Nationalism lies at the heart of the Old Testament narrative. This concept is intimately wrapped up with the law-oriented covenant God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, for at the heart of this covenant is the promise that obedience would bring national security while disobedience would bring national disaster (Deut. 27-28).
What we shall now see is that the nation-centered portrait of God in the OT is also a mask that our humble, incarnational God condescended to wear. This correlates with the Principle of Cruciform Accommodation that I introduce in Crucifixion of the Warrior God.
To grasp the nature of this concept, we first need to appreciate how intense Jewish nationalism had become around the time of Christ. Jews had been oppressively ruled by pagan nations for centuries and was at this time lorded over by the Romans. The longing to see Israel restored to the “glory days” of King David was at a fever pitch. Many believed this restoration would happen when an anointed descendent of David would lead Israel in a violent uprising to overthrow their pagan oppressors.
This was not only a yearning for political autonomy; it was, much more importantly, a yearning for theodicy. The fact that God’s chosen nation was being ruled by pagans in their own Promised Land was for many an assault on the distinctive Jewish claim that Yahweh was the one true God and the Lord of all the earth.
I’ve been moved afresh by Jesus’ authentic and gentle way of engaging with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar according to John 4. The way Jesus handles his Jewish-male believer status before a woman of another faith in heart of her territory informs and inspires me. How does Jesus deal with outsiders’ perception of his Jewish male supremacy? How does he embody the fullness of grace and truth attributed to him as the Word become flesh?
Jesus first meets the woman when she arrives at the well to draw water. He is already there ahead of her, weary and thirsty from a long journey from Judea. He requests a drink from the woman, provoking her to question why he, a Jewish man, is asking this of her, a Samaritan woman.
Jesus doesn’t apologize for himself and skirts her question. He is secure in his identity and mission. In response to her resistance to him, Jesus shifts from unwelcomed guest to generous host. He offers her living water, a faith-filled move that shows his confidence in what he has to give. After a prolonged conversation where she expresses her reservations and he responds, she finally asks him to give her living water.
When Jesus tells her, “Go call your husband and come here!” the woman denies having a husband. Jesus exercises his power at this point, showing her that he knows what is true about what she’s said, and then brings into the light what she’s left unsaid.
“You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (4:17-18).
Fear and anxiety abound in these days of global pandemic, a US presidential election, natural disasters related to climate change, and economic insecurity. People are searching for explanations, advice as to how to best prepare, spiritual direction, and prophetic counsel. There’s a vulnerability to deception, and false prophecy abounds, visible in declarations endorsing candidates, conspiracy theories like QAnon, and political promises and prognoses.
Jesus offers strong warnings to his disciples:
“See to it that no one misleads you. “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Mat 24:4-5)
These “many” who come in Jesus’ name who “mislead many” can include those who claim to be Christian prophets themselves—even a majority of them.
In a number of places in the Old Testament hundreds of “court” prophets stand with Israel’s King, over-and-against a lone prophet who speaks for God. Each king of Israel was anointed by a prophet and called Messiah/Christ (meaning “anointed”). God’s prophets brought words of challenge, direction and rebuke—unless they were co-opted, which has largely happened now in the USA.
The topic of the pacifism in the early church is something I have written about before for PCPJ. However, in our world it often needs repeating and restating. The Church has often fallen into the temptations of politics and militarism. This is clearly seen in the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement, which leaned towards pacifism in its early years, but became tolerant towards nationalism and militarism within only a few decades.
In the United States, we are in the midst of two events that make the topic of Christian pacifism relevant: 1. We are in the midst of a very brutal election season, and 2. We are approaching the 19th anniversary of the War on Terror, specifically the war in Afghanistan (which officially began October 7, 2001). It is the longest war in American history. Of course, PCPJ is an international organization, just as the Church is an international organization, but I think these are universal issues, and the war in Afghanistan includes many countries (including all of NATO). Additionally, PCPJ was founded in that time and context.
