Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The Old Testament can be dangerous when not properly understood, and a lot of well-meaning Christians are doing damage to the name of Jesus because of a lack of understanding mixed with a great passion for the Lord. Now, having a great passion for the Lord, for justice, and for what is right is not bad; in fact it is very good. But it is how we use this passion that is important.
Back when I was in the US, I often heard about Christians protesting outside of abortion clinics and other places. I saw at several fairs a well-meaning scare-shack to show the value of human life. In many countries, it’s easy to find Christian protesters with signs and angry faces. I am sure that all of these people have been called by God to make changes and that they are very well-meaning, but are we supposed to fight like this? One can read easily in Deuteronomy,
However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them- the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites- as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
Kill…every…one? I think many Christians get fired up and feel superior to those trapped in sin, and want to fight when they read verses like these. But you have to understand that the conquering of Canaan and fighting the ills of the world today are very different situations. I’m not saying these verses have no more meaning, they do, but not the way some people think.
First, we need to understand that at the time, the Israelites had no home and God had already promised the land to them. Second, the whole land of Canaan had turned away from God- everyone. And third, the Lord knew that the weak Israelites would be easily swayed to follow the ways of the very comfy Canaanites when compared to their own difficult history. By calling Israel to wipe out whole nations, God was exacting his punishment and fulfilling his promise at the same time. This command was only limited to the inhabitants of the Promised Land.
We on the other hand have a much different calling. Paul explains in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Notice that we are called to fight, but not against people. We’re called to fight against evil itself, and I can assure you, a protest sign does not scare the devil. Jesus gave us a plan of attack before he died and this should be how we win our battles: “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17). That’s it, we love each other. Why? Because if you truly love, then knowing that others out there are destined for the flame should trouble you greatly, and motivate you to bring them to Christ. Paul writes in Romans 9:1-3,
I speak the truth in Christ- I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.
This is love. How can we know that this is love? Jesus explains in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Paul would rather that he suffers eternal death so that others would receive eternal life. This is what we have been called to do, to lay down this physical life in order that those we touch may see life after death.
Many Christians have a lot of hate inside, and its fine to hate evil, but the Bible tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This is God’s word on battling, spiritual or otherwise. If someone is doing wrong, save them! I will tell you this from my days of being outside the church; nothing repels people from Christ like an angry Christian.
You want to change the world? I understand, and I agree. Jesus wants us to change the world too, he tells us,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
So, put down the sign and the angry face, and fight the way our Lord taught us to…Save them!