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Has God Always Been Loving?

• Greg Boyd

The underlying theme behind our ‘Glimpses of Truth’ series is the idea that before we had the full revelation of God in Jesus, people only caught glimpses of him. He showed himself, but like the sun on a cloudy day, people’s view was obscured by their culture, so what they saw was not the full revelation but one marred by their own expectations and fallenness.

But despite this, there were still a few instances in the Old Testament where we can see glimpses of the Christ-like God that we know.

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We have been spending time in this series exploring what Paul meant in Hebrews 1 when he said “God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son.” People had glimpses of the beautiful truth of God, but it was like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds. The clouds of their surrounding ancient near east culture largely clouded their view. As a result, what they saw was a “foggy” incomplete revelation of the God we now know in Jesus Christ.

God is not coercive. He will not force people to do things, feel things or to have right ideas about him. He is always working as a heavenly missionary who meets people where they’re at. So he will reveal as much of himself as possible, but he has to accommodate us in order to not make us automatons. This means if we interpret his revelation through the lens of our violent culture, he is not going to prevent that.

His revelation and our understanding did not come all at once, it was revealed a little bit at a time until it was completed in Jesus. This concept is called progressive revelation, and it was the standard view in the early church.

Notation — “de Trinitate” 200-258 c.e. “God sometimes had prophets use symbolic language that was fitted to the [Israelite’s] state of belief and that reflects God not as God actually is, but as the people were able to understand. God, therefore, is not mediocre, but the people’s understanding is mediocre; God is not limited, but the intellectual capacity of the people’s mind is limited.”

In today’s sermon we ask the question if God has always been as loving as he is in Jesus Christ? The answer is yes. God has always been as loving as we see in Christ. But back in the ancient near east, their answer would not have been the same. Love, for them, had little to do with it. The ancient Israelites (like the culture at the time) thought killing people was only way to acquire land. The entire culture and surrounding cultures all believed in warrior gods — they all believed theirs was the most powerful, and can “beat up” any other god. Nobody in this ancient near east culture was saying “our god is so loving kind and gentle.” No one ever dreamed of a god that would say “if you follow me you won’t have to fight.” It was the opposite.

This is why we see in Joshua 8, God giving his people disturbingly detailed instructions on how to slaughter the Canaanite city of Ai. The strategy was to divide their soldiers into three groups. The first group attacks and when they fight back you turn and run away, they will chase you. At this point you have a second group that goes and kills all the unprotected women and children, and burns the city to the ground. The men will see smoke and hear screams will run back, but then a 3rd group would attack them and thus you will kill everybody. To add insult to injury, they kept the king alive to watch then hung him from a tree. This, Greg feels, reflects a *very* foggy view of God.

But this is perfectly consistent with the picture of God from the surrounding culture at the time, who expected and wanted a god who was powerful and empower them to fight their way to victory. It doesn’t look anything like Jesus who rebuked Peter for using the sword, who prayed for forgiveness of his enemies with his last dying breath, who taught us to serve our enemies, and lay down our life, feed our enemies when they’re hungry and give them something to drink when they’re thirsty. Calvary is the perfect expression of God’s love. Killing people is the opposite of all this!

So we can feel confident that this Old Testament picture of God is a shadow. But we also know that Jesus endorses the *whole* Bible as the inspired word of God. In fact he says the entire set of books is all about him, inspired for the divine purpose of pointing us to the revelation of God on the cross.

How can this story in Joshua be a portrait of the God revealed on the cross? Greg feels this sordid story reveals God in the very same way the cross does. We don’t see him on the surface– that’s horrific and ugly. We see him when we look past that and see him stooping down and taking on our own ugliness and condemnation. This ugliness doesn’t tell you anything about God. What tells us about God is that he takes on and bears our sin, just like Jesus did. He stays in the game to stay in relationship with his people. God has always been the same — he has always been loving us and taking on our sin and doing what he did on the cross. Once you start looking, you start finding all sorts of evidence of this picture of a God didn’t ever want to use the sword.

