Flood and Fury

Old Testament Violence and the Shalom of God

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Pub Date 28 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 30 Mar 2023

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What do we do with a God who sanctions violence? Old Testament violence proves one of the most troubling topics in the Bible. Too often, the explanations for the brutality in Scripture fail to adequately illustrate why God would sanction such horrors on humanity. These unanswered questions leave readers frustrated and confused, leading some to even walk away from their faith. In Flood and Fury, Old Testament scholar Matthew Lynch approaches two of the most violent passages in the Old Testament – the Flood and the Canaanite conquest – and offers a way forward that doesn't require softening or ignoring the most troubling aspects of these stories. While acknowledging the persistent challenge of violence in Scripture, Flood and Fury contends that reading with the grain of the text yields surprising insights into the goodness and the mercy of God. Through his exploration of themes related to violence including misogyny, racism, and nationalism, Lynch shows that these violent stories illuminate significant theological insights that we might miss with a surface reading. Flood and Fury challenges us to let go of the need to rescue the Old Testament from itself and listen afresh to its own critiques on violence.

What do we do with a God who sanctions violence? Old Testament violence proves one of the most troubling topics in the Bible. Too often, the explanations for the brutality in Scripture fail to...

Advance Praise

"Matt Lynch is an able guide to these difficult Old Testament texts. He carefully unravels the caricatures of these texts to make way for a faithful alternative. Lynch weaves personal stories with close readings of biblical texts to offer fresh perspective. I heartily recommend his work!"

-Carmen Joy Imes, associate professor of Old Testament at Biola University and author of Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters

"Flood and Fury helps Christians to see what violence is doing in their Scriptures—even in the mouth of Jesus! Lynch helps us to navigate the Bible's grammar of violence as people who are thankfully estranged from systemic and brute use of force. Like few scholars can, Lynch plainly maps how the New Testament authors engage the violence of the Old Testament as fruitful for the coming kingdom. Of the myriad books on violence in Scripture, Lynch marries his scholarly work with his winsome writing so that the church can properly wrestle with what the biblical texts say about human and divine violence."

-Dru Johnson, associate professor of biblical studies at The King's College

"Matt Lynch writes for a popular audience without dumbing down the problem of violence or providing pat answers. He invites readers to contextualize scriptural texts within a large vision of creation's shalom, the hermeneutics of reading biblical narratives alongside historical questions, and the whole canon's revelation of God's good character. Lynch's work travels new and illuminating ground. For those troubled by these texts, Lynch models pastorally honest and attentive reading that contributes to a richer understanding of the biblical narrative, God's good design for his creation, and the ways these texts intersect with present-day realities. A recommended read!"

-Lissa M. Wray Beal, professor of Old Testament at Wycliffe College

"Wow, this is the most helpful book on the Bible I've read in a long time. Matthew Lynch is easily among the brightest, most insightful, best read—and funniest—biblical scholars working today. In his latest book, he shows he is also among the wisest. Yes, violence in the Bible is a 'wicked problem' that admits of no easy solution (see chapter fifteen), but with Lynch lighting the way, readers will emerge wiser. Buy a copy immediately and then buy a case to share among your friends. They need a copy—we all do."

-Brent A. Strawn, D. Moody Smith Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and professor of law at Duke University

"The concerns this book addresses are not new, but the perspective of its author and this cultural moment are. Flood and Fury addresses these age-old problems with sensitivity to the unique questions of a new generation. And most importantly, Lynch does this by inviting his readers to face these issues head-on—acknowledging the struggle—all the while considering some of Scripture's most challenging texts with care, literary sophistication, and confidence in the good God we encounter there."

-Michelle Knight, assistant professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"This book sees the flood and the conquest stories not simply as problems to be solved but instead as opportunities to deepen our faith, challenge our contemporary cultural expectations, and even seek God's blessing. It presents a biblical theology of violence rooted in a detailed study of the motif of violence in Genesis 1–11 as well as in the book of Joshua. But there is a different way of seeing these texts. The book presents a legitimate approach that enhances our understanding and presents us with new questions. It is a new adventure of learning. I recommend this provocative and well-informed book."

-Yohanna Katanacho, author of The Land of Christ: A Palestinian Cry

"In this volume, Matthew Lynch takes the reader on a journey of discovery that involves careful and scholarly engagement with the text, helpful illustrations, and his own honest and personal perspectives. Matt takes up his own challenge: to wrestle with and go deeper into the dark and impenetrable places of Scriptures. His insightful and wise readings of the texts unearth more of their place and purpose within the grand narrative of salvation while, perhaps also surprisingly, demonstrating how these stories are able to reveal more of the redemptive, relational, and merciful character of God. Readers searching for answers will be both hugely relieved and extremely grateful to find this book."

-Lucy Peppiatt, principal at Westminster Theological Centre, UK

"Matt Lynch is an able guide to these difficult Old Testament texts. He carefully unravels the caricatures of these texts to make way for a faithful alternative. Lynch weaves personal stories with...

