Ever read through a story in Scripture and go, “Wait, what? That doesn’t sound right.” Well, you may often do that in Judges. If you consider what it took to write this book, the task would seem impossible.
Consider that lots of accounts of the same event may be available, and from them, one account for an audience at a place and time are supposed to get a point. So, if they all know different versions of the same story, how do you avoid having your point lost in their questions of which version is the right version? A simple approach is to use all the versions somehow.
So Gaal went out before the leaders of Shechem and fought with Abimelech. Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him; and many fell wounded up to the entrance of the gate. Then Abimelech remained at Arumah, but Zebul drove out Gaal and his relatives so that they could not remain in Shechem. Now it came about the next day, that the people went out to the field, and it was told to Abimelech. So he took his people and divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field; when he looked and saw the people coming out from the city, he arose against them and slew them. Then Abimelech and the company who was with him dashed forward and stood in the entrance of the city gate; the other two companies then dashed against all who were in the field and slew them. (Judges 9:39-44 NASB)
It may be just me, but I see at least three versions of this story here. I have the end of one, a complete one, and the beginning of a third. Part of the problem is the elasticity of Hebrew word meaning, and another part is the early Greek translation of it.
In verse 41, we have some interesting wording regarding Abimelech and Arumah. First, in Hebrew, he sits. Or, more commonly, he dwells or lives there. Either works for this word. If it was “sit”, then it could be that he returned and sat on his throne or whatever. If it’s “dwell”, then the author is stating where he is when this portion of the narrative occurs.
But then there’s complications from the Greek texts translating the Hebrew. We have more than one, and these preserve both ideas. One says “sat in” and one says “entered to” Arumah. By way of increasing the importance of these Greek translations, they are older than the Hebrew text we typically use as reference. So, they preserve a reading from an older Hebrew text than we have. Yet, they are translations, not those early Hebrew texts. And, no, Judges is not a part of what was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Here’s what I think we have. I think the writer compiled at least three, possibly four, accounts of the destruction of Shechem. Rather than see one better than the other, or less inspired, he used all of them and knit them together. His audience would hear their version connected with the others, and there would be no distraction from his point.
To that end, I think verse 40 is the last part of the first account. Verse 41 is one account by itself. And verse 42 begins another account. Keep in mind that these events take place in, what is for him, Northern Israel, a different kingdom. And that, by the time he writes, these northern 10 tribes could already have been destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. So, these accounts could have come to him through refugees, and from different areas of the 10 northern tribes.
Because in all these accounts the point was still the same, Abimelech and Shechem destroy each other, the details aren’t as important to the writer as the finale. He’s making that point to his audience during the time of the Kings of Judah. And it’s a time when the people, led by their king, waver back and forth in their fidelity to God. He has a point for his audience, and it is a warning against the behavior of the people during the time of the Judges.
Rather than consider a version to be inaccurate, this writer honors all the sources he has by including them. All are inspired, and so, all are included. All are precious, and all make his point. Because the point is that God brings the evil choices of this city and this man back upon them, using each one to destroy the other. So, the people in the days of the Kings of Judah should beware, because the king they follow, and their own choices, all have consequences. Each could be used by God to destroy the other.
For us, don’t let oddities of textual choice disturb you. The point remains regardless of method of the writer. And, if he believed the texts to be so precious as to be unable to exclude one over the other, let us also hold them as precious to us for our lives.
That’s my view through this knothole this morning. What’s your view of God look like through yours?