Judges 1:19 and God’s Omnipotence: Are they in Animosity?
“The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron. I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” (Judges 1:19; 2:1bc-3, TNIV [emphasis mine])
A friendly dialogue between an atheist and theist regarding the omnipotency of God in the context of Judges 1:19.
Atheist: (1) If god is powerful, then why did He and Judah fail against their enemy at Judges 1:19?
(2) If god is indeed powerful, then the book of judges must be wrong thus the bible is not accurately true.
(3) If the bible is 100% being the faithful’s proof and basis, thus number 1., god is not powerful.
So, ano ba talaga? God is powerful thus the bible is wrong?
Or the bible is the truth and god is not powerful?
Theist: The plain reading of the text seemingly states that the stated reason for their inability to drive the people from the plains because of the enemies’ iron chariots. Reading this text alone, we can infer the reasoning of God’s impotency. But the author later records God’s rebuke (2:2-3) which linked non-displacement of the land’s peoples to Israel’s disobeying the Mosaic Covenant.
So, in contrast with the claim of our friend BPL—We can both hold that God is still powerful without destroying the truthfulness of the Bible.
Atheist: But 2:2-3 said that God “will” not drive them out (future tense) while 1:19 clearly said that they were “unable” because of iron chariots.
It might be acceptable if it was written this way: “Now therefore I tell you that I did not (instead of will not) drive them out before you; they will be [thorns] in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.”
Theist: The actual account of the heroic deeds of the judges is preceded by what amounts to two introductory sections (1:1-2:5 and 2:6-3:6). The second of these two sections, forming a theological analysis of the era of the Judges, is more properly the literary introduction to the rest of the book. However, it is preceded by a background introduction, which treats both political-military features (the partial conquest of Canaan by Israel) and religious-spiritual factors (the broken covenant with Yahweh by Israel). To simply put it, both angles were recorded by the author, one politically (1:19 [effect]), the other spiritually (2:2-3 [cause]).
Thus, one should be acquainted with the linguistic context and literary style of the book before one can rightly interpret this text (1:19) correctly.
NOTE: This should not catch us in a surprise, because we are seeing a common literary style in the eastern context (effect to cause). One more thing, if one could appreciate the literary connections of the said verses (1:19 and 2:2-3); it would be hard to postulate the argument of impotency of God. Because 2:2-3 clearly says “God will not drive them out” (relates to his choice) not “God could not drive them out” (relates to his capability).
Atheist: Are you telling me sir that they are not written in order?
Theist: Yes, in the western eyes [cause and effect], but not in the eastern eyes [effect and cause].
A simple illustration of this type of thinking can be illustrated in Jesus saying, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” There is nothing wrong with this statement except that from our point of view it is inverted. Our heart, our motives, is the source from which our laying up treasure in heaven comes. But Jesus said it the other way around; he reasoned, for his audience, from effect back to cause. That type of approach is common in the Old Testament, though not exclusive. (ie., that happens to be what we have here in Daniel 7, 8, and 9. Christ was viewed as King (7); Priest (8); Sacrifice (9). [same case with 1:19 and 2:2-3 of the book of Judges]). Odd isn’t?
Atheist: This is actually the first time I read about this approach and am interested to learn more. Can you give me your references regarding this?
Theist: I am glad that you’ve asked for it! However, I’m afraid that books that I am going to mention cannot be found online, anyway, here are some good starters: (1) Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach Edited by George W. Reid; (2) How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon D. Fee; (3) A Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics by Gordon M. Hyde; (4) Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning by Walter C. Kaiser.
NOTE: This might sound ludicrous (because the book was not really focusing on that matter), but this approach that I adapted was keenly observed by William H. Shea, on his “Unity of Daniel,” Symposium on Daniel, ed. Frank B. Hoolbrook (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Research Institute, 1986), vol. 2. See also his Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982), vol. 1.
Hope it helps! Until we meet again, friend BPL.