Considering that we have been in constant war for almost 20 years, I think it is time for Christians in the West to look back to our roots again and to not be seduced by politics or nationalism. What would Jesus say and do if He was here today? What would He say to a supposedly “Christian nation”? What would the prophets, apostles, and church fathers say in this time? Specifically, we should look at the early church. After all, Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity is primarily about revival – an attempt at recovering the Christianity of the apostolic age. Continue reading Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?→
Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. 1 Kings 21:7-10, 15-16
While many consider the stories of the Old Testament, often framed by punishment and retribution, to be an example of God’s justice, the reality is that a comprehensive picture of justice is much more complicated. The Bible shows justice as not only an appropriate consequence for sin but also as an expression of appropriate concern for others. Righteousness before God means being in right relationship not only with God but others as well. Continue reading Biblical Justice: Making Things Right→
One of my recent posts showed the local protest march in which my wife and I participated, and which our teenage daughter helped organize. One honest question has come up so often in response that I want to address it here.
Would Jesus have attended such a march, some have asked? Marching in parades aside, some feel that marching for racial justice, for the unborn or for other specific causes that suggest protest are inconsistent with proper Christian meekness. (I am assuming that those asking the question are also pacifists, since violence, and especially lethal violence, seems much less meek than nonviolent protests.) So, in consultation with my daughter Keren, I offer the following considerations.
First, it may be helpful to note the purpose of marching. Marching commands public attention in the way that individual voices often cannot. It also provides solidarity for the hurting and fearful. It lets them know that they are not alone; for the sake of the unity of the church that has too long been divided by race, now is an opportunity for non-black Christians to stand with our African-American brothers and sisters. Continue reading Why Christians Should Support the Marches Against Racism→
While God condescended to working within the violent-prone, fallen framework of his people in the Old Testament (OT)—as I argue in Crucifixion of the Warrior God—the OT is also full of references to how God worked to preserve his non-violent ideal as much as possible. He did this by continually reminding his people not to place any trust in the sword, but to rather place all their trust him.
For example, as Judah was facing impending doom, the Lord told Hosea that he would save them “not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I the LORD their God will save them” (Hos 1:7).
So too, through the Psalmist the Lord encourages his people by saying:
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.
Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.
Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health.
Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar commented on the report by saying:
“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system. They spend billions of hours cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly. Unpaid care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies moving. It is driven by women who often have little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how our societies are run, and who are therefore trapped at the bottom of the economy.
“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist”.
Why did Jesus command his disciples to buy swords in Luke 22:38?
Now, however,” He told them, “the one with a purse should take it, and likewise a bag; and the one without a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’For what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment.”
So they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” He answered. (Lk 22:36-38)
A lot of people assume that it was in order to defend themselves, and use this as an argument for warfare and liberal gun laws. But if it’s one thing we can be sure of, it is that Jesus definitely didn’t intend the swords to be used for self-defense.
While there is some debate about the identity of the 144,000 in 7:1-8, everyone agrees that the innumerable multitude in the next vision refers to believers from all peoples—a vision that ultimately includes all of us who believe in Jesus.
These people are “from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages” (7:9). Revelation uses this fourfold formula, in varying sequences, seven times. The formula echoes the book of Daniel. Daniel has the threefold formula six times; the Greek translation of Daniel makes the first instance (Dan 3:4) fourfold, as in Revelation. That context applies to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire.
By the time of Revelation, however, people would no longer think of “all nations” as part of the Babylonian empire. Another passage in Daniel predicted an innumerable multitude from all nations serving the Son of man (Dan 7:13-14). Yet despite the hyperbole of Roman imperial claims, most people in John’s urban audience in the Roman province of Asia knew about many other parts of the world beyond the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had trade ties with India, China, parts of Africa as far south as Tanzania, and northern Europe perhaps as far west as Iceland. The idea that members of all peoples would stand before God’s throne would have been unthinkable! Continue reading The Multicultural Multitude of Revelation→