Thursday, July 03, 2008

Yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? (Judges 18)

"In those days there was no king in Israel." Ah, the oft-repeated phrase in the book of Judges, usually followed by "every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Cleary, the main lesson taught in the book of Judges is that of a need for (and unfortunate lack at the time) an authority figure to hold the people together. It's funny, but even though the Bible mandates a certain separation between church and state in the fact that the King is not to be a priest as well, there is definitely a sentiment that the king should be a moral example for the people, and should lead them in showing the way to be a good and moral person, and a follower of God. I think that's something we'd like to see in our own leaders here in 21st-century America, but rarely do.

(Of course, when you really think it through, there were very few kings during the time of the monarchy in Israel that were anything like exemplary moral figures. David's one of the better examples for us, and, well, you know. He's got his fair share of faults and then some. No doubt the writer(s) of the book of Judges are in part telling these stories as propaganda to suggest how great the monarchy is.) But to the story...

Here we take up right where we left off in two ways: this story meshes right in with the story of our idolater, Micah, and who do we introduce into the plot? Danites from Zorah and Eshtaol, some names that may be familiar. These are the fellow tribesmen of Samson, from the very same area that he lived in. Apparently, despite the fact that Samson had some good victories (or maybe because he hasn't yet at all; as I said, chronology is far from precise here) the Danites still can't live in peace within their inherited area of Canaan, since the Philistines are all over the place making trouble for them. So they go out looking for a good place that they can take over and kill the inhabitants of, of course.

On the way there (more or less), they come across Micah's house, where this Levite is working, (for more irony, note that the Levite tells them to "Go in peace") and they eventually decide to steal all of Micah's religious paraphernalia, along with his priest. Apparently, as I said before, the SAB seems to have no problem with either the idolatry or the thievery, leaving it without comment. Frankly, I myself am not sure what to think about it, as the whole thing to me is pretty ridiculous. "Ye have taken away my gods which I made!" Micah protests. This is wrong and ironic on so many levels that it's hard to deal with. I mean really, how helpful are those gods if they couldn't protect Micah from being robbed? The Danites come back with a sort of, "Are you sure you want to fight about this? Clearly we've got gods on our side here." Not really, but whatever; at the very least it's got to be absurd. Micah, you're outnumbered; go home and make yourself some new gods or something.

So the Danites go and destroy the city of Laish, killing everyone there. The SAB finally decides to chime in after two chapters of silence with a judgment of this being "violent" and "intolerant". Violent? I would agree, but once again wonder why the gouging out of Samson's eyes was not labeled as such (or "intolerant", which seems fairly reasonable). Something I don't understand at all is the "intolerance" label, however. I just don't see what definition of the word could possibly apply here. The Danites don't attack the people of Laish because they're non-Israelites. They certainly don't attack them because they're pagans. They attack them because they're greedy for land and the people of Laish appear to be an easy target; it's as simple as that. I guess we're to believe that the Danites are intolerant to people who tend to get killed by Danites? C'mon SAB, you're better than this...


Steve Wells said...


I really don't know what to make the story about the Danite massacre of the peaceful and unsuspecting Laish people. There are a couple of verses that seem to implicate God, at least somewhat -- verse 6 ("The LORD is your way wherein ye go.") and 10 ("God has given it into your hands."), but neither verse is very convincing. The first is said by Micah's priest, so it's far from clear that he is speaking for God. And the second was said by the five spies, who might or might not be speaking for God.

So I've marked them with the chicken-shit "interpretation" icon. Some might interpret the Danite massacre as a divinely assisted massacre (as Joseph Smith apparently did) and others might not.

How do you see it, Brucker? Did God approve of the genocide of the Laish people?

(BTW, I don't know when I removed the intolerance icons that you complained so much about. It might even have been after your post. But it is one of those stories that I could treat in several ways, and be happy with none of them.)

Brucker said...

I'm strongly inclined to say that God did not condone the slaughter of the people of Laish, but that's my personal bias. Verse 6 certainly makes it questionable, as the guy is a priest (I'd dismiss verse 10 outright as a figure of speech), but it's not really clear what sort of a priest he is. Some people would dismiss him as easily as I dismiss the spies, but just because this guy was involved in a form of idolatry doesn't imply with certainty that he's got no connection with God's will.

I know we've been going over how I'm not as outraged by genocide as you feel I should be, but I at least assume that when the Israelites attack a group of people, they do it with some indication that they should be doing so. If they'd attacked Philistines in Zorah and Eshtaol, they'd at least be defending their own land. Here, they're just looking for an easy target to satisfy their own greed for real estate.