Four Strategies for How to Read the Hebrew Bible on Matters of War and Peace

Key Question: A common challenge posed to a peace church reading of the Bible is “what do you do with the Old Testament!”  A better question might be, “How do you read the NT and the OT together on matters of church and state and war and peace?”  (I prefer the term “Hebrew Bible” or Hebrew Scriptures to Old Testament, even though, for most non-Western or pre-modern people, calling something “old” was a compliment, not a put-down!)  I will try to sketch four strategies for reading the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament in a way that supports the kind of peace church practice I highlighted in the first half of class.  First I’ll briefly introduce the four approaches, and then I’ll dig into each a little more deeply.. Four Approaches:  

Reading Strategy #1:  In answering the question “how should Christians read the Hebrew Bible?” the most obvious response might be “we should read it like the Jews who wrote the New Testament did!” Paul, Peter, James, John, and the Evangelists were all Jews interpreting their own Hebrew history.  They read their Scriptures in light of their personal experience of being with Jesus, whom they believed was God’s Messiah.  You could make a strong case that Jesus himself consciously tried to re-live the history of
Israel in his own life, stories, and prophetic actions.  He was performing the Hebrew Scrips like a play, but with a surprise ending called cross and resurrection.  But the playwright was leaving us clues all along the way, like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, that foreshadowed the drama’s climax.

Reading Strategy #2:  We also need to respect the structure of the Hebrew Bible in its own right, before we even get to the NT.  In other words, we need to read it canonically, as having a beginning, middle, and end.  And how does the Hebrew Bible story end?  What is the great catastrophe that befalls the people of
Israel, the “cliff-hanger” that remains unresolved as the canon comes to its close?  Exile, the dead-end of the Davidic kingdom, and the ongoing reality of Gentile domination of God’s people and their land.  Another way to describe this canonical reading strategy is to say we should read the Hebrew Scriptures like the Deuteronomist does.  The Deuteronomistic editors re-read the whole story of Israel in light of Exile.  The red threads they saw running through the whole drama were idolatry, injustice to the poor, and war-crimes.  In shaping the Hebrew Bible into its final canonical order in the way they did, what message was the Deuteronomist trying to give Jews about how to live in the land while still under pagan rule?

Reading Strategy #3:  We should also read the HS through the interpretative keys of shalom, hesed, and Yahweh as Warrior-King.  Now, reading the Scrips in light of God’s eternal purposes for peace (shalom) and God’s eternal character of loving-kindness (hesed) would seem to fit logically with a peace church approach.  But Yahweh as a Warrior?  It might seem paradoxical at first, but the Hebrew confession that Yahweh is a Warrior and King is crucial to a peace church faith.  I think you’ll see how it works by the end of my presentation.

Reading Strategy #4:  We could probably learn something about how to read the Hebrew Bible by exploring how the Jewish rabbis themselves read it for nearly 2000 years! The rabbis read their Scriptures—or more accurately, argued over their Scriptures!—in the context of Diaspora.  They lived for millennia with no nation, no king, no army, no death penalty, and no Temple, gathering for worship around God’s Word in synagogues scattered all over the world.  One of the great ironies of biblical history is that Babylon became the center of Judaism after the fall of the Davidic kingdom, not Jerusalem: the Babylonian Talmud is the premier Jewish commentary on the Bible.  John Howard Yoder sees this Diaspora model most clearly outlined in Jeremiah’s “letter to the Exiles.”  He suggests that if Christians are looking for a model for faithful living in today’s post-Constantine, post-Christendom, world, they should look to how Jews lived for 2500 years: for the nations, serving their pagan neighbors and even enemies, but loyal to Yahweh over any particular nation or ruler.   

Hebrew Bible Foundational for Peace Theology:  I want to stress from the start that the Hebrew Bible is an indispensable foundation for my peace church theology.  I couldn’t do without it.  I mean, that’s where Jesus got his peacemaking material…from Genesis, and Deuteronomy, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and the Psalms!  These are the most quoted Hebrew Scriptures in the Gospels.  Isaiah is the most quoted, which reveals Jesus’ primary identification with the prophetic stream of his faith.  I believe much of what went wrong with Christianity historically can be traced to the Gentile church cutting itself off from its Jewish roots, a Jewish Jesus, and the Jewish New Testament, especially when they began to put their trust in a new kind of Messiah, named Constantine.  (The famous church historian Eusebius actually applied the title “savior of the church” to this Roman emperor, who was, at best, a death-bed Christian!) 

