Reading Joshua and Judges: An Interview with David T. Lamb

If you have been following this blog for a while, you might have noticed me pushing a book called “God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist?” by David T. Lamb. 

I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to people who are wrestling with those very questions.

So I invited David over to The Whole Dang Thing to answer some questions about how we should approach reading through Joshua and Judges, the next two books I will be covering on this blog.

He was gracious enough to answer my questions. I hope you find this as helpful as I did.

I am about to read through the books of Joshua and Judges. These are notoriously violent books that paint God as very angry. What tips would you give to someone who is about to read through them?

1)     Not to be too self-serving, but I’ll recommend God Behaving Badly (GBB), chapter 2 (Is God Angry?) and chapter 5 (Is God Violent?) as a starting point, particularly since I talk about these issues, particularly the Canaanites there.

2)     Also, I have an article on the Canaanite Genocide in Relevant Magazine.  Here’s a link to my blog where I describe it briefly.  The blog includes the link to Relevant.

3)     I would first acknowledge that these texts are problematic and troubling.  Start there.  If I were speaking to a seeker or skeptic, I would acknowledge the problem first.  We should be troubled, so it’s good we’re talking about these texts.

4)     One needs to remember, however, those were violent times, so what seems wild and shocking to us, was not particularly so back then.  Modern people who are appalled that these acts of violence were written about need to read more ancient literature.  We are like the prototypical America who travels to France and then says, “It’s wrong to eat snails.”  (Or fish eggs, etc.)  When traveling to other countries or when reading documents from ancient times, we should withhold judgment until we’ve worked to understand the context a little better.

5)     Ancient people from the Middle-East would be appalled at our lack of a value on hospitality (we don’t know our neighbors, we don’t feed people multiple meals who knock on our doors unexpectedly).  They would say we were barbarians in terms of hospitality.  Part of our problem has to do with cultural differences.  That’s not all of it, but it’s part of the problem.

It seems like God often commands Genocide or is silent on horrific things people do to one another (like the concubine in Judges 19). These stories are very troubling and can be big hang-ups for modern readers. What things should we keep in mind as we read those stories?

The text is sometimes shockingly silent on things that we think should be condemned outright.  But this is like many modern films that tell a story, sometimes evil deeds are condemned, other times they aren’t.  If a film is too obvious, critics pan the film for being too straightforward.  Good writing teachers say, “Show.  Don’t tell.”  Scripture often follows this good advice.  Not always, but often, particularly in narrative texts.

Do we really need a narrator to tell us that what happened to the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19 was bad?  If we’re not sure, then we’re as bad as they were.  The text makes it plenty clear that things were bad in Israel at that point in time, without stating it obviously for us.

Part of the reason the text doesn’t always spell it out is to give us the freedom to figure it out for ourselves, a bit like a parable.

Maybe we need a lighter question. What are some of your favorite things about these books?

1)     I love Joshua’s call (Josh. 1), which we see echoes of in the book of Haggai (2:4).

2)     The story of Rahab, the prostitute/ancestor of David and Jesus (see end of Relevant Article).

3)     Joshua’s final commission where he uses Reverse Psychology (“You can’t serve YHWH”: 24:19).

4)     The Story of Deborah is awesome as a woman who becomes President/Pope of the country (see GBB: 64-65).

5)     I love Gideon’s narrative, although, he tragically doesn’t finish well.  Profound leadership lessons there.  He refuses the    kingship (8:22-23), but then names his son, “My-father-is-king” (Abimelech).

6)     The story of Jephthah’s vow and sacrifice of his daughter is mind-boggling.  What’s up with that?!%#?  She and Isaac foreshadow Jesus- the sacrifice of a child by a father.

What are some important things we should learn about God and God’s people from the books of Joshua and Judges?

God isn’t a micro-manager.  He allows his people to screw up, and reap the consequences, but then he’s willing to show mercy, grace and forgiveness, to deliver them.

God uses unexpected people to accomplish his mission (a Gentile prostitute, a female judge/prophetess, a lefthanded assassin-Ehud, the weakest member of the weakest clan- Gideon, etc.).  This should give hope to any of us who don’t feel qualified (which probably includes all of us).

Thanks, David for your time! 

Make sure you go pick up his book, “God Behaving Badly” as soon as possible!

10 responses

  1. I like the point about it being a violent time. We often read the OT as though everyone should act like 21st century Americans.

    • Hey Adrian and Larry (and Ben), glad the interview was helpful. Keep talking about these troubling texts. The church is scared of them, but that doesn’t do anyone any good. Blessings.

  2. Pingback: Reading Joshua and Judges: An Interview with David T. Lamb | The Whole Dang Thing « David T. Lamb

  3. Thank you for this interview! I’m going to have to re-read Joshua & Judges more thoroughly this summer along with “God Behaving Badly.” I will be leading a group of elementary aged homeschoolers in a Bible study on these books (plus Ruth- thankful we’ll end on a more positive note) in the fall. Praying the Lord will give me more insight so I can be better prepared to do any extra explaining.

  4. Thank you for the interview. I have just finished reading Judges again…and was trying to find the answer to some of these questions. I will definitely look for the book “God Behaving Badly” .

  5. Come onnnn. On what basis, with what textual warrant, can you honestly find a type of Christ in the sacrifice of Jephtha’s daughter? Isn’t this just as much a hermeneutical stretch or imposition as saying that Rahab’s red chord in the window typifies the cross?

  6. Kim, I don’t know who connects to cord to the cross (it would be helpful if you could give specific examples), but before I judge whether or not that seems legit, I’d like to read the argument. On a superficial level, the cord/cross does seem a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, the sacrifice of a child (J’s daughter/Jesus) by a father (God/Jephthah) is a connection that is difficult to argue with. It’s there in the text.

    • Sorry, David, I thought the prefiguring link between Rahab’s crimson cord and Jesus’ blood sacrifice was a commonly known hermeneutical faux pas that continues to be perpetuated. My Reformation Study Bible makes this link. So does Matthew Henry’s commentary, the New Bible Commentary, and D.A. Howard in his commentary on Joshua through the Passover blood, etc.

      But in fairness who is arguing that the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter (based on his foolish, rash oath) prefigures Christ’s sacrifice? Also, you say that Isaac foreshadows Jesus but it was actually the ram caught in the thicket that was sacrificed in prefigurement.

  7. I know this is an old thread, but you might like to check out my talk on the Levite’s Concubine. I believe the narrative of the Levite’s concubine and the subsequent civil war is an exemplary case study in domestic abuse and how the abuser enlists allies. You can see it here —

    In case you’re wondering who I am, I’m a Christian author, a survivor of domestic abuse, and an advocate and supporter for other survivors. Myself and Ps Jeff Crippen are trying to awaken the evangelical church to the domestic violence and abuse in its midst, at our blog A Cry For Justice.

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