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Bonus Episode: Reading Difficult Parts of Scripture with Dr. Mark Chavalas

How do we resolve texts we can’t reconcile to any sort of order or justice? When the bad guys win and evil violence seems to have the last word?

Dr. Mark Chavalas joins us again to discuss some of the more difficult passages in the book of Judges. 

Dr. Mark Chavalas  is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. He has authored and/or co-authored many books, including Mesopotamia and the Bible, the InterVarsity Press Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament. He was co-editor of the Ancient Near East and Women in the Ancient Near East, which is one of the reasons we wanted to talk to him coming from a perspective of how women are viewed in the Old Testament.

Our thanks to Dr. Chavalas for joining us on the show again!


Dr. Easley
Well, welcome back to the broadcast. We’re again delighted to have Dr. Mark Chavalas with us. Mark we’ve been talking in our last episode with you about women, particularly in the Book of Numbers and some of the problematic text and laws. And now we want to jump to judges.

So judges, of course, we’ve got our hero, Deborah and some other individuals jump into where you want to start with how women are portrayed, depicted, perhaps most importantly, the story of Deborah and Cisera and so forth.

Dr. Chavalas
Well, actually, I think that maybe the best way to jump in this is the hard one with the book, The story of Jephthah in Judges 11. Because I think in many respects, that story is a hitching post.

Now, like I’ve said before, I think we have to look at this all in context. And I think in many respects, the Book of Judges might be the hardest book to stomach for Christian in all of the Bible.

I think the theme of the book is encountered maybe a half a dozen times through the book:

In those days, there was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes.

And so what does this mean? That there’s really social, political and probably spiritual anarchy throughout the entire region. It means that everybody’s going to be doing this is kind of like the Wild Wild West. But without the posse and without the, the sheriff, etc.

None of them are there and everybody’s doing what they think is the best way to do things. Unlike Genesis, you’ve got stories where bad things happen. And in Genesis, of course, God usually comes to the rescue by doing something that will pull the person out of this bad situation. Well, that doesn’t happen at the end of the book of Judges, and you’re, you’re left scratching your head.

So here we have the story of Jephthah. Every judge is always the last person you would expect to be judged. They’re either a woman, or they’re from a weak tribe, or there’s somebody like Jephthah, who’s the son of a prostitute, who is kicked out of his family. And not only that, it becomes, well, I use the example – It’s a bad one, but I can’t think of anything else – He sort of becomes a terrorist. If you think about it, he’s kicked out of brothers. He finds a bunch of other people who are, you know, disenchanted. He becomes a raider. back. I think, David the

Dr. Easley
The text says he assembles other ‘worthless fellows.’ Right.

Dr. Chavalas
Right. So he’s now doing all these things. And then, of course, we have a problem with the Ammonites. And so this tribe comes in and says, you know, this would be like, a fictitious story of the US government saying, “Hey, we’re having really a lot of trouble with the Nazis. But you know, maybe we should ally ourselves with the mafia, or Capone, maybe they can order all the their bad guys and come and help us.”

Of course, that sounds nonsensical, but that’s what’s happening here. We’re having trouble, maybe we can get Jephthah on our side. And so Jephthah says “yes, as long as you return to me,” in other words, “as long as I now get my rightful inheritance, and you put me in leadership, yes–”

Dr. Easley
over all the inhabitants of Gilead –– he’s asking for a lot.

Dr. Chavalas
Right? And they say, “well, we don’t have much of a choice so let’s do it.” Well, of course. You know, quite often names mean something in the Bible and usually that will be found out later. His name is come from the same route we haven’t Babylonian ‘to open’ or ‘the Lord opened something.’

Okay. So what does this mean here? What is it you have to do? He makes a vow. And, of course, it’s a very foolish vow. He vows that to God, “If you if you help me win this battle, and then I’ll sacrifice the first person I see when I get home.”

To a modern Westerner, you’re thinking, well, that’s the stupidest… This must be a story to show why somebody shouldn’t make vows.

Well, I don’t think it is at all. In the ancient in the ancient Near Eastern world, and even in the Greek and Roman world, if you’re going out to battle, it’s a spiritual thing. The first thing I want to do is I want to make sure that that God’s on my side, and so I can push the envelope.

To me, as a modern Westerner, it looks like he lacks faith when he does this. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. This is a very, very standardized thing –– not the actual vow that he made ––but the fact that of either doing a vow or doing some sort of correct divination, that would have been the orem and the thumin (the dice) or asking a prophet.