In answering the question of what to do with the Hebrew Bible, I would thus reject the solution of the 2nd century Christian Gnostic Marcion, who recommended chucking the whole thing!  This strategy might initially seem like the reasonable way to deal with all the war, rape, patriarchy, slavery, and genocide in the Hebrew Bible, elements of the story that should give any decent person pause.  In the end, however, Marcion’s solution comes at too high a price.  Our theology would be deeply impoverished.  Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law of Moses, not abolish it.  So, let’s look at five important New Testament texts about Jesus, or what Yoder calls “cosmologies.” A more contemporary term for “cosmology” might be worldview, or ideology. 

I. Five NT Cosmologies:  

A. Yoder’s book Preface to Theology shows how the messianic Jews who wrote the NT used the language of both Greco-Roman and Hebrew cosmologies but radically redefined and subverted them, by putting Jesus in the center, or at the top, of these systems.  The most radical way Christians did this was in calling Jesus “Lord” and “Savior.”  Who would have been given these titles in the time of Jesus?  There are only two options…Yahweh and Caesar!  Jews for Jesus were thus redefining Jewish faith and subverting Roman religion they called the crucified criminal, Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Savior.

1) Hebrews 1: “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”  Hebrews goes on to use the Jewish cosmology of Temple, high priest, and blood-sacrifice, yet radically redefines these symbols by making Jesus both the final mediating Priest and the final atoning sacrifice.  Our own bodies, or the body of Christ, the church, becomes the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  So, messianic Jews (and Christians) no longer need priests, sacrifices, or  Temples, because we’ve got Jesus!   

2) John 1: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being.”  Here John is using—and radically redefining—both the Greek Platonic concept of the cosmic Logos, the logic that ordered the whole universe, and the similar Hebrew notion of Sophia-Wisdom, or Lady-Wisdom, that Proverbs declares was the help-meet of God in Creation.  In other words, Jesus is the Lady-Wisdom of Proverbs, Jesus’ is Plato’s Logos! Again, a double-whammy, redefining both Greek and Hebrew theologies.

 3) Colossians 1: “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or authorities or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church, he is the beginning of the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things, whether on heaven or earth, by making peace through his blood on a cross.”  Here we find that “Powers” language popping up, with Jesus being placed above, or at the center of, all other Powers. 

4) Revelation 5: We find another remarkable NT vision of Christ in Revelation 5.  John of Patmos has been ushered into the very throne room of the Creator-God.  John is weeping, however, because no one is worthy to open the heavenly scroll that would reveal human destiny.  But one of the elders reassures him “do not weep.  See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  John whirls to look upon the throne of God and there he finds a ferocious lion and a great conquering king like David with sword drawn, right?  No.  What is seated on the throne of God?  A little lambkin, wet with its own blood, the martyred lamb that takes away the sins of the world!  This is how God conquers…lions into lambs, swords into plowshares.  The lion of Judah is a slain lamb; the Lamb Jesus, not King David, reigns from God’s Throne.  And we are to fight the Lamb’s War and conquer the same way Jesus conquered: by nonviolently pouring out our lives for others, even our enemies.  This is the bottom-line message of the book of Revelation.

5) Philippians 2: And finally, from Paul again, we find an incredible hymn of praise to God in Philippians chapter 2.  Nancey Murphy makes this passage the foundation to her whole theological program: “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”  I would wager this is the most scandalous statement ever made about God: the Creator of the Universe in the form of a humiliated slave!  But this tortured slave is exulted to the highest place in heaven.

B. Nicea-Chalcedonian Creeds:  Speaking of Cosmologies and Christologies, what about the great creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon? We in the peace church sometimes find the great creeds of Christendom inadequate expressions of our faith.  For example, the Apostles’ Creed jumps from Jesus’ birth right to his death!  Kind of leaves out all the wonderful stuff at the heart of the Gospels, doesn’t it?  But the great theological affirmations of Nicea and Chalcedon are at the heart of peace church theology.  What were the two inextricably intertwined confessions about Jesus that came out of the councils of Nicea and
Chalcedon?  Jesus is both fully human and fully God.  This would seemingly mean that a) Jesus is the consummation of human destiny, the New Adam; he represents God’s desire for all human living (and dying).  We have no other, or contradictory, model for how we are to live and die; and b) Jesus is also the full revelation of the Creator-God.  We know who God is and how God acts by looking at who Jesus is and how Jesus acts.  But how do we know the concrete content of this norm and this character, so we can know how we should live and what God is (really) like?  By reading the Gospels and other NT  ffirmations about Jesus’ mission, like Ephesians 2, which could be called Yoder’s “uber-text”:  “remember, that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Messiah Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us….making peace, and reconciling both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death hostility through it.  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who are near.”  Jesus came “preaching peace”; he is our “peace”; he breaks down the wall of hatred between all competing social groups, Jew and Greek, male/female, slave/free, rich/poor, just as Paul declares elsewhere in the great baptismal formula found in Galatians chapter 3.

