Friday, May 30, 2008

What's Up With The Nephilim?

After a little break to plug the upcoming NDY fund raiser for Providence ministries and then show off my new granddaughter, it's time to get back to trying to explain why God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites.

I'll warn you ahead of time: this reflection is a bit "out there." But I believe in leaving no stone unturned. Over the last few weeks a dozen or so people have sent e-mails expressing their conviction that many of the Canaanites were not really human. Some, at least, were Nephilim -- giants who were the hybrid progeny of fallen angels having sex with women.

I told you this was going to be "out there."

In light of these suggestions I looked into this possibility. I found a good deal of truly bizarre stuff (e.g. linking the Nephilim to the building of the Pyramids, the Easter Island Statues, UFOs and so on). But I also learned some things I didn't know before. Here's the theory (or at least my novice take on this theory) in a nutshell

In Genesis 6:4 we are told that the "sons of God" (ben elohim) had sex with the "daughters of the human beings" and had offspring. These were "the Nephilim" (meaning giants) whom the author says are "the heroes of old, men of renown." All ancient interpreters of the Bible agree that the "sons of God" in this passage refers to angelic beings who were supposed to watch over humans but who instead rebelled against God and used their position of authority to corrupt the race. (This is referred to as the "watcher tradition." It was widespread in the ancient Jewish world and early Christian tradition. It's possibly alluded to in Jude 6. It's fully expressed in 1 Enoch, which is quoted in Jude 14-15). As I argued in my book God at War, viewing the "sons of God" as angels squares with biblical terminology and explains why the offspring of their unnatural union with women were supernaturally large. It also accounts for why the Genesis author shares this bizarre episode as a prelude to the story of the flood. He's demonstrating how hopelessly screwed up the human race was getting to justify God sending a flood and starting over with Noah's family.

As an interestingly aside, many ancient cultures have stories of semi-divine warriors who fought in the past (e.g. the Titans). Many people argue these fables are rooted in actual history -- which, they argue, is what the Genesis author is giving us in 6:4.

Anyway, I always assumed the hybrid Nephilim were killed in the flood. But several people drew my attention to the fact that the Genesis author says, "the Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward... "(Gen. 6:4, emphasis added). This means that either some Nephilim survived the flood (which is possible if you hold to a local flood, as most Bible scholars today do) or that the rebel angels went back to work creating hybrid offspring at some point after the flood.

What's this got to do with the Canaanites? Well, there are a number of references to exceptionally large people among the Canaanites, linking them to the Nephilim. Here's a summary.

* When the spies returned from scouting out the land, they told the people, " We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Nu. 13:33, emphasis added). They also brought back "a single cluster of grapes" from the land that were so large it took two men to carry it (Nu. 13:23). Don't ask me.

* There are several other references to the descendants of Anak (Anakites) that make mention of their incredible size, as well as other Canaanite tribes that are said to be "as tall as the Anakites"( Duet 1:28; 2:10, 21; 9:2). Some argue these also are descendants of the Nephilim.

* We find a reference to Og, King of Bashan -- a Raphite (who are also said to be as tall as the Anakites -- Rapha means "giant") -- whose bed was nine cubits long and 4 cubits wide . That's a bed that is somewhere between 13 to 18 feet long and six to eight feet wide! (Note, some argue that all the references to the "Raphaim" are actually references to "giants," not the proper name of a tribe. (This is how the KJV translates the term. See Deut 2:11, 20; 3:11, 13; Josh. 12:4; 13:12; 15:8; 17:5; 18:16 [KJV])

* Later in the biblical narrative we read about descendants of the Raphites (= "giants?") as well as others who were incredibly large -- including, of course, Goliath, whom David slew (e.g. 2 Sam. 21:15-22; I Chron. 20:4-8).

On the basis of this evidence, some argue that the "Watcher" angels were once again trying to undermine God's objective for human history by creating hybrids. When God commissioned the Israelites to slaughter these "folks," he was protecting the human project from further corruption, just as he had done with the flood.

