Redeemed Natures: Chapter Four -Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

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Chapter Four

Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” – 1 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

Jesus had a ministry in which nonviolence and redemption were intricately woven into his teachings, example, his salvific work on the Cross, and in the resurrection.  The Lord God, Holy and blameless, became one of us, and took all of our sorrow upon himself so that we can be set free from sins that afflict us, and walk with God in this life, and in the next. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, and he showed the good in their enemies through the story of the Good Samaritan, in which someone who was an enemy showed one of their own people more love than their religious leaders.  Additionally. Christ showed them how to respond to sinfulness in the story of the woman caught in adultery.  He showed them how to respond to persecution by not harming those who harmed him, and by willfully carrying his cross on his aching and torn back, and taking the nails on the cross, while praying to God, “Bless them Father, for the know not what they do”.  Christian Author Preston Sprinkle writes in his blog “Theology in the Raw” that:

“Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale.” 

In the cross, Jesus showed us the full expression of Love and Mercy, and in the resurrection, he showed us that that Love was true and hopeful.

The argument for Christians to live nonviolently should be able to rest within the words and example of Christ alone.  However, many still are resistent, and for good reason.  Nonviolence calls us to accept the seemingly improbable, impossible, and unlikely way to address a problem.  Nonviolence takes away our first instinct and tells us to do that which doesn’t make sense.

It would be easier to dismiss Christ’s teachings if the rest of the New Testament did not advocate for nonviolence, or if it even endorsed a Christian’s use of deadly force against evil.  If this were the case, one could say of Christ’s teachings “Well, he is talking about his millennial reign”, “that’s really only for Christians who are normal civilians and are not in government”, or even a vague statement like “It is a good teaching, but that doesn’t apply to…[name scenario]”. As someone who takes Christ’s words so seriously…I don’t think that I could make these conclusions, even if no other writings of nonviolence existed in the Bible, but it would at least be understandable. However, the other New Testament writings DO address nonviolence.

This chapter is going to cover some selected writings, and the next chapter will be a more specific chapter on Romans 12 and 13, and dealing with the question of Christians and Governments.

1 John 4:19-21 – Love one another

Christian love is unique in that it demands love when love is not necessarily our first response.  It demands us to love those we don’t want to love.  It demands us to love those who have wronged us.  Why do we love?

“19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Within the book of first John is a powerful call for Christians to radically love one another, and others. This Love was a defining attribute for these early believers.  

1 Peter 2:21-25  – When He was reviled, he did not revile in return

The Apostle Peter wrote pretty plainly in the following passage about the influence that Christ’s example should have over our own lives.

“21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

In context, this passage was written to slaves in first century Israel, within the broader context of Peter writing to all people to be subject to authority, and calling them to put away all sin – “all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander”(1 Pet. 2:1).  Despite harsh and/or powerful authorities over them, followers of Christ were expected to follow His example, and to not retaliate evil for evil.  

1 Peter 3:8-12 – Seek Peace and Pursue it

Although that last passage, in my mind, refers to all Christians, some may think that it was originally written to Christian slaves, and therefore may be simply an instruction for slaves to not retaliate because that is not what slaves were expected to do in that time and culture.  I understand that, and so I want to provide this next passage from the same book and author.

“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

Peter states nothing to the new testament reader that had not been alluded to/taught before.  He informs his audience to not repay evil for evil, to be unified, loving, tender-hearted, humble, as well telling them to bless the one doing evil against them.  He also adds that the Christian is to not only seek peace, but to pursue it; for the Lord is against “those who do evil”.

