Here’s an article I wrote for Wineskins Magazine called What’s Right With the Church? I pray it blesses you!
Read it here
Here’s an article I wrote for Wineskins Magazine called What’s Right With the Church? I pray it blesses you!
Read it here
We’ve seen a lot as we’ve moved from Eden and Shalom. The perfection and harmony of Creation were immutably flawless – at least until our ancestors decided they’d make better gods. The great thing is this: God cannot be stopped. We seem to be stuck in a tractor beam that pulls us towards violence as a civilization. How do we connect God and Militarism?
In the narrative of Scripture, God paves the way for Messiah immediately after the Fall (c.f. Gen. 3:16). What I hope you’ve seen is the incredible love of God. He loves us, warts and all. He can take the messes we’ve made and redeem them. From the smoldering ashes of Eden, God began walking us back to Shalom. Even today, as we continue to wade through a never-ending sea of war, God is working to move us back to Him. Jesus showed us the way.
God is clear with His people, both in the Old Testament, and its continuing story in the New Testament, that He values two things above anything else. What are they?
Jesus says that the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi’im) are summarized in those two commands. Through the Law of Moses God begins to set an ideal ethic. Through Jesus, He models it and completes the teaching.
There are lots of things we could point to in the Old Covenant that God wasn’t a fan of. In the sweeping narrative of Scripture, however, God takes people where they are and moves them towards where they ought to be.
Israel, then, is put into a system that improves, morally, the norms of the cultures around them. If we look at Israel’s use of force and violence in comparison with the nations around them, we see that they had a ridiculous policy of warfare. Perhaps the most striking way that God moves them away from the ethos of surrounding cultures, is how God views militarism.
Even when God allows for the use of war, God has a different approach. Israel might have used force, but it was, as Sprinkle notes, “blunt and short” compared to the neighboring countries. In fact, most of the time the sword was kept in storage.
Militarism is a belief that a government or group should maintain a strong military and be prepared to aggressively use it to promote/protect national interests. The surrounding nations in Israel’s time believed in militarism.
Their economic systems reflected it in their policies. High taxation was the norm. That was the cost of being the best. They believed that homeland security was achieved through a strong military. The military was charged with protecting the king or ruler of those nations. Outside attacks were repelled, and inside revolts crushed, and the existence of a monarchical, or king-centered society depended on the strength of the nation’s army. Having a king meant having a warrior who wielded the sword with absolute military control.
Israel’s Strange Military Doctrine
Israel is different. God is their king who owns everything (Lev. 25:23), and He is their army. God does not need protecting or defending of His land – He does it Himself. Later in Israel’s history, the nation is condemned for wanting a king who will “fight its battles” like the other countries had (1 Sam. 8:20).
God even sets in place a divergent economic policy that guarantees Israel cannot support a professional army. God wires a different perspective into the economy of Israel. No taxes could be collected in support of a military – and instead, God commands it all be given to the poor (c.f. Deut. 14:29). When Israel does get a king, God does not allow him to have the means to support an army (c.f. Deut. 17:14-20). It’s fascinating that Israel’s economy is set up in a manner that makes it impossible to support a standing army without violating the whole system itself.
Truthfully, to say Israel had an army would be an overstatement. The Minutemen of the American Revolution would be a more apt counterpart than a developed military. It was a group of people who came together, without a lot of skills and weapons, to show off God’s power and sufficiency.
Why, then, does God want to drive the Canaanites out? I think it was God being critical of the system. Canaan was held together by a militaristic king who fights for (or against) the people. The nations surrounding Israel trust in their king and his army to be their protector, but Israel is commanded to have faith in God. All other forms of “homeland security” – professional militaries, superior firepower, and alliances with other countries – are considered idolatry by God (see Ezek. 16:26-29; 23:6-7, 12; 14-15).
The question for us to ponder is this: What does Israel’s warfare policy have to teach us today?
In the next several posts we’ll dissect this further and look at how it contextually connects to the ministry of Jesus, and to us as well! As always, I welcome your thoughts!
