Thursday, August 24, 2017

God and Violence (1)

Discussions about God and violence are becoming quite common. Many writers are reacting to the violent portrayal of God in the Old Testament and rejecting it because it does not fit with the picture of God that Jesus gave on the cross.

Types of Violence
Before rushing to judgement, we need to distinguish between at least four types of violence that are contained in the Old Testament:
  1. Prophetic warnings of what would happen, if the Israelites rejected God and lost his spiritual and physical protection. It would be very ugly because the spiritual powers are evil and would do terrible things to God’s people. An example is Deuteronomy 28:54-55.

    Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities.
    During a siege of their city, some men would eat the flesh of their own children and refuse to share it. It was a warning of what would happen if they rejected God and lost his protection. This was not God’s will.

  2. Poetic expressions used to make a point. Numbers 23:24 is an example.

    The people rise like a lioness;
    they rouse themselves like a lion
    that does not rest till it devours its prey
    and drinks the blood of its victims.
    Balaam prophesied that Israel would be like a lion. He was not saying that God wanted Israel to drink the blood of its enemies.

  3. Descriptions of how Israel behaved. Israel engaged in some terrible violence, which is recorded in the Old Testament for the sake of the history, but was not God’s will. For example, Jacob’s sons played a trick on the Shechemites and slaughtered them when they had just been circumcised (Genesis 34). This was not God’s will, but human cunning. There are many other situations in the Old Testament, where the Israelites did evil, which was contrary to God’s will. He is not responsible for this violence.

  4. God’s commands and actions. This is the only violence that we should be concerned about. God commanding or doing violence could be a problem.

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