Little-Known Bible Verses VII: Iron Chariots

One of the core beliefs of Judaism and Christianity is that God is omnipotent, able to do anything that is logically possible. But surprisingly, the Bible does not consistently support this idea. I’ve already written about the Tower of Babel, in which the Old Testament God appears to worry that humans will overmatch him if they complete the tower. And then, there’s the following little-known Bible verse:

“And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

—Judges 1:19

Although obscure among believers, this verse is famous among critics of scripture; it has even spawned a counter-apologetics wiki, fittingly titled Iron Chariots (and then there’s this amusing modern retelling).

Why God should have a problem overcoming iron chariots is not clear. In the context of the Bible it is utterly bizarre, almost as if it was inserted from a completely different religious tradition – it brings to mind the Celtic folklore about how cold iron was an effective repellent for faeries, ghosts, witches and other supernatural creatures.

On the other hand, it may just be that this verse was written when Yahweh was regarded as a local deity, supernaturally powerful but not invincible. In this respect, the biblical authors might have conceived of him as similar to the ancient Greek gods, who according to the Iliad could be wounded by humans. Iron chariots, in the world of the the Ancient Near East, were the most technologically advanced weapon of war in existence. They seem to have played a decisive role in conflicts like the Battle of Qarqar in 850 BCE, when an alliance of smaller kingdoms (including King Ahab of Israel, whom the Bible’s authors reviled) fended off an invasion by the regional superpower of Assyria.

It’s possible that the Bible’s original authors imagined God as not powerful enough to overcome this technology, and that the dogma of his total omnipotence was a later innovation. (By Judges chapter 4, God seems to have acquired the ability to defeat chariots.) If so, this verse might be a fossil of that earlier belief, preserved in the text like a prehistoric insect in amber. As a part of modern Judeo-Christian theology it’s like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, but if we take a more rational view of the Bible as a collection of human-written and human-compiled documents, verses like this may provide valuable clues about its origin and evolution.

Of course, the usual apologists have swooped in to try to explain away this verse within the framework of their own assumptions. The standard explanation for this verse is that the Israelites failed to drive out the Canaanites’ iron chariots because they were not obedient to God’s desires. However, the text itself does not support this guess: it mentions no such sin, and indeed, it says “the Lord was with Judah”, which one would not expect if Judah had been sinful or disobedient. Instead, it specifically identifies the presence of the iron chariots as the reason why the driving out of the Canaanites failed.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi Ebon,

    It is important to note that more modern translations indicate that it was Judah, not God that was unable to drive out the people group equipped with the iron rimmed chariots. Here are some examples:

    New English Translation:

    The Lord was with the men of Judah. They conquered the hill country, but they could not conquer the people living in the coastal plain, because they had chariots with iron-rimmed wheels.

    New International version:

    The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.

    New King James Version:

    So the LORD was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron.

    New American Standard Version:

    Now the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had (A)iron chariots.

    From this perspective, it changes the tone a little bit from the author describing what God did or was able to do to what Judah did or was able to do. It certainly leaves the theological question hanging, but it makes the text a little easier to relate to.

    Matt

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Hi Matt,

    I don’t think those translations change the basic point at all. If God was with Judah, why couldn’t Judah drive out the charioteers? Why didn’t God’s assistance suffice to overcome them?

  • Andrew A

    Why should anyone need a newer version of the Bible to argue a point, when an earlier version disagrees? The mere existence of different versions of the Bible is odd by itself, since I believe a later section of the Bible specifically warns against modifying its wording.

  • Angie

    It’s my assumption that other religious texts have changed as much as the Bible. Is that correct? I assume that they’ve all changed a little as we’ve grown and changed as a culture. Does anyone have a feel for how much religious texts in general have been altered over time?

  • Jeremy

    Andrew, newer versions use vastly improved translation techniques, which sometimes changes what older versions said somewhat. Also, some versions are translations of the latin of the old church and others are translations of the original texts. The different versions are typically results of varying “tastes” on how literal a translation should be. Most biblical scholars recommend using multiple translations as well as the original text and deciding for yourself.

    Also, what you’re referencing is Revelations and that’s tied specifically to the book itself since there was no “new testament” when it was written. Besides, it wasn’t written in English, so you don’t have a choice but to modify the wording.

    Angie, no. The commentaries, notes, and the translating methods have changed over time, but the Bible is one of the few documents that remains extremely unchanged. That’s not to say that things haven’t been slipped in or altered at all (There’s an argument over whether Paul ever wrote the thing in 1 Corinthians about women being silent in church), but rather that great care has been taken in preserving it. There are several thousand copies of various parts of the texts from different times and current translations utilized the original material (or what can be determined to be the closest to original).

  • Jeremy

    Oh and as to the original point, it’s pretty difficult to understand what happens here, but I think saying it’s a failing of the God is a bit simplistic. From the context of the story, one could argue that the losses weren’t failure at all but rather the set up of a test that Judah would fail miserably. The Israelites were under clear orders from God not to sign any covenants with the people of the land.

