Sprinkle’s ‘Fight’…and ours? (pt. 2)

Sprinkle begins his fly over of the biblical narrative by looking at God’s creation ideal–shalom (peace, well-being). Sin wrecks the ideal and violence begins to spread throughout the creation. Summing up the storyline prior to Abraham Sprinkle states, “. . .the early chapters of Genesis celebrate peace while showing disdain for violence among humans–even as just punishment for a killer.” (40) [emphasis added]

For support Sprinkle points to God’s dealing with Cain over the murder of his brother. He says:

Interestingly, God responds not by killing Cain–meeting violence with violence–but by placing a mark on Cain so that no one else will take vengeance on him. God responds to the first murderer with grace–a visible preservation of shalom. (40)

Two things need to be said. First, a hint of moral equivalence lies behind the notion that had God killed Cain he would be “meeting violence with violence.” Second, on Sprinkle’s reasoning this is exactly what God does–and on a global scale!–in Genesis 6-8 when he kills all living things for the corruption and violence in the earth.

Turning to the patriarchal narratives (Gen 12-50), Sprinkle asserts that “God’s desire for nonviolent peace remains the ideal—even when confronting injustice and enmity.” He goes on to say “There are two main exceptions to this nonviolent shalom in the book: Genesis 9 and 14.”

Genesis 9

Sprinkle quickly glosses over Gen 9:6 (just one paragraph!) which has traditionally served as a biblical warrant for capital punishment. One would expect this passage to require an extended response for a pacifist. But Sprinkle treats this section as little more than a wrinkle. His handling of the text generates ambiguity but he makes no attempt to bring clarity:

. . . several questions surround this verse. Is Genesis 9:6 a proverb or a command? In other words, does Genesis 9:6 give a general principle or an absolute command? . . . And does this verse give humans authority to administer the death penalty, or does it say that God will punish the murderer? These questions should caution us against racing to Genesis 9:6 to show that God wants all societies to institute the death penalty. (43)

The immediate context sheds light on these murky riddles: (1) Gen 9:6 is part of a covenant discourse. Covenants are by nature prescriptive; that is, they declare a new agreement and/or relationship. Accordingly, God grants punitive authority to man in the case of murder (2) that Gen 9:6 is a command is further signified by 9:5 which states that the Lord “will require your lifeblood . . . I will require the life of man.” (3) the reason for requiring a murderer’s life is because murder snuffs out one of God’s image bearers (9:6b). It is an offense against God Himself.

Sprinkle also betrays the significance of this passage for his overall argument. In the scheme of redemptive history he characterizes Gen 9:6 as an anticipation of the death penalty in the law of Moses (so Gen 9:6 is capital punishment after all). But even this admission is insufficient in light of the otherwise universal and timeless aspects of the Noahic covenant. If other features of the covenant—animals for food, no future flood, etc.—are granted to all of humanity for the duration of this present age we have good contextual reasons to read the murderer’s punishment as a universal, timeless stipulation.[1]

In my view Sprinkle not only obfuscates the meaning of the passage, he begs the question concerning capital punishment by limiting it to a distinctive of the Mosaic law. It doesn’t take much thought to get the idea that, in Sprinkle’s view, capital punishment will be only as permanent as the Mosaic law.

Genesis 14

Genesis 14 records a battle between two federations (14:1-10) which results in Lot’s captivity (14:11-12) and subsequent rescue by Abraham (14:13-16). Sprinkle acknowledges that “it’s probable that Abram’s militia used violence” but also notes that “Genesis 14 doesn’t say that God commanded Abram to do this, nor does it sanction his actions.” He concludes “the Bible often describes what a person did but doesn’t say that we should imitate him or her” and “Genesis 14 doesn’t clearly endorse violence, and it doesn’t celebrate violence in any explicit way.”

But the argument that God didn’t command Abraham to fight cuts both ways. If God didn’t declare “Thou shalt fight” then we may infer that Abraham chose to fight. And if Abraham chose to fight in defense of his nephew, what should the reader think concerning the blessing that Abraham receives in the aftermath of his violent raid?

Genesis 14:19-20 [Melchizedek] blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Interestingly, Sprinkle doesn’t even mention the blessing.[2] So his contention that Genesis 14 doesn’t clearly endorse violence is true to a point. The text has no “and God saw that the fight was good” or “Go and do thou likewise.” But neither does Genesis 14 clearly condemn violence. In fact, by concluding the narrative with a word of blessing, this story ends on a decidedly positive note.

In sum, I find Sprinkle oddly dismissive of Genesis 9 and less than even-handed in his statements on Genesis 14. The majority of Fight‘s Old Testament perspective is shaped by the Mosaic era which we’ll turn to in the next post.


[1] Just as the creation mandate delivered to Adam & Eve was for all humanity, so too was the “second” creation mandate delivered to Noah. It is not a simple foreshadowing of Israel’s national law-covenant.

[2] In an endnote he alludes to the blessing as recorded in Hebrews. “Heb. 7:1 [says] that Melchizedek blessed him upon his return. Hebrews still doesn’t explicitly endorse Abram’s violent actions. It says only that Melchizedek blessed him when he returned.” [279, n. 9]

Advertisements

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

4 thoughts on “Sprinkle’s ‘Fight’…and ours? (pt. 2)”

  1. “In fact, by concluding the narrative with a word of blessing, this story ends on a decidedly positive note.”
    The same can be said of God’s blessing of Hagar. Will we use this to endorse multiple wives for the NT era?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael. Abraham is blessed for his action in battle (Gen 14) but not for his polygamy (Gen 16). In fact, Hagar receives the blessing in Gen 16 not because of the polygamy but in spite of it. Nothing in Hagar’s blessing would lead us to believe that the Lord approved of polygamy, but Abraham’s blessing speaks positively of his action against the kings.

      Always good to have feedback.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s