Tag Archives: Judges

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AACC Liveblog: Robert Gordon on the Former Prophets

Former Prophets (Joshua to 2 Kings) – Robert P Gordon

Called Former Prophets because they talk a lot about prophets, like Samuel and Elijah etc. In Jewish tradition (the Talmudic period) the idea was that the prophets wrote these books – Josephus thought Samuel wrote 1 and 2 Samuel. The term “former prophets” may owe a lot to assumed authorship.

Turning Points – Judges to Kings: Repentance in the Deuteronomic History

Martin Noth suggested the Deuteronomic history were works produced to explain why/how Judah found trouble. The book of Deuteronomy proceeded this material, it played a part in the formation of these books.

Deuteronomy is the engine pulling the books along – Deuteronomic language and theology imbues the following books.

It’s common to say that in Judges chapter 2:6-12 there’s a scheme at play that operates throughout the rest of the book.

Defection/Defeat/Repentance/Deliverance – a cycle.

Gordon says there’s no repentance in Judges 2.

Subsequently Israel calls out in despair, and they’re delivered, but they don’t “repent.” The verbs that would traditionally be used in a context of repentance are not used in the book of Judges. Except in chapter 2 (v18) where it is used to described God having compassion on Israel, and Israel returning to their corrupt ways. The verbs are used in close juxtaposition – perhaps a deliberate inversion/irony. Israel doesn’t repent, but a case could be made for translating the verb as God repenting.

In Chapter 10 the Israelites confess their sin against the Lord, but they are rebuffed, because God is literally “fed up” with them. This is the best you’ll get in Judges in terms of Israel’s repentance.

The question of Israel’s polytheism isn’t really relevant, or dealt with, within the text of Judges.

1 Samuel

Eli and Samuel continue the judging tradition. The issue of repentance comes up in chapter 7. “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts…” (shades of Deuteronomy 30). The Israelites aren’t lamenting about their own circumstances at this point but rather the situation with the Ark of the Covenant being held by the Philistines.

The narrative is portraiture not rather than photography. The text contains generalisations and hyperbole in order to make theological points. We have to be careful to understand what the aim of the text is. We can do this while still maintaining a high view of scripture.

What is the point of the Deuteronomic History?

Depends on your view on dating – is it a Josiaic composition withan exilic editor? Is it early? Is it to paint Israel as abject failures? To present post exilic theological options?

What are Israel to do in the hour of judgment? They are to turn and repent. Even after Josiah’s repentance God’s anger burns against Israel and seems to be a repudiation of the kingship in total.

Repentance is important and unavoidable in the New Testament – both John the Baptist and Jesus preach it first up, Hebrews 6:1 makes it a pretty foundational doctrine. It was also held to be very important in Hebrew theology. Repentance, in Jewish theology, converted unforgivable sins into ritual sins addressable through the law. “Great is repentance, for deliberate sins are accounted as sins of ignorance” – the Talmud. The Targum follows this pattern – repentance leads to forgiveness.

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Old Testament 101: Judging Judges (Webb)

Barry Webb, in his seminal work analysing the structure of Judges, departed from Noth’s view that it fit into a deuteronomistic history. Noth believed the Judges period began in Judges 2:6 and ended in 1 Samuel 12, this overlap between books meant that few saw Judges as a piece of literature in its own right.

Arguing for the literary cohesion of Judges as a stand alone text does not dismiss its place in a framework of Biblical Theology.

Webb believes Judges is internally coherent. That it deals with two primary characters God, and Israel. God is angry at Israel for disobedience but continues to show faith to his promises. Webb suggests the dynamic is more complex than a simple “repentance/deliverance” cycle. That it is more the case of consistent mercy in the face of apostasy.

Webb says the emergence of the monarchy is the next major narrative movement at the end of Judges. Judges ends “to be continued.” He sees “now after the death of…” as a common biblical means for introducing a new chapter in Israel’s history. From Moses (Joshua), to Joshua (Judges), to Samuel, to Saul (2 Samuel 1), and to David…

Webb suggests any approval of the monarchy in Judges is an approval of the Davidic/Judaic monarchy. Webb argues that the monarchy isn’t fully realised until Yahweh’s chosen king (based on Deut 17), David, takes the throne. Saul is “a king like the other nations” while David is a king after the Lord’s heart. But he sees the monarchy as a secondary issue to the relationship between Israel and Yahweh.

