What is The Bible? Part 2

Check out Part 1

The Bible is many things. I want to zero in on one today. The Bible, among other things, shares experiences that real people had with God, and then it shares an unfolding story of historical reflections on those experiences.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Israel is commanded by God to wipe out their enemies. It's serious, unfiltered tribal warfare. The writers are convinced wholly that God told the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, babies and all. And as the story goes, Israel does it (well, they mostly do it but that's beside my point).

But then by the book of Jonah, an alternative idea is emerging that maybe killing our enemies isn't the best way to go about things. Here God commands Jonah very clearly to go and preach a saving message of repentance to Nineveh, which was the capital of the brutal Assyrian empire. In case you didn't know, Assyria and Israel were not friends. Not by a long shot.

Jonah doesn't want to do it, perhaps for no other reason than that he is self-respecting. But God has made up his mind. If they repent, they will be saved. Jonah reluctantly caves in to God's request, and Ninevah repents so God doesn't wipe them out. It makes Jonah so depressed that a dying plant makes him wish he was dead.

I've never heard a satisfying reason for why this story unfolds the way it does, and I'm not sure I'm qualified to offer any answers. However, one idea I think has some merit is the idea that the Israelites grew up and matured as people over time, and God met them where they were at while moving them forward at the same time.

In the story of Jonah, you see a fairly typical response to someone being asked to show mercy to their mortal enemies. But there's a lesson hidden there somewhere. On the surface, it seems like God is changing. But with Jesus in view (who shows us what God is really like), it's more apparent that Israel is changing. They are moving away from their tribal roots to being a more inclusive, forgiving society. And the stories in the Bible show God leading that charge. The thing is, it doesn't happen all at once. Change happens one click at a time.

When they were tribal, God met Israel there .. but he didn't leave them there. He took them a couple of clicks forward, then a few more (And so on). God moved them as much as they could handle.

I think this is why you have Jesus finally overturning established Old Covenant laws like "eye for an eye, tooth for tooth". These laws were meant more as cultural concessions than permanent fixtures. But in a sense, they are permanent in that they reveal valuable lessons about what it means to be civil. In a world where you kill someone (and perhaps their whole family) because they wounded your donkey, establishing an eye for an eye system of justice is revolutionary. But as you move forward, you don't need such laws because you've grown past wanting to kill someone for harming your livestock. But you might hate them, shame them, disrespect them.

Hence Jesus takes us another major click forward: "Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you".

This is the kind of revolutionary idea that could literally make the world wonderful if everyone got on board.


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