This passage contains a repeating theme that I have been noticing during my study of this topic, which is: Go above and beyond the normal.  Show the world that something about you is different.  Be your “brother’s keeper” to your friends, as well as to your enemies; instead of cursing them, bless them.  See the humanness in all.  Evangelical Pastor, Brian Zahnd, affirms this truth in his book “A Farewell to Mars” by stating:

Humanity’s worst sins and most heinous crimes occur when we follow the way of Cain as the founder of human civilization and refuse to recognize the shared humanity of our brothers and fail to acknowledge our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. When vicious competition and blind commitment to tribalism become more valued than the brotherhood of shared humanity, we let Satan loose in our midst. When we denigrate those of differing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, politics, and classes to a dehumanized “them,” we open the door to deep hostility and the potential for unimaginable atrocities. If we believe the lie that they are “not like us,” we are capable of becoming murderers and monsters. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Dehumanization leads to us being comfortable with that which Christ preaches against.  For if our enemies, or those who have done us wrong, are forever cursed in our minds, than how can we have the desire to even think about loving them? Instead, we should see that all of us, if prompted enough, if desperate enough, if lost enough, can be guilty of the same evil; we can become murderers, racists, terrorists if we do not consistently fight against dehumanizing others.

“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love…

My enemies are men like me…”

-Derek Webb. From “My Enemies are Men like me”  Album: Mockingbird

Acts 5:40-42 – Rejoicing in Persecution

“40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

In context, this quote is in reference to a meeting composed of the senate of the people of Israel (5:21), and was in reference to the Apostles who were put in Prison for preaching about Christ (5:17-20).  The Apostles were then set free by an Angel, and were later seen preaching in the temple (5:25).  They were charged for going against their jewish laws, and Peter’s response to them was this:

Acts 5:29-32

We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

The apostles were not afraid to follow God, even unto death, and saw evangelism as incredibly important.  Even when they were beaten and jailed, they REJOICED that they were worthy to suffer for their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please take note that they did not only refuse to revile, but they rejoiced in their suffering.  

This is in harmony with the writings of James, which could speak of literal persecution, or going through another tough spot in our faith walks.

James 1:2-4

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Acts 7:54-60 – The Martyrdom of Stephen

“54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In carrying out the thrust of what Peter was doing in the previous section, Stephen went against the laws of man to preach the Gospel because His true authority was God.  Not only is Stephen a great example of having a faith that lasts through suffering, but he is also a great example of how to love our enemies.  While he was being stoned to death, Stephen echoed Christ’s own words and asked God to not hold the sin of stoning him to death against those casting the stones.   His love for Lord, his passion for the Gospel, and his love for others was so great that he did not desire even God to punish his persecutors.  It is a crazy enough thing to think about when Christ said this as he hung on a cross, but Christ was Divine.  Stephen’s devotion to Christ and His teachings is an example for us all to follow.

Nonviolent Action

The last two sections touched on not fighting violence with violence when you are being persecuted for your faith.  Within these sections, we found that Peter told the council that was accusing him of breaking their laws that “we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)”.  After being jailed for evangelizing, Peter evangelized once again after he was set free.  In this way, he was saying to the authorities – “I do not care about your laws, I have to do what God calls me to do.”  In the same fashion, Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 for preaching the truth of the Gospel, while knowing the consequences for doing so.  

Many people believe that nonviolence is a worldview that does not allow for resistance; that we would allow people to trample our loved ones, or that we would passively stand by as we watch the world burn. But to assume such is to make the statement that the only solution to violence, is violence.  To assume this goes against even the Just-War position, which is supposed to attempt many ways in resolving an issue before resorting to war/violent retaliation.

As I will cover more later on, the nonviolence ethic is not passive, but it quite active, and for this and other reasons, Pacifism does not accurately describe the nonviolence teachings and example of Jesus.  American journalist and author, Mark Kurlansky in his book about nonviolence had the following thing to say about the the comparison between pacifism and nonviolence in regards to Christianity:

Nonviolence is not the same thing as pacifism, for which there are many words. Pacifism is treated almost as a psychological condition. It is a state of mind. Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than non-violence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, a recipe for prevailing. It requires a great deal more imagination to devise nonviolent means—boycotts, sitins, strikes, street theater, demonstrations—than to use force.

One of the reasons why I am writing this book is to hopefully share what I believe to be God’s will for Christians on the matter of responding to conflict and our enemies in order to hopefully spark a movement in individual’s hearts to embrace the way of nonviolence.  After this, I would hope that all of us can be motivated to show the Crazy Love of Jesus through nonviolent action to our hurting and broken world so torn apart by bombs and bullets.

