Racism and the Bible

Today, I’m taking up the last part of Cindy’s first question:

racism against other cultures

There’s a bit of a mixture, here. but once again it comes from trying to put 21st century meanings onto an ancient text–which includes some 1600 years of changing times in its composition.

So long as their are differences among people, and resentments among people, some of those resentments will focus on the differences. That surely existed from early on in human history. But the Bible does not teach that such differences make one group inferior or superior to another. The Bible asserts that we are all children of Adam and Eve. Further, despite prohibitions concerning intermarriage and certain behaviors, the royal line of Israel explicitly includes (and preserved the information for later generations) a child born of incest, a child born of a heathen prostitute, a child of a Moabitess, and a child born as the result of adultery.

I am speaking, of course, of Perez, son  of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar; Boaz, son of Jericho’s famous prostitute Rahab;  Obed, son of the very same Boaz and Ruth, the Moabitess; and no less than King Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba.

What Cindy is probably speaking of are two OT ideas: First, prohibitions against marrying with certain other tribes, and Second, the command to annihilate certain people.

Both of those are related to worship. The Hebrews were relatives of the Canaanites, and throughout their history prior to the Exile, they were prone to falling back into Canaanite worship practices. One of the surest ways to do that was to intermarry with them. No less an example than Solomon can be cited in this regard. Eventually, giving in to these worship practices led to the exile.

As to the extermination, that’s an extremely difficult idea for contemporary audiences to accept, that there could be a culture so corrupt that the only rememdy would be its extermination.

I don’t pretend that my understanding will satisfy everyone; I’m not certain how much I like it myself. But there are lots of things I don’t like, but nevertheless are true, and whose existence I must accept.

The archeological evidence concerning some of the Canaanite cultures is horrific. Entire mounds consisting of small jars into which crushed infant skeletons were placed have been found. Skeletons–sometimes half-skeletons–of people used as foundation sacrifices have been found in the hollow corner posts of houses and other buildings. And these are not the most horrific practices which have been discovered. I will spare my readers those. As one sickened archeologist declared, “When you see the evidence of how these people lived, it’s not surprising that God ordered them destroyed– it’s surprising he let them go on so long.”

It’s as though an entire culture became devout Nazis–literally carrying out atrocities as acts of worship. I think this was the final piece. Virtually every ancient culture practiced some sort of human sacrifice. In order to unequivocally repudiate this practice, God commanded its annihilation. It was a declaration, “Not only do I, the Lord God, not desire nor reward these practices (totally unlike all the other gods you know of) I demand that these practices be exterminated!” And exterminating the practices meant exterminating those who performed them.

And as to racism as we know it? The Bible is about the only ancient source that explicitly denies it! What we think of as our enlightened view of human rights has its foundation in the Bible, both in the universal Fatherhood of God taught in the OT, and in declarations like this in Colossians 3:11” Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”


Racism and the Bible — 2 Comments

  1. Ed, that’s as fine as explanation as I’ve seen regarding the divine command to obliterate some of those ancient cultures. The “devout Nazi” connection was perceptive.

    These societies did have opportunity to repent after they saw both the power and goodness of Yahweh in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The fact that they hung on to their Nazi ways made their obliteration necessary.

    Things are different in our day, as I see it. God is not establishing a homeland here and now for His people to settle in. We are living in earth’s last days, and God wants us to witness to His love and power to the lost among us, so that all who will respond will be saved–and all who don’t will suffer the same fate as the nations who endangered God’s people.

    He who has the Son has life; God says, and “all who hate me love death.”

    Tough stuff to think about, for sure. But sin isn’t pretty and neither is its eradication.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Martin. I absolutely agree about today being different. That’s a point I’ve been trying to make repeatedly.

    We continually want to look at ancient times through the lens of current culture. But the people living at the time could not conceive of the kinds of differences which characterize our societies. They did not know the future. An ancient person transported into the modern world would feel he or she was surrounded by magicians!

    And, even with our knowledge of history, and the abundance of archeological discoveries made just in the last 25 years, it is still difficult for us to imagine how ancient people thought and understood the world.

    What seems cruel or arbitrary to us may simply have been seen as necessary. And God meets people where they are; He can only move us so far at one time.

    Even to the twelve, with whom he spent three and a half intimate years, Jesus had to say: I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. John 16:12

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