    However, in the face of military superiority, they suffered setbacks, not defeat by any stretch of the imagination. However, the text goes on to say that “When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced laor but never drove the m out completely. This is clear disobedience in signing peace agreements with those peoples rather than continuing the fight. Rather than granting them victory, God withdrew his blessing and decreed that the Israelites would have to live with the consequences.

    Omnipotence in the Jewish sense does not imply that life will be easy with God on your side. It only implies that God himself wouldn’t have failed, and never does it imply that following God would be easy or without setbacks. The God of Israel wasn’t in the habit of making life a cake walk.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebon,

    Agreed, as I said, it still leaves the question hanging. However, it helps see how the text was written and gives better insight into what the author was trying to communicate.

    Matt

  • AttemptingReason

    I checked out the apologetics link. I find it funny that he cites a verse in Judges chapter 2, which speaks in the future tense, to clear up a contradiction that happens in judges chapter 1.

  • Alan

    Angie,

    I just watched a lecture by Bart Ehrman on YouTube. In it, he discusses all of the errors that scribes have made over the years copying bibles, also the significant additions and alterations they made. You can watch all 9 parts with the playlist on the right side of the page.

    Jeremy,

    Ahh, the old “God Works in Mysterious Ways” defense. Where would Christianity be without it?

  • Polly

    Give the credit for victories to god, blame the failures on man…ho hum, same old tired line.

    Again, Adam has hit on a verse that used to cause me some consternation. The implication of god being unable to help his people overcome iron chariots is obvious to anyone who takes the text seriously. Like any good xian I attributed it to that tribe’s lack of faith, sin, idolatry, etc. all without the slightest bit of textual support. When the Israelites made a deal – the Gibeonites (Joshua 9) – the text says so and mentions that they failed to check their actions with the LORD.
    It’s not just Judah, other tribes failed also. They “pressed” the other peoples because they weren’t strong enough to drive them out. People will fight harder for their lives than their freedom; Just because you can oppress your enemy doesn’t mean you’re capable of exterminating him or pushing him out completely.

  • andrea

    SSDD from the theists. Now, what is the “best” translation? One that agrees with them?

    No matter if it is Judah backed by Jehovah or just Jehova, they both failed. We see that Gideon didn’t have any trouble with the Midianites with God on his side. And now Judah does? Oh the excuses. And of course, Gideon gets ignored because of that little problem with him daring to test God and getting away with it.

  • windy

    …and then there’s this amusing modern retelling

    Yep, that’s a classic. I think I’ve also seen a longer novel somewhere on the same theme as that post. Does anyone recall something like that, and where it might be found?

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    From the context of the story, one could argue that the losses weren’t failure at all but rather the set up of a test that Judah would fail miserably.

    Ah, yes, the old “set people up to fail and then punish them” ploy that God enjoys so much…

  • Entomologista

    The God of Israel wasn’t in the habit of making life a cake walk.

    I think what you actually mean is that God visits horrors on the various peoples of the Bible that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

    There is also a part in Exodus where Moses has a wizard contest with the Pharoh’s magicians. Moses throws down his staff and it turns into a snake and he’s all like “Who has the big god now?” and the magicians are all like “Whatever!” and they turn their staves into snakes. Why not give Moses better magic? Because he works in mysterious ways! Ways that involve wizard contests.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I never quite understood that whole ‘god works in mysterious ways/don’t test god’ line of thought. By “test” here, I’m sure people ment “Make god do what he said he would do”. If I told someone I could fly, they’d like to see me fly before they believed it I’m sure; but if I then turned around and said “You have to take it on faith because I’m not about to be tested” they’d be a bit skeptical, and rightly so. Why that doesn’t apply to god and religion I don’t quite understand.
    According to all major sports teams who thank god for their wins, god is undefeated; it seems the same goes for militaries. If they lose, it means god wasn’t with them, or it was a test, or they did something wrong, or whatever, but in a classic case of lets count the hits and not the misses, when they win god must have done it.

  • Polly

    Actually, god TELLS people to test him several times in the Bible. I don’t remember all the specific references. Once, in Malachi 3:10-

    “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. “

    Another time, he tells a Judge (or king) to ask for a sign to know that god will help him. The sign involves sheepskin and dew. Another sign is the shadow on the steps moving backwards.

    When Moses asks god what he should tell the people and how pharaoh should be convinced, god shows him the snake-trick with the staff.

    Jesus himself said his miracles were to serve as proof of his status. John 10:38-
    “But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

    The idea that people should not test god is a counter-biblical idea not found anywhere except, probably, a misreading of one passage in the OT where the Israelites were complaining about having no water in the desert. But, the sense of the text could just as easily be that they were testing god’s patience by being stubbornly untrusting – after having seen tons of miracles.

    People use that “don’t test” line because god won’t perform nowadays.

  • Jeremy

    Nothing mysterious about it, really. I’ll back away from the “testing” comment because I’m not particularly sure. However, it would stand that Israel succeeded everywhere but in a couple of places and THEN, when they were in a position to win, they didn’t follow through as commanded. Divine setup? Probably not.

    As for the snakes thing, Andrea: Nothing mysterious there either. Again, if you read the bible as if it weren’t ancient literature (which admittedly many Christians seem bent on doing), it’ll seem strange. However, if you study Egyptian culture at the time, you see that everything that occurred was a direct response to some aspect of the Egyptian religion of that time. It wasn’t a mere “wizarding contest”, but an assertion of God’s domination over every aspect of the Egyptian gods.

