the Bible does not command holy war

crusader-17203The Old Testament has been criticized for the violence commanded by God. Israel is told to kill the inhabitants of the Promised Land. This command extends to women, children, and even livestock:

Deu 20:16 But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
Deu 20:17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded,

The Deuteronomy passage gives a reason for the genocide:

Deu 20:18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.

A few notes: God wants the genocide because He fears that Israel will adopt their practices (a prediction which comes true). This command only applies to inhabitants of the Promised Land. Foreign peoples were only to have the fighting age males killed, and this is only if they are in war with Israel and only if they refused to become tributaries (Deu 20:10). An underlying justification for the genocide is that the inhabitants are intolerably wicked. This is explicit in Leviticus 18:

Lev 18:24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean,
Lev 18:25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
Lev 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you
Lev 18:27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean),
Lev 18:28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

Israel is allowed to dispossess the current inhabitants because they are exceedingly wicked. God lists their sins: incest, sex with both a mother and daughter, sex with a menstruating woman, adultery, sacrificing children, homosexuality, and bestiality. Murder and sexual sins are the chief of God’s concerns. Of important note, God is not overly concerned about foreigners worshiping other gods. As Christine Hayes writes:

Moreover, like Kaufmann, Sarna stresses (Genesis, 53) that humankind is not, in this story, punished for violations of religious sins, that is, for idolatry or failure to worship the god of Israel. It is the view of the Torah books that each nation worships its gods in its own way, and only Israel is obligated to worship the god of Israel. The other nations are not held accountable for idolatry in the Torah as Israel will be. But all peoples, Israelites and non-Israelites alike, by virtue of having been created by the one god and in his image— even though they may not know or worship that god— are bound to a basic moral law that precludes murder and all forms of physical and social violence.

What this means, and a major factor in considering the justice of Israel’s genocides, is that the wars of Israel were not Holy Wars. Additionally, there does not seem to be a general command of Israel’s tributaries to worship Yahweh. Israel’s wars were not jihad against the “infidel” (sometimes Israel warred against Israel for moral reasons). The inhabitants would not have been dispossessed of the land if they were righteous. The double coincidence of residing in prime real-estate and being intolerably evil led to their downfall. [There is the curious case of Gibeon, who was able to avoid genocide with a crafty peace treaty. This trumped God’s command for genocide and was honored by Israel.]

Instead of Holy War, God’s commands had a foundation in moral, retributive justice. The pagan nations were involved in heinous sex crimes and in murder of children. It was this that God was punishing. God tells Israel that if they commit the same, God will likewise do to them. Israel could easily be the recipient of God’s punishment.

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Fallacies of Calvinists

These following fallacies are common Calvinistic fallacies. This list is not meant to be taken that non-Calvinists do not often fall for these fallacies, but that these fallacies are ones often encountered in debates with Calvinists.

Moralistic fallacy

What it is:

The moralistic fallacy is the informal fallacy of assuming that whichever aspect of nature which has socially unpleasant consequences cannot exist. Its typical form is “if X were true, then it would happen that Z!”, where Z is a morally, socially or politically undesirable thing. What should be moral is assumed a priori to also be naturally occurring.

Where Calvinists use it:

Everywhere and always. Open Theism is wrong because it presents a new understanding of omniscience. Open Theism is wrong because God then would not be “sovereign”. Open Theism is wrong because if the future is open the Satan might win. Open Theism is wrong because then God would sometimes be “wrong”.

This article “refuting” Open Theism relies primarily on the Moralistic Fallacy: link

The Motte and Bailey Argument

What it is:

The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.


The idea is that an arguer makes an absurd claim that is not defensible. When pressed, they retreat to a more defensible position. If they win that, the again continue claiming the original absurd claim.

Where we see it:

Any time Calvinists claim that God controls everything or that God knows everything in the future. They may retreat to attempting to prove God controlled one thing or that God knew one thing in the future.

