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.
Before I get into scripture, here is some background information.
Modern day Palestinians can be traced back to the ancient Canaanites and Philistines, the two ancient enemies of God’s chosen people. Though these two people groups were originally separate nations, they eventually came in close proximity to each other, assimilating around the area of modern Israel, west of the Jordan River (though back then, it was called the Land of Canaan and it was much larger).
God made a covenant with Abraham as early as Genesis 15 to give his seed the Promised Land of Canaan for their own. It wouldn’t happen for generations, but the stage was set. Moses led the Israelites (so named after Jacob, also called Israel) out of enslavement in Egypt toward the Promised Land, but because of an act of disobedience, was never allowed to enter. A successor, Joshua, would lead the Jews into the land to conquer and claim it for their own.
However, God gave specific instructions to the Jews that they were to destroy the inhabitants of the land completely, including all of their religious altars. Not one stone was to be left standing. (Not that God needs to justify His commands to us, but the reason for these instructions was that God knew the Jews would be prone to compromise and temptation to worship the other gods and idols.)
In Judges 1, you see that instead of completely destroying the peoples of Canaan, they decided to simply subjugate them into slave labor.
That context in mind, here is Judges 2:
1Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 4As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.
Later on in the same chapter, we see the resulting unfaithfulness of the Jews’ disobedience:
12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.
God knew this would happen. The sad thing is, the Jews had multiple other opportunities to turn from idolatry and religious assimilation, but they kept failing over and over. It became a cycle of being oppressed by the people of the land, crying out to God for deliverance, God obliging, thankfulness and revival, then complacency and a turning back to idolatry. Each time, God would delay more and more in delivering the Jews, as His patience started to wear thin.
Fast forward thousands of years to 1967. Instead of Canaanites and Philistines, you have the Palestinians in the rightful land of the Jews, Israel. Instead of Baal or Dagon worship, you have a huge Muslim mosque (for Allah) being a “snare” to the Jewish people.
After the six-day war, the Jews had successfully defeated the Palestinians. As one man went to blow up the Muslim mosque with dynamite (think “altars” from Judges 2), a general who was afraid of inciting more violence stopped him. Rather than more fighting, he reasoned, why not make concessions to coexist with some semblance of peace? You can bet God was not pleased.
To this day, the Palestinians (and their supporters) are thorns in Israel’s side. Their mosque and their god, Allah, keeps the Jews without a holy temple at all. Eventually, all the nations of the world (except maybe the U.S.? *fingers crossed) will turn against Israel until the final battle of Armageddon—which will start somewhere at the Euphrates River. God will no longer hold back and will finally come to save His people one last time for good. All of Israel’s enemies will be vanquished. But it could have happened a lot sooner with far less oppression and suffering if the Jews had been obedient in the first place.
Well as some of you know, I’ve been taking seminary classes for a couple weeks now, and I’ve been learning a lot of interesting stuff! Most of the materials are in my textbooks, but once in a while, we use supplemental materials that can be publicly accessed.
Here is one article that is very enlightening: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_law_hays.html
I mean, haven’t we all wondered about some of the Old Testament laws? Which ones apply to us today, and why? Most people would use a subjective standard, namely, what seems relevant. This can get close, but the article shows a way to get closer—with more consistency.
Here’s a quick recap:
The “traditional” approach entails breaking down laws into moral, civil, and ceremonial categories. Basically, the “moral” group are the only ones that still apply today. But this approach falls short because it’s still arbitrary and subjective. How do we know what’s moral and (“merely”) ceremonial in God’s eyes?
This article suggests the approach of principlism. This method takes into account the theological context of the laws—God’s promise to the Jews, the promised land, and the Old (Mosaic) Covenant versus the New Covenant (in which we live today). A rough outline of the five steps goes as follows:
1) Identify what the particular law meant to the initial audience
2) Determine the differences between the initial audience and believers today
3) Develop universal principles from the text
4) Correlate the principle with New Testament teaching
5) Apply the modified principle to life today
Hope you’ll find the article enlightening and useful when trying to grasp the Old Testament Pentateuch! =)
You may have noticed that I’ve been posting with a bit more regularity these days. I wanted to get the objections finished before next week, which is when I’m starting my seminary classes. That’s right, the time is finally here, and I’m definitely stoked!
For the first half of the semester, I’ll be taking Introduction to Old Testament Studies and Introduction to Pastoral Counseling. From looking at the course schedules, it seems that there will be a LOT of reading and writing involved, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to keep up with this blog. My goal is to have at least one entry per week, though if I can stick to my original goal of two posts per week, I’ll be very happy. This blog is definitely something I want to keep up, as it helps me think about things a bit more deeply than I otherwise would. Writing always forces me to think, which is a good thing.
These two courses cover areas in which I am definitely mediocre in my knowledge. I need to learn a lot about the Old Testament, and I suck at anything resembling pastoral counseling. I’m good at straight truth-telling, but sensitivity, compassion, and tact are not my strengths!
Which reminds me, I’ve been told that I come across as overly direct or a little arrogant sometimes. For that, I sincerely apologize. I guess I’m not as good at this righteous anger thing as I need to be. There’s part of me that can’t help it because of the inner pride that still resides in me, but there’s also the fact that I’m constantly listening to and reading atheist arguments. I guess because they are so forceful (and let’s be honest, mocking or often condescending), I mirror that tone and can’t help but get a little annoyed myself at times. It’s funny…the ignorance of Christians angers atheists, and the ignorance of atheists angers Christians.
Anyway, as I start seminary, please pray for me if you can remember to do so. Please pray that I will learn everything to the best of my ability and never lose my fire. I want to learn thoroughly and deeply so that I become ingrained with this knowledge. The last thing I want is to earn my M.Div and forget much of what I was taught. That’s what happened in my undergrad years (and apparently, to many pastors I’ve seen), but seminary is too important to make this mistake.
Hopefully, I can continually learn cool new things to bless my readers here. =)
Let the voyage begin!