According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Thursday, May 2, 2013

God's Justice and Compassion in the OT

The violence of God in the Old Testament is a continuing interest of mine begun but a few months ago (see sidebar on topic).... Recently another book has recently been published on this subject which I have thought to include in this study. To that is a contributing author whose OT outlook on the subject of God's judgments were published several years ago through Relevant Magazine providing the conservative, evangelical response to God's vengeance. I should like to use David Lamb's outlook as a reference point and then add to it (or retract from it) against the several views present in the book below as well as against our previous studies earlier presented here on this website.
 
Overall, it appears that God defends the weak and the oppressed against acts of injustice and ill-compassion. For those nations or people groups who do not repent of their ways God's patience runs out and He subsequently smites by plague, pestilence, and by the hand of men and angels. A comfort to any man, woman, or child, who daily lives under the horrid regimen of tyranny and unjust hardship however timely, or belated, God's judgment seems to come. To know that there is a God of the universe who is compassionate and watches over His creation gives to us comfort and hope against the thugs, bullies, and despots of this world. A God who will defend us and defeat our enemies after a period of patience and awaited repentance. If no repentance has been enjoined, and no mercy found from within a nation committed to injustice and oppression, than God's patience runs out and He measures back to that nation their crimes in full.
 
At least this is my surmise from what I have gathered through these past many months of exploring the themes of God's vengeance. However, this does not relieve us as followers of Jesus to ignore our own homeland and trade abroad... that within our own governance and lifestyles we must continually be aware of helping the poor, the homeless, the sick, the widow, the helpless and defenseless. To seek those less blessed than ourselves by sharing all that we are by works and by deed. To create social agencies committed to helping, providing, healing, and restoring as best we can those who require education, nutrition, dental/medical aide, recovery, shelter, legal, and financial services, to name just a few. In creating supportive community networks focused on extending benevolence, compassion, and advocacy for the unempowered, discriminated, overlooked, and misjudged.

As an example, in the city where I live there is an interest in creating a "farmers market" downtown where commuters and residents may come and purchase fresh foods. With this effort has arisen a tandem interest in "cleaning up" the city streets by removing the homeless from this same market area which they have called home for so many long years. Across our state another large city has been doing the same for years in their downtown area and have recently been called to account for their actions. However, rather than "sweep" the streets of the indigent and homeless, I might suggest the city double-down and renew its efforts in supporting area agencies working with the homeless to find more relevant solutions that may be more humanitarian and less discriminating.
 
As Christians we are commanded to extend God's mercy to all men - both at home and abroad. And though this small urban example seems "far from home" from the Old Testament's pages of genocidal warfare and divine judgment, it is but a reflective paradigm that is not unlike what God so long ago had encouraged Israel to observe towards her neighbors - towards both friend and foe alike. Who later, via His incarnation in the New Testament, we hear from again through Jesus, of His compassionate teachings and merciful ministries delicately balanced against His forewarnings of divine judgment and wrath. Biblical stories which in their narration continue the heart of the God who daily reaches out to our lives in love and justice, wisdom and mercy. An austere God to His enemies but a benevolent God to His obedient people.
 
R.E. Slater
May 2, 2013
 
 
 
Holy War in the Bible:
Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem
 
 
This paperback edition available from Amazon and Christianbook.com.
 
The challenge of a seemingly genocidal God who commands ruthless warfare has bewildered Bible readers for generations. The theme of divine war is not limited to the Old Testament historical books, however. It is also prevalent in the prophets and wisdom literature as well. Still it doesn’t stop. The New Testament book of Revelation, too, is full of such imagery. Our questions multiply.
  • Why does God apparently tell Joshua to wipe out whole cities, tribes or nations?
  • Is this yet another example of dogmatic religious conviction breeding violence?
  • Did these texts help inspire or justify the Crusades?
  • What impact do they have on Christian morality and just war theories today?
  • How does divine warfare fit with Christ’s call to "turn the other cheek"?
  • Why does Paul employ warfare imagery in his letters?
  • Do these texts warrant questioning the overall trustworthiness of the Bible?

