Joshua 15; Acsah: the ideal wife

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Sometimes when you hear someone teach/preach through a passage, you'll discover that what he says reveals more about himself-- his biases, his presuppositions, his theology, what's important to him-- that it actually reveals about the Bible. When you hear today's passage, I'm a little scared it's going to reveal more about me, than it does about the book of Joshua or about its relevance for our lives. I say this, personally bothered by it, and embarrassed about it. I also say this as a caution of sorts to you-- this will be a week when you are going to need, more than usual, to use discernment. What I say/write, I'm writing as a male. And as a father. And as someone who has been at a church where women have not been particularly valued, or respected, or considered worth really listening to. I have tried my best to recognize all of this, and avoid reading this passage poorly. I've tried really hard to take what AJ has written seriously as Scripture apart from my preunderstanding, but it's quite possible I'm going to end up reading into the text, more than is actually there. On an entirely different front, the other thing I really struggled with this week, was that I see myself, and my marriage, in this passage. And by "struggled," I mean, I found myself amused, smirking, constantly, as I thought about the passage at work. Sometimes when people write stories-- and biblical authors are no exception-- they deliberately leave gaps in their stories. They don't explain everything. And readers have to decide to what degree they are supposed to leave those gaps, because they aren't important and not the focus, and to what degree they are expected to fill them in. This could be the most hilarious sermon of all time. I could totally make it that, just by thinking about the gaps in the story. And I'm not sure if I'm supposed to think about the gaps, or if I'm supposed to play this straight, and focus on what AJ focuses on-- or if I'm supposed to find some magical sweet spot between the two. I enjoyed this story a great deal, is what I'm trying to say. Meditating on it has given me a great deal of pleasure.1 But I'm not sure I'm reading it quite like I should, and I'm not sure I'm teaching it, or thinking about its relevance, quite like I should. So. Consider yourselves well and truly warned. :) Last week, we began reading the conclusion to Caleb's story in the Bible. We saw that Caleb was truly a man of God-- a man of great faith. I tried to challenge you to wholly follow after God, so long as you live. I tried to challenge you to not let your age limit you. You can serve God, no matter how old you are. And if you aren't old, consider what it would look like, to honor and heed the wisdom of your elders. I'd like to begin this morning by rereading Joshua 14:6-13. Then, we'll skip down, and read the second half of Caleb's story--which, as it turns out, isn't really going to be about Caleb: (14:6) And the sons of Israel drew near to Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You have known the word that Yahweh spoke to Moses, the man of God, with regard to me and with regard to you in Kadesh Barnea. (7) 40 years old [was] I, when Moses the servant of Yahweh sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I returned him a word/report just as [was] with my heart, while my brothers who went up with me caused the heart of the people to melt,2 while I wholly followed3 after Yahweh my God, (9) and Moses swore on that day, saying, "Surely, the land on which your foot has walked, to you it shall be as an inheritance and to your sons forever, because you wholly followed after Yahweh your God," (10) And now then, LOOK!, Yahweh has kept me alive, just as he spoke this forty five years from the time Yahweh spoke this word to Moses, when Israel was in the desert, and now then, LOOK!, I, today, am 85 years old, (11) and I am still today as strong as on the day Moses sent me. As much strength was then, as my strength is now for war and for going out and for coming. (12) and now then, give to me this hill country that Yahweh spoke on that day, because you heard on that day that Anakim were there, and cities great and fortified. Perhaps Yahweh is with me, and I shall drive them out just as Yahweh spoke, (13) And Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as an inheritance. (14) Thus, Hebron became to Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite as an inheritance until this day because he followed wholeheartedly after Yahweh the God of Israel. (15) Now, the name of Hebron before was Kiriath Arba.4 The greatest man among the Anakim [was] he (Arba), while the land rested from war. So Joshua does what Caleb requests. He gives him Hebron, a land famously known for having the biggest, baddest Anakim of them all-- Arba. Caleb had asked for this in faith. Perhaps, Yahweh is with him. Perhaps, Caleb will drive them out just as Yahweh had spoken. Will his faith in Yahweh be justified? We find our answer, when we skip down to today's passage, starting in 15:13: (13) And to Caleb the son of Jephunneh5 he gave a portion in the midst of the sons of Judah, in