Just war is the game nations play but John Howard Yoder argued it was not a game Christians were to play. Inevitably, as we’ve already seen in this series, someone asks about the wars of Israel in the Old Testament and, to strengthen the argument, connect God to the justification of war.
John Howard Yoder’s last book, published posthumously on the basis of his lectures in Warsaw (Poland), Nonviolence – a Brief History: The Warsaw Lectures , devotes a lecture to “From the Wars of Joshua to Jewish Pacifism.”
Here are the points he makes in this chp:
Two approaches: (1) In the age of Moses and Joshua, war was morally obligatory; Jesus tells us it was wrong. There are significant problems here. There’s a plot in the Bible, to be sure, but it’s not OT vs. NT, Jesus vs. Moses. (2) Some Jesus’ teachings were for the church alone or only for face-to-face relations. He finds both of these arguments “legalistic.”
So he examines the holy wars.
1. YHWH is a warrior.
2. The gods of the ANE religions were warriors.
3. YHWH alone was the warrior in the Red Sea, Jericho, Gideon and Jehoshaphat. The Israelites didn’t fight in these battles.
4. The essence of the Israelite response was to trust YHWH, not themselves and not in their military strategies.
5. Israel had to remain faithful to the covenant.
6. Holy wars ended with David, and the nature of war changed with David. It was connected now to the warriors in Israel.
(But this pattern changes within the pages of the Old Testament — seen in the ambivalence about their being a king and in the lack of political sovereignty under Ezra and Nehemiah. See below.)
But what about today? Do these apply to today?
First, he says, those battles were unique and they were commanded by God, and we’d need prophets to reveal holy wars for today. And, second, Jesus’ listeners knew of mighty deeds by God that led to victory, so his peace plan was not something unusual and utopian and unrealistic.
He then examines, and he’s known for this argument, how Judaism became peaceful within the pages of the Old Testament and developed a pacifistic stance by its end and then on into rabbinic Judaism. He contends that among Jews more than among Christians we find the pattern and practice of Jesus’ own teachings! Few doubt the pacificist ways of Judaism.
Ezra and Nehemiah established a nation without “political sovereignty” (79). Jeremiah showed how to live among the nations peacefully and seeking the welfare of the city wherein they existed. Rabbinic communities were non violent. Why?
1. Blood is sacred.
2. The Messiah is not yet come, but when Messiah comes it will be peace. So be peaceful now.
3. They learned from the Zealot experience not to go that way.
4. How God directs the Gentile world can be trusted but not always known.
5. Suffering has a place in the divine economy.