I had a bad doctor’s appointment yesterday, and wound up spending the night at my mom’s because I wanted someone to talk to. It was a stressful week in general, which is why I got so spotty with updating after such a long stretch of being really good about it.
This chapter is so contradictory it hurts. It begins in one place and winds up in the exact opposite. Layers of editorial content play a large part in this, I’m sure, and it all comes back to the conflicting threads of whether God is letting events run their natural course or whether he’s the Grand Puppetmaster controlling everything.
It begins with God reprimanding Israel for having left people remaining in the promised land. (This whole chapter uses the “drive out” terminology rather than killing, and the primary focus initially is on making alliances and keeping altars that were left behind. We’re at least beginning to be distanced from the herem slaughter of Joshua.) God warns them that he won’t protect them any longer, and that they will “become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” (v 3) This is more the natural consequences side of things. You didn’t drive them out as told, so I won’t do it for you, and as a result there will be the constant danger of them rising in revolt (remember that most of the tribes are keeping them as slaves) or of you breaking your covenant with me because they keep practicing their religions.
But as it goes on, more and more of this is directly attributed to God. Rather than just lifting his veil of protection, he actively aids their enemies (v 17) because he’s mad at them. And finally, the last verses seem to imply that he let the nations remain their in the first place just to test them (v 21-23).
There’s an overtone of relationship drama involved here, particularly in verse 17, where it describes their turning to other deities as “lusting” after other gods. The NCT more explicitly says “longed for and committed adultery with” other gods. The metaphor of God being “married” to Israel is one that I know from reading the prophets pops up frequently in the Hebrew Bible. And if this were a real marriage, it would be seriously messed up.
First you have Israel, which, in spite of the nice things God did for them, cheats on him constantly. God, having a bad temper, throws them out or, worse, has other people hurt them (depends on which verses your reading). Then, when Israel feels bad, even before repenting, God regrets everything and takes them back (v 18). But then the whole cycle starts over again as Israel immediately cheats on him.
So we have the spouse who’s a serial adulterer, and the spouse who gets abusive when angry. In real life, we’d tell them to get a divorce, or at least some marriage counseling.
And I actually think that the writer is setting it up that way – the idea that this is a bad cycle that needs to be broken. The writer’s idea is likely that Israel needs to learn to remain faithful; God is only abusive when Israel cheats.
But there’s another way of seeing this, which is that God needs to change his strategy and figure out a way to keep Israel faithful to him. That also may be the writer’s intention. Going with the idea that Judges is partly Deuteronomistic, the long-term ineffectiveness of Judges might be pointing to for a need a main temple and priesthood to unite them… and perhaps a king? A top-down, centralized system to keep everyone in line?
Well, as a Christian, I believe God eventually came up with an even better strategy, but I don’t want to impose that on the text. Still, I think the underlying unhealthy codependency of God and Israel’s relationship is very definitely intentional, a set up for the overall themes of Deuteronomist history.
Of course, that assumes that God is “learning” rather than manipulating the whole thing from the beginning, the way the end of this chapter implies (and the beginning doesn’t). If you go to the Bible trying to get clear-cut answers on free will versus predestination, you won’t come away happy.
The Japanese: kawasu “to exchange,” haki suru “to breach, to nullify” (v 1), tonariawase “adjoining each other” (v 3), motoyori “from the beginning” (v 7), sedai “generation,” okoru “to rise, to flourish” (v 10), ryakudatsusha “looter, plunderer,” mama ni suru “to do as they like” (v 14), kukyou “predicament, plight” (v 15), koishitau “to miss, to yearn for” (v 17), appaku suru “to oppress,” hakugai suru “to persecute,” umeku “to groan” (v 18), daraku suru “to lapse, to go astray,” katakuna na “obstinate, stubborn,” tatsu “to break away” (v 19).