Leaving Vengeance to the Lord

Just as we are to non-violently promote peace and seek resolution to conflict, we are also called to trust that the Lord is capable of carrying out justice – whether that be in this life, or the next.  Recognizing that God will Right the Wrong makes accepting the call of nonviolence to the believer a little easier.  In the New Testament, there are a couple examples of Divine Justice that I will go over briefly in this section.   

The Case of Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Saphira sell some of their land, and agree to keep some of the profit, and give the rest to the church.  However, they acted as if they were giving all of their profits to the church, but they only gave some of the proceeds to the apostles from the land which they had sold.  The early Church shared all of their possessions, as seen in Acts 4:32-37, in order to support one another, however, it is not said that they were required to do so.  And so, Ananias & Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money, but make it seem like they were giving up all of the money.  They lied when they didn’t have to, and did so for their own social good – more money, and being recognized as giving all of the money.

The sins of Ananias and Sapphira are not only lying, but also hypocrisy.  They were struck dead – not by a human hand, but they each fell down, and breathed their last upon being convicted of lying to God. We cannot fully grasp the extent of how offensive this incident was to God, for we still wonder in a quiet whisper, why did this have to happen, God?  And as much as we may toss and turn over this passage, we eventually have to accept that what was written happened, and that it happened by the hands of a completely righteous and just God.  

I know.  It doesn’t sit right.  It may not ever sit right with us.  But in this instance, we see God carrying out justice through his own hand, and his followers played no part in issuing this lethal justice.

The Final Judgement – Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 19:11- 20:15

Perhaps the most descriptive passages about Divine Justice comes from these passages dealing with Christ Jesus judging all of the earth, alive and dead.  To separate the “sheep” from the “goats”.  

It is hard to discuss these passages without going into interpretations about the end times, which is not what this chapter, or book, is about.  Some believe these passages to be metaphorical, some literal. Many disagree on the order of events, and on a myriad of other things. But what we can gather, no matter what interpretation that you take, is that God will Right all Wrong, He will bring Justice to the Wickedness of the world, and in doing so, he will Redeem the world.

God will do this, and it is not said that he needs our help doing so; Christ and the heavenly armies are more than capable of handling whatever that they will handle.  In the meantime, we have to trust that He will Right all Wrongs as we seek to live our lives following the Lord, and loving others.


 

Works Referenced

Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 163-168). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sprinkle, Preston. “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence.” Theology in the Raw. Patheos.com, 21 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Webb, Derek. My Enemies Are Men Like Me. Derek Webb. Fair Trade Services, 2005. MP3. Album: Mockingbird

Zahnd, Brian (2014-06-01). A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Kindle Locations 502-507). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 2 of 2)

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Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 2 of 2)

God’s use of Government to carry out His Will

When discussing this topic, the question always arises:  how do we handle passages in which God blesses, or sanctions, war as carried out by the Israelites in the Old Testament?

This question is extremely important in this discussion, and I will attempt not to skirt the validity behind asking it;  though, I will be upfront like I said earlier, and admit to you that the Old Testament does not, by itself, support the nonviolent ethic I advocate for.  Instead, I believe that it points to it in glimpses of God’s perfect Will amidst these difficult passages, and this Will is made apparent in Christ’s teachings.

I cannot for the sake of length, and for the sake of my own sanity, go through every instance of battle in this section. However, I would like to highlight some passages that would do adequate justice to attempting to answer this valuable question.

Exodus 17:8-13

“8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” (ESV)

To begin in our understanding of this passage, we must first recognize that the Israelites at this point were not trained and professional warriors; they needed God’s help.  Moses trusted that God would aid them in battle, and so he devoted himself to the Lord in recognizing this need for help, and raised his arms and his staff throughout the whole battle, with the help of Aaron and Hur when his arms and body grew weary.

This passage communicates both the real intervention of God in Old Testament warfare, as well as the need and call for his people to have faith in Him, and to give Him the Glory.  Moses did not arrogantly think that they could do this without God, or His blessing, he knew that God was absolutely essential to overcoming this early enemy that was trying to crush the people that God desired to lead to the promised land.

Deuteronomy 1:41-45

“41 “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one of you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country.

