Thursday, March 23, 2006

Murder, rape, genocide?

I used to ignore this debate. But I've read quite a few websites (e.g. this one) where its discussed recently and have had to re-think my position on it.

The issue is does God endorse murder, rape and genocide in the old testament?

The answer, if you take the bible at face value, is yes!

Numerous times throughout the early books of the old testament (Genesis through to Samuel) the text clearly says that God instructs the israelites to utterly destroy a nation, including all men, women, children and even animals sometimes. There is no other word for this than genocide. For example, Deuteronomy chapter 7v1-2 says:

"When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you-Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you - and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no covenant with them nor show them compassion!"

On other occasions, e.g. Deuteronomy 21v10-14, the Israelites were instructed to spare all female virgins from the genocide in order that the Israelites might have sexual relations with them and take them as their wives.

"When you engage your enemies in warfare and the Lord your God allows you to prevail and you take prisoners, if you should see among them an attractive woman whom you wish to take as a wife, you may bring her back to your house. She must shave her head, trim her nails, discard the clothing she was wearing when captured, go to your house, and lament for her father and mother for a full month. After that you may have sexual relations with her and become her husband and she your wife. If it should turn out that you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell her; you must not take advantage of her, since you have already humiliated her."

This is not a consentual relationship we're talking about here, this is clearly rape and sex-slavery! And there are many instances of it in the OT.

The question is did God actually command the Israelites to do these things?

The only stance I can take on this is that the God of love would not command these things. Thus these stories, presented in the bible, cannot be the inspired word of God. Surely they must be a modified history of the Israelites, written some time after the events described - it was known what happened, so it was assumed that these actions must have been God endorsed, so it was recorded accordingly.

Or is there a way of defending these actions and maintaining that God did indeed order these things but is still the God of love that we speak of today?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Yesterday, today, forever?

When I was young, one of the popular songs that was sung in Sunday school went like this:

Yesterday, today, forever, Jesus is the same
All may change but Jesus never
Glory to his name...

That song and those words are permanently imprinted on my memory. I guess its based on Hebrews 13 v. 8 (which actually seems out of context when you read it in context!).

But what does it mean? And what does it mean for us?

On one level it can't be true - Jesus was born a baby, grew up, was crucified, died, rose again and ascended to heaven where he was given the name above all names. All that shows a process of change from boy to man, from un-scarred to permanently scarred and from not-the-name-above-all-names to name-above-all-names.

Perhaps the words are meant to apply to the post-ascended, name-above-all Jesus - maybe it was at that point that he started not changing?

I've generally understood the words to mean that God/Jesus will always treat us the same way, but I began to question that assumption several years ago when I read the book "The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery" by Richard Elliot Friedman (read chapter 1 online here). The book is split into three sections, the second and third of which are a lot less interesting than the first and which I won't discuss here. The first section however looks at the way God interacts with his people in the Old Testament. It makes the astounding observation that the way God has dealt with his people has progressively changed through time!

For example, consider the following biblical people:
  1. Adam: spoke with God face to face; disobeyed and was severely punished.
  2. Abraham: spoke with God face to face; tried to persuade God to change his mind (re: Sodom) but wasn't able to; unquestioned obediance was expected.
  3. Moses: spoke to God but didn't see his face; negotiated (sucessfully) with God; when commanded to do something was able to persuade God into letting him take his brother along with him; when commanded to speak to a rock to produce water he struck it instead but the miracle still worked (Numbers 20); but was still punished for this weakness.
  4. Joshua: didn't have the same level of contact with God as Moses; yet still was accompanied by numerous miracles etc.
  5. The judges: much fewer miracles; much less direct communication from God. Note the way that Samson behaves - that sort of behaviour wouldn't have been tolerated in the time of Abraham or Moses, but God seems to let it go here.
  6. Samuel: is the last named person in the bible who God 'revealed' himself to.
  7. Solomon: is the last person in the bible who God 'appeared' to.
From there on in, God speaks only thorough the prophets, and their writings and communications diminish in volume and in the number of 'thus sayth the Lord' as time goes on. By the time we reach the last (chronological) book in the old testament, the book of Esther, God does not feature as an explicit character, he is not even named and there is no communication from him, only prayers to him.

Anyway, there's whole lots of interesting things to be deduced from that process of change, but one thing is clear - God does not behave the same way to all people at all times.

So even if we know how God treated his people in biblical times, how can we be sure how he will treat us in the future?

Comments anyone?