I promise I’m not slacking. The next post is rather in-depth, so its taking me a bit longer.
Do God’s people need an executioner? The question seems strange, right? Let me explain. Many argue that with such violence in the Law of Moses it is impossible to escape. Let’s look at the L
When I first converted to Christianity, reconciling Jesus and the Old Testament were hard. It seemed that hiring an executioner was a divine mandate. I certainly wasn’t the first to struggle with this. However, I think this are of Scripture needs a renewed study in our day.
As Westerners, we often approach Bible study from a facts and information standpoint. Here’s what I mean: Learn the facts, gather information, put it into an equation. Me+Jesus=Saved. Approaching God’s Word with that type of hermeneutic can be easy. How? I read what it says and I do it. I don’t take into consideration customs, authorship, history, and cultural context. This is the literalist approach.
In my last post I referred to the “ideal” and the “real.” If we’re going to read and understand God’s word, we’ve got to have proper context. Context is always king in bible study (and everything else you do). Taking a literalist approach in the area on the sensitive issue of non-violence, which I believe the Bible teaches, doesn’t work. There are too many variables.
The skeptic will look for proof that God is a violent, genocidal, homicidal, self-aggrandizing malevolent deity. Richard Dawkins has quite the paragraph in his work, The God Delusion. There are plenty of verses we could cherry-pick to make that seem accurate. The skeptic seeks to destroy God’s credibility and render Jesus’ teachings either contradictory, or irrelevant in light of the God of the Old Testament.
I believe this: not everything in the Law was meant to express God’s supreme ethic. What I mean is that He didn’t set many things in place for everyone and for all time.
It is my conclusion, at least right now, that the Law was given to Israel to meet them in the culture they were immersed in (real), and point them toward God’s Shalom (ideal). There’s a lot of pieces of Law in Exodus through Deuteronomy that were not God’s ideal moral standard. Does that make God a liar? Absolutely not! The Law points Israel back to Shalom, and that wouldn’t be fully revealed until Jesus Christ.
Sincere people of faith tend to approach the issue at hand in the same way, albeit for different reasons. In our modern-age of terrorism and endless wars this has only increased. Is God like Allah? Are Christians allowed to be like that? What role does non-violence have in a violent world? Again, cherry-pick handfuls of verses, and it seems the matter is settled. God is fine with that, right? What about the Death Penalty? Let’s look at the source material to see where those ideas are found, and what God says. Back to the “real” vs. “ideal.”
I believe that the Law of Moses was designed as a guide for a particular nation of particular people at a particular time. It takes into account the culture in which they found themselves, and as a moral code, as Sprinkle writes, “both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of surrounding nations” (Sprinkle, Fight, pg. 47). Paul tells us that the Law was a guide when he writes:
“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”Galatians 2:23-25, NIV
That the Law makes room for the moral norms of other people groups of the ancient Middle-East, it doesn’t absorb those norms. Things like divorce, slavery and polygamy all existed in the nations around Israel. When God creates the promised nation from the promised people that He promised Abraham (Gen. 12), he does so by taking them where they were (culturally) and begins moving them back to His ideal (Shalom).
For Israel to even exist, they had to take part in moral structures of other nations while at the same time, as Sprinkle notes, “critiquing” them. Heres what that means:
The Law of Moses did not make illegal every less-than-desirable cultural practice; instead, it took the cultural practice as it stood, and improved on it.
We can’t forget that God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12) set up the systemic shift of society for Israel. Beginning in Exodus 19, God gives the Law to Israel. Now they are a nation. Now they have a civil system.
Crime is defined and punishments are prescribed. God’s legal system sets up judges to settle disputes and give sentencing. What about the death penalty? It’s there. It mostly centers around murder, but there are other places where the death penalty is given as an option:
Taking all that in we know of sixteen places where God allows the death penalty to be used on the offender. What you might not know is that in fifteen of the sixteen occurrences, God allows fines to be levied instead of execution.
Crimes like theft/vandalism/property damage receive less strict fines than other cultures in the area. In other cultures and countries of the time, you would get limbs removed for stealing. God never once sanctions mutilation as a punishment.
