Canaanite Destruction: It’s Ancient Meaning, It’s Misuse, and It’s Meaning for the Church

This blog is based upon a sermon preached at Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, 9.18.2017. It also includes material from a book chapter, Mark R. Glanville, “A Missional Reading of Deuteronomy: Communities of Gratitude, Celebration, and Justice,” in Michael W. Goheen, ed. Reading the Bible Missionally (Eerdmans, 2016).mesha-stele

Reading the texts of Canaanite destruction in the Old Testament it disturbing, and these texts raise big questions for many of us. This blog seeks to understand the meaning of these texts for the original readers and for us, also noting the misuse of these texts along the way.

I don’t want to diminish the problems in these texts for us, or baulk at the text, because this issue effects our own faith in Jesus and it also (understandably) fuels skepticism.

It is probably helpful to state up from that there are good reasons for thinking that the Canaanite destruction texts do not have in view the entire destruction of the Canaanite populations in mind. In fact, as unlikely as this may sound at first, there are good reasons for thinking that these texts were formed in order to bring life rather than death. In this blog, I will focus on Judges chapter 1.

The texts and the problem

Judges 1:1-2 reads:

After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The Lord said, “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.”

The conquest of the land of Canaan and its inhabitants has been commanded by Yahweh, and Yahweh directs many details of the ensuing battles. In Judges chapter 1 there is the torture of Adoni-bezek, a tribal leader, who’s thumbs and big toes were severed (1:6). And, the inhabitants of a small city, Bethel, were all apparently put to death. ( “And they struck the city with the edge of the sword,” 1:25).

These texts of Israel’s conquering the land of the Canaanites has influenced Western colonialism, in complex ways. Desmond Tutu, a renown South African Archbishop said: “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

Robert Allen Warrior, “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians”, argues that the stories in the Old Testament about the Israelite conquest of the land were a part of the ideology that authorized the extinction of native Americans. This is very, very, sobering of us Christ followers. It produces in us shock and horror—and it rocks our faith. These texts about Canaanite destruction raise in us questions about grace, violence, ethnicity, judgment, and the character of God.

The main texts with these themes are Deuteronomy and Joshua. (Judges chapter 1 has more in common with Joshua than Judges.)

Context of the Canaanite destruction texts

To unpack these texts, it is helpful to start by reminding ourselves that reading the bible is a cross-cultural exercise. We need to go back, way back, and to think about what this text meant for its original readers. Let’s go back in time. As you go back in your mind, along a time-line toward ancient Israel, you will pass Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago. Recall that these difficult scriptures were also Jesus’ scriptures. And, recall Jesus’ life: for example, recall the words, said of Jesus on the occasion that he healed the leper: “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing’, he said, ‘be clean.’” Remember Jesus: the life, restoration, inclusion, and joy that Jesus left behind him, in every place, as he walked the roads of Galilee.

Now, let’s go back further, back another, say, 500 years, around the time when these difficult texts were written and received. Here are four important aspects of the context for this text—I’ll tip that these points about context will shift these texts for you, entirely.

1. Literary techniques of exaggeration in ancient conquest accounts

The first movement in thinking cross-culturally is to understand how history was written, during the time of the Old Testament. Today we tend to think of history writing in terms of a journalistic account—history writing records the facts. Of course, we modern readers know that writers have bias and ideology. However, when we read a newspaper or a history book we generally put this aside, at least somewhat, and we read in order to learn the facts.

In the time of the Old Testament, there was no such thing as journalistic history. In ancient times the past was ‘recorded’ in order to communicate an ideology. ‘Historical’ texts were almost always about the king and the gods who sponsor him. History writing, other words, was an exercise in royal propaganda.

Now, turning to the Canaanite destruction texts, these texts are in an ancient literary genre sometimes called an ‘ancient conquest account’. ‘Ancient conquest accounts record military victories. How does this genre work? Expressions of annihilation, of comprehensive destruction, are common. And, annihilation, in ancient conquest accounts, has a highly figurative and ideological aspect. For example, they are always hugely exaggerated (hyperbole). These accounts use stereotyped phrases that overstate the historical reality, expressing the power and honour of the victorious king.[1]

For example, there is the Mesha inscription (Moabite stone, pictured) wherein King Mesha of Moab claims: “Israel has gone to ruin, yes, it has gone to ruin forever.”[2]

Omri was the king of Israel,

and he oppressed Moab for many days,

for Kemosh was angry with his land.

 

But I looked down on him and on his house,

and Israel has gone to ruin, yes, it has gone to ruin forever!

The text continues to list the annihilation of numerous Israelite cities, in this way:

I took [city name], and I killed its whole population,

seven thousand male citizens and strangers,

and female citizens and strangers, and servant girls;

The inscription of king Mesha of Moab a helpful example, because we know that Israel wasn’t totally destroyed! If it was totally destroyed, then (from a Christian angle) we wouldn’t have the Old Testament, Jesus would not have been born, and there would be no church! This does not mean that the Mesha inscription is historically void and that these battles never occurred. It shows that the genre of ancient conquest accounts communicates through literary conventions that exaggerate elements of annihilation in order to make an ideological or theological point.[3] Absolute destruction is code for: “we won!” 

