Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Genocides in the Old Testament

Some of the most enduring objections to Biblical content are to the instances in the Old Testament of what seems to be nothing other than genocide. I have a secularist friend who insists that 25 million people were ordered to die throughout the OT (though I have not seen his reasoning and tallying). That examples of horrific violence that occurred at God's command or with His silence are there and numerous and terrifying is undeniable. Numbers 31, tucked into the end of a book which began with statistics, is perhaps the most disturbing passage of the Bible. There are various examples of Christian thinkers who have sought to explain and rationalize these acts within the relevant historical context. Usually, these explanations are based on the "character" of the peoples. But I think that just reduces to absurdity. There is a much simpler, more sensible, and at the same time more divinely profound way to understand these horrific acts.

While the Israelites surely massacred other nations at the command of God, the first divine decree for killing was to Abraham regarding his son Isaac. What an awful story, choosing between killing one's own and disobeying God. But Abraham chose to obey. About to plunge the knife, he was stopped. The first God-ordered killing was stopped. That should have a significance, in my opinion, in understanding the rest of them.

At no place in the OT do the Israelites, ordered again and again to commit atrocities, ever stop to think about this first example.

What must be understood is the role of the Israelites in the Christian paradigm. Many call them the chosen people, but few ask what they were chosen ***for***. The entire OT is a story about a stubborn people who constantly fail before God even as He directly deals with them. Chance after chance is given.

Obviously, Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in the OT. As budding Christianity (still largely Jewish) separated from the Rabbinic Jews, the question of Gentile converts' supposed obligation to the Mosaic Law was addressed. In Acts, it is decided that Jewish Christians (the earliest) may continue their rituals for ritual's sake, but they are not to be forced on Gentiles. The Old Testament has been fulfilled. There is a New Testament which applies to the world today.

So again, the point of Israel is to show that even by being "chosen" by God, all people will fail. He could have chosen the Canaanites, the Midianites, the Aztecs, or the Innuit.

When we look back and point to the divinely mandated violence of the Old Testament, it would make sense to read ***all*** the way back to the first divinely mandated killing at all, and realize that it was ***stopped***.

That the Israelites never considered this is part of the point of the OT in the Christian paradigm: humanity fails before God.
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