From a God of the War to a God that saves Israel

The central episode that brought about a drastic change in the idea of ​​God was the destruction of Jerusalem (587 BC). This catastrophe determined a new development within the deuteronomist circles, which modified the texts written at the time of Josiah, one of the last kings of Judah. For example, the belligerent speech addressed to Joshua is transformed into a homily on the Law whose observance is a guarantee of success in life: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Js 1,8)

This is also evident in texts like Exodus 14, i.e. the story of the passage in the Red Sea. We have said that the text contained two stories. The first belongs to the language of the priestly circles. About the second one there are different theories. According to Römer, the second story – the version of the “drying up” of water – derives precisely from the Deuteronomistic school. At the heart of this story YHWH intervenes to save Israel who ultimately believes in him. This theological view belongs to an era – i.e. the one following the destruction of Jerusalem – in which people needed to believe in a God who seemed defeated by the Babylonian deities. In the dtr version of Ex 14 ( it is clear that YHWH must demonstrate to the Israelites its superiority. He is the liberator of Israel and no longer the warrior who fights alongside Israel. In fact, in the passage of the Red Sea the Jews are helpless before the advance of the Egyptians and if YHWH had not intervened, they would have been destroyed.

Also in the book of Chronicles it is possible to observe the demilitarization of the idea of ​​God. The Chronicles resume the books of Samuel and King, but not the book of Joshua. There is no mention of the military conquest of Canaan and the kings become a sort of liturgical leader, while wars are transformed into processions. The kings don’t perform the projects of a warrior God, but they watch over the celebration of God through worship and psalms. The people do not fight, but they are spectators of the deeds of YHWH (see for example 2 Chr 20:15.17). In short, the image of a warrior God is not the theological foundation of human war, but represents God’s salvific intervention for the Jews.

Unfortunately, many today don’t read the Bible in this way, This people don’t consider the literary complexity of these chapters. They have to justify their own theological or ideological position. The texts where one speaks of a warrior God are well present in the Bible, but it is very probable that – after the exile – the Jews began a work of profound rethinking of God and his true nature.

Simone Venturini


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