An analogy from today would be language around victory in sports: ‘we smashed ‘em!’ ‘We destroyed ‘em!’ Imagine if someone read a historical fragment of the Globe and Mail in 1000 years. Imaging that they turn to the sports section of the newspaper and read: “The Vancouver Canucks have annihilated the Toronto Maple Leafs.” They might conclude that this was an act of ethnic genocide involving two strangely geographically distant people groups. Again, the rhetoric of Canaanite destruction is code for, ‘I won a military victory.’

2. History: these people groups hadn’t existed for hundreds of years.

Next, Consider the various people groupings that appear in Judges chapter 1: the leader Adoni-bezek (1:5), the Perizzites, (1:5), the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (1:10), the inhabitants of Debir (1:11), Bethel (1:11), etc.

I suggest that at the time that Judges, Joshua and Deuteronomy were written, these people groups hadn’t existed for hundreds of years. In other words, these texts were referring to events and people groups who were already ancient history, at the time that Judges was written. This is the opinion of the majority of serious Old Testament scholars, but not all.

If these people groups hasn’t existed for 500 years, why does Judges refer to them? Why does Judges retell ancient history in this way? Judges is retelling, reshaping, reframing history, in order to form a much later community—in order to communicate a message about the identity of this later community.

There is not space here to discuss the dating of the book of Judges; here I will simple observe the implications of this likelihood. It is one thing to say, ‘go and destroy those people over there, and take their land’, and it is another thing to speak of people groups who hadn’t existed for 500 years and say: “go and destroy them and take their land, because of the sinfulness of that nation (1:7).”

3. Written by the weak, regarding the powerful

When Christians read the Old Testament, we tend to imagine the nation of Israel as a strong, well defended nation. The reality, however, was very different. For most of its history, Israel was a small, hen-pecked people group that was surrounded by far more powerful groups. Read the book of Nehemiah and you will see this clearly. The book of Judges was written during desperate times, when the nation’s very existence was under real physical threat. Yahweh followers were a small and fragmented group, and this group, along with the worship of Yahweh, was at risk of extinction. Sociologists tell us that when a group’s existence is under threat, it is usually necessary to form strong boundary markers, to clearly define the edges of the community, in order to survive and to preserve the integrity of the group.

As Walter Brueggemann asserts, the theme of Canaanite destruction, “requires a class reading, this rhetoric is on the lips of those who have no weapons.”[4]

Here is a make-believe analogy from today. Our family recently holidayed at Lisquiti Island, which is two ferry rides from Vancouver. Lisquiti is a gorgeous and relatively untouched Island; its residents vote to stay off-the-grid each year. The main economy of Lisquiti is the sales from illegal marijuana grow-ups (this much is true). Now, imagine that the residents of Lisquiti felt threatened by the B.C. Provincial Government. Imagine that they wrote a ‘letter to the editor’ in the Globe and Mail: “They want to smash us? We are going to smash the B.C. Province!” What would be the result of this letter? Probably, while main-landers would be sad to read this aggressive rhetoric (this is not quite Canadian civility), they wouldn’t be overly worried. Provincial politicians would sleep soundly at night. However, imagine that the scenario was reversed. Imagine that the B.C. Provincial Government wrote aggressively regarding Lisquiti: “They want to smash us? We are going to smash Lisquiti!” This time, these words would be deeply concerning, and the situation would probably require Federal intervention.

The point is that militant rhetoric has a very different meaning and effect, depending on who utters it—the powerful or the weak. The Canaanite destruction texts in scripture were written by a weak, small, and hen-pecked people group.

An implication should be noted here about Western colonialism. We noted that Western powers used the Canaanite destruction texts to authorize their colonial practices. In this case, they were taking a text that was written by the powerless and claim it for themselves, as the powerful.

4. Foreigners in Judges 1

Our view of the Canaanite destruction texts should shift yet again as we take a closer look at foreigners in Judges chapter 1. As we look at again at this chapter, you may have some of your assumptions about the Old Testament shattered (#Old-Testament-mind-blown).

Let’s overview the many foreigners who are included within Israel in this chapter. First, there is Caleb the Kennezite. Caleb is a very important tribal leader in Israel. He was given a large territory in Israel (Joshua 14). You might like to read through Judges 1:12-15, concerning Caleb. Notice the leadership of a foreign woman, Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, who is given two springs of water of immense value. There is also Jethro, Moses’ father in law, who was a non-Israelite, a Kenite. He, too, owned land in Israel (Judges 1:16). As for the primary city of Jerusalem, it is filled with mixed ethnicities, including both Israelites and Jebusites (Judges 1:21).

The text is saying, very deliberately, “foreigners are welcome!” This is very purposeful on the part of the author. We get a sense that the book of judges was written for a community that is resistant to people of other ethnicities. Judges is saying, “No, this is a part of our very identity. It is a part of our formative stories. “To use a common metaphor, judges is as much as saying, “We are not a bowl full of lettuce, we are a mixed salad!”

