Inspired – The Bible as Story – Part 8

By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan


March 12th, 2023

David And Goliath



Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)



Opening Prayer
You are our strength and salvation, O God. You are our hope and deliverer.
In the midst of fear and uncertainty in our lives, and when the powerless of the world are overwhelmed by mighty forces, recall us to our true source of help.
Awaken us again to your strong presence within us. Awaken us again to hope.

  • J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure – Daily Scriptures and Prayer, p. 74.


Part III - “War Stories” (cont’d) 
    [“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]    
           It’s an astounding statement, and if we encountered it anywhere other than the Bible, we would immediately condemn it as a defense of genocide.
          When it comes to processing these troubling stories, there are generally three types of people: (1) those who accept without question that God ordered the military campaigns in Canaan and has likely supported others throughout history, (2) those who are so troubled by the notion of God condoning ethnic cleansing that it strains their faith or compels them to abandon it, (3) those who can name all the Kardashian sisters and are probably happier for it. I [Rachel Held Evans] fit rather decidedly into the second category, the Bible’s tales of violence and holy war adding some of the first wrinkles to my pristinely starched faith.
          Sometimes our stories glorify war. Sometimes they lament it. Traditionally they employ exaggerated rhetoric, ranging from a little hyperbole and creative license to shameless propaganda, with all sorts of iterations in between. Sometimes the details of a battle are well preserved by journalists or historians, but more often than not, they get distorted – by the shame of loss, by the pride of victory, by the new politics of a new age, or by the warped lens of time. If you really want to understand what makes a community or a culture tick, ask the people in it what they believe is worth dying for, or perhaps more significantly, worth killing for. Ask the people for their war stories.
          Ancient Israel was no different. By the time many of the Bible’s war stories were written down, several generations had passed, and Israel had evolved from a scrappy band of nomads living in the shadows of Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria to a nation that could hold its own, complete with a monarchy. Scripture embraces that underdog status in order to credit God with Israel’s success and to remind a new generation that “some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7). The story of David and Goliath, in which a shepherd boy takes down one of those legendary Canaanite giants with just a slingshot and two stones, epitomizes Israel’s self-understanding as a humble people improbably beloved, victorious only by the grace and favor of a God who rescued them from Egypt, walked with them through the desert, brought the walls of Jericho down, and made that shepherd boy a king.
         To reinforce the miraculous nature of Israel’s victories, the writers of Joshua and Judges describe forces of hundreds defeating armies of thousands with epic totality. These numbers are likely exaggerated and, in keeping literary conventions of the day, rely more on drama and bravado than the straightforward recitation of fact. Those of us troubled by language about the “extermination” of Canaanite populations may find some comfort in the fact that scholars and archaeologists doubt the early skirmishes of Israel’s history actually resulted in genocide. It was common for warring tribes in ancient Mesopotamia to refer to decisive victories as “complete annihilation” or “total destruction,” even when their enemies lived to fight another day. (The Moabites, for example, claimed in an extrabiblical text that after victory in a battle against an Israelite army, the nation of Israel “utterly perished for always,” which obviously Isn’t the case. And even in Scripture itself, stories of conflicts with Canaanite tribes persist through the book of Judges and into Israel’s monarchy, which would suggest Joshua’s armies did not in fact wipe them from the face of the earth, at least not in a literal sense.)
         Theologian Paul Copan called it “the language of conventional warfare rhetoric,” which “the knowing ancient Near Eastern reader recognized as hyperbole.”
         As Peter Enns explained, for the biblical writers, “Writing about the past was never simply about understanding the past for its own sake, but about shaping, molding and creating the past to speak to the present.”
        “The Bible looks the way it does,” he concluded, “because God lets his children tell the story.”
         You see the children’s fingerprints all over the pages of Scripture, from its origin stories to its deliverance narratives to its tales of land, war, and monarchy.
         For example, as the Bible moves from conquest to settlement, we encounter two markedly different accounts of the lives of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon and the friends and enemies who shaped their reigns. The first appears in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. These books include all the unflattering details of kingdom politics, including the account of how King David had a man killed so he could take the man’s wife, Bathsheba, for himself. On the other hand, 1 and 2 Chronicles omit the story of David and Bathsheba altogether, along with much of the unseemly violence and drama around the transition of power between David and Solomon. This is because Samuel and Kings were likely written during the Babylonian exile, when the people of Israel were struggling to understand what they had done wrong for God to allow their enemies to overtake them, and 1 and 2 Chronicles were composed much later, after the Jews had returned to the land, eager to pick up the pieces. While the authors of Samuel and Kings viewed the monarchy as a morality tale to help them understand their present circumstances, the authors of the Chronicles recalled the monarchy with nostalgia, a reminder of their connection to God’s anointed as they sought healing and unity. As a result, you get two noticeably different takes on the very same historic events.
        In other words, the authors of Scripture, like the authors of any other work, wrote with agendas. They wrote for a specific audience from a specific religious, social, and political context, and thus made creative decisions based on that audience and context.
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Psalms 20 & 21 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: These Psalms are two prayers invoking God’s blessings upon the king and expressing confidence in God’s care for the king. Do you think the people of Israel believed that their destiny was tied to their king and to all those who served him?
        Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “The CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible”

An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer
The blessings of heaven, the blessings of earth, the blessings of sea and sky.
On those we love this day and on every human family the gifts of heaven, the gifts of earth, 
the gifts of sea and sky.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.

  • J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure – Daily Scriptures and Prayer, p. 75.


“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.

Posted by Mark Hamby at 06:47
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