Christian Pacifism Encounters the Old Testament

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.2

[Previously unpublished. From a 1983 lecture. Slightly revised in 1991.]

The Old Testament has been enormously influential in Christian thinking about warfare, especially for its use in justifying involvement in warfare.  Sociologist Ray Abrams, in his study of American Christian support for World War I makes the strong statement: “It may be safely predicted that as long as Christian ministers and Sunday School teachers continue, as the majority of them now do, to defend the crude ethics in parts of the Old Testament, the Bible will continue to be used as the greatest defense of war in history.”[1]  Unfortunately, many pacifists react to such uses of the Old Testament by dismissing it and neglecting the positive resources it offers for Christian peacemaking and social thought in general.

We do not have to explain away the Old Testament’s wars in order to remain pacifists and at the same time accept all of the Old Testament as scripture.  Looked at on its own terms, and seen as a record of the historical movement of God’s people in history, the Old Testament can provide us with a great deal of insight.  For one thing, it can help us to see that we are pacifists primarily not for negative reasons (it is wrong to kill) but for positive reasons.  We are called to be agents of God’s redemptive working in human history and that working moves in the way of the suffering servant, not in the way of power politics and violence.

Certainly, we are not left without problems.  But all areas of Christian theology leave us with problems.  The Bible is a very human book, presenting human history.  Just as human history is neither unambivalent nor unambiguous, neither is the Bible.  And the Bible, with its ambivalence and ambiguity, addresses us in our ambivalent and ambiguous contexts with words and images which nonetheless mediate the word of God for us.

The Old Testament texts should be seen first within their historical contexts.  In the age of Joshua, for example, the question of whether the taking of human life is morally permissible would never have been asked.  The key concept during the holy wars for the participants was not bloodshed, but rather the question of whether Israel would trust in God or not.  If it would trust and follow God’s will, then the occupants of the land would be driven out in ways which would make it clear that it was God and not military might or large numbers which won the victory.[2]

When we look at the historical development rather than directly comparing Jesus with Joshua, we see evolution.  First we can see novel aspects of holy war itself (e.g., dependence on God for one’s existence) and in legislation (e.g., rejection of indirect retaliation and greater dignity given women and slaves).  Progressively the prophetic line represented by writers such as Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah underlines these same emphases.  Progression continues through incorporation of persons of non-Israelite blood into the tribe, expansion of world vision to include other nations, prophets’ criticism of and history’s destruction of kingship and territorial sovereignty as definitions of peoplehood.[3]

So while we see evidence of a great deal of movement from Joshua to Jesus, nonetheless, Jesus’ emphases are in large part in continuity with those found in the Old Testament.  To these we will now turn. In this essay, I will focus on two different levels: first the immediate, first-glance, superficial reading—what happened?  When? Who did it?  Then the second, deeper, level of the theological interpretation given these events by the Old Testament writers and thinkers—what do these events say about the God of Israel?  Why did they happen?  What were their meanings?

Level of Events

The wars clearly happened and they did involve people of faith.  Ancient Israel most certainly accepted the legitimacy of warfare as an institution.  So, “pacifism” (understood as the in-principle rejection of all war) finds no overt articulation in the Old Testament.  The Old Testament writers in fact tell us that God on occasion sanctions, even commands, wars to the point of God actually fighting.

The positive theological attitude toward Israel’s particular wars is primarily limited to the first part of Israel’s history from the crossing of the Red Sea in the 13th century to King David’s victories in the 11th century.  From David’s time down to the final military defeat of the Jewish nation in the 6th century, the prophets and biblical writers almost always spoke of the military engagements of the Jewish nation in very negative terms.  However, it was not warfare as an institution that they explicitly condemned.  Very possibly, prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah would not have opposed a true holy war like those fought under Joshua hundreds of years earlier.

