First post: Nonresistance: A Personal Background
Previous post: Nonresistance: A Biblical Theology of Violence (Part 2)
In the last post, we left off as Israel was marching on the Promised Land. God promised to scatter their foes before them, but required them to destroy the inhabitants of the land and the idols they worshipped. And they did, in some cases, but left the job unfinished in others. The idol-worship that remained would return to haunt them over and over again.
In the years after the initial conquest of the Promised Land, God let several of the surrounding nations, enemies of Israel, continue to exist rather than destroying them completely. Judges 3 tells us that he did this for two reasons: To teach warfare, to those of the Israelites who hadn’t experienced it; and to test Israel, to see whether they would obey His commandments.
They flopped that test royally.
Over and over again, as soon as their guiding influence passed away, the Israelites fell into idolatry almost immediately. They’d incur the wrath of God; He’d deliver them into the hands of their enemies as He promised; they’d beg Him for deliverance; and He’d raise up a deliverer, who would free them from their captors and then act as judge over the Israelites, leading them back to worshipping the true God. And throughout his lifetime, the land would have peace.
Then he’d pass away, and in the leadership vacuum that followed, the Israelites would go right back to the idols of the lands around them. Without some stable form of government, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” and anarchy prevailed.
At one point in this cycle, one man opted to break the tradition and crown himself king. Through cunning and bloodshed, Gideon’s son Abimelech murdered his way to the throne. Despite wiser counsel to the contrary, the leaders of Shechem set him up as their king. They thought he would protect them from the other nations around them, but he ended up being far worse. When things got out of hand, they tried to stage a rebellion, but he had grown too powerful; he destroyed Shechem before being killed himself during his next siege.
Thus, the Bible says, God “returned the evil” of Abimelech and Shechem upon themselves. Abimelech had slaughtered seventy of his relatives to secure his right to rule; Shechem chose to exalt that violence, flaunt God’s law, and set a mass murderer up as their leader. Both suffered the consequences.
You see, the problem wasn’t that they wanted a king; God had made provisions for a king in His law. The problem was that they wanted someone other than God to protect them from the nations around them.
Most people can probably relate to the feeling of wanting something secure and visible that they can rely on – a steady job, a well-funded savings account, even solid leadership in their country. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But when we put our trust in those instead of God, we slight His grace and love in providing and taking care of us.
That’s what Shechem did, when it crowned Abimelech king. It’s also what the rest of the nation of Israel did again, years later, when they came together to beg the prophet Samuel for a king.
Saul, a promising (if unconfident) young man from the tribe of Benjamin, was the first person to be crowned king of Israel with the blessing and authority of God. At His direction, Samuel selected Saul from among the people of Israel and anointed him king. And at first, Saul showed great promise, leading Israel to a great martial victory in defense of Jabesh-Gilead. His early detractors were silenced, and Saul mustered an army to rout the Philistines.
Things went well at first, but Saul began to crack under the pressure. Desperate to put on a good face for the peoples’ sake, he fudged the Lord’s commands a bit to make a good impression. But God was not happy. Because of Saul’s rebellion, God rejected him as king and selected a new king, also of humble origins – David, a local shepherd.
Unlike Saul, David was a “man after God’s own heart.” He was concerned with doing the right thing and honoring God above all else. He was a man like any of us, prone to sin – some especially egregious – but his heart was for God and His glory, and he always turned back to Him. God blessed him for his devotion. David ushered in an age of peace for the land of Israel that lasted for many years, and his legacy eventually found fulfillment in the birth of Christ, the High King of Kings.
It is interesting, then, that God told him he was not to build His temple on the grounds that he was a man of war. David’s wars were God’s wars, driving out the enemies of Israel as God had commanded; he was a great man of God, and his desire to build God a house was a testament to his true heart. But God desired that His temple be built by “a man of rest,” and gave that task to David’s son Solomon.
If David was fighting at God’s behest, waging a holy and righteous war, why did that disqualify him from building God’s Temple?
I will step back at this point and make a disclaimer; I’ve spent some time puzzling over this point and have not fully settled the reasons in my own mind. They don’t seem to be explicitly laid out in Scripture. I’ve decided to go ahead and publish this post without coming to a definite conclusion on this point, because I don’t believe it will affect my thesis dramatically one way or the other. If you believe I’m mistaken, by all means leave a comment; I’d love to hear some interpretations of this that make sense.
Because there is one thing that we can establish for certain: God does command Israel to wipe out their enemies, and blesses David for doing so. The fact that David was turned down for being a “man of war” doesn’t mean that God was displeased with him. God’s desire to have His temple built by a man of peace may have simply been symbolic, a reflection of the nature of His church. Whatever the true significance is, we have clear Scriptural testimony that God was not displeased with David for being a man of war.