the violent god Essay

Submitted By mmtalt
Words: 2522
Pages: 11

The Violent God


Basic readings of various Old Testament texts can give rise to confusion as thenature of the Hebrew God. On the one hand, Yahweh is portrayed as a loving Father or Creator to the entire world. In contrast, He is also shown as a deity who actively directs acts of violence and destruction. The violence in the Bible is often graphic, brutal and grotesque. Although the Bible is not literally written by the hand of God, the writers of the text often depict God as commanding people in violence or simply condoning violence. However, understood properly, and according to the tradition of which the Bible speaks, the violence contained within the text and the God who directs it is not meaningless, random or sadistic. By considering Joshua 1-8, the reader recognizes that the Hebrews believed that God played an active role in directing the Hebrews to commit such killing in order to achieve a higher purpose, or “divine destiny” of securing the Promised Land. By the time of Maccabees, there is a change of voice and God is not recognized as directing violence but rather as using it to discipline His people. The voice of Yahweh is interpreted at this point, rather than one that speaks directly. Further, by reading scholarly sources, one learns the moral life lesson that obedience to Yahweh leads to success, as well as the converse, and one also discovers how violent actions were sanctioned and understood as Holy, as according to the ancient Hebrew tradition of “Ban”.
Joshua 1-8 depicts the tale of the Israelites conquering and overthrowing of the divinely Promised Land, Canaan. The military capture of Canaan is identified as a “Holy War” because,
“Von Rad’s typology of the holy war includes motifs of trumpet blast, consecration of soldiers, proclamation of victory promise by god, Yahweh’s leadership, requirement of totally belief by Israelites, the enemy’s loss of courage due to ‘divine terror’ that overtakes them, the enactment of the ban after the victory, and dismissal of the militia (40).
All of these elements are included in the tale of Joshua. Joshua opens after the death of Moses, the deliverer of the Israelites from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. Joshua is appointed as their new leader to take them into the Promised Land, their ultimate destiny. In Joshua, God is portrayed by the writers of the text as paving the path towards Canaan, specifically through violence.
The appointment of Joshua is described in Joshua 1:6,
"Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Here, God is depicted as giving Joshua power as leader and he reassures Joshua that He will be there for him. Although God later directs Joshua in committing violent acts, here marks the first instance one discovers the moral lesson that obedience to Yahweh leads to success and desired results. As the story progresses, one learns that Joshua is honest and continues to be faithful to God. The people were excited upon first learning of Joshua’s appointment, not because he earned it, but because God had selected and empowered him. It seems that the writers of the text understood that the people believed that their terrifying efforts were being led by God through Joshua so that they were acting in “obedience” and could expect success. Following Joshua meant following Yahweh; obedience meant survival as an emerging nation.
Further, and perhaps pragmatically speaking, enthusiastic support for the Israelite’s military quest throughout the land is further justified when considering the remarks made by Rahab, the prostitute who was living…