So, Old Testament writers reflect a basic acceptance of the institution of warfare as something that is not incompatible with God’s will.  However, clearly ancient Israel—in contrast with most of the rest of the ancient Near East–did not glorify warfare.  The Israelites did not hold up human warriors as the epitome of manhood.  They made heroes of very few true military figures.  Some, like Moses, Joshua, and Gideon, are heroes primarily because of their willingness not to fight, but to let God fight for them.  Even David, Israel’s greatest warrior and one that following generations look very favorably upon, did not receive reverence primarily for his military exploits.  Rather, Israelites held him up for two other reasons, his willingness to obey God and his being the recipient of God’s promise.  In fact, an indication that the Israelites did not see war as an intrinsically good thing can be seen in David not being allowed to build the Temple himself because his fighting had so bloodied his hands.

It is important here to make a distinction between the popular sentiment of ancient Israel and the point of view reflected in the biblical writings.  We do not know nearly as much what the point of view of the rank and file Jew was as we do of the various prophets who wrote much of the Old Testament.  The prophets were certainly not the determiners of public opinion.  It is altogether possible that the rank and file were much more positive about warfare.  We just know that the writings reflect an attitude in which war is pretty peripheral.  When it is clear that God wants Israel to fight, then fighting is a good thing.  However, even then it is not the fighting which is crucial but the obedience to God’s will.

Ancient Israel, then, did accept warfare, but with a sense of detachment from it.  They kept warfare at the periphery of their religion and their socio-political ideals.

Level of Theology

In what follows, my perspective has been very strongly shaped by my teacher Millard Lind, especially in his book Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in the Old Testament.[4]

In discussing the “theology of warfare” in ancient Israel, I want first to discuss some elements of the picture which the Old Testament presents of Israel’s God.  Then I will touch on several key events in the history of ancient Israel—the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the rise of the kingship, and the fall of the kingship.

God’s Character. Israel’s God differed very radically from other ancient Near Eastern gods.  They did not identify their God primarily with nature (e.g., the much needed rain) but with the events leading up to Israel’s emergence as a people, in particular the exodus which freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt.[5]  Most ancient Near Eastern people identified their gods with the status quo, with the existing power structure, including especially the military power structure.  Israelites saw their God as the one who challenged this power structure in Egypt, who “broke the bow of the mighty and lifted up the poor.”  The religion worshiping this God centered on the liberation of people from oppression, oppression which had been reinforced by worship of fertility gods.[6]

From the beginning, the Israelite’s religion focused on human beings in voluntary submission to the will of God defined in ethical terms binding beyond any social or territorial boundary.[7] Commitment to God served as the core, not commitment to a specific nation or king.  The people owed their ultimate loyalty to God and God’s moral values, not to a temporal political entity.  If the values of God and the values of the nation conflicted, people owed God a higher allegiance.  God is the ultimate king or ruler.

I want to emphasize this point about the voluntary submission to the will of God.  At its heart, Israelites’ religion rejects the control of human beings by force and violence.  They based their religion on a covenant of love with God; love cannot be enforced by violence.

God’s kingdom was not based on military power, nor upon manipulation of power through diplomacy, nor upon a concentration of wealth, nor upon human wisdom that enables one to make decisions in relation to all these things for one’s national advantage.  God’s kingdom was based on something altogether different: God’s promise and miraculous acts, and upon the framework provided by the Ten Commandments, the rest of the Law, and the words of the prophets.  The future of ancient Israel depended not upon its military might or its political manipulations, but solely on its faith and obedience to the God mediated through the Law and prophets.[8]

The key value for ancient Israel with regards to its view of God and God’s will was that of shalom (peace).  Shalom characterized the community when the people did justice.  People experienced wholeness, good health, prosperity, calm, equality, etc.  In the context of the nation, shalom depends on the nation remaining faithful to God’s laws.[9]

According to the Old Testament writings, the values of shalom and justice led to the holy war.  God acts against oppression and injustice, and acts on behalf of the oppressed people of Israel.[10]

The Old Testament gives the impression that the holy war would not have been necessary had the human community kept the sinlessness of the Garden of Eden.  The problem of war and peace inherently followed from the decline which had begun with Adam’s sin and had continued with the gradual corruption of the human race.[11]  For reasons only he could fully understand, God—who had been the Lord of peace when he created the universe—had to become, temporarily, a God of war.  This happened when God concentrated his activities on a single group of people, the ancient Israelites.  God’s ultimate purpose had to do with restoring peace and harmony for the whole earth.