    Entomologista: That’s one of the harder things, of course. It’s hard to understand why such horrible things happened. Though, one could argue that any society so corrupt that they offered up their children in live burning sacrifices and sacrificed pregnant women by tying their legs together when they were in labor deserved a vicious and devastating response from any God that claimed to love humanity. The religious practices of the region were reprehensible to put it mildly. By today’s standards, any act of genocide is inconceivable, but again, this wasn’t written today but rather three or four thousand years ago when the human concept of justice was radically different.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Andrea,

    A careful examination of the work of linguistic experts will yield the most likely intent of any translated author. It is not a matter of personal preference but a matter of rationally applying linguistic principles to the question of translating a work from an ancient language to a modern one.

    Matt

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Jeremy:

    Though, one could argue that any society so corrupt that they offered up their children in live burning sacrifices… deserved a vicious and devastating response from any God that claimed to love humanity.

    Yes, and according to the Bible, God’s response was… to order the Israelites to slaughter every member of that society, including the children. Do you think there’s something about that that doesn’t add up?

  • Brock

    “By today’s standards, any act of genocide is inconceivable, but again, this wasn’t written today but rather three or four thousand years ago when the human concept of justice was radically different.”
    I’d appreciate a source for this fantasatic comment.

    “By today’s standards, any act of genocide is inconceivable, but again, this wasn’t written today but rather three or four thousand years ago when the human concept of justice was radically different.”
    Sorry , Jeremy, the question is not about the human concept of justice, but about the divine concept of justice. If God approved of genocide then, he approves of it now. We no longer do. The amazing thing about reading the Bible is realizing again and again that we are more moral than God.

  • Damien

    “By today’s standards, any act of genocide is inconceivable, but again, this wasn’t written today but rather three or four thousand years ago when the human concept of justice was radically different.”

    Or to put it another way, if we find genocide “inconcievable”, why should we profess to follow a scripture that has a “radically different concept of justice”?

  • OMGF

    Though, one could argue that any society so corrupt that they offered up their children in live burning sacrifices…deserved a vicious and devastating response from any God that claimed to love humanity.”

    Are other sacrifices any better? I mean god does ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (stopping him at the last minute as he is going through with it), there’s another story about how one man sacrificed his own daughter because god let him win in battle, and finally Jesus is nothing more than god doing what you claim god hates.

  • Mikael

    Though, one could argue that any society so corrupt that they offered up their children in live burning sacrifices…deserved a vicious and devastating response from any God that claimed to love humanity.”

    And what was it the sole survivors of the horrible slaughter of the town Sodom did to avoid the angels falling into the hands of the townspeople?

  • tenebrous

    I like this verse as the meaning is clear.

    Superior firepower defeats god.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Rock, paper scissors, Iron Chariots, God

  • WizardJim

    Got a slogan for ya;

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from the power of God.”

  • tenebrous

    Are you suggesting that we should worship the iron chariots?

    Or that God is a piece of alien technology?

  • john

    you guys completely took the verse out of context. the belief that God is with someone, for a Christian, is merely saying that the person had a relationship with God. If the tribe of Judah had a relationship with God, it does not mean that they have the open right and power to go destroy anything they wish.

    example:
    The Lord was with the United States. They were able to drive out the Iraqis in the mountains but were not able to drive out the tanks in the valleys.

    Its common sense. Same God yesterday, today and forever.

    Dont judge ppl based on one verse. thats silly

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So, John, you admit that your god is pretty impotent?

  • mikespeir

    you guys completely took the verse out of context.

    Nobody did anything of the kind! That’s the natural reading of the verse; indeed, the inevitable reading to anyone not trying to make excuses for it.

    example:
    The Lord was with the United States. They were able to drive out the Iraqis in the mountains but were not able to drive out the tanks in the valleys.

    You’ve misrepresented the problem. It would be more like this:

    The Lord was with the United States. They were able to drive out the Shiites in the mountains but were not able to drive the Sunnis out of the valleys, because the Sunnis had tanks.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    you guys completely took the verse out of context. the belief that God is with someone, for a Christian, is merely saying that the person had a relationship with God.

    What I find to be far more “out of context” is your unquestioning assumption that 19th-century Christian evangelical theology can be read back into verses from the earliest books of the Old Testament.

    If the tribe of Judah had a relationship with God, it does not mean that they have the open right and power to go destroy anything they wish.

    Except that God commands them to do just that – to slaughter the Canaanites and conquer the land – and they were engaged in that mission at the time.

  • antaresrichard

    Well, I guess the inhabitants of the valley were either lucky because God didn’t have the the Red Sea handy or the Egyptians were drowned (Exodus 14:28) due to a lack of iron. Hmm, maybe Judah should have called on Superman.

