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I am reading the second edition (1994) of the late John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. So far chapter 4 (”God will fight for us”) impresses me the most. It is a somewhat more summary version of what Millard Lind argues in Yahweh is a Warrior. Yoder acknowledges this book in his chapter epilogue (the new edition contains epilogues on recent development). Although Yoder doesn’t mention this, both he and Lind are Mennonites. The basic outline of their argument is that although the Hebrew Scriptures are indeed full of “holy war,” the emphasis of the stories is on God’s saving power outside of Israel’s military efforts. The argument suggests an almost inversely proportional relationship between Israel’s reliance on God and their need to fight. Yoder even mentions those who think that “if Israel had been fully faithful, the other peoples in Canaan would have withdrawn without violence in line with this promise” (p. 79 n. 5). Yoder sees this suggestion as being grounded in the multiple instances where God causes Israel’s enemies to flee without violence, e.g. the mysterious something-or-other that causes Sennacherib’s army to exit. Yoder (along with Lind) also points to the various passages that show God’s desire that Israel not rely on its strength of arms, indeed that Israel purposely not upgrade their weaponry.

I am fond of this way of looking at the war narratives. Although it might be a little too simplistic as an all-purpose exegesis, it is compellingly effective. In a polemical context, this interpretation may satisfy both the troubled Christian who looks at these passages with disgusted bewilderment, and the livid Hitchens-esque atheist who sees the “God of the Old Testament” as being a war God, bent on violence. Lastly, I find that this interpretation fits the best with the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13. The message of that parable is precisely that it is not the role of the people of God to separate the good from the evil, and that God and his messengers will accomplish the task. This is consistent with God wanting Israel to let him deal with their enemies.

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