Christ and Cornelius (4)

Peter and Cornelius

NGC2207+IC2163The Two Worlds Touch (Acts 10:17-23a)

God has providentially intervened in the Gentile and Jewish worlds, setting them on a collision course.  No human being could have possibly foreseen the implications of this act.  No human being was ready within context of their own experience to comprehend just what was occurring.  Only in hindsight can we prejudiced, faltering and foolish humans see a sliver of truth about what God has done.  However, without the revelation of Scripture even that tiny sliver would have been obliterated long ago.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

The wonder of this narrative is that it pulls back the curtain and allows us mortals to observe God’s providential engagement in human history.  What we see is both beautiful and disturbing.  It’s beauty arises from the Fatherly love that engages with both Cornelius and Peter at their points of human frailty, gently leading each towards their eventual world-changing encounter.  Its disturbance arises from the at first vague, but ultimately explicit, realization that both Peter’s and Cornelius’ destinies were being directly determined by God.  This intricate but ultimately mysterious interplay between our own wills and God’s providential purpose has been previously explored in “God’s Acts of Providence.”

That significance flowed from God to them, as opposed to being sourced within them.  This too is a reproach to our modern, self-centered mind-set. We too often view our end as beginning and ending with our own desires. The notion that our end is by design to be subordinate to anything else, even the L ORD God, flies into the teeth of the radical individualism that under girds so much of our culture’s life.

But lest we too strongly stress humanity’s subordinate status, the amazing extent to which God apparently bends to accommodate our wills must be accounted. Yes, God’s will is inexorable. But it’s as if it’s inexorable within the context of our free wills.

Isn’t this story precisely that of God’s inexorable providential will intersecting with our one free wills?  I say, yes, without doubt.

21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he called them in to be his guests.

Note how the people within this story exercise their own wills.  The men sent by Cornelius don’t say that Peter must engage with them because of God’s inexorable command.  No, they rather make the very human case that he who sent them is “an upright and God-fearing man,” that is, someone who Peter should consider to be trustworthy.  

Thus, on one level this is a story about human beings from two separate worlds working out the terms by which they might meet in true fellowship.  However, at the deepest level it is the story of God bringing to pass in time that which He had decreed from eternity.

“and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

Once again, I return to “God’s Acts of Providence” for the commentary.

 In the end, we must understand along with Abraham that the human details are not the point. The point is that God in His infinite love, mercy and power has determined to bless all nations. He has also chosen to do so within the context of human will, with all of its frailty, foolishness and fickleness. But He chose to do so before the foundation of the world was laid, deep inside the mystery of His infinite mind. That is, though played out on the stage of history, this is the working out of a predestined plan. Though we may never fully understand we can, no, must worship such a wondrous God.

the-creation-of-man-by-michelangelo

 

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Christ and Cornelius (3)

Peter and Cornelius

acts.10.PetersVision2_lgPeter’s Vision (Acts 10:9-16)

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Jewish dietary laws as revealed by Scripture in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  Knowledge of and strict adherence to these laws was an absolutely central component of the Jewish identity in the first-century A.D.; as it continues to be for many Jews in the 21st century.

The spiritual/emotional power of these dietary and other laws was bound up within the concept of “cleanness.”  The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible provides an explanation that may help us to appreciate the depth and power of this concept to a practicing Jew.

Old Testament laws of clean and unclean are applied to persons, foods, places, and objects.  Human beings become unclean principally by contact with the dead or with discharge of one of the body fluids, by the eating of tabooed foods, and by the disease of leprosy.  …

Hebrew priestly tradition regarded the laws of cleanness as a part of the Mosaic covenant, and essential to the survival of the nation, since violation of them was offensive to the holiness of God and estranged him from his people.

This discussion is a prelude to understanding how Peter, a practicing Jew and thus one who identified himself with the God of Israel, reacted when faced with the full implications of Christ’s words from Mark 7:18b,19: Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)”.