You know, that’s what Barak does in Judges 4. He really wants to test the waters to see whether Deborah is a correct prophet. He wants to get a second opinion or wants to see whether she’s legitimate.

Well here he’s doing something to see whether or not but of course, he makes an astoundingly terrible vow. But you know, depending on when the book of Judges is written, and I’m, I’m guessing that may be the final edition, which I also think was divinely inspired.

If it’s done a little bit later, the Israelites or that Judeans are probably sacrificing their children in the Valley of Hinnom. And so I think it might be implicit condemnation of what they’re doing. I don’t I just don’t know, but that’s a possibility.

Dr. Easley
Is there any Is there a remote possibility –– Because the text is a bit innocuous that in Judges 11:31 “whatever comes out of the doors of my house,” –– is there any remaining possibility it wasn’t a person?

Dr. Chavalas
Well, I suppose––

Dr. Easley
Maybe an animal? I mean, we’re taking to the front door of a home––

Dr. Chavalas
I guess. I don’t know Hebrew well enough and I know that that people have argued that, whether it could be. Most of the same ticket has to be animate –– a human–– but others have said that it could be an animal.

Of course, then his daughter comes out with tambourines and dances. One scholar has thought what it probably means that the expectation that would have been an adult doing some sort of victory ritual, and then his daughter probably wouldn’t be a part of that because she’s not old enough to participate.

But the text leaves a lot to be thought about and I think quite often in the Bible, first of all, we’re asking questions of the text that it has no interest in answering.

Even when I talk about how women are treated, The Bible isn’t trying to tell us how women are treated in the Old Testament any more than if I wrote a treatise about cats and 5000 years later, cats are [extinct], and they’d be looking at my treatise to figure out what cats are based on my description of them. But here, he’s not telling us any of the information that we’re looking for.

We want to know, well, did he actually do what he said he was going to do? Well, of course he did. That’s the whole point of the story is that this is so heinous, that he made a vow. And, and you know, his daughter, when she finds out about it, says “well, dad, you opened your mouth.” And once she says that, it’s the worst part of the Bible because she’s basically saying you Jepthah’ed your mouth, and so now you’ve got to do it, because your name is Jephthah.

You know, it means the same thing. And so that’s just a horrible time. That wouldn’t go over very well in any social circle. And so until you’re thinking: Wait a minute, what does this passage have to do with anything, then?

He’s made this rash vow and the emphasis is not on the fact that he made a rash vow, people make rash vows all the time that they shouldn’t have.

It’s that, here’s a guy who’s well meaning, so why is he making this vow? And why isn’t there anybody that stopped him?

In other words, think about it: If you decided to make a horrible vow like this, the state would stop you like, “wait a minute, buddy, you can’t do that. We’re calling the police. And we’re going to come over and and lock you up for this horrible thing up and if you even think about it, we’re going to lock you up.

Well here, there’s no one to stop him. And you know why? Because in those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

And do you know who suffers? Women and children. So the daughter says, “Yes, Father, I’ll do what you want.” And of course, he puts the blame on her. Just like Adam puts the blame on Eve: “Now you’re the cause of a lot of trouble to me,” he says to her and then this she says, “before we go do you mind if I go into the mountains for a couple of months with my girlfriends and bewail my virginity?”

What on earth is that?

Well, in Mesopotamia if you are a girl and you die before you give birth, you did not fulfill your vocational destiny of giving birth issue to your new legal family, you know what you became an Mesopotamia? A baby snatching demoness that is now doomed to live in the underworld and snatch babies from above. That was this was a way to explain why babies died all the time. And it was a demoness who would take one down so she could cuddle a baby, the thing that she never got to do on the earth.

Well, that was a holdover to that. Even though the Israelites might not believe in the second part of that, they certainly were obsessed with making sure the family line continued. Now Jephthah has made a vow. And he didn’t expect his daughter to come out. And now she’s going into this area to bewail her virginity, and then she comes back. And of course, it says Jephthah did to her as he said, and so obviously put her to death.

And then it has this really weird end results to it. You know, this explains now why women and daughters go for days out of the year to into the hills or the wilderness to bewail Jephthah’s daughter’s virginity –– the girl with no name.

