Violence In The Old Testament is an ongoing series of reflections designed to help Christians make sense of Jesus’ teaching on peace and enemy love when juxtaposed with the images of an often violent and vengeful God found throughout the Old Testament. After all, violent Old Testament passages, such as those attributing genocidal acts to God, ought to be problematic not just for pacifists, but for every moral, Bible-believing Christian.
I apologize for not posting any new reflections this past month. Despite the apparent inactivity, I have been diligently researching in hopes of refining and improving the remaining posts in this series on violence in the Old Testament. Starting with the next post, we’ll be taking what may seem like an unrelated detour. We’ll be addressing Advent’s big question…the one many Jews were debating in the years before Jesus’ incarnation; namely, what will the long-awaited messiah be like? The answer to this question will significantly aid our efforts to make sense of the apparent incompatibility between Jesus’ teaching on enemy love and the violent strands of the Old Testament.
Oh, and before I dive into today’s post, you’ll have noticed that the website has once again undergone a facelift. I hope you like the new layout, added features, and ever-growing list of resources.
Today, I want to go back and highlight once again the central point of the previous post in this series. I’m doing this because, since writing it, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the implications of that post are arguably the most important lesson for us to learn in this entire series. I realize now that I did not place enough emphasis on them.
As you may recall, in the previous post I presented three reasons that any portrayal of God and any call to a particular way of life that is espoused by Scripture must be filtered through the way of Jesus and His revelation of the triune God’s essential character, values and priorities.
Let’s break that statement down into its two assertions. First, if you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. This is because Jesus is the definitive, unsurpassable, unequalled revelation of God (see Heb. 1:3a). All other biblical revelations of God’s character are intended to be filtered through Jesus. That’s not necessarily to say that other biblical depictions of God are incorrect; they just aren’t as clear and comprehensive and thus are more susceptible to misinterpretation.
Secondly, if you want to know how God intends for us to live, look to Jesus, for we are a people called to follow the way of Christ. As the Apostle John said it, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (I Jn 2:6). Thus, Jesus is not only the definitive revelation of what the triune God is like; Jesus also perfectly modeled all that God intends for humanity to be like.
With these two truths in mind, we no longer need to fear being unable to resolve the apparent contradiction between Jesus’ teaching on peace and enemy love with the vengeance and violence attributed to God in the Old Testament. This is the point I did not stress enough in the previous post.
Listen carefully: When we reach the end of this series, if this issue is still unresolved for you (which is likely), there are two things that should not be at stake: (1) Your mental image of God’s essential character, and (2) Your understanding of how followers of Jesus are to live.
Regardless of our ability or inability to make sense of the violent strands found in the Old Testament, we can remain confident of what God is like and how He desires for us to live, because both are definitely revealed in Jesus.
Should we be confused about what the triune God is like? No. Jesus reveals this quite clearly. Should we be confused about how God desires for us to live? No. Jesus modeled this quite clearly. Will we continue to be confused by the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament? Likely.