  • Leah H

    Hi!
    Actually, even in the KJV, that verse is still not contrary. Judges 1:19 is the quick short version of what happened in Joshua 17:15-18. Joshua tells the people that they are way too big to fit in the little bit of land they are in. They counter by whining about how the people in the valley have iron chariots. Joshua told them that they could do it, however, out of their fear, they made the choice not to (as you can tell by Judges 1:19).
    When God works, a lot of times He choses to work through people. However, when the people chose to not have the faith that God could actually do it and when the people let their own fear get the better of them, God let them have their way. God was with them, but they ignored that fact and did things their own way instead. That’s why they didn’t take the valley.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Nowhere in Joshua does it say that they were unable to win against iron chariots when they attempted to take the land. They were worried about the iron chariots, but Joshua convinces them that they are strong and will win (presumably because god is with them). Apparently, they didn’t win.

    However, when the people chose to not have the faith that God could actually do it and when the people let their own fear get the better of them, God let them have their way.

    Nice to know that god gave us these natural instincts, such as fear, and then refuses to help us when those instincts take over. Of course, we could also view your passage as saying that when things work out, god was helping, and when they don’t, god was not helping. How very convenient.

  • Big Jess

    I dont believe in Santa Claus any more either. When everyone around you is saying the same thing, it would be understandable to believe it. However, when one analyzes the facts and uses reason to come to a conclusion, one realizes how ridiculous these stories are. The fact is that these stories are supposed to be God’s word and yet there is still countless contradictions. God is omnipotent and the perfect being, so that fact that his work is imperfect suggests that either he isnt or he didnt write it. Which we be a lose-lose situation for theists!

  • Wilson

    What I find more interesting is that the original says:
    וַיְהִי יְהוָה אֶתיְהוּדָה, וַיֹּרֶשׁ אֶתהָהָר כִּי לֹא לְהוֹרִישׁ אֶתיֹשְׁבֵי הָעֵמֶק, כִּירֶכֶב בַּרְזֶל לָהֶם

    It clearly refers to the God. There’s absolutely no way anyone could mistranslate that as a plural. It must’ve been intentionally changed for the new editions with a complete disregard towards the original.

  • Arch

    Once again, this type of thread attacks Scripture through false premises of interpretation.

    In Scripture, God speaks truth to us in a human way.

    For anyone interested in knowing more about what the Church teaches regarding revelation, Scripture, and Scriptural interpretation, the Vatican II document “Dei Verbum” is a great place to begin:

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    In Scripture, God speaks truth to us in a human way.

    Isn’t this just a fancy way of saying that humans wrote the Bible?

  • techromancer

    “He” does not refer to God, but to Judah. So God himself was not unable to overcome the iron chariots, only Judah failed in that.

    Yes, God was with him, but that may simply mean he was full of the spirit of God or inspired by God or some such… it doesn’t mean that God was supposed to do everything for Judah, with all His divine power… otherwise, why have Judah do anything at all? Heck, God could have just come down on a cloud and used lightning bolts to smite every foe while Judah and his soldiers just sat back and sipped cool drinks. I don’t think it’s supposed to work like that.

    Having God’s favour doesn’t equal omnipotence. Perhaps something to do with how power corrupts us mere mortals?

  • 2-D Man

    I don’t think it’s supposed to work like that.

    Since having god’s favour is, apparently, less effective than having iron chariots, I’m inclined to think it doesn’t work at all.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So, instead of god < iron chariots, you're proposing that god + Judah < iron chariots? OK.

  • Lynn

    Jeremy said “Entomologista: That’s one of the harder things, of course. It’s hard to understand why such horrible things happened. Though, one could argue that any society so corrupt that they offered up their children in live burning sacrifices and sacrificed pregnant women by tying their legs together when they were in labor deserved a vicious and devastating response from any God that claimed to love humanity. The religious practices of the region were reprehensible to put it mildly. By today’s standards, any act of genocide is inconceivable, but again, this wasn’t written today but rather three or four thousand years ago when the human concept of justice was radically different.”

    This is a tired and untrue defense of everything atrocious that god did in the bible. Study the history of Cyrus the Great and Siddhartha Guatama and you will find two vastly morally superior men to the god of the bible….and they lived during old testament times when god was at his worst. The bible is myth.

  • Anthony

    I think the idea that God cannot defeat iron chariots is easy proven wrong if you read the entire book. Judges chapter 4 we see 900 iron chariots defeated by God through the armies of Israel led by Deborah and Barak. So the author must not have meant what you propose otherwise the results would have been the defeat of God’s people. We read narrative passages with the understanding that the author is making a point. He presents some history obviously selected to make his point. If it is his point to show the omnipotence of God, then read the entire story to understand his argument. Don’t stop with Ch 1 when the author is just setting up the reader to understand the background. If you truly study the book of Judges you see the internal stucture as ch 1-ch3:6 as being the prologue. Ch 3:7-16:31 as the main body showing the cycle of jugdes. Ch 17:1-21:25 is the epilogue. We see one of the authors points throughout the book is that God is in charge and He defeats iron chariots through the obedience of faithful people.

  • Maynard

    I think the idea that God cannot defeat iron chariots is easy proven wrong if you read the entire book. Judges chapter 4 we see 900 iron chariots defeated by God through the armies of Israel led by Deborah and Barak.

    So this god pulled a hustle? He truly is mysterious.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Hey, when’s your god gonna defeat leukemia?