Is capital punishment allowed in the Old Testament? Yes. Was it used frequently? We don’t know. The Scriptures only allude to it being carried out a few times. What we can know is that reading supposed violence into the Law of Moses is a misnomer. Context always wins in Bible study. Here’s a better way to read what it really says:
The perceived strictness of the Law of Moses has to be understood in context. We must view it among the contexts of other ancient cultures around the same time.
It’s my belief, and I could be wrong, that God is improving the system the people who make up the fledgling nation of Israel grew up in. He begins where they are, and incrementally begins moving them back to the Shalom of Eden. Violence in the Law certainly exists – but not in the villainized forms so often foisted upon it.
So what about the military conquest of the Promised Land? That’s where we’re heading next. See you then!
A brief break in the series I’m doing, for another thought. 7 ways to truly live in the dash.
A few months ago, as I had finished a particularly difficult funeral i noticed something that I hadn’t really paid much attention to. On every grave marker there is a birth year and a death year, but in between the dates is a dash. I know, its obvious, right, but don’t miss the dash. The dash in between birth and death is where life happened. In the dash is everything we as human beings will ever experience on this earth. In the dash is where everything good, bad, or mundane goes down. The dash is worth all the marbles. So here’s 7 ways to truly live in the dash:
1) Don’t Waste Time on “Stuff”
Life is way too short to be consumed by your ego, your stuff, or your status. Here’s the thing – death is the great equalizer…it levels the playing field. Last time I checked the mortality rate of human beings was still at 100%. Solomon writes by the Holy Spirit:
“This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.” ( Ecc. 9:3, NIV)
Why sit waste this amazing moment you have on yourself. At the end of it all it won’t matter how many times you were published, what letters come behind your name, how much bling you had, or how stacked your portfolio was. At the end of the day, without purpose, it’s all meaningless. At the end of it all, a life lived apart from God is meaningless. So don’t waste time on stuff.
2) Learn to Accept Criticism
This one is hard. No on likes to be told their wrong. However, criticism, when constructive, can literally change your life. Proverbs 27:6 says,
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”
Ask three questions when you feel you’re being criticized, “Where is the truth in this? Is there any truth in this? How can I adjust my life for the better as a result of this?
Remember, not everyone is out to get you. Sometimes, believe it or not, people are actually trying to help you avoid mistakes they’ve made and traps they might have fallen into. Always be ready to grow through constructive criticism.
3) Love Unconditionally
OK, we all like to say we love everybody but here’s the kicker – we usually love people who love us first or in return. True love is a verb, not a noun. It’s action oriented. It refuses to sit on the sidelines and watch. It’s active, it’s real, it’s present, and it shows up. Want a challenge in love? Try what Jesus said:
“27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36, NIV)
That’s love. It’s not some hippy, mushy, Nicolas Sparks garbage. Love shows up even when you don’t feel like it. Love is given to those who don’t deserve it. Love is bestowed upon the haters. Love your enemies. No qualifiers. No strings attached. Just love.
4) Get Rid of the Ego
Like I said above, at the end of it all, you’re not going to care what you had, what you accumulated, how many times you had sex, or that you can memorize “Pi.” Life is too short to waste it on yourself. Confidence is fine, but remember, pride and arrogance is obnoxious and nobody likes a narcissist. Whatever you do, check your ego at the door and realize that life is bigger than you’ll ever be. If you waste it on yourself, then you’ve already received your reward. The world will continue to spin after you die. It’s not about you.
5) Pass the Torch
Each one of us accumulated a certain amount of knowledge through experiences, hurts, and triumphs. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t pass it on to the next generation, it didn’t really do a lot of good, did it? Find someone to invest yourself in. Mentor them. Share your experiences. Help them create new ones minus your mistakes! What an incredible thing it is to pour out your life into someone else. Pass the torch. You can’t take it with you and you’ll be forced to pass it any way. Bow out gracefully when your influence and vigor fade, but always play the background by investing in someone else.