Here is one Calvinist claiming that the case of Joseph proves God’s control of all things:

The Worst Argument in the World

What it is:

I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: “X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member.” Source

Where wematt-slick-worst-argument-in-the-world see it:

When Calvinists want to call the God of Open Theism “ignorant” or “makes mistakes”. The fallacy comes because usually people that “know quite a lot” or even know “everything everywhere” would not be conventionally called “ignorant” even if they might somehow technically fit the definition. Likewise, here is Matt Slick making the Worst Argument in the World when trying to get an Open Theist to say God makes mistakes: link

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Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas J Oord


For believers, making sense of [evil events] requires belief in God. But the answers that most give to the question of God’s relation to randomness and evil leave me unconvinced and discontented. They don’t make sense. Believers need better responses than the usual fare.
– Thomas Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God

Thomas J Oord is understandably unimpressed with the standard answers to the problem of evil. Evil, it is said, is part of God’s plan. Evil is used by God to teach people. Evil is the result of sinful people and God does not interfere in order to preserve freedom. Christians give all sorts of complicated and incomplete answers to the answer of evil, but evil remains a powerful argument from those wishing to reject God. Former Calvinist Bart Ehrman, a popular scholar and critic of Christianity, cites evil as the main reason he left Christianity. If evil can convert hardcore Calvinists into atheism, then what chance do the rest of us have?

In his first chapter, Oord details three such true stories of heartbreak, suffering, and random happenstance. I will add to it my own:

A day after my 31st birthday, we received a call about my six year old son. We had been trying to diagnose a lump on his neck. The doctors were not certain what it was, but on this day they were informing us about the results of a biopsy. It was cancer: T-Cell leukemia. For the next 6 months we spent week after endless week in the hospital. This six year old was poked and prodded. He lost his hair. They installed a port on his chest and in his stomach. They pumped endless toxins into his spinal column. Although he finally was placed in the medium risk category and fell into remission, his newfound friends at the hospital were not as lucky.

One child, struggling to stay alive, is now given a 20% chance of survival. This strong kid fights day and night, braving horrendous radiation treatments. He desperately clings to life against the odds. Although his odds of survival are slipping, he presses to do anything to live. Often these children die in spite of their pleas for life.

I lay awake at night in the children’s ward listening to the cries from adjacent rooms. The sound is maddening. Children are suffering through no fault of their own, day and night. Some are too young to comprehend what is happening. And this is a first world country. In other places and in other times, there was not medicine to dull the pain. There was no surgery to fix a broken body. There was no hope. Child mortality, until the modern world, hovered at about 50%.

Evil is real and critics of Christianity cannot just be easily dismissed with platitudes on this front. Where was God in all of this? Was this some sort of plan by God to teach some lesson?

Oord responds:

Is the “lesson” they learned in death worth the evil they suffered? Can dead people mature?

Some evils are character destroying rather than character building. Many people have lives that are made far worse because of intense pain. They grow bitter, vengeful and tyrannical, making life hellish for others and themselves. The alleged divine strategy of improving personal character is often counterproductive.

Oord spends the first few chapters talking about randomness. He very well understands that events can be random but aggregates can be predictable. He also spends an appropriate amount of time dispelling the myth that any limitations on choice is a violation of free will. He states the most intuitive position on the matter: “The limited-but-genuine-freedom position says we freely choose among a limited number of options.”

This is what human beings experience. We cannot choose to jump to the moon, but most can choose to jump two feet into the air as opposed to one foot into the air. We choose what position to hold our arms during the jump or whether to allow physics to control their placement. Although our jump is limited by the extent of our strength, I would add that humans have available an infinite number of choices within set limitations. Even with limits, human beings have limitless options.

Oord starts with the common sense notion that whatever we experience should be our default understanding as to how the world works. If our daily experience is free choice (e.g. I choose between a Coke or some Lemonade to drink) then this should be our default metaphysical position. Fatalism should only be accepted if there is strong evidence to overcome our intuition (and claiming “intuition” is a result of fatalism is of no help to anyone). Oord acknowledges that the fatalists will always claim that there are underlying formulas influencing everything that happens (despite evidence of randomness on a subatomic level). If someone is devoted to fatalism, they can always claim that fatalism produces an appearance of randomness. How this is more rational than defaulting to randomness creating an appearance of randomness is anyone’s guess.

