Monday, September 12, 2011

Violence in the Old Testament

Someone posted quotes from the Old Testatment showing the violence perpetrated by Israel and even commanded by God.

Here are some websites that can clarify this issue:

Genocide in the Old Testament in Rational Christianity

God's Moral Authority in Rational Christianity

Why so much violence in the Bible in Biblica

Original Testament by Richard Clifford S.J in America Magazine

How should we understand the Old Testament’s depictions of violence and of hatred for the enemies of Israel?

The two major reasons for the Old Testament’s depiction of violence are the nature of human beings—prone to evil schemes and violence—and the nature of the Old Testament God—just and compassionate and involved.

In the dramatic world of the Bible, the compassionate God hears the cry of those oppressed by evildoers and in justice responds to rectify the situation. God “judges” the world (the Hebrew word has the sense of ruling and governing) by upholding the righteous and putting down the wicked.

Evil in the Old Testament is imagined concretely—embodied in particular people and embedded in institutions and systems like families and nations. Not surprisingly, the Lord is frequently portrayed as a warrior who roots out evil and rescues Israel by defeating its enemies. But the divine warrior is not a nationalist. God turns against Israel when it rebels.

Four things soften this seemingly harsh portrayal.

First, the war imagery is not the main purpose, which is to show God “judging” (i.e., ruling) justly.

Second, when the psalmists cry for “vengeance” (a divine righting of wrongs), they place entirely in God’s hands both timetable and implementation.

Third, the Old Testament reveals a God who is merciful as well as just. When the two are in conflict, it is mercy and compassion that usually win out (see Exodus 32-34 and Hos 11:9).

Fourth, the Old Testament concern for justice inspires Jesus’ program of God’s rule, which means the elimination of unjust structures and the building of a righteous and obedient community.

Perhaps the most succinct comment on God’s justice was passed on to me by a friend from Georgia, who quoted an elderly janitor of a poor black church: “If the Lord doesn’t come back with power, he won’t do me much good.”

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