accordance with Yahweh's word to Joshua-- Kiriath Arba, the father of the Anak.6 That is, Hebron7, (14) And Caleb dispossessed/drove out from there three of the sons of the Anak-- Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, the descendants of the Anak, Let's pause here. Caleb didn't kill these three Anakim. He wanted to, no doubt. But they ran. They got away. Someone else will actually have to kill them-- and we can read about that in Judges 1. But I think this verse helps clarify the situation in Canaan in two ways: it helps us understand the Nephilim, and it has one of the key verbs for taking possession of the land. (1) Nephilim: There were Nephilim scattered all across Canaan. But most people in the land of Canaan, probably, were just people. There were so few Nephilim that they can be named. So here in verse 7, we read about three of them: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai.8 Nothing is said about Arba. So we are left to wonder-- had he already died, and just left behind a few sons? I don't know. I would think, if Caleb had killed him, AJ would tell us. (2) Dispossess This verse says that Caleb "dispossessed", or drove out, these Anakim.9 This is the verb that was missing from the summaries of Israel's warfare. Israel "struck," "took/captured," and "kheremed" kings, but they didn't "dispossess." What Caleb does here is different. Caleb took control of the land. Continuing in verse 15: (15) And he went up from there to the inhabitants of Debir. Now, the name of Debir before was Kiriath Sepher,10 (16) and Caleb said, "Whoever strikes Kiriath Sepher, and captures it, I shall give to him Acsah my daughter as a wife." (17) And Othniel the son of Kenaz the brother of Caleb took/captured it, and he gave to him Acsah his daughter as a wife, Let's pause here. Do Othniel's actions bother you? When you read these verses, do you find yourselves thinking, "Do good fathers pass out their daughters as prizes for taking cities?" We want to say people should be free to marry who they choose, based on true love. Who I marry should be my choice, and my parents shouldn't get any input at all. We probably say all this, but the Bible certainly doesn't. I'm not sure that the Bible really teaches, one way or another, how marriage should be decided-- there isn't one single model to follow. But, at any rate, our views on love and marriage are based more closely on Disney than on the Bible. And if we look at surveys done on marital satisfaction, or the percent of marriages that end in divorce in Western Christian churches, it'd be hard to point to those statistics and say, "We are obviously doing things much more intelligently and wisely today, than Caleb did back then." What is Caleb actually doing? Caleb, as head of his family, is offering one of his daughters to a man who will show great faith and courage in Yahweh. He is offering his daughter to someone who is willing to go toe-to-toe with three Nephilim, the descendants of the legendary Arba, for her. If there is a man who rises up in faith to do this, motivated in part by a desire to marry his daughter, will he not be a good husband? A man of God, who is willing to risk his life for her? Now, it's quite possible that in saying all this, I'm revealing more about myself and my life, than I am the book of Joshua. I got to pick who I would marry. And I now have four daughters who are quickly growing up. And anyone who wants one of my daughters had better prove himself to be a man of faith, and committed to her (!). But even if I maybe believe all this, and persuade the dads here that I'm right (lol), we are left with an open question. What does Acsah think about all this? And the verses that follow are about her. AJ has compressed his telling of this story, so we will have to go through this carefully, line by line, to make sense of it. Verse 18: (18) And then,11 when/while she was going12, she urged him to ask from her father a field, And... We have to stop here. So, Caleb has given his daughter Acsah as a wife to Othniel. They are married. And then, this is what immediately happens next. While she was going with her new husband, she urged Othniel to ask from her father a field. Acsah thinks her dad didn't give enough; she wants a field as well. Why? Is she being greedy? Is there something wrong with the land they were given? We'll have to keep reading to find out. But see this: the very first thing Acsah does, after being married, is urge her husband to ask Caleb for a field. Also, it's important to note that Othniel isn't named here. AJ is telling the story in a way to keep the focus on Acsah. What will Othniel do? Will he heed his new bride? This is what we read next: and she "dismounted" from on the donkey, and Caleb said to her, "What do you want?" Wait. Stop. Where did Othniel go? Acsah urged Othniel to ask Caleb for a field, and all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a scene with only Acsah and Caleb. AJ doesn't tell us what Othniel's response was. We don't know what he said. We don't know what he did. Picture these two newly-weds, leaving for their new land. While they are leaving, she "urges" Othniel to ask for a field. Othniel apparently doesn't