Now, I'm frankly not sure what to think of all this. Its weird -- to the point that I'm tempted to dismiss it. But I've learned that reality is usually more weird than my western mind likes to admit. If we take the narratives seriously, we can't deny there were some incredibly large people (and grapes!) in the land of Canaan. And we can't deny this largeness is related to their being descendants of the Nephilim. But I'm not yet sure this entails that some of the Canaanites were actually hybrids, just like the pre-flood Nephilim. But even if they were, I'm not sure how far this gets us in giving a plausible account for why Yahweh had whole towns slaughtered. Clearly, many (if not all) of these victims were full humans -- as evidenced, for example, by the fact that sometimes the Israelites were allowed to keep some women as wives.

I'm trying to keep an open mind. I don't know how much more time I'll invest in this topic. But I just today received in my e-mail a book-in-process (called The Myth That is True) from a friend of mine named Michael Heiser that defends something like this thesis. I plan on giving it a read as soon as I can and may get back to you on whatever light it sheds on this weird and fascinating subject.



It's a Girl!!!

Shelley and I are proud to announce that our wonderful daughter Alisha (aka: "snorky") and our spectacular son-in-law Tim have given birth to an adorable, 8 pound, 21 inch baby girl! They've given her the name "Sage" (isn't that an cool name?).

Congratulations Tim and Alisha!!!

We thank God for his precious new creation, given as a gift to this beautiful Kingdom couple.

And so...

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We proudly present to you,

Sage Nicole Gilbert
P.S. Tim and Alisha feel called to move into the city so they've put their town home on the market. If you know anyone interested in a very spacious, delightful town home in the Burnsville area...check their place out here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reverend Greg Boyd "The Drummer"

NDY (Not Dead Yet) will be performing Friday, June 6th, 8pm at O'Gara's Garage in St. Paul. Cover charge is $10 at the door, with all proceeds going towards Providence House in Haiti.

We hope you can make it to hear the band live but if not below is Reverend Boyd playing a drum solo leading into Takin' Care Of Business at NDY's gig from January. Greg, I (Marcia) dare you to quit your day job!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Teleological Exegetical Principle and O.T. Violence

These days we're (mostly) discussing why the God of the Hebrew Bible sometimes commands people to slaughter enemies, including women and children, while Jesus reveals that God dies for enemies and longs for their forgiveness. Based on our recent exploration of Peter Craigie’s The Problem of War in the Old Testament, I’m in the process of formulating what I might call The Teleological Exegetical Principle. (Remember folks, I'm thinking out loud here. I'm exploring possibilities, not giving absolute conclusions). Basically, this principle stipulates that, all other things being equal, we should always interpret the beginning of any divine program from its end (telos).

Let's first apply this principle to the law of the Old Testament. The Old Testament law initially looked like it was given to make us righteous before God, but it failed (as Paul frequently notes). Given that it ended in failure, the Teleological Exegetical Principle would lead us (along with Paul) to presume that this was the point (or at least one of the points) of God giving the law all along. He was proving to us that we can never be made righteous before God by striving to obey the law alone. In the light of this failure, we (along with Paul) can view the law as a "shadow” pointing us -- as a negative object lesson -- to the reality of “Christ.” Its failure prepared us to humbly accept God’s righteousness as a gift given through Christ.

If Craigie is right, this principle also applies to nationalism and violence (they are inseparable) in the Old Testament. Divinely sanctioned nationalistic violence initially looked like it could establish the Kingdom of God, but it failed. The nation of Israel tried to live by the sword but it ended up dying by the sword (as Jesus said would always happen). Given that nationalistic violence ended in failure, the Teleological Exegetical Principle would lead us to presume that this was the point (or at least one of the points) of God using nationalistic violence all along. He was proving to us that his Kingdom can never be brought about by nationalism and violence.