6) Live Life on Purpose
God created you in His image. You’re unique and have a special place over any other species or thing in all of the universe. God created you to glorify Him with your life. Don’t waste it, because one day you will give an account for every word you’ve uttered, and every action you’ve taken (Matthew 12:35-37). Get to Jesus, whatever that takes, get to Jesus. He’s the only one who has ever gotten out of the cemetery alive. That’s your purpose and until you find it in Him, you’re going to wander around always looking for that “thing” or that next big “high” or achievement. At the end of it all, when you build your life on what you’ve done…the whole house of cards will collapse and you’ll realize you had nothing. Live for the reason your were created.
7) Speak Life
Words are the most powerful weapon ever engineered. They can build up or tear down. They create or destroy. They give life or bring death. Use your words for good. Stand up for those who can’t stand up from themselves. Be a voice for the voiceless. Speak life to the dying. Speak hope to the forgotten. Use your words for good, not evil. Bless, don’t curse.
There are my 7 ways to truly live in the dash. I’m sure there are many, many more ways. What would you add?
In the Patriarchs of Israel, we see God’s plan to bring Shalom taking shape. They pursue peace. However, humans continue in their campaign of killing peace in the Old Testament. Two texts peppered in the stories of the Patriarchs that give us problems. Genesis chapters nine and fourteen. I, and others, have used these two texts as a blank check of violence. Let’s dig a bit, shall we?
Proponents use Genesis 9:5-6 in an attempt at killing peace. It says:
“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God
has God made mankind.” – Genesis 5:5-6, NIV
Is this a proverb or a command?
Reading through the text seems to give God’s people carte blanche the use of violence. This text is cited by many as God’s institution of capital punishment. It certainly seems that way. However, let’s take a different angle here. This verse isn’t focused on the death penalty. Instead, the text elevates the value of life and condemns murder with death.
There are some textual problems. Is God making this a general principle or an absolute command? If it is an absolute command, then we’re forced to say that God is inconsistent. He doesn’t punish Cain, Moses, or David when they commit murder – at least not with the death penalty. Let’s ask two questions:
Does this text institute the death penalty?
The Hebrew isn’t as clear as many will imply. Luther wrote, “This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God.” Luther connects the text to Romans 13, as many others do. We’ll discuss that text in another post.
While I certainly understand the conclusion Luther comes to, there is a giant hole. God warns his people to not set themselves under an earthly kingship/government (c.f. 1 Sam. 8). That is Luther’s “temporal powers.” At this point, at least, we see that God is the power, and no temporal power is exercised over the Hebrews. Luther’s conclusion is an attempt of killing peace.
Don’t skip over Genesis 9:6:
“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” – Genesis 9:6, NIV
The point of God’s statement is His overwhelming condemnation for murder. Why? Because Humans are the only beings in Creation made in God’s image and likeness. He forbids image-bearer murdering image-bearer.
I would allow these questions to caution us against using Genesis 9:5-6 as a proof-text to show that God wants every society and government for all time to institute the death penalty.
Preston Sprinkle rightly concludes, “In any case, know that God will later institute the death penalty in the Law of Moses, so Genesis 9:6 probably anticipates the law. But let us not ignore the plain meaning in this verse: God fiercely condemns murder, because all people are made in His image.”
Perhaps you see my case as busted, but let’s look at another text in Genesis 14. My exceedingly summary is this: some kings kidnap Lot. Abraham goes to get him back.
The text says:
“When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit…” – Genesis 14:14, NIV
Verse 15 tells us “During the night” Abraham attacks. I’d imagine that violence was used, but the text doesn’t necessarily say that. However, what I don’t want you to miss is that Genesis 14 doesn’t say God commanded, nor sanctioned Abraham to do this. The text simply informs us what happened and doesn’t comment on whether Abraham was right or wrong in his action.
Ancient literature often tells what happens in a person’s life but doesn’t voice whether it was morally acceptable or not. The Old Testament isn’t exempt from this narrative-style history. Scripture comments on many individuals and their behavior, but it doesn’t urge us to copy their actions.
