“Deuteronomistic Narrative In The Old Testament”

In studying the Deuteronomistic history presented in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, we seek to understand the intent behind the writer’s efforts, and to understand what types of backwards looking lenses were used to view the history of the Hebrew people.  We use the term, “Deuteronomistic” because there is a heavy parallel between the giving of “the law” in the Book of Deuteronomy and the stated consequences of disobeying that law in the historical books previously mentioned.  Below, I will summarize these parallels as best I can:

Deuteronomy 28:1-68

“Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance for your life.” – Deuteronomy 28:66

This scripture sums up this lengthy chapter in which the people are shown two very different consequences for their future behaviors.  If they follow the law, as it is handed down in this Book of Deuteronomy, then all will go well with them.  Abundance and blessing will overflow in every part of their lives.  In everything thing from business to family matters, they will reap only prosperity.

In contrast, if the people choose not to obey the commandments of Yahweh, then they will experience the very opposite consequences.  They will experience every kind of disaster, lack, defeat and failure including their final destruction at the hands of a foreign army.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Absolutely.  This chapter is recounting the theme we see throughout the prophets of the Old Testament.  Obey God, everything is good.  Follow other gods, things will go very badly.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

No.  I do not think most people in the world believe that if God is angered, He will bring about our destruction; not even Christians.  For secular people, that idea is ludicrous.  For followers of Jesus, I think most like to focus on the grace of Christ’s message and believe that we will be redeemed of our misdeeds, not destroyed for them.

Is This Passage Moral?

Interestingly to me, in a world view sense, it implies a code of justice – You get what you deserve.  So, in that respect, yes, you could almost say that it upholds the highest of moral codes.  However, as believers, we do not conform to a “justice” –themed ideology.  We believe in grace, mercy compassion and not getting what we deserve. But I do believe, in an academic sense, that, yes, it is moral because the expectations and consequences are clearly stated.

Joshua 23:1-16

This passage recounts how Yahweh has kept the promises of Deuteronomy.

“not one thing has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed.” – Joshua 23:14

In this final speech, the Israelite leader Joshua urges the people to remember the covenant, acknowledge God’s faithfulness, and stay true to it so that things will continue to be well with them.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes.  We see an incredibly similar statement from King David at the time of his death to his son, Solomon.  In ancient writings, it was common for authors to ascribe certain sayings to people of renown in order to give them more credibility (Lecture B.)  Here we see the same theme, almost word-f0r-word uttered by two dying leaders.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

Yes.  In a sense of cause and effect, Joshua reminds the people that these were the words given to them before entering the land, both the people and God held up their ends of the bargain, and everything followed right along as promised.  It is logical, based upon this evidence, that we could expect the same outcome if we engage in the same behavior.  This quote from our suggested reading, summarizes this theme:

 “There is no true neutrality, however; no dispassionate, unbiased, and presuppositionless presentation of the facts is possible. People always write about the past because they wish to communicate some kind of truth to their readers or to advocate some kind of virtue. It has always been so; it will always remain so.” (257)Provan

Is This Passage Moral?

As much as the facts of the true Iraelite situation are accurate, then I would say this passage is moral.  If all visible evidence points toward God keeping His word, then Joshua’s admonition to continue on as they had been seems sensible to me.

1st Samuel 12:1-25

In this chapter, the prophet Samuel speaks and “sets the record straight” as he acquiesces and anoints a king for the people of Israel.  He re-emphasizes how demanding a king is a sin for his people, and how the nation will be judged upon the behavior of the people themselves and that of the king.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes.  Over and over again, we see the same Deuteronomistic theme, of the nation being judged based upon the actions of their leader.  One of the many accounts can be found in 1St Kings 15:34 –

“He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam and in the sin that he caused Israel to commit.”

 Is This Passage Intelligible?

Yes.  As Americans, we bear the consequences of our governmental leaders’ poor decisions at times.  And much like the Israelites, we choose to “be led.”

Is This Passage Moral?

It does not feel moral to me.  First, to hold a nation responsible for the actions of one man doesn’t seem quite fair.  And second, Samuel pulls his “miracle card” by creating a great weather event – just to show the Israelites he is right.  That seems very vindictive to me.

2 Kings 24:18-25:12

“Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them from his presence.” – 2 Kings 24:20

This passage details the fall of Judah to the Babylonian army in 586 B.C.E.  According to the writer, the city of Jerusalem fell because of their evil king, Zedekiah.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes and no.  This passage is consistent with the ongoing prophetic message that God allowed the fall of Jerusalem due to the people’s disobedience.  However, the very next line (24:20) says, “… Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.”  If Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, then it would make more worldly sense that of course the Babylonians would seek to destroy them.  It was part of the warring culture of the period.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

I believe, it is easy for most people to comprehend that the destruction of Jerusalem came because of the poor decisions of its leaders.  However, I do not believe most would cite theological decisions, but instead, they would point to the disastrous political and economic choices made by King Zedekiah.  He chose to rebel against a conquering army that outnumbered and outgunned him at every turn.  I think most people would say he was a poor leader and his failure has nothing to do with God.

Is This Passage Moral?

Again, this does not feel moral to me.  This rendition of the story feels as if the writers took advantage of the situation and used it to promote their cause.  Almost as if to say, “Horrible things have happened.  And God let them happen, and it is all your fault for not doing what he said!”  It is reminiscent to me of the “prophets” that railed against the sinfulness of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit.  It doesn’t fit my “loving God framework.”

2 Chronicles 36:11-21

This passage also speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian exile.  However, it pays special attention to the broken covenant.  It highlights the unfaithfulness of the priests and the people, and points specifically to this reason for the destruction.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes.  The primary message from Deuteronomistic narrative is that “the people of Israel stand in a covenant relationship with Yahweh…. and in violating the terms of the covenant, Yahweh will rain a series of curses upon them.” (Stanley, p. 256)  The covenant is a spiritual one, and the only lens used in looking at the history of Israel is from a spiritual perspective.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

As I mentioned in the Deuteronomy passage above, this justice driven idea does make sense from a world view (in some ways.)  However, the whole idea that the entire nation was evil and disobedient is pretty far-fetched.  These people had jobs and families and communities.  There had to have been some redeeming qualities such as love, integrity, honesty, etc… that existed there.  It is hard to imagine that God saw nothing good there.

Is This Passage Moral?

It seems this is a heavy-handed scare tactic to get the people back on the straight and narrow; much like the “Scared Straight” videos from the eighties highlighting the disastrous results of recreational drug use.

However, these writers were not casting stones from afar.  They had been deeply affected by the exile as well.  I am able to maintain some level of grace for them as I am reminded by Claude Mariottini, in the article Historiography, that they were just trying to make sense of everything that had happened:

The writers of the Deuteronomistic History sought to provide a theological explanation for the destruction of Israel and Judah. The Deuteronomistic History shows that from the conquest of Canaan through the end of the monarchy Israel had violated the covenant and that violation demanded divine punishment.

How else were they to explain that everything they ever believed about being God’s chosen people turned out wrong?  And, more importantly, how could they keep it from ever happening again?