This negative object lesson laid the groundwork for the coming of the anti-nationalistic, anti-violent Kingdom, inaugurated through Jesus. And this leads to yet another application of the the Teleological Exegetical Principle.

Jesus’ death -- which was brought about because Jesus refused to be co-opted by nationalism or to resort to any violence -- initially looked like a failure but ended up in victory. Jesus' sacrificial death defeated the Powers, set captives free, reconciled us to God and established the Kingdom of God on earth. Given that Jesus’ death ended in victory, the Teleological Exegetical Principle would lead us to presume that this was the point of Jesus refusing nationalism and violence. He was proving to us that God's Kingdom can only be brought about by refusing nationalism and violence as we rather choose to love and sacrifice for our enemies, even to the point of death.

So, if the God who sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament looks antithetical to the God who died for his enemies on Calvary, this is because it's supposed to! If you're offended and angered when you read about Yahweh commanding the slaughter of women and children or David celebrating infants being smashed against rocks, it's because being offended and angered by this sort of barbarism is the point. Only if you see how grotesque and futile this nationalistic violence is will you be able to fully devote yourself to a non-nationalistic and anti-violent Kingdom.

If Craigie is right,
God was reluctantly condescending to the violent mindset of the world and playing the part of a tribal warrior god in order to ultimately show us (among other things) that he's not at all like this. Or, if you will, God entered our violence filled Matrix (recall the movie) and played along with its violent rules, but he did this in order to wake us up to our bondage to this ugly, illusory Matrix. Once freed, we are empowered to see who God really is and who we really are. Christ is the "reality" to which all Matrix "shadows" point. In Christ we see that God is a God who would rather give his life for enemies than kill them. And in Christ we see that all people, including enemies, are worth God giving his life for.

Now, I'm not pretending this explanation for God's treatment of enemies is without problems or is adequate in and of itself. But I AM convinced that something like this was going on in Yahweh's sanctioning of violence in the Old Testament and that this must be part of a comprehensive explanation of this violence.

More to come. In the meantime, imitate God as he is revealed in Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2), not the God revealed in the Old Testament's warfare tradition.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Review of Ehrman's "God's Problem"

The other night I read Bart Ehrman's new book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer. Since it touches on the issue of violence in the Old Testament and since I've received so many e-mails asking me about it, I thought I'd post a review.

This book was better than I expected. I really disliked Ehrman's earlier best-selling book Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman's conclusions were very biased and went far beyond what the evidence warranted. Yet he presented his arguments in such a way that laypeople unfamiliar with the science of textual criticism could (and many did) find convincing. Consequently, I initially resisted reading God's Problem. I figured if Ehrman's work was poor in his area of expertise (Ehrman is a New Testament textual critic), it would probably be atrocious in an area where he isn't a specialist (viz. dealing with the problem of evil). Nevertheless, a friend (Paul Eddy) compelled me to read it and, much to my surprise, I actually thought it was pretty good. It was certainly better argued and fairer than his Misquoting Jesus.

I'll make six comments that roughly follow the outline of Erhman's book.

1) Ehrman does a masterful job presenting the problem of evil in its full horror. His book is permeated with horrific examples of evil, and he gives these because he rightly surmises that most westerners (certainly most western Christians) wrestle with this issue in a detached, theoretical manner. They are thus inclined to accept easy answers that are woefully inadequate. I couldn't agree more.

2) Ehrman notes how Old Testament authors viewed suffering as divine punishment (chapters 2-3). He presents this material -- much of which we've covered the last couple weeks on this blog -- in all its barbaric horror. I would quibble with some of his interpretations (e.g. his view that animal sacrifices were meant to appease God's wrath), but overall his work here is solid. Ehrman concludes this section (as he does each section) with a critique. He forcefully argues that, as a comprehensive explanation for why humans suffer, this just doesn't work. What's odd, however, is that Ehrman correctly notes that Old Testament authors never presented God's judgments as "a universal principle, as a way of explaining every instance of suffering" (49). Yet, he still critiques the punishment motif as if it was meant to be an exhaustive explanation of evil. His criticisms are valid against the divine punishment theodicy, but not at all against the Bible.

