Monday, January 3, 2011

Prescription or Description? Deuteronomy 20

I recently posted a link to an article by Anthony Horvath on how to read the Bible.  Ryan Anderson had an interesting comment

I will say, in regards to the section on "Prescription versus Description", he's right in theory, but seems to be glossing over the fact that some of those less than flattering things were in fact prescribed by God, not merely a description of bad Hebrew behavior.
Notice, to his credit, he tacitly agrees that Horvath is right that sometimes some texts are taken out of context where people say that the Bible is commanding violence  when it really describes something that will or did take place not giving a command to do it. However he then suggests that God does command that his followers do "less than flattering things" (read evil and morally bankrupt). I challenged Ryan Anderson  to give an example of such a text and I also asked that he provide a response explaining why the standard response do little in explaining why God said what he said. Ryan Anderson responded as follows:

Deut 20 comes to mind, but that's assuming you believe Moses was actually speaking for a God.

Notice he didn't interact with the reasons we give to understand Deuteronomy 20, but he did provide an example. I expect he really doesn't mean the whole chapter. The verses people seem to have a problem with are verses 14-17. They ask "How could God be moral if he allows women to be raped and their men killed? How can God be good if He tells Israel to kill all the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites? However let's look at the whole chapter in its historical and theological contexts and see what it shows of us as God's character because God - YHWH - did speak through Moses.
1 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”
The context of the chapter is the rules Israel was supposed to follow when they waged war. God starts with words of encouragement. Most of times through all the recorded wars in the Bible they are outmatched in almost every conceivable way. The priest is to remind the people that God is with them. The fact that theses are enemies presupposes the context of Israel acting in it's own defense and not as aggressors trying to take what does not belong to them. God is always with you - no matter the challenge.
 5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.
How is this for raising an army? If you had just gotten property, about to get married, or just too scared - you was exempt from serving. I'm willing that mast Israelites would not take fear option to avoid the embarrassment. But that does not sound like something people do. In most drafts you have to go no matter what you feel or your personal circumstances. God is caring - your government is not.
 10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
When dealing with other nations, they were first to make an offer of peace. Give them the chance to surrender. If the enemy surrenders they weren't  supposed to kill anyone. If they resist, kill all the men. All educate people know that Slavery in ancient Israel was not the same as slavery Europeans used in their imperialistic crusades from 1492 AD onward. Not only could you get your freedom you were never to supposed to be thought of as being less than human. I'm not saying that people did not treat their slaves like cattle in ancient times also, but you can't equate the two systems. You weren't enslaved because of your skin color in ancient times.  As for the women given as spoils of war - where is rape implied? Where is forced marriage? No one should be so naive to think that it never happened in Israel, but it was not sanctioned. Given how the Torah says men should treat their wives, the rights wives had - unprecedented in the region - I would find it hard to believe that many of the women would join the community willingly. It's not in this text (See Deuteronomy 21:10-14), but the women were supposed to be given time to mourn their family and friends if they lost them. You could not just marry them the next day. And you you did marry such a woman you could not just discard her like garbage when you were through with her - you know like men do today - running around from bed to bed leaving broken hearts, live, and children in their wake.
 16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

Thing were different with the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites Why? God said that Israel was going to be His instrument of wrath and judgment on them for the evils and sins that they did. Yes, God is love and mercy, but he is also a god of justice and wrath. Did they deserve such judgment? Yes. They practiced human sacrifice of their children and babies to idols! God gave them 430 years to change and they refused (Genesis 15:12-14). Are we any better than they no? We eliminate babies and neglect or elderly all for the sake of convenience. Do you really think we, as a people and nation, won't have to pay for that? I don't think so. Verse 18 tell us why Israel were told to destroy everything and everyone. God knew that if they didn't, Israel would end up doing the same things as the people they displaced. This is exactly what happened.

 19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.
Finally, we see God telling Israel that we should never use up natural resources irresponsibly to fuel a war.

We see God cares about His people, their enemies, and his creation. I find it difficult to see what is so immoral in what He told them to do. I find it amazing that Ryan Anderson defends the relativity of morality  but refuses to give God the same right to define morality that he says everyone has even when they are in conflict. I suspect the reason why is because, by definition , God's moral standards would have to supersede all others because that is what being God means. Therefore one who denies or doubts the existence of such a being can't afford to allow for that being's moral standards to have weight in their lives. Doesn't matter if they give it weight or not - that is the standard by which we will be judged apart from Jesus Christ who was given as our propitiation because none of  us could ever hope to measure up to that absolute standard.
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26 comments:

  1. You weren't enslaved because of your skin color in ancient times.

    Listen to you defending slavery and your morally relative conception of god. Very surreal. But no, they weren't enslaved because of their skin colour, just because of the name of their tribe or religion.

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  2. Also doesn't change the fact that the Hebrew's used their version of god to justify the abbrogation of other's free will (be a slave or die).

    Justify that...