On top of this basis, Oord presents a model of providence in which God’s natural attributes inherently limit the extent of God’s abilities. This should be a very familiar concept to anyone familiar with the metaphysics proposed by most modern Christians. Proponents of “omniscience and omnipotence” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability for God to limit His knowledge (e.g. forget events or not see events happen). Proponents of “omnipresence and omnipotence” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability for God to limit His location. Proponents of “omnipotence and immutability” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability of God to change. Even schools of Open Theism limit omniscience to what can rationally be known. Because Negative Attributes are inherently contradictory, something has to give. To Oord, what gives is God’s ability to be coercive (God’s benevolence limits God’s omnipotence).

This proffered metaphysical model, admittedly, is of better fit than most current models although it shares with these other models the reimagining of ancient Jewish theology. In both Reformed metaphysics and in Oord’s metaphysics are God’s thoughts and actions stripped from the Biblical narrative (such as God’s destruction of the Earth to undo His regretted creation, or God’s laments that He has punished Israel continuously in vain). In this respect, Oord is similar to the Calvinist tradition. In other respects, Oord is superior to the Calvinist tradition (by not stripping God of His emotions, relational nature, and love). In both Oord’s metaphysics and Calvinism, God is powerless to stop evil (so there is not a power disparity). For this reason, I would classify Oord as more Theologically Biblical than even a Fundamentalist Calvinist. Both rework the Bible’s picture of God, Oord to a lesser extent.

Oord offers a metaphysics of “essential kenosis”. The idea is that God gives Himself into creation. Because the world is an extension of God’s love, God cannot unilaterally change creation. This would be God changing His own nature, which Oord says is impossible. Evil exists because God cannot stop it. But God can bilaterally change creation (differentiating Oord from Process Theology). This is Oord’s solution to a benevolent God coexisting with an evil world. Oord explains this more thoroughly than a review can do justice.

The book is engaging to read. There are insights on just about every front (from statistics to science to theology). The sources that are cited come from a wide variety of traditions. The flow of the text is, for the most part, smooth. The points are interwoven to make the most of their effect on the audience. Anyone interested in benevolence (or even Christological metaphysics) would do well to pick up this book.

If a reader is looking for a book on Biblical critical scholarship, this is probably not the book for them. If, instead, a reader is interested in a compelling and fair overview of a host of metaphysical models (proffering what it believes is the best metaphysical model which can be then applied to the Bible), this is a book they should not miss.

Book available December 2015.

Posted in God, Open Theism, Theology | 2 Comments

against the modern pharisees

south park cigs
There is a scene in Mark in which the Pharisees accost Jesus for not following ritual law that had been developed from their interpretations of Levitical code:

Mar 7:5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”
Mar 7:6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME.
Mar 7:8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men— the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

The Pharisees approach Jesus and condemn/question him for not purifying his hands before eating. This law was invented by the Pharisees, an interpretation of broader laws found in the code of Moses (possibly Leviticus 11). Jesus responds by condemning them for following the guidance of man and ignoring what God actually said.

In America, Christians have invented their own morality, not unlike the Pharisees. In American culture, it is a sin to drink, smoke, and to do drugs (these Christians often make exception for medical purposes, vaguely defined). This article will focus on smoking, being a particularly weird morality stance taken by the modern Pharisees.

In these circles, one cigarette (or e-cigarette) is a sin. The view that one cigarette is evil is drawn from wild leaps of logic, irrational thinking, and is applied with inconsistency over a wide range of actions and behaviors. There is always just one prooftext for this:

1Co 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

1 Corinthians 6:19 is found in a fleeting reference in a letter to the Corinthians from Paul. This is the “go-to” verse on this issue. Presumably, if 1 Corinthians 6:19 was to have been lost in history the anti-smoking advocate would not be able to find support in the 31,101 other verses in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 6:19 is the catch-all verse used to condemn any behavior with which the modern Pharisee does not agree (it is the Biblical Commerce Clause).

