Yahweh Versus The Canaanite Gods: Polemic In Judges And 1 Samuel 1–7 -- By: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.
BSac 164:654 (April-June 2007) p. 165
Yahweh Versus The Canaanite Gods: Polemic In Judges And 1 Samuel 1–7
Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is Chair and Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.
The prologue to Judges (1:1–3:5) indicates that the book is in part an apology for Yahweh, whose reputation was jeopardized by Israel’s failure.1 The prologue explains why Israel failed and makes it clear that Yahweh warned the people about this possibility from the very beginning.2 The rest of the book justifies His decision to test His people by allowing the enemy to remain in the land. Israel’s defeats were punitive, rather than being due to some weakness in the Lord or to the strength of foreigners and their gods.
This kind of theological agenda is not unique to the Bible and reflects the cultural context in which Judges originated. In the Moabite Stone, King Mesha attributes Israel’s victory over Moab to the anger of his god Chemosh.3 He then tells how Chemosh restored
BSac 164:654 (April-June 2007) p. 166
his divine favor and enabled him to defeat Israel after all.4
Another element in the book’s defense of Yahweh’s honor is the prologue’s affirmation of God’s commitment to His people. Despite their failure and Yahweh’s disciplinary measures, He showed them compassion and continued to deliver them from oppression. The stories within the book’s central section support this affirmation as they tell how God responded to the people’s pain and intervened to save them.5 As Fretheim states, “We are surprised by a God who finds ways of working in, with, and under very compromising situations in which people have placed themselves in order to bring about good. In the midst of unfaithfulness, the faithfulness of God is revealed, a God who never breaks covenant.”6
A third feature of the book’s Yahwistic apology is its polemical dimension. The Israelites worshiped the gods of the surrounding peoples, including those of the Canaanites, Arameans, Sidonians, Moabites, Ammonites, and Philistines (10:6). On a general level the book demonstrates that Israel’s obsession with idols did not bring success. In fact idolatry consistently brought defeat and humiliation. The book especial...
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