3) Ehrman nicely expounds on a biblical motif that views suffering as a consequence of human sin -- revealing that biblical authors had some sense of free will (chapter 4). In this context he discusses the "free will defense." Ehrman notes that there's a tension not addressed in the Bible between affirming human free will, on the one hand, and affirming an "all-powerful Sovereign...who foreknows all things" (113). Elsewhere in the book Ehrman adds that the free will defense doesn't explain "natural evil" (12-13). Those who are familiar with my work (e.g. Is God to Blame?, God of the Possible and Satan and the Problem of Evil) won't be surprised to hear me claim that neither objection is very strong. Given that the free will defense is the most common one appealed to by Christians, I was surprised at how brief and unpersuasive Ehrman was in trying to refute it.

4) Ehrman proceeds to discuss a wide variety of biblical passages that suggest, in various ways, that God uses suffering to contribute to the greater good (ch. 5). I felt that both Ehrman's presentation of the biblical material and critique of the greater good defense in this chapter were strong. Erhman rightly exposes the injustice involved in the idea that God allows or ordains suffering in some in order to benefit others. He also rightly rejects the mistaken notion that God allows suffering because we couldn't appreciate good without it (147-48). Moreover, while Ehrman agrees that good can sometimes come out of evil, he objects to the idea that "something good always comes out of suffering"(147). To the contrary, he insists, "most suffering is not positive..." (ibid).

The trouble, however, is that Ehrman seems to think he's exposing a weakness in the Bible's view of suffering when he offers these criticisms. He's not. Yes the Bible presents a God who is always working to bring good out of evil, and yes it depicts God as always using evil for his own good purposes. But nowhere does the Bible intimate that all suffering is "positive" for those who suffer, and nowhere does it suggest that all evil is allowed "for the greater good."

5) One of the weakest points of Erhman's book, in my opinion, concerns his treatment of Job (chapter 6). He insists that the book of Job is a compilation of two contradictory books: a folktale (Job 1-2 & 42) in which Job is tested, passes the test and has everything restored, and a book of poetic dialogues between Job and his "friends" in which Job rails at God while being accused by his friends. The point of the folktale, Erhman insists, is that "God deals with his people according to their merit, whereas the entire point of the poetry [viz. the dialogues] is that he does not do that..." So, in the folktale, suffering is seen as "a test of faith" while in the poetry "suffering remains a mystery that cannot be fathomed or explained" (154).

There's a number of problems with Ehrman's perspective and interpretation of Job, but time allows me to only mention two.

First, Ehrman's view (shared by many other Old Testament critics) assumes that whoever allegedly compiled the folktale and poetic dialogues into a single book was simply too stupid to notice the obvious contradiction that Ehrman and other critics now find. But why should we assume the redactor (compiler) was less bright than modern critics? It strikes me as more humble and more reasonable to assume that if an ancient redactor didn't see a contradiction, perhaps we're mistaken in thinking there is one. And once you acknowledge this, we have less reason to think there were two different works put together in the first place.

This leads to my second point: Because Ehrman treats the book of Job as a compilation of two contradictory works, he massively misses the point of the entire book! Ehrman thinks that when God shows up "in the whirlwind" to give his monologue (chs. 38-41) he does so simply to assert "that he is the Almighty and, as such, cannot be questioned" (174). This is why there is no answer to the question of suffering (according to the poetic dialogues). But this isn't all God does in the monologues. God points to the unfathomable beauty and complexity of creation (ch.38-39) and then points to Behemoth and Leviathan, cosmic monsters that all ancient near eastern people believed in (chs. 40-41). If God simply wanted to assert that he cannot be questioned, why point these things out to Job?