Prior to reengagement with the text, we must note that it is God who is taking the initiative at both sides of the Jew/Gentile divide.  So, the the promise made two-thousand years earlier to Abraham (Genesis 22:18) was now, by God’s faithfulness, being made visible in this fallen world.

The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

The sheet contained all of the unclean animals that Peter had for his entire life avoided.  Here God is dealing with the central issue that would keep Jews and Gentiles in their separate worlds — the inability to come together in fellowship at a meal.

14 But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Peter’s revulsion and resistance is completely to be expected.  For, it is one thing to hear his Lord make the seemingly abstract statement that no food is unclean and quite another to put it into practice after a lifetime of carefully practicing the opposite!  But, God is here unmistakably decreeing that it is Peter’s Jewish heritage that must give way so that His promise to all nations may become a reality in the Christian Church.

Christ and Cornelius (2)

Peter and Cornelius

gods_son_centurion
Cornelius’ Vision (Acts 10:1-8)

This monumental event begins by God working within Cornelius.  We don’t know just how he ended up being assigned to the job of occupying and managing this small province of the vast Roman Empire.  Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea, which the Google Maps “Quick Facts” describes as follows.

Caesarea is a town on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. It’s known for Caesarea National Park, which includes a large Roman amphitheater and the historic port. On the site is an archaeological park with pillars and sculptures, and the remains of a hippodrome, with frescoes and stone seating. The ruins of the seafront Promontory Palace include the remains of a mosaic floor.

10 At Caesare′a there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.

These two introductory verses describe a pagan man who has come into contact with the ancient culture of Israel, and, finding there something far deeper and truer than anything he had previously experienced.  We know now that what he experienced was the eternal God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — through engagement with the Jewish faith as revealed in their Holy Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament.

Thus, though this devout man was serving as an occupier for the Empire, he yet found within this subjugated nation that which his heart had been yearning for but was previously unable to find.  He may not have even been aware of Jesus Christ.  But Jesus Christ knew him, and, had saved him from within the mystery of eternal grace to which all Christians give thanks.

About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.”

God now takes the initiative again to bring Cornelius into knowledge of Christ’s unmerited saving act upon his behalf.  Cornelius’ response of respect and generosity to his Jewish neighbors has been a precursor to a fuller understanding of the true source for his blessed newfound faith.

Cornelius’ initial response of terror is not uncommon in the annals of interaction with God’s messengers.  Being a battle-hardened Centurion, there was likely little in the realm of flesh and blood that could elicit such a response.  But, proximity of frail flesh and blood to that which conveys God’s eternal holiness is another matter entirely.

The angel now introduces Cornelius to this seemingly insignificant Jewish man, “Simon who is called Peter,” who is to be invited into his Gentile home.

When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those that waited on him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

Cornelius obeys without hesitation or qualm.  Note that we are here told that Cornelius’ faith had spread beyond himself, with this “devout soldier” as the first of his household mentioned.

Christ and Cornelius (1)

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout-Cornelius.

Vision of Cornelius the Centurion – Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1664)

Opening Thoughts

Background

Christ unambiguously decreed that His Church would include all nations in The Great Commission (Matthew 18:18b-20).

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

However we, looking back over two millennia of Gentile dominated Christianity, find it difficult to comprehend the height of the barrier that the original Jewish Christians were being asked to traverse.  For, people raised Jewish at that time had within themselves the religious and cultural heritage of two millennia of Jewish separatism.  Thus, the idea that Christ’s command could be easily obeyed in actual practice is deeply naive.

Given this background, the conversion of the first Gentile to Christianity must have been viewed by the primitive Church as a pivotal moment of the greatest importance.  We would therefore expect such a moment to be a major focus in the Book of Acts, which chronicles the rise of the Church from Christ’s ascension in circa A.D. 30 to Paul’s preaching in Rome, circa A.D.68.  And, this expectation is surely met.

