Violence in the Bible – Two approaches

Adam Hamilton recently published three blog posts about violence in the Old Testament.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Allan Bevere recruited Ashland seminary professor Dan Hawk to provide a response.

Part One 

Part Two

Part Three

The posts on these two blogs and the comments they have generated would make an interesting small group study.

Here is how Hawk concludes his second post:

On the question of divine violence as in so many others, the canon calls faithful readers out black-and-white thinking and into the gray; out of an impulse that seeks to simplify, dichotomize, and resolve in order to determine who is right– and into a communal conversation as fluid and contentious as the clamor of voices that vie with one another in the biblical canon. The plurality of voices, postures, testimonies, and declarations that configure Scripture reflect the diversity of the same that characterize the church. The very nature of Scripture, then, directs the community shaped by it to seek the truth from all sides and prayerfully ponder together what God is doing in any given day and age and so to align its witness and involvements accordingly.

I notice the reference to living in the gray, which may or may not be a reference to one of Hamilton’s other books. Reading Hawk’s response to Hamilton, I am mindful as well of another response to this question about the violence of God. Some — and John Wesley would fall in this camp — that we are all creatures of God, and so God is justified at any moment if he destroys us for any reason. We are like clay pots the potter can smash on a whim.

This “clay pot” solution to the violence of God comes to mind as I was reading these posts because it strikes me as the mirror image of Hamilton’s approach. Hamilton — as I think Hawk rightly argues — simplifies the witness of Scripture too much by shearing off those parts seem to conflict with a certain vision of who Jesus is. Wesley — and contemporaries such as John Piper — simplify the witness of Scripture the other way by smashing clay pots every time someone raises a qualm about Hell or the destruction of Jericho.

Hawk — quoting Walter Brueggemann — testifies to a God who defies simplification, and in that way becomes much more dangerous and awe-inspiring. You just don’t know what God is going to do next. Such a God is hard to cram into a Sunday School lesson or a sermon. Such a God certainly is not chiefly concerned with making us comfortable. But such a God — at least for me — feels much less like an idol created out of my own imagination and needs. Such a God feels worthy of worship, fear, and love.

Reading Joshua 5:9-12

A reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent: Joshua 5:9-12.

One advantage of coming to faith as an adult is that you don’t spend a lot of time being shocked by Joshua. I did not grow up singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I did not bring a whole lot of expectations to who God was when I started reading the Bible.

After reading Exodus through Deuteronomy where God pretty much tries to wipe out his own chosen people several times, it never really struck me as all that shocking that God would command the destruction of entire cities in Joshua. God is dangerous. Check. I got it. The blood never really stood out for me.

But this passage of Scripture did.

It marks a transition in the story of God’s people. It is the end of manna. It is the beginning of labor. It is the transition from wandering to conquest and settlement. For 40 years in the wilderness, God provided the food. Now the people would have to provide their own.

In the days of the Exodus, God did all the bloody work. Yahweh struck down the enemies of Israel and destroyed the armies of Pharaoh. The blood was on God’s hands. Now, it would be on Israel’s hands. It would still be by God’s strength that the people win victory, but after Jericho, the people would have to fight for what had been promised.

Perhaps it is my Arminianism showing here, but I find the metaphor of Israel having to work to take full possession of the promised land quite apt. If the people are faithful, God will see them through the struggle, but they must exert themselves and they must show their faithfulness. If they do not, forces are in place to enslave and destroy them. They have enemies who will not go without a fight.

Such a reading is much too allegorical for some readers, but it rings true to me.