Today’s post was written by Vanu Kantayya, one of my students at Northern Baptist Seminary. Vanu wrote a research paper for the course “Old Testament Theology: The God of the Old Testament,” in which she seeks to demonstrate that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. Her paper is titled: “The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
A Case for Continuity of the Testaments
If we believe that all scripture is God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), then it holds a single message or story of God. Whether the story is one of redemption or covenant, the Bible records the history of a God who is active in the life of his creation. From creation to consummation, God’s story is the same, thus establishing the continuity of the Testaments.
Cowles attempts to make a strong argument for radical discontinuity by considering the Old Testament a document of the faith of old Israel and only marginally a part of the Christian message. He reasons that the church fathers assigned the Scriptures as old and new because of this discontinuity. Further, Cowles believes that Jesus is not defined by God but that God is defined by Jesus and on this premise he discounts the violence of God. He therefore distinguishes between the Old Testament God of fury and the loving and peaceful God seen in Jesus.
The implication of Cowles’ argument is similar to the Marcionite position which completely dispensed with the Old Testament. Marcion was of course considered a heretic by the Church Fathers, and in particular Tertullian, who refuted Marcionism vehemently.
Longman denounces Cowles’ argument as adopting a picture of the Old Testament that is selective and avoiding the judgement and divine warrior passages of Revelation as well as the New Testament apocalyptic passages. Longman, on the other hand, argues for spiritual continuity.
He considers the physical warfare in the Old Testament as holy war and worship which turns into spiritual warfare with the activity of Satan in the New Testament. He also accounts for a final battle where the enemies of God will face judgment and be thrown into a lake of fire. For Longman, the warfare theme is a common thread throughout the Bible although it changes in nature. God’s story in both Testaments is a continuous one that spans the breadth of creation to consummation.
A Reputation for Violence and the Canaanite Genocide
How do we reconcile with the Old Testament’s reputation for violence, including the violence of God? Seibert insists that the life and teachings of Jesus reveal a non-violent God. Like Cowles, Seibert looks at the Old Testament God through the lens of a pacifist and argues accordingly for a pacifist God.  However, it is impossible to ignore the presence of violence in the Bible.
Where there is injustice, exploitation of the poor and oppression of the widows and orphans, God’s wrath is aroused in judgment. Human violence leads to divine judgement and violent consequences as justice would demand (Ps. 17:4; Isa. 60:18).
What about the Canaanites? Why did God ask the Israelites to destroy them, women and children included? This question poses a moral dilemma for many and words such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, infanticide and child slaughter paint a horrific picture of God. Cowles would rather believe that the violence was initiated by Joshua who misunderstood God and took matters into his own hands. I do not believe that Joshua could have fabricated his meeting with God or misunderstood the instructions he received (Josh. 5:13-6:5).
Yahweh waited patiently for about 430 years, giving the Canaanites ample time to change their sinful ways. He asked the patriarch Abraham to wait for the promised land until the land had been saturated with the abomination of the Amorites (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:20-30). The immorality of the Canaanites makes Yahweh’s actions through Joshua an act of justice rather than one of violence.
Divine punishment may be connected to divine wrath but it is never arbitrary. God’s grace and long-suffering waits for repentance and only where there is no hope left do we see God’s judgment. Yahweh’s wrath is caused by the Canaanites’ behavior and is temporary, but God’s love and righteousness are forever.
The Canaanites remained hostile to Israel. Even to the end, the Canaanite rebellion continues as their defenses are tightly shut against the Israelites. Hess attributes this action to the attitude of the people of Jericho in refusing to hear the message of Israel and thus rejecting Yahweh.
A superficial reading of Joshua 7:21 and 8:25-26 may seem harsh and indicate the killing of women and children. However, in the Ancient Near East, the usual targets were political leaders and armies in their forts and garrisons. Jericho and Ai were military strongholds. The word “all” probably does not mean the inclusion of women and children as there is evidence of continued Canaanite presence in the land.
Despite having heard the stories of Yahweh’s rescue of his people from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and watching them march around the city for six days, the people of Jericho tragically failed to acknowledge the rule of the one true God (Jer. 18: 8). Left alone, the Canaanites would have influenced and polluted God’s holy nation, Israel with their wickedness. To further understand God’s actions, we need to examine the implications of holy war and divine warfare.