He sees a parallel in the downward spiral of kingship with the downward spiral of the judges, comparing Othniel to David.

Webb’s structure of Judges

Webb, like Wenham, identifies Chapter 1:1-3:6 as a prologue, or Overture.

1:1, opening with “after the death of Joshua” represents both continuity and discontinuity. Chapter one concludes essentially revealing the hopelessness of Israel’s attempts to meet the expectations as laid out. The overture climaxes with the meeting with Yahweh’s messenger who makes it clear that they are not to make agreements with the inhabitants of the land (2:1-5), and God’s speech in 2:20-22 about his faithfulness.

Chapter 2:20-22 lays out Yahweh’s rationale for not giving the whole land over to Israel as promised. They failed their end of the bargain. The structure of the overture is:

  1. Israel comes to terms with the Canaanites (1:1-2:5)
  2. Israel is ensnared by their Gods (2:6-3:6)
  3. Israel is now in conflict with Yahweh (2:20-22)

Webb identifies the same pattern of “The Israelites did what was evil” – six times throughout 3:7-16.31. He identifies motifs like improvised weaponry, worthless fellows, seizure of the fjords of the Jordan, weak women overcoming male heroes, and flaming torches that emerge throughout the narrative. And the following issues as thematic:

  1. Israel’s special status as a nation separated to Yahweh (a holy people)
  2. Israel’s going after other gods in willful violation of this status,
  3. The implied contest between Yahweh and those other gods
  4. The freedom of Yahweh’s activity compared to Israel’s presumption that it can use him as required.

Samson epitomises the Israelite condition – he is set apart, chases foreign women, and calls on Yahweh when he gets into trouble.

Webb calls the concluding chapters (divided along the same lines as Wenham) a coda, because he sees it as bringing balance to the book in terms of literary symmetry. He sees some chiastic closure with Judah receiving prominence in chapters 1 and 19, Jebus/Jerusalem and the Jebusites in 2:1-5 and 19:10-12, the weeping at Bethel and the weeping at Bochim (2:1-5 and 20:18, 26), and the Danite migration in 19 as closure for Dan’s failure to secure territory in 1:34.

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Old Testament 101: Judging Judges (Wenham)

For my next trick, I’ll tackle the question of how the structure of Judges impacts interpretation. I’ll be interacting with two texts on the subject – Wenham’s superb “Story as Torah” and Webb’s “Judges: An integrated reading”.

Wenham seeks to extract ethical principles from Old Testament narrative. Ethics have traditionally been ignored in interpreting these narratives because the narrator often passes no explicit judgment on the acts reported, he simply reports and the events speak for themselves.

Wenham applies historical, literary, and rhetorical criticism to these narratives. He recognises that ethics ultimately don’t rely on the historicity of the text but the literary approach. If only I’d read this when writing my violence essay… that would have been another footnote. Essentially I agree with him. Though I didn’t know it at the time…

Wenham notes that the narrator of the Old Testament is omniscient – aware of the thoughts and feelings of characters in the story. Some use this as justification for seeing the narrative as fiction, others as part of the case for divine inspiration.

Wenham suggests the first readers of the text read them as though they were historical, which legitimises the approach of extracting ethical principles from the stories as though they are indeed historical…

Wenham on the structure of Judges

Judges opens with Israel’s inability to conquer the land (and thus their inability to meet God’s requirements), and closes with the gloomy “in those days there was no king in the land, and everybody did what was right in their own eyes.” These ideas bookend (and perhaps technically bookbegin) the book.

The stories within the book are intended to shock the reader, and beg the question “what should this character have done” (which I think is one of the best ways to understand the spiraling despair of Judges – 2 Kings, and probably any narrative, it’s one of the first questions I ask – the second is the hypothetical “what would things have looked like if they had” because I like speculative ideas).

The stories in Judges follow a pattern of conquest by foreigners, an agent of delivery acting in Israel’s interest, followed by a period of stability, followed by their deaths, followed by Israel “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Wenham argues this idea is tied to Deuteronomic principles (I reckon Deuteronomy 30 is a pretty key interpretive rubric for these passages – Israel’s national autonomy is linked to their obedience to God).

