How is it possible for the commands of God for Israelite violence to fit with the grace, love, and mercy revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ? It seems impossible, which is why most theories give up one or the other. Most either give up on inerrancy and inspiration, or they assign some sort of bloodlust to God which is “hidden” in Jesus Christ. But such approaches surrender too easily.
If pressed to their logical results, these two core theological convictions actually work together to reveal something beautiful and loving about God.
Read the Bible Backward
One way of reading Scripture is to begin in Genesis and work our way forward in a roughly chronological fashion. There is nothing wrong with this way of reading the Bible, and reading it this way helps us see the flow of the narrative and the big picture story of Scripture.
The problem, however, is that when we get to Jesus in the Gospels (and especially in the Book of Revelation), we tend to import what we think we know about God from the Old Testament into what the New Testament tells us about Jesus. This way of reading Scripture causes us to read about Jesus in light of the portrayals of God in the Old Testament and interpret His actions accordingly.
Reading the Bible Backward
I propose that since Jesus reveals the Father to us, that since Jesus is the exact representation of God, that since Jesus says that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father, that rather than seek to understand Jesus in light of the God of the Old Testament, we seek to understand God in the Old Testament in light of Jesus.
There are many mysteries and questions which get raised by what God does in the Old Testament, but the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provide the key which sorts all the puzzle pieces out and which makes the whole picture click together into a coherent whole.
It is a bit like the movie The Village by M. Night Shyamalan. When you first watch the movie, it is a bit of a suspense thriller. It is scary, frightening, and mysterious. But when the end of the movie reveals what is really going on, the story loses all of its fear and suspense. What is going on is actually quite pathetic and sad.
The Bible is somewhat similar, except that instead of turning out to be pathetic and sad, the story of Scripture reveals a loving and self-sacrificial God which looks in every way just like Jesus Christ. But to see this, we must begin at the “end” of the Bible, that is, not at the last page of the Bible, but at the end to which all Scripture points, namely, Jesus. He is the end, the purpose, the goal, the meaning, and the fulfillment of all Scripture.
When read this way, the Bible is not a cookbook where we can pick it up and stab our finger down to cook up some doctrine, but is more like a storybook which inspires creativity, ignites the imagination and delights the heart and mind of all people everywhere.
While we can read the Bible from beginning to end, it is not until we come to Jesus, the end, purpose, and goal of the Bible, that it all makes sense, that all the pieces fit together, that all the troubling texts reveal their true meaning and significance.
In Jesus, the entire Bible is reframed. He is the lens which provides the true interpretation of Scripture. He is the guide which helps us understand the difficult portions, the key which unlocks the puzzle, and He is the end to which all Scripture points.
When we seek to understand the violence of God in the Old Testament, we must begin by looking at the end. We must begin by looking at the person and work of Jesus Christ.