Texts of Violence

Texts of Violence June 7, 2013

In a 2004 article in Word & World , Terence Fretheim claims that several texts of the Old Testament attribute violence (Heb. hamas ) to God. Only one is a convincing example.

In Job 19:7, Job cries out against the “violence” done to him. He has just complied that Yahweh “has wronged me” and “closed his net around me”: (v. 6), so the charge of violence might be directed at Yahweh himself. Yet he also charges that his comforters have “tormented,” “crushed” and “wronged” him (vv. 2-3), so the charge might equally be directed at God. In the main, Job appeals to God to deliver him from the verbal assaults of his comforters. More importantly, it is important to note that this expresses Job’s perception of what God is doing to him, not necessarily what God is actually doing.

The same goes for another of Fretheim’s examples, Jeremiah 20:8, though in my view Fretheim is wrong to suggest that this is an exception. Jeremiah complains that he wins only scorn and hostility by preaching a message of “violence and destruction,” but the violence is coming from Babylon not Yahweh. The only clear exception is Lamentations 2:6, where Jeremiah that Yahweh has done violence against his own meeting place and ended appointed feasts.

Otherwise, the Bible never describes God as violent nor His actions as violence.


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