The First Gentile Convert to Christianity

Although there is some debate regarding who was the first Gentile convert to Christianity, the overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion points to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:1 — 11:18).  The other possibility is the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).  An excellent summary of the considerations involved in this conclusion is found in G. H. C. Macgregor’s exegesis on Acts 8:26-40 in the Interpreter’s Bible.

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is most vividly told, very much in the style of a narrative from the books of Samuel and Kings.  Was the eunuch a Jew or a Gentile?  Eusebius refers to him as the first Gentile to embrace Christianity; so this Ethiopian has sometimes been regarded as an uncircumcised heathen, and his baptism as the first departure from the principle that Christianity was only for Jews, either native or proselyte.  But there is nothing in the story to suggest any such far-reaching innovation.  The fact that the Ethiopian was a pilgrim returning from Jerusalem, and that he was reading Isaiah, indicates that already he was at least a Jewish proselyte.  Luke evidently regards not his case, but that of Cornelius, as the first admission of an uncircumcised Gentile.  The stress laid on all the details of Cornelius’ case, on the scruples that Peter found so hard to overcome, and on the controversy that the incident precipitated at Jerusalem —  all this proves that Luke is describing what he considers to be the first case of the baptism of a heathen.

Additional evidence for Cornelius as the first Gentile convert is the fact that it is Peter, Christ’s “rock” who is led by God to take this decisive step.  If we look into the number of words used by Luke to describe important conversions in Acts we get the following results (counts from the NIV text):

  • Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch: ~347 words
  • Saul on the road to Damascus: ~733 words
  • Peter and Cornelius: ~1456 words.

It is a striking result that Luke spends almost twice the number of words on Peter and Cornelius than he does on what many consider to be the most important conversion in Christianity, that being Saul’s!  Clearly Luke sees the conversion of Cornelius to be of the greatest importance to Christianity’s history.

Who was Cornelius?

Cornelius was “a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment” who had become “devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”  The Apostle Peter was called to seek out Cornelius by God’s direct intervention, through recurring and vivid visions.

A “centurion” in the Roman army is well described as:

centurionThe centurion, or centurio in Latin, has become the most famous officer in the Roman army, and his experience and valour were indeed a crucial factor in maintaining order on the battlefield and ensuring Rome‘s military successes spanned over centuries. Commanding a unit of around 100 legionaries, he was also responsible for assigning duties, dishing out punishments, and performing various administrative duties, which ranged from distributing camp passwords to the escort of prisoners. Centurions could also rise to higher administrative positions within the empire, but the name centurion would forever be associated with the grizzled veteran who, emblazoned with decorations, led by courageous example on the battlefield.

Thus, Cornelius was a seasoned warrior who had certainly proved himself in bloody battle on multiple occasions to have risen to such an important position in the Roman army.  Therefore, were one a believer in Christian pacifism, then, beyond the primary issue of Gentile conversion, the secondary “scruples that Peter found so hard to overcome” (see G. H. C. Macgregor’s above exegesis) must have been about the admission of a professional warrior into the pacifistic Christian community.

This hypothesis will be tested by taking the radical step of submitting to what the Bible actually says as opposed to assuming what we would like it to say.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (31)

Ancient-BattleDavid’s Song of Praise (4)

2 Samuel 22:38-46

We now arrive at the place in King David’s prayer that so discomforts our Christian pacifist friends.  Here, King David, looking back upon his life, speaks of God’s sovereign acts by which David was able to defeat his enemies in mortal combat.

38 “I pursued my enemies and crushed them;
    I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
39 I crushed them completely, and they could not rise;
    they fell beneath my feet.
40 You armed me with strength for battle;
    you humbled my adversaries before me.

Yes, David is attributing the crushing destruction of his enemies to God’s providential acts of direct support.

41 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
    and I destroyed my foes.
42 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
    to the Lord, but he did not answer.
43 I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth;
    I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets.

David continues his vivid, unblinking description of the death and destruction meted out to his enemies.  They not only were killed, but their bodies were obliterated, becoming nothing more than dust of the earth.