Returning to whether Genesis 9:5-6 and 14:14-15 are prescribed commands or described events, or what I’ll call in later posts the “ideal” and the “real.” Abraham attacked the kings to spring Lot out of captivity (the real) but that doesn’t infer we should do the same (the ideal).
I would conclude that these two texts do not clearly ratify violence, nor do they celebrate it. Just because a narrative element in Scripture reports on it, doesn’t mean it’s binding it as a command on every human for all time. Humanity is not applauded for killing peace. In fact, we are strongly condemned to kill another image-bearer.
Next time we’ll look to more than just a couple verses. We’re going to look at several facets of the Law of Moses. We’re going to wrestle with some often-cited texts to see what God has to say about it all. Will God sanction divine violence? Will we see him killing peace? See you next time!
If you didn’t catch my last post on peace and violence, check it out here to catch up. The TL; DR of that post? God shows derision for violence among humanity. He shows grace to a Cain, despite grounds for “just” punishment. He floods the world to punish violence. God reminds and guide the world back to His shalom. God pursues peace.
The next stop on this crazy ride? The Patriarchs. What about them? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; didn’t they do crazy things? Yes. However, God uses broken humans to accomplish His restoration project. Let’s check them out.
God makes a covenant with Abraham. He promises great blessing to this guy and all his future generations. Here’s what God says:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3, NIV)
This guy will be special. He remains a constant fixture throughout the rest of the Bible. He’s the start of this wild plan.
What does Abraham’s story record about violence? We find Abraham becoming wealthy, so he and his nephew, Lot, have to part ways. One pasture couldn’t sustain both men’s flocks. Abraham has lots of silver, gold, and livestock. When the workers realize it, they argue (Gen. 13:7) about land rights.
Abraham exercises wisdom here. Don’t miss it. Look at Genesis 13:8:
” So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.'”
Let’s be honest. Abraham could have taken the land and Lot’s stuff by force. Instead, Abraham gives Lot first choice. Peace takes precedent. It establishes patriarchal peace.
There’s an episode in Isaac’s story with a guy named Abimelech. Abimelech is the king of the Philistines. Isaac gives up what is his property to Abimelech. Why? So that there will be peace instead of violence (cf. Gen. 26:1-33).
The text points out that Isaac is much stronger in wealth and fighting power than Abimelech. Abimelech even says, “you are much mightier than we” (Gen. 26:16). If this turned to battle, over Isaac’s wells, Isaac would crush Abimelech. Isaac gives up what is his to pursue peace instead – even if it means being cheated out of his own property. Jesus will show us that peace often means taking a loss. Patriarchal peace takes root.
First off, Laban is a jerk (Gen. 29-31). Jacob could have gotten rowdy and thrown down with Laban. Even though Jacob has a lot of opportunities to respond in anger with violence, he never does. He practices the Edenic ideal of shalom.
What about the episode with his brother, Esau? To diffuse a potential death match with his brother, Jacob takes the posture of a servant to his lord (Gen. 32:4, 5, 18; 33:8, 13). Instead of a sibling rivalry turned cage match, Jacob humbles himself to maintain peace.
Jacob goes above what I’d call normal by offering a giant gift to ensure peace. He recalls God’s promise to Abraham in a prayer to God (Gen. 32:9-12) and then assembles a giant farm bouquet welcoming Esau. Instead of choosing violence, Jacob preserves peace. Patriarchal peace remains the ideal.
Dinah, their sister, is raped by a creepy guy named Schechem (Gen. 34:2). Jacob gets wind of this, and tells her brothers, Levi and Simeon who are understandably furious. After that, Schechem is audacious enough to ask her dad (Jacob) if he can marry her (Gen. 34:4, 6,8)! Levi and Simeon step in and lay out the bride-price: Everybody in Schechem’s tribe and city have to get circumcised. The city consents and goes under the knife (Gen. 34:20-24).
Three days later while the men were “still in pain”, Levi and Simeon kill every male, including Schechem and his dad Hamor. They got Dinah back and took all their livestock, took all the jewelry and all the women and children (Gen. 34:26-29)! Was this justified? The text stays neutral neither approving nor condemning their behavior. I, however, want to celebrate. I mean the guy raped their sister! That’s my inclination.