    I didn’t think so.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Um, it specifically says that they could not be driven out because they had iron chariots. If god developed the ability later in the book, then that means god is not immutable, nor is god perfect (or at least was less than perfect at some point). And/or, it’s another contradiction.

  • Anthony

    God did not change but His people were not completely obedient is why the iron chariots were not destroyed earlier. He already had shown Israel
    and the Egyptians what he could do to the chariots earlier in scripture. In Genesis He showed the whole world what he could do to a sinful world with The Flood, Sodom and Gomorah, etc. Your picking and choosing phrases from the Bible to make your own point is silly. But no more silly than when people who do believe in the Bible do the same. That is why we should handle scripture carefully. It is a weak way to prove your point by repeating your point again and again. It is even weaker when people try distraction and shifting by asking about God’s healing power which is a completely different topic. God is all powerful so He doesn’t answer to us but we to Him. It is amazing however that when He came to live among us as Jesus Christ he spent His time healing diseases like leukemia and did not destoy the “iron chariots” of that day (the Romans). His death and resurrection are much more show of power than destroying all the worlds armies of today. He conquor death and sin, once and forever for those who have faith in Him. May the Lord convince you for my ability to is powerless.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    One more piece of evidence that no Christian likes to be hoist by his own petard.

    If your god is all powerful and yet evil still exists (as clearly it does), then that makes your god complicit — a willing partner.

    Suggested order of operations: think, then post.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    You’re right that simply repeating one’s point does not prove an argument, but I do have to point you back to my previous comment. Why would the Bible specifically state that god could not defeat the iron chariots if he really could? That is what the Bible clearly states. You’re stuck now, because either your god really is not omnipotent (which you don’t seem to believe) or the Bible is in error.

  • Anthony

    When we read literature we attempt to understand the meaning the author is trying to convey. Did he mean literally what he said or was he using irony? What tells us his meaning is a thorough study of the entire book. We look at the main topics, themes, and literary tools used in telling the story. One of the themes throughout judges is the sovereignty of God. He rose up the nations to punish Israel for turning away from Him. He allowed their enemies to
    stay to test their fathfullness, teach them war, and try their obedience to His commandments. The author is writting likely 400+ years after these events and is talking to the nation of Israel as the era of King Saul is just beginning. He is trying to convey to the people why the things that happened. To show them God’s mercy power and grace to an undeserving people. He shows just how undeserving they were and how things went from bad to worse as you see the cycle of judges has a downward spiral. The so called heroes of thier faith were flawed men who seemed to be used of God anyways. The audience would have understood the irony dripping in the first chapter. The victories that Joshua led and the nation of Judah as well should have proven to those facing iron chariots that the Lord was with them and no force could stop them. But partial obedience by those who did not obey God and destroy the iron chariots came back to haunt them. Later generations would have to live under oppression of another nation with iron chariots. The audience would have understood this and did according to Jewish historians and commentators. We all use this type of literary tool today when we talk but it suprises use when we see it in ancient texts. So maybe you can change your web site name to irony chariots.

  • Anthony

    Evil exist for a time. God allows it for now. But He will judge it and condem all who do not have the sacrificial atonement of their sins through Jesus Christ. Why all the good verses evil if God is all powerful? We will find out some day. I do know that God is good and therefore when I don’t understand why evil seems to win and good people lose, it just drives me closer to Him and trust that He will bring good even if I don’t get to see it or understand it.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Anthony,
    When you speak of who wrote the Bible, who is the “his” that you’re talking about? We know that multiple people wrote it, so examining the whole book for the meaning of one person’s part isn’t really going to help. Unless you believe that god wrote it, but then god would be saying that he couldn’t defeat the iron chariots, and I see no indication that there was anything “ironic” about the description.

    If the author of this particular part wanted to stress that the Isrelites lost because god did not favor them due to their angering him or whatever, it would have been better to state so, don’t you think? And, again, I don’t see the irony. Please explain why you think it is “ironic.”

    As for your discussion of evil, you are begging the question. You also can’t simultaneously hold that god is good, but you can’t say why god does evil (or at least allows it). If you don’t have that information, then you can’t know that god is good.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Evil exist for a time. God allows it for now.

    To what purpose? If you cannot explain that, I must regard your god’s evil as gratuitous and not necessary, especially given that your god is supposedly omnipotent.

    But He will judge it and condem all who do not have the sacrificial atonement of their sins through Jesus Christ.

    Couldn’t he just snap his fingers and eliminate evil forever?

    Why all the good verses evil if God is all powerful? We will find out some day.

    Certainly you’re smart enough not to appeal to faith on an atheist blog, right?

    I do know that God is good and therefore when I don’t understand why evil seems to win and good people lose, it just drives me closer to Him and trust that He will bring good even if I don’t get to see it or understand it.

    This sort of reasoning is evocative of Lewis Carroll, if not George Orwell.

    Let me get this straight: when you see more evidence that your god is evil, it drives you closer to him, because, despite having just received more evidence that he is evil, you believe with even more force that he is good?

