my books: friends & counselors: #4

It is just so bloody! Why should I read it?

That, or the equivalent, is one of the most frequent comments I encounter when folks tell me why they rarely, if ever, read much of anything in the Bible from Genesis through Malachi.

Well, J. Gerald Janzen gives us insightful and practical answer in his commentary on Exodus 17.8-16 (the scene where Aaron and Hur hold up Moses’ arms as Israel and Amalek do battle at Rephidim):

… human history is a drama moved not only by love but by hate, not only by cooperation but also by conflict. It is a drama whose plot is a thick weave of peoples loves and their wars. The passages of the Bible that portray war at least make contact with the dark strands in our emotions and motivations. The way to deal with them, I suggest, is to stay with the story and to see what happens to the themes, motifs, images, and scenarios that relate to Yahweh as warrior (Exod. 15.3) as we move through the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation.

What we find is a progressive transformation of these images, in such a way that the very theme of Yahweh as warrior who vanquishes the enemy becomes the theme of God who in Christ conquers the world (John 16.33), not with the sword, but simply by bearing witness to the truth as he is crucified by this world’s political and military powers (John 18.33-38).

One stage along the path of this transformation is marked in Isaiah 51-53, where the exiles invoke the old ‘arm of Lord’ to overcome their enemies with the sword (Isa. 51.9-11), and where the arm of Yahweh that is raised in response to this invocation is the suffering servant (Isa. 53.1-9) whose victory leads him to share the spoils of victory with the very “great” and “many” who were responsible for his death (Isa. 53.10-12).

… if we stay with the story and follow it in its transformations, perhaps our own tangled motivations and emotions, and resolves can undergo a steady transformation until we find ourselves in the place where the New Testament would leave us: Jesus’ warfare against untruth and evil, a warfare he conducts simply by his witness to the truth.

Exodus by J. Gerald Janzen (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997); pp.123-124.