The answer, I submit, is that God wasn't saying he couldn't be questioned simply because he was "the Almighty." He was revealing why humans cannot know why evil occurs the way it does and thus why they shouldn't question "the Almighty" who does know. It's because a) we humans know next to nothing about the complexity of creation, and b) we shouldn't think we can do a better job than God fighting the cosmic forces of evil that threaten the world. In short, we humans will never know why evil strikes the way it does because we are ignorant.

In this light, the folktale (if we grant it is that) of the prologue (chs. 1-2) makes perfect sense. It's letting the audience of the book in on an event that the characters in the book don't know about -- and never (in the context of this narrative) learn about. And that is the point! Job and his friends assume they know what they're talking about when the former accuses God of injustice and the latter accuse Job of sin, but they don't. Both parties assume God is directly behind Job's afflictions, but the fact is that random events take place in the unseen heavenly realm that adversely affect us but about which we know nothing. At the same time, we can be assured that God is at work in the world to compensate for injustice -- which is the point of the epilogue (ch.42). (I discuss this interpretation of the book of Job in much greater depth in Is God to Blame?).

While Ehrman thinks Job has nothing to say about the problem of evil, if my interpretation is right, it has much to say. For it reveals that the mystery of evil isn't a mystery of God's character or purposes; it's rather a mystery about an unfathomably complex world that is afflicted with hostile cosmic forces. And this leads to my sixth and most important comment on Erhman's book.

6) Ehrman ends his work with an excellent discussion of the apocalyptic worldview and its perspective on evil. He rightly notes that this is the worldview of Jesus and all New Testament authors. In this view, "cosmic forces of evil were loose in the world, and these evil forces were aligned against the righteous people of God, bringing down pain and misery upon their heads, making them suffer..." (191). Not only this, but the reason there are "so many disasters in this world, earthquakes, famines, epidemics, wars, deaths" is because "the powers of evil are in control" (202). Ehrman praises this perspective because it "takes evil seriously" (244) while insisting "quite vociferously that God does not bring disasters; it is his cosmic enemies" (218). It also is the only explanation that accounts for natural evil. In my view, he's absolutely right!

Yet, Erhman argues that this understanding of evil also fails because it's "based on mythological ideas that [he] simply cannot accept" (245). Moreover, the end of the world that apocalypticists thought was going to happen in their lifetime proved wrong (245-46). And, finally, the apocalyptic belief that God will supernaturally intervene in the near future and bring an end to evil "can lead to a kind of social complacency..." (246).

I don't find any of these objections compelling. First, I have never found a remotely persuasive argument as to why we should regard belief in hostile cosmic powers to be "mythological." This is simply a modern, western, naturalistic assumption (and, I should note, one that is being increasingly abandoned).

Second, even if we were to grant that Jesus, Paul and others mistakenly thought the end of the age was going to occur in their lifetime, this hardly negates the entire apocalyptic worldview. Where's the justification for jettisoning an entire worldview just because one aspect of the worldview is mistaken? That's bad logic! At the same time, there are ways of interpreting the various references to the immanent end of the world in the New Testament that avoid attributing a mistake to Jesus, Paul and others. For example, some scholars (such as N.T. Wright) argue that the "end" these people were referring to was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Alternatively, some argue that the central point of passages expressing a belief in the approaching end to the world are meant to instruct us about how we should live (e.g. with hope and passion, as though each day were our last) rather than to register an opinion about when this end will occur.

Finally, while some who embrace an apocalyptic worldview may become complacent about battling evil in the world, there is no necessary reason why they would do so. Consider, for example, that Jesus held an apocalyptic worldview and yet spent his entire ministry confronting evil. Consider also that a central aspect of the New Testament's message is that his followers are supposed to imitate him in everything. This objection, therefore, amounts to nothing.

