Month: April 2013

Holy War in the Bible

Holy War Cover

What about the Amalekites?  God told Saul to wipe them out, but the people Saul was supposed to wipe out weren’t the ones that attacked Israel.  That doesn’t seem fair.”  (See 1 Samuel 15.)

I was speaking at the InterVarsity group at Johns Hopkins a few weeks ago and one of the students asked me this question.  My response, “What do you think?”

Problems like these about the warlike nature of God trouble anyone who reads through the pages of the Old Testament.  I discuss this issue in God Behaving Badly, but (as people love to point out) my discussion there isn’t particularly academic.

For a more in-depth discussion of the topic, check out this new book:

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem edited by Heath A. Thomas, Jeremy Evans and Paul Copan, from IVP academic.  

It looks fascinating, but I may be a bit biased since I contributed an article to the volume.

Holy War in the Bible contains fourteen articles, plus an introduction and an afterword.

Here’s a list of the other contributors:

Geth Allison and Reid Powell; Douglass S. Earl (2 articles); Stephen B. Chapman; Heath A. Thomas; Timothy G. Gombis; Alan S. Bandy; Daniel R. Heimbach; Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan; Glen Harold Stassen; Robert Stewart; Murray Rae; Stephen N. Williams

My contribution discusses the motivations for divine warfare and I conclude that wrath against injustice and compassion for the oppressed motivate divine warfare.  I like how the introduction puts it, “Lamb holds that God violently intervenes in order to uphold his will for the world, while not acting out of capricious rage or frivolous wrath” (p. 14).

If you’re interested in understanding warfare in the Bible, check out this article I wrote for Relevant Magazine on the topic of the Canaanite genocide, “Reconciling the God of Love with the God of Genocide.”  (To read the full-article you’ll need to register, which will allow you to read free content for 5 articles.)

To see a list of other books I’ve written or contributed to, click here.

I ended up telling the Hopkins student that he was asking a great question and that I assume whenever God delays a judgment he’s giving people opportunities to repent.  So while the text doesn’t make this clear in 1 Samuel 15, the Amalekites did not repent of their violent behavior.  God is slow to anger, but he gets there eventually.  Interestingly, in that same passage, mercy is shown to the Kenites, who showed hospitality to Israel as they entered the land (1 Sam. 15:6).  If the Amalekites had shown mercy to Israel, they would have been shown mercy as well.

The Immutably Mutable God

balaams ass“God is not man, that he should lie or a son of man that he should change his mind (naham)” (Num. 23:19).  Thus, Divine Immutability.

“So the LORD changed his mind (naham) about the harm which he said he would do to his people” (Exo. 32:14).  Thus, Divine Mutability.

So the Bible clearly teaches both that God doesn’t change his mind and that he does change his mind.  And both texts use the same Hebrew verb, naham.

If you’re uncomfortable with this translation of Exo. 32:14 (ESV), perhaps you’d prefer the King James Version which says “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people”.  God had to repent of evil?  On 2nd thought, the KJV sounds worse.

So, how do we resolve this biblical tension?

In a word, “Context.”

I realize not all of you have read God Behaving Badly where I discuss this topic in chapter 7, so if you’re interested in my longer than one word answer, but you don’t want to fork out $11 to buy the book, you can listen to this sermon podcast here “Is God Rigid or Flexible? (30 minutes).  I preached at Grace Bible Church of Souderton (April 28, 2013).  The sound is a little weak for the first minute, but then gets much better.  The website also includes my sermon from the previous week, “Is God Angry or Loving?” (30 minutes; April 21, 2013).

I conclude that God is predictably flexible,  consistently changeable and immutably mutable in regards to showing mercy toward repentant sinners.  That’s good news for me.  I’m a sinner.  (But don’t tell my family–they haven’t realized that yet.)

What do you think, does God change?  

Image of ‘Balaam’s Ass” (from Numbers 22-24) by Rembrandt from

For tax procrastination, read this

Tiberius DenariusSo, April 15 will be over in a few hours.  It’s probably time to start working on those taxes, but if you want something to help your procrastinate just a little bit longer, check this out:

Rendering to God What Is God’s (April 15).

For today’s blog on Biblical’s website I focus on taxes, specifically what Jesus says about taxes, it involves a coin.

Jesus tells Peter to go fishing for his tax payment (Matt. 17:24-27), so you can try that if you’re stuck this year, but that’s not the text I look at in this blog.



The Eye-Whacker 2000

Eye Whacker 2000Something is in your eye.  It’s irritating.  It’s driving you crazy.  You eyeball is red and bloodshot, what do you do?

You force your eyelid open with your hand, lean your head back and attempt to drop Visine into your naked, irritated eyeballs.  Most of the Visine ends up in your hair, cheeks and mouth, and the ones that hit the target sting.

There’s got to be a better way.

Finally, there is.

With the help of my wife Shannon, I’ve invented the Eye-Whacker 2000.  No more Visine dripping down all over your face.

The premise of the Eye-Whacker is quite simple.  Just whack the dust, dirt or hair right out of your eyeball, as I’m demonstrating on my eager son Noah in the picture.  (Nate lost the coin toss and had to take the picture.)

Don’t we all need someone else to help us remove things from our eyes?  Who better than someone wearing the Eye-Whacker 2000?  (The EW 1000 had design problems, which have been resolved with the EW 2000.)  Since the pipe insulators are taped to the bandanna around my head, my hands are free.  It’s genius.

I will admit, it’s better to be doing the Whacking, than being Whacked.  But remember, it’s for their own good.  And who better to Whack than me?  I’m quite good at Whacking things out of people’s eyes.

I showed Eye-Whacker 2000 to my Sunday school class this morning before we looked at the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 7).  After some initial hesitation, many volunteers eagerly got Whacked.

And people say Jesus didn’t have a sense of humor…