Well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense either. This is just to explain a custom? What a weird custom. What’s the mother gonna say to the daughter? “Hey, honey, guess what? You and I are going on a retreat.” “Daddy and brother going?” “No, it’s just got we’re going to go on a retreat for a couple days and we’re going to moan and cry for Jephthah’s daughter. Doesn’t that sound like fun? We’re gonna have a bunch of other ladies. They’re doing it with their daughters.”

Well, that just sounds really weird. And my answer is, that’s not a story to explain that either. It’s a story to explain a much bigger picture: that even a good guy like Jephthah, a well-meaning person who wants to do the right thing – he even makes the Hebrews Hall of Faith – even he, if he has no restraint on him, will do absolutely horrible, unspeakable things like put his daughter to death because misguided sense of justice.

And who’s going to stop him? Nobody, there’s nobody to stop him. And so when there’s nobody to stop him, then that’s what happens.

And then you think about the judges. Each story gets progressively worse, even the Samson is story bad, and then there’s this appendix at the end of the book where there’s absolute chaos.

Judges 19 to 21, I think, is the absolute worst story in the Bible. Because what happens when there’s chaos, and the people themselves are bad and do whatever they want, and they have a veneer of religion? It’s complete civil war. So how do you get there? That’s the horrible thing.

Dr. Easley
Well, let’s go back to judges 4 and 5 because I love the story of Deborah and Jael and Cisera. It’s a tragic story, but I love the irony it’s so rich. And Deborah’s, what I would call, comeuppance to Barak, but you might have a different observation on it.

So let’s remind our listeners. So we’ve got this theme, through judges, everyone does what is right in his own eyes, there was no king in Israel.

In the beginning of the book of Judges, we’ve got the epic failure of much of the land was not taken care of, and so these these deliverers – or really more like battle leaders – are put in place. And as you mentioned earlier, they’re not necessarily the best pick. And and they also become more personal and more individualized. You have, first, the nation is in concerned. But now it’s basically hit men with Samson; but the story of Deborah is interesting because she doesn’t want to do this. And Barak is the one who’s supposed to be the deliverer. I’ll let you pick up the storyline from there.

Dr. Chavalas
I think what’s going on here, there’s some things that are implicit:

First of all, it’s interesting that she’s never called the judge. She’s called the prophetess who is judging Israel. And so the reader is probably already going to know, oh, this is sort of different.

There’s no explicit reference anywhere where that women are forbidden to be judges, but when you look at the reality that throughout the entire Old Testament before this, they’re not in any type of hierarchical position anywhere. And of course, the judge is somebody who does all sorts of things, including military aspects–

Dr. Easley
Which I would argue is more is more of a picture than a black robe. These are military leaders, right? These are generals, commanders, colonels. These are not people that are sitting at the gate, like an older would in the ancient world,

Dr. Chavalas
Right. That’s exactly right. And so, so how often do women lead people into battle? I don’t know. In fact, we’re guessing, of course, that the battle was usually a gender-specific situation. Of course, in the Greek world, Herodotus about the Amazons. And by the way, whenever the Amazons are described in the Herodotus and other places, there’s always put in a real historical context, which is sort of alarming – but of course he has the idea that there is a group of women soldiers who are exclusively doing what men normally do.

And so I think, the Bible, in other words, Deborah can be a judge. She can do all these things. But of course, there’s this unwritten glass ceiling where we don’t expect you to go out the battle, of course.

And so it would be normative for her to go to the best general, Barak, and do what she often would do: give a prophetic utterance. And so he’s not looking for this, but it happens quite often in Mesopotamia, both at Murray and other places where a prophet or prophetess will come to the king and say, “Though you didn’t ask me, I have some information that you need to know. Your ally is actually your enemy,” or or something. In other words, they often give them lots of political advice. I think Isaiah does the same thing.

So the court prophets in Israel and Judah to do that. So here she goes and gives Barak some unsolicited information or, “Yahweh has told me to tell you that we’re going out to battle and you’re going to win.”

Now Barak’s response might look faithless, but in many respects, it’s not. Basically what he’s saying is ,can you put your money where your mouth is? How do I know Yahweh is speaking to you? If you say you’re coming, then I’ll know. If you thought the battle was going to be lost, you wouldn’t want to come because you probably get killed. But if you thought the battle was to be won, you would come with me – and so are you coming with me?

And of course, Deborah, must have seen maybe an implicit faithlessness or whatever. And so she says, “Yes, I’m coming. But guess what, you’re not going to get the glory. Some woman is.”

