A PEACEMAKING SERIES: REFLECTIONS, CONFESSIONS, AND CONFRONTATIONS. #2 -- THE OLD TESTAMENT FOUNDATIONS
Wright points out that reading the Bible according to that missional map means we can see in Scripture:
God’s purpose for his whole creation, including the redemption of humanity and the creation of the new heavens and new earth.
God’s purpose for human life in general on the planet and God’s purposes for human culture, relationships, ethics, and behavior.
The centrality of Jesus of Nazareth, his messianic identity and mission in relation to Israel and the nations, his cross and resurrection.
God’s calling of the church to be the agent of God’s blessing to the nations in the name and for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There have been hundreds of volumes written on the theological implications of those four statements, but what do they tell us about peacemaking? Specifically, what does God’s mission of redemption have to do with peacemaking? Everything!
First, God’s mission of redemption means that, because of our sin, the human race is estranged from him. We need rescuing. We need to be saved from something and for something. We need to be brought “home” to him. We need to be reconciled to God; that is, as the Apostle Paul put it, because “we were God’s enemies” (Rom. 5:10) we need to have peace with him.
Second, it means that God himself has taken the initiative to solve our sinful estrangement (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). He is the one who thought up the “peace initiative,” so to speak. Consequently, any possibility of peace with God does not arise out of human endeavor. He is the Peacemaker.
Third, it means that we have the ministry of reconciliation or peacemaking ourselves (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Certainly this verse is primarily talking about reconciliation of sinners with God, but there is plenty in Paul’s letters – and in all of Scripture – about reconciliation and living at peace with others both inside and outside the fellowship of believers.
A brief look at the Old Testament shows us this Great Peace Plan was centered on the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants, the nation of Israel, would be the instrument of God’s redemptive plan in the world. Israel was given the Law and the land in order to be a blessing to the nations. They were to model what it meant to follow God in holiness, righteousness, and purity. They would demonstrate what it was like to love and worship God, what it meant to be reconciled and at peace with God, and what it meant to live righteously with others and in the land. Bottom line, God elected Israel as a kingdom of priests in order to make himself known through them to the nations and thus reconcile the nations to himself. This purpose is proclaimed throughout the Pentateuch (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 28:9-1), in the historical books (Josh. 4:23-24; 1 Sam. 17:46; 1 Kings 8:41-43, 60-61), in the Psalms (22:27-28; 47:9; 67:1-2), and preached by the prophets when Israel failed to live up to the task (Isa. 25:6-8; 45:22-23; Jer. 4:1-2; Zec.8:13).
Ultimately, as the prophets preached, because Israel failed to be the light to the nations the promised Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would fulfill in his person and work God’s mission of redemption. Furthermore, it would be the Messiah who would bring the final, ultimate and eschatological peace all humanity is yearns for. Isaiah 9:6-7 makes it clear that all future hope of ultimate peace rests on the shoulders of the person and work of Christ.
One of the most mind bending things to me, simultaneously perplexing and comforting, is that the redemptive mission of God as seen in the Old Testament, this mission of bringing peace and reconciliation between himself and sinners, took place among some of the most violent, divisive, rebellious, and sinful peoples, nations, and events in human history. Some of us read the Old Testament and struggle with the violence of Israel, with God’s commands to conquer the land and totally eliminate the Canaanites, and with the dramatic failures of God’s chosen people and leaders. We struggle with the descriptions, and often prescriptions, for violence and war. How could a God of peace allow such violence and much less give such warlike instructions?
