This review of my book, Divine Violence and the Character of God was written by Jim West and published on his blog, Zwinglius Redivivus.
There is much violence in the Old Testament, both human and divine. Christians and non-Christians react differently to what they read about the God of the Old Testament. Some people are so affected by the violence found in the Old Testament that they give up on God, stop going to church and reading the Bible, and eventually lose their faith. Others are offended by divine violence and seek to find an alternative explanation for the violent acts of God in the Old Testament. A popular alternative in the twenty-first century is to return to the second century and adopt some form of Marcionism and make the God of the Old Testament to be a different God from the God revealed by Christ in the New Testament. The purpose of this book is not a defense of God and his use of violence. The author seeks to understand why God acted the way he did and to understand the reason for divine violence in the Old Testament. Yahweh did use violence in his work of reconciliation. However, the use of violence was necessary when everything else failed. Israel provoked God to anger. When God brought judgment upon his people, he did so with tears in his eyes.
This may be the finest book on the subject of the violence purportedly ordered and perpetrated by God in the Old Testament yet written. It is sage and succinct and engaging and most of all, theologically profound.
M. begins his investigation of the God of the Old Testament, the God so despised by Marcion and his followers from his time to our own as violent, capricious, and murderous, with a one hundred page study of the character of God. M. describes OT texts which portray God as violent and clearly and convincingly demonstrates that the God so described is in fact a God who suffers and who is sympathetic and empathetic; a God of extraordinary pathos.
In the second segment of the book M. moves on to look more closely at the notion of the justice of God. God’s dealings with idolaters and his orders to exterminate the Canaanites and their contemporaries in the land given to Israel and the awful brutality exhibited against pregnant women and the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah and ultimately the rejection of violence by Yahweh and what M. fascinatingly calls the ‘nonviolent conquest of Canaan’ are all taken in hand and examined under the microscope of divine intention and theological interpretation.
The final segment of the book takes readers on a tour of the acts of reconciliation which Yahweh undertakes. Yahweh, M. insists, aims to reconcile the world to himself and each act purposefully attempts exactly that. Indeed, God attempts to reconcile the world through Israel and through Israel restored and through Israel renewed (in and with the Church) and through his Son’s death on the Cross. The ‘violent’ God of the Hebrew Bible is really the Redeeming God of the cross of Christ. The one who takes upon himself all the violence which sin and rebellion can muster.
The volume ends with a conclusion and the usual indices of people, scriptures, subjects, and the like as well as a bibliography.
Procedurally, M. takes something of a wide-ranging approach to the Old Testament material. He doesn’t address texts chronologically (the destruction of Sodom and then the genocide of the Canaanites for instance); rather, the topics are addressed where they fit into the larger scheme of the book. The outline of the book, in other words, guides the discussion rather than the canon or the chronological timeline of events. This can be, at first, a bit jarring since it seems that M. is jumping all over the place. But what he is doing is following a carefully logical exposition which situates texts within their theological milieu. This makes the volume work as a whole, together.
As suggested at the very commencement of this review, This may be the finest book on the subject of the violence purportedly ordered and perpetrated by God in the Old Testament yet written. It is sage and succinct and engaging and most of all, theologically profound.
M., for example, writes
Divine violence is found throughout the Old Testament and it cannot be explained away.
Indeed it cannot, and M. faces the implications of that very simple fact head on, without wavering and without making excuses for God.
Readers will find this book to be a kind of Will Smith slapping of Chris Rock. It is an unwavering defense of the essential goodness of God against all of those who would speak ill of God without consideration of the many nuances of the Old Testament texts. It is a slap in the face of Marcion and his Marcionites. It is a gauntlet tossed at the feet of those who would declare God to be a vicious, capricious, mean spirited tyrant. And it is a declaration of victory over all such claims. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and so I do.
I would like to thank Jim for taking time off from his busy schedule to review my book.
NOTE: At my request, the publisher has extended the 40% discount to readers of my blog until May 31, 2022. If you want to buy the book at 40% discount, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On the subject line write Divine Violence.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of Old Testament topics.