Monday, July 16, 2012

Banning the Ban

Haven't blogged here for a while. This is my multipurpose blog, so here's one on theology.

I recently went to the TEAR conference in Helensburgh, south of Sydney. I heard Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh talk on a range of issues, but one stuck with me in particular.

There is a rather ugly issue (for some at least) in the Old Testament. It's known as the Ban, the commandment for the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. In Deuteronomy 7:1-2 read:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.

Now this text is not so pleasant for modern eyes, and I won't attempt any of the usual approaches to the text. However, its treatment in the New Testament is interesting, and Brian Walsh teased this apart nicely.

In Matthew 10, Jesus chooses 12 disciples - a clear pointer to him constituting a new people of God as Israel had 12 tribes. In chapter 14, Jesus feeds 5000 people (well men so many more). There are 12 baskets left over of food. Again, the 12 is meant to point to a new people of God.

Now two stories make it clear that while Jesus was in the first instance sent to Israel, the new people of God would include all nations, including those who had been under the Ban. This also points to Jesus' rejection of violence.

Firstly, Jesus goes into Gentile country (Tyre and Sidon) and encounters a woman described as a Canaanite woman. In Mark she is called a SyroPhoenician woman (which is what she was). There were no more Canaanites (the name was not used). The Jew Matthew was making the point that the old hostilities were at an end. Jesus meets a woman that as a devout Jew he should have avoided, historically killed and certainly not healed. Instead, his amazement at her faith leads to him healing her daughter.

The other pointer is that Jesus feeds 4000 Gentiles in that region and that there are 7 leftover baskets of food. The 7 is not some figure of perfections (see for example its use in Revelation) but a reference to the 7 nations of Deuteronomy 7! Jesus provides for those historically outside of God's plan - a pointer back to Genesis 12:1-3 that the blessing was for all nations, and not even their sin and treatment of Israel could ultimately put them out of this blessing.

No, this doesn't deal with the violence of the Ban, but it does show it was transitory, and that non-violence is at the core of the Christian gospel.

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