Is God still commanding violence today?
TEASER: “How does this settle and resonate with a God that so many of us have come to know to be personal and real and COMPASSIONATE and KIND and SLOW TO ANGER?
GUARANTEED: 30 of the best minutes you could spend this week listening to audio from link below; or read the verbatim transcription which follows. I find this man’s message not only irresistible and irrefutable, but he’s the most unintimidatable and unashamed speaker I’ve ever heard.
Pastor Dan Borgelt
Kirkmont Presbyterian Church
Listen along to Sermon AUDIO as you read TRANSCRIPTION BELOW:
“You guys [Men’s Choir], you sounded wonderful. Apparently there was a memo going around between you that said, “Hey, let’s dress way nicer than the pastor tomorrow (LAUGHTER)… I appreciate that.
Last summer I was at a County Fair… I mean the kind with funnel cakes and tractors and that kind of thing. There I was at the County Fair and I went into this building where they had all kind of different displays set up; you could rent a booth and setup your own booth; and there was a church there, bless their heart, they had set up a booth and they were intent on sharing the Gospel with people that day. I don’t think it’s a particularly effective way to share the Gospel but I commended them for their efforts, ya know, and I was hangin’ out by their booth.
In their efforts they were giving away coloring books and crayons to the kids… and this lady came up and she apparently wasn’t that supportive of the Church or the Bible and those types of things, but she was there at the booth and she looked at one of the coloring books which was open to the page of the story of JONAH AND THE WHALE… and I heard her say with this sort of anger in her voice to the lady behind the booth, “OH THAT’S GREAT… YOU’RE GIVING AWAY BOOKS TO KIDS WITH A PICTURE OF FISH EATING A MAN IN IT”.
And I wanted to jump in and help this lady behind the booth out because she was sort of stuttering in her defense, but I kinda thought to myself, “Well, she’s got a point” (laughter).
I left there thinking, “Boy, there really is a lot of violence in the Bible”… isn’t there. How many stories that we consider to be classic kid’s Sunday School stories were actually turned into movies, would be R-rated films… I mean they’re violent in their nature.
And there are a lot of stories of VIOLENCE IN THE BIBLE and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today.
This is a good time to discuss the difference PRESCRIPTIVE and DESCRIPTIVE Scripture. In fact, all of the Bible could be categorized as either prescriptive or descriptive in it’s nature. And I don’t think that most of us stand a chance of reading the Bible on our own until we can grasp the difference between “prescriptive” and “descriptive” Scripture.
What I mean by that is sometimes you’re reading the Bible and all it is merely DESCRIBING what other people did But it’s not necessarily SAYING, it’s not necessarily PRE-SCRIBING that behavior. It’s just saying, “This is what people did”.
I mean if you read a descriptive account and you think that God is prescribing that behavior then you’re going to come to a very wrong conclusion.
The Book of Acts is at the heart of a lot of church’s today different opinions about various subjects like BAPTISM and different things, because many people don’t seem to grasp the difference between prescriptive and descriptive Scripture.
The Book of Acts… guess which one that might be? For those of you who might be familiar with the Bible… is it merely describing or is it prescribing? It is a DESCRIPTION of the early church… but it is not necessarily a prescription of how the Early Church SHOULD act… right? There are some good things in there, and some bad things.
– – – – – –
And so when we look at the violence in the Bible we have to understand that a LOT of violence, not just a lot of it, THE MAJORITY of it is DESCRIPTIVE in its nature, meaning it merely happened at the hands of sinful, violent people and God DESCRIBES in the Bible that it happened. It does not mean that He’s saying that represents His character or that’s how His people should act.
But the real question then is, I mean… we could possibly end the sermon right there and say, “OK, God’s off the hook”. How many of you would like to do that? (laughter)
[Transcriber’s Note: the vast majority of attenders (if not everyone) would LOVE for his messages to be even LONGER]
But if there is an account of PRESCRIPTIVE VIOLENCE ORDERED BY GOD, then it demands our time this morning. Let me ask you. Do you think there’s an account of PRESCRIPTIVE violence in the Bible where God says, “I want you to act violently”. I see some heads shaking “yes” and the answer is YES… there are accounts of prescriptive violence in the Bible and that’s what we’re going to be looking at together this morning.
We’re going to look at it with these 3 questions:
- WHAT VIOLENCE DID GOD COMMAND?
- WHY DID HE COMMAND IT? and then finally,
- IS HE STILL COMMANDING SUCH VIOLENCE TODAY?
What violence did God command, Why did he command it, and finally then, Is He still commanding such violence today?
Well, first let’s look at, WHAT VIOLENCE DID GOD COMMAND?