And again, that sort of looks offensive to the female until you realize, no, the female doesn’t normally participate in battle. And so if she gets the glory, that would be unusual.

In Judges 9 Abimelech is killed by a woman in the siege of Thebez. And so he says to his armor-bearer as he’s dying, “go ahead and kill me really quick so no one will say that a woman killed me.”

Dr. Chavalas
And we know he didn’t get his wish because, you know, half the world has read the story. So here we don’t get Barak’s response, and why? Because I think the Bible often tells his story so we can have ten different thoughts about what could have happened.

And the reason is: so we can keep on thinking about God.

Other words, I don’t know what the scenario is. I Don’t know why they did this, I don’t know what happened and in between Luke 3 and Luke 4, and while I’m thinking about it and meditating on it –– or muttering is the Hebrew phrase –– I’m thinking about God.

And so I don’t have to worry about resolution. I’m thinking about God, and that’s what He wants me to do.

And so here, the battle itself is almost an anecdotal piece of information. Well, of course, they won the battle. God said they were going to win the battle, they won the battle.

Is that the point of the story? No, the point of the story is to explain how an unexpected person, a judge, and then some woman minding her own business become thee hero of the story.

And of course, what does that mean? Like in every other case, it means that it’s pointing towards God. You’re not going to point towards the great individual that did it, you’re going to point to the person who caused it.

This is why even in the New Testament Jesus is the last person on the planet that a person would think would be the Messiah. He’s He’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s at Galilean, he’s from city of Nazareth. His paternity is in question because the Jews even say to him, You’re the son of fornication in John 8:41.

So, this is this should draw me to God because I’m thinking, well, they didn’t do it on their own, God did this. Here, obviously, Deborah and Jael didn’t do it. God obviously orchestrated all these things.

And so when you get halfway through Judges 4 then there’s this little unnerving thing where there’s the use of hyperbole. It says:

“After the battle is over, not a man of Sisera’s was left.” Well, okay, that means everybody died. And then in the next verse, “a man was left, his name was Sisera,” and you’re thinking, Wait a minute, why didn’t the editor get that? Because it’s hyperbole. That’d be like me saying, “Oh, yeah, when the Packers played so and so they wiped them out.” Well I know not to take that literally, it wouldn’t make any sense. And but I know what it means.

And so here we have this strange story of Jael whose husband and tribe at least have a non-aggression pact with the the Canaanites. They’re not supposed to be their enemies, and so this guy comes in the tent––She’s a nomad woman, by the way, and so she’s supposed to give him some sort of hospitality.

So what happens? He comes in the tent, he asked for sustenance and she goes way overboard. I’ll give you a whole meal and milk. And so of course, he assumes at that point, well, if you’re willing to do that, will you lie for me?

And by the way, the writer doesn’t tell you the answer, because it doesn’t matter what the answer is. It makes you think, Well, is she going to lie for him? What’s she going to do? In the rabbinical tradition who hoard any intellectual vacuum, many of the rabbi’s, not all of them said, “Well, you know, what really is going on there. They were having some Hanky Panky in between.”

Well, I don’t think that’s the case. But the point is, they just couldn’t stand not knowing what’s going on. And by the way, these people, especially in the book of Judges, most of the time, they’re doing things that are not necessarily conducive to good behavior. I look at the book of Esther in the same way.

The only person who’s doing right in the book of Esther really is the only one who’s never named: God. So here in Jael may not be doing the right thing for the right reasons, but she ends up doing the right thing. And so what does she do? She decides, implicitly speaking, “I’ll do what you want,” the guy goes to sleep. She hears the Israelites coming by, and so what does she do? I know what she does, because if you read Judges 4, it says that she takes a ten peg and drives through his skull while he’s sleeping.

If you read the poem in Judges 5, which is probably much much older, by the way, in fact, in my opinion, Judges 5 is kind of like the equivalent of contemporary English to Shakespearean English.

The old, old story has her coming up from behind him and smashing him. So which one’s right? Well, one’s poetry, one’s a narrative. Poetry is, of course, to be interpreted quite differently than the narrative. I don’t know how to resolve it, but I’ll put it this way: I think the mere attempt at resolving it is missing the point.

Something happened. She killed the guy, and of course that’s the woman who becomes the hero of the story––some unsuspecting tent-dwelling woman minding her own business kills the–– this would be like killing Osama bin Laden, you know, you’re just minding your business, a guy got caught in your crosshairs, you killed him, and you become famous for it.