Wenham identifies three sections in Judges:

  1. The prologue: 1:1-3:6
  2. The Core “Book of Deliverers”: 3:7-16:31
  3. The Epilogue: 17:1-21:25

The epilogue and prologue are split into two parts. The prologue contains a summary of the conquest (failed) of the land (1:1-2:5) and a commentary on the constant apostasy of Israel in the Judges period (2:6-3:6). The epilogue deals with a disturbing civil war and essentially a chaistic repetition of chapter 1 with the repetition of “who shall go up? Judah shall go up” (1:1-2, 20:18).

The six major judges in the middle of the book arise in a formulaic manner – the people do what is evil, they are sold into enemy hands, they pray for deliverance, and the Lord raises up a judge.

These judges follow a downward spiral from Othniel who escapes uncriticised to Samson who is the ultimate flawed hero.

The narrative represents the narrators dismay with the state of Israel’s faith, but delight in the actions and methods of deliverance. Within Judges we see people killing enemies with ox goads and jaw bones, stealth (and toilet humour) and after setting fire to fields using foxes tied together by their tails.

Judges 2:2-3 provides a useful interpretive schema for the whole book: “I [God] said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land… But you have not obeyed my command… So now I say I will not drive them out before you but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare for you”

This becomes a key theme in the book.

Judges 1 contrasts Joshua 1 while dealing with the same circumstances. Wenham says Joshua is celebrating the success of the conquest while Judges paradoxically declares it a failure. This represents the different literary/rhetorical purposes of the narratives.

Critical wisdom suggested that the epilogue came from a different hand, but it seems more valuable to read it as a commentary on the preceding chapters using the closing refrain as a literary marker (first in 17:6). Wenham argues that it is entirely consistent with the rest of the content. He suggests “doing right in their own eyes” mirrors “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord” but represents an evolution (or devolution) from that position.

Wenham sums up his commentary on the structure as: “Judges portrays Israel becoming progressively more lax in its religious practice, and ever more prone to disunity between the tribes, it reaches a climax with outright idolatory amongst the Danites and a civil war that could have destroyed the nation (nb. which also incidently foreshadows the ten tribes semi-rebellion under David in 2 Samuel and the eventual split of the kingdoms). The reader is driven to conclude that this must not continue, if the new nation is to enjoy harmony at home and peace abroad. A new way of life under new leadership is required…”

Wenham on the date of Judges

A variety of theories – most plausible seems to be for a composition under David prior to his capture of Jerusalem and shoring up of authority (due to a repudiation of Benjamin and Gibeah – Saul’s tribe and birth place), while a post Assyrian editing under Hezekiah (because 18:30 refers to the “capturing of the land” – this editing possibly took place to explain why the southern kingdom survived while the north didn’t) is also plausible if 19-21 are downplayed. The first view almost relies on the capturing of the land being a mistranslation of “the capturing of the ark”…

Bible stories for boys: Samson

I finished my “cool stories from the Bible” kid’s talk series at church this morning with the story of Samson. Before I get onto posting the story there were a heap of cool parallels between Jesus and Samson that I didn’t cover in this story – he’s betrayed by someone close and taken to enemy headquarters for the purpose of mockery before dying to save God’s people. I covered the last bit – but not so much the betrayal/public spectacle. Check it out.

Do you want to grow up with big muscles? I do. Have you ever seen those really big strong warrior guys who have arms so muscled that they look like they could lift just about anything? Do you want to be strong? Well, today’s story is about the world’s strongest man.

His name was Samson. We’ll start this story before he was born. Samson’s mum was old and didn’t think she could have babies. But an angel came to visit Samson’s parents to give them some good news.

The angel told them that they would have a special baby. Who would be set apart for God. This baby was not allowed to cut his hair. And he would grow up to save Israel from their enemies. By being big and strong.

Samson grew up to be big and strong. One day a lion attacked him and he ripped it apart with his bare hands.

One day he went out to fight the Philistines. He tied a fiery torch between the tails of 300 jackals – animals a bit like wild dogs – and sent them running, with their tails tied together into the Philistine’s farms – burning all their food. He was very clever. Then he killed lots of them.

Samson was so cool. He was a bit like Batman. He lived in a cave.

The Philistines didn’t like Samson very much. They got an army together to march to Israel to demand they hand Samson over to them. They wanted to kill him.