Yet, later in Genesis, we see their actions condemned. When Jacob is about to die, and after Joseph comes home, he calls all of his sons in to give them a blessing. There’s a lot happening in here, but I don’t want you to miss Jacob’s remarks to Simeon and Levi:
“Simeon and Levi are brothers — their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel (Gen. 49:5-7, NIV).
Did you catch that? He curses his own kids! Why? Their violent, murderous actions. They didn’t respond with Shalom. Behind dad’s back they set up a slaughter. They didn’t pursue peace. Instead, fueled by anger and vengeance, they wiped out the men of an entire people group and robbed their widows and children blind. It celebrates patriarchal peace. It condemns violence.
I need not expound on Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, imprisoned for many years, and then rising to the Vice Presidency of Egypt, he has a unique opportunity. Famine strikes whole land and his brothers come begging for grain. Jacob plays with them, but reveals himself to his brothers.
They enter the court and plead forgiveness. It scares them that he will kill them (Gen. 50:15-16). Instead of commanding their torture and execution, he says this:
“‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:19-21, NIV).
Joseph could have ordered their death. Instead, he shows God’s ideal for shalom. He forgives. Joseph takes the loss. He blesses those who hurt him. Joseph showcases the Edenic ideal of shalom. It cements patriarchal peace.
In the stories of the Patriarchs of Israel, we see God’s plan gaining steam. They pursue peace. Eden is a faint echo, but it grows more audible. However, in these episodes, there are two texts that present us with problems. These two text seem to endorse violence: Genesis 9 and 14. We’ll work through those next time. See you then!
After the shalom of God is finalized, life carries on nicely – for a while. Then, disobedience and making ourselves our own God, enters in. Sin and his brother death enter God’s paradise at our invitation screaming bloody murder. To illustrate what just happened – the gravity of the situation – God shows Adam and Even what they just wrought upon the world. Genesis 3:21 reads:
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them
Don’t skim over that. It isn’t only God demonstrating that He still loves and cares for Adam and Eve. That’s part of it. The real point here is to bring the couple so close to the consequences of their actions – making sure they get it. God brings them so close to their choice that they have to wear it. The very creature Adam named (Gen. 2:20), one he probably loved, was slaughtered before his very eyes, and then he wore the hide to cover his now-ashamed body. He and his wife are now thrust into a very different world. A world that would soon be screaming bloody murder.
Time passes and we meet the kids. Cain and Abel. The text doesn’t give us much background other than this: Cain raised a garden and Abel raised livestock. It’s clear the family still worships God because the two offer sacrifices. Cain, however, is jealous. He thinks God likes his brothers’ stuff more. God has a pep-talk with Cain, addresses his “heart” as the problem, not the content of the offering – even telling Cain sin is waiting outside your door to master you – don’t let it! Cain chooses to disregard God’s warning and goes his own way. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Cain says, “Hey brother, let’s take a walk out into the field. I want to show you something.” Abel obliges as the two walk alone. It is here that we read:
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Gen. 4:8, NIV)
The first murder. A son of Adam murders his own brother out of jealousy and envy. Not much has changed, has it?
God comes back to Cain, trying to get some honesty. He says, “Hey Cain…where’s Abel?” To which the famous line comes as Cain’s response:
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9, NIV)
The text shows us God isn’t keen on Cain’s sarcasm. He knows what happened. He was hoping Cain wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes as his dad had. You remember, right? The time Adam tried to play a game of cosmic hide-and-seek, stashing himself behind a shrub in the garden. That got dad olly olly oxenbanished. So God lays it out:
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Gen. 4:10-11, NIV)
That phrase “cries out,” is the Hebrew word tsa’aq. It means “to shriek, cry out, call for help.” In other words, Cain’s life was screaming bloody murder. The ground cried out as the first homicide is carried out in the field east of Eden. As the lifeblood of innocent Abel hits earth, the very Creation tastes blood for the first time.
