X Marks the Spot

There is a structure in Hebrew poetry referred to as “chiastic parallelism“.  It was used to emphasize whatever was put in the center, the “crux” of the structure.  It might be that this structure was used in these verses.  Sort of, any way.  There’s a piece in the center that seems to be missing, the “parallel” part.

Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who  ere around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.  So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. (Judges 2:11-13 NASB)

English translation, as a process, can obscure literary structures and devices.  It’s mostly unavoidable.  Puns and rhymes simply don’t translate very well.  Other things might translate somewhat more easily.  Some English translations of these verses do well, others, not so much.  The New American Standard has all the elements, and they’re even grouped by punctuation somewhat.  The ESV preserves the elements, but the NIV obscures them.  The NLT makes it difficult by not repeating the elements very closely, but the NKJV does a good job of preserving terms.

So, here are the elements:

The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD:
A.   They served the Baals
B.   They abandoned (forsook) the LORD
C.   They followed other gods
X.   They bowed themselves down to them
C’.  They provoked the LORD to anger
B’.  They abandoned (forsook) the LORD
A’.  They served Baal and Ashtaroth

The X. element would be the focus of this structure.  On the other hand, the C. and C’. elements aren’t exactly “parallel”, and there’s no parallel present for the X. element in the structure.  So, it’s not a perfect “poetic” chiastic parallel structure.  But I believe it’s a good literary chiasm.

If you want a repetition of the X. element, then look at verses 17 and 19.  The author has repeated this indictment twice more.  Clearly though, the repeated theme of the chapter (and, indeed, this two-chapter prelude) is the failure to take the land from the Canaanites.  Yet, within this smaller element, verses 11 through 23, the repetition of the worship of other gods is unmistakable.

Notice that this section is, itself, bracketed by indictments about the people not taking the land, and that God will no longer drive out the people.  It is, in itself, somewhat chiastic in placement, if not in parallel structure.  It’s as if the author wants his audience to know that the point of the book is about taking the land, but the point of our lives is the worship of God.  That may be a lot to draw from a single passage, and maybe saying the “point of our lives” is overstating the intent of the author.  But, maybe not.  This important literary element is clearer here than elsewhere in this “prelude”, so, perhaps, it’s exactly what the author is saying.

The failure to drive out the Canaanites does set the stage for the rest of the conflict in Judges.  But the worship of their gods by the children of Israel is the constant problem that eventually results in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon.  Even after the conquest is complete under David and Solomon, the problem of worship of other gods persists.  It makes sense, then, that this prophet, penning the history of Yahweh and His people, would make worship of other gods a central issue for his audience.  It’s the common element between his audience, and the people in the time of the judges.

But it’s our common element as well.  The point for us remains the same as the point for the people who first read and heard these words.  What do we “bow ourselves down” to?  What’s most important to us?  Is obedience to our Savior?  Is He truly our “Lord”?  Or, are we content to be “saved”, living in His grace and mercy, forsaking the change of our minds and paradigm.  Yahweh told His people to be different than the peoples in the land, and to drive them off.  We have been called to be different as well.  Will we, instead, adopt the “gods” of the people of the land?  Or will we be obedient? Will we adopt the paradigm of our Savior, the whole paradigm, not just the parts culturally acceptable?

Challenge accepted?

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

One thought on “X Marks the Spot

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