  • Anthony

    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk to the authors of all ancient texts? Why did Homer write the Odyssy the way he did? Why did Shakespear spend so many words on at times very simple plots? We all have an opinion on a better way to communicate a point. But ultimately the author gets to do it his way. Most scholars give Samuel credit for writting Judges. We who study the Bible are always asking these questions and many others. We ask all the who, what, when, where, why and how questions. Of couse our answers are going to be filled with our own presuppositions and bias. Recognizing that we all have this bias we try to focus objectively and try to understand what it meant to the writer and to the original audience.

    I think we can both see each others bias in viewing the passage in Judges and of course the belief if God exist or not. That presupposition will color the way we read any passage in scripture. I don’t think we
    will change each others view. If I believe that God is omnipotent then I am going to believe that He can do whatever He wants and I have no say. I might not like it but it that doesn’t make Him accountable to me. If I believe that in the same way God is all good or Holy then when I examine the things I don’t understand and don’t like I pause a say “He is in control and He is perfect, without evil and I can trust Him”. The Bible resounds with these themes.

    If I may ask; How do you know evil exist?

    I

    But I am curious to ask how do you know that something is evil or good?

  • 2-D Man

    We who study the Bible are always asking these questions and many others.

    Sure you ask those questions, but you don’t bother pursuing the answers; you just repeat your mantra

    He is in control and He is perfect, without evil and I can trust Him

    and ignore anything but the sound of your own droning.
    And it’s a lie. It’s a lie you tell yourself. Your god isn’t without evil, at least according to Isaiah. Your god is not in control, unless you’re going to claim that it doesn’t want everyone to be saved and prefers a majority of the world to be damned. And your god isn’t perfect; it’s inconsistent: one day saying that killing is wrong, the next demanding genocide, and the next, stating that one is to love one’s neighbor.

    I don’t think we will change each others view.

    Yeah, because we demand reason and evidence, which you have no intention of providing and you won’t list-

    He is in control and He is perfect, without evil and I can trust Him

    Nevermind.

    If I may ask; How do you know evil exist?
    I
    But I am curious to ask how do you know that something is evil or good?

    These questions are off-topic. Take them elsewhere.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Hello Anthony,

    This isn’t a question of whether God exists or not, or whether God is omnipotent or not. You could believe anything you like about the answers to those questions and still concede my point in this article. Rather, this is a question of whether the Bible is inerrant. I hold that it cannot be, because it contains verses (such as this one) that contradict other verses elsewhere in the Bible which say incompatible things.

    You said “I think we can both see each others bias”, but in fact, the only one who’s biased here is you. An atheist could believe that the Bible isn’t the word of a god, and still agree that it was consistent with itself. The reason we don’t actually believe that isn’t because we have some prior commitment or bias. It’s because of concrete evidence in the form of verses like this one, which clearly states that on at least one occasion, a supposedly omnipotent god was defeated by iron chariots. You’re trying to gloss over that, but you haven’t presented any evidence which actually changes the interpretation of the verse; you’ve merely asserted that it can’t possibly be meant that way because, well, just because.

    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk to the authors of all ancient texts? Why did Homer write the Odyssy the way he did? Why did Shakespear spend so many words on at times very simple plots? We all have an opinion on a better way to communicate a point. But ultimately the author gets to do it his way.

    I agree. Therefore, how can you be so certain that the author of this specific verse didn’t mean exactly what it looks like he meant, namely that God was defeated by iron chariots? How can you know that that wasn’t the message he intended to convey?

    But I am curious to ask how do you know that something is evil or good?

    This has nothing to do with the topic of this thread. Please see my essay on morality on Ebon Musings.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Anthony,
    You’re begging the question again. And, perhaps you can tell me what my biases are? I bet you’ll get it wrong.

  • Anthony

    The first reason why this verse is not an admission that God could not defeat iron chariots is because He does defeat iron chariots later in the book in Ch 4.

    Second the first part of the book of Jugdes ch1-ch3:6 is what scholars call the prelude. It is setting the scene and giving explinations for the rest if the book. It reviews much of the book of Joshua and attempts to explain to the nation of Israel why they still have not succeeded in fully conquoring the land. One major reason was incomplete obedience. Joshua told them to drive out the Canaanites “though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong. Joshua 17:18. Judah was the most obedient tribe in driving out the inhabitants except for this. The point was Judah was not completely obedient. The point was made by others on this post that the “he” in “he could not drive out the inhabitants refered to Judah and not to “the Lord”. It does matter to me what view is taken because the author is trying to hit a nerve with his audience. The Israelites new that God was able and Judah was able but were using it as an excuse to not fully obey because it was just too hard. In fact we see no evidence that they even tried to defeat them. The Israelites new that God had destroyed the chariots of the Egyptians had brought down the walls of Jericho and had done many mightier deeds so it would have been obvious to them that the author was jabbing at Judah and not admitting God is not all powerful.

    Thirdly the author explains that all the other tribes too did not drive out the inhabitants of the land Judah was first and most prominent then he describes the tribes Benjamin, Menasseh, Ephraim, Zabulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. The flow of thought is that these tribes did not drive out the inhabitants. This is why most believe that the he is Judah.