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Featured Reviews

this was a interesting concept in a nonfiction Bible book. Matthew J. Lynch has a great way of connecting the text into something that anyone could understand. Matthew J. Lynch has a great writing style and I felt like he knew what he was talking about, I was never bored when reading this.

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How do we deal with the problematic texts in the Old Testament? Why does the God of the Old Testament condone violence? How do we make sense of the Stunned by a question about violence in the Old Testament, author-professor Matthew Lynch aims to address these challenging questions head-on. He writes especially to those who had "persistent concerns about violent texts" as well as those who cannot grow beyond these concerns. The key is not avoidance or denial. First, he states the problem. On the one hand, he acknowledges the presence of violence in the texts. Listing down the "problematic verses" in the Canaanite wars, violent prayers in the Psalms, gruesome stories in Judges, etc, he assures the reader that he is well aware of the struggles people might have with these acts of violence. On the other hand, he reminds us not to burn down the house (the Bible) for the sake of dealing with spots of grease (acts of violence). How then do we approach it? He rejects 8 ways of approaching this issue. Approaches such as avoidance, rejection, mythical treatment, cultural projections, and so on simply do not cut it. Instead, we need to learn to see the bigger picture of the whole Bible. Listen carefully to the contexts of these violent episodes. Do not read modern cultural contexts into the ancient texts. If one is able to appreciate the reasons why such violence takes place at all, perhaps, we learn a lot more about how not to behave.

Second, he looks at the chapters with some of the most problematic texts: Genesis (Part One) and Joshua (Part Two). For example, the Great Flood did not simply happen. It came when the evils grew beyond all levels of imagination. Yet God was merciful not to destroy everyone. This constant rebellion-redemption narrative gets repeated throughout the Bible. If the examples in Genesis show us what "general violence" was, the ones in Joshua dealt with "specific violence." Consistently throughout the chapters, Lynch deals with matters with two hands. One hand highlights the violence while the other hand weighs the reasons for the violence. Readers will sense that Lynch does not mince meat when dealing with the various problematic texts, agreeing that it is cruel and hard to swallow. At the same time, he reminds us not to quickly set aside the reasons why these things happened. Anyone who wants to blame God for His Judgment must not look the other way as far as human-inflicted evil was the cause of the action. The Exodus and the Conquest narratives are also to be seen as the bigger picture of survival in a foreign land. The contexts of such violence occurred in a land of idolatry, sin, and great evil.

Finally, the author concludes by showing us how the Old Testament reveals the Character of God. Is it justifiable to call the LORD the God of Violence? Before answering that question, we need to look at the way that we ourselves see the world. Using the rock-climbing metaphor about dynamic and static ropes, he urges us to adopt a "dynamic rope" mindset which is able to withstand heavy loads. If we simply use the "static rope" mentality, it is like insisting on not budging from the accusation at God and rejecting the Bible for a mere inability to understand why the violence happened. Putting it another way, Lynch is telling us not to miss the forest for the trees, and to insist on the total resolution of the violent verses before making decisions about faith.

My Thoughts
Nobody likes violence, but violence is still very much alive in this world. Movies often depict it with blood and gore. Open violence is happening in various wars around the world. I would venture to add that those supposedly "peaceful societies" are actually places of truce. They are essentially violence waiting to happen. Like road rage incidents the moment someone cuts into your lane, or some careless insult uttered that offends, or when one's child gets bullied that raises the parents' wrath, many situations in society are just violence waiting to happen. Our modern world is still replete with all kinds of evil. Terrible violence and injustice still rage on somewhere in the world. The question then remains: Why do we accept the violence happening now in our world and not the ones recorded in the Old Testament? This book presents many rational arguments that not only recognize the reality of the problem, it also explains the contexts of it all. Seeing the problematic verses is just one part. The other part is the why. If there is a third part, it might be this: If we are in God's position, what would we have done? Do we have a superior way? Perhaps that is something we can all ask and challenge ourselves with.

I applaud the author for his courage in tackling this topic of violence and bloodshed in the Bible. Many people cannot get past this issue and sadly have refused to accept the reality of God. This is a pity. In doing so, we might have missed the reality of divine justice. Plus, God does not simply destroy. He also redeems. I believe too that anyone who questions the Problem and Reality of Evil must also contend with the Problem of Good. Even though the author is an academic, he writes this book in a very layperson manner, which makes this book particularly readable. Anyone who has ever questioned the person of God because of these problematic verses should read this book with an open mind. Perhaps, they will find a way to engage these verses again for themselves before jumping to any hasty conclusions. If in doubt, begin with this book.

Matthew J. Lynch is associate professor of Old Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of First Isaiah and the Disappearance of the Gods, Portraying Violence in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary and Cultural Study, and Monotheism and Institutions in the Book of Chronicles: Temple, Priesthood, and Kingship in Post-Exilic Perspective. He is the co-founder of the OnScript podcast, a podcast focused on providing engaging conversations on Bible and theology.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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