24 January 2012

Canaan

It is a blazing hot morning in a dry, dry, land. A barefoot man dressed in a ragged  brown loincloth stumbles behind a pair of skinny oxen, sidestepping over the ragged furrow dragged into the ground by the worn wooden plow. He pauses to wipe his brow, and looks over the green, sprouting barley in the next field, to the hilltop. As he watches, a mass of men appear above the horizon, the sun glinting off hundreds of spear points.

He pauses.
He watches a moment more, his mouth and fingers moving as he counts, then drops the plow handle, and runs towards a shaded grove of trees near a shallow stream. As he nears it, he shouts to a short woman already watching the hilltop, and then snatches up a toddling boy and keeps running. He and the woman splash across the stream, while a teen-aged girl looks back, dropping a basket of half-cleaned vegetables to the ground.
As she looks, the men descend the hilltop, and a mass of people begin to fill the horizon. They are led by a curious procession of oddly-dressed men, surrounding a small box carried between them on poles. When they reach the oxen, still standing placidly in the field, one of them steps aside and swings a bronze-colored axe, sweeping the head from the nearest ox. It falls, dragging the second down next to it, bawling, still yoked. A second sweep partially decapitates the second ox, and the girl turns and runs after the others, leaving the basket spilled over the ground.
The runners don’t pause until they reach a  village, where more people are arriving from other fields, hurrying through the wooden gate in the low, mud-brick walls. The man pauses while the women rush inside, and another runs out and hands him a short javelin. Together with twenty other men he watches the approaching strangers as the gate is dragged closed behind their backs. The pounding of the wedges being hammered in is the only sound louder than than the cooing of the doves sitting on the top of the wall.
The mass of men approach, the ones in the midst dragging a log. The man sees that the log is the central pole from the sacred grove near the stream, the source of his village’s prosperity and the symbol of the goddess that they trust to bring fertility to their crops and families. Now it has been cut down and turned against them as a weapon of war.
The forerunners don’t pause when they reach the defenders, who wait, standing their ground. Ten men move forward for every defender, and they are instantly hacked down. The man in the loincloth is among the first to fall. The attackers step over the bodies and drag the sacred pole to the gates, pause to gather their strength, and then smash the pole against the wood. the gates crack and bow inward. the men swing the pole against the gates again and one half breaks free from one hinge and swings aside, dangling from the gatepost.
The men drop the pole and run inside, scattering chickens and pigs, and spread out across the courtyard, filled with old men, women, and children, shouting and clutching at each other in fear. They hack at them with their swords, impaling others with their spears and javelins. The villagers scatter, running to hide, crawling into the storerooms, behind the wattle fences, into the shadow of the walls.
The short woman and her child flee into the darkness of a stable, followed by the teenaged girl. As they scrabble among the straw, a man in a short woolen kilt pauses in the light of the door, a short sword in his hand. He quickly walks to the woman, who now cowers on the ground, covering the crying child with her ragged cloak. With a blow, he slices off her arm, and the child screams, still clutching the detached arm that protected it as it falls away. The woman looks up at him in shock, and a second blow splits her skull. She falls into the straw of the stable floor, while the teenaged girl looks on, her mouth working soundlessly. The man picks the child up by the feet and swings it against the door post, smashing open its skull.  He drops the twitching child, grabs the girl by the hair, and drags her through the door. Out in the sunlight, she finally she finds her voice, and screams and screams.
The small courtyard is littered with bodies of old men, women, and young boys. The girl is thrust among a group of a dozen other girls, their wrists now being tied together by cords by two of the attackers. As they watch, pressing against each other, some of the strangers methodically set fire to the houses, stables, and storerooms of the village, while others run after the pigs, sheep, chickens, and donkeys, killing each of them where they catch them. The noise of the screaming girls and dying animals is deafening, but the strangers work silently, knowing their business, without speech.
In just a few minutes it is all over, and the strange procession of men carrying the box enters the village and sets it down. Several of them bring in a sheep from outside, and the men begin to prepare a sacrifice of thansgiving. The girls are led outside the walls, and the smoke rises into the clear blue sky as the flies begin to gather on the pools of blood, and the bodies.
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Folks, this is a little story, one that i just made this up, right here and now. But if scripture is accurate, then this scene was repeated in many variations during the Israelite conquest of Canaan many centuries ago. I don’t have any doubt that an event just like this occurred, and that such scenes were common at that time and within that culture.
What I do doubt is that this scene was commanded by a God who tells me to love him, and to love my neighbor as myself. Many people tell me just that, and i have heard various reasons.
What is your opinon? Is this event justified by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why?
The reason I am asking this question is because I do not believe that an inerrant reading of Christian Scripture is adequate to define Christianity. As a Friend, I hold Scripture to be very important to my understanding of God, but I also hold that the reflections of  the Light within us are affected by the color of the glass through which we perceive it. I believe that the Scriptures are inspired, but I do not believe that what I read there today is has been transmitted infallibly, nor do I believe that what I read there is likely to have been recorded infallibly in the first place.
Think about this, please. We believe that the Light provides guidance to us from heaven. Is our reception of it perfect? Can any of us stand and say, "I speak infallibly for God, because inspiration renders my understanding without flaw or error." I believe the ordinary and humble answer is, "No," and that this answer has been assumed to be the case for thousands of years among those who attempt to listen and follow, as opposed to those who attempt to speak and demand obedience. I believe that the same scrutiny that we as Friends apply to the inspired ministry in our monthly meetings must also be applied to the physical documents relating the history of God's dealings with humankind.

Scripture has it both ways. On the one hand, Old Testament Scripture records the divine sanction of violent war:

Deuteronomy 20:16: But of the cities of these people which the Lord thy God doth giue thee for an inheritance, thou shalt saue aliue nothing that breatheth:

And on the other, New Testament Scripture teaches that God now commands the opposite:

Yee haue heard, that it hath beene said, Thou shalt loue thy neighbour, and hate thine enemie: But I say vnto you, Loue your enemies, blesse them that curse you, doe good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully vse you, and persecute you: That yee may be the children of your father which is in heauen:
But what is your own belief, Friend? There are long-standing apologetics available within any Scripture commentary that will explain the slaughter of the Canaanites in light of a primitive people who required a progressive revelation, of a doctrine of successive dispensations, of another of continuous covenantalism, of the sovereignity of a God who rightfully destrys the flawed pottery to make way for the better. Are these explanations sufficient to reconcile the apparent views of a God who loves his creation, and of one who hates it?

What is your view, Friend? How are you led?


6 comments:

Michelle P said...

I suppose I must admit I have not gave it enough thought I suppose. But now you have given me something to think about and chew on.

Ember said...

Your posts are few and far between, but boy are they worth waiting for. Thank you, friend.

kevin roberts said...

michelle and ember, hello again to you both

and thank you for your patience with me and my slowly turning gears. i tend to think more than i can write, because i spend eight to eleven hours every day with a steering wheel in my hands. so often what passes through my head is unrecorded, except for the tracks it leaves in the softening ground.

but this one is just the tip of a large and mostly concealed iceberg, one that has been working through my own head for a long time. i'm not sure where it's taking me.

thank you both for your patience, and your willngness to visit.

paula said...

<3

kevin roberts said...

hi paula

thank you

Raye said...

Kevin,

Thanks. I shared this with RB and we both appreciate it. Miss thee.