    Fouth, the author explains why these things happened in Ch 2 :2. “But you have not obeyed my voice…I will not drive them out before you.”. He repeats this in v 20-21 and further explains why. 1 to test israel whether they will walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did. 2 in order that generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had known it before(ch3:1-2) 3 to test Israel if they would obey the commandments of the Lord given by Moses (3:4). His point was there was a reason for the failure and it wasn’t that God was unable.

    Fifth the rest if the book goes on to show how Israel’s disobedience and frank rejection of the Lord and turning to idols, intramarrying with the locals and doing evil in the eyes of the Lord brought a cylcle of oppression, crying out, deliverance, peace and returning to disobedience. The cycle gets worse and worse throughout the book. It all started with Judah’s partial obedience in driving out every one except those iron chariots then continued the downward spiral for the next few hundred years.

    I hope this helps you understand my point that I believe you have to look at the whole book to clear up the question and the context points to the author making the point again and again that the reason iron chariots, and all the oppressors were not defeated was due to the people’s disobedience and not God’s inadequancies.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Or maybe the book is contradictory. Since you rule that out a priori, you have to resort to all kinds of tortured logic to rule out the simple language that is presented in the story.

  • Anthony

    Tortured logic or sound thorough logic? It depends upon your bias.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    If we must have divinely inspired liturature, the interpretation of which might determine whether or not I get to spend eternity in hell, my bias would be for unambiguous language that doesn’t require several millenia of theological exegesis to understand.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’m still waiting for an answer to my question about leukemia. Why doesn’t your god see fit to eliminate the painful, fatal malady that disproportionately affects innocent children?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Anthony,
    You keep talking about bias, yet when asked to define my biases, you didn’t do so. I understand that you may have simply missed that or didn’t think it worth answering, but I happen to think it’s pretty important considering that you’re hinging a lot of your argument upon it.

    You seem to be clearly biased towards believing the Bible is true and that it is inerrant, meaning that all potential problems must have an answer and an explanation, no matter how hard you have to try to facilitate one.

  • Steve Bowen

    ;You seem to be clearly biased towards believing the Bible is true and that it is inerrant, meaning that all potential problems must have an answer and an explanation, no matter how hard you have to try to facilitate one.

    Yep eisegesis

  • Anthony

    Regarding the leukemia thing I haven’t answered it thuroughly because I was told to stay on topic Maybe there is another thread in which I can answer it.

    Yes my bias is that the Bible is inerrant. But that is not where I started my journey. I too was once an atheist and once believed that the Bible had too many inconsistancies to believe. I think that most Christians today do not trust the Bible and most likely all atheist dont as well. It may be due to incomplete study and or person bias. Many just don’t like the answers they find so they dismiss them.

    Surprisingly when I spend many hours of studying the text, the history, cross referencing even with extra biblical sources I have never been disappointed. There are many passages that are difficult to understand but when I realized that God has not really hid these things it’s just that I don’t want to take the time and discipline for thorough study.

    God encourages us to seek Him intensely. The same way we would seek after silver or for hidden treasure (Prov 2:1-10). Proverbs 1:7 shows where we should start. The apostle Paul explains why people don’t believe the things of God and His ways in Romans 1:18-2:11.

    If these things do matter in where we will spend eternity then we should spend our lives in pursuit of understanding them.

  • Steve Bowen

    I too was once an atheist

    For exactly how many minutes after your birth was this a true statement?

  • Anthony

    One important step in true exogesis is to recognize your bias. Another is to ask the question , “what did this mean to the author? Next we ask, “what did this mean to the audience?”.

    Recognizing your bias does not eliminate it because truly we can never get rid of it. But by focusing more on the two questions instead of “what this means to me” we come closer to true understanding and step further away from eisegesis. It is clear that the book of Judges was trying to prove God’s supremacy and not disprove it. Focusing on just one line of one verse does not reveal the true meaning.

  • Steve Bowen

    ask the question , “what did this mean to the author? Next we ask, “what did this mean to the audience?”.

    We are still expected to be an audience if this is God’s word. Relevance to us is…?

  • Anthony

    Relevance to us is the last step. When we understand the meaning of the text then we go to the question, “how do I apply this to my life?”. Those who go straight to application often mis- apply the passage in question and has led many astray. Relevence is the most subjective part and should be backed up by other passages that bring the same conclusion. This is why we say the Bible does not contradict itself. If a person thinks one passage says they should go and commit a crime but the rest of scripture states the complete opposite then we are sure the person is misunderstanding and misapplying the passage.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Regarding the leukemia thing I haven’t answered it thuroughly because I was told to stay on topic Maybe there is another thread in which I can answer it.

    My point is pertinent; it addresses your implied claim of omnipotence.

    Also, it seems to me that The Word of a Perfect Communicator ought not need interpretation. It also seems to me that a Perfect Word ought to be immune to mistranslation. It also occurs to me that a much more efficient way to communicate with one’s followers if one is an omnipotent being is to directly speak to them via telepathy or burning bush or whatnot.

    So yeah, call me unconvinced. You wish me to believe that your god created the entire universe, and yet he cannot even create a clear manifesto?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Yes my bias is that the Bible is inerrant.

    Doesn’t that open you up to GIGO?

    Many just don’t like the answers they find so they dismiss them.

    Which answers are those? That we should stone disobedient children or hold slaves or treat women as objects?

