The second phase of Yoder’s reading of the Old Testament is where his trajectory turns from many traditional readings, particularly with regard to his understanding of Israel’s wars in its pre-monarchical era. Yoder understands these wars as “Yahweh wars” – a term that distinguishes them from more recent concepts of “holy wars.” The essence of his reading here is that it is God who is leading Israel into battle and who is giving them the victory. This reading emphasizes that Israel was not a military or imperial power (and Nugent argues that they were the exact opposite), and that “Israel’s battles were not a matter of ordinary imperial expansion” (55). God was forming Israel and giving them a land in which to dwell.
Israel however, in a human pattern that by this point in the Old Testament story is becoming familiar, rebels against the gifts of God and determines that it wants its own human king, thus precipitating the third phase of Yoder’s reading. The story of Israel’s monarchical period, for Yoder, is a story of rebellion and a deviation from what God intends for the people of God. By this point we are starting to see why politics is a fundamental lens for Yoder (and why Nugent has titled the book The Politics of Yahweh). Following the work in his most-well-known book The Politics of Jesus, Yoder narrates the Old Testament in a voice whose primary tones are the people of God, how they are led, and how they exist in the world and relate to the empires that surround them. Nugent has a catchy intro to this book in which he draws the parallel between this book as a sort of prequel to The Politics of Jesus and the later trilogy of Star Wars films that serve as a prequel to the first three films. In Yoder, as in Star Wars, we need a prequel to understand the full sweep of the story. The final phase of Yoder’s reading is the period of exile after the collapse of Israel’s monarchy. This phase is important because it sets the stage for continuity with the dispersion of the church into all the world, but to take Israel’s exile as normative will certainly frustrate Zionist readings of Israelite history and raise a swarm of questions about how Israel’s history is to be read – many of which Nugent (and Yoder before him) is not afraid to tackle here.
The second part of the book is the section in which Nugent addresses a number of crucial issues that have been raised about Yoder’s reading of the Old Testament. This section is very helpful for deepening our understanding of the Old Testament story, but for the non-academic reader this part will likely prove to be the most difficult and least interesting part of the book. Most interesting to me of the issues that Nugent addresses is the question of how we are to understand King David within Yoder’s reading, since the scriptural texts often speak highly of him, and yet Yoder is deeply critical of Israel’s monarchy. I won’t recount Nugent’s reconstruction of Yoder’s answer, here, but will say that I found it particularly compelling.
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