These controversial yet theologically vital issues call for thorough interpretation, especially given a long history of misinterpretation and misappropriaton of these texts. This book does more, however. A range of expert contributors engage in a multidisciplinary approach that considers the issue from a variety of perspectives: biblical, ethical, philosophical and theological.
 
While the writers recognize that such a difficult and delicate topic cannot be resolved in a simplistic manner, the different threads of this book weave together a satisfying tapestry. Ultimately we find in the overarching biblical narrative a picture of divine redemption that shows the place of divine war in the salvific movement of God.
 
 
 
 
Reconciling the God of Love With the God of Genocide:
How could the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament be the same?
 
by David Lamb
Sept/Oct 2011
 
My wife, Shannon, and I were on a date recently, and we ended up chatting with our server. He finally turned to me and asked, “So, what do you do?”
 
I told him, “I teach the Bible, mainly the Old Testament.”
 
“The Old Testament—isn’t that where God smites people and destroys cities?” he asked. “Not exactly, but I get that question a lot because the God of the Old Testament has a bad reputation,” I said. Everyone loves the New Testament God. He’s the one who sends His son to die on a cross for humanity’s sin. But do Christians really love the God of the Old Testament? Perhaps no part of the Bible gives God a worse reputation than His command to utterly wipe out the Canaanite residents of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Joshua 10:40; 11:10-15). How do we reconcile a loving God with a God who seems to command genocide?
 
It’s not just atheists or agnostics who ask these types of questions, but even committed Christians wonder what God was thinking when He commanded His people to wipe out another nation. (And if we aren’t wondering, we should be.) Adolf Hitler attempted to do something similar with the Jews during WWII with his “Final Solution” and he’s in the running for the Worst Person of All Time award. So ... is God Hitler-esque?
 
Often Christians are too quick to downplay biblical problems like these and make people who ask questions feel like they’re not taken seriously or even belittled, as if it were wrong, disrespectful or irreverent to ask about God’s behavior.
 
Personally, I think the Canaanite conquest raises not only a valid question but an important one. As someone who loves the Old Testament and the God it portrays, I find the Canaanite problem deeply troubling. While I may go to my grave still struggling over this issue, there are some good arguments that can help people understand why a loving God would command the destruction of the Canaanites.
 
Two Arguments That Don't Help
 
I’ll start with two arguments that are often used to explain the Canaanite conquest but don’t help since they don’t actually address the problem. One argument may be more attractive to liberals, the other to conservatives, but neither takes the biblical text very seriously.
 
The fictional argument.
 
The Canaanite conquest as described in Joshua is fiction. If God’s behavior in the Old Testament is not consistent with the behavior of Jesus in the New Testament, then one can discount or ignore the Old Testament account. Even if the Canaanite slaughter occurred, it wasn’t commanded by God.
 
While this argument is attractive since the problematic divine mandate for genocide conveniently disappears, it establishes a dangerous precedent that many Christians (myself included) won’t be comfortable with—specifically, throwing out parts of Scripture that don’t make sense to us. (Though many Christian leaders do essentially the same thing by never teaching on troublesome texts.) If we get rid of the Canaanite conquest, why not get rid of the stories of Noah’s flood, Uzzah’s smiting or Elisha’s bear-mauling? History is full of people who attempted to edit out the uncomfortable bits of Scripture (Marcion, Thomas Jefferson), but fortunately their abridged Bibles never succeeded, and this argument doesn’t either.
 
The whirlwind argument.
 
From the whirlwind, God speaks to Job with a barrage of questions (Job 38-41), putting Job in his place for questioning God’s behavior. Who are we to question God? We can never fully understand what God is doing in the world, and the Canaanite conquest is just another mystery we cannot comprehend.
 