We learn something fundamental and also surprising about the Old Testament here: the identity of Israel isn’t defined by ethnicity but by its being a faithful community. (This point has been made by David Firth, regarding foreignness in Judges.)

Message: what do these texts mean?

The question remains, why these strange texts? Why have them at all? What message are they communicating—then? Now?

In my opinion, these texts addressed the Old Testament community at a time when there were many different people groups in the area of Syria-Palestine and different many religions. The very existence of a group that followed Yahweh was under threat.

These conquest texts show the total loyalty that Yahweh demands. Israel is meant to reject utterly the false worship and ethics of these kingdoms. These conquest texts were preparing a people for a wholesale confrontation with the dehumanizing idols of their culture. They are a call for totally allegiance to Yahweh, Israel’s God.

There are ethical implications, too. Other communities were shaped by a different kind of rule and were therefore missed out on the life of justice and flourishing for all that the rule of Yahweh brings. Consider a text such as Deuteronomy 15:4, “There shall be no poor among you.” Total allegiance to Yahweh includes living as a society that dignifies the least and the most vulnerable.

For how about for us, today? What do these difficult texts mean for us? Of course, much may be said. For now, I simply reflect that in this ancient text, there is a joyful tension between being a participant in the wider culture and also in being absolutely faithful to Yahweh. This text reminds us that we are always living within this tension. On the one hand, we are participants in our community, our places of work, our neighbour’s lives. We are joyfully (and painfully) immersed in our culture and in relationships with our neighbours. (Israel was not called to withdraw from culture but to include others.) Christ’s followers, too, are called to participate in the community in which we live and work. Ion Keith Falconer wrote: “I have but one candle of life to burn and I’d rather burn it in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light.”

On the other hand, we are also invited into the life and joy of giving our first allegiance to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. As give our first allegiance to Jesus we also learn to live into the upside down way of Jesus Christ.

Here is a practical take-home to consider: think of just one place in which you participate in your community: work, neighbourhood, sports group. Then, consider one tangible way that you can live distinctively, as a Christ follower in that place.

 

 

 

 

[1] K. Lawson Younger,Jr, Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (JSOT Supp. 98; Sheffield; JSOT, 1990), p. 123.

[2] “The Inscription of King Mesha,” translated by K. A. D. Smelik in The Context of Scripture (eds. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger; Leiden: Brill, 2000), 2.23.

[3] Similarly C. Wright writes, “We do need to allow for the exaggerated language of warfare” (Ethics, p. 474).

[4] Brueggemann, Theology, p. 243.

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One Sermon in Two-Hundred Vancouver Churches on June 11: Welcoming the Stranger

[A shorter version of this blog appeared in The Light Magazine, Apr 2017]VANCOUVER

The same sermon theme will be preached in over one-hundred-and-fifty Vancouver churches on Sunday June 11, this year. Our theme: welcoming the stranger. I feel giddy with anticipation as I type! This is a response to the present fear-based political climate, especially in the U.S., that breeds suspicion of ‘outsiders’. It is also a response to the isolation that many Vancouverites feel, daily. Together, we are sending a unified message to the city, a vision of the kingdom: the radical welcome of God, in Christ.

The idea for One City, One Message came initially from City Councillor Andrea Reimer at the Vancouver City Summit, a city-wide consultation of pastors interested in pursuing together the wellbeing of their neighbourhoods and the city. The theme of welcoming the stranger is timely: survey-based research by the Vancouver Foundation shows that Vancouverites are experiencing a crisis of social isolation, a corrosion of care that results in a silo mentality. Our lives are bounded by ethnicity, culture, language, income, age, and geography. Isolation is experienced across Canada, not only in Vancouver. Maclean’s magazine reflected that a ‘good’ neighbour is experienced as someone who doesn’t bother you, either by disrupting your enjoyment of your home or by threatening your property value (August 2014).

This is timely, too, as we are living in a period of unprecedented global displacement, where over 65 million people around the world have been forced from home. In this context, many Canadian Christians are frustrated by populist politics that scapegoats vulnerable people such as refugees. The murder of six people in the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec mosque is a tragic symbol of the human toll of fear-based politics. Many thoughtful Christians are also concerned that their church is not more diverse. Others wonder why their church doesn’t embrace vulnerable people in their neighborhood.

Intuitively, we know that Christ’s way is different. To illustrate this difference, a good friend of mine arranged to visit Jean Vanier. When my friend arrived, Jean Vanier didn’t greet him with words. Instead, Vanier took my friend’s hand. The two strangers held hands as they walked some distance to a room in which they were to share in conversation. This experience of walking hand-in-hand with a stranger reminded my friend of the deep human connection that the gospel invites us into. This story recalls the event of Jesus’ healing the leper. You may remember the phrase: filled with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched the man (Mark 1:41). Jesus didn’t have to touch this man, he could have healed him with a word. But, Jesus wanted to touch him. Jesus was so deeply human, so full of life, of love, of kinship, of skin, of longing, of touch, of community.

