil."   (Judges 5:30 NAB)

This quote is taken far out of context.  It is part of the larger story and song of Deborah, and of the nation of Israel's victory against the Canaanites, who had oppressed them for 20 years.  You can read the entire story here:

            To summarize the story, the Israelites had been oppressed by King Jabin of Canaan for 20 years (Judges 4:1-3).  When they cried to the Lord for help, he commanded a man named Barak to lead the Israelite army to victory against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army.  God sent this command through Deborah, a prophet and the only female judge of Israel.  Barak agreed to lead the army, but only if Deborah would accompany him.  She agreed, but prophesied that the honor of killing Sisera would be given to a woman.  God gave the Israelites victory over the Canaanites, and as Deborah had predicted, a woman named Jael killed Sisera (Judges 4:4-24).
            The quote from Judges chapter 5 is part of the larger Song of Deborah, which describes the Israelite victory over Sisera and the Canaanites.  In this portion of the song, they describe Sisera's mother, waiting for her son to return and bring back plunder from the war.  “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother; behind the lattice she cried out, ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?  Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’  The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself, ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a woman or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck—all this as plunder?'" (Judges 5:28-30, NIV).  The Canaanites had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years.  Many ancient cultures did take women as plunder in times of war [1].  This is another example of an action that the Bible records, but God did not approve of.  As mentioned in previous articles, rape is a sin, and Israelite law forbid it (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).  Many other ancient cultures, however, did not have similar laws protecting women in times of war. 
            The writer of this passage (most likely Deborah) was envisioning Sisera's mother waiting for him to come home, and of one of her ladies assuming that he was bringing back gifts and women that he had overpowered.  The irony is that it was a woman who killed Sisera (Judges 5:24-27). 
            This passage does not promote rape.  It is describing a nation that treated others with oppression and cruelty, and was eventually defeated and overthrown.

[1] The Iliad, Homer, written circa 8th-7th century BCE, Book 1 v. 33-36, Book 6 v. 521-556, Book 9 v. 153-168