Psalm 11:4-5, ‘The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.’
Proverbs 3:31-32, ‘Don’t envy a man of violence and don’t choose any of his ways. For the devious are an abomination to the Lord; but He is intimate with the upright.’
Proverbs 6:16-19, ‘There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.’
Psalm 94:20-21, ‘Can a throne of destruction be allied with you, one which devises mischief by decree? They band themselves together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.’
Isaiah 59:7-8, ‘Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, devastation and destruction are in their highways. They don’t know the way of peace, and there’s no justice in their tracks; they’ve made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them doesn’t know peace.’
Joel 3:19, ‘Egypt will become a waste, and Edom will become a desolate wilderness, because of the violence done to the sons of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood.’
Psalms 106:38, ‘They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with the blood.’
Acknowledgement: The following article is taken from the website of Lois Tverberg called ‘Our Rabbi Jesus’ and is primarily the work of Stuart Dauermann.
Most of us have been repeatedly stunned and horrified by the brutality of Radical Islamic terrorism, much of it at the hands of Islamic State, the Muslim extremist group that is primarily in Syria and Iraq. The grisly and revolting decapitation of the news reporter, James Foley and so many others is too horrifying for words.
Daniel Pearl was the first decapitation to go viral globally. He was captured by Al Qaeda and murdered on camera in 2002 in Pakistan. That savagery rocked the Western world and that scenario has played out again and again and again and became almost common place when ISIS came to power and they tried to constantly outdo themselves with their brutality and savagery.
Stuart Dauermann wrote an article titled ‘ISIS: Something Wicked This Way Comes.’ In it he points out that this nightmarish wave of violence is very reminiscent of the appalling history of the Assyrians who once lived in the exact same region where Islamic State has been committing atrocities, especially in the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“Terrorism is not an Islamic invention. In the region, it is thousands of years old. By terrorism I mean the use of gruesome violence upon one’s enemies as a means of terrifying and subjugating those who survive. It is horrifying in the extreme, and it is meant to be so.”
The Assyrians were reviled for their cruelty by surrounding nations and there are numerous accounts of Assyrian torture found in the archaeological records.
Still today you can see the monumental carvings from King Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh that depict captives being flayed alive or impaled alive on spikes. So when God sent the prophet Jonah to tell Nineveh to repent of its wickedness, it’s really not all that surprising that the prophet ran in the opposite direction. The Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the ruins of Nineveh today are opposite the modern city of Mosul in Iraq.
Ancient Assyria was truly breathtaking but the people were savage and brutal, but the Assyrians were not the only people who were notoriously brutal, believe it or not, you also find horrific scenes decorating the palaces and tombs of Egypt; scenes of piles of human heads, male genitalia and tongues were laid before Pharaoh to celebrate the subjugation of his enemies.
It’s tempting to think that gory depictions in archaeological discoveries were just legendary fictions but in recent years, researchers have been concluding that violence was far from uncommon in the ancient world. When human remains have been examined, they find a shockingly high rate of evidence of death by homicide and in some tribal societies the chance of dying a violent death was 1 in 6. (1)
This finding has been a great shock to the humanities, which has for a very long time believed in the idea of the “noble savage”, the idea that humans once lived in harmony with each other and nature right up until they were corrupted by European conquerors and modern institutions. Rather, the Bible gives us a far more accurate presentation of humanity in Genesis 6:11-12 which says;
Genesis 6:11-12, ‘Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.’
Keeping ancient violence in mind helps us see the context of the early history of Israel, which is full of war and violence. Certainly some societies were more peaceful than others but when we see atrocities like we’ve seen on the news over recent months, we start to realize why God could have grieved the fact that He even created humankind in the first place and why He commanded His people to wipe out the tribal nations living in Canaan. They weren’t peaceful innocents, rather they were very brutal, bloodthirsty people committing some very heinous acts.
A Radical Idea in the Torah
As a whole, life was incredibly cheap in ancient times and Near Eastern law codes reflected this fact.
Imagine this scenario: A man is leading his ox across a river when he is attacked and murdered by another man, who steals his ox. What’s the penalty? Among the Hittites, the murderer would be expected to join the victims clan and do the work the victim was doing. The actual loss of life meant nothing.
Similarly, in the ancient world, murder was considered a debt between two clans that could be paid off with a sum of money or, in some law codes, the murderer could give one of the people they “owned” like a wife, a son, or a slave in exchange, if not a person then perhaps a few camels, sheep or cows.
According to the renowned scholar Moshe Greenberg, this is where the laws of Israel fundamentally diverge from those of other nations because in Israel, murder was seen as an offense against God Himself. Humans beings were created in the image of God, we bear immense value to Him and we are the pinnacle of His creation. No amount of money could be exchanged for a life, because nothing could compensate for murder except the life of the murderer himself. Many of Israel’s laws were based on the supreme value that God placed on human life. (2)
It’s important to point out that capital punishment is not murder in Biblical thinking. Murder is wanton, malicious violence, resulting in the deliberate taking of a life. The other (capital punishment) is a penalty demanded by God for a heinous crime and while humanity is precious to God, He expects us to hold life absolutely sacred. If we don’t, justice demands a severe response.
The idea that human life is uniquely precious to God was radical and unparalleled and while to us it’s second nature, but it’s only second nature because we’ve been taught with a Judea/Christian ethic to understand that life is sacred, but this was a shocking idea in the ancient world. Notably, the place that God first makes this declaration is immediately after the judgment of Noah’s exceedingly violent generation:
Genesis 9:5-6, ‘Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.’
People often look at the Orthodox Jewish community as being weird, unapproachable with lots of bizarre practices, some of those views maybe true to an extent but only because we don’t understand them or their background. Sometime they can be hostile to those outside their communities because they sometimes feel threatened, and in a minority of instances, they can get rowdy if they think God’s Laws are being broken. Most however just live quiet and private lives. But what most people don’t know is that in Israel, when a terror attack takes place, Orthodox Jews will often go out and collect body parts of both victims and terrorists in order to make sure they receive a proper and respectful burial. Why? Because human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and therefore, the body is sacred as is life.
People often ask why God rewarded the Hebrew midwives when they lied to Pharaoh about why they weren’t killing the baby boys? (Ex 1:15-21) Lying is a sin after all. People often ask why God rewarded Rahab in Jericho for lying about the Hebrew spies? (Josh 2:1-3, 6:17-23) Lying is a sin. However, in Jewish custom, when in a situation such as the Hebrew midwives and Rahab in Jericho, the default response is to always side with life. Always. And that’s why God rewarded them.
Unlike the other nations of the world, God elevated the life of human beings to such a high position, that if someone committed murder, his own life was forfeit. People think God’s law of capital punishment is harsh, but this law is evidence of how valuable God deems human beings. Which is very different to other cultures in the ancient world and it makes Him supremely better than the god’s of the ancient world as well.
We’re going to continue in the next program to look at the differences between terrorism and the Torah; God’s Law.
(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.
I would argue 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.
(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.
(4) 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. (Or, perhaps 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. But 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 my article, “Mr. Spock’s God: The Mistake of Western Theology.“