Friday, September 18, 2009

Towards a theology of violence, IV (Genesis 12-50)

The Patriarchs, Gen 12-50

Beginning in Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abram graciously and without precedent. This is the new beginning of God's redemptive plan. I want to especially highlight two factors that should guide our reading. Firstly, Abram is called 'as is'. God doesn't do any reconstructive work on Abram before his call. In line with this, the Pentateuch is at times oddly silent about what we might consider moral failures. It has little overt criticism for polygamy, for instance. This helps us understand the situation of violence in the Pentateuch, especially Genesis, which largely takes it as a 'given'. It's a part of the ANE setting that passes largely without comment.

Secondly, Gen 12:3, “and him who dishonours you I will curse”, God takes sides. He shows favour to and through Abram, and brings curse against those who dishonour Abram and his descendants. This seems to be the start of a long line of thought that God fights for his people, one that will come into greater prominence down the track.

In Genesis 14 Abram takes a band of trained fighters out to rescue Lot. The account of the war of the kings is fairly matter-of-fact. What is of note is Gen 14:17-24, where Abram disavows his portion of plunder, and Gen 14:23 makes it plain why: Abram is concerned to defend the glory of God in provision of his success. The relevance of this emerges further down the biblical track also.

Gen 15:16 is vital for understanding the conquest narratives. Essentially, the conquest of the book of Joshua is predicated on the full measure of the sin of the Amorites. So, hold that thought.

The incident of Sodom and Gomorrah is very much cast as the judgement of God upon sin and wickedness. Though to the modern mind God's judgement of anybody is offensive, I feel no particular need to defend God at this point. Destruction as Judgement is certainly in line with the argument so far developed, and shouldn't surprise us. Abram's question in Gen 18:25 should ring clearly though, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”. The answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding “Yes!”.

Genesis 22, the Aqedah, is both a difficult, yet densely theological, passage. I only wish to make a few points in passing though. 1. Abraham demonstrates his absolute faith in obedience, even beyond what we find morally reprehensible (it is unclear whether Abraham would find child sacrifice morally 'improper', though his tender affection for the child of the promise is undoubted); 2. Genesis 22 must be read Christocentrically. Gen 22:8, 12 are key in this instance. God provides the lamb for sacrifice, not withholding his only Son, Jesus. 3. Isaac is of an age, and is a willing party to this event. In this he is the type of Christ, who voluntarily lays down his life.

I make these points in passing because I believe it is a robust doctrine of atonement that helps us integrate OT and NT teaching on violence, and emerge with a distinctly Christian ethic.

Genesis 32 contains an interesting series of events. Confronted with the news in Gen 32:6 that Esau comes with 400 men, likely a sign of intended conflict, Jacob divides his forces, and prays in Gen 32:9-12 essentially calling on God's promise (Gen 32:12) as the basis for deliverance. He then seeks to appease Esau, before the very odd encounter at night (Gen 32:22-32) in which he wrestles with God. Jacob has been wrestling with God all his life, but only now in this intimate encounter where God meets him “face to face” (Gen 32:30), in weakness, is his life transformed, and God strives with him rather than he against God.

Lastly, the blessing of Jacob on his sons in Genesis 49 gives a wisdom-like disapproval to violence, as in Gen 49:5-7, which recollects Gen 34. Simeon and Levi are cursed for wilful, indulgent, deceitful, and vengeful violence. This is in marked contrast to Judah, who is prophesied power over his enemies (Gen 49:8), without attaching to him a savage and violent nature.


ap viper said...

I've enjoyed the series so far, especially this one. Can't wait to see how it continues.

Mike Bull said...

Great series. A breath of fresh air.

Most Christians won't deal with this stuff and most pastors won't teach it. There is a place for violence and it is thoroughly judicial, including Joshua's conquest.

Keep it up. I'll keep reading.