Well, the  New Testament is all fine and good, but let’s get back to the Hebrew Bible.

II. I talked about Reading the HS Canonically, like the Deuteronomist:

1) The first key to reading the Hebrew Bible canonically is to recognize that Israel’s history is presented like a “drama,” with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  You can’t understand how to think about all the twists and turns, ups and downs, until the drama reaches the final act.  So, don’t jump to conclusions about God’s ultimate will for God’s people, by freezing God at the Noah, or Joshua, or David stage.  The Deuteronomistic view is that the idolatry, injustice, and war-crimes of the false shepherds of Israel “won the day.”  The Deuteronomist highlights only a few bright moments of renewal in the time of the monarchy, like King Josiah, who miraculously discovered the book of Deuteronomy while dusting in the Temple one day!

2) To read canonically, it is important to know the end of the story, and the end of the Hebrew Bible story is, in a nutshell, Exile. The “Big Three” prophets of Exile—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—are given pride of place.  These great prophets complete the Law and correct the kings and priests.  The Hebrew Bible was “canonized” (receiving its final shape and order) in Babylonian Exile and in the centuries of post-exilic pagan empire-rule (first Persian, then Greek, finally Roman).

3) Deuteronomy itself literally means Second Law, or re-telling the Law.  Many OT scholars, like James Brenneman, former adjunct teacher here at Fuller, would say it is the crucial pivot-point for understanding the whole sweep of the Hebrew Bible.  It is strategically placed at the end of the Torah, the five books of Moses, but before diving into the Joshua-Judges-Kings saga of life in the land.  The book of Deuteronomy imaginatively returns the people back to their origins, standing with Moses on the wilderness-side of the
Jordan River, being asked once again to commit their lives to the Sinai covenant with God.  But the writer and the readers seemingly know in hindsight the whole troubled history of the Israel’s national life.).  Deut. 17, for example, places many constitutional limits of the kingship and correct the abuses of Israel’s judges and priests.  Yet these offices hadn’t even come into existence in the time of Moses! (You might call this “Monday morning quarter-backing!”) The bottom-line of Deuteronomy’s retelling of the Law is “choose life or choose death!  God is giving us a second chance in the land; how shall we live this time around?  Will we learn from our past mistakes, or make them all over again?” We Christians might say that we don’t really get the final answer until “the prophet like Moses” predicted in chapter 18 of Deuteronomy finally comes along. This prophet’s name was Joshua, in Greek, Jesus.  He was the son of Miriam, in Gk, Mary.   An evil king tries to kill him at his birth; he later comes “out of Egypt” and into the Promised Land, to fight God’s Holy War against idolatry. Does any of this sound like Moses or the first Joshua?  But now the enemy is not the Canaanites, but Satan himself, who has infested even Israel’s most sacred institutions of family, clan, synagogue, and Temple.  It is Satan that stands behind Rome, and Caesar is the new oppressor of God’s people, not Pharaoh.

III. My Reading Strategy #3 says we need to read the HS using the interpretative keys of shalom, hesed and Yahweh as Warrior-King: If you re-read the Hebrew Bible with these lens, what do you discover?  Well, let’s give it try with Genesis, and a bit of Exodus, Joshua, and Judges! 

As you know, Genesis has two different creations accounts.  Recalling in your mind either story, what stewardship tasks are given by God to humanity? What does it mean in concrete terms to “take dominion” over creation?  1) “Male and female; be fruitful and multiply” (Sex/Marriage/Family; Community Life/Kinship); 2) tending the garden and naming the animals (Creation Care); 3) walking with God (Worship); and 4) sharing food (Economics).  And, of course, God in Creation also ordains the state too, right?  No, the state and its sword isn’t there at the beginning.  It is apparently not a part of God’ original design.