So what does it say about women? Well, it says that women of course are very assertive, they play significant roles, and in many respects, they have to transcend the legal and the social constraints that they have.

And, in spite of all that, God will use them. But this is the most unsuspecting person that you would use. To me, ‘irony’ is one of the best words to explain most Biblical stories.

Dr. Easley
Well, that’s what I was going to inject, because Deborah’s comment to Barak is, the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman. The honor won’t be yours.

And perhaps a double entendre thinking of herself, okay, I’m going to go with you. And I’ll be under the terebinth tree, so to speak, watching all this unfold.

But, who knows if she knew, as a prophet, what the outcome was or wasn’t, to me, is immaterial, but it’s the double entendre. A woman’s going to get victory for this, and then it happens to be this tent dwelling woman we know nothing of.

And it’d be one thing if Deborah won the battle. It’s another that it’s an unknown person. It’s a double-insult to Barak for not doing what he was supposed to do.

Dr. Chavalas
But they must have hashed out their differences because, of course, in Judges 5 Deborah and Barak sing a duet, so all’s well that ends well, evidently. So, you can still see implicitly how God has orchestrated the situation.

Dr. Easley
Which by the way, to me it’s the most – I love it from a poetic standpoint – but it’s a bizarre song to sing in detail about killing a guy with a tent peg you smash in his head. We don’t sing thank-you imprecation hymns about killing our enemy, and, you know, raising our hands and praise.

Dr. Chavalas
Well, you know, that shows us that this is a really different world. It’s a horrific world where most don’t make it out of the birth canal and people die young and there’s war and there’s maiming and pillaging and raping and all these things.

Dr. Easley
Let’s jump to probably one of the more complicated passages in Judges, and that’s the Levite and the concubine.

Dr. Chavalas
Well, this one to me is so hard, because not only is there no resolution, but it ends the book and you’re thinking, Wait a minute, what am I supposed to learn from this?

Because, first of all, nobody has a name. And I use the old dragnet story, the names are held to protect all the guilty.

Dr. Easley
The guilty, exactly not the innocent.

Dr. Chavalas
And so you think about it. Okay. So here’s this fellow, an unnamed levite has taken a concubine, which by the way, means she’s probably dirt poor because the concubine is, at the very least, a second class wife, that means she’s poor. She’s from a poor family.

The father in law is poor. And it and I know that the passages often say that she played the harlot against him. But I don’t think that’s a possible way of rendering it. It’s, I think, more likely that she was faithless in the sense that she decided to leave him and, of course, anticipating when you read the rest of the story, you’ll realize this guy’s a dirtbag. No wonder she ran off from him.

So she decides to leave him and go back to her father’s house. Usually girls would do that. Either if they get cold feet, or if their husband is doing things that are unpleasant, she wants to go back to daddy. So she’s done that. And he waits a period of time a couple of months. Maybe, maybe he’s waiting to see whether she’s coming back and, Okay, I guess she’s not coming back. Maybe it’s a cat and mouse game.

We don’t know. The whole point is that we’re not given any of these answers. And so it’s fun to muse about them as long as I don’t think I can answer these questions.

Unfortunately, I think evangelicals are always thinking they’ve got to answer this question, I’ve got to figure out what’s happening. And my answer is, No, you don’t. Just put it to God.

So here he goes to get her, and the father in law is now sort of slobbering all over and, I’m thinking, in my culture, if my daughter comes to me and says, Oh, my husband has been so mean to me, when my father to daughter relationship is going to kick in and say, wait a minute, he can’t do that to my little daughter! There’s no way!

And so it you know, and so if he comes back over I’m thinking, what do you want, buddy? You better apologize to my daughter before you even talked to her, or apologize to me, I told you to take care of her. I mean, that’s how I’m going to be feeling.

But here I think the guy’s looking at from a financial standpoint: if my daughter doesn’t go back to him, and they end up getting split up. The next time I make a marriage alliance for her, the dowry is going to be really a lot lower because she’s already if I can say this in a in a way that doesn’t sound very nice – she’s used goods in our culture. She’s not going to get the same – it’d be like a baseball player, a superstar who gets his ACL torn, and he’s asking for a big contract and they’re saying, Sorry, buddy, you’re damaged goods, you’re not going to get a good contract now.

And so here, he’s probably going to do everything he can to make sure that she goes back with this guy, because otherwise I’m going to have to get the men to give them back the bride wealth, she gets her inheritance, etc. This is really messy.

