Monday, November 02, 2009

Haunting Verse

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 was mentioned in passing in a sermon last night and it has niggled me again.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Not forgetting God. Good idea. Main point. I buy it. But. There are some verses where you take your shoes and socks off because they are holy ground. But this one. Do you see the problem? Let's try a paraphrase to help:

Remember God promised you land one day? Well he's been scouting around and he's found some. It belongs to someone else but don't let that worry you. Move into their cities and kick them out. Move into their houses and take their property. Then, when you sit back and eat the olives and drink the wine of those people, who by the way you are to slaughter by and large, don't forget who found the estate agent.

Taking the land of others is so wrong, now that most borders are fixed, that it takes us a while to jump back to a time when indigenous peoples were still working out who had a right to what. Right up to the late eighteenth century the attitude of the strong around the world, was that they could take whatever they could get. The Brits were just about the last Empire to do that. Indeed we had control of Palestine for the first half of the twentieth century. We repent now. If we try to make our green and pleasant land a welcoming place for strangers with generosity to asylum seekers it is only redressing the balance. Hope we continue to.

But that this act of violence towards the Canaanites - Palestinians if you like - is enshrined in Scripture as an act approved by God. Did he? Or did Joshua and the gang do it and assume it had God's blessing afterwards because they won. The winners write a lot of history.

Over the next three millennia most world powers and empires had a go at Palestine. Since 1947 the State of Israel has been allowed to exist in international law but, as we all know, it is not accepted by all in the Arab world and Deuteronomy 6:10-12 smells horrid without contextualisation. It does not condone kicking other people out of their land as a principle. It says that whatever military victory you achieve, whatever your circumstances, do not forget your maker. And if you remember your maker you might just want to apologise to the family you threw into the garden in order to sleep on their beds. Or am I missing something?


Malcolm said...

Similar problem in a recent housegroup with the book of Esther. The lone Christian CND member was not happy with the approving tone of (counter) genocide in this book. Has anyone does some thinking/writing/discussing on this issue?

St said...

I think we need to work out whether the Bible's apparent approving tone of that/then is really an approving tone of this/now.

God is given an overview and oversight in the Book of Esther but makes no personal appearance.

The point of the book (imho) is that Esther has but one opportunity to use her position to the benefit of her people and she seizes the day. Will we, if thus presented?

The book of Esther is read, pantomime-like, at one of the Jewish Feasts. The baddies are booed; the goodies cheered. They have the right idea I'm sure. Dare I say, there are some Bible books which are best understood if not taken seriously?