So, the purpose of the holy war was ultimately to benefit all peoples.  In 1 Kings 8:41-43 is expressed the hope that all the peoples of the earth might know God’s name and fear God, even as does Israel.  The role of warfare is only temporary.  The ultimate cause of universal peace is the free response of people when they hear of God’s “great name” and “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm.”[12]

Thus the overall picture of God’s character which emerges from the Old Testament is that the ultimate intentions of God are redemptive, they are oriented toward the salvation of all the nations.

The Exodus.  The central event in the early history of ancient Israel was the so-called exodus.  The Jewish people were slaves in Egypt and were headed for extinction as an ethnic entity.  But led by the prophet Moses they escaped Egypt—thanks to the miraculous intervention of their God.

According to the familiar exodus story, God miraculously causes various plagues in order to get Pharaoh—the god-king of Egypt—to allow the Jews to leave.  Pharaoh continually refuses, but finally relents after the terrible plague of death to the oldest Egyptian children.  So the Jews leave, then Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army after them.  Just as the army is about to catch up and no doubt wipe out the Jews, God causes the waters of the Red Sea to part, allowing the Jews to go through.  Then, when Pharaoh’s soldiers attempt to follow, the waters crash down on them, and thus the Jewish people are finally liberated from Egypt.

Throughout the Old Testament, this event is seen as the central event in the history of Israel.  We can see at least four reasons for this: (1) It is a sign of God’s steadfast love; (2) it is the basis for confidence in Yahweh’s future saving acts when Israel encountered political difficulties; (3) it is the basis for Yahweh’s demand for faithfulness to Yahweh and the law; (4) it is the basis for the Jews’ affirmation that they were Yahweh’s chosen people.[13]

One way of looking at the background of the exodus is to see that the Jews, who went to Egypt a couple of hundred years earlier during Joseph’s time, were growing in numbers and thus becoming a threat to the Egyptian socio-economic order.  So the powers-that-be in Egypt determined to tighten the bonds of slavery.  That was when Moses arose.  God identified himself to Moses only as “I am who I will be”—which can be seen as meaning “the one leading you out, the one you will discover in the liberating events of your history.”[14]

For Moses, who, we are told, was well connected in the Egyptian social order, there was a clear choice to be made—between Pharaoh and God.  Moses decisively chose God and aligned himself with God’s social values.

God’s social values (i.e., God’s political system) were an alternative to Pharaoh’s.  The obvious difference was that Moses, the human leader, was not a warrior and had no army.  Israel’s national identity was centered on God’s word spoken through the prophet Moses, not the violent power of a warrior king.  Moses’ political authority was based only on the call of God.  This was quite different from the standard ancient Near Eastern state, where the person with political authority was the one who was the leader of the army.[15]

So, in bringing about the exodus, God did more than liberate slaves.  God created a whole new, alternative political structure, a whole new way for a nation to operate.  The structure of this new people was not built around the sword, not around power politics.  So it is not surprising that their crucial, foundational, initial liberation was not caused by the sword.  Israel did not come into existence as a state because of its military might.  Military might would invariably serve primarily the rich and powerful.  The liberation came about via miracles that God did through nature—the various plagues and especially the parting of the Red Sea.

The parting of the Sea is pictured in the Old Testament as the first “holy war.” In fact, the parting of the Sea should probably be seen as the holy war par excellence, the paradigm for Old Testament holy wars.[16]  Israel’s first and foundational reference to God as a warrior comes in Exodus 15, the song of Moses celebrating the crossing of the Sea. “The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name” (Ex 15:3).  It is very important that this reference is what to one might call a nature miracle and not to warfare per se.  In this, the foundational event in Israel’s history, God as warrior acts through nature and not through human warriors.

