Sunday, January 25, 2009

Does the Old Testament justify Israel's violence in Gaza?

I dropped a comment on Sivin's blog last week, in reply to someone to wrote in regarding the Hamas-Israeli war. This is what the person said:

"Before you go any further and start getting theological, I’d like to invite you to look simply at your OT and explain why God was so war-like then and did not seem to exhibit our modern sensibility about war and the killing of what we would now termed “innocent” civilians.

"Was the God of the OT the same God today or not? Ponder over this a bit, and then perhaps you might get to be in a better position to dispense your views about Israel/Palestine issue, instead of merely following the world’s view of current events which are largely influenced by people with varied vested interests."

The implication seems to be that since God in the OT endorsed/ordered war and killing, this should be accepted today.

A few comments:

1. Even if we have absolutely NO answer (to the relation between the 'war-like' God of the OT and what we see in the NT), I think our theology would be better ‘on track’ if we focused on Jesus as the ‘ultimate’ (and OT-clarifying) revelation of the kind of God that God is. If we hold to this and if we read the Gospels and look at the character and actions of Jesus, it would become very difficult to justify anything like the violence happening now in Gaza (by any party). Also, I find it significant that the NT writers never used the OT to justify physical violence (and the NT as a whole never condones violence or calls the early church to ‘act in self-defense’, launch pre-emptive strikes, etc, etc.)

2. OT violence was specific divine judgments against wicked nations (e.g. the Amalekites) which continually terrorized the Hebrews. The ‘take-over’ of Canaanland was *punishment due* to the Canaanites for their detestable practices and sin (virtually all the prohibitions in the OT are counter-responses to the practices ALREADY committed by the people, e.g. bestiality, infant sacrifices, incest, prostitution, etc.) i.e. God was going to judge these people anyway but He mercifully decided to not do another Sodom-and-Gomorrah and instructed Israel to chase them out into exile instead.

The point is: This is VERY different from the situation today in which innocent people are being made to suffer because no other retaliatory response (apart from shelling Hamas venues within Gaza) can be considered.

3. Finally, consider the limitations God gave the Israelites for their Canaan campaign:
  • They were supposed to make PEACE to the nations at a distance (see Deut 20:10-16)
  • They were ordered to NOT destroy the ‘cities and the buildings’(!), (see Deut 6:10)
  • They weren’t even supposed to destroy the vegetation and trees, (see Deut 20:19)

Suffice to say, we simply cannot look at the OT violence and a) ignore the message/example of Jesus in order to b) justify the killings of innocents today (for whatever reason).

1 comment:

blogpastor said...

A helpful post, Alwyn.