do what she wants. So she goes to do it herself. Why doesn't AJ tell us what Othniel said or did? I mean, it's not hard to fill in the gap here. Men, when your bride "urges" you to do something, and you don't agree with her... All of you who are married know what happens next. What we have here is their first marital squabble. I've amused myself endlessly this week imagining what she said to him, and what he said to her. I drive hours each day without a radio. I think there's probably two reasons why AJ doesn't tell us Othniel's response. The first, is that he wants to keep the focus on Acsah. The second, is he wants us to view Acsah positively. Whatever it is that Othniel said or did to her, didn't keep Acsah from going to Caleb herself to fix this. If AJ had recorded Othniel's words, we'd have been far more tempted to make this story into a caution about the importance of wives submitting to husbands. We'd talk about how Acsah "disobeyed" her husband. I can picture some old-school (male) pastors doing exactly that anyway. But AJ wants us to view Acsah favorably. So he leaves that out. This is going to be a story of Acsah overcoming a husband to get what she needs. Let's start again at the beginning of verse 18: (18) And then,13 when/while she was going14, she urged him to ask from her father a field, and she "dismounted" from on the donkey, and Caleb said to her, "What do you want?" In OT stories, authors are really picky about what details they include, and leave out. They don't waste time, or valuable scroll space, on things that aren't important. So why does AJ tell us that Acsah "dismounted" from on her donkey? I mean, we don't even know what Othniel said, but we are told Acsah "dismounts" from her donkey?? What we have here isn't the normal word for dismounting from a donkey. Normally, it's "yarad" (1 Sam. 25:23; Judges 4:15).15 The word we have here is rare-- the only other place it's found is in Judges 4:21: 21 But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground-he was lying fast asleep from weariness-and he died. Jael didn't "dismount" the tent peg through Sisera's head, pinning him to the ground. She drove it in. This is an aggressive, forceful action. The same verb used to describe Jael's driving of the tent peg into Sisera's head, is used to describe Acsah getting off her donkey. Acsah isn't nicely "dismounting" off her donkey. She flies off it; she drives off it. This is a woman who is determined to fix this. She wants her field. The story continues: and Caleb said to her, "What do you want?" Caleb sees Acsah flying off her donkey to him, immediately after leaving, and he knows she wants something. Maybe he even saw her argument (hands raised, gestures) with Othniel. So Caleb comes right to the point: "What do you want?" I'd love to know how Caleb says this. Is he nervous? He gave his daughter in marriage to someone, making an oath/promise about it, without any input from her. And no sooner does she start to leave, than she rides back over to him, and flies off her donkey toward him. If I'm Caleb, I'd be more scared of Acsah right here, than of any Nephilim. (19) and she said, "Give to me a gift, for the land of the Negev you have given me, and [so] you must give to me springs of water," and he gave to her upper springs and lower springs. The Negev is a dry place-- bordering on being desert. In this part of ND, we have water everywhere. We have more than we need. We wish some lakes would go down, so we could get crop land back. But in dry parts of the country, like California or Arizona, people think about water differently. Every Californian farmer knows that land without clear water rights, is useless. Acsah understands, even if her new husband does not-- or if he isn't willing to confront Caleb--that they need more. They need a field. They need water. Acsah is as direct as her father. This is not a family that beats around the bush. If Caleb has given the land of the Negev, he has to also give springs of water. The land he gave is useless without the water. He should know that. And Caleb meets her request-- he gives her the upper and lower springs. And that's the end of this little story. Why is it in the Bible? What are we supposed to get from this? Historically, part of the answer might be, that AJ wants to explain how Caleb's descendants ended up with water rights in the middle of the tribe of Judah. But there's more to the story than this. AJ didn't need to tell it like he did, to make this point. AJ has deliberately told this story in a way that keeps the focus on Acsah. Othniel is in the story, but he isn't named, and AJ doesn't tell us what he did or said. Acsah is the subject of nearly all the verbs. So what does AJ think of Acsah? How is she characterized?16 (1) Acsah is a strong, powerful woman. She lives in a man's world, interacting with men who are Nephilim slayers, but she holds her own. (2) Acsah is determined to provide for herself and her family. We were maybe tempted, at the start of the story, to wonder if Acsah was greedy. Should she not learn to be content in all situations? Should she not submit to her husband? Should she not keep silent, and let the men make the decisions? You could