Violence in the Old Testament Part 2: My Journey
Before I begin sharing responses to objections about “Violence in the Old Testament,” I think that it is appropriate for me to talk about why this topic is important to me. Besides the obvious fact that as a Christian I believe the Old Testament (OT) is the Word of God, my own background caused me to confront tough questions about the OT quite early in life.
I grew up in a church tradition that taught the OT had been done away with in Christ. Paul’s comments in Colossians 2:11-14 were often interpreted to mean that “the handwriting of requirements that was against us” and nailed to the cross, were none other than the OT Scriptures! Although my church taught from the OT, we considered ourselves a NT church and drew all of our doctrine and practice from the NT. I was left with a strong sense that the God of the OT was a wrathful and vengeful God. Somehow that all changed when Jesus came to earth and revealed God to be a God of love and grace. I even remember as a young man teaching this idea from the pulpit with no one correcting me afterwards.
Born Again “Again”
The change for me came in Bible College. I had several excellent OT professors who really opened up my eyes to the fact that the God of the OT was the same gracious and loving God that I had encountered in the NT. I recall one particular class on Genesis where we were discussing the meaning of God’s covenant with Abram and how the basic meaning behind a covenant was God’s desire for a relationship. When I left that class my best friend remarked to me that he felt like he had been “born again” again! I began to see that there were reasons for God’s judgments and that before God sent judgment, He always gave people the opportunity to repent. We will examine the significance of this in a future article. My point here is that, at the heart of it all, I discovered the OT portrayed a God who was patient and longsuffering toward sinners, not desiring to bring judgment, but desiring a relationship with them. How I came to this conclusion will be part of the responses found in the coming articles of this series.
One of the advantages of the OT is that it is longer than the NT and covers a lengthier period of time. This extra material provides the opportunity for discovering more facets of the personality of an infinite God. I found it provided a better understanding of Him than I ever dreamed possible. This is why I fell in love with studying the OT and have continued to have a passion for teaching it. As a result, I am always disappointed at the reactions of Bible believers who ignore the OT and only want to study the NT, or who think the OT is no longer relevant for Christians. I understand this feeling, after all, I had been raised to have a similar reaction to the OT, and the particular church tradition I was raised in is not the only one that gives the God of the OT a bad press! But having spent years studying and teaching the OT my view has completely changed and my disappointment stems from the fact that now I know what others are missing! This is what provides a secondary motivation for this series of articles. Not only do I desire to demonstrate that there are reasonable answers to the objections offered by atheists and skeptics, but I desire to encourage more Christians to get to know the OT and the God revealed in its pages.
A few years ago I had a student who told me that before she came to Bible College, she avoided the OT. When she signed up for my class on the Book of Judges she confessed that she was fearful of how it might conflict with her belief in a loving God. Not only did a study of the Book of Judges allay her fears, but over the next two years she proceeded to take my classes on Genesis, Joshua, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings, books often considered to be among the most violent in the OT! When she graduated her view of a loving and gracious God was unchanged, and her confidence that He could be found not only in the NT but in the OT as well, had grown by leaps and bounds.
If you have been afraid of the OT I encourage you to spend some time really studying it deeply. As Christians we do not need to be afraid or ashamed of what God has revealed in His Word. In the articles that follow, we will look at the theme of “Violence in the Old Testament,” and we will see that there are good and reasonable responses for those who object to this portion of the Bible. I hope you will continue to read along and post any relevant comments that are related to our discussion. Please also feel free to share your own journey with the God of the OT.