Well, let’s look after the “fall” of humanity in chapter 3 and see when something like the sword or the state shows up. When does violence first enter the picture? Cain murders his brother Abel.  And then the sword of state appears, right, to execute the rightful death penalty on Cain?  No, God protects Cain from vengeance and gives him a second chance at restitution.  Instead of putting his trust in this compassionate God, however, Cain seeks his own security by building the first fortified city in history, named after his firstborn son, Enoch.  Already the good gifts of God are being turned from glorifying God and towards self-serving security: the strength of my sons and my cities will save me, says Cain.  This has always been the faith of patriarchy. 

Moving along in chapter 4, we meet one of the direct descendants of Cain, the rather unsavory Lamech.  Lamech also runs into conflict, remember?  Someone strikes him and he turns around a kills the dude (not exactly turning the other cheek, eh?)  He brags that he will violently revenge himself “70 X 7” times on anyone that crosses him again.  (Does 70 X 7 ring a bell for any of you New Testament scholars out there?)  Continuing this sorry saga in chapter 4, one of Lamech’s descendants, Nimrod, is said to be the founder of the kingdoms of both Babylon and Assyria.  Ok, OT scholars, what role will these two empires play later in the story of Israel?  They viciously destroy the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, respectively. And remember the crazy story of the rebel-angels or “nephillim” that inappropriately mingle with human women, in chapter 5 of Genesis?  They are called “mighty warriors of old,” but they hardly seem to be fighting for God’s cause! (Reminds me a much later story of mingling the divine and human, except this time the offspring grows up to be a nonviolent warrior for God.  Unlike his namesake, Joshua, Jesus liberated the Promised Land threw exorcisms, healings, subversive stories, table fellowship with outcasts, forgiveness of debts and sins, confrontations of the Powers, prayer, and, paradoxically, his own bloody death.)

By chapter six we get to the wicked generation of Noah.  Why does God judge humanity so decisively at this time?  What is the most obvious expression of their wickedness, according to the text?  Genesis says, God had to re-do the whole Creation because “all the earth was filled with violence.”  After the Flood, however, God makes a peace covenant with the Gentile Noah and his family, and every living creature, promising never to destroy creation again.  God hangs his bow of war in the sky, putting it into retirement; kind of like swords into plowshares, or God “laying down his sword and shield, down by the riverside!”  The bow of war becomes the symbol of God’s promise of peace.  If the earth every ends up getting destroyed, it will necessarily be the blasphemous work of humans, not God. 

Finally, in Chapter 11 we encounter the first great city-state, right?  The Tower of Babel.  All city-states of the ancient Near East were built around a heavenly Temple.  Israel would have its own version of such a Temple-state eventually, in Jerusalem. And what is God’s response to this first great nation-building effort and its ambition to unify the whole world under its sway?  In divine mercy, God confuses and scatters the empire-builders, so that God’s original design of a beautiful diversity of peoples and languages might be preserved. 

Well, so far states and swords haven’t been portrayed to positively in the Bible.  They seem to mostly rebel against God rather than serve God’s Creation.  But, finally, the story takes a turn for the better.  We get to Abraham and Sarah, God great transforming initiative.  The story of Abe runs from chapters 12-25.  What is the great commission given to Abraham, right off the bat in chapter 12?  To be a blessing to the nations.  Does Abe become this?  How does he relate to all the different ethnic groups and religions and kings he encounters in Canaan?  Well, first off,            

A.  Abe leaves behind his home in Babylon and the paganism of his Temple-building ancestors.

B.  His whole life he in Canaan he is a sojourner, a pilgrim, literally a resident alien.  While he becomes rich in the nomadic “currency” of animal herds and children, the only real estate he ever officially owns is a burial cave for his wife, Sarah.

II. Abe’s core practice is hospitality:  

A.  With Sarah’s help, he feeds and shelters three strangers in his tent, remember?  They turn out to be messengers from God with “good news” of a coming child.

B. Abe even advocates on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (the most wicked of all Canaanites!), despite their violent inhospitality towards his family.  Abe argues with God to save his own enemies for the sake of even a handful of righteous folk among them (Gen. 18).  Kind of the opposite policy of those who would destroy a whole country trying to kill a few bad guys. 

B. “Hospitality begins at home” for Abe.  When his ambitious nephew Lot’s herds start to compete with Abe’s, he gives the younger Lot the first and best choice of land. (Gen. 13)  The self-empting principle of Jesus’ Lordship is here foreshadowed by our faith father.