The central motifs in this first holy war also recur in the later ones.  It is God that acts, and the victory is due to those acts, not human actions.  Faith here (and, if one looks closely, also in the later holy war accounts) means that the warrior is to have courage not to fight, to stand still and wait for God’s miracle.[17]  The recurrence of these motifs later on shows that they are the key elements in holy war that make it holy.

It is in the exodus that we see with the most clarity the things which define holy war—faith in God to fight for the people, giving God sole credit for the victory, the war serving as an act of liberating the oppressed and facilitating justice and punishing the oppressors.

Israel remembered the exodus for all time to come as the basic event that called her into being as a people.  It stood at the center of her confession of faith from the beginning.[18]

The Conquest. The people liberated by the exodus were promised a land.  In their journey from Egypt to Palestine, which is where the promised land was, they were given the Law on Mt. Sinai.  This was their blueprint for a just society that was to serve as a light to the nations displaying God’s shalom.  But before the Jews could make their attempt at setting up this just society, they had to defeat the Canaanites, the people who were living where the Israelites wanted to live.  The book of Joshua tells about this invasion of Palestine and the resultant “conquest” by the Jews.  It appears to have been a very bloody affair.

Old Testament scholars in recent years have varied greatly in their understanding of what happened at the conquest.  There are three main categories of viewpoints: (1) the conquest model, (2) the peaceful infiltration model, and (3) the peasant revolt model.[19]

(1) The conquest model, which at first glance is strongly supported by the biblical data and archaeological evidence, takes the story in Joshua at face value.  According to this view, the twelve united tribes of Israel invaded Canaan from the east, totally displacing the population.  Israel, after annihilating the previous residents, filled the vacuum with its own distinctive culture and religion.  It took place over a span of only a few years, and the conquest ended with Israel dividing the conquered into tribal homelands that were immediately occupied.[20]

Many scholars question whether this model actually can hold up under close scrutiny, at least in its entirety.[21]  They see a difference between the editorial framework of the book of Joshua, which reflects the acceptance of this model as I have just outlined it, and the actual traditions cited to tell the story, which only refer to three out of twelve possible tribal areas.  This is interpreted to show that the story of the conquest is in some ways a theological statement rather than totally historically accurate.  Also, the books that follow Joshua make it very clear that the Canaanites were not exterminated to the degree indicated in Joshua.  There are a number of later references to Canaanites remaining in the area.

However, even if these challenges to the conquest model have some validity, that does not mean that the basic message of the stories is not still accurate—that God fought for Israel and gave the Jewish people essential political control over the land, all in a brief period of time.

(2) The main basis of support for the second model, the peaceful infiltration one, is the assertion that only if the Canaanites had not been wiped out totally would they have remained as a threat to Israel which had to be countered as vehemently as it was in later times.[22]  Therefore something else must have happened.  This model stresses a great length of time being involved in Israelite settlement of Canaan, extending from the time of Abraham down to David.  There is very little direct evidence—biblically or archaeologically—to support it.

(3) The third view, the peasant revolt model, sees a small number of Jewish people invading from the desert and gaining the support of a large number of Canaanites who saw this as an opportunity successfully to overthrow their oppressive rulers.[23]

The revolt model is allied with the conquest model insofar as the catalyst to the rise of Israel is seen as deriving from a group of outsiders who entered Canaan with enthusiastic commitment to their deliverer God, and who supplied a militant catalyst to revolution among the native Canaanite underclass.  But it does not make a sharp distinction between the Israelites and all Canaanites, and it does not see Israel wiping out all the people in the land.

This model is consistent with much of what I said earlier about Yahweh’s fundamental concern for justice and opposition to oppression.  The revolt model does not need to be set in opposition to a modified acceptance of the conquest model.  The Israelites, or rather their God, conquer the Canaanite ruling class.  Because of what God stood for, the Israelites were naturally joined by those enslaved by the upper-class idol worshippers.  However, there is admittedly little direct evidence to support this model.