44 “You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples;
    you have preserved me as the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me,
45     foreigners cower before me;
    as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
46 They all lose heart;
    they come trembling from their strongholds.

There is no avoiding the explicit nature of David’s statements concerning God’s direct action in these matters of warfare.

I have on many occasions observed the rejection of passages such as this by progressive Christian pacifists.  The simple fact is that they will not countenance the possibility that the God revealed in the Bible would be allowed to violate their personal moral code.  No, they too often would rather disregard any offending passage than submit to the authority of God’s Word concerning God’s own nature.

In many cases they seek to dissociate David of the Old Testament from Jesus of the New Testament.  But, as I have pointed out in the first of these current posts:

In the first verse of the first Book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the name of David occurs at the twelfth word.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:(Matthew 1:1, NIV)

Thus, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is tied in the most intimate manner with King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart.

I now ask: Is there anywhere in the New Testament where David’s conduct with respect to warfare is criticized, let alone disavowed?  None come to mind.  However, it is not only in the Gospel of Matthew where King David is directly tied to Christ’s Kingdom.  For, in the greatest theological Epistle, the Apostle Paul does precisely the same thing.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)

Note well that in reference to Jesus Christ “his earthly life was a descendant of David.”  

What, you might rightly wonder, is my motive for making the point with such force.  Is it because I am a warmonger?  Do I own stock in the arms industry?  Am I filled with hate for other nationalities, religions, races, cultures, etc.?  Or, as some of my pacifist friends have not so subtlety asserted, am I a defective Christian?

I don’t believe that it is any of these motives.  I would love to live out my life in peace, and to know that every other person will be able to do so as well.

I certainly understand that actions taken by the United States will all too often cause friction and conflict as they intersect with other cultures and countries.  Yes, and the reason for this will too often be in significant measure our own fault.  But this admission in no way absolves the others of moral responsibility for their actions.

 

PeacInOurTime

Pacifism enabling Nazi Germany in September 1938.  One year later Europe was engulfed in total war.

This is the point of departure between myself and progressive pacifists.  For they, in order to justify demands for passivity on our part, insist that the the only group with moral agency in these conflicts is us.  Thus, those who attack us with terrorism and threaten us with destruction bear no responsibility for their evil.  No, they are just blameless puppets who are responding to the evil that we do.  It is thus they who dehumanize the other, turning them into subhuman creatures whose character does not rise to the level at which moral responsibility can be expected.

Approaching_Omaha

Omaha Beach, June 6 1944.  Non-pacifists begin to free Europe from enslavement and genocide.

The reason that there is a Western Civilization at all is because Christians of earlier ages didn’t falsely turn God’s Word into an excuse for cowardice and defeatism.  This statement pertains to a time as recent as decades ago and extends back through centuries.  If Western Civilization is destroyed and replaced by Political Islam or resurgent Communism, the resulting death and destruction across the planet will be far worse than if we had stood and fought.

But what’s all that compared to maintaining a faux sense of personal moral purity?  On the answer to that question hangs the fate of uncounted millions, both within and outside of Western Civilization.

Vienna_Battle_1683.jpg

The Ottoman Army surrounds Vienna in 1683.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (27)

week3-large-2David’s Song of Praise (1)

2 Samuel 22:1-16

David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel is also included (with minor differences) in God’s Word as Psalm 18.  I will therefore lean on John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 18 as we work our way through this magnificent prayer.

David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

Note first that this prayer was composed late in David’s life, after he had experienced danger and want due to everything from persecution by King Saul, to foreign wars, to treason by his own son, among much more.  Let Calvin provide the background.