Oh, to be communities that reek of this kinship-connection, especially for the sake of those who are without kin and without home. But, where to start? Scripture teaches us that radical welcome doesn’t come out of thin air; it begins with gratitude for God’s gifts. A First Nations leader once said, “Human beings are like my pigs. They eat the apples, but they never look up to see where the apples have fallen from.” Could it be, that our connection with ‘strangers’ is entwined with our connection with God? So, let’s explore for a moment how to nourish our churches to thanksgiving. And, let’s unpack this biblical movement from thanksgiving to welcome. To do this unpacking, consider the feast of Weeks, in Deuteronomy. The feast of Weeks is a harvest festival celebrating God’s abundant supply; it is an evocative portrait for communities of welcome.

From the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain, begin to count seven weeks. Then you will observe the feast of weeks to Yahweh your God, with a proportionate freewill offering from your hand, which you give according to the measure with which Yahweh your God blesses you. Feast before Yahweh your God, you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your female slave, the Levite within your settlements, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that Yahweh your God chooses as a dwelling for his name. (Deuteronomy 16:9-11).

Imagine the joy of this feast! Imagine pilgrimaging from the family farm to Jerusalem, the fellowship, the ritualized time, the smell of boiling meat, the warmth of wine, the tastes of festal recipes, the waiting, fulfilment, welcome, liturgical life—all before Yahweh who supplies the harvest! This feast had a main purpose: to nourish God’s ancient people as a community of gratitude and of welcome. There is a three-part dynamic: (1) Yahweh gives the land and its produce, (2) the people respond in thanksgiving with celebration, (3) which goes hand-in-hand with welcome for vulnerable people: the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. Let’s walk through these three movements.

1. God who gives

In her book Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy, a Catholic nun and an advocate for refugees, tells the story of a period in her life where she found it difficult to be grateful. God jolted her out of her dissatisfaction through a refugee family who was staying with her in her house. A young girl in the family was peering out of Mary’s kitchen window. The girl saw the garage through the window. She asked, “Who lives there?” Mary’s world suddenly inverted as she recognized that someone could live there—a number of people in fact. As Mary answered, “The car,” her world was opened up to the abundance, even overabundance, that she had been gifted with. This story unpacks key themes of the feast of Weeks of divine gift and thankfulness.

The feast of Weeks celebrates the gift of the barley and wheat harvest. The feast is reminding the community that at the heart of reality is a God of limitless generosity. Gordon Spykman writes, “God’s creation is evidence of the caring hand of the Creator reaching out to secure the well-being of His creatures, of a Father extending a universe full of blessings to His children.” How can we nourish our communities towards thanksgiving? Here’s an idea for nourishing thanksgiving: the congregation (or home group) is invited to pray out-loud short prayers of thanksgiving. Another is that during worship, everyone is invited to write something that they were thankful for on a post-it note and stick it on the wall of the sanctuary.

2. A welcoming and grateful feast!

 

Another way to nourish gratitude is through shared celebrations. In the feast of Weeks, grateful feasting responds to the abundant flow of blessing: Feast! Slaughter the lamb! Share the wine! At the feast, relationships were deepened and vulnerable people were enfolded. The closest I have come to experiencing the joy of Israel’s ancient feast is in my previous life as a jazz pianist. I would often play keyboard in Latino bands at huge Latino festivals. Thousands from the Latin American community would gather together to dance and to eat. When our band began to play, the whole arena would move. Every generation knew the traditional dances, and everyone, it seemed, could dance with ease and with joy. These experiences can give us a sense of what Israel’s ancient festivals must have felt like. The whole community, rich and poor, young and old, feasted together before the Lord with music and dancing. Joyfully receiving the good gifts of Yahweh is at the heart of a covenant response in scripture. And to be faithful, feasting must be full of welcome and shared in diversity.

Feasting could be an imaginative response to fear-based, nationalistic rhetoric. Some of us may feel angry in this political climate, tempted to share a quick meme on Facebook. But, what if a welcoming feast is the best antidote to a silo mentality? Eating in community easily trumps the shrill twitter of fear. We need to teach our communities how to feast with gratitude.

3. Welcoming the stranger

A shared life is the third movement: feasting together with the stranger, fatherless, and widow. We might say that welcome is the other-side-of the-coin of thanksgiving. Israel was called into a shared life. Mike Mason writes, “We live as if we are Adam, as if we are the only person on earth.” However, Christ’s people are invited to move from individualism toward a more communal identity, a shared life where together we partake in the sacraments, feasting, mission, prayer, love, worship, living-arrangements, raising children, advocacy, justice, and more. The biblical vision is for Christ followers to live truly and deeply as kindred, as brothers and sisters in Christ, serving shoulder-to-shoulder in the work of the Kingdom.

