Violence, Hatred And The Torah’s Response
The modern western world considers itself civilised, compassionate and fair minded. We hold to an ethos that agrees we must have highly trained and equipped armies to protect ourselves and our allies against any aggression from our enemies and we despise the idea and practice of unprovoked violence and torture. Does it happen in our societies? Yes. Has it been sanctioned by our government and military officials at various times? Yes. Is it right when it does happen? No. Is it a policy and standard operating procedure? Absolutely not! We are signatories to the Geneva Convention and conduct ourselves during war time according to the rules of war.
Violence and torture is abhorrent to us.
When the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ broke out in the Muslim world on December 17, 2010 in Tunisia the west became aware of a particular kind of violence that has been reasonably prominent in south east Asian nations for a very long time – self-immolation – (setting oneself on fire) which shocked and appalled us, but it was an act of violence against oneself. However, this one act triggered a violent revolutionary uprising in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and various other Muslim nations with varying results.
Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was overthrown and that nation is now pretty much under the rule of brutal radical Islamists; Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was overthrown and the nation voted in a Muslim Brotherhood government which almost immediately became unbelievably unpopular and was eventually overthrown by military coup and the civil unrest continues there. Yemen is now engaged in war with Iran and Saudi Arabia is their ally and life is very precarious in Yemen at the moment. There is a groundswell of unrest in the Saudi kingdom and various other Arab states and of course Iraq and Syria have been the most prominent nations to lead national headlines around the world because of the instability of their governments due to civil unrest and rebellions and unspeakable violence.
What the world was most shocked about however was the kind of violence that was taking place there. We’ve known since 9/11 that radical Islam isn’t afraid of committing acts of violence. Suicide bombings has become common place in the war of violent Islam but the kind of barbarity that has been seen by the likes of Islamic State, Al Nusra Front, Hamas, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda has left the west speechless. It’s not something we’ve seen in recent history.
In the west, in nations that still maintain capital punishment for capital crimes, most have adopted lethal injection under very strict guidelines to ensure the execution isn’t unnecessarily painful or debasing. It’s a method that is the most ‘humane’.
What we’ve seen come out of Islamic terrorism in Iraq and Syria however is breathtaking in its brutality but this level of violence certainly isn’t new. In fact when you look at where Islamic State has established itself in Iraq and Syria, they’re occupying a portion of what used to be the Ancient Assyrian Empire. I didn’t know much about the ancient Assyrians, but they’re mentioned numerous times in the Bible and so I did some reading about them and discovered that they are believed to be the most viscious and brutal empire that has ever lived…perhaps until now.
I read an article by Stuart Dauermann’s called, ‘ISIS: Something Wicked This Way Comes,’ and he points out that this nightmarish wave of violence is strikingly similar to the appalling history of the ancient Assyrians who used to live in that region and the Assyrians were feared by all the nations around about them. In fact, they were so feared that if a town or city received word that the Assyrians were heading their way, whole communities would commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of this most cruel and barbaric people.
Nineveh was the capital city of ancient Assyria and it’s little wonder that the prophet Jonah didn’t want to give the people of that city a warning from God; he didn’t want them to repent because he knew how brutal they were and what they would do to his own people in the future.
The Ancient World
The ancient Assyrians weren’t the only people who were cruel and violent though, there’s incredible evidence of violent wars and conquests in the archaeological record in Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, Babylon, Celts, Aztecs, Mongols, Vikings, Mamelukes, Ottoman’s, and let’s not forget the Crusades. Violence was very common place in the ancient world and when human remains have been discovered from these times, a shockingly high rate of evidence of death by homicide has been found, in fact, in some tribal societies, the chance of dying a violent death was 1 in 6. (1)
This evidence hasn’t been very welcome by those within the humanities society and those who embrace evolution, they like to believe in the ‘noble savage’ theory, that mankind has only become violent and brutal the further we progress down the evolutionary line and because of the corrupted European invaders and modern institutions. Really, Genesis is far more accurate.
Genesis 6:11-12, ‘Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.’
What we’ve seen in our lifetime, in recent years and even to this very day is happening around the world at the hands primarily of violent Islamic extremists the most notable being Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
I’ve heard numerous people in various nations of the world, both in leadership roles and the average person in the street makes statements that basically say they believe it’s the responsibility of the peace loving nations of the world to wipe Islamic State out…destroy them and get rid of every last one of them. They can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be deprogrammed from their ideology and they won’t live with side by side in peace. Their entire mindset and driving passion is the destruction of all others except for those who think and believe like them.
In the ancient world, life was pretty cheap for the most part. For example, among the Hittites (a tribe of people who lived in the land of Canaan) if a man was murdered while leading an ox across a river and his attacker stole the ox, the penalty on the murderer was to simply join the clan of the murdered man and do the work he would have done. That was it.
In some ancient cultures murder was considered a debt offense that could be compensated with a sum of money or, the murderer could give one of the people they ‘owned’ in exchange like a wife, son or a slave…or maybe some livestock in exchange for the murdered person.
The laws of Israel however (which of course are the Laws of God given to Moses to His people) are fundamentally different from the rest of the ancient world. In Israel for example, murder was first and foremost a crime against God because He created man in His image and likeness and life was given by God alone. Therefore, the gift of life itself and the fact that every person is an image bearer of God, makes every human life immensely valuable and no amount of money or livestock can compensate for its loss. (2)
Then what about capital punishment…doesn’t that bring about loss of life and therefore is also murder? Not at all…murder is wanton destruction of life, a crime motivated by malice, greed, jealousy and any number of other vices while capital punishment is a determined penalty instituted by God for a heinous crime. Human life is very precious to God but life isn’t so supreme that justice cannot require it. There is a difference between justice and vengeance.