The stories in the books of Joshua and Judges clearly show that Israel shared much of the holy war framework with other ancient Near Eastern cultures.  What is unique to Israel is the role of the god.  Their God fights instead of Israel; God is the decisive leader.  With the other nations, the gods—in effect—supported what the warrior-kings themselves did and thus reinforced the centrality of militarism in the very fabric of the nation.  Whatever people were the strongest were the ones with divine sanction.  For Israel, on the contrary, God did not legitimize the powerful, but rather God overthrew the powerful on behalf of the slaves, the poor, and oppressed.  And God instituted a new socio-political order based on the values of peace and justice as expressed in the Law.[24]

Kingship.  It was not long after Israel became settled in the land that a major change in its political structure occurred.  Kingship was instituted.  This was a very significant event in the history of Israel.  For the first 150 or so years of its existence it was led by a decentralized, ad hoc, charismatic group of judges and prophets.  With the coming of kingship this all changed.

Scholars debate as to whether kingship as an institution was desirable for Israel or not.[25]  But clearly its advent dramatically changed the structure of Israelite society, and Israel also clearly suffered a great deal due to its kings being like the kings of the other Near Eastern nations–i.e., power hungry, greedy, exploitive, militaristic.  The final destruction of the Jewish state is to a large degree linked to the unfaithfulness of the kings (cf. Hosea 13:9-11).

While there is much in the Old Testament that condemns the actions of individual kings and the motivations of the Jews in wanting a king, it is not clearly stated that kingship in and of itself, as an institution, is condemned.  What is condemned is kingship that results in social stratification, oppression within the nation, political wars fought for self-aggrandizement, and the like.

Deuteronomy 17 refers to Israel asking for a king and says that its request will be granted as long as the king fulfills certain criteria.  The king must be an Israelite, a person of the covenant and subordinated to God.  He must not build and rely on a large standing army.  He must not multiply wives–especially foreign wives who might turn him from Israel’s God.  He must not make himself wealthy at the expense of his fellow Jews.[26]

Underlying these criteria, and any others for a faithful king, is the over-arching assumption that God is the true king, the true leader of Israel and any human king is at most God’s servant.  And, the king was to be working in conjunction God’s prophets. In the early history of Israel, God is clearly seen as king, as Israel’s ruler, who communicated his will to Israel through prophets like Moses.

A “debate” takes place in 1 Samuel 8-12 over the institution of kingship.  Yet both the pro-kingship and the anti-kingship streams were inspired by the same concept of theocracy.  Israel is God’s people and has no other master but God.  Therefore Israel must not borrow its political structure from the nations.  Israel’s radical faith in the immediacy of God’s political leadership was more than mere belief.  It was based on an experience to which Israel witnessed, an experience from which Israel continually fell away, an experience to which Israel was called back again and again by the great prophets.[27]

That even King David, and especially those kings who followed, failed to live up to the ideals expressed in Deuteronomy 17 is clear.  David’s use of a private army and the establishment of his own capital city of Jerusalem, which was never integrated into Israel’s tribal structure, provided a new power base in Israel.  This new concentration of power was certain to clash with the older tradition of authority represented by the prophets, and if unchecked, would result in selfish misuses of power and personal aggrandizement through conquest.[28]  That such indeed did happen we see in what follows in 1 and 2 Kings.[29]  And the prophets witness to a transformation of the concept of holy war to something that comes to be used by God against the nation of Israel rather than for it.  When Israel becomes an oppressor, God spoke through the prophets, like Ezekiel and Isaiah, telling Israel that God would wage a holy war against Israel to punish her.  The prophets applied this perspective to the military defeats Israel suffered.

Yet David is held up as a model king in many ways.  The bases for the positive view of David in the later history, though, are not his military conquests and concentration of power, but primarily are focused on two things:  David’s willingness to obey God’s commands and the fact that David was the recipient of the divine promise.[30]

The Old Testament does not in principle reject the idea of kingship.[31]  Rather, it rejects kingship like the nations.  Israelite kingship had to be a new kind of kingship.  This can be seen by looking at the examples of Josiah and Hezekiah in the book of 2 Kings.  They epitomized the characteristics of faithful kings.  That they are so positively commended shows that it was possible for there to be kings who were faithful to God.  The king’s role was to make sure the covenant was observed in Israel.  Practically, he could be called the covenant administrator.