A biblical community is also a diverse community. The feast of Weeks invites the church into something much more than charity for marginalized people (see also Luke 15:1-2). We are called to share our lives, engaging those less fortunate in relationships that are mutually transformative. We learn in the feast of Weeks that where Yahweh reigns, God’s restoring influence not only extends to individuals who suffer but also reaches deeply into our communities and heals through rearrangement. Christ invites us to place the weakest among us at the center.

Consider a very concrete question: who sits around your table at dinner time? And, who is invited to your Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts? As you picture your table, do you see people who are all the same as you? Or, are your feasts more like Christ’s meals—recall the Pharisee’s criticism: “This man receives sinners, and eats with them!” (Luke 15:2) Do you share your life with people who are ethnically different from you, or impoverished, or addicted? Sharing life in diversity transforms us. Do you want your church to change? Start by changing your own meal invitation list. Then, invite friends into this practice. Next, watch what Christ begins to do in your church! Next, as many churches live into this kingdom way, watch what Christ begins to do throughout the city!

‘Welcoming the stranger’ takes us to the very heart of Christian identity and mission. Our shared initiative, One City, One Message, takes seriously that we are a people called to announce the good news that in Christ, crucified and risen, God is at last reconciling all of the creation—forgiving sin, reconciling humanity to God, and reconciling humanity with one another. But, it’s not too helpful just to say it. This good news will only be believed when it is embodied by a community that is living it. Through our shared life, lived gratefully before the Lord, others too will come to know the radical welcome of God, in Christ. #IWasAStranger

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Ancient Laws for New Challenges: The Ten Commandments as a Critique of Inequality

You might be interested in reading my new article, “Ancient Laws for New
Challenges: The Ten Commandments as a Critique of Inequality,”
Ethics in Brief 22 (2017).

2016104236you_can_buy_the_oldest_known_tablet_featuring_the_ten_commandmentsAbstract:

This article argues that the Ten Commandments summoned ancient Israel to live as a community of mutual care where every person could flourish, especially the most vulnerable. Interpreting the Ten Commandments in their narrative context of oppression in Egypt and the exodus event and also in its relation to the law corpora of the Pentateuch clarifies that this text functions as a critique of Egypt’s oppressive economic regime and thereby of any economic practice that privileges wealth and consolidated power. Giving allegiance to Yahweh must include living in the ethical trajectory of exodus, through which Yahweh has birthed the community.

Online:http://klice.co.uk/uploads/Ethics%20in%20Brief/EiB_Glanville_22_2_WEB.pdf

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A Stranger Kind of Love: Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis

Perhaps you might have some time to read through my recent article, published in Mosaic?

“We are facing the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. Above all, this is not just a crisis of numbers; it is also a crisis of solidarity.” – Ban Ki Moon, former United Nations Secretary General (Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015)

We are living in an unprecedented period of global displacement – the highest level on record, according to the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) – with over 65 million people around the world who have been forced from home. That’s a number almost double Canada’s entire population!

Canada has responded to the international crisis by receiving more refugees than in recent years, including resettling 32,000 people from Syria. Christian congregations are welcoming newcomers with assistance in housing and transition to a new culture. Christian refugee organizations such as Kinbrace, birthed out of Grandview Calvary Baptist in Vancouver, and Matthew House in Toronto (see page xxx) are key contributors nationally in refugee support.

At the same time, there are misgivings and concerns within our country. We can be swayed by fear-producing rhetoric – ‘We are being swamped by refugees!’ ‘Some may be terrorists!’ We would do well to remember that most refugees are here because they are fleeing persecution, conflict, and possibly death. Most would return to their homeland in a heartbeat, if they could. Refugees are here because they are desperate. They have lost virtually everything and now they are seeking our hospitality. Each one is precious in God’s sight – each has a name, a history, and hope for a better future.

So, how does the Bible speak to this present crisis? And what might this mean for worshipping communities today?

READ MORE, PAGES 6-9 . . .

 

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Plans to deregulate Wall Street

I am not an economist, but, intuitively, Trumps plan to deregulate Wall Street seems very wrong to me. In January, Oxfam researchers declared that just 8 men own the same wealth as half of the world. Wealth disparity statistics become more and more shocking every year. How is increasing the rate of growth of wealth disparity a good thing? Perhaps Trump would argue that as the wealthiest get wealthier everyone becscreen-shot-2017-02-03-at-8-59-15-pmomes more wealthy. But Bill McKibbon in his book “Deep Economy” has shown that the accumulation of global wealth in the hands of only a few makes the rest poorer. So, for example, while a family in the West could once function on one income, today a family requires two incomes to get through. Oxfam explains
how the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. Oxfam calls for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few. The trajectory of biblical ethics of production and economics supports Oxfam’s call for change. This may be summed up: God owns it all, and God wants everybody to be able to enjoy some of it. God wants everybody to flourish, not just a privileged few. “There shall be no poor among you” (Deut 15:4). In fact, those who would accumulate excessive wealth at the expense of others are symbolized in scripture in the ugly figure of Pharaoh the selfish king of Egypt. God’s rule means a brand new day where every person can flourish, especially the most vulnerable.

