Re: George's reply to Howard

From: George Murphy (
Date: Sat Dec 07 2002 - 20:30:48 EST

  • Next message: Dr. Blake Nelson: "Re: George's reply to Howard" wrote:
    > George, in replying to Howard, wrote: "The Bible presents a lot of
    > its heroes "warts & all" - Abraham trading his wife for his own
    > safety, Jacob the swindler, David the adulterer, &c. There is no
    > reason to claim that these behaviors are being approved. Israel is
    > simply being honest about who it is."
    > George - would you extend this argument to I Sam 15 also? This is the
    > passage where Samuel, claiming to speak for God, tells the Hebrews to
    > slaughter ALL the Amelekites, including the infants, and when Saul
    > does not QUITE obey, murdering the infants, it seems, but sparing the
    > Amelekite king and the livestock, Saul is punished by God.
    > Is the text "being honest" about the character of God -- or would you
    > offer another interpretation here (I hope so).

            Several other people have responded to this but I will stay
    here with Burgy's
    original question - which provides scope enough.

            First, I was speaking about Israel's view of itself. How
    Israel understood &
    spoke of God another topic because God is not one of Israel's
    "heroes" & Israel's
    knowledge of God has a different character from its knowledge of its
    own history.
    Nevertheless -

            "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone" God is
    represented as saying in
    Ezekiel (18:32). The Hebrew is literally "in the death of the
    dying," & Eichrodt, in
    his Ezekiel commentary, renders this "in the death of him who is
    worthy of death." Thus
    within the OT there is a picture of God's character quite different
    from what one gets
    from a reading of I Sam.15 in isolation - a picture that points toward the NT's
    proclamation that God not only wants all people to be saved (I
    Tim.2:4) but who dies to
    accomplish that.

            That being the case, the view of God presented in I Sam.15 (&
    other texts) is
    incomplete. I think the most important theological consideration is
    as follows:

            1st, God limits divine action to the capacity of creatures.
    This is the kenotic
    aspect of divine action - based ultimately on Phil.2:5-11 - & is
    necessary for the
    regularity of natural processes and our ability to formulate
    scientific laws. But it
    also means that God limits action in any cultural epoch, including
    revelation of himself
    and his will, to what is consistent with human development in that
    epoch. In a culture
    in which holy war was accepted practice, the expression of God's will
    to Israel may have
    included holy war.

            I don't think the texts that we have enable us to decide just
    how much something
    like the extermination of the Amalekites was due to an actual command
    of God and how
    much was due to the interpretation of the divine will by a people
    accustomed to the holy
    war tradition & to the idea that that was the ways gods were supposed to work.

            This should not be understood as God simply accepting
    cultural norms in a
    passive way. Much of the OT legislation, e.g., is directed toward
    limiting vengeance
    and other expressions of violence and moving people toward an ethic
    more in the true
    character of God. E.g., holy war could not be directed against every
    enemy, but only
    against the nations of Canaan & Amalek.

            So - OTOH it is not correct to picture God as if love & wrath
    were equal
    components of the divine character. God _has_ wrath but God _is_
    love. Thus in a sense
    all God's works are works of love. OTOH, all divine action is not
    sweetness & light.
    God's "proper work" is work of blessing, but God must sometimes do
    his "alien work" of
    judgment & condemnation to accomplish his proper work.

    George L. Murphy

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