Home > General, Theology > Misinterpreting Scripture (Part 2: Applying “Secret Techniques” to the Iron Chariots Story)

Misinterpreting Scripture (Part 2: Applying “Secret Techniques” to the Iron Chariots Story)

Two posts in two days…what is going on? Well, yesterday put a little wind in my sails, and I wanted to keep some momentum going. Plus, I already had this post written inside of my head, so I wanted to get it out. 

What I am about to share with you all is a biblical interpretation technique that is so powerful, it will aid you for the rest of your life. It is so profound, no aspiring scholar can do without it. If skeptics picked up this one simple tool, many of us would be spared their bad arguments. It is a springboard to figuring out many of the Bible’s puzzling passages.

Am I exaggerating a bit? Sure. I’m being a little facetious. But honestly, this patented (not really) technique of mine will prove useful in pointing you in the right direction.

It is simply this: Assume Basic Competence (ABC) of the Jews. That’s it. (It also works great in tandem with another secret technique, UCS: Use Common Sense.) Why is this important and how do we apply this technique? By assuming that the Jews behind 65 of the 66 books of the Bible were not complete morons, that’s how. Make the basic assumption that the Jewish people, especially in biblical times, took their theology seriously. They grew up studying and discussing theology throughout their lifetimes, and they pretty much had all of the biblical stories memorized to the detail, especially during the times of oral tradition. It was not uncommon, for example, for young Jewish boys to memorize the entire Torah word-for-word. In short, whether you believe the Bible is God-breathed or not, at least give the Jews credit for knowing their own theology.

Let’s apply this technique to the following commonly misinterpreted passage. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is an absolute favorite of anti-religious people everywhere.

Judges 1:19: “The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.”

Wait, what? An army powered by God Almighty lost the battle because of the superior power of iron chariots, a man-made invention?

Hold yer horses! Let’s assume the Jewish person responsible for recording these events was not a complete neophyte, and if he were, someone would have corrected him before his book went to print, so to speak. Let’s assume that he grew up hearing the widely told stories of Moses crossing the Red Sea, God destroying Pharaoh’s army (which included chariots), or even God being the creator of the entire universe. Is that a fair assumption to make?

Let’s go even further (I know, I’m getting crazy here) and assume that the writer of “Judges” did not have a complete memory meltdown when he later wrote three chapters later that the Jews were able to triumph over an army of iron chariots (see Judges 4:13-15).

So what is a possible explanation here? Well, we don’t really need to get technical just yet. Let us use our reasoning skills and even personal experience to try to come up with a preliminary solution. From the passage, it is clear that God was with the men of Judah. That’s a good thing for sure. But what could have possibly contributed to their defeat? Could it have been a lack of faith and dependence on God? Whenever you see God commanding His people to go head-on into overwhelming odds, they see victory IF they obey with conviction. Apparently, these Jews forgot the mighty God that they served and instead thought to themselves, “This is impossible, how could we possibly defeat these iron chariots?”

With this kind of doubt thrown in the face of God, it’s no wonder they were not given victory. We do the same thing every day. True believers have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we still try to do things our own way, which is why we still sin. We sometimes feel God calling us to do something or pulling us one way, but we decide to calculate and plan in our own wisdom. What ends up happening is that we crash and burn, and we wonder why God let such calamity fall upon us. It’s due to a lack of obedience and faith. We are now empowered to do right, but we often choose to do wrong because of our disobedience. It is our own failure, not God’s.

The same thing apparently happened here in chapter 1. The Jews had won previous battles and instead of thanking God, they probably attributed their victories to their own might. When it came to iron chariots, however, they were completely stricken with fear because they could no longer rely on their own strength. Their reliance on God had gotten rusty, which contributed directly to their defeat.

That wasn’t so hard was it? By giving even the slightest bit of credit to the biblical authors, it pushed us in the right direction to draw some reasonable conclusions.

Now, let’s go a little deeper.

The Book of Judges is written with a general circular pattern that goes like this:

1) The Jews rely on God and achieve great victories;

2) The Jews start to forget about God and start crumbling to the insistent pressure from their enemies;

3) God chooses a great prophet or “judge” to wake the Jewish people up and turn them back to obedience and faith; and

4) Go back to #1, rinse and repeat (but each time, God starts to lose patience and increasingly delays His deliverance).

With this knowledge in hand, we might notice that the first 18 verses or so constitute step #1 above. The Jews seem to be winning every battle handily. The verse where they failed to defeat the iron chariots, however, is the start of step #2. We now see some victories, some failures—we start to see some chinks in the armor.

There is also a literary device being employed here that could prove very enlightening. Let me start by saying that everyone should acknowledge that the Bible is written with all kinds of different styles—sometimes through very straightforward prose (such as genealogies or historical facts being retold), poetry, allegory, and other literary styles that facilitate storytelling.

In the case of Judges 1:19, the author is employing a perspectival device that views the story from the eyes of the characters involved; namely, the men of Judah. (This literary feature was more common in ancient literature, but it’s almost nonexistent today.) Because they themselves thought it was impossible to defeat iron chariots, the author recorded that as the reason for their defeat. They viewed it as a match-up between Jewish military strength and the unstoppable power of iron chariots. They should have seen it as God > everything.

As mentioned earlier, just a few chapters later, the Jews are able to defeat an army of iron chariots. What was the difference this time? No, the author did not have a brain fart previously—ABC. What happened was that God sent a great prophetess, Deborah, to wake the people up (remember, step #3). They finally obeyed God fully—in their hearts and in their actions—and were victorious (back to step #1). At least for a while.

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