“When you see the young women of Shiloh dancing in the vineyard,” they were advised, “each of you should seize one of them for a spouse, and come back to the land of Benjamin…”
So this is what the Benjaminites did. They carried off as many young women as they needed by abducting them from the vineyard during their dance.
Judges 21:21, 23
The book of Judges is replete with female characters. While some play minor parts, others are major figures who contribute in significant ways to the progression of Israelite history. The whole of Judges begins and ends with the place of women in society. Achsah, at the beginning demands her inheritance, land where she can make a home for herself. At the end un-named “young women” (13, 14, 15 year olds) are kidnapped from their land and homes.
Females in the book of Judges provide a barometer for the health of the community. As the narrative of Judges unfolds society spins out of control: injustices increase, chaotic confusion envelops the community, and the abuse of women escalates. Just a few versus from the ones sighted the book concludes with “all the people acted as they pleased” (21:25).
Ancient wisdom speaks truth here: if you want to know the health of a society look toward those who are most vulnerable. If you want to measure the wealth of a community take notice of how it supports those deemed “lesser citizens.”
How long, Adonai, am I to cry for help
while you do not listen?
How long will I cry “Oppression!” in your ear
and you do not save?
Life in the “meantime” is difficult. Habakkuk is experiencing his meantime between God’s generous offer of a promise and the fruition of that promise. We know how this feels. Many of us experience the promise of equality while still living in the not-yet of the politically expedient.
Like Habakkuk, we mourn the prayers that go unanswered. Like Habakkuk, we feel that our yearning for communities of understanding is distorted. How long shall we cry for help? Will the Sacred, which professes to honor empathy and personhood, hear our cries?
There are times when God seems so far away that I wonder if I have fooled myself. For Habakkuk and us, our frustration is born out of our experience that this is the same God who breathed life into creation, the same God who split the sea, the same God who entered into covenant, and the same God who raises the dead. Why does this God tarry and turn a blind eye? Why doesn’t this God rouse the divine self and attend once again to the cries of those in need? Why have we only heard of the wonders of God and not experienced them in our time?
This is the tension of the “meantime.” I long and hope and wait for a timing that is known to the Sacred yet is hidden to me. Feeling blocked out I am frustrated. Far more exhilarating is the time of receiving a promise, or the time of seeing it fulfilled. Much harder is living in the meantime. Where is that threshold at which “meantime” becomes “mean (or vicious) time?”