The verse, itself, is found in the context of sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is a consistent sin that is countered throughout the Bible. There are a lot of prohibitions found on sexual immorality in the Bible and even laws against sexual immorality in the Old Testament. In context of 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul is countering an often condemned sin. This is not an “exercise and be healthy” verse. The modern Pharisees then take Paul’s words and extend them to a whole host of activities that are not elsewhere covered in the Bible (activities of their own invention which just happen to line up with modern American sensibilities).

The thought pattern is as such:
Premise 1: “Your body is a temple”. Premise 2: “Cigarettes are dangerous”. Conclusion: “Smoking even one cigarette is a sin.” Bonus: “e-cigarettes are also a sin because they kind of look like normal cigarettes.”

Notice the wild leaps of logic. Assumptions are brought onto what it means that “our body is a temple”. Assumptions are brought into the dangers of smoking and these assumptions are pressed past the point of breaking with reductio ad absurdum that is honestly believed by the advocates. Just to be emphasize this important point: the reductio ad absurdum is the position held by the advocates (it is not just a hypothetical to cast doubt on a belief).

But the entire chain of logic is flawed. Starting with the last claim: by what standard can one cigarette be said to be dangerous?

Is one Oreo cookie dangerous? Surely, eating nothing but Oreos is incredibly dangerous. Is it likewise a sin to eat a single Oreo? One Oreo a week? One pack of Oreos a week? One pack of Oreos per day? Some studies suggest Oreos can be more addictive then even cocaine (link).

One cigarette in someone’s lifetime cannot have any discernable effect on the “temple of God”, especially not more effect than one Oreo or one slice of greasy pizza or one day exploring a cave. Plenty of employees currently work in conditions that have air much more toxic than one cigarette per day. Are these immoral jobs? Is living in a polluted city a sin? Why are cigarettes singled out? Where does the advocate draw the line? It is arbitrary and absurd.

All of this challenges the second claim: at what point are cigarettes dangerous? One pack a day? One pack a week? One pack a year? It is hard to know.

Cigarettes are just one input over a lifetime of conflicting inputs into how healthy people are. In Japan, there is a higher consumption rate of cigarettes coupled with some of the lowest rates of lung cancer in the world. In fact, Americans are six times likelier to get lung cancer than their equivalent Japanese counterpart. Japan has the longest life expectance in the world while it ranks number 17 for cigarettes smoked per adult per year. Something else is going on, and it does not look like cigarettes are the entire picture.

Not all people have the same harms induced by cigarettes. In fact, smoking might have some health benefits (like the following). For sake of argument, if occasional smoking had health benefits then is smoking still bad?

As a disclaimer: nothing in this article is calling for people to take up heavy smoking. This should be obvious, but in my conversations with these modern Pharisees, they do not understand temperance and moderation. They just try to assume out a possibility that is very real in my own life: smoking on average about 1 cigarette per year.

The most absurd leap of logic made by these Pharisees is thinking that the apostle Paul had smoking in mind when he was writing about the body being a temple. This is the same Paul that wrote:

Col 2:16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths…
Col 2:20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—
Col 2:21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”

Paul’s literal claim was that we should not be concerned with what we ingest. The pagans in Colossae were of the opinion that wine and food (the pleasure of consumption) were to be avoided. They were ascetics, trying to deprive their bodies of sensual pleasure. Paul is combating this “humility”. To Paul, nothing we consume can make us unclean. What defines a Christian is our walk with God.

To claim that Paul was writing against cigarette consumption is a complete reversal of Paul’s explicit teachings on the mater. And Paul was merely echoing Jesus’ statement:

Mat 15:11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

When the modern Pharisees claim that something is a sin, there ought to be a little better evidence than tenuous leaps of logic that are formed in their own mind.

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the name of God

tetragrammatonIn Exodus 3:14, God introduces Himself to Moses. This is a very important event in the Bible as it represents perhaps the first time God’s name was known. In Exodus 6, God recounts to Moses that His name “Yahweh” was not known to previous patriarchs:

Exo 6:3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.