say all this, but at the end of the day, water is life. Acsah's actions secured her family's future for generations. Her story is like Rahab's (Joshua 2)-- a woman who overcomes male opposition, to get what she needs for her family. She's a hero. AJ ends the story like he does, with Caleb giving the springs, to show that she was successful, and that her "request" was legitimate. I want to ask a question, and it's going to sound very sexist, and very male, when I say it, and I don't mean it to sound that way [smirking]: What do we do with women like Acsah? [smirking] There are many men who feel threatened by women like Acsah. I had a friend in college who had a huge crush on a woman. She was, in every way, quite the catch. But he wouldn't pursue her, because he wasn't sure he'd be the one to wear the pants in the relationship. She was the student body president-- a strong, confident woman. And he found her as threatening, as he found her attractive. I think a lot of men are like this. When they are confronted by a woman who is strong, and who acts with authority, they get nervous. They feel threatened. They very quickly become defensive, or go on the offense against them. Is it wrong to be like Acsah? This is what I think: women like Acsah make the ideal wife, and they make the ideal Christian woman. Let me try to unpack these two ideas. Acsah, the ideal wife: In the U.S., the stereotypical ideal woman is something like, "barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen." [smirking]. The man is the one who rules the house, who provides for the family, who makes the business decisions. But let's read Proverbs 31, starting in verse 10: 10 A capable wife who can find? The word used for "capable" there is usually translated "strong." It's how "strong" warriors are distinguished from "normal" warriors in Joshua. But capable works nicely as well. Everything we are about to read, describes a capable woman-- a capable wife: She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates. Acsah is the ideal wife. She is a strong woman, who provides for her family, who makes good business decisions, who does good for her husband-- despite his opposition. When Caleb offered his daughter to whoever would take the city, he was truly offering a prize. If you are married to an Acsah, you should consider yourself blessed. There are maybe times when you'll find yourself wishing you'd married a woman who is less capable, less strong. Someone who does what you want. But it's the Acsahs who ensure that you have food on the table, who keep you from making stupid financial decisions. If you are married to an Acsah, consider yourself blessed. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain-- but a strong, capable woman, who fears Yahweh-- this is a woman to be praised. And to women, I'll just say this: don't be scared of being strong. Don't be afraid to speak up. If you are seeking your husband's good, and your children's good, be assertive. Acsah: The ideal Christian woman. Most churches, I imagine, have an Acsah. They are the women in the church who are willing to speak up to fix problems. They see men doing dumb stuff, occasionally (not wanting to man bash here), or missing stuff, and they want to help. And the thing about Acsahs, is that everyone knows who these women are. You can't hide strength. In one particular church, the elders have decided that they should keep $250,000 in the church's checking account. There's a lot of uncertainty in that church, a lot of fear. This church has an Acsah, who has a good business sense, and knows that this is not particularly smart. The money isn't earning interest; it's not paying down a massive loan the church has. The church is throwing money away, and has been for several years. If the church is going to act like a hedge fund (ME: showing a lack of faith), it should act like a successful hedge fund, and not bury the money in a hole (Matt. 25:18). At least, earn a little interest on it. So this Acsah spoke up about this. She was apologetic. She didn't want to speak up. She wished someone else would point out the obvious. But it was up to her, apparently. She was the only one who really understood what the handout was saying. And when she talked, she did so diplomatically-- far more neutrally than I have here-- and with love. She wanted to help. This same Acsah, at a different meeting, was frustrated because the church was paying for a secretary, and the secretary wasn't always at the office when she should've been-- and the secretary, was the pastor's wife. Awkward. This Acsah really didn't want to say anything-- you could tell she didn't want to-- but this was a problem that had to be addressed. There were times when time sensitive things came up, and no one was there during business hours, when they should've been. This Acsah doesn't enjoy controversy. She really, would just as soon have someone else speak up. But the bottom line is that the church had problems that needed to be fixed. And because she loves the church, and wants what's best for it, she will speak up. She will fix what needs fixing. Most churches have Acsahs. But many of those same churches strongly discourage women from speaking