God Is a Warriorby Tremper Longman III, Daniel G. Reid
God Is a Warrior traces the development of the "divine warrior" motif through the Old and New Testaments, beginning with Israel's conflicts with her enemies and ending with Christ's victorious return in Revelation. Against the broader background of Ancient Near Eastern warrior mythology, Part I discusses Yahweh's warfare on behalf of ancient Israel, and prophecies of the coming Divine Deliverer. Part II looks at the New Testament's Divine Warrior, Jesus Christ, and his war against his spiritual enemies in the Synoptic Gospels, in Paul's letters, and in the final apocalyptic battle in the book of Revelation.
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The Divine Warrior as a Central Biblical Motif
On the surface, the Bible is a diverse collection of writings, a veritable anthology of different literary works.1 The reader encounters a wide variety of genres produced over a long span of time by countless authors. In the midst of diversity, however, the careful reader is drawn into the organic unity of the Bible. Though it is often difficult to explain, the Bible's message coheres on a profound level. This message cuts across time and genres, so that not only is the Bible composed of many different stories, we may also say that it tells a single story.
How is this unity to be described? How can it be presented without losing sight of the proper diversity of the Bible? At least in part, the answer to these questions is found in the major themes of the Bible. The present study focuses on one of the most pervasive of all biblical themes: the divine warrior.
The Task of Biblical Theology
The discovery of the unity of biblical revelation is the concern of biblical theology. As John Murray2 pointed out, biblical theology finds its place between exegesis and systematic theology. The former is the interpretation of individual texts and informs biblical theology that seeks to describe the message of the Bible as a whole. The latter, systematic theology, like biblical theology, deals with the whole message of the Bible but answers modern questions using modern categories. Biblical theology, on the other hand, describes phenomena within the Bible using biblical categories.
There are many approaches to biblical theology, but they may be divided into two types: those that posit a single center to biblical revelation, and those that allow for many different avenues of approach. Increasingly, biblical scholars opt for the latter since the argument for a single center founders on the inability to describe all of biblical revelation. In other words, the message of the Bible is so rich that its unity cannot be reduced to a single category, unless it becomes so broad as to be useless. In Reformed circles, for instance, covenant is widely accepted as the center of biblical theology.3 Indeed, it is an extremely important biblical theme. It is impossible, however, to subsume all of biblical revelation under its rubric. For instance, Old Testament wisdom literature does not explicitly interact with covenant theology, so that attempts to describe wisdom literature in a covenant theology4 must struggle to the point of straining the evidence. As a matter of fact, wisdom literature, since it is different in character from most biblical revelation, has been a major obstacle to attempts to describe the center of biblical theology.
A multiperspectival approach5 to biblical theology is more in keeping with the rich and subtle nature of biblical revelation. The question that biblical theology asks is: What is the message of the Bible? The answer is that the Bible is about Yahweh.6 It is his self-revelation. The Bible, however, is not about Yahweh in the abstract; it is about God in relation to humankind. Furthermore, this relationship is not so much described as it is narrated. There is a historical dimension to biblical revelation. Thus, a proper biblical theology must take into account the subject matter of the Bible, the divine-human relationship, and the fact that the Bible's message is told through time.
A multiperspectival approach to biblical theology is the natural consequence of this. After all, God's relationship with his people is presented by means of a variety of metaphors that emphasize different aspects of that relationship. No one metaphor is capable of capturing the richness of God's nature or the wonder of his relationship with his creatures. God's compassion and love for his creatures lie behind the image of the mother-child relationship (Ps 131) as well as the marriage metaphor (SS). His ability to guide his people is suggested by the shepherd-sheep image (Ps 23). Yahweh's wisdom is displayed in the figure of Lady Wisdom (Pr 8-9). God's power and authority over his people are communicated through a wide variety of images, including that of king (the covenant-treaty image finds its place here) and the concern of the present book--God as divine warrior.
The most fruitful biblical-theological studies are those that focus on one of these important metaphors of relationship and follow it from the beginning of biblical revelation to its end, from Genesis to Revelation. A number of years ago, G. Vos,7 the father of modern evangelical biblical theology,8 showed how divine revelation was a reflex to the history of redemption. Thus, as God's redemptive plan progressed through the ages, so the history of revelation unfolded.9
The Divine Warrior and Biblical Theology
One important and pervasive metaphor of relationship is the picture of God as a warrior, commonly referred to in secondary literature as the divine-warrior theme. It is our purpose to study the divine-warrior theme through the history of redemption, showing how the concept developed as revelation unfolded. The results are an illuminating study in the continuity and discontinuity between the different epochs of divine revelation, most notably between the Old and New Testaments. We may conceive of the development of the theme following a roughly chronological scheme by describing the process as taking place in five stages. The first stage is God's appearance as a warrior who fights on behalf of his people Israel against their flesh-and-blood enemies. The second stage overlaps with the first, yet culminates Israel's independent political history as God fights in judgment against Israel itself. The Old Testament period ends during the third stage as Israel's prophets look to the future and proclaim the advent of a powerful divine warrior. While many studies of the divine warrior are restricted to the Old Testament, we will show its development into the New Testament. The Gospels and letters reflect on the fourth stage, Christ's earthly ministry as the work of a conqueror, though they also look forward to the next stage. The fifth and final stage is anticipated by the church as it awaits the return of the divine warrior who will judge the spiritual and human enemies of God. These five stages may be graphically represented in the following way:
Meet the Author
Tremper Longman III (PhD, Yale University) is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies and the chair of the Religious Studies department at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where he lives with his wife, Alice. He is the Old Testament editor for the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary and general editor for the Story of God Bible Commentary Old Testament and has authored many articles and books on the Psalms and other Old Testament books.
Dan Reid is reference book editor for InterVarsity Press.
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