Monday, January 16, 2006

Your Speedwalking Pastor

Well, I actually own a real I Pod now. It is one of those 20 gigabyte ones. I put something like 1100 songs on it and 50 sermons. And I still have about 16 gigabytes of space left!

The reason I am blogging about this is because this thing has proved in the past week to be a great blessing to me. And you don't need to have an I Pod for this, I just happened to start my routine when I got it.

As I said, I loaded this thing up with sermons. At least three nights a week I put on the headphones, grab my heavy duty mag light to beat down any varmints or muggers I might stumble upon (yeah...cause Killearn Acres is a real 'hood), and I walk about 4 miles listening to sermons.

I wait until it is dark out because I kind of walk/run, and that always looks pretty feeble. I am a vain sort of guy, I don't want my neighbors to see. Also, I try and walk 'briskly'...and that looks pretty sad as well (a man 'speed walking' is just so uncool).

Well, as a pastor, I need to be preached to. And as I am walking and listening to John Piper (or Tim Bayly- he is a pastor in Bloomington Indiana; to check out his sermons just type in his name in the search bar at I am getting exercise, good preaching and teaching from the Word, and just worshipping (I will often stop the I Pod and just pray as I walk). I can't tell you how enriching it is. It is also good to just walk and think, away from the urgency of the day, the needs of kids, etc.

So...I recommend going on a sermon walk today. And cast your dignity aside and speedwalk it! Wear a hooded sweatshirt, noone will know its you.

A Good Question: The Destruction of the Canaanites

How is it that God commands the destruction of whole people groups in the Old Testament?

This question is a very important one. As I answer the question, I will stand on the following presuppositions:

1. The Bible (the canon of Scripture known as the Old Testament) is a true and accurate account of the history of the Israelites. If it is merely a fabrication, a myth, or perversion of the facts of history to suit some nationalistic or idealistic set of beliefs, then our question is easily answered.

2. The God of the Bible is good. From this premise, we assume, comes the charge that it is an affront to the goodness of God that an entire people group be annihilated or at least commanded by his authority to be annihilated. If the God of the Bible is in fact a capricious and vindictive entity by his (or the Bible’s) own admission, then our question doesn’t follow.

3. God is just. He rules rightly against evildoers and rewards the righteous. He does not punish the righteous for crimes they have not committed. (I admit that these are relatively facile representations of God’s attributes, but I simply can’t go into greater detail in this discussion.)

4. God is merciful. Even in his just judgments, God’s activities towards his creatures are tempered by compassion and love. The commands to destroy whole groups of people doesn’t seem to be in keeping with his mercy.

Let’s look at the passages in question.

Deuteronomy 7:1 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations-- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-- 2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.

Deuteronomy 20:16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them-- the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites-- as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

1 Samuel 15:2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

These Passages in Light of Progressive Revelation
In trying to understand these texts we should pay careful attention to the nature of progressive revelation. This means that we are to understand these passages in the context of their specific place within the Scriptures and the work of God within that biblical and historical framework. These commands were given to God’s people in the early stages of redemptive history. The nature of God’s activity and revelation in their midst was different than it is now. God was dealing with the Israelites as an ethnic and federal entity seeking to survive amidst warring and hostile nations. What we learn through the Israelites in the Old Testament are shadows of a better and richer spiritual identity that is given to God’s people through the cross of Jesus Christ: The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-- not the realities themselves (Hebrews 10:1). We are no longer a nation with physical boundaries, engaging in physical warfare, and ordering ourselves as a civil entity. We are a spiritual people, called to live under the governance of the civil authorities of the land for the sake of the good news of Jesus: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. . . Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2: 9,13-14). While we may seek to understand how it is that God operated in this way in the Old Testament with his people (though there are certainly principles and truths that are still applicable and in operation for us today), we affirm that this is not the way in which God operates among and through his people, the Church, today.