III.  Abraham also pursues a “Foreign Policy” of Peacemaking with the many different ethnic groups and kings he encounters in Canaan 

A.  He makes an alliance with Melchizedek, a Canaanite king who is called a“priest of El.”  Abe refuses the spoils of war from their shared military victory and gives 10% of all his wealth to seal their friendship (Gen. 14).

B. Later King Abimelech of the Philistines (the future archenemies of Israel), invites Abe to share his land, even after Abe deceived him about the identity of his wife! Returning the favor, Abe heals the Philistines’ diseases and their numbers increase.  Kind of sounds like Jesus.  Abe is becoming a blessing, not a curse, to other nations! (Gen. 20)  Impressed by Abe’s integrity and prosperity, Abimelech makes an official treaty with him, saying, “Swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants.  Show to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you” (Gen. 21:23).  As a result of this treaty, the two are later able to resolve an explosive dispute over ownership of some wells, water being as valuable as oil in the ancient Mid East! (Gen. 21:25-31)          

C.  Abe’s gains his first property in the Promised Land (a burial cave for his wife) not through military might or cunning manipulation, but by honest negotiation with the rightful landowner, a Hittite king.  In classic Near Eastern style, they compete in generosity:  the Hittite offers the cave for free but Abe insists on paying a full and fair price (Gen. 23).

D. Abe averts a diplomatic disaster after deceiving the Pharaoh, who still treats him with integrity despite his lying.  The Pharaoh even provides Abe the “seed money” that leads to his future wealth (Gen. 12).  This is quite ironic given the future of the Hebrew children in Egypt!  Abe makes friends wherever he goes, even with the Pharaoh of Egypt.

E.  Abe brings not only his first son (Ishmael) and second son (Isaac) into the God-given ritual of belonging that is circumcision, but even indigenous Canaanites who join his household as servants are included.  If only the current residents of Israel remembered and practiced anything like these peacemaking practices of Abraham, they would not be continually at war!

IV.  Father of Many Nations

A.  Abe does become a father to many nations, just as God promised: Arabs, Edomites, Israelites. In Gen. 18, all of Abraham descendants are instructed to “keep the way of Lord, doing what is right and just,” by sharing land, water, and wealth with others.  Only by living in this hospitable way will the promise of God’s gift of good land be fulfilled.  No justice leads inexorably to no peace, no blessing, and exile from the land of God’s promise, as the rest of the Hebrew Bible sorrowfully narrates. 

B.  The rest of Genesis could rightfully be describes as a saga of  reconciliation between estranged brothers; Ishmael and Isaac, after great tensions between their mothers, come together to bury their father Abraham in peace; Jacob and Esau, and later Joseph and his brothers, find a way to forgive each other after years of bitterness and strife.  The book ends on an ominous note, however, in the Blessing of Jacob in Gen. 49.  While the 12 sons of Jacob are promised an allotment of the land, Levi and Simeon are condemned for their rash and reckless violence against the Shechemites.  Like King Abimelech of the Philistines earlier, the Shechemites wanted to trade freely with Jacob’s sons, sharing the land, and even intermarrying with their women.  They were even willing to collectively undergo mass circumcision to do so! But as they lay in a weak and vulnerable state as the result of the painful procedure, Simeon and Levi launch a preemptive strike and slaughter them.  Jacob roundly condemns them, for their violence puts the very promise of God in grave jeopardy.

So, we have the amazing peace-making paradigm of Abraham among the Canaanites.  Next up in the drama of the Hebrew Bible we have Moses and the great Exodus from Egypt.  Starting with the courageous civil disobedience of the Hebrew midwives Shiprah and Puah, who defied Pharaoh and saved Moses’ neck as a baby, Moses (and Aaron and Miriam) grow up to challenge the great king of
Egypt again and again.  (Moses had to learn the hard way that killing the Egyptian slave-driver was not God’s way to achieve his people’s freedom, however.  He spends 40 years in repentant exile in Midian, trying to learn God’s true will.) Moses finally leads the people in their Escape from Egypt.  They walk through the Red Sea, chased by thundering chariots, but in what is perhaps the most paradigmatic moment in the whole Hebrew Bible, Moses dramatically proclaims to the people, “stand still and wait, for God will fight for you.”  Yahweh is our Warrior, or as the Apostle Paul later would say “vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” And what happens?  Pharaoh’s crack commandos are drowned in the waves before their eyes, with not even a slingshot-stone launched at their enemy.

