Friday, October 26, 2012

Mat 10: Holy War Done Right

When someone mentions "holy war," what comes to mind? Corrupt wars started by religion? Wars fought for religious reasons? The Crusades of medieval Europe? Jihad? There is little tolerance in modern civil society for such brutish images. Jesus' offers a very different picture of holy war in Matthew 10.

It was not long ago that Billy Graham would hold stadium sized meetings called "crusades" intent on a having a "campaign" of evangelistic activity. Similarly, written into the hymns of the past century are lyrics exhorting "ye Christian soldier". Even popular charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army were founded amid the birth of Methodism in England.

In peaceful America, where we don't fear invasion by a foreign power, such militant images work. Abroad, however, they make missionary endeavor very difficult. Military intervention has soured many cultures against anything "Christian" (aka western) that smacks of dominion.

When we dissociate ourselves from militant language, an unfortunate casualty is biblical interpretation. When the text is trying to describe the spread of the gospel in the language of ancient holy war we run the risk of missing it entirely. The presence of militant language in scripture may offend us so dearly that we may be tempted to ignore it completely. The travesty of it all is that Matthew 10 is an example of holy war done right, where the enemies are demons and disease rather than people, where God does all the fighting while we sit back and watch the miraculous, where the people involved in the conflict are targets of love rather than objects of violence.

Where in Matthew 10 is this military language? It's buried in Jesus' obscure instructions in verse 9 and 10, "Do not take gold, silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for the journey, or an extra tunic, or sandals or staff, for the worker deserves his provisions." While at first appearance these commands might seem designed to keep the apostles dependent on God rather than their own resources, there is actually something much deeper behind Jesus' words.

When we compare these instructions to rabbinic literature, we find out something very interesting. Alfred Edersheim, a converted Jew, brings a missing perspective when he writes:
Again, the directions about not taking staff, shoes, nor money-purse, exactly correspond to the Rabbinic injunction not to enter the Temple-precincts with staff, shoes (mark, not sandals), and a money-girdle. The symbolic reasons underlying this command would, in both cases, be probably the same: to avoid even the appearance of being engaged on other business...."[1].
Here we see that Jesus prescribes the apostles wear temple appropriate garb while there are on mission. Why? There was only one group that was required by law to follow temple holiness code outside of the temple -- the army.

Israel's army, according to scriptural instruction, moved with God when they traveled. As a consequence, any law that pertained to temple purity also applied to the army. This simple association prevented several war atrocities including rape and unrestrained pillaging. In Hebrew scripture, David and the soldiers under him are specifically highlighted for always keeping ceremonial cleanliness while at war.[2]

The easily missed yet important connection here is that the apostles are sent out as an army, an army with the very presence of God. By walking into a town dressed in temple appropriate garb, the apostles would visibly communicate that God was with them, that they were on spiritual business, and that God was conquering true uncleanness and demonic oppression.

Should we flagrantly taut such violent imagery today? Certainly not. But we should be aware of it, and take it's lesson to heart. The proclamation of the gospel is spiritual holy war, a war fought without guns and without murder. Such a fight is impossible with the miraculous intervention of God.

If our gospel presentation has no healing offered or delivered, perhaps God does not travel with us. If God does not move with us, then it deserves to be asked whether our ministry has the "goods" offered in the "good" news. Does every ministry need to have frequent miraculous healings associated with it? Perhaps not. But if there is no awareness of it, nor expectation of it, nor offer of it, then the salvation we teach has become so spiritualized that it is no longer any earthly good. Such a "salvation" by faith through the forgiveness of sins is in reality only half the gospel, not the "full" gospel. Jesus' message deals with the whole person, conquering the real world injustice of the devil.

Any doctor or philanthropist can send material relief to the suffering, and in scripture God's people are commanded to do this too. But let's us not mistake the compassion within the heart of God that we are to emulate and communicate to the suffering of the world with the power of God's presence that is to accompany those who proclaim the gospel of life to the oppressed. It is just this miraculous element that separates Jesus' followers from every other "good" and "moral" relief effort that other human made religions endeavor toward. Let's get back to the raw gospel that Jesus commanded his apostles to spread, that heaven is drawing close to our world, indeed breaking through to it.

There is no "cook book" through which miraculous healings and exorcisms may be preformed. Only being commissioned by Jesus, and obeying his command can accomplish the impossible. We do not believe that Jesus is far away, but active today in the lives of those who follow his teaching, who have committed themselves to him.


1. Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:643

2. 1 Sam 21:4-5

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