These Passages in Light of God’s Providence
We need to admit that God did command ‘total destruction’ of these two people groups (the various Canaanite clans or groups in the former, the Amalekites in the latter). But the language used introduces a challenge for proper interpretation. There are very strong words used to describe the ‘destruction’ of these people (kachad, haram). Yet, there is also a call to ‘dispossess’ or ‘drive out’ the people (garash, yarash). Such a call to ‘dispossess’ the people of the land seems inconsistent with a call for total annihilation. From my understanding of these various texts, I believe that God is calling for a destruction of the ‘culture’ of these people, and for the occupation of the land by the Israelites. This destruction is a just judgment for sin. The call for destruction might also be seen as a significant warning to God’s people that anything less will result in an erosion of the culture and righteousness of the Isrealites if they continue to live in any sort of proximity to the godless cultures they are called to eradicate. From the standpoint of providence, we know that in neither of these instances did the Israelites obey God and carry out such an order. We know by God’s providence that such destruction was not brought upon the Canaanites or Amalekites. The very thing that God warned his people of did indeed come to pass, ie. intermarriage, syncretism, idolatry, and the attending judgment of God. Perhaps God was commanding his people according to His foreknowledge knowing that they would disobey and that such a command and warning would ultimately serve to judge them.

These Passages in Light of Their Extraordinary Nature
We must recognize that these commands of God are by no means ‘normative’ in the context of Israel’s warring with other nations in the Old Testament. This is by no means the way in which Israel is to deal with all of her enemies, and indeed was not the way Israel dealt with all of her enemies throughout Old Testament history. There are many accounts throughout the Scriptures of Israel’s military campaigns and relationships with other nations. In light of these passages we find that these commands given to Israel at the time of the occupation of Canaan and at the dawn of Israel’s monarchy are not in any way to be interpreted as some sort of normative guide for dealing justly with pagan nations. This doesn’t mean that these commands are unjust per se. Nor would their extraordinary nature excuse them if they were indeed unjust. It only serves to keep us from us from understanding all of God’s activities in and through his people, and in the lives of other people groups, through the grid of such rare and extraordinary cases from OT history.

The Answer: God’s Just Judgment and Mercy

We know objectively that the cultures of the Canaanite and Amalekite people were indeed very perverse and sinful. The sins of these cultures include ongoing child and human sacrifice, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, war crimes, brutality, and murder. These sins were a part of the culture as a whole and infiltrated every corner of life. When such patterns of sin become common place and unchecked in a community, the whole community faces the consequences of God’s just judgment for such sin. Those who might be innocent of the sins of their leaders, fathers, friends, etc. then become victims of that sin in suffering the attending consequences of these behaviors. And, judgment is a just and good consequence for sin. Children are innocent when their parents divorce, yet they still suffer the consequence of that sin. Why and how God allows for such suffering as a consequence of sin is another question. But we know that innocents do suffer, and they suffer due to the punishment and judgment of God upon a people as a consequence of their sinful hearts. The Bible says that God ordains such suffering, in fact using it for greater good and His own glory (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).

We also know and are full of praise to God for always intermingling mercy and grace with such right judgment upon sin. So, along with the judgments of God, we find that we shows mercy in manifold and diverse ways. But, there is a short answer to the question, “Why did God command such destruction for these cultures?” The answer is judgment. To display his justice and righteousness. To glorify himself in the just punishment that is due to those who reject him and turn from him. In a way, our question applies to all of us. It applies to the whole human race who will one day stand before God and answer for their rebellion, for their faithlessness, for their sinful behavior, and hard hearts. And destruction and punishment will fall on all who have not turned to God in repentance and faith in the One God has set forth as the only way for atonement.

In the Old Testament God had been dealing with the Amalekites for centuries before commanding punishment and destruction for them (Genesis 36;12,16). They knew who the Israelites were, they knew that Yahweh was to be worshipped alone, and his people were to be blessed. Yet they continually invaded and sought to oppress God’s people (Judges 6:3-5; Exodus 17; Deuteronomy 25). The same historical enmity can be said of God’s interaction with the Canaanites.

We find in the Scriptures that before judgment comes warnings, calls to repentance, and merciful patience. When these are not heeded, when the sinful heart and the corporate response is one of rebellion and rejection of God, then judgment comes. We see this happen historically to the nations in the Scriptures, and it happens to Israel in the Assyrian destruction of the northern tribes and the Babylonian captivity of Judah. It will happen to every nation in the march and progress of time until “the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time-- God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).
What judgment will come upon our land, a land that has sanctioned the murder of over 40 million innocents in the name of choice and sexual liberty? Now, there is a good question! Sadly, I am afraid there is not too much mystery about its answer.