Before we start diving into the Scriptures today, today’s a different type of sermon. It’s going to be a lot more like a TEACHING than it is going to be like PREACHING because the subject matter demands a lot of material.
And so if you’re visiting with us it’s gonna be different than our typical time together. And we’re going to be looking at a lot of passages and probably less commentary from me on these passages.
But to be clear, before we get into these specific passages of “What Violence Did God Command”, what we have in mind here is one particular region… a region of the world known as Canaan. All of the prescriptive violence that occurs in the Bible is narrowed down to one very small region in the world, known as Canaan.
And in Canaan there was around seven, maybe either different people groups that lived in this region. and ONE of the people group’s names was the CANAANITES. It’s kinda confusing because you think, well all the people in Canaan would be called the Canaanites, but that’s not true. They’re one of the people groups, there are 6 or 7 others, but ALL of the violence prescribed by God takes place in this region, which sort of straddles the Jordan River and is just North of the Dead Sea… it’s a small region, just a portion of what we think of today as being THE HOLY LANDS.. and Bible Lands.
It’s all in this region of Canaan and here is some of our most graphic accounts of God prescribing violence. The context of Deuteronomy Chapter 7, verse 1 and 2 tells us this, God has established a relationship with a group of people known as the Israelites; He has led them out of slavery from the land of Egypt, but they are still sort of in a holding pattern, if you will, wandering about and He’s now giving them instructions on how they can go take a land that is going to become their own.
Deuteronomy 7:1-2 says this,
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations…” ahh…. does anybody want to read those for us (LAUGHTER); that’s gonna happen a lot this morning, so you’re just going to have to be gracious with me;
“—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites,Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”
This command is repeated in Deuteronomy Chapter 20 verses 16 and 17.
However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.
Now what should be jumping out to you, what jumps out to me immediately is, we are often accustomed to men battling men and taking the lives of other men, even maybe numb to it to a degree. But here the command is to take the life of everything: man, woman, child, all livestock, everything, nothing lives.
Then we go to Joshua Chapter 10, and here’s it’s only commanded, it hasn’t happened yet. It doesn’t happen until almost 40 years later, and we’ll talk in a minute about WHY that is the case; but I picked these 10 verses from Joshua chapter 10, verses 30 through 40, it’s a long section, but I picked this section because I believe that in all of the Bible, all 66 books, it’s the most VIOLENT ten verses… of any ten verses.
This is a description of Joshua leading the Israelites to do what they were commanded to do twice in the Book of Deuteronomy that we just read; here’s the passage:
The Lord also gave that city and its king into Israel’s hand. The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.
31 Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Libnah to Lachish; he took up positions against it and attacked it. The Lord gave Lachish into Israel’s hands, and Joshua took it on the second day. The city and everyone in it he put to the sword, just as he had done to Libnah. Meanwhile, Horam king of Gezer had come up to help Lachish, but Joshua defeated him and his army—until no survivors were left.
34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Lachish to Eglon; they took up positions against it and attacked it. They captured it that same day and put it to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it, just as they had done to Lachish.
36 Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron and attacked it. They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it.
38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned around and attacked Debir. They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron.
40 So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.
(pause and silence)
It’s probably appropriate that there’s just a silence that comes over the room and I’m GLAD to hear that; it shows that you’re reading these passages with the the type of compassion that I think we’re meant to read them with.
I mean how does this settle and resonate with a God that so many of us have come to know to be personal and real and COMPASSIONATE and KIND and SLOW TO ANGER.
I hope if you’re visiting here, or you call this your Church Home you can at least appreciate that when we tackle these issues we’re not skipping over the hard-stuff… right? We’re not going to try to pretend that there is no prescribed violence from God in the Bible, because there is and here it is.
You might be encouraged perhaps to realize that God did not expect Israel to treat everyone this way. He did not expect them to treat all the other nations around this region of Canaan this way. In Deuteronomy Chapter 20, verse 10 through 15, we get the instruction on how God’ people are supposed to deal in battle situations with other nations. Scripture tells us this:
“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.
Right there something’s different that you didn’t see when they were taking over the region of Canaan. Here they were supposed to START by making an offer of PEACE.
If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.
Now that might sound harsh, but back then it was just the consequence of winning the battle and taking over a region.
If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.
Here the language is different too “All of the MEN…
As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a DISTANCE from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
That’s very key to help us realize that God is trying to give His people a specific rejoin and help them to occupy it… and the way that they’re to treat other nations around them and cities around them that may rage war against them is very different than the ones within the region that he’s trying to give them.
