MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Most Christians have an inadequate response to violence, Tremper Longman III said during the Deere Lecture at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary as he explained how Old Testament warfare fits into the canon of Scripture.
“The whole concept of violence and religion has become a difficult subject in the 21st century,” said Longman, professor of biblical studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and an adjunct professor for Golden Gate’s doctoral program.
Longman has written commentaries on several Old Testament books and has helped translate at least four versions of the Bible.
“The Old Testament outlined three distinct phases of war: before, during and after,” Longman said. “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 said. 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,” Longman said.
The second phase, during the war, included many symbols of God’s presence, he said.
“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 said, noting 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,” Longman said. “Praise took place immediately after the battle.”
A significant number of psalms are related to war and victory, he said, and 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,” Longman said. “Some people today say there is something wrong with the Old Testament because of this behavior.” But, he noted, from Genesis 3 throughout the Old Testament, God fights against the flesh and blood enemies of his people. There is a close connection between the warrior and the covenant, Longman said, and when the Israelites disobeyed, God allowed them to be defeated in battle.
Even though God at times fought against Israel, the role of the prophets was to proclaim the hope and the expectation of the faithful, Longman said. “The prophets announced that God the warrior was coming again. He would save God’s people from their oppressors,” he said.
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 said. He 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.
“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 said.
The Deere Lecture series is named in memory of Derward W. Deere, an Old Testament professor who taught from 1950 to 1968 at Golden Gate Seminary.
IORG URGES STUDENTS: SEEK INTERCESSORS — The priority of prayer is vital for Christian leaders, Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said during a chapel service at the Mill Valley, Calif., campus.
“Sometimes prayer is a last-gasp desperate effort, not the disciplined devotion of leaders,” Iorg said.
Referring to 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Iorg said, “When Paul wrote, ‘Finally, brothers, pray for us,’ the word ‘finally’ did not mean his prayer request was tacked on. The ‘finally’ is a culmination of his letter, not an afterthought. Paul models the priority of prayer for leaders by asking believers to pray for him.”
Iorg recounted his experience of asking people to pray for him by creating a prayer team.
“In 1995, I became the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Coming to that leadership role at a relatively young age was overwhelming,” he said. “God led me to ask people — intercessors from across the convention — to pray for me. In response to an open letter in my newspaper column, about three dozen couples or individuals contacted me and committed to pray for me and my family daily.
“It’s humbling to receive letters from people you don’t know who tell you they are praying for you every day,” Iorg said. “Asking for prayer humbled me, as well as created a new source of spiritual power and support. For the past 15 years, I have sent a monthly letter to my prayer team. They pray for me every day. Whatever success has come through my leadership is directly attributable to the team’s intercession on my behalf.”
Iorg challenged students and faculty to find a few prayer warriors and intercessors and ask to be added to their prayer lists.
“Take time to update them regularly on your life and ministry,” he said.
Citing Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 as an example, Iorg also challenged the seminary community to model the importance of prayer by praying with and for others. He encouraged regular prayer with church members, leaders, family and friends.
“Praying with others communicates how much you value prayer, and how much importance you place on prayer in your ministry,” he said.
Iorg ended his message by calling the congregation to pray in small groups for several strategic requests including revival throughout Golden Gate Seminary, church planting in California, financial provision for the seminary, the presidential search at the International Mission Board and for current and future Golden Gate students.
“Let’s demonstrate the priority of prayer as we get on our knees before the Lord,” Iorg said.
Adapted from reporting by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.