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  3. No non-Israel nations were enslaved because the lost a war. The Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites were destroyed because they rejercted God. I keep seeing your reading comprehension and logic are lacking. I didn't defend slavery I pointed out that moral revulsion we have against it today is because of guilt. The ancients didn't see it the same way and God didn't deal with them the same way. I also didn't present a morally relative conception of God. I said that if you are going to believe morality is relative you have to allow for God's morality too. Once you do that His moral values supersede yours - meaning you should surrender to him and obey.

    Hope that helped your level of understanding. I used smaller words this time.

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  4. Ryan, if you are going to war - it's best not to loose. Again what kind of slave would you be. Recall to the ancients slave and servant was the same thing. You could get out of being a slave in Israel. My ancestors didn't have it that easy or fair. Funny how you seem to be more horrified by slavery than I am. Where is your moral relativism. Was it wrong? If so how do you know?

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  5. No non-Israel nations were enslaved because the lost a war. = No. The other nations were enslaved because they lost wars.

    Think about it. What is the most moral way to deal with the losers of a war?

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  6. Roman slavery was more of a mix of what we think of as modern slavery and ancient slavery. Interesting that "god" never explicitely condemed Roman Slavery when he had the chance.

    Hope that helped your level of understanding. I used smaller words this time.

    You should know I typically ignore these throw away comments as worthless, but you should also be aware the only thing they do is dishonor you.

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  7. Typical logic. You brought up Roman slavery and the whole post is about slavery in ancient Israel.

    Hmmm.

    As for dishonoring myself. You get to call my intellectual abilities into question and I'm supposed to take yours as a given. And calling me "dummy" honors you in some way?

    I thought that was the level of interaction you wanted. If you agree not to insult me I won't insult you.

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  8. You brought up Roman slavery and the whole post is about slavery in ancient Israel.

    Actually, you brought up "ancient" slavery.

    Don't say dumb stuff, like people lived on Pangea and I won't call you dumb. Usually however, any observation about your intellect I've tied to something demonstratably dumb you've said.

    I have no problem with you insulting me, just make sure you support your insult. It's the "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" stuff that makes you look a fool.

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  9. All of my comments were directed to to Ancient Israel and you know or should know that from the context.

    Please get real. You can't concede something is possible and yet say it's dumb. Again disagree that it's true much as you want. you can't prove it false. Therefore the dumb thing is that you think that something can be possibly true and dumb at the same time. You've demonstrated nothing except that you are dumb.

    And considering you have proven noting except ending up agreeing with me that there isn't enough evidence to completely rule out that human being were around when Pangea finally broke up seems like my point has been made. Yours hasn't. You may be be dumb enough to contradict God, but at least you are honest.

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  10. Seriously though, Jesus really should have said something, anything about slavery. Especially the brutal Roman version he would have been familiar with...

    You can't concede something is possible and yet say it's dumb.

    Pangea as the home of Sluglike Alien-Overlords is both dumb and possible. As is humans living on Pangea. Of course by "possible" I mean almost certainly impossible.

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  11. Seriously though, Jesus really should have said something, anything about slavery. Especially the brutal Roman version he would have been familiar with...

    Yes, let's talk seriously. Jesus did something about slavery. You are enslaved to sin and death. He came so that you could be free and live!


    Pangea as the home of Sluglike Alien-Overlords is both dumb and possible. As is humans living on Pangea. Of course by "possible" I mean almost certainly impossible.


    I won't concede that possibility. At least there is evidence for the flood. And we humans are at least here. We have no evidence of slug aliens period.

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  12. I won't concede that possibility.

    Then you are absolutely intellectually dishonest and not worthy of engaging in discussion.

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  13. How I am I being intellectually dishonest? You don't have any evidence! You provide nothing in corroboration. You have offered nothing. Yolu just trying to be cute. Suggesting something stupid because you think it has just as much validity as arguing that we can't rule out that people lived on earth before the final break up of the Pangea continent. Surey you don't think it broke up into 7 pieces and drifted off into their present orientation all the same day do you? Help me help you: Realize that they don't have the same evidential weight.

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  14. I don't need to reinvent the wheel. Just pick up a geology book published in the last century, ok?

    When you are done with that, pick up an anthopology book.

    It'll do you good.

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  15. It'll do you better to back up your assertions. I'm asking you. If you don't know. You do the research and report back. You are the one making the claims.

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  16. I see what you are doing and it probably works occasionally on less educated people. You aren't interested in an actual discussion or learning anything new or challenging your own position, you are simply trying to create doubt to "win a soul" (Either that or you pride makes you wilfulling ignorant and you have no intereste in advancing your own knowledge).

    Better luck next time.

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  17. If you had something worthwhile to learn, I'd listen. So far...you have presented nothing I haven't heard already. Sounds like the pride problem is yours. I've asked questions you can't obviously answer.

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  18. And one thing i am certain of is that you need more education.

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  19. You seem to think that it's necessary for lay people to defend a field of science and if they can't, it's somehow a limitation of that field of science. This would be another instance where calling you an idiot or a dummy would be justified.

