Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Character Assasination of Rachel (The IFB's Strange Woman)

This post is part of a series examining the “strange woman” doctrine.

The concept of a “strange woman” is an unofficial doctrine** held by some Independent Fundamental Baptists concerning sexually abused girls: They become human garbage and things to be used, to be dispensed with in whatever way is convenient to those who have charge over them. Note that many doctrines in a high demand group are not formally documented but become part of the oral tradition or the hidden curriculum** of their culture and are often more powerful rules than the formally stated ones.

Ron Williams of Hephzibah House offers a very lengthy sermon about this insidiously taught doctrine causing pastors confront occurrences of sexual abuse in their congregations and in educational settings. (Full sermon transcript available HERE. Audio available HERE.)

Ad Hominem Abusive: Attack the Woman

Prior to trashing Dinah as the consummate prostitute who solicited her own rape, Williams weaves a tale of woe concerning Rachel, the wife that Jacob most loved. Note that additional comments concerning Rachel may be found in a separate post that claims that any and all physical attractiveness is undesirable if not evil.

QUOTE: Part I, God's Providence?

For a believer, everything, EVERYTHING, is providential. That’s why Paul, writing later in the New Testament, Romans chapter 8 verse 28 says “all things work together for good.”
[ . . .]
I believe God wanted him to have Leah and not Rachel! Here’s this servant looking at flesh and feelings and emotional are involved here, when in fact he wanted him to have the more spiritual of these two sisters and that was clearly Leah.

There is nothing in Scripture at this point indicating that either girl was in error or was dishonorable. God turning Laban's self-serving trick and betrayal into honor for Leah by giving her children. Rachel had no part in the deception. If anything, Leah was deceptive for her complicit actions in the deception, though she had no free choice to do decline her father's wishes in that society, save for risking death. Williams has no basis for drawing this conclusion from the context of the Biblical canon narrative.

QUOTE: Part I, Rachel's Poor Character Results in Few Children
As we look at Rachel we learn some things about her that are rather uncomfortable. For one thing, as we learn later on in chapter 31 and verse 19, she was an idolater. When she finally left home, when Jacob decided to go back to Palestine, she stole her father’s idols, her father’s teraphim. Because she was an idolater, she had her dad’s gods, these false gods.

In context, Rachel is angry that she was given no inheritance and was deprived of what was due to her. It does not say that she took the household gods which were generally made of precious metals to worship them but for their value (to melt down or to trade). Why is Laban not considered an idolater for having the idols in the first place? Notice that this is never mentioned. She did steal from Laban and does lie to him when confronted, but the context of the verses immediately before the verse Williams quotes make it reasonably clear that she was interested in her dowry and not in idolatry. In the very least, it does not definitely declare her an idolater.

QUOTE: Part I, Rachel's Poor Character Results in Few Children
Then, she wasn’t very close to God, when they were married in chapter 30 in verse 1, you’ll notice this text, “and when Rachel noticed that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister and said unto Jacob ‘Give me children or else I die’”. She was treating Jacob as if he was God, as if he had something to say about whether or not they had children. She wasn’t very close to God because had she been close to God - when a believer has a crisis in their life what’s the first thing they do? They go to God in prayer. Right?

Wrong! What did all of the patriarchs up until now do, right on back to Adam? They aspired to be close to God, but with the exception of Enoch and Joseph perhaps, all of them sinned – pretty significantly. Women had no worth in their society unless they had babies, and Rachel had to share her husband with her sister. (Thinking of it pragmatically, he could have abstained from sex with Leah whom it says he hated, and could have devoted himself to Rachel until she had a baby.) She was a human as everyone else – even God's friend Abraham.

It is also taught that the rain falls upon the just and the unjust. Hannah who bore Samuel was not cursed or evil according to Scripture, but she gave birth to one of the most significant prophets in the history of Israel. And Isaiah wrote that the barren women should sing and rejoice, for their children will be greater than those of those who gave birth. The belief that having babies was cultural and was not a focus in the New Covenant which I thought Ron Williams claimed to follow. So while it is honest to say that the culture of Rachel's day looked down on childlessness because sons brought in money, the lessons that he tries to extract from that text don't apply directly to New Testament Believers in the manner that they did to those in the narrative.

He reads so much into the Biblical text that just isn't there, just to support his argument that he later reveals was drawn from apocryphan writings – and ones that are not widely accepted. He's decided that Rachel is not close to God, and so he interprets what is written to support his pre-conceived ideas about her.

QUOTE: Part II, Dinah's Preventable Defilement
And she [Dinah, Rachel's daughter had learned her lessons well; she had learned how to be insecure from her mother. She had learned how to emphasize flesh and to appeal to men by flesh from her father, never mind character.

Rachel Attempts to Improve her Fertility

QUOTE: Part I, Rachel's Poor Character Results in Few Children
Later on in our story, chapter 30 in about verse 14, Rachel used this superstitious thing of using special herbs and weeds to try to gain her fertility. Again instead of going to the Lord she used superstition.

Williams condemns Rachel for doing all that she can to have a baby, just like we would take medicine to promote good health. He claims that her actions were superstition. Why not view this a act of devotion and duty as an honorable wife?

Why not use this as an example that God is “no respecter of persons”? Why is having no children not seen as cultural superstition instead? If God values all, is it not enough that we are loved, regardless of the number of children we have? But in Williams' sex-oriented culture, not all people have value. In fact, the strange women like he alleges of Rachel (who is never called that in the Bible) have little to no value. The only way that they can redeem themselves (salvation by works?) comes through having lots of babies.

