Thursday, September 9, 2010

Answer to an Age Old Question About the Violent Old Testament

For centuries, those wishing to dismiss the Holy Scriptures as unholy and insignificant, have approached faith and belief with what they believe are 'unanswerable' questions, and they can fell even the best Bible student. Most often though, their questions are slightly skewed, and taking a hint from the serpent in the Garden, they misquote scripture and misrepresent what really occurred or what God said.

In the Bible Study Blog:, we have recently looked at some standard objections which friendly or not-so-friendly heathen raise in attempts to undue faith. The particular question today though, I chose to answer in '' because it deals at least in part with the wars in the Old Testament.

The question, often found among skeptics and on college campuses, goes something like this: OK well if the Bible is so good then why in the Old Testament are there so many wars, and slavery where it says to kill everybody but keep the female children: is that supposed to be good? Did Jesus say he fulfilled the Law? If he did....

Getting a Few Things Straight

1. There is a difference in the Old and New Testament between what God condones and what is merely DESCRIBED. The bloody and bloodless wars of Israel are sometimes ordered by God and sometimes occur.

2. If one notices in the wars of Israel in which the Children of Israel leave Goshen in Egypt, and march back home to Canaan, they are leaving under a God ordained and anointed Leader, Moses [Moshe] and the are going to Canaan in OBEDIENCE to God. Except by command, they are not imperialistic in the traditional sense:

a. The Land is the birthright established by Abraham, and ordained by God: they technically still own it.

b. While in Goshen, it has been overrun by violent brutal people, who have made it a grotesque slaughterhouse. Sodomy and rape are rampant, and the 'ites' [Perrezites, Amorites, Ammonites, Raphaites, etc] are known for wanton beheadings and mutilation, and even acts of cannibalism, and infant sacrifice.

c. When Israel confronts the encampments and cities which have overrun their original land, most often, if allowed to pass, they take up no arms at all against the people. The fear of a nation of a million and a half marching back to their land after the deliverance from Pharaoh and the Red Sea, and word of their victories in the necessary battles for their safety, often self-defense, causes many to let them pass. An example is when the prophet Balaam is called by Balak to curse Israel, willing to pay and honor him for the curse, and instead, Balaam can only praise and exalt Israel. In the meantime, Israel in the desert is described as a crouching lion:

Num 23:7 And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, [saying], Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.

Num 23:8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, [whom] the LORD hath not defied?

Num 23:9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.

Num 23:10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth [part] of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!

Num 23:11 And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed [them] altogether.

] Num 23:12 And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?

and the blessing shows the way the cities viewed Israel:

Num 23:21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God [is] with him, and the shout of a king [is] among them.

Num 23:22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Num 23:23 Surely [there is] no enchantment against Jacob, neither [is there] any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!

Num 23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat [of] the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

Num 23:25 And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.

Num 23:26 But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?

Note that Balak, the King of Moab, doesn't LIKE what Balaam declares but also doesn't doubt it: they look out on the million in the desert, and understand that God's favor is with them, and that they could easily take the 'thousands' of Moab, and that no appeal to idols is of any avail. Israel is on the march, but en route, they mostly do not trouble those who did not oppose or threaten them.

3. Of the wars that Israel fought, a few really were bloodbaths. Many though, were fought or averted by the wisdom and intervention of God. For example:

Benhadad beseiges Samaria, and a horrible famine threatens the destruction of the city. Syria is encamped in the desert, but Elisha is caused, and the enemy is caused to flee by some unreasoned fear:

2Ki 7:5 And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, [there was] no man there. 2Ki 7:6 For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, [even] the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.

Another time, there is a crimson glint on the water in the morning which causes a formidable enemy to be taken, but in defense:

2Ki 3:20 And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.

2Ki 3:21 And when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered all that were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood in the border.

2Ki 3:22And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water on the other side [as] red as blood: 2Ki 3:23 And they said, This [is] blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.

Now in this and other wars, there is bloodshed, and sometimes a lot (the bloodiest battle was a civil war in Israel between the tribe of Benjamin and the other 11 tribes) but one hardly faults any nation in self defense or even God's direction. Gideon and his band of 300 ready warriors, takes 30,000 Midianites which threaten Israel with the slaughter of their women and little ones, not by a great confrontation,but by the notable prophetic 'cleverness' so entrenched in Israeli history: as directed, the men surround the valley where the Midianites encamp, and shout, break a vessel with a light in it, and terrify the Midianites into flight: Israel then pursues.

