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Today: 16 July 2019
 



 

Violent Land?

First published 19/05/2019



Conflict in the Holy Land is nothing new - very sadly.  The Old Testament tells all too many stories of tribal battles, chariot wars, sieges and massacres.  Right through to our own day, tensions and bloodshed over land ownership have continued, and seem to be unending and unresolvable.

It’s not surprising then that some people ask how it could ever be called the ‘Holy Land’, when so much that is unholy has happened there.  Or more specifically, how can anyone believe in the  violent God of the Old Testament, who seems to command genocide and warfare?

The question is all the more uncomfortable because Christians too have taken sword and slaughter to the land.  How does that square with a religion which proclaims a message of peace and love?

One possible answer is that nations have often claimed to have God and right on their side, and to be obeying God's directions, especially when their leaders were obsessed with creating a national identity, or protecting its land or its purity.

The Old Testament does at times seem very violent, but looking backwards, through the lens of Jesus’ teaching, it is possible to say that our understanding of God has moved on - because of Jesus.  People then needed to defend their nation and their religion, and faced with the danger of annihilation, they believed that their God wanted the destruction of their enemies and his.

It might help to set against that belief the many signs that even then God was not a God of war or destruction.  The very beautiful story of Ruth, who though she belongs to an ‘enemy’ people, becomes fully accepted among her mother-in-law’s people in Bethlehem, and in fact becomes one of the ancestors of Jesus himself.

The story of Jonah (and the big fish!) is really about God sending Jonah to foreign people telling them to repent.  But Jonah thinks that’s a step too far - he doesn’t want them to repent or be forgiven by God, he wants them destroyed.  He has to learn differently from God, and it took a great fish to help him understand.

The Old Testament was written in violent times, and the people of the land certainly suffered a great deal, and sometimes inflicted suffering on others too.  But the God who shines through is one who creates all people, who sends his special people to be a light for other nations, who wants them to be an example of obedience to God and service to others, and who offers justice to all.

It is too simplistic to hear only the words of violence in the Old Testament.  That may represent the character of the nation in some of its history, but it is not the character of God in Christian understanding.

We hope to look at those difficult words of Jesus - “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10, verse 34) next time.



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Prayer:

The name ‘Jerusalem’ is generally understood to mean ‘City of Peace’.  Pray for the peace of that city and all its diverse people; pray that they and we may know the depth of the love of the God of peace.




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