But Exodus 3:14 is when God finally does make His name known. The narrative is that Yahweh hears the cry of the slaves in Egypt and Yahweh remembers His covenant with them. Yahweh’s covenant spurs Him to action as He appoints Moses to be His spokesman. Moses is a reluctant spokesman. Moses resists in all types of fashions. One such resistance is Moses’ desire for a power name in order to inspire and intimidate his listeners:

Exo 3:13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
Exo 3:14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” [Yahweh asher Yahweh] And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
Exo 3:15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD [Yahweh] God [eloheem] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’

God’s response almost seems tongue-in-cheek. God’s name is Yahweh, as consistently stated throughout the Bible, so “Yahweh asher Yahweh” might be a snarky way of presenting the name “Yahweh” to Moses. If “Yahweh asher Yahweh” was meant to be God’s full proper name, it is interesting that it is never used again.

The meaning might be “I will be whoever I want to be”. This might be God’s way of frustrating Moses’ question. Yahweh then immediately ties the name “Yahweh” with Israel. So God’s response could be seen as: “I will be whoever I want to be and I chose to be the God of Israel”.

In any case, Moses has no knowledge of this name nor do any of Moses’ hearers. What would they take away from hearing this name? Moses never does get the response for which he is looking. God’s response, translated literally, is “I will be who I will be”. This is an ambiguous and confusing statement of little use to Moses (Moses is never recorded as using it).

But God then takes great care to link His name with Israel. Moses might not have a useful name, but Moses should be reassured in God’s commitment to Israel. Yahweh links His name with Israel in verses 15, 16, and 18. However the name “Yahweh” is taken, it is in relation to Israel. The Talmud backs up this idea:

The only full interpretation of Exodus 3:14 in the Talmud is in Berakoth 9b2, where it is framed in the context of Israel’s servitude in Egypt and Babylon, and is interpreted as an assurance by God that He will be with Israel in all its troubles. The only Talmudic citation of the absolute ehyeh of 3:14b also features in this interpretation, where it is understood simply in terms of God’s compassion towards Israel. Apart from it being the only full interpretation of Exodus 3:14 in the Talmud, Berakoth 9b2 is also highly noteworthy because it is the interpretation subsequently espoused by Rashi, the most respected and influential of all Talmudic commentators and one of the most respected and influential figures in Judaism. The extract from Berakoth 9b2 reads as follows in the Soncino Talmud:

“I am that I am: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Go and say to Israel: I was with you in this servitude, and I shall be with you in the servitude of the (other) kingdoms. He said to Him: Lord of the universe, sufficient is the evil in the time thereof! Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Go and tell them: I Am has sent me unto you.”

Some individuals, such as Norman Geisler, take Exodus 3:14 as some sort of metaphysical claim by Yahweh to be timeless or immutable. But in the Talmud, God’s name is not linked to immutability or timelessness, but to Israel. The idea that God’s name is linked to Israel is a claim for mutability. God is identifying Himself relationally.

The Septuagint might back up Geisler’s claim. This document, written under the watch of the Hellenized king, Ptolemy II, translates Exodus 3:14 roughly to “I am the Being” or “I am the One”. The Hebrew from which it is translated no longer exists, but the translators seem to have taken some liberty.

In contrast to this, the earliest Hebrew texts of Exodus 3:14 record the ancient Hebrew name found in the earliest Hebrew quotes of the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls use the ancient Hebrew script that is also used on the Ketef Hinnom (the earliest known Bible quote dating from 700-650 BC). This is quite interesting as the rest of the Dead Sea Scroll text is in more modern Hebrew. The name Yahweh is left in an ancient script among newer Hebrew script.