In some modern liberal thinking, which in one sense is right, and in another is naive, there is the notion that on earth God never wants nor involves himself in war. God is a God of peace, his very name on one account is Jehovah-Shalom or Yahweh-Shalom, and Jesus is called "Sar Shalom", Prince of Peace. Why then would God direct war?

War, is of course in essence, not right and not of God. That has always been the case: from the 7th day when God rested, His peace and rest were clearly declared. By the time though that war rose against Israel, war was in the world, not by God, but by men, and often by brutal men.

Judaism, or Christianity, or better, belief and true faith in "The One who Is" [Iam] begins in and in departing from Eden: faith is the issue in the promised of Genesis 3:16, the one who will 'crush the head of the serpent', or in the troubling of Abel by Cain, the first mentioned murderer who murders not over boundaries but over jealousy. Man and the curse of the Fall, bring in war and murder, not God.

Why then would God command war? In a dissensioned world, there is only one way back to God: faith and covenant. If one were directing a parade from a perch above, and when all in the parade listened to instructions, then the parade takes place in an ordered fashion. Such was the world in obedience to God. However, if one or a few started trying to lead from the street, lying about the director, causing all to go their own way, chaos would soon break out in warring factions, in crazy marches , music out of time and step, and cacaphony and confusion. The only hope would be to try and hear what the real director was saying, and get 'back in step' with the way it was supposed to go from the beginning. If a tuba player started running through the crowd wielding an axe or machete, or even a weapon that would kill many, would it be wrong for the Director to communicate defense against that one or group who were causing the ruin of the way and every one in it? It would be far more wrong to stop directing traffic. If in perfection, everyone would listen to our leader, God, then all 'parades' would go smoothly, but we can all attest few listen to God or even seek him anymore.

By the time Israel encountered war (the first is the war of the five kings who take Lot captive and Abraham fights to free him), Abraham, a man of peace, who came to Moreh and Shechem onthe plains of Mamre in peace, takes up arms and so do his servants, and yet we call him the father of Faith. In a perfect world, and as often as possible in an imperfect world, war is to be avoided. Some have the faith and strength to do that, even to the loss of their own lives.

A greater issue was at stake though, in the wars of Israel: the Chosen people, were created as the 'head' of nations and people on earth: they bear God's glory, they bear God's Word as his oracle, they bear his Messiah, etc, and the line of the Vine had to be protected, so that many, both Jew and Gentile could be saved, and in the end, so that communion with God, Paradise and the New Jerusalem could come to fruition, and all made right.

If Israel as a nation had disappeared to slaughter in those years, there would have been no Messiah, no Word, and no Healing of the world and peoples: the brutal nations who wrongfully inhabited the plains, had already made life unlivable for all, and the one healing vine possible was Israel back in the land, from whom Messiah would come to apply the blood covenant necessary to bring the whole thing back into health: the 'stick' in the bitter waters of Marah.

Judaeo-Christian belief is truly not a violent path or belief: atheists and agnostics always love to point to the crusade or inquisition as evidence of Christian violence, but those endeavors were a product of the 'Holy Roman Empire' and its perversion of the true church. This is no empty defense: religion is not 'relationship'. Religious wars come from the heart of man not from the heart of God. The reason we rush to 'slaughter unbelief' is a carnal one, from an 'evil heart of concupiscence' and not from the direction of God. The wars in the Old Testament which were bloody wars, and directed of God, were not showing God's violent nature, but his sorrowful knowledge of the only way of preserving His Way in the World, so that eventually things could be healed. When they sought him and listened through the word and the prophets, they often won with lesser or no bloodshed.

If God had said to Israel, 'my ways are always peace', or 'lay down your weapons and let them slaughter you': the world would probably have ceased before now. In WWII, when so few listened or sought Him, and the slaughter of the Chosen was great on the doorstep of Israel being returned, we almost lost the whole world. The Love of God, the Tender mercies of God, as C.S. Lewis once noted, at times are severe. Only God can use the dispensation of 'means to an end' logic, because He knows the future. Only God can direct the taking of life without punishment: it is because He is the Creator. The 'violent' Old Testament seems so only if we fail to remember the violence posed against them by Rome in the first century or after: Rome was never held as the plumbline for faith, but is portrayed as a whore on a scarlet beast in the end, drunk with the blood of martyrs.

In Heaven , in the New Jerusalem, under the perfect reign of God, which starts with belief, wars cease.