The positive evaluation of Josiah stems not only from Josiah turning to the Lord in obeying the law of Moses, but also his taking concrete actions as king to establish the law of Moses in the land.[32]  The basis for the positive evaluation of Hezekiah was the Assyrian crisis and his response to it.[33]  He trusted in God.  In the very important area of defense, the primary responsibility of the king was to trust in God.  It was God’s responsibility to protect Israel.

According to Gerald Gerbrandt, “in ancient Israel, the political success or failure of a king was entirely dependent upon the degree to which Israel obeyed the covenant.  Political success could thus only be achieved by a king through fulfilling his responsibility as covenant administrator.  Given this view, it is also clear that military success was not a major accomplishment of a king, but national defense was the responsibility of God in God’s role as protector of the people.  The king’s role in this was to trust God to deliver, and then to be obedient to God’s word.”[34]

So, kingship would seem to be legitimate in ancient Israel and not per se against God’s will.  But it is kingship redefined, not kingship according to the nations.  It is kingship that mediates God’s justice, which does not build standing armies in order to protect itself or gain more power or wealth, which does not redefine worship of God to insure its own self-interest.  It leaves the exercise of military power to God.

The Fall of Kingship.  Whether or not it was conceivable that kingship in Israel could have been overall faithful to God’s redemptive purposes, the facts are clear that in practice it was not.  The prophets preached against the oppression and unfaithfulness of Israelites, promising that God’s judgment would come.  Their predictions were fulfilled and Israel’s religion had to be redefined.

The concern of the prophets for “social justice” stems from the fact that Israel’s change from pre-kingship religious community to a political power structure had eroded away the old religious ethics centered on shalom in favor of “being like all the rest of the nations”—obsessed with power, concentration of wealth, and competition in the insane world of power politics.[35]  The message of the prophets was that the rejection of those older values that were identified with the rule of God constituted the actual rejection of God.  Since that was the case, the political structure originally formed by God could no longer be legitimized by appeal to God.[36]

The prophetic message can be interpreted as focusing on two themes: the coming of the kingdom and the salvation of society.  The Messiah, when he came, would implement a principle of justice among peoples, breaking the chain of vengeance and counter-vengeance and the domination of race by race.  War would become impossible because its premises—dependent on injustice—would cease to exist (cf. Isaiah 2:4; 9:5).  Enemies, however ancient their enmity, would be reconciled (Isa. 11:6).[37]

This vision of the coming of God’s kingdom arose out of a recognition that the current situation was intolerable.  For example, when Jeremiah discovered that the rich (who were presumably rich due to their observance of the Law) were actually lawbreakers, this shattered not only his human expectations and the idea that covenant obedience leads to prosperity, but also shattered a theology based on the prosperity in the land (Jer. 5).[38]

So, for Jeremiah, the new theology had to be a theology of pure commitment to God in interhuman justice without any reliance on institutions that froze the relationship into complacency.  What became crucial was the spirit of the laws.  God was seen as coming, not only as past.

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of the conditions under which a final, enduring peace may come to the people.  For both, this insight has arisen out of their observation of the failure of the old Sinai covenant established with Moses.  Jeremiah saw its inadequacy during the last spasm of reform before the destruction of Israel as a state as he watched the people conform their lives outwardly to the law of Moses but remain unaffected in the deeper recesses of their hearts.  Isaiah experienced the catastrophe of the exile, which happened when Babylon defeated the Jews and forced many of them to leave Palestine for exile in Babylonia.[39]

The fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians shortly after 600 BC precipitated a crisis of faith for the Israelites.  Isaiah sought to provide a solution.  The exiles’ crushing defeat confirmed the integrity of God’s word through the prophets.[40]  The defeat verified that God’s words through the prophets that an unjust Israel could not stand were true.  But the fact that God did not forsake Israel after that defeat but was with the exiles even when they were not in line shows that God remains faithful and that religion based on trust in this God is not religion tied to a specific nation-state.

