When it comes to the violence of God in the Old Testament, one of the primary areas of concern is not only with God’s apparent violent actions in Scripture, but what God commands Israel to violently do in His name. In other words, the violence of God is often carried out through commands to Israel to do violence.
Israel as God’s “Hit Man”
Though in the minds of some, there is no difference between God commanding the ground to swallow people up and God commanding the Israelites to kill everyone in a particular city, others see a huge difference between the two. After all, though storms are lifeless and soulless, when God commands people to carry out His judgment He is commanding humans to take the life of other humans thereby involving them in His questionable actions.
Many critics of Christianity think that if God wants to be violent toward humanity, He should do the dirty work Himself. The fact that He asks Israel to be His “Hit Man” only makes the situation worse in the eyes of some.
Some theologians and Bible teachers try to soften the commands of God to Israel to commit violence in His name. Several of these attempts were summarized in the previous posts when we looked at several of the views of how people seek to explain the violence of God in Scripture, but the tragic fact is that violence of Israel cannot easily be explained away, and often the same reasoning that is used to get Israel if the hook in her violence toward neighboring nations is then used to justify (and even encourage) violence today from our own country toward those we view as enemies of God.
We will return to this issue later after we have seen a new way of viewing the violence of Israel.
Understand God by Looking at Jesus
Part of the framework for viewing this violence is to build upon everything we have seen so far in this chapter. If the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and if Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels reveals the Father to us, then we should read about God in the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus, and not the other way around. We should try to understand the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob within the light of Jesus. We do not necessarily ask, “What does God teach us about Jesus?” but rather, “What does Jesus teach us about God?”
Understand Israel by Looking at Jesus
The exact same approach can be used when thinking about Israel.
Over and over in the Gospels, we see hints, allusions, and clear statements to the truth that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel. Jesus is true Israel. In Jesus, all the hopes, expectations, desires, dreams, and goals of all the people of Israel come into focus and come to fruition. Jesus lives as Israel was always supposed to live.
Though most scholars and Bible teachers agree that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Messianic hopes and promises, and some may even agree that fulfilled and completed Israel herself, few seem to recognize that just as Jesus shows us how to understand what God is like, so also, Jesus shows us how to understand what Israel was supposed to be.
There was, of course, never any real chance of Israel looking, acting, or becoming fully like Jesus Christ, because Israel consisted entirely of sinful human beings, whereas Jesus Christ was sinless, but the point is that just as Jesus reveals God the Father to us, so also, Jesus reveals Israel.
If we want to understand what God wanted Israel to be and do, we would do best to begin by looking at the life of Jesus, and then reading all Old Testament history in light of Him. To understand Israel’s place in the world, we must read Jesus back onto Israel; not the other way around.
Jesus frames Israel, not vice versa. Jesus reveals Israel to us by showing us what God wanted, what God intended, and how Israel was supposed to function within this world.How can a God who says "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44) be the same God who instructs His people in the Old Testament to kill their enemies?
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