up. They have a "theology of women" that's built around a few misunderstood verses (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:12). And when an Acsah does stand up to address a problem, many (male) church leaders feel attacked. They feel threatened. They find it impossible to actually hear Acsah's wisdom. They get defensive instead. An Acsah I know, at one meeting, was told (in her own words), "to sit down and shut up, basically." I think it's a huge mistake to create an environment where women aren't allowed to speak up. I think those verses about women (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:12) are misunderstood and misapplied (but I don't have time to try to defend this17). I have seen how creating an environment where Acsahs are afraid to speak up actively harms the church. When Acsahs speak up, it's because they love the church. They want to help. They are strong, intelligent, capable women. And when church leaders shut them down because they are women, because they aren't (male) elders, and tell them they should "trust, submit, and obey,", or that they should "know their role," they misunderstand these women's hearts, and they are missing an opportunity to fix broken things in the church. So what I think, is that Acsahs are supposed to be treasured. They should be valued in marriage, and in the church. They should be encouraged to speak up, when they see problems, because they are trying to help. And-- returning to Joshua-- it's a mark of Caleb's strength, and humility, and wisdom, that he heard (not simply as a dad, but as the clan leader/elder) the legitimacy and wisdom of Acsah's words, and heeded her voice. If you are a Caleb, understand the heart of these women. Understand why they are speaking up. Understand that they are doing what they are doing, because they love the church. Be Acsahs. Be Calebs. Value Acsahs. 1 Although by the time I got to thinking about the relevance, I was admittedly far less amused. Because this addresses a really hurtful situation. 2 a great x-qatal. adding the others to the same situation. 3 Piel מלא DCH: 6. wholly follow, a. with אַחֲרֵי, <SUBJ> Caleb Nm 14:24; 32:12; Dt 1:36; Jos 14:8, 9, 14, Joshua Nm 32:12; Si 46:6, Solomon 1 K 11:6, אִישׁ man Nm 32:11, בֵּן son Nm 32:12; Dt 1:36; Jos 14:14, עֶבֶד servant Nm 14:24; subj. not specified, Si 46:10. <PREP> כְּ as, + David 1 K 11:6, אָב father 1 K 11:6; אַחֲרֵי after, + Y. Nm 14:24; 32:11, 12; Dt 1:36; Jos 14:8, 9, 14; 1 K 11:6; Si 46:6, 10.3 4 verbless clause here serving as background/offline information. 5 fronted to mark a topic/focus shift? 6 dashed phrase here is right-dislocated; a more detailed explanation of the land kept to the end to avoid messing with the sentence's logical flow. Basically, AJ making sure we hear "Nephilim" as we keep reading. 7 Verbless clause as background/offline info, clarifying this place (because now everyone calls it Hebron). 8 In saying this, I'm finding Heiser persuasive. 9 ירשׁ "Yarash" Clines, DCH: 1. take possession of, inherit from, displace from property, dispossess, drive out. 10 Another verbless clause 11 updating reference time of the story. 12 English translations... I'm not sure why they translate this infinitive construct the way they do. It's a simultaneous action to the main verb "she urged." While she came/went/// while was was coming/going, she urged him. English Bibles all have, "when she came to him, she urged him." But "to him" isn't in the Hebrew. Basically, verse 18 opens with a new setting, "and then," and this is what happens next after she's given as a wife. The only translation I found that does this otherwise is Young's Literal Translation (see The Wycliffe Bible starts it right, but then follows the Septuagint (Greek OT) in rendering the last part of the verse. 13 updating reference time of the story. 14 English translations... I'm not sure why they translate this infinitive construct the way they do. It's a simultaneous action to the main verb "she urged." While she came/went/// while was was coming/going, she urged him. English Bibles all have, "when she came to him, she urged him." But "to him" isn't in the Hebrew. Basically, verse 18 opens with a new setting, "and then," and this is what happens next after she's given as a wife. The only translation I found that does this otherwise is Young's Literal Translation (see The Wycliffe Bible starts it right, but then follows the Septuagint (Greek OT) in rendering the last part of the verse. 15 Rebekah "naphals" off a camel (Gen. 24:64). Normally, this is translated "falls," but I think the idea is that camels are much taller, so it's more of a drop. 16 These are good questions for a narrative/literary approach. 17 I admittedly haven't studied it much, but I think Craig Keener is probably right, that these are addressing a situation in which uneducated women were interrupting teaching with constant questions, because no one had bothered to educate them before because women weren't valued. husbands were supposed to teach them at home. I could be wrong though-- again, I haven't really studied it. --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ 13
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