Kingship, which in the thought of the ancient Near East was the office of ultimate political power, in the thought of Isaiah was subservient to God who sustained and directed his community not by power politics but by the creative power of God’s word, of speaking through the law and prophets.  At this stage in Israel’s history this power of God is especially seen in the fulfillment of God’s threats of destruction if Israel continued in its unfaithfulness.[41]

We see continuity between exodus and exile in the repeated assertion that it is God, not human power politics, which holds the key to history.  The message of the Old Testament, amidst much ambiguity in many areas, comes through clearly here.

Conclusions

The key ideas in the Old Testament theology of warfare are the emphasis placed on God’s ethical values instead of national self-interest and the relativizing of the significance of military power.  The Old Testament is not a “pacifist” book, at least in the sense of totally rejecting warfare.  But the roots of Christian pacifism are there: trust in God, not in the warring way of the nations; seek peace not coercive power.  The consistent thread, which runs from the exodus through the exile in the Old Testament story, is that it is God, not human power politics, not the warrior-king, who holds the key to history.

The central elements of the Old Testament theology of warfare are these:

1) Human military power is in no way glorified, in fact it is greatly downplayed in the true holy wars.

2) Thus, there is a decided movement away from militarism, though the Old Testament is definitely not a “pacifist” book.

3) The key values for people of faith are commitment to God and God’s transcendent ethics, not national self-interest.  The ideal political leader was the prophet, not the warrior-king.

4) The people of Israel are to trust in God for their national security, not in weapons of war and not in standing armies.

5) When Israel insists on going the way of the other nations of the ancient Near East, her doom is sealed.  God wages war on Israel through the agency of Babylon and Assyria.

[Master list of Peace Essays]


[1]Ray Abrams, Preachers Present Arms (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1969), 252.

[2]John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 81-82.

[3]John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971), 103.

[4]Millard C. Lind, Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in the Old Testament (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980) and Monotheism, Power, and Justice: Collected Old Testament Essays (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1990), especially,172-214.

[5]Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1975), 13-14.

[6]George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 24.

[7]Mendenhall, Tenth, 25.

[8]Lind, Yahweh, 167-168.

[9]L. John Topel, The Way to Peace: Liberation Through the Bible (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979), 22.

[10]Jose Porfirio Miranda, Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1974), 126.

[11]Gerardo Zampaglioni, The Idea of Peace in Antiquity (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973), 200.

[12]Lind, Yahweh, 159.

[13]Lind, Yahweh, 46.

[14]Topel, Way, 4.

[15]Lind, Monotheism, 124-125.

[16]Lind, Yahweh, pp. 49-50.

[17]Lind, Monotheism, 188.

[18]John Bright, A History of Israel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), 120.

[19]Norman K. Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C.E.  (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979), 191-233.

[20]Gottwald, Tribes, 192.

[21]Gottwald, Tribes, 197, 203.

[22]Gottwald, Tribes, 204.

[23]Gottwald, Tribes, 210.

[24]Lind, Yahweh, 81-82.

[25]Two negative appraisals are, John L. McKenzie, The Old Testament Without Illusions (Chicago: Thomas More, 1979) and Walter Brueggemann, The Land (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1977).  For a more ambivalent view see Gerald E. Gerbrandt, Kingship According to the Deuteronomistic History (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).

[26]Gerbrandt, Kingship, 108-113.

[27]Lind, Monotheism, 143.

[28]Lind, Yahweh, 116-117.

[29]Cf. Jacques Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972).

[30]Gerbrandt, Kingship, 173.

[31]Gerbrandt, Kingship, 96-102.

[32]Gerbrandt, Kingship, 67.

[33]Gerbrandt, Kingship, 74-75.

[34]Gerbrandt, Kingship, 194.

[35]Mendenhall, Tenth, 28.

[36]Mendenhall, Tenth, 30.

[37]Zampaglioni, Idea, 202.

[38]Topel, Way, 67-68.

[39]Hugh C. White, Shalom in the Old Testament (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1973), 23-24.

[40]Lind, Monotheism, 155.

[41]Lind, Monotheism, 157-160.

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