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Some of you might recognize or remember the story of Rahab who was a prostitute woman whom Joshua began this whole battle basically encountering her. Two folks go to spy out the region and Rahab sort of protects these spies… protects Gods people in that way; and she was a Canaanite within the region of the Canaanite land.. she deserved to be treated harshly just like the rest of the people in this region, BUT because she spares God’s people, the Scripture tells us that they spare her.
So not everyone in the region of Canaan was put to death; there were some people who were spared. And one of the reasons it says she was spared is because she listened to the 40 YEAR WARNING that God had been giving these people for a long time… she says, in the Scripture,
“I’ve heard about your God; I heard how He parted the Red Sea and how He made you victorious in battle previously.
And as a result of hearing that, she began to fear the Lord and operate with God in her life while the rest of the region continued not to. So it was not without warning that God sends Israel into Canaan and to judge it.
But the big question becomes, not what violence did He command… for many of you this is not news to you…. the bigger issue at hand is,
WHY DID HE COMMAND IT???
How can we possibly reconcile that with the other claims about God that we make? Well, when it comes to “Why did He command it” I want you to consider 2 words: JUDGMENT and JESUS.. Judgement and Jesus… the first one, this word JUDGMENT:
It’s clear from Scripture that was partly at play; He was judging the regions of Canaan. In Deuteronomy chapter 9 verses 4 through 6 the Scripture tells us this… it says,
After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And then just in case they didn’t get the first two expressions, it says it a THIRD TIME,
Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” He says about Israel.
So just in case Israel… the Bible’s not painting the picture of this idea that Israel is so Holy and so right and so good that they DESERVED to be in this reason, and that’s why God was giving it to them. But the Bible does give us the image in this passage that part of the reason why He uses Israel to dive out the Canaanites is because He was JUDGING them. Now was Israel blameless… NO, they weren’t blameless, it says they were “a stiff-necked people”.
But friends, this is a good time to talk about a popular Church myth today that’s used in our churches and that is the idea that:
ALL SIN IS THE SAME? … some of you have said that one before… ALL SIN IS NOT THE SAME… sin is not sin; all sin is not equal.. it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible. And Israel surely is a “stiff-necked” people, that’s absolutely true… BUT, ok.. the Canaanites and the people around them have begun to live as if there is absolutely no God, “in utter wickedness”. The wickedness in this region was really incredible to think about.
One of the most graphic descriptions of this region we have is way back in the Book of Genesis 19. In Genesis 19:1-8 we have this popular story known as Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah happened A LONG TIME BEFORE God brings Israelites into this Canaanite region, but it’s the same region and it gives us an image of what these people were like and what their lifestyle had become.
In Genesis 19 the Scripture tells us this,
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, [now these are angels.. OK?] and Lot [this was Abraham’s nephew] was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”
“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”
But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house.He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.
So Lot is now entertaining angels, if you will, in his home, he’s fed them, they’re there.
Before they had gone to bed, all the men [all of the men] from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you,
Friends, this would be a great time to remember the difference between DESCRIPTIVE and PRESCRIPTIVE (laughter)… I mean this is described, but this behavior is not prescribed by God… I mean can you believe what this guy does here?
“…and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
And so you see, this is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, they are calling out for this guy to come out. And of course today this passage gets a lot of air time because of some of the sexual orientation debate in our country; and I think that might be at issue here, but that’s not the biggest issue.
ALL OF THE MEN, both old and young, coming for these two people… men or women… this is TOTALLY hideous. I mean, one commentator said, “it’s as if this town had become so sexually deviant that they had gone through each other, if you will, and saw these two people as fresh meat.”
I was watching the news the other day, and maybe some of you people saw it, these stories happening right now about all the stuff that goes on at Spring Breaks in America; and what happens in Florida, and some of you.. I’m trying to use the appropriate language, but some of you saw some of the footage in the news report of a woman, a teenage girl who drinks so much the other day on a beach here in the United States, she passes out in her bikini; she’s being partied around all over the place; a group of men right there in the middle of the daylight have their absolute way with her; it’s being videotaped, people are partying all around her and nobody seems to care at all.
Oftentimes we think when we watch stuff like that in the news, we think, “Oh man, today people are so much worse than they used to be”. Or we read a story like Sodom and Gomorrah and we think, “Oh man, people were way worse then”… and then when we put the two together we just realize people have always been really bad [since The Fall]… alright, and do incredibly wicked things.
JUDGMENT – this is a region that was known for CHILD SACRIFICE. I want you to understand that as part of their worship experience to whatever false God they had made up, they were known for child sacrifice.
