What About The Violence In Judges?

Funeral Stone - © Radu Razvan Gheorghe

Funeral Stone – © Radu Razvan Gheorghe

Othniel – leader in two battles, killed thousands
Ehud – assassinated a king in his own home, killed 10,000 Moabites
Shamgar – killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad
Deborah – responsible for putting 10,000 Israelites in battle against 900 Chariots
Gideon – 120,000 soldiers killed under his leadership

We haven’t even gotten to Jephthah or Samson or the craziness that ensued at the end of this era known as The Time of the Judges.

There is no way to avoid the violence and death that is told in the book of Judges. It reads like one of those epic Japanese kung-fu films. In between the mis-timed lips of bad dubbing and horrific English are epic battles with incredibly high body-counts as the ‘hero’ destroys all the enemies singlehandedly.

The books of Joshua and Judges have left many people questioning whether or not this God is really good or if He is just some ego-centric, blood-thirsty deity that enjoys the spectacle of war. Some have argued that there really isn’t a god at all, he is a construct of evil men to justify their thirst for war. Some scholars have tried to deal with this ‘problem’ by explaining that the God of the Old Testament was about the law and punishing those who disobeyed but the God of the New Testament is about grace and forgiveness that is found in life, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus.

I’m not a fan of the Old Testament=law/New Testament=grace explanation. First, it isn’t true to the story of God. How many times did the Israelites rejected God, worshipped other gods, were horrifically disobedient and God still redeem them? Still pursue them? Still restore them?

Even in the Judges, we see the pattern over and over again. The Israelites NEVER fully gave their hearts to God. They never had long seasons of obedience and God never abandoned them. From Genesis to the last of the kings, God’s patience with a stubborn, stiff-necked people is on display for everyone to see.

That alone doesn’t explain the violence seen in Joshua and Judges versus the practical pacifism of Jesus in the New Testament. It’s a bit baffling to watch Jesus absorb the insults and the punishment at the hands of humanity in light of the events of Joshua/Judges.

Is there any explanation at all for the violence?

I think there is. When Moses led the “Hebrews” out of Egypt, it’s important to note that it wasn’t just Hebrews that went with them. Other races that were being used as slave labor took the opportunity to go with the Hebrews. From the outset, God wanted Israel to be open to outsiders, the foreigners. Just not at the expense of who they worshipped.

As they ran away from the Egyptians and into the land that God had promised them, they not only encountered many foreign nations who worshipped differently than they did but inside their own ranks they wrestled with worshiping only the Lord. The many cultures that was merging to form one nation, the many years in captivity in Egypt worshipping their gods made this a difficult transition. (The Golden Calf story is exhibit A).

As Moses and the people wandered around the desert being formed by God to be a one-god worshipping nation, the other nations that occupied the land began attacking the Hebrews. There was no openness or grace given to them by the host nations. They would attack when the Israelites were most vulnerable, killing women and children, forcing them to eek out a living on the high desert plains.

This would happen for 40 years. Plus these foreign nations had occupied this land for centuries cultivating their worship style that made sex trafficking and child sacrifice part of their everyday culture. God will not allow injustice to go unnoticed. So when the Hebrew people were ready, under the leadership of Joshua, God would use them to bring justice and peace to the land.

Does this fully explain the violence?

For most of us, the answer to that is going to be no. We can’t fathom the numbers of people dying in battles. It doesn’t seem to fit at all with the Jesus of the New Testament.

I would suggest though that is the real legacy of sin – death. All of the death was due to sin. All sin leads to death and these battles and deaths in Joshua and Judges are all tied to sin.

The numbers are horrific. They are staggering. The consequences seem steep.

So on one hand it brings back into sharp focus why the Cross was so necessary. God said – enough. One Man for all sin to end it all. Jesus. He is the scapegoat as well as the Redeemer. It’s the only way any of this can make sense.

I Want The Roof Fixed But…

Our church is getting the roof fixed this summer. It’s been a process dealing with contractors, insurance representatives, vendors, and matching tile and colors, getting the rooftop units ready to be moved – all those fun details that nobody thinks about with fixing a roof.

I was getting a little stressed about the whole thing when I had a much wiser and older friend walk into the office and tell me – “Grant, you focus on the pastoring. I’ll focus on the roof.”

THAT was a blessing.

However, one of the ‘side issues’ has been my study place. I normally can use my office as a place to write and study. Yes – folks pop in and say hi but that really doesn’t bother me a whole lot.

What bothers me is the walking around, drilling, hammering, shuffling, and nailing that goes on 4 feet above my head when they are working on the roof. At times it sounds like I’m about to have an army drop through the roof and land in my lap.

Which would be a funny picture.

I’ll be glad when the roof is finally fixed.

2014 Sharefest Promo Video

Every year our church participates in Sharefest. Sharefest is a one-day beautification project that partners 16 area churches with area schools to help improve these school campuses. We paint, mulch, plant, build and whatever else the schools need.