And then you have almost like a vaudeville act in the middle of this horrific story. And this is where I have to tell students, you know, the Bible, some of the stories are meant to get a big emotional response. Sometimes the emotional responses one of disgust rather than angry or sad or happy, and so you’re thinking, wait a minute, in the middle of the story, why is the guy and the husband – this a patriarchal world – they’re getting drunk every every day and they’re eating to their fill, and then the next day the guy gets up and he’s ready to leave, because you want to leave in the morning. And he says, “Wait a minute why don’t you have a meal first before you go?”

And of course, if you think about it, if it kept on that way, the guy would never leave, he’d still be there today, because every morning he would get up and you’d have a meal, and of course it takes a long time to make a meal. They’re full, then he drinks and now he has to wait and relax for a while, and now he’s not going to be ready until late afternoon to go, and of course everyone knows that you never want to start leaving journey and late afternoon because bad guys around night.

And so finally the guy says “no, I gotta get going. Sorry. I can’t stay any longer. You’ve gone over the top for me. I’m leaving.” And to me, the statement there when it says “the man would not listen he would he was going to go,” It’s kind of like when you’re watching a suspense movie and the music changes, and the camera angles change, and the weather changes –– you already know what’s going to happen. The guy’s going to get whacked. Somebody is going to die in a minute.

So here you know something something terrible is going to happen because of that, so he now travels. The irony of course is that he travels past the pagan city Jebus, you know we don’t want to go there and he goes into the Benjamite city of Gibeah, which by the way is where Saul comes from later on, and so anybody reading that is going, “oh yeah no wonder, Saul the guy the guy who got killed in battle, so no wonder they’re a bunch of dirt bags in that place,” and so he comes to Gibeah and then we have this story that looks remarkably on the outside like the Genesis 19 story. We have all these bad guys wanting to come and they’re the – as I call them – the anti-hospitality brigade.

They’re going to come and they’re going to shame and humiliate this newcomer rather than give him goods for his lot. So you already know that this is a terrible place to go and you know that nobody else put him in except this this unnamed man from Ephraim, and then this really weird thing happens. The Ephraimite says, “oh, don’t do this to my guests,” the law of hospitality kicks in, “so why don’t you take my daughter and this concubine instead?”

Well what a horrible thing. This, of course, shows the abuse of patriarchal culture where the woman has no say-so in this matter, the or children have no say-so in how they’re treated by their by their abusive patriarchal family. And so you’re already thinking this is horrific. Is this what happens when there’s no justice, when there’s nobody to stop them?

And so of course, she’s taken out she’s abused. When does she die? I don’t know. But how dramatic is it that she puts her hand on the doorsill? And so this unnamed Levite comes out, he sees her, he simply says rather abruptly, “Get up.” And of course, there’s no answer. So he takes her home. He cuts her up into 12 pieces.

Now I know that’s what Saul does for a shock effect to an animal later on, but there’s also a story or a letter in ancient Mesopotamia, in Syria, where a queen writes to her husband and says, “why did you get so angry, angry with me and threaten to cut me up into 12 pieces?” And we know from Hittite records that the human body was considered to be 12 pieces that were sort of sewn together by the gods. So your hands were two, your arms were two more, your legs were two, your feet were two, your trunk, your head, etc. I don’t know how it’s all divided up.

But there were, in other words, the body was made up of 12 parts. And so it’s not an accident that there are 12 parts there. So why would the guy do this? Is this a custom? No, this of course is shock treatment. And then you think about this, how this continues. This is unspeakably horrific. If you’re looking at it saying, What’s the purpose of the story? The immediate purpose of the story is to explain why there was a civil war between Israel and one tribe, Benjamin.

And wow, is that how does that how wars are fought? Yes. In the in the ancient world with honor-shame cultures, that’s how wars are fought. You insult me, my honor is now been impugned. I must go to war with you.

Whereas we look at in personal forces and like, why did the US go to war in Iraq? Oh, there’s all sorts of economic considerations and this and that and blah, blah, blah. But if somebody were to say, well, no, Bush went to war in Iraq because Saddam insulted his wife. You say, Well, now that’s not why people go to war. Well, not today. But an ancient world. They do.

And of course, the unspeakable thing about the end of that is courses that here’s the Israelites. First of all, they asked God the wrong question at the beginning. They don’t go, shall we go to war with Benjamin? instead? They said, who should fight him first?