In conclusion, I applaud much of Erhman's expositions of various biblical motifs that explain why we suffer. But none of these motifs claim to be a comprehensive theodicy, so Erhman's critique of them as theodicies misses the mark (even though many of his critiques of theodicies based on these motifs are to the point). Most importantly, Ehrman's critique of the apocalyptic explanation of evil is completely without merit. Given that this was the worldview Jesus and his disciples embraced, and given that this worldview provides the best single explanation for evil -- as Erhman himself grants -- I feel justified in relying on this view of evil as the most comprehensive and authoritative in Scripture. And this makes the utter weakness of Ehrman's refutation of this perspective all the more significant.

It means the Bible does provide an answer to our most important question -- why we suffer. Ultimately, it's because the world is held hostage to cosmic forces of evil. But this affliction will not last forever.



Monday, May 19, 2008

thanks Greg!

just wanted to say thanks to Greg for the very sweet post on my b-day!!
and Greg, I am very impressed that you managed to post something on your own without any spelling or grammar mistakes. see, you don't really need me as much as you think you do.
oh yeah, here is the Feb. 24th link (you really should learn how to make links,'s easy, even for the techno-challenged).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


This is my friend Jen. She's one of the kindest, humblest and smartest people you could ever meet.

She's also a blast to party with!

I first met Jen 11 years ago when she was a student at Bethel University. She was my Teaching Assistant for two years and has remained a close friend of mine and my small group ever since. Regular visitors of this blog may recall that Jen is a University of Minnesota and Harvard trained medical doctor who has been serving folks in Haiti the last nine months. She's also the wonder-woman who stitched up my ripped-apart toe when our small group was vacationing in Mexico. (For gross photos, check out the post on February 24 -- I'd provide a LINK, but I'm techno-challenged and thus don't know how. In fact, I had to get Julie Ross to get Jen's picture on this post because I don't know how. Thank you Julie!)

What readers probably don't know is that, among her many gifts, Jen is a master word-smith. She graciously edits all my posts (except this one, which is meant to be a surprise -- which is why there's no LINK to the post with the gross toe). On top of this, Jen has just finished editing my forthcoming book Revolting Beauty and is now in the process of editing all the material on the new CVM website that will be launched in a month or so. (The new site has hundreds of pages of writings on various theological issues). She's done all this while serving people down in Haiti!

And now you know why I refer to her as a "wonder-woman."

Today is Jen's 30th birthday. So I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly say:

Happy Birthday Jen!!!

you are a gift to me
and to everyone who knows you.
Thank you
for all you do
but even more
for who you are.

You're a truly beautiful human being!

Monday, May 12, 2008

“Shadow” and “Reality”

Hello Bloggerites,

In the last post we discussed Craigie’s view that one of the central purposes why God involved himself in using violence to establish and preserve Israel was to provide humanity with a negative object lesson: namely, nationalism and violence can never bring about the Kingdom of God. I agree with this perspective, but it seems to me Craigie’s thesis could be strengthened by showing how it's rooted in the New Testament itself.

In the book of Colossians Paul says that, in the light of Christ, all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament must be seen as “a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). The author of Hebrews teaches the same thing when he says that “[t]he law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves” (Heb 10:1, cf. 8:5). Now that "the reality" (Christ) has come, we can and must abandon the shadow. This is closely related to Paul's teaching in Galatians that the law was intended as a tutor to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:23-24). The law exposes our sin and thus reveals the truth that we cannot reconcile ourselves to God on this basis (cf. Rom. 7: 6-20). In other words, the law is a shadow that points beyond itself by providing us with a negative object lesson.