This year’s promo video features somebody you may know…

Movie Review: 12 Years A Slave

I might as well get ready for the hate mail for this review…

I don’t understand how this picture won Best Picture. Now I think most people understand there are movies that while they are great, they aren’t necessarily films you WANT to watch over and over again but you NEED to have watched them at least once. Films like Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and even Hotel Rwanda. (And how Don Cheadle didn’t win an Oscar for that performance is beyond me.)

While the subject matter of the illegal kidnapping of free blacks in the north to be used as slaves in the South is Oscar worthy, the actual story-telling dragged in the film. In fact, the middle act of the film seems very slow and lost at points.

Will Solomon Northup (the main character) run? Will he fight for his fellow slaves and his freedom? Is any white man good in the South? How in the world could the Scriptures be twisted so much to support what was happening on plantations all across the South?

I left the film confused as to how I should feel about Solomon Northup. Is he brave and courageous for surviving those years as a slave or was that just being a coward? Was him not taking more chances to get free courageous or cowardice? Why did he only become involved in the abolition movement after he experienced the horrors of being a slave? Is that commendable?

There are some very moving scenes in the film and it was finely acted but it’s not a film that is going to make my must see list. Much to slow for my liking.

12 Years A Slave

G's Absolutely Correct Movie Opinion

Don't understand the hype, pretty slow movie.

Guests Rating: 0.0 (0 votes)

Holy vs. Nice

Going through Judges definitely will challenge your view of God. It’s a violent book. There is no way around this and some “scholars” attempt to allegorize and “nice” God up by some pretty ridiculous interpretations just further proves the point – Judges presents to us a picture of God that SHOULD rattle your cage. In the span of the first 3 chapters we get over 20,000 people dead plus an assassination. Every story – somebody is coming to a violent end often in gory detail.

There are some explanations to some of this violence. The surrounding nations of Israel were brutal and barbaric. The whole system of worship from these other nations led to sex slave trade as well as child abduction and at times sacrifice. Foreign kings were known for their brutality. For God to send judges with equal violence is understandable on one level but it does some serious damage to the adage that God is a God of love and peace.

Herein lies the problem – God presents Himself as He really is – not as we would like Him to be. It’s never – NEVER – the complete picture. NEVER. We ‘see through a glass darkly,’ we have a limited perspective and a limited understanding. It is ENOUGH of a perspective to have an understanding of God, limited though it may be. It is sufficient enough of a perspective to make a decision about Jesus and the validity of His claims but it isn’t comprehensive. It will never be comprehensive this side of Heaven.

So to trust ourselves – with our sin baggage – to alter and “nice” God up is a dangerous proposition. To twist and appease the violence as presented in Judges is a very real temptation. We’ve seen how it’s been used to justify horrible actions – just watch 12 Years A Slave.

God is holy, not nice.

What a loaded word – holy. God gets holiness right, humanity seldom does. I’ve heard some of the most hate-filled speech under the guise of holiness. I’ve seen incredible hurt dished out under the title of holiness. God’s holiness is framed by His love. He IS love as well as holy. The two are never separate with God, an impossible balance for humanity to get right as we always seem to err on one side or the other.

But God doesn’t. He is perfect love. He is perfectly holy.

This Holy Love confuses me. There is violence in Judges, at the hand of God, He claims it as His own. There is also redemption and grace. For all the times the Israelites cried out – there was never repentance. They kept abandoning God, rejecting God. He continues to redeem and deliver. It’s an expensive process – bathed in blood – never ‘nice.’

I don’t get it. I’ll admit it. But then again, the cross was all these things as well – violent, love, redemptive, bathed in blood, not nice. This Holy Love is disruptive, intrusive, demanding. It confronts and forgives. It demands and restores. This Holy Love challenges and gives rest. It’s bloody and white as snow.

I do like nice. And comfortable. There are times when we compromise God’s holiness for the sake of nice. We just want to be “nice”, we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to offend. I get it. And I’m not suggesting being offensive for the sake of being offensive or proving that an argument can be won.

I’m not even talking about “others.” I’m talking about ourselves. Judgement begins in the house of the Lord – and we Christ-followers are the “house of the Lord.”

I desire to live in this zone of Holy Love – not compromising one for the other, stumbling over one for the sake of the other. It’s elusive but not impossible.


A Different Kind of Patriotism

My grandfather was in the Navy for WWII. Had one of my dads serve in the Navy during Vietnam, had another spend 20+ years in the Air National Guard and a fireman. I served 10 years in the Army as well. I sing the national anthem at ball games. I don’t like it when teams change the last word to match their mascots. (Looking at you Chiefs and Braves.) I get teary during the Olympics. I’ve traveled the world and still get goose bumps when I see the stars and stripes when we land on American soil. I consider myself blessed to have grown up in this country. It truly is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But I’m not blinded by my patriotism either. I don’t look at the United States as the protectors of truth and justice around the world. I don’t see our leaders as statesmen or patriots. I don’t see our government as being “for the people” anymore. I’m not looking at any political figure to ever emerge to solve our problems or make us a “great nation” again.