But what about those most war-like Hebrew books of Judges and Joshua?  Well, let’s just notice how peculiar some of these war-stories are.  How do Debra and Barak win their battle with the Canaanites?  Through the nature-power of floods that sink the Canaanite chariots in mud, and by the hand of a single woman alone in a tent, armed only with a tent peg!  (You ever notice how God in the OT is always sabotaging chariots, the premier war technology of the ancient world?) And what about Gideon?  Remember his recruitment and training strategy for his militia?  He sends as many of his men home, for as many good reasons or outright excuses he can think of, and then wins his battle by breaking pots and waving torches.  Sounds more like street theater than warfare to me.  Or how about Joshua’s strange military tactics around Jericho?  Seems more like a jam session or a protest march than a normal, military attack, and yet the walls come tumbling down, again with the help of a women, the prostitute Rahab.  And what is probably the most famous war-story from the OT?  How was the Philistine warrior Goliath, the greatest commando of the ancient Near East, toppled?  By a little shepherd boy, with five smooth stones and a slingshot!  This is the once and future king of Israel?! God uses these wonderfully strange and weak methods for his own glory.  Paradoxically, many of the war-stories of the Hebrew Bible actually subvert the very mythology and propaganda of warfare.  What do you think is the theological message of all these stories of weird and wacky warfare?  That trusting in human military might, swords, chariots, kings, and states is the key to salvation and security?  Or, rather, “not by might, not by strength, but by the Spirit of God, says the Lord?!”  Why does Samuel tell the people that asking for a king to fight their wars like the other nations is a slap in God’s face, a direct rejection of Yahweh’s kingship?  Samuel warns them that this dream-king of theirs will inevitably lead them back into a kind of slavery, like Egypt.  Already by the time of Solomon this has happened, as Solomon conscripts Israelite slave labor to build his grand Temple and glorious palace.   Why do the prophets repeatedly say, “don’t put your trust in chariots or military alliances with foreign empires?”  Why does Jeremiah tell the last king of Judah, “do not fight the Babylonians; it is God’s will that we lose our kingdom?”  

   OT Political Models: 

1)      Abe the immigrant peacemaker among Canaanite kings

2)      Moses’s civil disobedience campaign against the Egyptian state

3)      the decentralized tribal confederacy of the Judges (no standing army, no hereditary leader, each tribe allotted their own lands and everyone “’neath their own vine and fig-tree”, with Sabbath and Jubilee redistribution of the the wealth

4)      the Davidic (divided, dead-ended) monarchy and Solomonic (eventually destroyed)

5)      Jeremiah’s “Letter to the Exiles”: 1) raise families; 2) plant gardens; 3) build homes; and 4) seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you in Exile (sound like the Garden of Eden commission again, no?)

6)      Inter-testamental options: A) Daniel and Esther: serving Gentile kings with Yahweh wisdom when they can, resisting state power courageously when they must; and B) the Maccabbees/Zealot approach (doesn’t make the Hebrew canon’s “cut”).

The Body Politics of the Synagogue 

1) Gathered around the Book in prayer, singing and reading the sacred texts (rabbis, not priests; no

2) Only 10 households needed to form a political community (no need for king or nation)

3)  halakah “walk” of righteous living (ethics of truth-telling, parent-honoring, no stealing, monogamous marriage, alms-giving to the poor, fasting etc., which is attractive to Gentiles.)  A “living sacrifice,” not dead animals!

4)  Transnational network of mutual aid, giving and receiving counsel, exchanging letters and visits, intermarriage and hospitality (NT parallels in Paul’s “famine fund” for Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, or the circulating Pauline or Pastoral epistles).

5)    Innovation of new arts, trades, and languages (three kinds of language: 1) Hebrew; 2) hybrids like Yiddish; and 3) experts scribes, translators, diplomats etc. in pagan courts.

6)     Newly redemptive potential to suffering; martyrs, not the powerful, carry the meaning of history (the Suffering Servant and Daniel and his friends as prototypes for Jesus/the disciples).


One Response to “Four Strategies for How to Read the Hebrew Bible on Matters of War and Peace”

  1. Steve Says:

    Rather long… I haven’t finished reading it. I think I’ll do in in small installments but still a good post.

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