This is the summary of the fourth class in our Esther study at Highland. Astute readers will note that this lesson intersected in all kinds of interesting ways with Boyd’s book. We tried to keep the information we presented on a more general level, however, to encoruage discussion from a variety of perspectives.
The Esther story ends in massive bloodshed. The King issues a command for Haman, the “enemy of the Jews” to be impaled on a pole. Then, Esther convinces the King to issue orders which permit the Jews to strike out against their enemies on the very same day which was initially appointed for their own annihilation. The body count exceeds 75,0000, and specially executed in a manner similar to Haman are his ten sons. This is treated as a glorioius ending to a story about how God’s people survive for another day.
And this is not the only story in scripture in which opponents of God or his people meet with a violent end. For example:
- The entire world, save for one family, is killed in the Genesis flood.
- All of the firstborn children in Egypt are killed just before the Exodus.
- Joshua wipes out everyone in the path of the Israelites, often including the women and children, as the promised land is conquered.
- Even in the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira meet a quick death because they lied to God.
In most instances, the violence is couched in terms of an act of God’s justice. However, on occasion, it is also seen as a way of keeping God’s people pure from idolatrous nations.
We still live in a world where there is more than enough evil to generate a thirst for God’s justice. One hardly has to cast a glance at the headlines to see it. Daily, we are bombarded with stories of murder, sexual abuse, and massive killing in seemingly neverending, brutal wars. How do the biblical stories of violence, often toward the end of God’s justice, fit into our own world?
Christians have reacted in several ways. Some, concluding that the teachings of Jesus on nonviolence should be strictly followed, even on the national level, have become pacifists. “When Jesus disarmed Peter,” they say, referring to the instance in Gethsemane when Peter was told to put away his sword, “he disarmed us all.” Others conclude that, in the right instances, a violent reaction to violent people is – sadly – the only alternative. But the violence must be justified. In the context of war, this is called a “just war” approach. A third approach recognizes that we are at a certain point in God’s redemptive story, and must keep in mind that God is leading us toward a future that is free of violence. Thus, while violence may still be necessary – it may not be justifiable in the ways it was at “earlier” points in the story, and we must never lose sight of (or stop talking about) God’s future, in which the world is free of violence.
At the conclusion of class, we discussed the positives and negatives of these approaches, describing our own thoughts and ideas about the violence in scripture, and considering how, if at all, the brutal stories of violence in the Old Testament should be carried into and applied in our world.