Exodus 34:11 God says do everything that I command today, and I will force them out of your way. He says you won’t have to do it, I’ll make them leave. Just trust me.
And in Exodus 23:28-30 he says I will send a pestilence, and drive out the Hivites before you. I won’t do it all at once, I will instead make the land unfruitful and drive them out gradually, until you have increased your numbers and possess the land. This is “the God way” to replace an indigenous population — do it gradually and nonviolently.

So, what happened to all these nonviolent plans everywhere else in the Bible? Did God change his mind? Get into a bad mood? Or, was it as we see people doing over and over again throughout the entire Bible, which is that the people just did not get it? Of course this is the answer, we know this because the people never got it! Over and over through history we see people who are tempted to follow pagan neighbors, worship idols, taking on kings, wanting to return to Egypt, and generally always doing the opposite of what God wants. All the way to Jesus telling his disciples he’s going to die, but what they hear he’s going to conquer the Romans. They never get it!

God says to his people If you trust me you will have this land and you won’t need to use the sword. What they hear is take the promised land and kill all the people. In this way he takes on appearance of a slaughtering god. The surface tell us a lot about God’s people, but not always about God himself. What God himself would have liked is to not fight at all. We can see two more glimpses of this truth where God says “Trust me and you won’t have to fight.”

2 Kings 6:15-23
Israel is at war with the country of Aram. The Arameans have a plan to ambush Israel which the prophet Elisha receives a word of knowledge about, so he warns the king to avoid that place thus thwarting the attack. The King of Aram is angered by this so he decides to kill Elisha. He sends an army to surround the city he is staying. When Elisha’s servant wakes up the next morning, he’s terrified by the sight of the army. But Elisha assures him that they have far more power on their side since they have the lord on their side. He asks God to “open his servant’s eyes” and he sees on the mountain around them, there are fiery chariots and horses of the divine army in massive numbers. The fiery chariots are a classic ancient near east symbol for war so it’s assumed that God is going to help them fight. But as the Arameans start to attack, Elisha instead of fighting back, asks God to strike them blind. He then leads the blind army to Samaria. The King of Israel now asks Elisha, now that they have captured the Aramean army if he should kill them, but Elisha says no. Instead they should throw them a great feast and then send them home. They did, and the Arameans never attacked again.

This story looks exactly like Jesus. This is where the sun breaks through the clouds. Gods way of fighting not to fight at all, but to throw a feast for your enemy just when you have them cornered. God fights by refusing to engage in violence. He fights not by cutting off the guards ear but by healing it. Not to fight the Romans but to let them crucify him. Over and over we see his way is not the power of sword but the power of the cross.

The second example of a glimpse of the sun is in Isaiah 62:2-5. He says You shall be called “My Delight is in Her”, your land will be called “married.” This is one of dozen places in the bible where we see Yahweh wanting a husband-wife relationship with his people.

This picture is unlike anything else in the surrounding culture that wanted a god who was a powerful, warring tyrant whose good side you wanted to be on, for your protection. But it is a perfect reflection of the God we see in Jesus. When we see God for who he really is, he longs to be our husband. It’s why the church is called the bride of Christ. Similarly in Hosea 2:16 God says you call me master but I look forward to you calling me husband. This is the relationship God wants with his people.

God has always been like this, wanting a relationship where he opens up to us and we respond to him in kind. You may think you’re alone but no. Your name is My delight is in Her. In Christ you’re holy and blameless, married, and a perfect spotless bride for our loving husband. The more we let this truth in, the more we can take on the perfect love of God.

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Topics: Grace, Kingdom of God, Non-Violence

Sermon Series: Glimpses of Truth


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Focus Scripture:

  • Exodus 23:28-30

    And I will send the pestilence, in front of you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land

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13 thoughts on “Has God Always Been Loving?

