When we consider how we can begin to make sense of "holy wars" in the Bible, we must remember God's redemptive plan. This overarching narrative should form the backdrop to any such investigation. The Bible, from creation to new creation, reveals a God who is holy, just, and good. God has good plans for the world he has made. His divine character is revealed precisely and perfectly by his reconciling "all things" to himself in and through Jesus Colossians Old Testament "holy wars" can only be rightly understood within a story that reveals a God who is committed to eradicating sin and renewing his creation.
This point seems so simple, and yet it remains so profound. If we rip the troubling accounts of the Old Testament out of their broader creation—new creation context, then we may well distort their contents. Imagine only listening to the bass instruments in Beethoven's fifth symphony. Of course the music would sound strong and powerful, but such a hearing would still be deficient.
Listening to part of the score, or only some of the instruments, inevitably distorts the overall force and beauty of the full symphony.
It is interesting that Richard Dawkins uses the difficult material in the Old Testament—like "holy war"—to reinforce his point that God is egomaniacal, genocidal, and abusive. He pulls these presentations out of the biblical narrative and then parades them as evidence: "See! It's all very bad. This Old Testament god is horrible! If you worship this god then you worship a brutal vindictive ethnic cleanser! This same error may proceed in our reading of "holy wars" in the Old Testament.
The result is that our understanding of God and the biblical teaching may well be distorted. But this draws us to the question: "In light of the biblical narrative, what is 'holy war' in the Old Testament? You may notice that I put the words "holy war" in scare quotes throughout this essay. This is because "holy war" is not a biblical term but rather language that was coined by German scholarship Friedrich Schwally in the early twentieth century.
Schwally applied this language to certain biblical texts such as Deuteronomy , , ; Joshua 6, ; 1 Samuel He compared the warfare depicted there to jihad in Islam.
Of course, there are many problems with this comparison. The first of course is anachronism. But the second is the very notion itself in the Bible. If jihad speaks to an ongoing "struggle" or even "fighting in the name of God," then Old Testament "holy war" does not match this vision.
The overall picture in Old Testament presents not a religious military strategy for Israel to fight for God as if he needs help but rather God fighting for Israel at a particular point in time. This is why it is better to speak of this kind of battle as "divine war" or "Yahweh war.
But regardless of how we translate it, what kind of warfare is this? First, "divine war" in the Bible actually represents non-repeatable actions in the history of Israel. These wars were fought in a particular time and are neither to be repeated by the Church nor to be justified for any peoples in the present world. Although some have used the "divine war" material in the Old Testament as fodder for the war machine especially during the colonization of the Americas , such applications of the biblical material simply misunderstand the place of "divine war" in the story of Scripture.
This kind of warfare was particular for Israel as they moved into the land of Canaan. Second, "divine war" is an act of a patient and merciful God. God commanded "divine war" against Canaan, but only after years of waiting for their sin to reach "full measure" Genesis That is to say, God did not punish the Canaanites for sin immediately—his mercy extended long, because his compassion and grace are long.
And if the Canaanites would have turned to God, then they would have been saved. The story of Rahab provides evidence for this Joshua 2. She is saved because of her faith in God despite the fact that she is both a prostitute and a Canaanite. Still, even the story of Rahab is not unique in the Old Testament, contradicting the argument that the Biblical God is xenophobic or an "ethnic-cleanser": Jethro the Midianite is brought into the fold of Israel in his faith Exodus 18 and Ruth the Moabitess is clearly brought into the fold of Israel because of her faith in God Ruth 1.
Joseph's and Moses' children are of mixed ethnicity as well, brought into the family of God. Third, "divine war" is not concerned with genocide or ethnic cleansing but rather with eliminating false worship. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion.
They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.
When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him.
When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, on the border formed by the Arnon, at the extremity of the border. And from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that looks down on the desert. And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon, to the high places to weep; over Nebo and over Medeba Moab wails. On every head is baldness; every beard is shorn;.
A Song. A Psalm of Asaph. O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads.
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They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. These also King David dedicated to the Lord , together with the silver and gold that he had carried off from all the nations, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and Amalek.
Will not the judge of all the earth do right?
And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother. In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years.
He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord , though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. Because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.
And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years. So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord , and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber.
And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to dwell in, and their pasturelands shall be for their cattle and for their livestock and for all their beasts. The pasturelands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all around.
And you shall measure, outside the city, on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle. This shall belong to them as pastureland for their cities. And they set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho;. Then they brought the captives and the plunder and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak's message. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed. For fire came out from Heshbon, flame from the city of Sihon. It devoured Ar of Moab, and swallowed the heights of the Arnon.
Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, reigned in his place, the name of his city being Avith. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites.
Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trampled down in his place, as straw is trampled down in a dunghill. And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim, but the Lord will lay low his pompous pride together with the skill of his hands.
Canaanites, Amorites, and Hittites in History and the Bible | Is That in the Bible?
And the high fortifications of his walls he will bring down, lay low, and cast to the ground, to the dust. Heshbon and Elealeh cry out; their voice is heard as far as Jahaz; therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud; his soul trembles. My heart cries out for Moab; her fugitives flee to Zoar, to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith they go up weeping; on the road to Horonaim they raise a cry of destruction;. The importance of having sound principles of interpretation cannot be overstated as to ignore them will result in all manner of erroneous assumptions. Once upon a time, Postmodernism was a buzz word.
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The Old Testament, "Holy War" and Christian Morality
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Does God Punish People in Hellfire? Do the Wicked Suffer in …. Miracles were certainly a part of certain periods in Bible times. What about today? Are miracles still taking place. There are some very important subjects that surround this area of discussion that are often misunderstood. Andrews will answer such questions as does God step in and solve …. Today there are many questions about homosexuality as it relates to the Bible and Christians. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Does genetics, environment, or traumatic life experiences justify homosexuality?
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Over time, they convinced the people to reject it. As they started to reject this Light, the valley grew dim and the fog rolled in. The people craved the darkness rather than the Light because they were evil. When an ancestor saddles them with the responsibility to purge Australia of a demon threatening to wipe our humanity with black flames, fraternal siblings Amber and Michael Hauksby lay their lives on the line.
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