Gideon

The Historical Writings

“It sets the standard for a new generation of introductions to the Bible.”

This endorsement comes from Mark Boda (McMaster Divinity College) about The Historical Writings: Introducing Israel’s Historical Literature, which has just been released by Fortress Press, co-written by Mark Leuchter and myself.

My fourth book, not as academic as my dissertation, but more academic than God Behaving Badly, or Prostitutes and Polygamists.

Here is how it begins,

“The historical books of the Bible contain some of the best known stories of Scripture. Rahab the prostitute from Jericho helped the Israelite spies, providing vital insider information on the state of the nation (Joshua 2, 6).  Gideon the judge from Manasseh defeated the massive army of Midian with only three hundred men armed with trumpets, jars, and torches (Judges 7).  David the shepherd from Bethlehem nailed the Philistine giant Goliath in the noggin with his slingshot and chopped off his head with the giant’s own sword (1 Samuel 16).  Elijah the prophet from Gilead talked trash with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel before his drenched altar was scorched by a flame sent by YHWH (1 Kings 18).  Nehemiah the cupbearer from Susa was granted leave by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). Manasseh the king from Judah, whose idolatry was legendary, prayed and repented from his Babylonian prison and was restored to his throne in Jerusalem.”

Then we give an overview of the less familiar and more disturbing stories, the conquest/genocide of Canaan (Joshua 6-12), the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19), the cursing and hair-pulling of his country-men by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13).  How is one to understand these stories?  There there are many ways, but we’d recommend reading, The Historical Writings.

Mark and I wrote the introduction together.  I wrote the chapters on Joshua, Judges and 1, 2 Kings. Mark wrote the chapters on 1, 2 Samuel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1, 2 Chronicles.  It was a new experience to co-write a book, but Mark’s a good friend and we complement each other well.

Since it is a textbook, we were able to include a lot of extra stuff (which also makes it a bit more expensive that my last two books, $49 currently on Amazon).

There are 81 maps and images.   Art by Tissot, Poussin, Rembrandt, and many others. Images of the Merneptah stele, the Amarna letters, the Cyrus Cylinder, and many others.

There are 85 sidebars, including “The Sacrifice of Jephthah’s Daughter” and “‘Satan’ as a Cosmic Figure.”

There are 30 tables.  My two favorites are “External References to Rulers of Israel and Judah” (19 extra-biblical sources including the Kurkh Monolith, the Mesha Stele, the Black Obelisk–on the cover of Righteous Jehu) and “Seals Mentioning Names of Biblical Characters” (29 names including Jezebel, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Jehoahaz).

The cover image is of the Tel Dan Stele which contains what most scholars consider to be the oldest reference to King David.  The letters highlighted in white on the lower right (see image here for more details) read “house of David.”  Reading from the right of the white letters, the fourth and sixth characters look like the Greek delta (triangle-shaped), that’s how the Hebrew/Aramaic letter dalet–the first and last letters of David’s name–were written at that point in time.

So, technically, there are two Davids mentioned on the cover, an author, and a king.

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Bulls and Baals (Gideon 9)

YHWH decided it was time to smash the Baal and slaughter the Bull.  He picked Gideon for the task (Judg. 6:25).

Gideon’s father, Joash had a Baal altar and before Gideon was to gather troops to overthrown the Midianites, they needed to undertake some idol bashing.  They were supposed to worship YHWH only, so the Baal altar needed to get torn down.  Joash also had an Asherah, which was technically a sacred pole (like a totem pole), but the pole was dedicated to the goddess Asherah, Baal’s supposed wife or consort.  The Asherah also needed to get cut down.  To celebrate this idol bashing, Gideon was also supposed to take his dad’s prize bull and slaughter it, using the wood from the Asherah.

This task should be no problem for a “mighty” warrior like Gideon, but he knew his father and the townspeople might not endorse this undertaking, so Gideon does it at night.  The text tells us that Gideon did it then because he was afraid (Judg. 6:27).

How would you feel if your son took the car (a bit like a bull) and crashed into your HD TV (the closest thing we have to an altar–we devote a lot of time and energy to it–Andrew Luck on TV right now is making it hard to finish this blog…)?

Before God calls us to do something big like Gideon, he’s going to want us to make him first.  God commands us to not worship idols, and even though we’re not really bowing to Baal much (hopefully…), we’ve other things we devote too much time, energy and money to (cars, computers, TVs, houses).

So have you ever smashed a TV, or destroyed one of your idols? 

Angel cakes and goat stew: Gideon 8

To impress his guest, Gideon makes the angel cakes (presumably not angel food cake?) and goat stew(next time you have an important visitor, I dare you to prepare them a goat–“hmm…this is the best goat I’ve ever had.”).

Gideon has finally stopped arguing that he can’t deliver Israel, but now starts asking for signs.  So, part of the sign involves Gideon making a meal for the angel (Judg. 6:19).  The angel apparently isn’t too excited about angel cake and goat stew, so he torches Gideon’s offering, consuming all of it (Judg. 6:21).

Finally, Gideon realizes he’s been interacting with a messenger of YHWH: “Help me, Adonai YHWH!  For I have seen the angel of YHWH face to face” (Judg. 6:22).  YHWH tells him, “Shalom to you.  Don’t fear.  You won’t die.”  So Gideon constructs an altar, he calls “YHWH-Shalom.”  (God is peace.)

From questioning, to insecurity, to testing, to peace, to praise–not a bad pattern actually.

In the midst of a hurricane (the rain has started, the wind will start in a few hours), it’s good to remember that God is not only responsible for “Acts of God”, but he’s also the source of Peace/Shalom.

How do you find peace in the midst of a storm?  What do you think of Gideon’s pattern (questions, doubts, insecurity, testing, praise)? 

“Gosh, darn people like you” Gideon 7

Last time we talked about how Gideon thought he was the least and the weakest (Judg. 6:15) so he was convinced that there was no way he could deliver Israel from the Midianites.

Interestingly, YHWH doesn’t correct this impression.  There’s no, “But you really are special, Gideon.  You shouldn’t say that about yourself.”   (Stuart Smalley would say, “And gosh, darn, people like you.”)  That’s the sort of insipid thing we typically say when trying to encourage someone.  God doesn’t worry about that, because it doesn’t matter if Gideon is the least and weakest or the greatest and strongest.

YHWH says to Gideon, “But I will be with you and you will strike down the Midianites.”  God tells him not to worry about his supposed inadequacies, but focus on God and his presence.  Previously, the text has called Gideon’s dialogue partner “the angel of YHWH” (Judg. 6:11, 12) and referred to YHWH in 3rd person language (YHWH appeared to him, “YHWH is with you”).

But at the moment of Gideon’s call YHWH speaks directly to Gideon (Judg. 6:14) and now the promise of divine presence isn’t expressed in 3rd person terms, but 1st person–“I will be with you.”  Not “he’s with you” but “I’m with you.”  Gideon should have known God was with him because he was talking with God.  But for some reason, Gideon wasn’t aware of what God was doing.  Sound like anyone you know? 

Instead of telling someone who is discouraged that they are special, perhaps we should just remind them that God is with them.  Surprisingly, even as Gideon was chatting with YHWH/an angel of YHWH he still doubted that God was present (Judg. 6:13).  Have you ever said, “If only God spoke directly to me, then I’d know what to do?”

Yeah, that didn’t work for Gideon, at least not at first (and he’ll continue to doubt along the way).

Why is it more powerful for people to hear that God is with them, than that they are special?