Bought by the Blood

January 29, 2009

Tough Questions of Faith – Part Two

Tough Questions of Fath – Part Two consist of chapters four and five that I plan on summarizing in one post.  This part of the book probably deals with the one of the most controversial aspects of the Old Testament to wrestle with, the Israelites conquest of the land of Canaan.

Wright focuses chapter four on three wrong view points to take when dealing with this piece of Scripture.  The first false view point is that the it’s an Old Testament story that has no place in the context of the New Testament.  Wright dispels this because the characteristics of God’s love and wrath are the same in the New Testament as in the Old Testament.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  His attributes do not change between testaments.  Wright also proves this view point wrong with pointing to how the New Testament validates the Old Testament and never critiques or attempts to show wrong in it.  Another view point that Wright disapproves of for dealing with the Canaanite conquest is that the Israelites were wrong in believing that God wanted them to drive out the Canaanites.  “The main problem with this view is that everywhere else in the Bible the conquest is never explained away as a colossal mistake; on the contrary, it is anticipated, commanded, achieved, and remembered as something that accomplished God’s will.”    The last view point that Wright tells us is unreliable is that of the conquest as being meant as allegory for spiritual warfare.  “We must remember that this kind of spiritual use (the use he is referring to is allegory) of the Old Testament narratives is secondary and derivative.  Their primary form is simply historical narrative.  In other words, we are not really dealing with allegory here at all.”

What then do we do with the conquest of Canaan?  Here is Wright’s conclusion:

I have wrestled with this problem for many years as a teacher of the Old Testament, and I am coming to the view that no such “solution” will be forthcoming.  There is something about this part of our Bible that I have to include in my basket of things I don’t understand about God and his ways…

What we really must do is what we should do with every part of the bible, namely, to put it in the wider framework of our whole Bible.  We must get into the habit of doing that when we read any Bible text, and never more so than here.

So we will look at three frameworks that help to put the conquest in perspective — not in such a way as to make it “nice” or to take away all the nasty questions it raises, but at least in such a way as to help us connect it to the rest of what we know about God and his ways.  We need to see the conquest narrative in the framework of the Old Testament story, in the framework of God’s sovereign justice, and in the framework of God’s whole plan of salvation.

Here are Wright’s three frameworks listed from above that we need to hold in our hands as deal with the conquest of Canaan

The Framework of The Old Testament Story:

There is a culture and a rhetoric of warfare for the Israelites that we are not famaliar with today.  The conquest of Canaan did not include a complete removal of them from the land, but only a subduing of them so that Israel can take the land.  Something else important to consider is that this is a unique and historical event, not something to be a model for a way of life.

The Framework of God’s Sovereign Justice

“The conquest was not human genocide.  It was divine judgment”  This is seen by the fact that it wasn’t an unconditional wiping out of all Canaanites.  For Canaanites who repented and followed Yahweh, like Rahab, they were spared.  This does not imply that Israel is more righteous, we even see God imposing the same judgment on them.

The Framework of God’s Whole Plan of Salvation:

The conquest of Canaan, is not the ultimate end, it is part of God’s plan of having Israel being His special and chosen people from which the Messiah will come.  The mission of Israel is to be a nation from which peace to God is made available and all nations comes to praise Him.  The conquest of Canaan might seem contradictory to this but, Wright states “The overall thrust of the Old Testament is not Israel against the nations, but Israel for the sake of the nations…What we need to see is that the Bible feels no contradiction between the ultimate goal of universal blessing and historical acts of particular judgment.”

In conclusion, this is an episode, like all others, which must be viewed through the eyes of the cross.

And when I do set it in the light of the cross, I see one more perspective.  For the cross too involved the most horrific and evil human violence, which, at the same time, also constitued the outpouring of God’s judgment on human sin.  The crucial difference of course, is that, whereas at the conquest, God poured out his judgment on a wicked society who deserved it, at the cross, God bore on himself the judgment of God on human wickedness, through the person of his own sinless Son – who deserved it not one bit.

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