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Undocumented Immigrants and Refugees “Living in Sin”?

Some argue that undocumented immigrants and refugees, as well as those who protect them, are living in sin. For, we are required in Romans 13 to obey our Governments (e.g. Hoffmeier, “Crisis at the Borders”). Mark G. Brett responds, “How anomalous the surface meaning of Romans 13 is when considered978-0-8028-7307-1_Brett_Political Trauma etc_cov.indd against the wider background of the Bible’s relentlessly reiterated critique of unjust monarchies and empires, including the Roman empire of Paul’s own day” (Political Trauma and Healing: Biblical Ethics for a Postcolonial World, 164). Brett is not here denying the importance of social order and of a Government’s authority. Rather, he is pointing to God’s higher authority, while also reminding us that in appointing Governments God does not thereby exit the human stage .

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New Directions for Aimless Politics

Many Christians feel lost at sea this (U.S.) election. For some, the traditional loyalties that have anchored us have been severed. We have been thrown off-course, with no obvious way forward.

stock-photo-spicy-mustard-seeds-in-a-wooden-background-284886125Perhaps our disorientation is prompting us to inquire freshly into how the biblical story engages American society. Perhaps during this election month, we can make some sweeping decisions about how we will think and live after the election. How can we re-narrate Christian politics in light of scripture? And, how can Christians model a new way of living in community?

Not only at the polling booth but also beyond this election, Christ followers can be guided by the biblical story. The Bible narrates Christ’s restoring purposes for His world. Scripture unfolds the true story of the world; it even tells us the story’s ending. In order to be faithful to this story, we need to regain a sense of our ‘otherness’ to the political process.

In a moment, I will offer seven trajectories from the biblical story that may guide us I our political engagement. A couple of initial thoughts for reflection: we cannot evaluate what is happening in an entire nation based on whether its President claims to be a Christian, or not. Voting should be steered by policy that honors Christ rather than by a candidate’s claim to Christian affiliation.

Also, voting out of a sense of our own place in the biblical story moves our politics beyond party lines. We can move beyond party-political allegiance to seek policy that reflects Christ’s purposes for His world.

A biblical vision for society

So much in scripture is relevant to this discussion, but for the purposes of this short article, let me offer seven trajectories from the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy might be a surprising choice, but it makes sense as a biblical example for politics because it is the “national charter” for ancient Israel—Deuteronomy set the agenda for their nation.

Some background: Deuteronomy called ancient Israel to live as kin with one another (e.g. Deut 14:28-29; 15:2, 7; 16:11, 14; 24:14-15; Matt 5:21:24). People were to treat each another as family. Living together as family, everyone was to be given the opportunity to flourish, especially the slave, the widow, the refugee, and the orphan. All of these were to be kin.

Similarly, Christ followers are called to discern: which policies are calling our community to care for one another as family? Whose political talk is calling us to count a cost for others?

Now, seven trajectories that emerge from the biblical story. I chose these trajectories by discerning how the biblical story, especially Deuteronomy, encounters American society.

First, creation care

In Deuteronomy, the land and its abundance are gifted by Yahweh. So the creation is sacred (e.g. Deut 7:13; 8:10; 16:13-15; cf. Exod 23:10-12; Psalm 148:1-10). Wendell Berry writes that “we are . . . required to honor in all things the relation between the world and its Maker.” Arguably, climate change, in light of its sheer irreversibility, is the pressing concern facing this generation. We didn’t start it, but we are now responsible for it.

Second, protecting the most vulnerable

Scripture always places the ‘weakest’ at the center. Jesus had the reputation of eating with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners (Luke 15:1-2; 16:19-31). In Deuteronomy God demands: “There shall be no poor among you” (Deut 15:4; cf. Acts 4:34). God does not desire a ‘great’ or a ‘prosperous’ nation so much as a nation that lives well together, as sisters and brothers, as kin. This is true greatness. Examine each political party’s track record in helping the most vulnerable: those who are poor, mentally ill, incarcerated, or sick.

If human vulnerability requires our compassion, then vulnerability at the beginning of life and the end of life is also important. Abortion and assisted death should concern us deeply.

 Third, protecting democracy

Scripture’s egalitarian ethic supports open political processes and fair voting procedures. Deuteronomy was remarkably democratic in its ancient context. The king was greatly constrained (Deut 17:14-20). The judiciary was to be selected by the whole people (Deut 16:18). The biblical trajectory of fairness, participation, and restraint for those with the most power is still relevant. We should inquire: which candidate will limit the influence of corporations and big private donors upon future elections? Which will promote equal electoral participation? If the answer is “neither,” then let’s make some noise!

Fourth, responsible governance

Deuteronomy provides instructions for the offices of the state: judiciary, king, priesthood, and prophet. These office holders must be fair (16:18-20), they must not seek power or notoriety (17:20) and they must protect the most vulnerable (1:16-18). Compare leaders to these standards of responsible, fair, and humble governance.