If Craigie is right, God's involvement in nationalistic violence can be understood along similar lines. As the law was intended to lead us to Christ by showing us how not to try to be reconciled to God, so nationalistic violence was intended to lead us to the true Kingdom of God by showing us how not to try to establish God's Kingdom. As the failure of the law points us to Christ, so the failure of nationalistic violence points us to the Kingdom of God. As the law is a shadow of the reality of Christ, so nationalistic violence is a shadow of the reality of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, one could argue that these two negative-object lessons are implied in each other, for the law structured the way Israel existed as a distinct nation and it was premised on divinely sanctioned violence. The failure of the law to bring us into alignment with God's will is thus related to the failure of the nation and its intrinsic violence to bring us into alignment with God's will. Both reveal that we are too sinful to reconcile ourselves to God and bring about his Kingdom. And God used both to prepare us to embrace a Savior who saves us by grace and whose Kingdom transcends all national boundaries and refuses all violence.

These reflections take us a long way in reconciling the Old Testament's God of war with Jesus' teaching to love our enemies and abstain from all violence. If the God and the ethics revealed by Jesus seem to at points contrast sharply with the God and ethics of the Old Testament's war tradition (and they certainly do), this is because they're supposed to! This is the point!

At the same time, we can't pretend for a moment that this explanation alone is adequate. For example, Craigie's thesis doesn't even address the issue of God's direct use of violence in the Old Testament. I'll address this and a multitude of other questions in future blogs.

Stay centered in his love


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Negative Object Lesson: Review of Craigie III

Hats off to Todd Dietz for his excellent, hard-hitting video! Brilliant!! Thanks for sharing that Todd.

We’re discussing Peter Craigie’s work, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, as part of a broader discussion on the problem of violence in the Old Testament. So far we’ve seen that Craigie argues that God’s involvement in war in the Old Testament was a concession to human sinfulness. One of God's purposes, we saw, was to reveal how horrifying war is. We’ll now consider an even more fundamental purpose Craigie finds in God’s involvement in war. In my opinion, this is the single most insightful aspect of his book.

Craigie notes how God’s decision to work with a nation (Israel) to move towards his Kingdom objectives in creation required, as a matter of necessity, that God be willing to get involved in war. Given that God’s usual mode of operation is to work through “normal human activity” and "normal human institutions" as he finds them (70-71 [all numbers refer to Craigie's work]), there was no way for a state to be established and preserved in the ancient world (or the modern world, for that matter) except by relying on military force. All national relations in the ancient (and modern) world hang on a balance of power (69). Hence, Craigie argues, "[a]s a nation state in the real world of that time, Israel could not exist without war" (71). With Jacques Ellul, Craigie argues that statehood and violence are inextricably linked together (71-72), a fact that simply reveals how deep violence is lodged in the human heart (73).

But why did God choose to work with a nation, and therefore to use violence, in the first place? To understand this, Craigie argues, we have to look at how the whole enterprise ended up. We have to interpret the beginning of God's establishment of Israel through violence from the perspective of the end. And the end was utter defeat for this chosen nation.

As Israel was established by war, Craigie notes, so “the end too was to come in war” (76). Craigie details how the Israelites fell violently to their enemies after the reign of David (76-77). This defeat was “a reversal of their own conquest” (77). Just as God had earlier used the Israelites to judge the Canaanites, so God now used other violent nations to judge the Israelites (77). As Craigie says, “It was becoming evident that God was no respecter of persons, and though the providence of God might not always be fully understood, a certain justice was becoming clear in his dealings with men” (77).

Yet, out of the darkness of this stunning defeat, a radically new vision of the Kingdom began to emerge, according to Craigie. For example, Jeremiah, who lived through the critical years of the end of the state of Judah, announced the coming of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). “Whereas the old covenant had an external form in the nation state,” Craigie notes, “the new covenant would be marked by an inner work of God in man’s heart” (79). (As an aside, Craigie wrote in the seventies and thus fails to use inclusive terminology). For Jeremiah, “the failure of the chosen people to fulfill their high calling pointed to a deeper need in man which could only be met by a work of God in man’s heart” (79).