David had discomfited many foreign enemies, and had also suppressed the rebellion of his own son Absalom. But, persuaded that it was a singular manifestation of the grace of God towards him, and eminently worthy of being remembered, that he had for so many years escaped from innumerable deaths, or rather that as many days as he had lived under the reign of Saul, God had wrought, as it were, so many miracles for his deliverance, he firstly mentions and celebrates in particular his deliverance from the hands of this relentless enemy. By calling himself the servant of God, he doubtless intended to bear testimony to his call to be king, as if he had said, I have not rashly, and by my own authority, usurped the kingdom, but have only acted in obedience to the oracle of heaven. And, indeed, amidst the many storms which he had to encounter, it was a support highly necessary to be well assured in his own mind of having undertaken nothing but by the appointment of God; or rather, this was to him a peaceful haven, and a secure retreat in the midst of so many broils and strange calamities.

John Calvin Commentary on Psalm 18

So now King David begins his prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
    from violent people you save me.

 

When God ordained that young David would become King of Israel the powers that be did not quietly submit.  Rather, they struck out with cunning and cruelty, making every possible attempt to void God’s purpose by killing David.

What surprises is, after reading the story in 1 and 2 Samuel, we see that it apparently was David’s own guile and prowess by which these enemies were defeated.  And yet, here we find David in prayer, giving all of the glory to God.  How can this be so?

When we examine the facts, though, we see that throughout David’s entire life on the run the opposition usually had an overwhelming power advantage.  An unredeemed man who had overcome in these circumstances would find the temptation of pride irresistible.  However, David, redeemed and justified by God, responds in the opposite way.  Thus, this prayer of thanksgiving and praise was spoken not because David was a better person, but because God chose to work through this particular person.  Perhaps the Apostle Paul can help us to understand.

For I am the least of the apostles and am unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:9,10)

David now proceeds to describe in vivid detail the depth of danger and the height of grace which he had experienced.

“I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and have been saved from my enemies.
The waves of death swirled about me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

We simply cannot imagine the terrors that David had experienced.

“In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came to his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    the foundations of the heavens shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
    bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the Lord,
    at the blast of breath from his nostrils.

What troubles so many current Western Christians in the above passage is the violence of God’s response.  God is filled with anger at those who oppose His decree.  He thus induces terror in those who oppose Him.  This response is the opposite of the kumbaya expectation of those who have fallen prey to the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” theological error.  Therefore, too many current Christians choose to spiritualize or even outright ignore passages such as this.

I don’t stress this point to provide blanket justification for any act of war/violence by a Christian majority group/country.  Rather, my purpose is to correct those among us who have turned Christianity into a suicide pact when confronted by aggressive evil.  This idea is spread by the falsehood that pacifism is central to God’s character.  I have addressed this issue in detail, starting here.

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (12)

5-saul-attacking-david-guercino

King Saul Attacking David – Guercino (1646)

King Saul and David (1 Samuel 18)

Passifistic Perfectionism Collides with the Scriptural Text

In this chapter the existential threat posed by David to Saul’s kingship becomes absolutely clear.  King Saul now finds himself within yet another impossible situation.  For David, against all reasonable expectations, has become the conquering hero who not only defeated the giant Goliath, but who also led the subsequent defeat of the Philistine army.  King Saul has been reduced to the position of a hapless bystander, thus profoundly undercutting his prestige and authority.  Yet Saul doesn’t dare act to remove David for that same reason.  The nation’s response to this situation encapsulates the entire situation with in two pithy lines (verse 7b).

“Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands.”

Has ever a reigning king been so utterly humiliated?  I expect that scholars can propose other examples, though the ensuing debate would be fascinating.

As a consequence of the nation’s love for David, King Saul was forced to bestow honor and power upon him.  David was given a high rank in Israel’s army, leading his troops to victory after victory.  King Saul’s own son, Jonathan, “made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (verse 3), in effect, renouncing his (i.e., Jonathan’s) claim to the throne.

All of this eventually led King Saul to near insanity, where he twice attempted to kill David (who remained always in Saul’s court) with a spear.  He was left with the devastating realization that “the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul” (verse 12).  What follows throughout the book of 1 Samuel is an incoherent bimodal strategy of control through appeasement and murderous assault.