Fifth, responsibility toward people who are seeking a home

Deuteronomy commanded ancient Israel to “love the stranger” (Deut 10:19). To “love the stranger” literally meant to have a covenant commitment to the stranger (Deut 10:15-19)! This is the strongest possible language for including displaced people within a community as full participants (Deut 16:11, 14; 31:10-12). The Bible calls upon the U.S. to offer a radical welcome to refugees and to other immigrants who are seeking a home.

Sixth, resisting racism

In Deuteronomy, every person in the land was to be treated as a sister and a brother (1:16-17; 16:11, 14). This included ‘strangers’ and servants, many of whom were foreigners (5:12-15). God’s ancient people were to live as family together, and this is God’s desire for all of humanity (Matt 5:21-24; Gal 3:28; Rev 7:9). Christians should nurture politics that knits the nation together as family, dignifying every ethnicity and group and especially those with less power.

Seventh, from nationalism to servant hearted patriotism

God gives life to every person and to every nation, in love. This is a part of the message of the famous Psalm 36: “Your love Oh Lord, reaches to the heavens” (see especially vs. 7-9). Because of God’s love for every person and nation, all nations have a responsibility toward others.

Throughout history, tragically, God’s good gift of nationhood has been corrupted by nationalism, which makes an idol of the nation. Nationalistic currents exclude people who are not ‘us,’ and they promote military decisions and trade policies that are self-serving. Scripture invites us to embrace servant-hearted patriotism: one does need to love America less, in order to love other nations more.

Let’s pray for mustard seeds

Perhaps our present bewilderment is the Spirit’s invitation to discern freshly how the biblical story encounters American society. As for me, I don’t pray for a Christian America, for that phrase continues to do damage to the reputation of Christ across the globe. Rather, I pray for mustard seeds: that beyond this election, the Spirit would continue to cultivate humble worshipping communities who are busy discerning the idols of our culture, living in solidarity with the marginalized, and emanating the joy of Christ to their neighborhoods. Also, I pray that the Spirit will give Christ followers the mind of Christ as we approach November 8th. Amen.

Mark Glanville is teaching faculty at the Missional Training Centre, Phoenix (missionaltraining.org) and he pastors at Grandview Calvary Church, Vancouver. He wrote his PhD on Old Testament ethics.

Blog: https://markrglanville.wordpress.com      Email: markrglanville@gmail.co

 

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An ancient Assyrian spell to make a baby go to sleep!

This is an ancient spell to make a baby go to sleep! It is written on this clay tablet that was stored in the Assyrian library of the Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal. I took the pic in the British Museum today.spell for baby.jpg

You could try the spell tonight;) It reads, in Akkadian:
“Belch like a drunkard, snort like a baby gazelle, until your mother comes, strokes you, and picks you up.”

Ashurbanipal (668BC-627) was king of the great empire of Assyria in the twilight years of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of ancient Israel. Jerusalem fell in 586BC.

I wonder whether Ashurbanipal had better sleep than we do in the early hours of the morning?

 

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A Jazz Talk | How Biblical Law Shapes Missional Communities

In this jazz-talk I speak from the piano about how to read the laws of the Old Testament, what is known as biblical law. I illustrate the nature of biblical law by comparing the development of biblical law to the development of jazz music. Enjoy!

The video was produced by my dear friend Natasha Irvine for Redemption Church, Tempe, Phoenix, and for Grandview Calvary Church, Vancouver. Please share it around:)

 

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The women who tricked Pharaoh

Twelve women appear in the opening chapters of Exodus, some of whom by their cunning, boldness, and decisiveness trick Pharaoh and preserve Moses’ life in order that God’s plans might be fulfilled.[1] “Without Moses, there would be no story, but without the initiative of these women, there would be no Moses!”[2] Jopie Siebert-Hommes shows how these twelve women correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel (1:1).[3] The exodus of the twelve tribes out of Egypt depends upon the resolve of these women who are used by God.

[An excerpt from my book, in preparation: Reading Exodus: Society Reshaped by Kinship. Lexham Press.]

Shiphrah and Puah

Exodus 1:15-22

The first individual named in the book of Exodus is not Pharaoh, who remains unnamed, but the two Hebrew midwives. These are the first in a “whole array of female characters in Exodus 1-2 who venture to trick Pharaoh as they rescue Moses from the deadly royal decree.”[4] Pharaoh demands of these women that they kill every male Hebrew newborn. But, as Shiphrah and Puah “feared God,” they didn’t fulfil the request. Shiphrah and Puah take a subtle jab at Pharaoh, implying the superiority of Hebrew women: “‘The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’” (Exod 1:19) This is the first act of civil disobedience for the sake of justice in written history.

 

Jochebed

Exodus 2:1-9; 6:20

Jochebed, Moses’ mother, tricks Pharaoh by following to the letter of his decree that every newborn Hebrew male should be thrown into the Nile. Initially, Jochebed hid the newborn Moses for three months. When hiding Moses became too risky, she placed Moses in a carefully prepared basket, which she floated in the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby, and at Miriam’s suggestion Pharaoh’s daughter appoints Jochebed as Moses’ wet nurse.