42 And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ 43 So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country.44 Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45 And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you. 46 So you remained at Kadesh many days, the days that you remained there.(ESV)

Preceding this passage, is the information regarding how the Hebrews sinned against the Lord.  In verses 19-40, we see that the Israelites were told to go and take possession of the land that God had promised to them, the hill country of the Amorites, and they were hold that they needn’t fear, for the Lord was with them.  Upon exploring this new land, the Israelites became fearful of the fortified cities, and the civilization dwelling there, so they refused to take possession of the land, even though the Lord said that He would give it to them. Because of this, the Lord punished them by saying that because of their disbelief in His mighty power, they were not permitted to enter the land, and were instead told to wander in the wilderness (Deut. 1:40).

It is here where the Israelites, recognizing their sin, decide to go up and fight themselves, relying on the Lord’s previous blessing which they did not trust the first time.  Concerned for His people, the Lord told Moses to tell them to not go up and fight, for the Lord will not be with them.  Moses conveyed this very important message to the people, and they chose to proceed with the conquest anyway, without the Lord’s blessing.  

They did not win this battle, for God was not with them.

Matthew Henry, an 18th century minister and theologian, accurately wrote in his well-renowned commentary of the Bible, that:

“An unbelieving heart was at the bottom of this.  All disobedience to God’s laws, and distrust of His power and goodness, flow from disbelief of His word, as all true obedience springs from faith”(pg. 183)

Therefore, this account conveys the truth of the first account mentioned in this section from Exodus 17:8-13; The Lord’s blessing, and faith in that blessing, is absolutely essential for the involvement in battle.  Without the Lord’s blessing, the army will succumb to the power of the enemy.

1 Samuel 13:8-14

8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 13 And Samuel said to Saul,“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”” (ESV)

Like the preceding account, this account indicates that the Lord detests when humanity takes these things into their own hands apart from the Lord’s blessing.  The context of this passage was that the Philistines were preparing for battle, and Saul sought the blessing of the Lord over this battle through Samuel, the Prophet.  But Saul, after waiting the amount of days prescribed by Samuel, took the matter into his own hands on the final day by offering a burnt sacrifice to the Lord which he figured would bless him in battle.  After doing this, Samuel arrived.

The problem was that Saul knew that Samuel would eventually come, but he was scared of the approaching battle so he did not trust Samuel to come in time, and therefore, he did not trust that God would Move in time.  It was then that we read in verses 13-14, that Samuel communicated to King Saul that his kingdom, which would have lasted through his sons, is now going to end with him.  Samuel even informed Saul that God has already selected a new King to come along in due time; one that would honor the Lord (this would be King David).

Habakkuk 1:1-11

“1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

2 “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.  6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. 7 They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on.  Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. 9 They all come for violence, all their faces forward.  They gather captives like sand.  10 At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.  11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”(ESV)

This Oracle, or divine revelation, that Habakkuk saw was foretelling the way in which God would use the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to judge Judah (the lower Kingdom of the ancient Israelites for a time) for its wickedness and violence.  It is in this passage where we see that God used an evil pagan nation to carry out His Will of punishment against the rebellious and destructive Judah.

It is a common thought to assume that God only works through good governments when we read about his involvement in the ancient Israelite governments, as well as when we read Romans 13 and apply it to our own government.   However, it is important to remember that both in this passage in Habakkuk, as well as in the passage in Romans 13, the writers were referring to God using pagan and ungodly nations to carry out His will.

The relevance of this passage to our discussion is that again, we see that God works through Government, and it is Just.  What is peculiar however, and what really aids in the discussion of this topic, is what happens in the next passage we will study.

Habakkuk 2:6-12

“6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?— and loads himself with pledges!  7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?  Then you will be spoil for them.  8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.  9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!  10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples;  you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond. 12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!(ESV)

The Lord revealed this to Habakkuk in response to Habakkuk’s complaint about Judah being punished by the Chaldeans, as seen in Habakkuk 1:12-17, in which he exclaims to the Lord:  “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 – ESV).  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this scene state:

“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20).” (pg.1319)

Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for their wrongdoing, and likely, for their treatment of the people of Judah.  This idea is seen in the Exodus, which we studied before, as we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people for doing things as a result of God hardening their hearts.  For another example, Isaiah 10:5-19 speak of God using the Assyrians to carry out his wrath on godless nations, however, he then punishes them for boasting about their conquest.

