I preached Esther 9:1-10:3 this Sunday. It’s a bloody scene. At least 75,500 people lose their lives. In context, it is a defensive war. Haman, the enemy of the Jews, seeks to exterminate God’s people off the face of the planet, a great turnabout occurs, and the Jews are given legal right to defend themselves. As a result, the enemies of the Jews, over 75,000 of them, are killed.

If you read this account in the context of the entire Old Testament, you will note two things. First, this is a holy war. I explain this in the sermon, you can find it here. Second, this is the last holy war in the Old Testament. I’m defining “holy war” as the instances within the Old Testament where God commanded or utilized His people to serve as His arm of judgment against His enemies. We see this throughout the Pentateuch and the historical books. It’s all over the place. It is also one of the primary stumbling blocks for modern readers, as some read these accounts and deem God unworthy of their respect.

Admittedly, reconciling what we know about God as revealed in Jesus with these Old Testament accounts is something with which both Christians and non-Christians struggle. My intent here is to address those who issue the common refrain: “If that’s what God is like – I don’t want to serve a God like that.”

First, you will strive and fail to understand or accept “what God is like” if you eschew a biblical worldview. God reveals Himself in the Bible. That means that these texts reveal something about God. God also reveals the truth about humankind in the Bible. That means these texts tell us something about humanity. That is where we must start.

...you will strive and fail to understand or accept “what God is like” if you eschew a biblical worldview. Click To Tweet

Here are four aspects of a biblical worldview that I have found helpful as I wrestle through texts that talk about holy war.

 

1) Biblically, human beings are not innocent bystanders.

Most modern readers, and certainly those who approach these kinds of texts with an eye toward judging God’s character, believe that humans are basically good. In this view, when you don’t know anything about other people, say people like the Amalekites, Amorites, Midianites, or the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, you assume they are innocent. If God chooses to judge them, God must be at fault. What did they do to God? What right does he have? If people are basically good, the idea that God would have ‘enemies’ or that someone would be seen as ‘rebelling against God,’ seems super harsh and judgmental.

A biblical worldview is exactly the opposite. Human beings, after Genesis 3 (the 3rd chapter of the Bible) are not born basically good, or even morally neutral. In fact, as we stand before God in God’s world, human beings are radically corrupt. I could list hundreds of Scriptural examples here, but I’d rather have you open a Bible and read it for yourself. You can also just look out the window for a few days or read the news. Or just take stock—really honestly—of your own life for a week. You will find that people are sinners. You must be convinced of this if you are to understand these biblical texts. C.S. Lewis wrote a masterful essay called “God in the Dock.” In it he says,

“The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin…The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers…a sense of guilt. Thus, the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy. The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”

 

2) Biblically, as the Creator of all things, God is the only righteous judge.

Think about this. How would you rather that God behave? If you “don’t want to serve a God like that” then what kind of God would you prefer to serve? Perhaps, a God that only does and says what you think He should do and say? What about a God who operates with His creation in only the ways you prescribe? If God is God, wouldn’t you think it is His prerogative to—perhaps, maybe, possibly, perchance—do or say something outside the bounds of what you think, feel, or surmise is fitting? Wouldn’t you think that there is a chance, even the slightest chance, that defining God as God means He could offend you?

If not, then would it hold that you only want to serve a God who looks, acts, thinks, speaks, judges, and operates an awful lot like you? Do you really want to serve God? Or do you think there is a chance that you would prefer a conception of God that serves you?

Stop. Read Romans 9 (in the New Testament). Maybe read it again. Continue to point #3.

 

3) Biblically, there is no discontinuity in the revelation of God’s character in the Old Testament and New Testament.

Here is what God reveals of Himself through Moses, and all throughout His word, including through the cross of Christ.

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

 

4) Biblically, the moment that all Old Testament holy war prefigures is the final holy war on the cross of Christ.

I think these words from Karen Jobes sum this up powerfully.

“The death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, provides the only basis for the cessation of holy war and the infilling of the Holy Spirit provides the only power by which one may love one’s enemies as oneself. All of the vengeance God’s people would like to wreak on those who practice evil has now been satisfied in the suffering and death of Jesus. He has taken the wages of sin; he has suffered the vengeance of evil. The vengeance due to us for our sins against others and due to them for their sins against us has been satisfied in Jesus’ body on the cross. It is only on the basis of recognizing that the penalty has been paid by Jesus that we can forgive others as we have been forgiven. True holy war in human history has ceased because Jesus has fought its last episode on the cross.” Karen Jobes, Esther (The NIV Application Commentary)

Yes, God is good.

Yes, God is righteous.

Yes, God is faithful.

Yes, God is holy.

Yes, God is patient.

Yes, God is merciful.

Yes, you can trust Him.