QUOTE: Part II, Jacob's Spiritual Low Point at Shechem
Genesis 30: “And Ruben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, ‘Give me I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.’ And she said unto her,” and you can just hear the pent up anger and bitterness in this response “’is it a small matter that though has taken my husband and wouldst though take away my son’s mandrakes also.’ And Rachel said, ‘therefor he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes.’ And Jacob came out of the field in the evening and Leah went out to meet him and said ‘thou must come in unto me for surely I’ve hired thee with my son’s mandrakes’ and he lay with her and he erected there an altar and called it ‘El Elohe Israel’.'

Rachel is cast as resorting to superstition and this is suggestive of witchcraft. Williams actually draws from the patriarchal Jewish writings of Rashi about the Midrash to develop this thesis. Why does Williams recognize these extra-Biblical texts that Protestants do not recognize as God-breathed or even King James Version truths?

Double Standards for Williams' Favorites

QUOTE: Part I, Rachel's Poor Character Results in Few Children
So here’s a girl who was willing to give her own husband a concubine in order to gain the children that she so desperately wanted, and unfortunately, Leah would follow her example, but Rachel did it first. And then Leah did, unfortunately, follow her example.

Leah does exactly the same thing that Rachel does, but when Leah does it, it isn't so bad. This is also what Abraham does willingly with Sarah. Were Abraham and Jacob both helpless and passive in this scenario? Williams takes what is not written and claims that the text supports his own ideas.

QUOTE: Part I, Leah's Good and Quiet Character Results in Many Children
Now if you think of those things concerning Rachel, now let’s look at Leah, and examine some portions of her character. I believe that Leah had character that Rachel didn’t. As our text tells us, she was tender-eyed. Some have said that the eyes are the window to the soul. And there is, in fact, a case, I believe, that can be made, that character can be revealed by a person’s eyes, for good or bad by the way: I believe Jezebel painted her eyes with good reason. You look at the Jezebels of this world, they often have painted eyes. I hope you young ladies remember that because Jezebels paint their eyes. (Audience member: Yep) That’s a sign of bad character.

But when you look at Leah, you saw this shame-faced, modest, humble, girl, a quiet girl, because her eyes betrayed that she was of a more humble character. She had a more godly character. She was quiet.

This is nothing but baseless pontification and opinion on the part of Williams and has no support in Scripture. It's Williams' preference as well. But it is stated here as irrefutable and obvious fact.

QUOTE: Part I, Leah's Good and Quiet Character Results in Many Children
Leah was the mother of Judah, and as you’ll remember in your Bible, Judah produced Christ. The tribe of Judah produced our Lord Jesus Christ, and David, by the way. She was also the mother of Levi, the priestly line.

In this instance, Williams portrays Leah as venerated by her role in the lineage of Christ, but later in the sermon, he vilifies Tamar who is also one of Christ's progenitors. If it is an honor for Leah and to Rachel's shame, then why is Tamar shamed and not also redeemed when she proves to share this stame status with Leah? It's inconsistent and draws a connection of cause and effect between these unrelated facts to support a weak argument.

QUOTE: Part I, Leah's Good and Quiet Character Results in Many Children
God in so many words was saying, ‘I want you to have Leah, not that girl over there called Rachel,

This is entirely speculation by Williams. If God did not want Jacob to marry Rachel and had appeared to Jacob and named Him Israel, God would have declared it clearly, just as He did with the other patriarchs. God did not. Was God powerless to stop Jacob from using the wrong vessel or an impure one to father God's own chosen people? Williams' God must be pretty impotent if that's the case. But it's not. This is nothing more than Ron Williams blowing smoke. If it were true, it would have been stated in Scripture.

Drawing from Rashi's Biased Judaic Commentaries

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) was the “father of commentary” who lived from 1040-1105 and worked on the midrash, the extra-biblical texts that sought to fill in the gaps in other Jewish writings. He wrote the first and definitive commentary on the Old Testament and his is the most published, making all other Rabbinical commentaries that followed his own essentially commentaries on his original work as well.  Rashi disliked both Dinah and Leah, Dinah's mother.

      Rashi: Leah and Dinah are Outgoing
Rashi dislikes Leah and therefore Dinah, claiming that they are both yatzaneet (“outgoing”). Though he says that “to go out” was a phrase that only applied to men, he says that Leah and Dinah both sinned by usurping the right “to go out.” (Perhaps this is the case in extra-biblical texts, but a simple search for the word yatzah as it appears in Genesis 34:1 can be found in other references that have nothing to do with men exclusively and are applied to women and nations and animals, etc.)
      Rashi: Claims that Leah (not Rachel) was a Sorceress
He develops his hatred of Leah based upon Genesis 30:14-21, claiming that Leah schemed, deceived, and used mandrakes like a sorceress would use a spell when she arranges with Rachel to exchange mandrakes (love-apples) for a rare night with Jacob. From my understanding of Scripture, Leah is blessed with several children thereafter, but Rashi seems to ignore this. (Perhaps his wife burned the mandrakes on the evening before he wrote his commentary on this section in Genesis, and his own Rabbi wouldn't grant him a get?)

      Rashi: “Going Out” only Evil for Women?
He also goes on to elaborate on his opinions about Dinah after establishing that he thought Leah was no good so no good could come of the evil Dinah as a consequence. Genesis 34:1 says that Dinah goes out to see the daughters of the land, but we are not told whether her activity is either good or bad. It is clear that Scripture does not define “going out” as evil.
Isaac chose Rebecca from the “daughters of the land,” the same term used in Genesis 34:1.  Why was it fine for Isaac and wrong for Dinah to associate with them -- especially when so much emphasis is placed on this phrase.
I easily performed a search through an online lexicon for all of the individual words and phrases in the verse, and none of them bear an exclusively limited connotation and often connote pleasant and virtuous references. The phrase of "going out" is indifferent and depends entirely on the context of how it is used.