The conclusion that we can draw from these examples is the repeated element throughout:  God’s blessing over battle, and killing, was essential for these battles to be won, or for these battles to bless the Israelites.

To apply this section to the thrust of my argument, even within this Old Testament understanding, I would not be willing to enter a military that would not have the special relationship with God like the ancient Israelites did (which rules out every modern government) because I would be expected and commanded to enter battles as they come up, without for sure knowing what the will of God is.  And even if I think that I know what the will of God is, I may only be acting on my own desires, as the Israelites did when they sought to take the promised land without the Lord’s blessing, as we studied in Deuteronomy 1:41-45.  Or even if it Is the Will of God for a nation to go to war and capture another nation, they still may be held accountable to God for their actions.  Therefore, to reiterate my point: as a Christian, in trusting God to carry out his Will, I would never want to align myself with a human institution that may force me to violate my allegiance to God.

The Canaanite Conquest

One of the most problematic scenes in the Old Testament is what is referred to as “the conquest of Canaan”, which was recorded predominantly in the book of Joshua.  In reading about the subject, many authors have expressed deep confusion and concern about this passage, choosing instead to call this scene “The Canaanite Genocide”.  

Preston Sprinkle struggles with this conflict in his book “Fight” when he says:

“The most glaring concern comes when the Old Testament sanctions wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites. Israel’s “warfare policy” has raised an ageless ethical problem for anyone who looks to the Old Testament for moral guidance.

For instance, God commands Israel to save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded. (Deut. 20: 16– 17; cf. 7: 1– 2)

God tells Israel to slaughter everyone living within the borders of the Promised Land. We have a term for this sort of thing. We call it genocide.” (Kindle Locations 465-471)

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

“16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.(ESV)

Deuteronomy 20 serves as the initial instruction to the ancient Israelites on how they are to come to possess the promised land, which is carried out throughout the book of Joshua.  In this passage, The Lord commanded the Israelite people to destroy these pagan nations that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to Israel.  This passage is hard to honestly grapple with because God ordered the killing of whole people groups, which doesn’t seem to jive with the message of Jesus.

The traditional approach to this command is the true statement that these pagan nations would corrupt the newly freed Israelites who were still re-learning, or learning, about the one true God after being steeped in a powerful pagan culture for 400 years.  These ancient ancient Israelites were still heavily into idol worship, as seen in the creation of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1-6.  They even had the audacity to say of this newly created idol that “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” in verse 4.  Aaron, a main leader, even led them in offering sacrifices to the “god” that they had just created out of the gold jewelry that they had on hand.  To place this new and growing civilization in a land and culture that was just as steeped in paganism as Egypt, would more than likely quickly derail the Spiritual renewal that God was working through Moses to establish.

Eugene H. Merrill, in a book titled “Show them no Mercy: 4 views of God and Canaanite Genocide” which lets each author defend their approach on the matter, says the following:

“The option of making covenant with such people or undertaking marriage with them or even of showing mercy and sparing them for some other reason can never be entertained. They will induce Israel to follow their gods and embrace their abominable forms of worship (7:4). Instead, they and their worship apparatus must be exterminated (7:5). The introduction of Yahweh-war legislation so early in Deuteronomy can be explained by its near juxtaposition to the commandments to have no other gods and to desist from making and worshiping pagan idols (Deut. 5:7–10).” (Kindle Locations 1231-1235)

I cannot deny the truth of dramatic spiritual corruption, or possibly an annihilation of the ancient Israelites by the hand of these nations had God not intervened.   And while I struggle with the concept of God commissioning the slaying of so many, I cannot help but hope that if there was but one person who was redeemable, or who could be redeemed, that God would spare them.  We see this in how he spared Rahab the prostitute and the relatives within her house in Joshua 6:5, as well as when Abraham kept asking God if he would spare the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:27-33.  Yet still, though the canaanites must have been extraordinarily corrupt, they are human lives nonetheless.