Divine Warrior and Holy War
Israel’s holy wars and the imagery of Yahweh as divine warrior are not to be dismissed as primitive. Unlike the images that Jihad or the “crusades” may conjure up, Israel’s concept of God as warrior is part of the essence of her faith and the idea continues into New Testament Christianity.
The laws in Deuteronomy 7 and 20 lay out the requirements of divine warfare for Israel. Although God promised to protect them and give them victory, Israel could not do as they pleased. God makes a clear distinction between those occupying the promised land and those who were outside it.
Those outside could be captured as slaves but those inside had to be destroyed. Israel had to seek Yahweh’s will and be commissioned for battle. Accordingly, Joshua receives a theophany where he encounters “the commander of the army of the LORD” (Josh. 5:13-15). Immediately, Joshua falls on his face to the ground in worship and is asked to remove his shoes, reminiscent of Moses’ encounter with God (Exod. 3). Joshua is then commissioned for battle and given detailed war strategy. At other times an ephod has been used to seek God’s will (1 Sam. 23). It is crucial for Israel to know Yahweh’s will before taking any action. This is what Israel failed to do when dealing with the Gibeonites, and as a result had to face the consequences of their actions (Josh. 9:14).
After consulting and knowing Yahweh’s will, Israel had to be prepared spiritually for battle. Before the battle of Jericho, Yahweh told Joshua to circumcise those who had been born in the wilderness (Josh 5:2-7). They also observed Passover. Israel, camped near the enemy, was vulnerable while they waited for the circumcised warriors to recover. This required a trust in God’s protection. It was more important for Israel to be spiritually prepared than to be in danger.
Sacrifice is also an indication of spiritual preparation (1 Sam. 13). Saul did not wait for Samuel to come and offer the sacrifice before battle, but presumes to offer it himself. He learns very quickly that he had angered God by taking on the office of the priest.
Sexual purity was another aspect of the law given to Israel during wartime (Lev. 15:1-18). David tries to implicate Uriah after his sin with Bathsheba and orders him to go home but Uriah does not. The reason he offers is that he could not obey David’s orders while his fellow warriors still slept in tents on the battlefield. The implication here is not only one of loyalty, but also that he would not be ritually pure anymore and would have to go through the elaborate purification rites before returning to the battlefield.
The ark plays a significant part in Israel’s battles. It represented the presence of Yahweh in their midst. The responsibility for the battle was Yahweh’s (2 Chr. 20:15). It was the ark that went before Israel in the wilderness, across the Red Sea and the Jordan. Moses would cry out as the ark went forward, “Arise O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you” (Num. 10:35). Yahweh was the King of Israel and it was he who led them into battle.
In Jericho, the ark plays a crucial role in the battle. The priests were to march around the city with the ark and blow their horns for six days. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times and at the last blast of the ram’s horn, the walls collapse without any action taken by the people. Yahweh’s role is central in bringing down the walls and the victory belongs to him. The victory is celebrated with worship and singing praises to God. After the battle, the ark’s location was at the center of the camp, denoting Yahweh’s kingship in Israel. There were certain aspects of divine warfare that Israel had to remember.
To be continued.
Northern Baptist Seminary
. C. S. Cowles et al., Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 18-29.
. Robert I Bradshaw, “Marcion: Portrait of a Heretic,” http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/ article_marcion.html.
. C. S. Cowles. Show them No Mercy, 59, 183-186.
. Terence E. Fretheim, “God and Violence in the Old Testament,” Word and World 24 (2004): 18.
. Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 195.
. Fretheim, “God and Violence,” 21-24.
. C. S. Cowles, Show Them No Mercy, 40.
. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 436.
. Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 151.
. Katrina Poetker, “The Wrath of God,” Direction 16 (1987): 58.
. Richard Hess, Joshua, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 140-141.
. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 175-178.
. Patrick D. Miller, “God the Warrior: A Problem in Biblical Interpretation and Apologetics,” Interpretation 19 (1965): 40-41.
. Tremper Longman III, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 72-75.
. Ibid., 75-76.