When it comes to reading the Bible, for many people, the Old Testament is convoluted and irrelevant at worst, confusing and boring at best. The long lists of numbers and genealogies, the seemingly violent portrayal of God, and the brutal “holy wars” leave some scratching their heads wondering how to reconcile the differences between the Old and New Testaments (OT & NT). But it doesn’t have to be this way, because when we examine these parts of the OT through the lens of God’s Story, they begin to make sense.
We Must not Forget that the Setting for the Bible is a Battlefield.
The story of the universe is taking place amidst the backdrop of a cosmic war between Yahweh and rebellious, divine beings. Humans are not only the ground over which this war is being fought, we are the casualties and the prize. Consider this otherwise familiar story.
What Really Happened at the Tower of Babel.
Here’s the Cliffs Notes of the familiar version:
Back in Genesis 1, God commanded humans to spread out over the earth that we may advance God’s Kingdom against the enemy. But the people didn’t listen. Instead, they settled in one place, established a culture of sin, and built a tower in order to meet God on their terms. God was displeased with their disobedience, and, therefore, confused their languages, forcing them to disperse.
But here’s the part we miss.
In reference to this event, Deuteronomy 32:8 says, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.” (ESV)
There are not many versions of the Bible that interpret this verse correctly. Most versions interpret “sons of God” as “sons of Israel.” Not only is this interpretation not correct, but it is also illogical, because Israel did not exist at the time of Babel. Israel is also not listed in the table of nations in Genesis 10.
Remember, the sons of God are divine/celestial beings, many of whom rebelled against Yahweh and meddled with the human race in ways they never should have. (If you need a refresher about the sons of God, you can read my last post.)
So what we actually see taking place at Babel is God saying to humanity, “Fine, if you don’t want to listen to Me, if you don’t want Me as your God, you can have these other ‘gods.'”
This historical moment is from where all the other pantheons derive. This is how the nations obtained their foreign gods.
And what does God do immediately after “giving the people over?” He calls Abraham and creates for Himself a new nation. And it was through Abraham that God made a covenant–a testament–that through this man and his descendants, ALL nations would be blessed.
And they most certainly would, one day, through Jesus Christ.
What we find is that there are two themes that span through the Bible: God gathering back ALL of His people and simultaneously waging war against divine, evil beings.
So now, when we look at the wars of the OT, where God commanded the Israelites not to spare any living creature, we can see that these invasions were not done out of violence toward the human race, but toward the forces of evil.
In his study of these wars, Dr. Michael Heiser describes how every area, where Israel was commanded to invade, coincides with references to where human populations had been polluted by cohabiting with celestial beings. (Again, see my last post.)
It’s interesting, looking back at these historical recordings, it is not Israel who is blamed as being violent but God. Yet, this should not surprise us at all. God is not a different God in the NT than He was in the OT. He is the same. He is a perfect, all-holy God who is willing to take on our unholiness and the blame for our sin–He did it in the OT and He did it on the cross.
From cover to cover and testament to testament, God’s Story is a story of love and a story of war. We can’t have one without the other, and when we keep this framework in mind, there’s not a single piece of scripture that cannot be reconciled.
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