King Saul begins with appeasement by offering his daughter Merab as a wife to David.  Were David to accept he would be absorbed into Saul’s family.  However, David declines the offer, thus once again thwarting the king’s plans.

However, some time later it is learned that Saul’s daughter Michal has fallen in love with David.  Saul once again offers a daughter to David, and once again he is rebuffed.  However, this time Saul is determined to prevail.  David’s excuse is that  “I’m only a poor man and little known” (verse 23).  So, King Saul moves to remove this stated excuse.

25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.

Once again Saul believes that David’s implicit challenge to his throne will be dealt with through his cleaver scheme.  Unfortunately for the king:

David-to-Saul27 David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.

The departure for commentary relating to our contemporary situation will be from verse twenty-seven.  For in this incident the presumed perfectionist pacifism of our age collides head-on with the supposed ignorance and savagery of the past.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (10)

David-slays-GoliathDavid and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)

A Pebble that Rocked the World

So all of the pieces are now in place for this fraught confrontation.  The Philistine’s have attempted to force Israel into a lose-lose situation.  King Saul has countered by sending not Israel’s champion, but a mere boy, thus confounding the original scenario.  And young David now stands before the giant Goliath with only his sling and five smooth stones.

Up to this point the only reference to God had been made by David: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (verse 26b).  No one else has shown the slightest awareness of a power beyond that which faced them in the frame of the giant.  But David had clearly been thinking primarily about the living God.  It is in this moment of truth that David confidently makes his position clear.

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

It is here that the Christian Pacifist eagerly exclaims “See!  This Bible passage denies the efficacy of weapons, teaching instead that it is only God who must fight our battles!”  This is said in spite of the absolutely undeniable facts that:

  1. David will strike down Goliath in a violent assault and then use a sword to decapitate him
  2. The “carcasses of the Philistine army” upon which the birds and animals will feast will be created by the swords and spears of the Israeli army as they slaughter the fleeing Philistines.

Let’s continue in the Biblical text to see if these two statements are indeed true.

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.  50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.  51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

david--goliath-granger-decapitate

David and Goliath – Granger

The Biblical text has unmistakably confirmed the first point above.  David defeated Goliath by striking him at a distance using a sling and stone.  He then uses the giant’s own sword to perform the coup de grâce by decapitating the stunned man.  Yes, God was certainly acting in this moment (as He does in all moments).  However, His purposes are here achieved through worldly flesh and blood wielding weapons that stun and kill.  It is not a spiritual head that David displays to the shocked Philistine army, but rather the bleeding head of what a few moments before was their supposed invincible champion.  It was before that terror that they turned and ran.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.  54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

Point number two is now confirmed.  For, it is the Israeli army, wielding their swords and spears against the fleeing Philistine army that produces the slaughter.

How then are we to interpret David’s statement that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”  The unavoidable conclusion is that it is not only by “sword or spear that the Lord saves.”  That is, if we place all of our confidence in the physical weapons of war we cannot possibly prevail.  Rather, we must provide for our own defense in this physical world while also clinging fast to God’s Word, seeking to be led in those terrible decisions by His Spirit.

This point is eloquently made in a rather surprising place, a recent article titled “Monster Movies Teach Us Key Truths About The Human Condition.”

Life is a choice of monsters: war and its attendant horrors, or conquest, devastation, and greater suffering at some later time; private property, with its temptations to fraud and greed, or crushing, unsustainable bureaucracy and universal poverty; morality with its taboos and potential for prudery, or a chaotic sewer where no one takes responsibility for his actions. Perfection will never be achieved because mankind simply lacks the power to change either his own nature or the nature of the world around him.

Make no mistake, we and our leaders face terrible, fraught choices today.  We will have to decide on incomplete information and act when the full scope / depth of the consequences cannot be foreseen.  So, we are all unmistakably bound to an ancient man from the Old Testament in our responsibility and frailty.  Thus must we, with David, use all of our God-given capabilities while trusting in God’s promises and clinging to God’s grace.