We have fallen people electing even more fallen people to make decisions that affect the whole country while looking out for their own interest first. I seriously question that any political figure even remotely considers an issue anymore from the angle of “what is going to be the best for the entire country for the long haul.” I don’t think we are one election away from redemption nor damnation.

I love my country. I just hate what my government is doing to it. Both parties. Both sides.

If I didn’t have dual citizenship, I imagine I would be in a place of huge disappointment, maybe even depression. If I didn’t have dual citizenship, I imagine I would live and die every election, every debate, every newsflash that scrolled across the screen. I imagine I’d watch FOX News or CNN or MSNBC every day on the edge of my seat.

I imagine that I didn’t have dual citizenship, I’d be a wreck.

But I do have dual citizenship. I’m part of another nation where I don’t have to worry about the integrity of my leader. Oh sure, He sometimes does things that I don’t understand, that are painful in the moment. He sometimes even does things I hate at the time. So while I at times do question His methods, I don’t have to question His motives.

This weekend we will celebrate one of my citizenships. I’ll grill, shoot fireworks, watch a John Wayne movie, and even thank a veteran for serving. I’ll do so without regret or second thought.

But Sunday…Sunday is reserved for my other citizenship. It’s my day to worship the one who saved me for eternity and I’ll be joined by brothers and sisters around the globe. Some in more favorable conditions than I, most of them not. And they will have the same experience – not this particular weekend but at some point during the year of celebrating their homeland but doing so with a different kind of patriotism, a tempered one. We belong to another Kingdom. We live in a temporal one but we belong to an eternal one. Only one of them deserves our lives.

I’m not saying it’s “unChristian” to serve in the military. Not at all. My body is temporal and if I were to serve again and have to die for country – so be it. In one sense that is rendering unto Caesar what is his.

But my life – my focus, my passion, my identity, my desires – that is reserved for Another.

I am often reminded of what Screwtape told his nephew, Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’ novel “The Screwtape Letters” on the subject of patriotism.

Whichever side he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him into the stage at which religion becomes merely part of the “cause” and his [faith] is valued chiefly for the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war effort or of Pacifism. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades mean more to him than prayer and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more “religious” on those terms the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.

- Screwtape, pages 42-43

Here’s hoping you have a great Independence Day. We live in a great country. Here’s hoping that we Christ-followers remember we have a greater responsibility and greater devotion to our other citizenship.

Movie Review: After Earth

This is a hard movie to rate. It was – at parts – hard to watch as well. The basics: Will Smith plays a stoic Ranger commander who crash lands on Earth 1,000 years after humanity ruined it with his young estranged son (played by his real son Jaden Smith) that has recently failed to become a Ranger. Without giving too much away in the film, everything on the planet is designed to kill humans, there is a creature released because of the crash that is especially adept at killing humans. The son has to listen to the father and a host of past issues come out during the trek to find help.

This is one of those movies where the pieces of a great saga were on the table but the key players – director, writers, and actors – just didn’t quite get all out of it that they could have. With the subject matter of humanity’s self-destruction, father-son dynamics, and survival – you couldn’t ask for a better set up. You could play off the needs of humanity vs. the needs of a son, play the guilt of a leader saving his people vs. saving his son. Teachability of a son, the desire of a son to please his dad no matter how hard of a man he may be. Heck, throw in the idea of the “Establishment” keeping Earth off-limits for some sinister reason.

Unfortunately, none of these angles were really pursued or developed. Even the main thrust of the movie – which is the strained relationship between a dad and his son – never really takes off. It’s like the director/writers were confused as to what kind of movie they wanted to make. An action/suspense sci-fi movie OR a relationship movie with the sci-fi stuff as the background. It felt like they decided to straddle the middle ground between the two and the result was…average.

Will Smith delivers a good performance but you sort of expect that. Can you remember a movie where Will Smith hasn’t delivered? (Wild Wild West – but that thing was destined for failure from the outset. And every actor is allowed a bomb of a movie.)

It’s Jaden Smith’s performance that makes the film hard to rate and watch. One minute he is a stoic cadet trying to follow in the footsteps of his dad, the next he is a panicked kid that has no business being on the plane in the first place. Is he an angry kid trying to find his way or a sensitive kid needing to grow up a bit? The performance is awkward which is surprising given his last two outings (The Karate Kid and The Pursuit of Happyness) were outstanding. It’s not the worse child actor performance ever (kudos to Dakato Fanning in War of the Worlds) but it’s not his best work.

This story had so much potential – I was expecting more and wanting more. There is a great scene with the father who tells the son – “Fear is foolishness. It’s a choice. Fear is being consumed by something that isn’t real in the moment. Danger is real. But fear is a choice.”

It’s a great line and I wish the director/writers had used that line as their ‘theme’ for the whole movie and played that theme out in all of the relationships that were on the screen – the husband/wife, brother/sister, father/son.

But it never materialized.

It’s a decent movie. You won’t feel like it’s a waste a time but you’ll also be frustrated that it wasn’t so much more.

After Earth

G's Absolutely Correct Movie Opinion

Decent Sci-Fi movie with the always great Will Smith. Left a lot on the table, though.

Guests Rating: 0.0 (0 votes)