    Tracy Grant says: Monday May 22, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    Hi. Love all the sermons. Just a question. I totally get where Greg is coming from in that it seems that God doesn’t want the slaughter of his children. But what if something more was going on in the land of Caanan? We see that nephilim are mentioned prior to the Flood and afterwards. And we see these Giants showing up in the Caananite tribes. If Adam and Eve caused the Fall, which produced internal sin to be present in man, these Fallen angels produced depravity into the human race by teaching man things they never should have been taught, and introducing their own children into the human gene pool. There are numerous accounts in the intertestamental period and the Book of Enoch to suggest that this was a huge issue. God destroyed the world because of their fallen offspring. But after the Flood, we see their presence again. Chuck Missler suggests they infected bloodlines with the mix of divine and human blood mixed, and if they are left to procreate, Christ would not be able to be born to man alone. Bit of a problem. So… if as Greg suggests, God just wanted to ‘move them on’ and not wipe them out…. where would that leave us i wonder? maybe the threat was so real, that they did indeed need to be eliminated? Maybe the Isrealties ‘thought’ God meant every woman and child, whereas maybe God just said… wipe out giant people…who knows. i know this sounds crazy, but if all those tribes were infected by nephilim blood ( and we see they were)….. how does this fit with what Greg is saying?

    Reply
      Amanda Churchill says: Tuesday May 30, 2017 at 9:25 am

      Hi Tracy,

      I received a response to your comment, from Greg:


      Tracy,

      I considered the Nephilim theory a while back but, for too many reasons to go into, I finally decided it wasn’t plausible. Among other things,

      ·This isn’t the reason given in the text for why Yahweh allegedly wanted to wipe them out
      ·The hyprid Nephilim were killed in the flood and there is no account of fallen angels co-habitating with women
      ·The two mentions of Nephilim in the conquest narrative only apply to two groups within Canaan,. Not to all Canaanites. And,
      ·It’s more likely than not. After Genesis 6, the term Nephilim came to mean “very tall.”

      That’s my take anyway.

      Bless you,
      GB

      Reply
    Molly Griffith says: Tuesday May 23, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Michael S. Heiser preaches the same as Tracy Grant mentioned above. Nephilim infected the world with illicit behavior. They needed to be eliminated. Could they be the “vessels of wrath prepared beforehand for destruction”? Romans 9

    Reply
    Molly Griffith says: Wednesday May 24, 2017 at 6:35 am

    I love the concept but respectfully disagree. Sorry. What about God “taking over the land” by a deluge of water – men, women, and children (but spare the animals)? God alone slaughtered everyone but Noah’s family. After that, God alone punished all of Egypt with torturous plagues and finally killed all of their firstborn. Either he’s a moral monster or something else is going on. Nephilim, Rephaim, Anakim….hybrids were taking the land and God’s people. Hebrews tells us that Jesus did not die to help the (fallen) angels. Maybe God’s love is beyond us and we don’t have to defend him or his methods?

    Reply
    Molly Griffith says: Wednesday May 24, 2017 at 6:44 am

    Jesus told the crowds to love their enemies, which were the Romans. There’s no indication that he encouraged them to love the Pharisees, who were God’s enemies. Jews who were not really Jews, but a brood of vipers who were facing the wrath to come (70 AD) – the wicked generation that was guilty of the blood of all the prophets from Abel to Zechariah. The guilty ones who “trampled underfoot the blood of Christ when they continued to offer sacrifices after the resurrected Messiah.

    Or am I missing something?

    Reply
    Molly Griffith says: Wednesday May 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    God alone condemned Sodom and Gomorrah – men, women, children, livestock.

    And if God could enlighten Elisha to throw a feast for his enemies, he could’ve done the same with earlier prophets, could he not?

    Reply
    Tracy Grant says: Saturday May 27, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I wish someone could answer these questions….. they are legitimate questions, and i don’t know if Greg ever sees this, but it would be nice if someone who has a handle on what he talks about could answer.

