Read the following passages from the Hebrew Bible.
- Deuteronomy 28:1-68
- Joshua 23:1-16
- 1 Samuel 12:1-25
- 2 Kings 17:5-18
- 2 Chronicles 36:11-21
Summarize what each passage says or implies about the relationship between faithfulness to Y*WH and his covenant and the events of social and political history.
Then, assess for yourself the credibility of the positions taken in these texts. Do you find these claims coherent with other biblical witness? Are they intelligible in light of the way we understand the world today? Are they moral? How or how not? What if they are not?
The Deuteronomistic narrative helped shape the manner in which the exiles of Judah interpreted social and political systems through the lens of Yahweh’s actions in the world. The central theme is that Yahweh brings about punishment for sins and rewards good behavior with blessings. Many Christians and Jews continue to interpret current events in light of these Deuteronomistic beliefs.
aThis passage first relates obedience to Yahweh and his covenant to blessing. The blessings are not only personal (fruit of your womb – 28:4, personal wealth – 28:4b-5) but also social and political. The social and political blessings include defeat of enemies (28:7), prosperity of the nation (28:12), and the nation being known as Yahweh’s people (28:9).
The second part of the passage relates disobedience to Yahweh with punishment. The first set of curses are the antithesis of the blessings (28:15-19). Other punishments include personal sickness (28:22, 27-29), bad weather (28:23-24), defeat by enemies (28:25), destruction of lineage (28:62), and poverty (28:51-52).
The punishment not only is named as resulting from disobedience but also from “not serving God joyfully and with gladness of heart” (28:47). The text claims that God will take delight in punishing those who are disobedient (28:63).
These claims are found in other scriptural narratives (the conventional wisdom books, for example), but they are also rejected in some narratives (Job, for example). The claim that God takes delight in punishment seems to go against many of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and against some of the other messages in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:9, for example, states that the Lord is not willing that anyone should perish, but desires that everyone would come to repentance). These claims are intelligible in that they echo many of the messages we hear about God’s punishment in the world today – hurricanes blamed on people’s behavior, shootings seen as punishment for God’s anger, etc.). These messages seem unintelligible to me, given my theology around God’s love and my observations about “bad things happening to good people,” etc.
Joshua relates obedience and love of Yahweh to blessing. He relates intermingling with the other nations with disobedience and claims that God will cease to fight for Israel if these things happen. He assures that God’s promises will only come to pass if the people follow God’s commandments. He claims that God will destroy those who bow to other gods (23:16). The punishments include removal from the land provided by God (23:16) and destruction by enemies (23:13).
These claims, particularly that God will punish those who bow to other gods, are mentioned throughout scripture. The first commandment would be an example of this. These claims are intelligible, particularly in light of how God wants us to only worship God – not other gods. That part makes the argument more intelligible than perhaps other Deuteronomistic texts.
I Samuel 12:1-25
Samuel also relates disobedience to punishment. For example, when the people “forgot the Lord their God,” God sold them into slavery (12:9). God rescued the nation when they asked for forgiveness for their sins (12:10-11). This text emphasizes the relationship between the people’s behavior and the king’s behavior. These claims are echoed by many American people today who conflate presidential politics with God’s will for the nation. I tend to disagree with these sentiments, seeing God as separate from the political parties that people choose to support. In fact, it frustrates me when people claim that God blesses America more than other nations and that God somehow places people in power for God’s will. I suppose I have more of an Enlightenment-era belief in separation of church/state and free will.
2 Kings 17:5-18
This text claims that the Assyrian invasion of Israel and the resulting captivity was related to “the people of Israel sinning against the Lord their God” (17:7). The sins involved worshiping other gods, and following the customs of other nations (i.e. losing their own identity). The claim is that the wickedness of the people provoked the Lord to anger (17:11). The ultimate sin seemed to be idolatry (17:16) and the ultimate punishment was the removal of the people from God’s sight (except for the tribe of Judah) (17:18). The relationship between God’s anger and the behavior of the people is also detailed in the book of Exodus (ch. 32-34). This again reflects the conventional wisdom of some of the psalms and some parts of Ecclesiastes. The argument is intelligible, in that it echoes some of the other biblical narratives about God, but it seems to again go against the lens of the Jesus of Nazareth narrative (incarnation, resurrection narratives in particular).
2 Chronicles 36:11-21
This text relates the action of the king (Zedekiah) to the actions of the people (unfaithfulness, abominations, polluting the house of the Lord). The actions of the leader and the people led to punishment by God – and ultimately to the fall of Jerusalem. This text relates God’s wrath primarily to the worship of other gods and to improper worship of Yahweh (36:14). This claim is made throughout scripture and echoes the Joshua 23 text cited above. This claim is echoed today in those who relate punishments (bad weather, famine, poverty, etc.) to God’s anger at the nations for sinful behavior. As a member of the LGBT community, I find that our community is often blamed for societies “ills” by conservative folks.
Are these texts moral? Are the ideas moral? I believe it depends on one’s sense of morality. They are in that they present a strong opinion regarding the principles of right and wrong behavior. They are also moral in that they teach a lesson – rather than presenting an accurate historical understanding of Yahweh. One of the Enduring Questions for this unit is “Is every history a narrative fiction?” Christopher Stanley claims that the “narrative that fills the books of Joshua through Kings was not composed as an objective record of past events, but rather as an extended religious tract that used materials from the past to deliver a message to the present. If that is the case, how does this history speak to our socio-political situations today? How does the history of the American people speak to our problems today? Where do we find God in these historical narratives? I find that history can teach us a lot, but that history is also very contextual. The messages in the Deuteronomistic narratives seem opposed to some of the dissenting wisdom passages and to some of the New Testament. The context helps shed light on the reasons for framing Yahweh in these ways, but this framing can also be dangerous, given the reality that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. With our emphasis on science and technology and reason, it is dangerous to frame God in this way.