You can’t read very far through the stories of Elijah and Elisha without encountering violence ordered by Elijah (and Elisha). This Sunday, we are going to talk about burn-out, despair and depression after the Mt. Carmel crunchtime event, but before that, immediately after the show-down between Baal and Yahweh (ie. God), Elijah orders the prophets of Baal killed.
There is so much more to say about OT violence and piecing out how the God revealed in Jesus could have sanctioned what happened in the bible than I can do justice to in this weekly blurb.
So instead, I want to focus on just one piece of the puzzle. It is not intended to answer the problem, but just to broaden the conversation.
In his letter the Ephesians (ch.6), Paul says our battle, “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
This is part of why Christ-followers don’t use violence to promote faith (or at least shouldn’t). But for a brief (in the scope of human history) time, God created a nation-state in the physical world that was to represent his holiness and righteousness that came to be called Israel. Indeed, for that period of time that battle was both spiritual and flesh & blood.
The truth is that God commanded his people (Israel) to be far more gracious, less violent, and inclusive than most of the surrounding nations. Israel was consistently constrained by God, and everywhere in the OT, we see God scolding Israel for seeking to do its political will rather than only what God authorized. Life is in God’s hands and his alone.
But there wasn’t room in God’s people on earth for other gods.
If Yahweh was to be shown to be God, Baal worship and other idols had no place. The history of Israel recorded in 4 OT books ( 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles) actually show this to be historically true. The tolerance for idol worship consistently pushed Israel away from Yahweh. Within that framework, the need to be harsh with idol worship makes more sense, though rightly still feels uncomfortable.
In Jesus, God massively expanded the scope of God’s project with humanity. It moved the battle from the flesh, from a tiny nation in the middle east, to the hearts and minds of all humanity.
The true lesson of Israel was that political conquest and statedom couldn’t achieve the holiness that God desired. Israel needed a perfect savior, and so did all humanity. Israel couldn’t save the world. It was only a foreshadowing and prelude to God’s ultimate triumph over evil.
It is ok to be uncomfortable with things you read in the bible. At times, we just sit with them, and give them to God for His Spirit to help us understand.
But it is also good to explore what has been said/written about these uncomfortable things. Many people encounter hard passages and just give up. They either ignore them or they fixate on them (breeding doubt and distrust).
But none of these critiques are new to Christianity. In fact, one of the very first breaks with orthodox faith was centered around OT Violence (Arianism).
For all the hard stuff of faith, you will find there is a lot of helpful commentary and as always your pastors are available to help you walk through it all (whether intellectual or emotional). Don’t forget to lean on us sometimes!