The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder (Ch. 4)

 

Chapter 4: God Will Fight for Us

Summary

1972: Here Yoder surveys key moments in Israel’s life where God fights so they don’t have to. This motif is grounded in the Exodus where Israel did nothing to destroy the Egyptians (Exodus 14:13). It continues on, being especially prevalent in 2 Chronicles. Even after the Exile, Ezra returned to Jerusalem without soldiers for protection because he trusted God (and was ashamed to ask).

We need to consider how the Jewish people in Jesus’ day would have reflected on these accounts. While we modern readers question the inconceivability of a God scattering foes while his people stand and watch, this is precisely what the pious Jews in Jesus’ day would have expected. The apocalyptic literature they read and wrote didn’t refer to out-of-earth experiences, but God acting on Palestinian soil.

1994: There are a few different ways Christians have tried to reconcile their beliefs with the Old Testament emphasis on war:

  1. Some ignore the wars.
  2. Some claim that war was fine then, but not in the new dispensation brought about by Jesus.
  3. Some claim that our post-Enlightenment perspective qualifies us to choose which parts of Old Testament culture we use.

Many theologians are working to develop a Christian understanding of Old Testament Wars (i.e. Gerbrandt, Ollenburger, Neufeld, Brueggemann, Gottwald).

Thoughts

I really appreciate Yoder’s method for understanding Old Testament wars. We approach them from our modern perspective and misunderstand the narrative. War in the Old Testament was just a matter of fact. What stands out in a culture of war are the numerous times God intervened to save his people without them having to fight. While it’s always dangerous to argue from silence, I think it’s important that the Exodus 17 battle against the Amalakites, where Israel did fight, was not commanded by God. Indeed, they only won while Moses’ arms were raised to God.

All that said, shifting the violence from people to God doesn’t seem to me to satisfy our Christian sensibilities. Sure, the Israelites only had to watch from the shore while God closed the waters around the Egyptian pursuers. That still leaves us with a deity who slaughtered an army in a heartbeat—yet who also chose to take the violence of the world on his own body in the crucifixion.

I value Yoder’s perspective here, but it doesn’t answer all my questions.

< Ch. 3: The Implications of the Jubilee

Ch. 5: The Possibility of Nonviolent Resistance >

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