The reason why I struggle with this specific scene from the Old Testament is because I have a New Testament understand of who God is.  As I have mentioned before, the Old Testament does not represent the perfect Will of God, but rather God working with His people at that time, under that Covenant, which was all about getting His people the land, and establishing them as a nation set apart from the world.   On this perspective, C.S Cowles wrote in “Show them no mercy”:

We cannot pretend, as we read these genocidal “texts of terror,” that Jesus has not come. In him we see the complete and undistorted “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). (Kindle Locations 1524-1525)

Therefore, Christ, being the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), as well as representing the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9), is the lens in which Christians should interpret Scripture’s application to their lives.  This implies of course that the Christian should follow the ways of Christ, and adhere to His teachings when they appear to conflict with these troublesome passages in the Old Testament.  John C. Maxwell contributes the following wisdom in his covering of Deuteronomy within “The Communicator’s Commentary” when conveying the use of war in Deut. 20, and warfare in general throughout the Old Testament by writing the following:

“In Deuteronomy 20, war is an instrument of divine policy; Israel could not have survived without it.  But war does not always have the stamp of divine approval.  Even in the Old Testament, David is denied the privilege of building the temple because his hands are stained with blood (1 Kings 5:3).  One of the features of the coming Messianic kingdom is the abolition of war (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3).  That our society today still resorts to war proves nothing except that men are terribly resistant to the grace of God.” (pg. 247)

War is not the perfect Will of God, and while nations may wage war, the Christian should live as an example of what’s to come in the Messianic Kingdom.  It is the Christian’s calling and responsibility to be counter-cultural when Christ calls them to go against the grain.

Conclusion

It is my hope that through the examples and arguments given, that I have handled the question of the Old Testament on this matter honestly.  I do not expect my handling of this chapter to be immediately satisfying to the reader, as this issue is incredibly complex, and has been discussed throughout Church History at various times, and with various unique views represented.  Nor do I view this work as the best contemporary work on the matter.  I merely hope to add to the growing resources that are advocating for a radical interpretation of Christ’s teachings of nonviolence.


Works Cited

Cowles, C. S.; Merrill, Eugene H.; Merrill, Eugene H.; Gard, Daniel L.; Gard, Daniel L.; Longman III, Tremper; Longman III, Tremper (2010-04-24). Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 1231-1235 , 1524-1525, ). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Henry, Matthew. “Deuteronomy 1:19-46.” Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary On The Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. 183. Print.

MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.

Maxwell, John C. “19.” The Communicator’s Commentary – Deuteronomy. Ed. Lloyd John. Ogilvie. Vol. 5. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1987. 247. Print.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 465-471, 488-494). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter One – The Call for Justice

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The Call For Justice

“Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely.”  Proverbs 28:5 (ESV)

When we hear of, read about, or see a person being wrongfully treated, an anger builds up within us. And I would even go as far as to say that this anger over wrongful treatment of another human being, or animal, is a Righteous anger because I believe that this anger is a result of our godly call of upholding the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We want to fight for others because we have a sense within us of what is right/fair and what is NOT right/fair.  N.T. Wright, a well-regarded New Testament scholar and Christian author, even starts his book “Simply Christian” with a first chapter that is dedicated to proving just this; that humans have an innate sense of Justice, and how that sense comes from God.

It is in this understanding that we can understand how a Christian supporter of war would justify their position in stating that the military is fighting against and preventing further injustices, and that it may even be quite Christian to join the fight themselves.

I believe that to desire to act against injustice is Righteous; however, where I part ways with many is when I make the claim that any use of violence against another human being (no matter how “bad” they are), that is not blessed or commanded by God, is against how God calls the Christian to respond to their world.