I call this argument the “trump card,” because it tends to end the game. While it’s an attractive card to play, and a favorite of many Christians, it won’t convince a true skeptic, and may infuriate them. Of course we can never fully understand God’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try.
 
My biggest problem with this argument is it goes against so much of what we find in Scripture. The Bible is full of people who ask questions about God’s behavior (Abraham, Moses, the psalmists). Surprisingly, at the end of the book of Job, God rebukes the three friends and affirms the speech of Job: “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:8, NIV). Apparently, God viewed Job’s questions and laments as speaking rightly, so we shouldn’t conclude that God’s speech from the whirlwind is meant to shut down this type of interaction.
 
Even Jesus on the cross questioned God’s behavior: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If Jesus can question God’s behavior, shouldn’t it be OK for us? People need to be encouraged to ask tough questions about the Bible, particularly where God does things we don’t understand, like commanding the destruction of the Canaanites.
 
Five Arguments That Do Help
 
And now for five helpful arguments that address the problem directly, explain the context accurately and take the text seriously.
 
The context argument.
 
In the context of the ancient Near East, it was not unusual for victorious nations to slaughter defeated foes, so the brutality of Canaanite conquest was not unusual. In their inscriptions, ancient rulers (Ashurnasirpal of Assyria and Mesha of Moab) even bragged about wiping out cities and killing women and children, so what seems wrong to us was normal back then. Don’t take modern presuppositions about what warfare should look like and import them into a very different ancient context.
 
While I normally find understanding the ancient context helpful in understanding a difficult passage, this argument so far doesn’t help much in understanding the conquest, since it sounds like what a teen would say to a parent: “All the other nations are committing genocide. Why can’t I(srael) do it, too?”
 
People need to be encouraged to ask tough questions about the Bible.
 
But it’s not what is similar between Israel’s conquest and that of their neighbors that is most relevant to this problem, but what is different. Unlike nations like Assyria and Moab who were expanding their borders to enrich their own kingdoms, Israel was simply trying to gain a homeland. They were refugees who had experienced hundreds of years of oppression in a foreign land; they needed a place to live and the Canaanites weren’t going to give it to them voluntarily. Since the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) had lived in Canaan previously, one could argue Israel had a legitimate right to be reestablished in the land of their ancestors. The context argument is an important one that needs to be used alongside the following four arguments.
 
The hyperbole argument.
 
The descriptions of the Canaanite slaughter are hyperbolic. The killing was probably limited as only a few texts speak of widespread destruction (Joshua 10-11), while more texts speak of numerous Canaanites still living in the land (Joshua 13:1, 13; 15:63; 17:12; Judges 1). To harmonize the texts that describe a complete slaughter with those that say many Canaanites remained in the land, one can conclude there is an element of exaggeration.
 
This argument not only takes the text seriously but also attempts to make sense of the biblical tension between a complete slaughter and a localized one. But even if the actual Canaanite slaughter wasn’t as bad as it appears in Joshua 10-11, the fact remains that God commanded it. And the fact the Israelites didn’t complete it was a problem.
 
However, even though God commanded it, the primary image used to describe the Canaanite conquest is not slaughter. While the texts that describe Israel’s violent obedience get our attention (Joshua 10:40; 11:12), the textual image used far more frequently for the conquest is “driving out” the people of the land (Exodus 23:28-31; 34:11; Numbers 32:21; 33:52-55; Deuteronomy 4:38; 7:1; 9:3-6; 11:23; 18:12; 33:27; Joshua 3:10; 14:12; 17:18; 23:5). God even tells the Israelites He’ll drive out the people of the land before they arrive, using hornets and angels (Exodus 23:28; 33:2); we can assume their numbers were reduced before the conquest battles began.
 
Although the hyperbole argument may not convince a skeptic, it’s a step in the right direction since it acknowledges other texts make a contribution to the complete picture of what happened with the Canaanite conquest, and it reminds us to not focus exclusively on the most problematic texts.
 
The punishment argument.
 
