Ever wonder how God can command such violence in the Old Testament, but Jesus commands only love and mercy?
One view that is prominent among biblical scholars is that although God used war, He didn’t like it.
As seen in Jesus Christ, God hates war. But He uses it in human history for two purposes: to accomplish His will through messy human methods, and to reveal the horror of life apart from Him. God used war to bare evil to the bone, to unmask the myth of redemptive violence, to show that bloodshed results only in more bloodshed.
Divine Accommodation in War
Those who hold this view argue that the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament reveal God’s divine accommodation to human sinfulness and evil. God, knowing that sin will be involved no matter how He uses humans in this world, gives the commands for Israel to perform the violence in a way which reveals to them and to the rest of the world how wicked and evil sin really is.
God wants to expose the wickedness of sin in all its ugliness, and so chooses Israel to bear the curse of sin for the world in all its blackness and horror.
As with many of the other positions mentioned previously, there is much to commend this view. It is absolutely true that violence only leads to more violence. Murder, bloodshed, and war, however it is justified in the minds of those who commit it, always and only leads to more violence. Jesus said that “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” (Matt 26:52) and this truth has been seen over and over throughout history and throughout Scripture. Violence does not lead to peace, but only to further violence.
It is also an undeniable fact that God often uses messy human methods to accomplish His will. In a world like ours, there are rarely any clean routes to anything. Even the most peaceful and pristine areas have powerful men exploiting the powerless, and the most beautiful of areas have bloodshed in the back alleys. If God is going to accomplish anything in the world, He has no choice but to use sinful human beings to do it.
Why God Cannot Accommodate Violence
Nevertheless, this view is deficient in that it seems to portray God as helplessly caught in a web of evil which He cannot escape.
This view paints God as a helpless victim of evil, and though He wishes the world were otherwise, His only options are to choose between various evils, and when confronted with the choice, He chooses the greatest evil in a vain attempt to show how terrible evil truly is. But as history has shown, nobody ever understands the point, for the evil of violence still continues.
In short, this view reveals a God who is both helpless and clueless, for since He cannot stop evil He uses it, and when He uses evil to accomplish His purposes, He hopes that the most violent and terrible use of evil will teach people how horrible evil really is, but only the opposite ever happens: people become more and more evil.
As with some of the other views, I believe that this view has touched on some truth, but has missed an essential element of what is really going on with the divine commands for war and violence in the Old Testament. In future posts we will look at what this missing element is.