I was talking to a friend the other night about our perception of God in relationship with the conquering of the Promised Land under Joshua’s conquest. Some of the most difficult to understand concepts regarding the goodness of God stream out of the conquest. Why did God say to slay all the men, women, and children then drive the remainder of the population out of the land? It seems on a surface reading that God endorsed slavery, the oppression of women, ethnic cleansing, and widespread violence.
If you have spent any time sharing your faith you will have encountered people who hold these views of God. And it is not only in the non-Christian community that these views dominate but many Christians also are not quite sure what to do with the God of the Old Testament. For them God seems like an angry old great uncle and Jesus is the peaceful, fun, friendly, slightly wild, cool uncle.
Let me switch gears for a moment. A year or so ago I read about a driver who was stopped for drunk driving. The man was unsteady on his feet, eyes dilated, slurred speech, and a bit disorientated. He had the classic signs of being under the influence. However, the man was simply having a severe reaction to a drug he had taken for his allergies. On the surface things looked one way but when the police had all the facts things were not as they originally seemed.
So it is with the Bible. We can skim over things that seem on the surface to say one thing but might not be saying that at all when we understand the context and historical background to the text. And that’s the rub, how do we know what the context of the Bible was saying literally thousands of years ago.
Let’s start with a basic question—how interested are we in knowing what the Bible really says on a whole host of topics? Or are we simply content to read the Bible and believe whatever it is we think the Bible is saying?
It takes work, research, reading, study, and determination to unpack some of the difficult texts in the Old Testament that seem to suggest God is morally out of tune with our modern sensibilities. Here is another question? Would we go to church if the pastor was to dig deep into the Scripture and expound it exegetically, or would we rather attend church where we receive a quick, twenty minute talk on a contemporary topic that appeals to our immediate interest?
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place in the pulpit for discussing divorce, marriage relationship, raising children, and money but that is not the whole concept of what the Bible is teaching. There are deep and important mysteries associated with the Bible that are imperative for us to understand if we are to truly and honestly understand the place of God within our lives. Thousands of Christians give up their faith every year because they are confronted with questions that they didn’t even know existed concerning aspects of the Bible.
I listened to a man just a few weeks ago give a blistering critique of Christianity, then finish his attack by calling for the government to outlaw Christianity as a hate religion. What was sad about the tirade was he didn’t have a clue about the history, background, culture, or theology of the Bible. He simply read it as it seemed to appear to him and that led him down a warren of rabbit holes and left him angry and hateful towards God.
Now some of you are probably saying to yourselves, if I don’t know the background to the Bible then am I so wrong in taking it at face value? In other words, the Bible wasn’t written with a footnote that says you must read an outside library of books to understand it. And you would be right in thinking this. But, the important thing to remember is that when the Bible was written the people understood the implications because of the culture they lived in. We live a great deal of distance from those cultures and we need to dig back into the text to see what exactly was being conveyed instead of simply interpreting the text in light of our own cultural preferences.
Let me give you an example of what I’m saying. If we look at the ten plagues of Egypt it would be easy to simply see them as ten disasters that God brought down on that nation. However, if we understand that each plague was geared towards a god that the Egyptians served and relied upon for strength and power we begin to understand what was going on a lot more. For instance, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile. It was the great god Hapi that brought the flooding each year that allowed the land to become fertile. He is usually depicted as having large breasts, a big belly, sporting a false beard and is often accompanied by frogs. He was the god of prosperity.
When Moses, under the commands of God, turned the Nile into blood this was not just a fancy way for God to get the attention of the Egyptians. This was a theological statement that God is able to give abundance and withhold abundance at will. It is the God of the Israelites who is all powerful and controls the flowing of the waters and not Hapi. God was presenting the Egyptians with a powerful presentation of His power that should have humbled the Egyptians.
We jump ahead to the plague of the destruction of fresh water in the book of Revelation and see the application. Once again God is giving a warning to a rebellious world that He is in control of all things and it is His power and strength that give and withhold blessings. And again it is a wake-up call to a rebellious world to worship God.
What we thus have is God creating the world in Genesis then un-creating the world in the form of plaques and the rebellion of man. Then the rebuilding or recreating the world in Christ then the plaques of Revelation a repeat of the un-creation and then in the final chapters of Revelation once again the recreation of the world. Sin brings plagues and destruction while God brings the creation of joy and peace.
Through the plagues of Egypt and the plagues of Revelation God is reminding us that He is the God of the Universe and our rebellion and mockery of Him has consequences. To live apart from God is to experience destruction and death, and to experience God is to live in harmony and peace.
As Christians we need to take the time to dig a little deeper into Scripture and see what the Bible was saying originally and then make the application to our own day. This has become easier with the Internet. So I guess the point of this rather long post is simply that we need to spend more time studying our Bible from a historical and archaeological point of view. I know many of you do that already and for those of us who don’t do it enough let’s start to put a little more time into understanding this amazing book we call the Bible.