Monday, 9 January 2012

War in the Old Testament

What about the Canaanites?


Those of us who adhere to a classic form of belief in God — God is good, holy, loving, sovereign — have a problem: evil. Evil is a problem for any thinking Christian — a serious problem. Simply put: if God is good, we have to ask why there is evil. If God is sovereign, we have to ask why there is evil. And if God is good we have to ask if God is sovereign.

False Views

1. Setting the Two Testaments Against Each Other

This view goes back to Marcion, 2ndCentury:
‘All these nasty things happened in the OT, but now we are NT Christians we know God was never like that (though the primitive Israelites thought he was) or God has changed in the way he engages with us as seen in Jesus.’
This won’t do:
It is a caricature of the OT which has much to say about the love of God.
It is a caricature of the NT which has much to say about the judgement of God.
It caricatures Jesus and the NT writers who do not reject the OT but fulfil it.

Bono on OT vs. NT

There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable.
But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend.
When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules.
But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

OT vs. NT

There probably are some differences between the OT and the NT
But God is the same throughout the Bible
The New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant, rather it fulfils it

2. The Israelites Misunderstood God

Israel did the violence and attributed their actions to God’s will. In other words, the ‘God told me to do it’ defence of the indefensible.
Alternatively God spoke the words as hyperbole but the Israelites took them literally e.g. ‘We’re going to kill the opposition’ (before a game of basketball).
This neatly gets God off the hook and the Israelites on it.
The problems are:
There is no hint anywhere that the conquest of Canaan was a ‘mistake’. In fact the opposite is true, the refusal of the Exodus generation to go ahead are acts of disobedience
All through the Bible the Promised Land is celebrated as just that – a fulfilled promise of God to his people.

3. It Should All Be Interpreted as an Allegory on Spiritual Warfare

To dilute the reality of the Canaanite conquest by spiritualising the whole event. The story becomes a reservoir of spiritual lessons:
Victory over spiritual enemies
Release from slavery to sin
Overcoming a wilderness experience
God fulfilling his promises
The arrival of Israel in Canaan is not an allegory but a historical narrative. ‘It was not allegorical Israelites who attacked or allegorical Canaanites who died.’ Chris Wright
 “There are days I wish,” he says, “this narrative were not in the Bible at all.” Wright’s approach is to examine this issue in the context of three biblical frameworks — frameworks that do not “explain away” but do “set in context.”
Framework of the OT story
‘Yahweh war’ not holy war
Unique event in history
Framework of God’s sovereign justice
Canaanites were sinful
This doesn’t mean Israel was altogether righteous
Framework of God’s plan of salvation
Blessing the Nations
The Nations will Praise God


It is hard to reach firm conclusions
Any easy answers in this area (or in the area of suffering/evil) will just sound pat
Is it possible that we aren’t able to comprehend this issue from God’s point of view? We are finite, He is infinite. We are limited, He is limitless…


C.J. Wright ‘The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith’ Zondervan 2008 (and available on Kindle)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Exuberance and Extravagance

Sometimes we get the idea that our devotional life needs to be quiet. The still small voice. Candles. Hushed voices. Songs sung unaccompanied, in unison during worship. And that’s all true, but our experience of God can also be exuberant and our giving of ourselves to Him extravagant:
·         God is our model. He is exuberant in all He does:
  • In creation (Gen 1). Gen 1:20-22  
  • In mercy and grace Exo 20:6 showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exo 34:5-7  5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.  6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…"
  • In his relationship with His people – His covenant with us, His faithful love.
Also God gave himself extravantly in Christ for us Gal 1:3; 2:20; Eph 5:25-26. (See also 1Ti 2:6,14; Philippians 2 ‘Who being in very nature God…’).
·         We are extravagant in our giving and exuberant in our worship because that is how we have been made. If we weren’t those things in worship we would be in something else that matters to us (cycling, golf, football…)
o    A mission worker, single lady, was retiring to the UK after many years of service in the Bhutan. It became known that she didn’t know where she would live, but someone in the church gave her a house. A whole house to live in!
o   Gifts needn’t be large – they can still be extravagant and life-changing. John Bechtel, a missionary in Hong Kong, wanted to start a Christian camp to reach people for Christ. A bankrupt multimillion-dollar hotel and conference center became available for sale. He made an offer to purchase the property and then traveled around the world to raise the millions he would need. But no one was willing to help and he returned to Hong Kong discouraged. Then one day he got a letter from a young girl that included $1 and a note saying she wanted him to use this to buy the camp. John Bechtel prayed and took the girl’s $1 to the real estate closing and the corporation decided to accept the $1 as full payment! Since the camp first opened, over a million people have come and over 100,000 have accepted Christ.
o   Here's an example of some football supporters showing some exuberance!
·         Prayer and worship are spiritual warfare – hence the ‘battle-cry’ (Teru`a) in Psalms:
6 Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the LORD with music.
3 Sing a new song of praise to him;
play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.
5 God has ascended with a mighty shout.
The LORD has ascended with trumpets blaring.
15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship,
for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
5 Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
o    PSA 27:6; 33:3 ;47:6; 89:16; 150:5 respectively (Hebrew verse no.s) all from NLT. Amazing that each is translated differently because of the different contexts.
o   Psa 41:12; 47:2; 60:10; 65:14; 66:1; 81:2; 95:1f; 98:4, 6; 100:1; 108:10 have the word rawa` which is a shout with joy or triumph. Likewise rina and ranan.
o   So lots of words for loud shouting, and I think these need to be taken into account when we lead worship, however unpopular it may be with some folk who aren’t used to it.
Conclusion: let’s be extravagant in all we do in service of God. Worship should be loud. Joyful. Giving (time and money) extravagant. Our times with God should be as envigorating as a 5-mile run. You should feel pumped afterwards. If you don’t, maybe it’s time to up your game!