    With that said, I am not an authoirty in geology or anthropology (neither are you, not by a long shot) but one can understand how we know things, why we come to the conclusion we do based on what we know and the limitations of our knowledge. It's really very simple.

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  20. You seem to think that it's necessary for lay people to defend a field of science and if they can't, it's somehow a limitation of that field of science. This would be another instance where calling you an idiot or a dummy would be justified.

    With that said, I am not an authoirty in geology or anthropology (neither are you, not by a long shot) but one can understand how we know things, why we come to the conclusion we do based on what we know and the limitations of our knowledge. It's really very simple.


    Yes, let us be simple. I didn't say that the field of geography or any science is limited to your ignorance. However even you must realize that Geology does not have all the questions answered about Pangea. I'm not the one who is having difficulty knowing and admitting what I don't know: you do. And you don't seem to know what conclusions you can and cannot draw based on what we do know.

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  21. See my comment on the Dawkins/Noah post. Time to put up or shut up. Present positive evidence that at least two currently existing continents were joined during a time period when Homo Sapien Sapiens also existed. I will not accept as positive evidence the following: 1) speculation based on an absence of evidence 2) scripture 3) your desire that it be true.

    Hint: it should be something like this “Strata x and fossil y indicate that…” Be specific and thorough.

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  22. Who is being dishonest. I asked you first. I'll give you my evidence showing that humans lived on Pangea when you provide the evidence that they didn't. And you can't be that simple minded enough to think that fossil evidence is enough to prove such a thing - and I already agreed that we don't have fossil evidence of human beings in that range. So? That's not enough. It's on you. I'll show you mine after you show me yours.

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  23. I can't decide which I'd prefer to be true, you being dishonest or stupid.

    But either way I hope you realize that the person who has the obligation to support their claim is not the person who was asked first, but the one that's making the positive claim. For example, if you asked me to prove the sun would rise tomorrow because you are sure it won't, you first would have to substantiate why you think it won't, regardless if you asked first (and humans on pangea is just as theoretically possible, but practically improbable as the sun not rising tomorrow).

    I suspect you know this, which leads me to believe your dishonest and not stupid, although I guess you could be both...

    So, again, please present positive evidence that at least two currently existing continents were joined during a time period when Homo Sapien Sapiens also existed. I will not accept as positive evidence the following: 1) speculation based on an absence of evidence 2) scripture 3) your desire that it be true.

    Hint: it should be something like this “Strata x and fossil y indicate that…” Be specific and thorough.

    Obviously, it's your blog, you're under no obligation to oblige, but I think we all will know what the reason is if you don't.

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  24. @Ryan

    I can't decide which I'd prefer to be true, you being dishonest or stupid.

    You haven't proved either.

    But either way I hope you realize that the person who has the obligation to support their claim is not the person who was asked first, but the one that's making the positive claim. For example, if you asked me to prove the sun would rise tomorrow because you are sure it won't, you first would have to substantiate why you think it won't, regardless if you asked first (and humans on pangea is just as theoretically possible, but practically improbable as the sun not rising tomorrow).

    However you are bringing up one of the most dishonest challenges atheist often used. That is claiming that the burden of proof is on the believer of God and you don't have to prove that there isn't a God. Very fallacious. It's been answered many times. Either there were people on earth before the super continent broke apart or not. If you are going to claim there wasn't you should have to prove it just as much as I should have to prove there was.

    I suspect you know this, which leads me to believe your dishonest and not stupid, although I guess you could be both...

    And there we go with the insults. Just because you can't prove your case, don't take it out on me.

    So, again, please present positive evidence that at least two currently existing continents were joined during a time period when Homo Sapien Sapiens also existed. I will not accept as positive evidence the following: 1) speculation based on an absence of evidence 2) scripture 3) your desire that it be true.

    I never really said you should think that humans were on earth before the final break up of Pangea because of an absence of evidence. What I said was is that you can't use absence of evidence to say there was no people. The best you can say is that we don't know for science,

    What is wrong with scripture. You can't prove scripture wrong.

    I never argued anything about me wanting it to be true is good enough evidence

    You are the one who is dishonest.

    Obviously, it's your blog, you're under no obligation to oblige, but I think we all will know what the reason is if you don't.

    Good to know you remember whose blog this is. I'm not going to play this your way. I issued you a challenge and you cannot answer me with another challenge. The only reason I don't answer your challenge is you didn't answer mine. That is what everyone will know.

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  25. That is claiming that the burden of proof is on the believer of God and you don't have to prove that there isn't a God. Very fallacious. It's been answered many times.

    I am so fascinated by your confused and desperate need to believe and "defend" a minor, vague, and non-theologically relevant part of the bible, so I'm loathe to get us off track, but I have to say I've never seen anyone actually adequately answer this objection, but I have seen believers rail against the notion that they should be required to substantiate their assertions. Perish the thought. Perhaps you could reference some of these "answers"...

    If you are going to claim there wasn't you should have to prove it just as much as I should have to prove there was.

    This is done with the existing geological column and the fossil record. I'd like to see some of your positive counter evidence.

    I'm not going to play this your way.

    Because you can't.

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