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The possibility of optimism

Exum raises a number of questions about how we read biblical texts that seem to oppress women. One question is what they say about women. Another is what they say about God.

One problem is that there is no perfect culture. All human interactions are tainted by sin. But what if God could still tell his story within imperfect cultures? God’s involvement in our cultures doesn’t necessarily condone their defects, nor does it suggest that God is limited by them. This ought to arouse humility and compassion in us as we read the Bible, because we and our culture are just as deeply flawed. From this perspective a different message emerges: your culture will be tolerated (for now); grace rules.

It can be a struggle to see a bigger story or how Jesus draws women into it. It can seem like just smoothing over or making excuses. But the God we meet even in a patriarchal Bible offers the possibility to read these texts optimistically.

This apparently patriarchal God is also the God of the incarnation. He didn’t wait for the perfect society but came to live in and suffer at the hands of an imperfect one. Like Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus knows what it is to die because it seems there is no other choice – and like her, he did it willingly. Like Michal, Jesus knows what it is to have no progeny and to have your life and story cut short.

Yet there is hope here because the failings of that culture did not stop him from accomplishing his work. In fact, they became his glory. Like David, Jesus is also God’s rightful king who must be acknowledged. And unlike Jephthah, he’s the good judge who is only fair, never rash. Like men failed Michal and Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus has also been screwed. He gets it. But he offers more than that too.

Categories: Bible Woman Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

4 replies

  1. Good thoughts as always Tamie. Just wondering why you say men failed Michal, given your (to my mind, accurate) contextual comments in the previous post. After all, the key condemnation of Michal comes from God, in her childlessness, rather than from a man.

  2. I’m loving your questions on these posts Sam! Very helpful clarifications! :)

    I think Michal’s failed by men in terms of how the patriarchal system treated women. Used as a pawn in political affairs; no mention of whether she’s loved by David; he doesn’t come back for her even though he comes back for Jonathan. She’s the victim of a patriarchal system and then condemned for standing up to it. True, that’s because she doesn’t get the God’s king thing but I guess I can see how she’d miss that.

  3. Hi Tamie,
    How exactly does she stand up to the system? She condemns David’s actions as humiliating himself, particularly as ‘the king’, in front of the slave girls. If anything, this would seem to be a willing participation in the stratification of society, rather than a rejection of it.

    To take the opposing side, couldn’t one just as well say that David is rejecting the patriarchal system by debasing himself before God and others (in particular, slave girls), rather than retaining his male, kingly, position.

    Michal on the other hand condemns David for his actions, and it is this (rather than any question of whether she was out dancing herself) for which she is condemned. In this sense, Michal is the preserver of the status quo, whereas David accepts that even though he is King, master (of the slaves) and husband (of Michal), it is right that he ignore these facts as he expresses his relation to God.

    I accept your comments about Michal being treated as a pawn in political affairs, but I don’t see her as rejecting this in 2 Samuel 6, rather as participating in the game. This, in and of itself, is neither commendable or condemnable (cf Esther’s position as a pawn and subsequent participation).

  4. Hi Sam

    Sorry for the delay in responding – we’ve been at Summer Encounter. Of course, there are multiple readings of the text so happy for you to see her as maintaining the status quo. :)

    To clarify, though, I think the way that Michal stands up to the system is not so much that she opposes David’s position as king but that she speaks to him in a way that is both disrespectful and inappropriate for a woman. She may preserve the status quo on a systematic level but because she is disrespectful rather than submissive, her interpersonal behaviour doesn’t fit. (Although there is a relationship between the systematic and the interpersonal too.)

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