Comic Literature—Tragic Theology: A Study of Judges 17-18 -- By: Dale Ralph Davis

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 46:1 (Spring 1984)
Article: Comic Literature—Tragic Theology: A Study of Judges 17-18
Author: Dale Ralph Davis

Comic Literature—Tragic Theology:
A Study of Judges 17-18

Dale Ralph Davis

As he begins his racy discussion of Judges 17–18, John Hercus avers that he has “never heard a single reference from pulpit or song writer or study or anybody else at all” relating to the Micah of the Book of Judges.1 Ours then is a neglected passage. However, the same OT theologian who said “all scripture is God-breathed” also contended that “all scripture is…profitable.” If he is correct on the latter point, our study of Judges 17–18 may well be worthwhile.

That all Scripture is profitable does not mean its interpretation is transparent. In fact, biblical narrative can prove deceptively difficult to interpret. In the present case, our writer concludes his story but provides us with no overt moral application or religious judgment.2 The story has been told, but how do we know the standpoint of the storyteller? How then can we know his purpose for relating the story to us? Myers holds that the Micah-Danite story must be ancient because of “the archaic religious practices mentioned without a hint of editorial displeasure.”3 I think Myers is mistaken in his view of the editor’s position, but the very fact that he can make such a statement underscores the difficulty which the apparently noncommittal nature of biblical narrative poses for the interpreter. My conviction is that careful observation of the way in which the biblical writer tells his story provides us with clear clues about his intention; the manner of his story-telling is as important as the matter of his story. After some attention has been given the writer’s technique we may be in a position to outline the theology of the narrative for the people of God.

I. The Expressed Viewpoint of the Writer

There is one point at which our writer overtly declares himself; it is in the use of his “no king” formula in 17:6 and 18:1 (see also 19:1 and 21:25). By placing the fuller form of this formula immediately after his report of the genesis of Micah’s illicit cult he quietly indicates his negative estimation of Micah’s “house of gods” (17:5). “In those days there was no king in Israel; each man was doing whatever was right in his own eyes”—that is the expla...

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