Furthermore, two ancient Greek translations also use translations counter to the LXX and closer to what one would expect the Hebrew to mean:

The versions of Aquila and Theodotion have ehyeh asher ehyeh and the ehyeh of 3:14b rendered into Greek as “esomai hos esomai” and “esomai” respectively, which in turn translate as “I will be who I will be” and “I will be”.[3] There could have been several reasons why they chose to translate the words of Exodus 3:14 in this way, but among them would certainly have been a desire to produce a translation that would be more true to the Hebrew original than the Septuagint. For this reason they would have wanted to restore the idem-per-idem form of ehyeh-asher-ehyeh, and so they did. However, had the translators’ only purpose been to restore the idem-per-idem form, then the most obvious revision of ego eimi ho on would have been ego eimi ho ego eimi, which would at least have preserved the only literal translation of ehyeh that does feature in the Septuagint version of the verse (ego eimi). Instead, they chose to replace the words “ego eimi” with “esomai”, which is to replace the words “I am” with “I will be”, and, in keeping with the apparent intention of the Hebrew text, they translated all three occurrences of ehyeh in this way.

The author of this paragraph rejects the understanding of Aquila and Theodotion because the author absurdly maintains: “in Judaism God is understood to be eternally immutable”. But Aquila and Theodotion appear to be preserving the natural Hebrew reading in which God is not making a metaphysical claim (a claim never developed anywhere in the Bible and is countered by endless texts). But Aquila and Theodotion support the idea that God is saying “I will be who I will be” or “I am who I will be”. Their claim, along with what is probably the original Hebrew text, is that God is dynamic and relational.

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God and His unilateral suzerainty covenant with abraham

The Bible maintains a strong theme of God’s unilateral promise to Israel. This promise was so strong that Israelites believed they were saved by virtue of being Jewish. Two of the strongest prooftexts for God’s changeability are really in context of this unilateral covenant:

Mal 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Heb 6:17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,
Heb 6:18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

This unilateral covenant is the bedrock of Jewish theology. The striking thing is that it is unilateral.

Christine Hayes writes:

…Ancient Near Eastern parallels to the biblical covenant have been pointed out by historians. In suzerainty covenants, a superior party dictates the terms of a political treaty, and an inferior party obeys them. The arrangement serves primarily the interests of the suzerain, or superior party. In parity covenants, two equal parties agree to observe the provisions of a treaty.

There are four major covenants in the Hebrew Bible initiated by Yahweh, as expressions of divine favor and graciousness. Two of these appear in Genesis: the Noahide covenant and the Abrahamic (or patriarchal) covenant. The Noahide covenant in Gen 9: 1– 17 is universal in scope, encompassing all life on earth. The covenant stresses the sanctity of life, and Yahweh promises never to destroy all life again. By contrast, the Abrahamic covenant is a covenant with a single individual and so resembles an ancient Near Eastern suzerainty covenant. Yahweh appears as a suzerain making a land grant to a favored subject. An ancient ritual ratifies the oath— the parties to the oath pass between the split carcass of a sacrificial animal, symbolically signaling their agreement to suffer a like fate should they violate the covenant. In Gen 15, Abraham cuts several sacrificial animals in two. Yahweh, and only Yahweh, passes between the two halves. Thus, the striking thing about the Abrahamic covenant is its unilateral character. Only Yahweh is obligated by the covenant, obligated to fulfill the promise he has made. Abraham does not appear to have any obligation in return. Thus, it is the subject— Abraham— and not the suzerain— Yahweh— who is benefited by this covenant, a reversal of the reader’s expectations.

Hayes, Christine (2012-10-30). Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) (Kindle Locations 1474-1486). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Kingdom Theology, Theology | 5 Comments

it is ok to cut down trees

jack handyIt is often used as an example of God’s care for trees that God prohibited Israel from cutting down trees of their enemies. Whenever this is quoted, this seems to be quoted well out of context. Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy both make this mistake:

A couple verses before this, God is commanding total war. God commands Israel to kill everything that breathes:

Deu 20:13 And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword,
Deu 20:14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.

So is God showing love for the trees and hate for breathing human beings? Not so much. God is telling Israel how Israel will best be served.

Here is the actual context:

Deu 20:19 “When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?
Deu 20:20 Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.

Israel is commanded not to cut down trees that produce edibles because they provide food. God is telling Israel not to destroy a source of food. God redirects Israel to cut down trees that do not bear food (like pine trees and oak trees). God tells them to use these trees to convert into siege weaponry to kill people.

These verses are absolutely not a love song for trees. It is not even a love song for people. Instead it is a military directive to help Israel succeed.

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