Did God Say: Let There Be Plagues and Wars?

By Dallas Darling

You would not know it today by looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in the Book of Genesis, never does it say: And God said, ‘Let there be plagues and wars.’ Instead, the Book of Genesis declared: And God said, ‘Let there be lights’. (Gen. 1:14) And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind.” (Gen. 1:24) Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them be stewards and let them care for every living thing that crawls upon the Earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26-27)

The Book of Genesis, with its cycles of creation, recreation and life came to mind when Ovadia Yosef, a senior rabbi from Israel’s coalition government, called for Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas to “vanish from our world.” Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to distance himself from the rabbi’s message, including “May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared: “Signing a comprehensible peace agreement with the Palestinians is an unattainable goal-not next year and not in the next generation.”

It is unfortunate too that after the creation story, the Book of Genesis is filled with tragedy and violence, as Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, and when Cain kills his brother Abel. While a universal flood almost entirely destroys humankind, save Noah and his family, God’s covenant with Abraham consists of curses and blessings, along with a theology of land ownership, instead of a theology of land stewardship. Immediately, in order to settle the land of Canaan, Abraham goes to war with the Canaanites. As Abraham becomes a great military and political leader, it seems the Promised land is built on violent conquests.

In fact, Abraham’s offspring soon becomes superb warriors, as they employ nighttime raids, stealth maneuvers, and experts in weapons technologies and military strategies. In time, the Canaanites, Phoenicians and Philistines, just to mention a few of the tribes, are subjugated or totally slaughtered. The Hebrews also practice slavery, as in the case of Abram’s wife, Sarah, who had an Egyptian slave-girl.(Gen. 16:1)  Even the Egyptian Empire is no match for the plagues, one of which kills every first born in the entire land of Egypt (Ex. 11:5), and another that completely annihilates the Egyptian army.(Ex. 14:28)

After the Exodus, when the Israelites returned from Egypt to the Promised Land, again blood flowed freely. The Book of Joshua recounts the Battle of Jericho, in which the Israelites killed every man, woman and child, including the livestock. The city-fortress was also set on fire and burned to the ground. (Josh. 6) This occurred again when Ai was militarily ambushed and seized. Their king was hung from a tree. (Josh. 8) The Gibeonites, Amorites and Moabites met the same fate as previous peoples and cities did too. They were made into a heap of ruins, their inhabitants killed, just like cities of Jericho and Ai.

The Book of Judges is also filled with numerous battles and wars over the Promised Land- the land bridge connecting Asia, Europe and Africa. Deborah, a Jewish judge, declared war on the Canaanites and Philistines. During the Battle of Tabor, Jael, wife of Heber who was a double agent for Israel, assassinated King Sisera by driving a tent peg into his temple. (Judges 4) In another battle, Gideon, another Israeli military leader, captured two men. He ordered his firstborn, Jether, to “Go and Kill them!” Evidently, Jether did not kill the two captives with a sword, “for he was afraid, because he was still a boy.” (Judges 8)
 
The Israelites finally monopolized the Jezreel Valley, or region east of the Mediterranean Sea, along with its trade routes, tribute and wealth from passing caravans. But it came at a great cost, since surrounding tribes united against Israel. Some historians believe the many purification and sacrificial rites mentioned throughout the Torah were for Israeli warriors who had been traumatized by close combat, along with slaughtering women and children. Surely, this kind of killing, death and destruction, and the kind of intimidation Jether faced as a young boy, had a deep psychological impact.

It is interesting to note that when Abraham asked God who he was, God replied that he “existed” and simply was. In other words, God, or YHWY, has no name. When something or someone is named or labeled, it often denotes control, domination or ownership. Sadly, humans make and fashion their own gods for the purpose of ownership, or for the purpose of trying to dominate others. While blessing some, they curse others. Abraham’s God was an ideal that must always be interpreted and decoded by each generation, that is, with their own collective reasoning, feelings and different historical and political contexts.

A peoples understanding of God should never be a cause for feelings of superiority, nor should it ever be used to justify glorious plagues and acts of violence against others. If the peace processes between Israel and Palestine are to ever move forward and be resolved, Israeli theologians and political leaders will have to rethink, reevaluate and reconcile the original creation story and stewardship narratives regarding land with a brutal and violent conquests and re-conquests. While confronting a utopian-Zionist mentality that benefits only Jewish and Israeli citizens, they should eliminate dystopian thinking towards non-Jews and non-Israelis. 

Their oppressor/victim mythologies and Diaspora/conqueror histories, in regards to how  they treat the people of Occupied Territories, will have to be viewed in light of the former and latter prophets who tried redirecting Israel to live God’s impartiality and justice with peace for everybody. By taking-up Abraham’s original covenant, where all of the families of the Earth shall be blessed, perhaps Israel’s impunity against innocent Palestinians whom have been killed, along with its illegal settlement programs, can be stopped. In doing this, further bloodshed and future wars might be avoided.

It was reported that Time’s magazine cover story this week will be titled “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Already, Israeli leaders and lobbyists operating in the U.S. have condemned the article, which details how Israel is more interested in their booming economy and U.S. assistance than reaching an historical peace accord with Palestinians. Could Time’s article have also included a history of warfare and conquest? In the end, the theological interpretations and political implications of ‘Let my people live while others die,’ or, and God said, “Let there be plagues and wars,” are what really needs to vanish from the world.

– Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John’s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for www.worldnews.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.beverlydarling.com and wn.com//dallasdarling.

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