Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?: Wrestling with Troubling War Texts – William Webb and Gordon Oeste

In my experience with talking to unbelievers or skeptics about God and the Bible, the large majority bring up the Old Testament and the seemingly “barbaric” behavior and commands of God, mostly surrounding the Israelites’ conquering the land of Canaan and destroying the Canaanites. How could God command such a thing? Why would he let that happen? How could the God of war of the Old Testament be the same God of love and peace in the New Testament? Webb and Oeste have written an extremely helpful book explaining the often puzzling and troubling texts in the Old Testament and moving the conversation forward.

Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? begins by looking at the traditional answers to these questions, such as God being just and holy in His commands and His allowing these actions because of the sin of the Canaanites, etc. Though these answers are true, it is argued that they are like trying to fit “square pegs into round holes,” and the book argues for a more sweeping, meta narrative explanation for the presence of seemingly genocidal activity in the Old Testament. They also give plenty of insight into ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) war practices, showing how the ethics of Israel’s war practices were actually very tame comparatively, and that God was moving and redeeming these practices over time. Another key argument is for the use of hyperbole in ANE war accounts and support is given for this in the biblical accounts of Joshua and Judges. The book wraps up with the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and as the apocalyptic warrior at the end of time and how this relates to Israel’s actions and God’s commands in the Old Testament.

The most beneficial argument in the book for me was how God is working in and through the practices of Israel and their surrounding culture in a redemptive way, stooping to their level and into their world. When we look at holy war from the lens of our current time and space, it is difficult to wrestle through. But looking at these texts from their own cultural perspective, it is clear that God was moving Israel in a direction much different from the practices of the surrounding world. The idea of God creating and desiring sacred space for Himself and His people is expressed here as well.

There are so many facets to this book and its arguments are wide and sweeping. It is beyond this review to go into more details about its arguments. But if you have ever questioned or wondered about the seemingly awful activity of war that we read in the Old Testament, this book will provide a lot of clarification and actually show how God’s overall plan and character, and the surrounding culture of the ANE, makes sense of what we read and shows how God is redeeming His people for loving fellowship with Himself.

**This book was graciously provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.**

Read & Repeat

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