The answer is to look at the big picture and understand that God was graciously working with and through a fallen human race which mostly and consistently rejected him. To accomplish his ultimate redemptive mission of making peace with humanity, he had to deal with humanity on our own terms, and sometimes quite violently. See, long-term peacemaking in a fallen and sinful world requires the making and enforcement of just laws, the punishment of law breakers, and sometimes the imposition of a strong arm. Think of the Allied goal in World War II of defeating the Nazis and bringing peace to Europe. In order to establish peace the Allies had to invade North Africa, Italy, and France and then fight Nazis across Europe. Similarly, when the United Nations sends peacekeepers to a war torn country, they send actual soldiers with real guns who will pull the trigger if need be to accomplish the long-term goal of peace. On a daily level, the police SWAT team may have to break down a door and shoot the violent hostage taker in order to rescue innocent victims and restore peace in a broken household. Once again, we are not talking about pacifism, but peacemaking. (By the way, when reading the Old Testament, be sure not to confuse ugly description and divine accommodation, such as what Jesus mentioned in Matt. 19:8-9, with godly prescription).
Therefore, that God worked in and through the people of Israel simply magnifies his amazing, eternal, and perfect grace, patience, and peaceful intentions. Instead of wiping out a distressingly sinful humanity and instead of disowning a radically rebellious Israel, he worked in and through them in spite of human sinfulness and because of his holy, loving, righteous, and gracious nature. When reading the Old Testament, do wrestle with the hard questions; however, rather than focus on what sinful people did try to discern what God was doing behind the scenes and in and through sinful people.
And what was God doing through the people of Israel? As already noted, he chose them to be a blessing to the nations, a model and example of holy living, the means of God’s redemptive, peacemaking mission. On a daily basis they were to do this through their singular worship of Yahweh, but also through their ethical behavior. For example, they were to:
Make restitution when harm or an injustice was done to another (Ex. 21:12- 22:14) Not take advantage of widows and orphans (Ex. 22:22-24)
Not deny justice to the poor (Ex. 23:6-7)
Leave enough of the harvest for the poor and the alien (Lev. 19:9-10)
Not steal, lie, or defraud (Lev. 19:11-13)
Not mistreat the alien or foreigner; i.e. that person of a different race or ethnicity (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33)
Avoid dissension by loving rather than hating (Prov. 10:12)
Speak wisely, righteously, and fittingly (Prov. 10:20,21,31-32)
Not oppress the poor and being kind to the needy (Prov. 14:31)
Avoid dishonest business practices; avoid violence and deceit (Mic. 6:12-13)
Avoid violence, injustice, strife, and the oppression of righteousness (Hab. 1:2-4)
And on and on. Hundreds of passages could be listed to argue for the Old Testament foundations of peacemaking. No, not all these passages specifically mention “peace,” but they all instruct in attitudes and behavior that would lead to reconciliation, redemption, restitution, justice, and peace between nations, within a nation, and most certainly between individual people. Peacemaking, therefore, implies and includes intentional efforts to establish conditions of justice, reconciliation, restitution, and redemption.
Inevitably, someone will question the application of these Old Testament laws to New Testament Christians. This is not the place to resolve the debate about the overall place and use of the law. I do like, however, the way Christopher Wright puts it in another one of his impressive works, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God: the law was “to mould and shape Israel” so that Israel could live as a “model, as a light to the nations.” That particularity of Israel and the law, however, does not keep the law from having a universal application. These Old Testament Scriptures, therefore, serve as a “paradigm, in one single culture and slice of history, of the kinds of social values God looks for in human life generally.” Consequently, from a generally ethical and specifically peacemaking perspective, although we may agree the Law has no salvific power, we should not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Through the Law God has graciously given us an ethical paradigm. Perhaps we should not obsess over what we don’t have to keep, but rather should do the hard work of figuring out what we can learn and still apply. This is not legalism. It is, believing in the whole counsel of God.
In conclusion, the Old Testament clearly lays out the foundation of and for peacemaking: God is a God of peace in that he is on mission to redeem creation, reconcile humanity to himself, and ultimately re-establish the peace we originally had with him. He chose Israel as his instrument in that mission and Israel was given the Law as guidance on how to live in right relationship with God, the land, and with each other. Israel’s failure and our continued human struggle do not reflect on the real peacemaking nature of God’s character and mission nor do they minimize the implications and imperatives for our own lives.
Next: The New Testament Imperative for Peacemaking.