To give you an insight into who I am, and how I come at things:  I was raised Mennonite, which is a tradition that has consistently advocated against Christians engaging in violence since its inception.  However, I am also a gun owner and I have handled rifles and shotguns ever since I was a young child under the careful supervision of my father who always taught me that guns are never toys, and that they are a tool used to help us hunt and provide for our families.  I own a shotgun now because I would like to get more into Deer Hunting (My area is Shotgun only), and I also have an itch to go for water fowl as well in the future.  I tell you these things so that you can know that I am not someone unfamiliar with guns, and I am not writing this post with the agenda to take away anyone else’s guns – this is NOT a political post…I am writing this post out of my devotion to Christ, and out of my discontent over how many of His followers do not bat an eye over the prospect of killing in War, Service, Self-Defense, or Intrusion.

I do not take this position out of ease, but out of a direct calling for me, the Christian, to FOLLOW Christ, and as a good friend reminded me of the other day – to be a SLAVE of Christ.  It is in recognizing that I am a SLAVE of Christ, that I am affirm that Christ is my Lord. This affirmation would naturally necessitate complete obedience in as much as I am able, and it would also place the call and Lordship of Christ over my life over all else.

But even in recognizing all of those things, even in carrying that logic through, I still am a man who wrestles with this very topic because my nature is one that would retaliate evil for evil if I saw injustice before my eyes.  This nature to retaliate with violence is not just my nature, but it is human nature, and I would also argue that it is our fallen nature.  In this understanding I derived the title of this project – Redeemed Natures, for our Natures need to be redeemed in order to make sense of NOT responding to violence with violence.

I would like to think that I would remain steadfast in my pacifistic confessions in the midst of trial, but no one knows for certain.  My only hope is that I would be able to resolve any given situation without killing anyone, and if I do not “fight” for non-violence NOW in the intellectual sense, how will I ever truly desire to go against that which comes naturally when the time comes when action is needed?

Before I go on, it is important for the reader to know that I hold the position I do because of careful study of the Scriptures, through engaging conversation with people of many beliefs, and through prayer.  I believe that the bible clearly says that murder/killing is wrong; not only within the Words and teachings of Jesus, or in the Ten Commandments, but all throughout scripture (I will expound on this later).  And to make the line even finer, I do not think that there is a difference between killing someone, and murdering someone; to kill is to murder, and to murder is to kill.  This is important because I have spoken with several people who would make the distinction when the duties of a government position calls for the use of violence. Their reasoning stems from Romans 13, in which the Government is allowed to “wage the sword” (We’ll get to that one later on as well).

A Glimpse of my argument from the Old Testament

Most of us know Christ’s famous words “turn the other cheek”, and “love your enemies”; however, we also know that the Israelites in the Old Testament were notorious for war, they were good at it, and that God even helped, and commended them in battle.  A quick read through the books of 1+2 Samuel, and 1+2 Kings will tell you all that you need to know about how God used the kings, prophets, and soldiers of the nation of Israel to carry out His will during those times. 

These truths are present in the Scriptures, and they are not to be ignored.  However, I have come to realize a pattern in the Old Testament in regards to warfare, which I will expound upon in more detail in the next chapter.  To provide you with a glimpse of the argument I will be presenting, I wish to provide you with this:

 

  1. The Lord is justified to take life
    • If anyone is justified to take a life on their own authority, it can only be God who is perfect in knowledge, and who has absolute authority over all creation.
  2. The Lord is justified to command others to take life
    • We see this in the Lord permitting, blessing, and commanding the Israelites to take life in war.
  3. Man who kills without the Lord’s command/Instruction/blessing will be punished because it is doing that which is outside of the Will of God. 

In Conclusion

I am simply a follower of Jesus who desires to share the message of Christian non-violence because I believe that we are commanded by God not to kill, and that that commandment extends to Christians in government, and it even extends to those messy situations where violence seems like the only hope.  I desire this message to spread because it is one of the most noticed yet overlooked commands and messages of Jesus, and I believe that Christians should take His word’s seriously.  In having this desire, I also realize that the people who are okay with Christian involvement in the military most likely do not hold the position that I advocate for, or are simply unaware of a consistent biblical argument for Christian non-violence that extends past an individual’s every day interactions. That is the purpose of this project: to humbly attempt to make a biblical case for my deeply held convictions addressed to an audience who may not have heard one.


Works Referenced

Wright, N. T. “Putting the World to Rights.” Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. 3-15. Print.