From: George Murphy (email@example.com)
Date: Sat Dec 07 2002 - 20:30:48 EST
> 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
"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
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
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
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
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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