    Reply
    Peter says: Sunday May 28, 2017 at 1:25 am

    Hi Tracy,

    This may not provide all the answers that you are looking for, but it should set you on a path that could lead to some satisfaction.

    Firstly, Molly is right in pointing in the direction of (Dr) Mike Heiser. He is the Scholar in Residence at Faithlife/Logos and is well qualified academically both in ancient languages and the history of the “Bible Lands”. He is also in a position of having access to a wide range of historical and archaeological documents and essentially only deals with peer reviewed materials. The reason I am commenting this way is that whoever is providing answers to your questions, you are seeking a level of trust that you are not being led up the garden path…which, at times, can happen. Additionally, when I first came across Mike, his name was associated with aliens, UFOs and Roswell and you have to scratch your head and say, what is going on here? But if you do get involved in listening or watching any of these talks (Youtube), you will begin to understand where he is coming from…and I don’t mean the lunatic sci-fi fringe.

    With this introduction, I will let Greg indirectly answer some of your questions and finish with a follow-up on Mike.

    Back in 2008, Greg did a review on Mike’s book then titled, “The Myth That Is True” that had some involvement with Greg’s Reknew website. The blog title is, “Boyd and Heiser Dialogue On The Nephilim Question”, and is found here,

    http://reknew.org/2008/06/boyd-and-heiser-dialogue-on-the-nephilim-question/

    There is a further follow-up here (“Heiser Clarifies Misunderstandings in My Review”),

    http://reknew.org/2008/06/heiser-clarifies-misunderstandings-in-my-review/

    And also,

    http://reknew.org/2008/06/yahwehs-war-against-the-nephilim/

    So there you have possible answers to a large ‘chunk’ of what may be swirling around in your mind. The point here is that Mike’s book was not published until May 2015 under the new title “The Unseen Realm – Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible”, (now listed in Greg’s Reknew ‘library’) that has been edited to cover and explain some of the objections (not only those raised by Greg) and includes newer material. There is also a ‘lighter’ edition called, “Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters”. Both of these books are also available as Audible books.

    I must admit that after reading these books, it can’t help but change your reading/understanding of the OT. Not in the sense of a radical rethink, but a more a reframe and fuller understanding of the OT…and its implications for the NT.

    Mike has also just had published (a follow-up book, March 2017) “Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ” that may also take your interest (Mike’s website is http://www.drmsh.com).

    While there is much more that could be said, hopefully the above may help clarify some of your issues and, possibly, how this relates to Greg’s message.

    Reply
    Kevin says: Sunday May 28, 2017 at 11:47 am

    @Tracy and Molly. The teachings of Missler and others are moot because of Ephesians 6:12

    12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    Reply
    Charmaine McKay says: Sunday May 28, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    When I asked the Lord how these violent acts in the OT fit with His loving character, He told me several things. First, that the children who died went to be with Him for eternity, because they were still innocent. Secondly, He allowed these things as object lessons to the world of what the horrors of hell are like, so perchance some may repent and come to God. And third, He lovingly removed “peoples whose sinful times were full” because if He had let them remain on the earth they would have eventually infected the whole world with their evil, and the Lord would have had to destroy everyone. All of this shows His deep love for mankind.

    Reply
    Tracy Grant says: Saturday June 3, 2017 at 12:59 am

    Thanks guys for answering. Appreciate it. And Peter I have both Unseen Realms and Reversing Hermon so very familiar with the work of Heiser. Greg and Mike are my two favourite authors atm, and i listen regularly to Greg on the Blog. I really appreciate Greg’s passion and insight. Please thank him for responding Amanda. 🙂

    Reply
    Peter says: Monday June 5, 2017 at 6:29 am

    Thanks Tracy, I tend to agree with your comments in the sense that, just as Greg (with WHC) provides great teaching, so also does Mike with his weekly podcast (TheNakedBible)…spoilt for choice!

    Reply

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