God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? A review

This review in the Baptist Times of Helen Paynter‘s latest book is a comprehensive introduction for those new to the questions it explores; will bring new insights to those familiar with the subject: 

Review by Peter King 

Over the past few years I have become increasingly troubled by the violence in the Bible. Although this is a subject we don’t often talk about in our churches, I know from a number of informal conversations that many churchgoers (and others) have questions they would like to explore on these issues.

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Odd Prophet

Stanley Hauerwas says Walter Breuggemann “has the ‘unrelenting realism’ that possessed the imagination of the ancient prophets…”

In Breuggemann’s book Reality-Grief-Hopehe proves Hauerwas’s words true.  The book explores the crisis that has gripped American culture since the 9-11 attacks.  Although reality, grief and hope are the biblical categories that take communities through disaster (facing reality), to grief (a mourning for lost ideology), to hope – (the nemesis and destroyer of despair), we see how Breuggemann uses the Old Testament Exile of the Covenant people of God to the strange and shattering world of Babylon in c. 587 BC (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 34 & Deuteronomy 28-29).  This is the lens he uses to write about the current context of the American collective psyche, as they experience the same trauma (personally, I don’t think it is the same type of trauma, since America as a whole wasn’t exiled, and more potently, they are not the covenant people of God, but the categories and the lens work exceptionally well nevertheless).  There is no magic bullet, or Hollywood film or John Wayne hero to rescue the obese unreality that tenderises the collective mind of the Western man or woman.

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The Old Testament in 64 Sentences

• God created the universe, the world and people and it was all very good.
• Mankind disobeyed the one thing and the curse of sin and death came in.
• Sin increasingly spiralled so God brought a flood, saving animals & 1 family.
• Sin increased and God scattered the nations at the Tower of Babel. The world was bleak.
• What was God going to do?
• God initiates His salvation plan by calling Abraham and making promises with him.
• Abraham’s family are chosen and God works in their lives.
• The family end up in Egypt to escape a famine.
• The Hebrews become slaves in Egypt for 400 years.
• As with Abraham, God calls Moses, with the message to Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go!’
• The Israelites are rescued from Egypt with signs and wonders (ten plagues)
• At Mt Sinai they learn what this rescuing God is like: He is holy.
• God gives them laws, religious, social, medical, legal and Ten Commandments.
• They immediately break the rule and worship a golden calf (seriously, you couldn’t make it up)!
• That generation do not enter the Promised Land. They die in the wilderness.
• Joshua leads the new generation into the promised Land.
• They are told to drive out all the idolatrous nations (Canaanites).
• They drive out most of them and then settle and divide land between 12 the tribes.
• The Philistines become their main enemy and oppress the Israelites.
• The Israelites are oppressed because they keep breaking God’s Laws.
• Every time they get desperate they cry out to God for help.
• God always sends a deliverer, or Judge to rescue and lead the people.
• Then they do well for a short time before sinning worse than before and crying out again.
• This goes on for between 200-400 years. These days are very dark, the sin very bad.
• Despite the bleakness, the story of Ruth and the line of David happens here.
• Then the people demand a King ‘like the other (idolatrous) nations’ thus rejecting God’s Kingship.
• The people choose Saul. He looks good on the outside but is bad on the inside.
• God appoints David as King when Saul dies. Saul persecutes David.
• David becomes King. God makes a very special covenant with him: Messianic promises.
• Although David was ‘a man after God’s own heart’ he still had a human heart & it was bad!
• David murders, commits adultery, lies, steals and disobeys, but God never forsakes him.
• David’s time is marked by wars and warriors. David is trying to finish what Joshua began.
• David’s son Solomon reigns in peace and builds a world wonder: God’s Temple.
• Although Solomon is very wise he’s also very stupid. He commits mass idolatry in later years.
• His peaceful reign is superficial. When he dies, the Israelite Kingdom is torn in two.
• Ten tribes to the north. Two in the south.
• Multiple dynasties rule the north for over 200 years. All kings were idolatrous & evil.
• Because of God’s promise to David, his family rule the south for 400 years.
• After 200 years, the Assyrians capture the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Exile all the people.
• They are destroyed forever and it was all spoken by the prophets and the Law.
• The prophets to the North were Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jonah and others.
• The South (Judah) were captured by Babylon 200 years after that.
• Persistent idolatry, covenant unfaithfulness were Judah’s downfall.
• They were Exiled and held in Babylonian captivity for 70 years.
• Many prophets came to warn them this would happen.
• Prophets such as Jeremiah, Amos, Obadiah, Habakkuk, and others.
• The people didn’t believe it? Why?
• Because God had made unconditional promises to Abraham and David. God wouldn’t lie.
• They forgot to add into that the conditional promise made to Moses at Sinai
• “If you disobey, then this (curse) will happen…” “If you obey then this (blessing) will happen….”
• Prophets also spoke during and after the Exile. God was speaking and acting all the time.
• Prophets such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, and others.
• During the Exile, the Jews were saved from annihilation by a brave Jewish girl, Esther.
• After Exile, the Hebrew people were freed to go home (a new generation).
• This historic return was led by Ezra who re-taught the religious laws of God to the people.
• And led by Nehemiah who rebuilt the city walls and the Temple (a poor imitation of Solomons).
• But the people soon forgot the Law and broke the covenant.
• God sent more prophets to warns them back: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
• The OT ends in some disarray. It’s a cliff hanger.
• God’s word is ignored. Sin keeps spreading. Prophets are ignored. Lessons not learned.
• The last prophet and word in the OT is Malachi. He promises a special messenger.
• This messenger will announce the way for God Himself to come.
• Then the prophets stop prophesying. God is silent for 400 years (as he was in Egypt).
• Until we hear the shouting of John the Baptist in the NT: “Prepare the way of the Lord…”