“Blessed are the poor in spirit,Matthew 5:1-12 NIV
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I am reading through the books of Joshua and Judges right now. They are arguably the most gruesome and violent books in the Bible—native peoples are slaughtered in God’s name, a woman drives a tent peg through a man’s skull, and more. The Israelites cycle through a period of disobedience and evil, suffer God’s punishment, cry out for mercy, and receive a leader (sometimes) who brings them back to the ways of God, only for that generation to pass away and a new generation to rise up who doesn’t follow God. And the cycle repeats.
Why do these books even exist in Scripture? Is it because God condones the complete annihilation of entire people groups in his name? I don’t believe so. Scripture must be read as a whole, and as a whole, we see “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7 NIV).
Joshua and Judges are part of the bigger picture. They remind us of the depravity and potential for evil in every person’s heart. They show us what happens when we fail to love our neighbor and our Lord. In these books we see the reflections of modern warlords and dictators who proclaim the will of God is with them as they destroy innocent lives.
In the midst of war, we could easily go to Joshua and Judges to find our “rights,” proclaim that the God of the Angel Armies is on our side, and do battle against our enemies. But as Christians, when we fail to read our Scriptures as a whole, living, active Word, we can forget that Jesus proclaimed a different kind of kingdom, a kingdom ruled by peace and love.
The beatitudes cast a different vision for the world, one which does not bless the dictators, the authoritarians, the arrogant, the proud, the envious, the murderers, the adulterers, or the greedy—all of whom see themselves as better than or more valuable than their neighbors. The beatitudes gather together the meek, the mourners, the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted—theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When we hold Judges and Joshua in contrast with the words of Jesus, the blinding beam of the Light of the World exposes what is true and distinguishes for us what is good, real, and beautiful from what is bad, false, and ugly. May we be people of the Word and read our Scriptures with that flashlight of clarity.
Points of Reflection
- The history of the church is littered with examples of Christian justification of war. How does what Jesus teaches contrast with our violent past?
- What battles and wars are happening in your own backyard? Is the battle fueled by love, or by something else? How might you be a voice of love and compassion in the midst of tense disagreements?
For the Kids
- Who is someone that causes trouble in your life? What do they do that causes trouble?
- Who is a peacemaker in your life? What do they do to bring about peace?
Read an Old Testament book of the Bible (with a good commentary nearby!). What do you make of some of the strange Old Testament stories? Take your questions and concerns before the Lord in journal form and prayer, dialogue with other Christians about these texts, and ask God to help you understand better the purposes of these stories. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV).
A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace by Brian Zahnd explores what it means for Jesus to be the Prince of Peace for our lives today. Zahnd offers an in-depth exploration of the gospel of peace and provides his journey from war crier to peacemaker.
Listen or read online through your local library’s Libby app, or buy on Amazon.com or through a local independent bookstore near you.