Cain, like mom and dad, understands the implications of his actions. He is wrecked. God doles out the sentence. God consigns Cain to be a wanderer – always on the move – sowing but never harvesting. The earth won’t respond to the farmer, no matter what (Gen. 4:12). We get a glimpse of Cain’s despair.
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Gen. 4:13-15, NIV)
At this point, we’d expect God (in our vengeance-laden minds) to say, “So what?” However, as God is usually in the habit of doing, we are treated to the debut performance of something that glues the rest of Scripture together. Genesis continues:
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,east of Eden. (Gen. 4:15-16, NIV)
God responds to the first murderer not with capital punishment or consignment to hell. God responds to the first murderer with grace. Grace is the visible preservation of shalom. God places a mark on Cain so that no one will hurt him or his family. God doesn’t smite Cain, he gives him grace and mercy. Yet, as the ground screamed bloody murder, Cain foisted murder and violence upon the earth.
Sin continues to show itself in violent ways. Right after the first murder we meet a guy named Lamech. Where Cain was remorseful of his violence, Lamech was proud of his. Lamech strolls onto the scene with bloody hands boasting about murdering a teenager (see Gen. 4:23-24). Sounds like a nice fellow, doesn’t he? Lamech’s song sets the tone for humanity as violence engulfs the world. Instead of only the ground screaming out, the whole world is screaming bloody murder. It gets so bad that God decides to wipe the slate clean and start over.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (Gen. 6:11, NIV)
Don’t miss what the text is pointing out. God isn’t just punishing arbitrary evil – not even close. Look at the last word. God is specifically punishing violence. Violent actions flooded the globe, and so God floods the earth.
Here’s the takeaway: The early chapters of Scripture celebrate peace, not violence. God continually shows derision for violence among mankind. God shows grace to a murder, despite the grounds for “just” punishment of a murderer. Even as the world was screaming bloody murder, God begins to point humans back to peace.
I love the Bible. I believe it is the authoritative word of God. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grappled with it. I took a course in Bible college that concentrated on the texts of Joshua and Judges. As a new Christian, and a former skeptic, I found these books hard to stomach. How could Jesus, who stood for peace, enemy-love, and sacrifice, be the same God in the Old Testament? The massacre seemed constant, and I struggled to make sense of it.
I no longer battle with those views, but, I think it would be unwise to believe no one else does. I know many folks personally, even Bible-believing Christians, who still do.
I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. When speaking to people of various faiths (or without faith), the second biggest hurdle to Christianity, is the violence in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous quote is Richard Dawkins, when he writes that the God of the Bible is,
jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It’s also quite an allegation. While certainly not a fan of Dawkins’ conclusions, to reject it as unreasonable would be an injustice to both logic and common sense.
How do we prepare to discuss this issue? Is God really as Dawkins and others in their own ways have rendered Him? If He is, how do we reconcile that to Jesus and the New Testament teachings? Teachings like turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and praying for your persecutors? Saying trite things like, “God can do whatever He wants,” or “He’s God. Don’t’ worry about it,” will not suffice. So, we go to the Beginning.
The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) begins with a loaded statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NIV). In the first two chapters of Genesis, we see a Creative God who creates. He creates fish and spiders, the sun and the moon, day and night, plants and trees, galaxies and aardvarks. He speaks, and it happens. On the sixth day, after created everything else we know, God creates people. The text says,
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:26-27, NIV).
He forms us in His “image and likeness,” meaning we are a reverberation, an etching of His eternal self. It sets us apart from everything else in all of creation. We also see the Master comment on His finished masterpiece, “It is very good” (Gen. 1:31a, NIV). He’s pleased. Everything is perfect. All is as it should be. The world is perfect.
The underlying concept of Creation that is necessary to understanding story of God in the BIble from this point on is the word Shalom. This Hebrew term is charged with meaning. It includes the absence of conflict and death, and implies wholeness, fullness, joy, peace, and completeness. Simply put – perfect.