God informed humanity during Noah’s day that their wickedness was so far gone that He had no alternative but to bring judgment and Noah, who was a preacher of righteous to his generation for approximately 70 years, preached his message and built the ark and yet the people didn’t repent and justice demanded judgment. (2 Pet 2:5; Gen 5-7)
There are so many who hate the Bible and who claim that God is a God who loves violence and brutality and that He Himself is wicked because He called for the extermination of some entire people groups.
But look at something God said to Abraham…
Genesis 15:13-16, ‘God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”‘
When critics of the Bible and even believers of the Bible read it, they read that God ordered the extermination of entire nations and from this they believe that God is a brutal, bloodthirsty tyrant but nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, God did not order His people to exterminate all the other peoples of the world, His focus was on a specific geographic location – the Holy Land that God Himself owns and gave to His people as an eternal inheritance. Second, it’s very, very important to understand just who were these people living in Canaan.
These tribal people served and worshipped a myriad of pagan gods and goddesses: Anat – the virgin goddess of war and strife; Ba’al Hadad – a storm god; Dagon – a god of crop fertility and grain; Eshumun, Serapis and Asclepius – male and female gods of healing; Ishat – goddess of fire; Kotharat – goddess of marriage and fertility; Lotan – a twisting, 7 headed serpent god; Melqart – god of the underworld; Qadeshtu – goddess of love; Resheph – god of plague and healing; Shapash – goddess of the sun; Yam or Nahar – god of the sea and the river; Astarte – goddess of fertility and war; Molech – god of fire; Yarikh – god of the moon…and there are many more.
When you study the worship of these gods and goddesses the practices are quite vile. Human sacrifice, immorality, pornography, violence, brutality, death, anarchy, babies burned alive and families destroyed.
We look at the wickedness of Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Nusra Front and others and declare that the nations who are collectively using their machines of war to destroy these viscious groups and remove their ability to continue their atrocities is a right action to take. We know that these groups are beyond the scope of reason or reconciliation. We believe their atrocities and crimes require the punishment that is being undertaken.
However, we mere mortals who make decisions about air strikes against Islamic State to kill the barbarians are more moral and ethical than God Himself who determined the same judgment on the tribes of Canaan.
God saw every wicked deed, every murder, every slaughtered innocent baby offered to Molech, every human sacrifice, every act of immorality, every rape, every resulting disease that resulted from the immorality, every destroyed family, every butchered citizen, every act of theft and cruelty and debauchery and He determined that they were beyond reaching, beyond the conviction of the conscience He gave to every one of the them and God knew that by the time His people would finally be free of Egyptian slavery, the sin of the Amorite – a generic name for the collective Canaanites – would finally be full and therefore judgment would be right and necessary.
Our society has been founded on the Judeo-Christian foundation of the Bible and we know without a shadow of a doubt that human life is sacred which is why we’re horrified and sickened by what we’ve seen and heard is happening in Iraq and Syria. It’s why so many in our societies are opposed to the death penalty or where it still exists, that it be done humanely and why so many are opposed to abortion – the mass slaughter of innocent babies in the womb.
It’s why so many who read the Bible find the accounts of God ordering the killing of entire tribes of people abhorrent and yet, we agree with the destruction of Islamic State!
Characteristics About Our God that we Need to Understand
The fact of the matter is that God’s Word, the ancient Jewish Scriptures reveals two very important characteristics about our God that we need to understand.
1. Human life is sacred and incredibly valuable to Him because we’re made in His image and likeness and therefore we reflect His glory.
2. God is just and will not turn a blind eye toward sin. He doesn’t want to judge but He will if man won’t repent and because God is just and fair, He will give them hundreds of years in which to repent until they reach the point of no return and then He must bring judgment.
It’s strange that some people believe that the God of the Old Covenant used to be primitive and bloodthirsty and then morphed into a peaceful, loving God as seen in the New Testament. (3)
I would suggest however that in light of what we’ve seen over the past 2 years in particular at the hands of Islamic State and the brutality unfolding at their hands, is it possible that the anger God demonstrated in the Old Covenant Scriptures against the brutal and violent tribes of ancient Canaan is really a display of love that He has for His people and His creation who are His image bearers?
Based on the writing of Lois Tverberg
(1) For more, see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Or, see Iain Provan’s Convenient Myths: The Axial Age, Dark Green Religion, and the World that Never Was. For a quick summary, read Pinker’s online article “The History of Violence” or watch his TED Talk on the subject. He writes:
The idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals… But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.
Lois argues that the thing that has made us nobler was the Gospel going out into the world, and with it a realization of the preciousness of life. For evidence, see the Jan-Feb ’14 Christianity Today issue, “The World The Missionaries Made.” Sociologists have found that missionaries had a profoundly positive influence on societies where they served.
(2) Moshe Greenberg, “Some Postulates of Biblical Criminal Law” in Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. This classic paper has been reprinted again and again. You can read much of it at this link at Google Books—see pages 340-344, especially.
(3) This is what is called the “history of religions” theory, which assumes that the God we find in the Bible emerged out of the human imagination, gradually evolving from Israel’s angry primitive tribal deity into the peaceful, loving God of the New Testament. (Some give it a nicer spin, that the Holy Spirit was inspiring a gradual “reimagining” of God over time.) This is Rob Bell’s message in The God’s Aren’t Angry and his latest book, What is the Bible.
Jewish scholars protest against the Marcionism inherent in this approach, the idea that the OT God is primitive compared to the loving NT God. More importantly, they point out that this thinking fails to consider the depravity of human evil. It does not grasp how God’s passionate love for mankind is expressed in his grief at human violence and his outrage at oppression and suffering. See Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets, pages 354-390. Also, see the article, “Mr. Spock’s God: The Mistake of Western Theology.“