I realize that the above are “fighting words” (so to speak) to pacifists.  They may counter by claiming that the bloody God of the Old Testament has been superseded by the loving God of the New Testament.  I have already carefully considered this line of reasoning (as well as numerous others, in six blog posts) and found it to be unsustainable.

So, yes, as Christians, God is with us.  But in the vast majority of cases He expects us to actively do our part as opposed to engaging in passivity.  The above Scriptural passage and many others make this point abundantly clear.  Therefore, there were, are and will be situations in which, while we trust in the Lord, yet we must also take the battle to the enemy ourselves.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (1)

Michaelangelo-David

Michelangelo’s David

Opening Thoughts

In the first verse of the first Book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the name of David occurs at the twelfth word[1].

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: (Matthew 1:1, NIV)

Thus, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is tied in the most intimate manner with King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart.  And yet, when 21st century Christians seek to interpret the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, this unmistakable bond with an ancient king from the Old Testament is all too often ignored.

David-W&P

We live in an age dominated by pacifistic, narcissistic and perfectionistic modes of thought.  Thus the most natural interpretation of our Savior’s character is “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  While I will not here contend that this sweet Wesleyan phrase is an inaccurate description of Christ’s nature, I will strenuously argue that it is a dangerous falsehood to consider it to be anything even approaching a complete one.  For, if we follow the thread from Matthew 1:1 back to the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, we are confronted by a person who somehow combined the brutality of a warrior with the sensitivity of a poet, and thus is described in Scripture (Acts 13:22, 23, NIV):

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.[2]

And, this Covenant made by God with David is said in the Gospel of Luke to have been completed in Jesus Christ.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32,33, NIV)

And thus the circle is closed between King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


[1] I have previously considered the second patriarch in this verse, Abraham, in God’s Acts of Providence.

[2] Here in Acts the Apostle Paul, in Pisidian Antioch, is summarizing 2 Samuel 7:12-16.

Christians Could Support a War Against Islamic Terrorism

Answering the Question

isis-egypt_nfblThe pacifism of the PCUSA (and other) elites is indeed peculiar in that it simultaneously excuses / justifies violence by Islamic terrorists (among others) while demanding that our society do nothing to defend itself.  It’s not so much that they oppose all violence as they oppose any violence in defense of Western Civilization.  They operate from an ideology that blames Western Civilization for every defect in the entire world and that thus absolves anyone or anything else of moral agency and responsibility.

211_964x643That is, since we (Western Civilization) are responsible (so they imagine) for all that’s gone wrong, we have no moral justification to oppose anything.  The non-Western perpetrators of vile evil, on the other hand, are only responding to the evil that has been done to them by the West.  Therefore, even their extreme acts of violent evil are excused.  Thus, their position amounts to standing idly by while vile evil is done in order to preserve their false pretense of moral superiority.

Protest-for-Christians-in-IraqWhile I’m certain that most Christian pacifists are motivated by an honorable, valid revulsion from violence and its larger consequences, there are sometimes less worthy motivations at work as well.  For example, some pacifists appear willing to allow thousands of people to be murdered rather than soil their own presumed moral perfection.  That is, the very lives of the victims of evil are deemed to be of less value than their own feelings of moral superiority.  Other pacifists appear to implicitly accept the safety provided by armed police and the military while railing indignant over every act of protection that involves violence.  That is, they happily benefit from armed protection as long as no actual act can be explicitly tied to them.  As my previous posts have demonstrated, this is not the exercise of sound Christian morality.

Orwell-People-sleep-peaceablySo, my answer to the question “Can Christians support a war against Islamic terrorism?” is yes, under the right set of circumstances a Christian can.  However, to say that a given position is possible does not mean that it is a necessity.  Determining if we have reached the point of necessity is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Although there is much more that could be said, the time has come to move on.