Jochebed’s name means ‘Yahweh is glory.’ This is the first name to appear in the bible that includes the divine name ‘Yahweh’: yah. ‘Yahweh’ is the personal name for God that God revealed to Israel. It seems then that name Yahweh was “embedded in [Moses] maternal lineage: if his mother bears YHWH’s name, Moses learned it from her.”[5]

 

Miriam

Exodus 2:1-10; 15

After Moses’ mother placed the baby in the basket, Moses’ sister stood watch. When Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, the sister suggested, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” (Exod 2:8) The girl fetched Moses’ mother. Moses’ sister displayed the cunning, boldness, and decisiveness that characterises all of the women in these opening chapters of Exodus. Pardes refers to these events as “the triumph of the female saviors over the mighty Pharaoh.”[6]

While Moses’s sister is not named in the early chapters of Exodus she is probably the same person as Miriam, who is a most significant leader within Israel. She leads alongside Moses and Aaron throughout the wilderness years. Miriam’s importance as a leader can hardly be overstated. For example, Miriam leads Israel in a song of celebration after crossing the Sea of Reeds (Exod 15:20-21); she is introduced as a prophet (Exod 15:20). Interestingly, Miriam is not referred to as a mother or as a wife, which is different from most of the women in the bible.[7]

 

Pharaoh’s daughter

Exodus 2:5-10

Another unlikely hero is Pharaoh’s unnamed daughter. This woman was motivated by compassion for a Hebrew baby: “He was crying, and she took pity on him.” (Exod 2:10) Pharaoh’s daughter gave Moses to his mother until the time of weaning (around three years), and then she adopted Moses as her own son, “right under her father’s nose.”[8] Her behaviour is rebellious.

Pharaoh’s daughter names the baby ‘Moses’, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exod 2:10) ‘Moses’ means ‘draw up/out’, also anticipating that through Moses God would one day draw up Israel from Egypt and from the Sea of Reeds. The name that Pharaoh’s daughter gave to the boy frames her as not only responsible for Moses’ life, but also for the Israelites’ escape.

 

Zipporah

Exodus 2:16-22; 4:24-26; 18:1-4 

Zipporah is a heroic figure who saves Moses’ life as he returns to Egypt. Zipporah was one of the seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian (Reuel is later referred to as Jethro, in Exod 18:1). Moses delivered these seven sisters from shepherds when they were seeking to water their flocks. In turn, Zipporah’s father offered hospitality to Moses and then gave Zipporah to Moses in marriage (Exod 2:16-22). Zipporah and Moses’ first-born son was named ‘Gershom,’ which means ‘to drive off/drive out.’ This is a reference both to the event at the watering-well and also to the exodus from Egypt.

After encountering Yahweh at the burning bush, Moses journeyed to Egypt, along with his family. Along the way, one night, the Lord sought to kill Moses. Zipporah acted assertively, cutting off her son’s foreskin with a flint and touching Moses’ feet with it. Her action was skilled and decisive. Zipporah seems to work as a skilful priest, evident by her use of the flint, by her utterance (Exod 4:25), and by her knowledge of the circumcision ritual.[9] Indeed, Zipporah, like Moses, was from a priestly family. Female priestly functions were well known in the ancient Near East. On this night Zipporah was, in effect, modelling for Moses the character that he would need to acquire as he confronted Pharaoh and as he led Israel: namely a deep fear of and trust in Yahweh, and a great assertiveness and boldness.

We should probably understand the Lord’s actions against Moses in this event as a jolting reminder to revere the Lord through circumcision. It was the Midianite Zipporah, not Moses, who was attentive to this faithful act.

While God used these five women powerfully, God had a purpose not only for individuals but also for the whole nation of Israel. The wilderness was the school in which God’s people learned to trust God, as we shall see in the next chapter.

[1] For this section I have been guided in particular by the analysis in Carol Meyers, Exodus (The New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[2] J. Cheryl Exum, “’You Shall Let Every Daughter Live’: A Study of Exodus 1:8-2:10,” in A Feminist Companion to Exodus and Deuteronomy, ed. Athalya Brenner (The Feminist Companion to the Bible 6; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 37-61, at 52.

[3] “But if She Be a Daughter . . . She May Live!” in A Feminist Companion to Exodus and Deuteronomy, ed. Athalya Brenner (The Feminist Companion to the Bible 6; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 62-74, at 63-65.

[4] Ilana Pardes, “Zipporah and the Struggle for Deliverance,” pages 79-97 in Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Account (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 81.

[5] Carol Meyers, “Jochebed,” pages 103-04 in Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament (ed. Carol Meyers, Toni Craven, and Ross S. Kraemer; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 103.

[6] Pardes, ibid., 88.

[7] Phyllis Trible, “Miriam I,” pages 127-29 in Women in Scripture, 128.

[8] Pardes, ibid., 82.

[9] Meyers, Exodus, 63.

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