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September 27, 2008

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Der Wolfanwalt

These are interesting thoughts. The entry and establishment of Israel in the Promised Land is the part of the Old Testament that I still have fundamental problems processing. I've yet to find an explanation that truly justifies the episodic genocide chronicled there, and I just thank God I don't know any smart atheists who would try to argue from this part of Scripture.

Prayer and humility as always, eh?

J.R. Stoodley

I think the big distinction that has to be made to distinguish this from a simple mercy vs. justice problem is that innocent people like children were killed in these episodes too, from Noah's flood to Sodom and Gamorrah to the Israelite's wars. The war part is the worst because God actually pretty much tells people to kill everyone.

There's a few things that would come to mind for me about it all.

First, God is the giver of life so he can take it away at any time he wants. Also death wasn't part of the "original" plan for humanity, so it's always tragic in a sense. It's probably more our short-sighted perception than reality that causes us to see death at age 9 as so much more tragic than at age 90.

Second, intentional, direct killing innocents is, for humans, a violation of the natural law. Since God, the author of human nature and pure goodness, would never order someone to violate the natural law there are only two alternatives I can think of. Either God's orders to the Israelites were misinterpreted and they were not in fact supposed to kill innocents, or God somehow changed or suspended natural law in that case. In either case our own consciences recoil at the idea because for us it would be horribly immoral to do something like that.

There is probably precedent in the Bible for events being reported without it being clear whether it was good or not. For example the suicide of Saul, or even more clearly the suicide of that guy in 2 Maccabees which could easily be intpreted as approving of the guy but would be viewed by Christians as a sad example of foolishness, cowardace, pride, and perhaps presumption.

Third, as you say, society was different back then. It was a more bruital culture. God tends to reveal Himself, whether in our own lives or through the course of history, in a gradual, progressive sort of way. God met these people where they were so to speak and only over the centuries molded them into a people who were (sort of) ready to receive the Gospel. So maybe it's not so surprising that these sorts of things still happened in the early part of their history.

And fourth, the Bible isn't supposed to be an easy book. Yes, on one level its message is simple, but it also provides ample material to ponder and struggle with for our whole lives, and for the whole life of the Church Militant. Sometimes we'll find answers to our struggles with its message, sometimes we won't. In either case the struggle itself will be worth having.

Paul S.

It's an interesting thing that it is because we are a changed people, even those who reject the Gospel.

Stoodley's fourth remark has typically been my way of dealing with the way God acts throughout the Old Testament.

That there is something in the very fact, divorced from extended meanings, of God's unremitting way in dealing with the people down through the chapters of history which doesn't only tell us about proportion, and how we are to relate to God, but that it is something of an exterior metaphor of the violence we are meant to do to ourselves interiorly by way of repentance. Or which we are free to do to ourselves and which God will find nothing but pleasing.

That may sound masochistic, but it's not. There is something about all that disruptive violence of God that strangely frees us in our interior ability to renounce and repent and make up our minds that something is evil and to be shunned. It is this "struggle" that gives us a "pre-understanding" or a "pre-position" before embarking on this subject we call the existence of God. And the "pre-position" is this: that we should not assume a pre-position. God wants us free.

It's like a scenario in which a person was on the verge of a most profound and enlightening thought, when just before the thought was about to resolve and become pronouncable and complete, God comes along and causes a huge thunderclap or some such thing that is so disruptive and yet so irresistable (since it comes from "I Who Am"), and which God keeps reintroducing into that person's life as a continued disruption, so that the person throughout his entire lifetime never gets around to completing that thought he was about to have. Yet at the end, the never-completed profound thought has become like a jewel. Utterly preserved and immortal.

There is a mercy in it, that God keeps up this dramatic disruption throughout, and also in giving those almost insanely detailed orders in Leviticus how one is to go about doing their sacrifice. Why all that detail? What could it matter to God? It's all about God becoming bound up in our lives, in our ways and customs.

I think it is very safe to say that God commanding the killing of children is Him arriving at where the people were, and using their broken, fallen nature to carry out His will.

There's something in the shocking fact of God commanding it that pierces through the abomination of it, and while the abomination and repulsiveness is still there, the sinful act turns into a forerunner of what sin becomes when Christ dies on the cross: death is killed with death. While still a repugnant sin, it loses its authoritive power.

Sorry for the long comment. You got me thinking.

Del

Hello Friends,

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Timothy Gray teach on this topic last weekend, at a Great Adventure Bible Study seminar.

A amazing point: It was not God who commanded the genocide. It was Moses.

God promised that He would drive the Canaanites before Him, like men fleeing from hornets. (I apologize; I did not write down the Scripture reference. It is in Exodus.) But the Israelites did not trust in God, and the policy of genocide was applied by Moses and executed by Joshua.

We see this happen several times; God's perfect plan is not applied justly by the Jews of Exodus. A familiar example: Jesus asked the Pharisees about Moses' decree concerning divorce. The Pharisees answer that Moses allowed for divorce after due process -- Jesus answered that Moses had capitulated to the stubborness of the people! From the beginning, God's perfect law did NOT permit divorce.

I found myself reflecting often on Tim J.'s post, as I listened to Dr. Gray's timeline of salvation history. God's formation of His People, and our repeated and childish disobedience.

Sleeping Beastly

Del,
That's a very interesting take. I shall have to re-read those OT passages now with that thought in mind.

Del

Me too! I'm just passing the lesson along.

IN A NUTSHELL: The historical books are 'sacred scripture' - but they don't always reflect God's will. Sometimes, the story reflects man's imperfect compliance with God's will.

And Scripture leaves it to the reader to see the difference.

Another example: Deuteronomy talks about how the King will behave, in the time when Israel will have a king. The king should not collect gold or silver, or huge herds of animals, or wives.

But when you read the Books of Kings, you find long lists of Solomon's hoardings and wives and concubines. If you read Kings alone, you might think that God had blest Solomon with great prosperity. But the ancient rabbis understood that this was a list of Solomon's sins. And the dividing of the kingdom after Solomon was a just punishment.

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