Along similar lines, in response to their dismal military defeat, Zechariah offers hope by proclaiming that Israel’s king would eventually come. But instead of announcing that he would come in might and power and triumph over Israel’s enemies, as previous prophets had frequently proclaimed, Zechariah announced that their king would come “marked by humility,” bringing “peace,” “riding on an ass” (Zech 9:9) (79). Someday Israel and the world would be ruled by a servant king, not a warrior. This relates to the growing vision of a future epoch of global peace that also arose in response to Israel's defeat (e.g. Isa. 2:4; Mic.4:3). The horror of war -- especially when it resulted in Israel's own defeat -- gradually birthed a beautiful vision of a world that would be completely free of violence (83-91).

All of this prepared the way for the arrival of Jesus Christ and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament, argues Craigie. “According to Jesus," he says, "the Kingdom was not to be a nation state, but a realm within men’s hearts” (80). It was Israel’s defeat in war that “terminated the outward form of the old covenant, the nation state…” and that forced people to “ponder the covenant and to seek a solution to the problem of man’s nature and the manner of God’s dealings with man” (80).

The truth that was being revealed through Israel's defeat was that“[t]he Kingdom of God in the form of a political state was not viable” because of the violence that is rooted so deeply in the heart of humanity (81). If God’s own "chosen people" couldn’t establish the Kingdom with God ordained nationalism and divinely sanctioned violence, then we must conclude that nationalism and violence simply are not viable means for establishing God’s kingdom (81). And that, Craigie argues, was the central point all along.

Old Testament nationalism and violence were thus intended to function as a sort of negative object lesson for us. They didn’t work. If you live by the sword, Jesus said, you’ll die by the sword (Mt 26:52). By exposing the futility of nationalism and violence, God was revealing that his Kingdom can never be brought about by these means. The Kingdom can only come when God himself transforms humans to the core of their being (81). This begins to happen when we humble ourselves before God and place our total trust in Jesus Christ. When we swear off all nationalism and violence and surrender to Christ, God makes us citizens of a Kingdom that transcends all national boundaries and allegiances and is characterized by love, peace and humility (81).

The “tragedy of the history of Christianity," Craigie notes, "is that so frequently the Old Testament lessons drawn from defeat in war have been forgotten” (82). Too often “the kingdom of God has become fused once again with nation state (sic); or the church, as the human organization of the citizens of the Kingdom of God, has taken upon itself the functions of a nation state” (82). Too often Christians have looked back at the Old Testament not as a negative object lesson but as a positive precedent to justify their own religious barbarism. And, as I argued in my book The Myth of a Christian Nation, whenever Christians have done this it has been disastrous for the advance of God's Kingdom as well as the broader culture.

As I mentioned at the outset, I found this aspect of Craigie’s book to be profoundly insightful. He expresses and defends a growing conviction I've had about this material for several years. While I couldn't clearly articulate it or defend it, I've become convinced that the sharp contrast between the way of the cross, on the one hand, and the barbarism of Israel's slaughtering campaigns, on the other, must have been part of God's purpose in using violence all along. I don't think Craigie's little book (it's only 123 pages) takes us all the way there. More work needs to be done. But, in my opinion, it certainly takes us a long way in the right direction.

In my next blog I'll offer a few reflections that I believe can strengthen Craigie's thesis even further.

Live in the way of peace,


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Dollars = Change

A podrishioner guest post - Todd Dietz

I first heard Pastor Boyd speak online when he was at Mars Hill Church. I liked what I heard so I found the Woodland Hills Church podcasts and started listening every week. I'm a restaurant manager and work a few late nights every week. After close and everyone is gone I catch up on paperwork and listen to Greg's sermons. I do appreciate the shout-outs given to podrishioners every week.

Ten years ago I started playing around with video editing, which led me to participate in a local film festival. This past year I drew inspiration from Pastor Boyd’s sermon “Taking Back The House”, my third festival entry, which can be watched below. Also, you can learn more here about the making of this video.

Although I am located hundreds of miles away Greg's teachings are a blessing to me.

Todd Dietz
Cedar Falls, Iowa

Dollars = Change by: Todd Dietz