Well, God’s not going to help them on. He’s not going to say, “well, you asked the wrong question.” And so and of course, they’re probably rolling the dice, and the dice will say, who shall go first ?How about the tribe of Zebulun? No. How about the tribe of Ephraim? Yes.

But they should have asked the question: Should anyone go up to fight against Benjamin?

Dr. Easley
With respect to the cadence of the book, everyone does what’s right in his own eyes. In 2011, all the men of Israel were gathered against the city united as one man. Where was the consult to God? What was the consult to the Prophet? You know, we’re going to do this on our own––

Dr. Chavalas
Worse than that, they’re using the hypocrisy of religion to do it. The levite in Judges 17, he’s using religion, they’re all using religion and using God:

Okay, we’re going to go consult God to do this horrible thing that we’re doing so we can put the divine stamp of approval, and so God’s gonna be even angrier at that.

But do you think about the end of the story? They nearly wiped out the Benjamites except for better men, then they feel bad about it, but we can’t give you wives –– so why can’t they have their own wives? Because all the women and children have probably been destroyed.

But the Text doesn’t tell you that because they assume that you already figured that out. We can’t give you wives and so let’s go ahead –– and, if you think about it, what they’re trying to do is trick God –– since we made a vow that we wouldn’t ever give any of our wives to Benjamin, let’s have you guys simply a abduct wives from Jebez Gilead, because of course, they didn’t go with us.

Well, that didn’t work out. They didn’t get enough wives. And so at the very end, they’re going to go to Shiloh festival, festival at Shiloh. And we’re going to turn our back –– in other words, we’re going to let you go and while the girls are out there doing their dances going and abduct them.

And if their fathers say, Why are you doing this? Just tell them, well you guys didn’t give them to us before and so it’s okay. And then the story’s over, and you’re thinking, Wait a minute – What about the women, didn’t they have a say so in this? This is just terrific.

And of course it ends with the same note:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Every man did what was right in his own eyes.

Then you’re saying Well, I guess if they had a king would be okay. Of course, the next book shows you immediately know that’s not true. Even if they had a king, that wouldn’t work because you’re still not trusting in Yahweh, you’re not you’re not following the Lord. That was what the core problem was.

Dr. Easley
Dr. Mark Chavalas, give us a final word on –– and I appreciate your caution with evangelicals and modern day Bible readers, making conclusions and applications that may not be aligned to the text.

So what do we do with these kinds of passages? Not to cliche it but you know, is there an application? Is there a lesson? I know you’re going to say it turns us to God, but beyond that, living with unanswered questions, the tension of some biblical passages.

Dr. Chavalas
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m thinking is that, you know, for example, when I first got hired here at the University of Wisconsin Lacrosse, most of my colleagues in my history department were atheists. And, and they were very nice people. And I was convinced they were very honest about things.

But, they were always asking me very, very difficult biblical questions, questions about passages like this. And my response was not to simply try to rationalize and say, “Well, you know, this, this and this and just shows you this. And, and this is how I resolve that,” instead I would say, “No, that’s a really tough one to resolve. I can’t resolve that one. It simply leads me to God.”

And what happened was something that was unexpected to me. They began to trust me intellectually like, “Oh, he’s being really honest with us. He’s not sugarcoating this. I have intelligence, I can look at this and see where there’s lack of justice here, you know, and it doesn’t seem to be resolved easily.”

I would tell them, “this is really hard to resolve. Let me study this,” and then I might come back and say, “I still can’t resolve it. But I know that God in His character is still God. And so even if I can’t resolve it, he’s still he’s still on the throne.”

Well, I think I can say that same thing to Christians. If they’re honest, they have to realize, boy, this is really difficult, messy, untamable stuff that I that I have a hard time dealing with. And I think that sometimes in the ministry people try to resolve it either from the pulpit or, or in Bible studies where they’ll try to resolve it.

And the person goes away saying, gee, that doesn’t really do that, but maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s just me not being spiritual enough to figure out how to resolve this.

And my answer is no, it’s really, really hard because going from the sin of Adam to the cross was an unbelievably horrific thing.

And so maybe God’s also trying to Show us that, to step back to leaving Eden and even getting back into Eden is a really, really painful –– unspeakably painful –– road to go through.

Dr. Easley
Dr. Mark Chavalas Thank you for your time and your insight we appreciate you being on the broadcast.

Michael Easley

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, and host of Michael Easley inContext.

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