Published in Sunday Midday, 5 April 2009
After being defeated by Barak’s army, the Canaanite general, Sisera, who had terrorized Israel for 20 years, fled from the battlefield and, following heavy rains, took shelter in the tent of a woman called Jael. He asked for water and she gave him milk. When he fell asleep, Jael took a tent peg and drove it to the side of his skull.
Another general who tormented Israel was one Holoferens, who served Nebuchadnazer, king of Assyria. A woman called Judith decided to do something about the situation, annoyed that her countrymen lacked the courage to fight back. She went with her maid and befriended the enemy general and slowly ingratiated herself on him promising information on Israelis. Gaining his trust she was allowed accesses to his tent one night while he lay in a drunken stupor. Finding him alone there she raised a sword and decapitated him and took his head back to her city. The Assyrians having lost their leader dispersed and Israel was saved. Judith was the great heroine; everybody cheered her, there were many men who courted her, but she remain unmarried for rest of her life.
Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah. She was married to his eldest son Er. Er died without giving her a child. By ancient Hebrew law, Judah was obliged to give her widowed daughter-in-law another husband. So Judah told his younger son Onan to marry her. Unfortunately, even Onan died without giving Tamar a child. Judah was obliged to give his third son as her husband. The third son’s name was Shelah, but he was too young to be her husband. Judah told Tamar that she should go back to her father’s house and when his younger son was old enough to be her husband he would send for her. Tamar suspected that this was a ploy to keep her away from the house for Judah believed Tamar was a jinx somehow responsible for the death of his sons. A few years later news reached Judah that Tamar was pregnant. He accused her of adultery and it was then Tamar asked him to show his ancestral staff. Judah said “I lost my staff a few months ago,” and Tamar said “Yes, I know you lost your staff at the house of the prostitute you visited at the gates of the city of Dan”. This was told in public and Judah did not know how to respond. Holding Judah’s staff aloft, Tamar revealed that the prostitute he visited was none other than her. She had discarded her widow’s robe, dressed like a prostitute covered her face with a veil and had intercourse with him so that she could bear a child. That was the only way she could prove, without being unfaithful to the house of Judah, that she was fertile and was not responsible either for the absence of children or death of her husbands. Judah had no choice but to accept Tamar back into his household and give her child legitimate rights. The descendant of Tamar’s son eventually was known as David, the great king of Hebrews.
When Naomi’s two sons died, she told her widowed daughters-in-law, Oprah and Ruth, to go back to their father’s house, for they had borne no children and so had no obligations to their husband’s household. Oprah left, blaming God for her misfortune, but Ruth stayed back expressing her affection and loyalty thus: “Where you go I go, where you lodge I lodge, your people shall be my people, your God shall be my God, where you die I will die and there I will be buried.” Naomi and Ruth were destitute but resourceful; they decided to sustain themselves by gleaning. Gleaning was a form of charity for the disadvantaged in ancient Israel; the poor could walk behind the harvesters picking up what was left. The field that they went to was that of a man called Boas, a rich relative of Naomi. He was single and childless. One day Boas came to the field to oversee how the harvest was going on and he saw Ruth. It was love at first sight. He went out of his way to help Ruth and to protect her from the young men who also noticed how beautiful she was. When Naomi realized that Boas was showing interest, she gave Ruth specific instruction on what to do for she knew something about men. She advised Ruth to perfume herself, and wait for Boas on the threshing floor after he had eaten a good meal, for a man witha full stomach was easier to handle. When Boas finally laid down to sleep, Ruth approached him and lay beside him and suggested, because he was a relative of her dead husband , he should cover her with his blanket a euphemism for marriage. Boas agreed and as expected the two got married and in time Ruth gave birth to a son called Obed, who was to be the great grandfather of David,the great king of Israel. Naomi who had lost her husband and two sons, now had a grandson who laid in her bosom, becoming his nurse and lived happily.