And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:27
Yesterday Pastor Mark wrote about the “better way” to read the Bible. Jesus claims that all the Bible is about him, so the best way to read and understand the Bible is through the lens of Jesus. Yesterday’s blog focused primarily on the commands of God. We should read the commands of God without fear or pride, because Jesus has kept every command for us, and by his salvation we too can see the beauty of the commands and the beauty of God in the commands.
But what about those other parts of the Bible? You know those “God kills everyone” parts. Like the Flood story. Or Saul being commanded to kill all of the Amalekites. Or Joshua’s conquest of Canaan.
Now this is the place in the blog where I’m supposed to try and prove why these stories don’t make God a “moral monster”. Why God’s genocide is well deserved (the Flood victims had it coming, the Canaanites were child killers). Or I should try and show that it wasn’t really as bad as it appears in the Bible (The Amalekites clearly weren’t exterminated because they appear again later in the Bible, phrases like “utterly destroy” and “all the men, women, and children” are hyberbolic and not to be taken literally). Or this wasn’t about a xenophobic genocide, it was about destroying a false religious system that hated God and His people.
These are all good arguments, but not my point today. I am not writing in defense of God. I am writing to help us see how we can see these very difficult parts of the Bible through the lens of Christ. Jesus said in our Fighter Verse that all of scripture is about him. But what about these passages that are full of God’s judgment?
These are hard stories and I readily admit that I do not have all the answers, and I also readily admit that these sorts of stories bother me as much as they do you. But I also must admit that if there were no Jesus, no story of ultimate judgment and redemption through the God-man, then I would most likely be counted among those who dismiss the Bible and the God of the Bible as that “moral monster” we mentioned earlier.
We all deserve judgment. God is holy. Man stands in opposition to God. The wages of sin is death. For everyone. Not just the Canaanites and Amalekites. Not just for the Flood victims. All have sinned and fall short. All deserve death. You and me included.
We are reminded of this throughout scripture as God breaks into the human story with what scholar Meredith Kline calls “judgment intrusions.” In very vivid ways we see the holiness of God and the wrath of God towards sin and the love of God towards the creating of a pure humanity in these judgment stories. God enters the story in judgment with floods, snakes, battles, or plagues and reveals his loving anger at our sin and his own moral perfection through these judgment stories.
But the ultimate “judgment intrusion” was the cross.
We must ask the question, “can we ever fully understand what happened to Jesus on the cross WITHOUT the stories of the Amalekites, Canaanites, the Flood, the snakes, etc?” These stories reveal God’s settled opposition to sin. He doesn’t wink at sin. He doesn’t back down. He doesn’t soften in His old age. And the cross proves this. ALL the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. Not the Amalekites and Canaanites. And not you and me. We will never feel the wrath of God like Jesus did.
In a unique way these stories point us to Christ. King Agag or the Jericho victims are a foreshadowing of Christ. “He became sin who knew no sin.” Jesus became the Amalekites, the Canaanites. Jesus is the ark in the Flood story offering refuge from judgment, but he is also the victim who died under God’s judgment. He became the curse for us. He was crucified outside of the camp as a cursed one would be so as to identify with the curse we deserve (see 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13, Heb. 13:11-13).
I know the judgment stories, especially in the Old Testament, are extremely hard to read. I too wish they weren’t there. I know that they make it seem like the Old Testament and New Testament reveal two very different Gods to us. But they don’t! Jesus’ death is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s judgment. We must read of God’s judgment through the lens of Christ, or else we will never understand these stories, God, or the cross of Christ.