Saturday, October 8, 2016

Elon the Zebulunite

After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. Then Elon the Zebulunite died, and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun. (Judges 12:11-12)
There are certain passages of scripture, like this one, which stand out for being so...useless. There is no wisdom, no moral teaching, not even a story. Even Ibzan of Bethlehem and Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite, who came before and after Elon, had little tales attached to their name (Ibzan had thirty sons and thirty daughters, who all married people from outside the clan; Abdon "had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys"). Elon judged ten years; that's it.

That's not to say there isn't a lot to be gleaned from a deep analysis of these two verses. A quick Google search yielded an article delving into the historical Israelite practices surrounding transfer of territory. Of course, even that topic is history mainly for history's sake. If Israel is itself sacred, then understanding its history is of religious value. Perhaps that is one of the main draws of this brief passage. We can imagine an historian dutifully recording Elon's brief appointment as judge, for no other reason than to faithfully reproduce the sequences of events that led Israel from the days of Joshua up to the time of the kings.

Still, what about Elon himself? We will never know anything about him other than his name, his title, and the fact that he bore that title for ten years. I often imagine all the saints meeting in the kingdom of heaven. Many of them will meet Elon and ask him what he did during his life on earth. Perhaps he will respond with many stories. Or maybe he will just smile and say, "I judged Israel ten years."

Following the teaching of Jesus, who said such things as "the last will be first and the first will be last," and, "whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave," one might say Elon is the greatest of all the judges. There are no stories glorifying him. It is enough for him to have served the nation of Israel, God's people. In this way, maybe a Christian can glean from this brief mention of Elon a model of heroism, after the manner that Christ taught us. But I suppose that's rather reaching. After all, Elon was judge. He was not slave of all; unlike Christ, he did not refuse to be put in a position of power (cf. John 6:15).

Implicit in my questions about this text is the notion that every text of scripture should be edifying, as in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." One has to really reach in order to apply this principle to all scripture. For the Christian, it's not enough that a passage should faithfully record the history of Israel; some application to our lives, as we strive to become more like Christ, is necessary. And anyway, modern historical criticism casts so much doubt on the history recorded in scripture that taking these passages at their word is a leap of faith.

So what do we do with Elon the Zebulunite? What do we do with any of the judges? Even the great ones like Samson can hardly be considered models. But at least a story like that of Samson may or may not have an allegorical interpretation which is edifying. Elon is simply a footnote.

But there he is, eternally etched into the narrative of scripture, refusing to budge. I am tempted to think one simply has to have a sense of humor when approaching the Bible. It did not come together the way anyone would expect if one were imagining God speaking directly to us. Now that it has enjoyed its 2000 year status as canonical, there's no changing it. We can rest assured Elon the Zebulunite will remain there, challenging us to find a spiritual meaning behind his name and his ten years as judge.

I think there is something edifying about this, after all. We need continual reminders that the universe is the way it is because of events that preceded us, that we cannot change, and that defy any sort of theoretical explanation. We live in God's world, not a world which is "designed" according to human standards. Not everything has an immediately obvious purpose. And yet, if it had not been for all of these apparently meaningless events in the exact sequence they happened, I would not exist.

In other words, as much as I might naturally feel that my life would be totally unaffected if Elon the Zebulunite's name did not appear where it does in scripture, in fact it would change everything. Over two thousand years of history would be altered. If a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane...or however that's supposed to go,,.one can only imagine what it would mean if even a single character, however uninteresting, were removed from the Bible.

The more I read the Bible and reflect, the more I become less concerned with the abstract principles it teaches (though I have not lost sight of them), and the more I am aware of its very presence. Almost the very essence of the Bible's power is that it cannot be changed. Although it may have gone through many revisions to become what it is today, from now on no such revision is even conceivable. (Here I am not talking about translation and interpretation. I am mostly certainly aware that there will always be as many interpretations of scripture as there are human beings on the planet, but I think this can be safely distinguished from the content of the Bible.) That is the kind of presence in our world that can be felt, all the more so when one makes it a habit to read these now unchangeable document.

Paradoxically, this judge without a story has provoked in me more thought than any other, thus becoming the judge I would be least in favor of omitting from any reading of scripture. Of course, I doubt anyone would know who I'm talking about if I casually brought him up in conversation. The presence of scripture can be felt, but its contents remain a secret hidden in plain sight. I suppose that's natural. I don't mean to lament the lack of biblical literacy of our society based on the evidence that no one has ever heard of Elon the Zebulunite. This is simply a meditation, one that cannot possibly resolve all the mysteries surrounding this strange text.

Then again, it would be nice to know that the Christians who, in speaking about scripture practically deify it, actually knew its contents. Maybe then they would speak about it with much less certainty.

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