Could you imagine walking into Kirkmont and while we gather here as adults in the rooms surrounding the building we could hear the cry of children as they were being sacrificed to our so-called gods. This was a region known for its prostitution IN ITS TEMPLES, in its so called place of WORSHIP, where people would come in and PAY to be with a prostitute as an ACT OF WORSHIP… can you imagine if we turned all of our classrooms into places with private little beds where we could walk in and pay and go and be with someone before church.
THAT’S WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT IN THE SCRIPTURE… JUDGMENT !!!
Let’s be clear friends, GOD IS NOT THE CREATOR OF VIOLENCE… but certain violence demands certain response BACK. Do we want to strip God from that title? Do we want to strip God from that role? … JUDGMENT.. WHY DID HE COMMAND IT? … and I think even greater than judgment was because of JESUS.
In Genesis chapter 12 verses 6 through 7 the Scripture tells us this:
Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
So this whole thing of Israel taking over this land began with a promise decades before this to Abram. And the purpose of this promise was that they would have a place where they could prosper and to grow.
And later though, after having been given the promise, God’s people sent out spies to go look at the land, after they’d been delivered from Egypt; and they look out at the land, and they report back and they say, ~”THE LAND IS AWESOME… BUT THE PEOPLE ARE TOO FIERCE AND TOO MANY… and they start being scared, and then there’s a Biblical character named Caleb who we named our son after who said, “Look, I think we should do it anyways… the battle is the Lord’s… we can win this if God’s behind it”.
So they report back, and eventually the whining and the groaning starts; they complain that the people in the land that God is giving them are “too numerous, are too mighty” and so they refuse to go to war and God basically judges them and says, “OK, Moses and all of your people you will never enter the Promised Land… you’re not going to be a part of it in any way at all… and that’s why it’s not until the days of Joshua when he’s leading Israel that they begin to wage war.
WHY was it so important for God to give these people land? … that they might become prosperous, that might GROW in their number; and God in doing so is acting as a MISSIONARY GOD. He’s the first and the most effective missionary that we’ve ever had. He’s evangelizing the world by preparing a people to receive JESUS CHRIST when He shows up. And He is setting apart a people from the rest of the world around them so that when Christ arrives they receive Him. And we ought to be thankful that they did receive Him, because by receiving Him we have now heard about Jesus Christ because of the work that’s begun here.
We often think that God began His missionary efforts when He sent His son Jesus Christ. But they began Centuries before that and the preparations leading up to Christ showing up.
The Early Church often gets a rap, the early Jewish people get such a bad rap for the treatment of Jesus, but we forget that MANY of these Israelites whom God had set apart are the very ones that received Christ… his Apostles; and the Church grew in the early years by THOUSANDS by the day, of Jewish people, growing in their number, spreading the message of Jesus Christ throughout the whole world.
So if someone asks, “Well why not just let the Canaanites stay there?” … why can’t we just sort of cohabitate with them; why not give the Israelites this whole region and let them stay there? …. well the Scripture tells us in Deuteronomy 7 in verses 3 through 6 that the Canaanites had become so wicked that the people of the region of Canaan had become so wicked that’s impossible… tainting would happen and all these types of things and Deuteronomy 7 verses 3 and 4 the Scripture says,
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
In Deuteronomy 20:18 the Scripture says a similar thing…
“Otherwise they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their god and you will sin against the Lord your God.
And so God judges Canaan not only because they deserve to be judged, but He also has them destroyed because He’s preparing a people and a region to accept the Messiah; and they are to be AT THIS TIME separate from the world.
Now today, what is (you and I)… what is OUR commission… it is “TO GO INTO THE WORLD”.
There’s no shortage of religious violence on the news today is there… umm.. it raises the question, Is God still commanding such violence… you see I think that most of the religious violence you see happening today is coming from a religion where the violence is not only prescribed, but it’s prescribed in such a way that is open-ended and meant to be ongoing.
But Jesus’s words and His actions tell us otherwise about the Christian faith and the TRUTH of the SCRIPTURE. In Matthew chapter 5 the Scripture tells us this, starting in verse 3 through 10,
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Not only did Jesus’ words to us throughout the New Testament make it quite clear to us that the prescribed violence in that short period of time to that small region in Canaan has come to an end, but HIS ACTIONS tell us the same thing as well.
In 1st Peter, chapter 2:24, we are reminded friends, when we look at this passage, that there is one last prescribed act of violence in the Bible, and it is God the Father, pouring out the wrath that we deserve for all of our sins on HIS SON JESUS CHRIST.
And that, as He said, “IT IS FINISHED“.
Scripture says, in 1st Peter 2:24
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
I want to invite our praise team to come forward as they prepare to lead us in our last song together; I invite you to stand and join us for our closing song.”
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