Deere Lecture 2010 Tremper Longman, III

“Show Them No Mercy”
Deere Lecture Fall 2010
speaker: Temper Longman, III

“The whole concept of violence and religion has become a difficult subject in the 21st century,” Tremper Longman, III said to students, faculty and staff during the Deere Lecture program at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in October 2010. “Most Christians have inadequate responses to violence. The purpose of my lecture is to understand how Old Testament warfare fits into the canon.”

Longman is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is an adjunct professor for Golden Gate’s doctoral program, and has written over 20 books including commentaries on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, and Nahum. In addition, he is one of the main translators of the New Living Translation and has served as a consultant on other Bible translations including the Message, the New Century Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

“The Old Testament outlined three distinct phases of war: ‘before,’ ‘during,’ and ‘after,’” began Longman. “Examining these phases will help us, as Christians, to understand the concept of war and spirituality.”

Old Testament warriors, such as Joshua, tried to discern the will of God before going to war, Longman explained. If it was God’s desire for people to go to war, they knew God would be with them. Going to battle was like going to worship. “Battle was being in God’s presence, doing His will,” said Longman.

“The second phase, during the war, included many symbols of God’s presence,” continued Longman. “The Ark of the Covenant was carried into battle with the army, as a mobile presence. The priests were considered body guards of God’s holiness, and protected the Ark and the King by encircling them while encamped.” Longman pointed out that when God was with His people, they didn’t need superior weapons or overwhelming numbers of soldiers for a victorious outcome.

“After the war, which was the third phase, included the activities of praise and ‘herem,’ a Hebrew word meaning plunder,” said Longman. “Praise took place immediately after the battle.” Longman noted that almost 50 out of 100 psalms find their original context related to war and victory. Herem dealt specifically with consecrating the spoils of war to the true victor, God. Plundered treasure which could be used in the Sanctuary was deposited there, while items which could not be used were sacrificed to God. This included the executing of prisoners of war and livestock. “Today, we find executing prisoners of war ethically difficult,” said Longman. “Some people today say there is something wrong with the Old Testament because of this behavior.”

“From Genesis 3 throughout the Old Testament period,” noted Longman, “God fights against the flesh and blood enemies of his people.” He noted the close connection between the Warrior and the Covenant. He pointed out that, when the Israelites disobeyed, God allowed them to be defeated in battle.

Longman explained that even though God at times fought against Israel, the role of the prophets was to proclaim the hope and the expectation of the faithful. “The prophets announced that God the warrior was coming again. He would save God’s people from their oppressors.”

John the Baptist in the New Testament echoes the words of hope and expectation of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, and others in the Old Testament. Longman described Jesus as a Holy Warrior, whose way is the cross, not the sword. He noted that the battle has been heightened and intensified, and is now pointed in a spiritual direction.

Longman concluded by noting how the Bible tells one coherent story of God as it describes His well-thought out plan for the destruction of evil. “Warfare is an act of God’s judgment. It was always spiritual warfare from the beginning in Genesis 3 to the end, in Revelation 20.”

Longman presented his lecture as part of the Seminary’s 2010 Deere Lecture series, named in memory of Dr. Derward W. Deere, Old Testament professor who taught from 1950 to 1968 at Golden Gate Seminary.

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