The Canaanites were being punished for wicked behavior, which included idolatry (Exodus 23:32-33; Deuteronomy 12:29- 31), child sacrifice and sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:9- 14) and unwarranted attacks on defenseless Israel (Exodus 17:8-13; Numbers 21:1, 21-26, 33-35). The Canaanites were guilty of many crimes, but it is hard not to conclude the severity of the judgment against them was due in no small part to a lack of hospitality and an abundance of hostility.
 
The strength of this familiar argument is that it receives a lot of support from Scripture. You might reasonably ask, “Isn’t it harsh and even ironic to violently wipe out an entire nation for being too violent?” Perhaps, but elsewhere in the Old Testament God punished evil nations with death and exile (Amos 1:5, 15; 5:5; Jeremiah 48:7). God even sent His own people, first Israel and then Judah, into exile for their evil behavior (2 Kings 17; 24-25).
 
While we may not be comfortable with the severity of the punishment, part of our problem with the conquest narratives comes from our discomfort with judgment more generally. But since punishment is found throughout Scripture, we need to continue to work to understand it and see how it fits in with God’s mission to bless the nations, which is directly related to the final two arguments explaining the Canaanite slaughter.
 
The slow-to-anger argument.
 
God was slow to anger with the Canaanites since He waited literally hundreds of years before punishing them. While establishing the covenant with him, God informs Abraham that his descendants will be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years and that judgment will come upon the idolatrous people who live in Canaan (Genesis 15:12-21).
 
What was God doing while He waited? This text doesn’t make it clear, but God is often described elsewhere as being “slow to anger.” God Himself says He has “no pleasure in the death of anyone” and He wants people to repent and live (Ezekiel 18:32). So during this extended period of waiting, besides creating a people He would call His own, He was giving the Canaanites a long time to repent, and God’s own people paid the price for God’s delay. Because God is slow to anger, His people were not only homeless but also slaves and victims of oppression for centuries. I find this argument shockingly compelling, since it speaks both of God’s willingness to allow His people to suffer for others, and His desire to be merciful to sinners, a trait we see even more clearly in the final argument. The remnant argument. From among the Canaanites, a righteous remnant was saved. Every person or nation who showed hospitality to Israel was delivered: Rahab and her entire family (Joshua 6:22, 25); the Gibeonites (Joshua 9); a man from Bethel (Judges 1:24-25); the Kenites (1 Samuel 15:6).
 
I find this argument the most helpful. In some ways it’s the story of Scripture—even though we all deserve death, God shows mercy. The fact these people are shown grace supports the slow- to-anger argument because it provides further evidence God wanted to give the Canaanites opportunities to repent. God didn’t hate the Canaanites, but He hated their crimes, and He showed mercy to Canaanites who welcomed foreigners. God repeatedly commanded His own people to practice hospitality toward foreigners.
 
In each of these situations there are extenuating circumstances that could make it difficult to discern God’s attitude toward the deliverance (e.g., Rahab was a prostitute, the Gibeonites used deception). God’s voice may be absent as an initiator of these rescues, but He never condemns these acts of mercy toward Canaanites, and the New Testament’s perspective on Rahab is highly positive. This Canaanite prostitute is praised for her faith and hospitality and is given a place of high honor at the very beginning of the New Testament in the genealogy of Jesus.
 
Three Words of Advice.
 
If you’re looking for an argument that “solves” the problem of the Canaanite conquest, keep looking. No article can provide that. But hopefully, this has illustrated why some arguments are helpful and others aren’t.
 
Three final words of advice. First, keep asking questions about the text. But as you do, keep going back to God’s word. The process will deepen your relationship with God. Second, discuss these problems with your friends. We all have a lot to learn from others, and we all desire the depth of friendship that comes from talking about things that matter. Third, remember the mercy shown to a Canaanite woman more than 1,000 years before God’s ultimate act of love—sending Rahab’s descendant, Jesus, to the cross for the sins of the whole world.
 
 
 

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