    God encourages us to seek Him intensely.

    He does this how?

    It is clear that the book of Judges was trying to prove God’s supremacy and not disprove it. Focusing on just one line of one verse does not reveal the true meaning.

    How do you know that there was one author considering that many books have many authors? How do you know that the intent was to prove god’s supremacy and not just to tell a story or tell the history of the people? If it was to show god’s supremacy, how do you know that it wasn’t an error? True, one verse won’t reveal the intent, but it can show an error in the story – which you deny can happen since the Bible must be inerrant.

    This is why we say the Bible does not contradict itself. If a person thinks one passage says they should go and commit a crime but the rest of scripture states the complete opposite then we are sure the person is misunderstanding and misapplying the passage.

    IOW, you can throw out any passage that you feel doesn’t fit your interpretations of what the Bible is saying. Also, the Bible doesn’t say not to commit crimes nearly as much as it shows god telling people to do just that. But, that’s another discussion for another day I think.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Also, the Bible doesn’t say not to commit crimes nearly as much as it shows god telling people to do just that.

    But if God told people to do it it can’t be a crime can it? After all God is all good right, even when he’s plainly being evil? ‘Tis a puzzlement and no mistake.

    Steve Euthyphro Bowen :)

  • Kim

    I believe the problem here is that everyone is ironically interpreting this passage of scripture literally (rationally). The bible is a very symbolic book as well and the iron chariots represent rational thinking. In Joshua 17:18 the people of Joseph are complaining to Joshua that they haven’t been given enough land and that they need more room. So Joshua tells them to take the hill country and clear it and they can have it. Their reply sounds like a whine to me. They say they can’t because they have iron chariots. And Joshua simply replies “You can do it”. It is their belief, which is rational, that they cannot because of the strength of those chariots. That they will be defeated. But God is not rational. He is supernatural. It is not that God cannot overcome iron chariots. It is the refusal of the people to believe in God instead of rationalizing their circumstances and declaring defeat before there is even a battle. If you look up the symbolism of iron in the bible you will see that it represents rational truth. Natural truth. Yes it is true they have the most powerful chariots on earth. But the supernatural truth is that God is bigger than those chariots. Bigger than circumstances or rationale. Jesus could do hardly any miracles in his home town due to unbelief. So in a very real sense God cannot overcome iron chariots. He would be violating free will to force someone to believe in Him or what He can do. He cannot overcome unbelief. Unless in prayer that is specifically asked for such as the man in the new testament that asked Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief. He works within the bounds of free will. If your mind is completely rational, well that really doesn’t leave any room for the irrational (unexplainable). I suppose that would leave miracles out. One would be governed and bound by the limitations of reason. God is not bound by human reasoning. Hence, His ways are higher than ours. One must learn to think like God. Not like a human. This is not rational.

    Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

    Deuteronomy 20:1 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.

    Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    …the iron chariots represent rational thinking.

    Ummmmm, OK, so you’re saying that god can’t overcome rationality? Sounds about right.

    But God is not rational.

    Agreed!

    Jesus could do hardly any miracles in his home town due to unbelief.

    He also can’t overcome disbelief. Awesome.

  • Jim Baerg

    I like this:
    http://military-power.net/images/Motivation/iron%20chariots.jpg
    A few more on a similar theme can be found by doing a Google image search on ‘iron chariots

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    God cannot overcome iron chariots. He would be violating free will to force someone to believe in Him or what He can do. He cannot overcome unbelief.

    Say what? This is no description of God that any Christian I know believes in. This is God as Tinkerbell.

    You seem to have conveniently forgotten the rather important doctrine of God being omnipotent. Whether people believe or pray has no impact at all on God’s power.

    It is truly astounding how willing people are to mutate and redefine their supposedly ultimate being in order to reach a predetermined conclusion.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The bible is a very symbolic book as well and the iron chariots represent rational thinking.

    And iron chariots, as the Bible tells us, are more powerful than God. Sounds about right. ;) (Yes, I approved this comment because that line was too hilarious to pass up.)

  • Jason Cruikshank

    I agree with Kim, that iron chariots symbolize Israel’s disbelief. Her explanation made perfect sense; however, all the comments following her statement are sarcastic and overly simplified. They don’t hold any serious counter-reasoning, so does this mean that you don’t have any well thought out replies?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Sure, Jason, it makes sense so long as you define god in such a way that it goes against what just about every Xian believes and goes against the normal omni-max traits that we are told god has. When you can warp god to fit whatever definition you find convenient at the time, then it’s much easier to argue your way into anything.

  • andrew

    The Holy Spirit enlightened you to give this answer. Praise the Lord for His wisdom!

  • Ray

    However many minutes it takes to become indoctrinated by your parents and/or community. Even the bible itself claims that the the entire world doesn’t yet know about god (which is why Jesus hasn’t returned yet) so obviously any knowledge of god isn’t ingrained in us or anything…it has to come from outside influence. (hence the need for missionaries and evangelists to spread the word)

  • Jordan Murti

    hmm…. I wonder if he could stop like… an army of TANKS or something.

  • Ladino

    OK, so you have to first believe and cooperate…now, and as for Paul on the Road to Damascus….?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X