So the nation of Israel decided to hand Samson over to the Philistines. They tied him up. But do you know what happens when you tie up a really strong person? They flex their muscles. And the ropes break.

So that’s what Samson did. He was surrounded by Philistines. He broke the ropes. He escaped. But he didn’t have a weapon. So he picked up a donkey jawbone from a nearby skeleton.

And he used it to kill 1,000 Philistines.

Samson got into a bit of a pickle. He trusted a lady Philistine – who wanted to kill him…

He loved this lady Delilah – so eventually he told her his secret. And she betrayed him. The Philistines cut his hair while he was asleep.

Then they captured him and poked out his eyes. And they turned him into a slave.

The Philistines were so excited to have caught Samson they decided to have a party.

They brought Samson up to humiliate him.

Fancy buildings in those days were held up by stone pillars. Samson asked the guards to place him between the pillars so that he could stand up. And he prayed to God to give him strength one more time. His hair was growing back.

Samson prayed to God, and then reached out his hands and placed them on the two pillars. He pushed. And pushed.

He pushed with all his strength and the whole building came down. As he pushed he prayed “let me die with the Philistines”. And he did.

And you know what, Samson was very strong, but he actually wasn’t the world’s strongest man.

Do you know who is? Samson stretched out his arms and died so that other people. God’s enemies. Would die.

Jesus died so that God’s enemies would become God’s friends. So they could live. And he came back from the dead. Samson couldn’t do that. Jesus is the world’s strongest man. His strength is enough to save you, and me, and the whole world. Samson couldn’t do that.

Samson might have been really cool because he lived in a cave – but Jesus is heaps cooler because he came back to life in a cave. And he’s heaps stronger because by doing that he saves the whole wide world – including you, and me.

The End.

Bible Stories for Boys: Say Shibboleth

The Brick Testament made another appearance at church this morning. Last week’s story about Ehud the Ninja was always going to be hard to top. I went with another story from Judges (the one just after my least favourite story in the Bible).

Jephthah did something silly – but then he kind of redeemed himself a little, teaching a rogue tribe of Israel a lesson in the process. Jephthah was like a secret agent. Because all secret agents have passwords. It’s how they identify themselves to their helpers and friends in foreign countries.

As an aside – has anybody else noticed that the story of Jephthah and his daughter is exactly the same storyline as the Beauty and the Beast, and that he’s essentially Robin Hood.

Here’s the talk.

Today we’re going to learn about a guy who was a bit like a spy. A secret agent. Who here wants to be a spy when they grow up? Does anybody know about any spies?

Today we’re going to learn a story about a man named Jephthah. He was the leader of Israel a little while after Ehud.

Jephthah went off to fight some of the enemies of Israel – called the Ammonites – but one group of Israelites – didn’t help with the battle. And then they got angry at Jephthah and decided to fight him…

So Jepthath and the army of Israel fought against the Ephraimites.

And they drove them all the way to a river. The Ephraimites couldn’t beat Israel so some of them ran away.

Later, some of the survivors came back to the battlefield and tried to cross the river. But Jephthah, being a clever secret agent, came up with a plan to stop any of the Ephraimites escaping.

Ephraimites had different accents to the people from Israel. They were a bit like people from New Zealand and us. Have you ever heard a New Zealander say “fish and chips”. It sounds a bit different to how we say it. Well, there was a word that the Israelites said differently to the Ephraimites. Shibboleth. So Jephthah made that word the password. And he told his men at the river to check how people wanting to get past said the word.

And the Ephraimites couldn’t do it.

And when they couldn’t do it the Israelite “secret agents” judged them, and killed them.

We’re a bit like the Israelites. And Jesus is a bit like a secret agent. See, one day, God is going to judge the whole world. A bit like Jephthah judged the Ephraimites. And we have a password – a bit like Shibboleth – a password that God uses to sort people out.

Our password is Jesus. The Bible says that anybody who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. Anybody who calls Jesus Lord. And only God’s people can do that. People who aren’t God’s people will be like the Ephraimites – they’ll be in trouble.

And do you know – that if you like people, and you want them to be part of God’s family – all they need is the password. They need to know that Jesus died for us, and them too. And because he died for us – we know the secret password.

The End.