Most Americans will be vegans within fifty years if current trends continue. Think about it and you’ll agree this is not a radical idea. Meatless menus and days without meat become more popular every year. With each passing season, our affection for animals increases, along with the conviction that they must have rights, too. And very soon, there will be synthetic meats that boast of added nutritional benefits with the same great taste. You can imagine the labels: No animals were harmed in the production of this food product.
In 2070, our great grandchildren will look back on our generation with horror! No one will understand why we insisted on serving dead animals to our children and our dinner guests! Quite suddenly, most of the shoppers and chefs of 2017 will seem like heartless barbarians. We will join that long, death march into infamy only a few paces behind the slave owners, racists, and sexists who came before us. We will be condemned and stigmatized for failing to adopt values of an unborn generation still 100 years away!
No, that’s not fair. It’s not even rational. We are all products of our particular day and age- Millennials and Generation Z are no different than Boomers in this regard. You don’t know what you don’t know. But keep this injustice in mind that next time you are tempted to scowl at those heartless Neanderthals who populate the Holy Bible.
The toughest thing about reading through your Bible in a year happens early on: the challenge of slogging through one scene of Old Testament battlefield carnage after another. Why did Samuel slash King Agag to ribbons while condemning King Saul for not doing it first? Why are women and children occasionally killed along with the soldiers in one battle or another? We are perplexed that the Almighty God not only approves of such conduct but sometimes commands it must be done.
In fact, many of the heroes and heroines of the Bible walked the Earth some three thousand years ago. Read that again: 30 centuries ago! The Ammonites and Jebusites and Amorites who surrounded their homeland were not enlightened, 21st Century humanists. For most nations of that period, warfare was not about self-defense: it was the economy, stupid! Most nations gleefully invaded their neighbors to expand their own territory, feed their own people, and bring home stolen treasure and prisoners of war to work in the fields. Most communities were not even bound by religious commands that they should not kill, much less not declare war.
Some like the Philistines or the Amalekites were so lacking in principle or human decency that they would launch sneak attacks year after year. If terrorist neighbors persisted in waging war and killing your trusting subjects year in and year out, a desperate king’s only option might well be to finally make an example of one of those nations. By inflicting such horrific death and damage to men, women and children alike, that king might hope to avert future bloodshed. It was a scorched earth strategy. Today it’s called the Nuclear Option.
Indeed, that rationale explains God’s command that the Amalekites would perpetually live under a divine curse. When the Israelites first emerged from bondage in Egypt, they were weakened, broken in spirit, unskilled in desert survival, and utterly defenseless. The Amalekites not only chose to attack but came sweeping in from the rear. This enabled them to first slaughter the stragglers- the lame, the sickly, the aging, and children leading flocks of livestock- before coming face to face with the armed men who could fight. The divine curse that God decreed after that heartless act extended to future Amalekites like Samuel’s King Agag and Queen Esther’s Haman, a descendant of Agag. God made an example of them for the sake of other nations.
Some of the things that unsettle our tender sensibilities in the Twenty-first Century actually saved lives amid the cruel and uncivilized laws of survival of 800 BC. And some of the ethics of the Hebrew people, so foreign to us, were actually advanced behaviors in a world where human trafficking, warfare, plural marriage, racism, and oppression of women were protected by the laws and traditions of most societies.
When Jesus taught us, “Judge not that you be not judged,” he did not suggest we should not evaluate good or bad behavior. In context, he actually taught that we should not impose a standard for others that we would never apply to ourselves; do not judge with unjust standards lest you be condemned the same way. It’s a principle to keep in mind when we’re tempted to disparage Samson or Samuel or David.
Bible heroes met God on the mountaintops but they had to live their lives in the valleys. So do we. Why not learn from the lives our God’s ancient people without disqualifying them because they didn’t live long enough to learn from us? I always take along some grace when I journey through the Bible; the kind of grace Jesus carried for carnivores like me.
Lift up the Cross!