Shalom is paramount to understanding the Bible for two reasons. First, it displays the nature of God. He’s creative, loving, and kind. He provides, helps, and guides. He dwells with Adam and Eve, not apart from them. He is very good. Second, we learn God’s initial purpose for humankind and creation – peace. Not violence, war, hate, racism, sexism, infanticide, and whatever else Dawkins’ or other’s claim.
The foundation of the full Bible rests upon God’s Shalom. As we’ll see, the rest of the Old Testament moves towards that intention. The entirety of Scripture from Genesis 3 forward, is God moving to renew HIs very good creation. In the next post, we’ll see at how things went south, and what God begins to do to bring things back on course.
For now, just know, that the Very Good God has not abandoned His very good creation.
Go to your browser and type in “American Christianity’s problem”—I’ll wait. Did you find anything that agreed? I didn’t either. I saw a lot of posts, including a YouTube video pic of John Piper appearing to “dab” from the pulpit.
Things like, too old-fashioned or irrelevant. Fake. Hypocrites. LGBTQ hostile. Hate. Racist. Sexist. The Patriarchy. Yes, those are all problems. We all are learning. Though all these things are absolutely deserving of our attention, there is a more glaring problem we’re not seeing. The American church has a violence problem.
Before I begin, you need to know that I have grown up with violence. I play video games, fire guns, have watched Fight Club, and love The Walking Dead. Yet, as I read the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, I cannot escape being confronted with the most uncomfortable truth: The Bible teaches nonviolence.
I didn’t arrive at this position by choice. If anything, I’ve fought ferociously. I have prayed to come to different conclusions. I have prayed that God would let me ignore it. Yet, God, as He does, has continually turned over the tables in my heart to show me His truth. I wasn’t raised a Quaker. I wasn’t raised by hippies from the Vietnam Era. Truthfully, every part of my upbringing was pretty normal, and it goes against everything I’m going to be writing about.
Like all boys, I grew up with toy soldiers, tanks, NERF guns, paintball, air soft, and slingshots. Mortal Combat was the game of choice for my friends and I.
My grandfathers served proudly in World War 2. My favorite movies of all time are Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. My first news-related memory was Wolf Blitzer announcing the commencement of Operation Desert Storm. I wrote an essay in High School that awarded me a scholarship on my reaction to September 11, 2001. In it, while talking about unity and love, I also spoke kindly about “getting rid” of all terrorists. I was the typical American boy.
I was baptized into Christ at nineteen. At that point, I couldn’t conceive how someone could be a Christian, read the Scriptures, and think that violence and war, and all that goes with them, aren’t compatible with Scripture. You’d have to be biblically ignorant or anti-patriotic to believe that! So I carried on for a year or two until I seriously began to study the Sermon on the Mount in Bible college.
It was there that I was haunted by the idea that Scripture was incompatible with violence and bloodshed. Try as I might to quiet this though, even attributing it to Satan on many occasions, it kept hounding me. So I kept praying, studying Scripture, and researching.
As it stands, today, I do not believe the Bible endorses the use of violence. Not for the church. Not for individuals. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I know a lot of folks who don’t. That’s okay. I’m not asking you to agree. I’m asking you to open your Bible and follow the Spirit’s leading on the subject.
Understand this: I am not–I REPEAT–am not referring to anyone who serves in the military. These discussions somehow always end up there as some kind of trump card. That’s not where this is going. While subjects like militarism, nationalism, and violence are going to come up, my focus is on Scripture. It must be. Our guide must be Scripture. Scripture is our authority. I have no qualms there. To follow the Messiah, we follow His word.
I believe American Christianity’s real problem is violence. I believe a good portion of the American church has been conscripted (knowingly and unknowingly) by the idea that violence, war, and bloodshed are godly virtues. The idea that somehow God is pleased with His people behaving in such manners appears nowhere in Scripture.
Every problem listed on Google related to looming problems in American Christianity hinge on our beliefs on violence. That may seem like a stretch, but if you stick with me, you’ll understand my thoughts. You might not agree with me. That’s ok. Hopefully you will see why I think the way I do. In my next post we’ll begin Bereshit–in the Beginning.
May you be blessed,