The following is an excerpt from The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence by Matthew Curtis Fleischer. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
Nonviolence Was Always the Goal
As it turns out, nonviolence was always God’s intent, always his ethical ideal. In God’s original creation, the Garden of Eden, there was no violence. Man, woman, and beast all lived together in harmony. It was a place of perfect peace.
In fact, in God’s original creation, even the food chain was entirely free of violence. He designed both man and beast to be vegetarians. Immediately after giving man dominion over all the earth and animals, God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:28-30). Then he told the animals the same thing. Shortly thereafter, “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food,” “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it,” told him he was “free to eat from any tree in the garden” except one, and tasked him with naming the animals (Gen. 2:9, 15-17, 19-20). It wasn’t until after the fall of man and the flood that God told man he could start eating animals.
Moreover, many Old Testament prophets later confirmed God’s desire for a world without violence of any kind when they foretold of the reestablishment of his kingdom on earth as a time when “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest” (Isa. 11:6-8).
In the world as God originally created it and intended it to be, there was no violence between God and man, between man and man, between man and beast, or between beast and beast. It doesn’t get any more nonviolent than that.
Furthermore, not only did God create a nonviolent world, he created it in a uniquely nonviolent manner. “In contrast to the creation stories of many other Middle Eastern peoples,” John D. Roth notes, “there is no hint in Genesis of a grand cosmic battle in which God needed to defeat other rivals in order for creation to come into being. The biblical account of creation does not rest on a primal, violent struggle for power.” Instead, God simply spoke the world into being. He said, “‘Let there be light;’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).
Violence doesn’t appear in the Bible until after the fall of man. After being evicted from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Eventually, Cain became jealous of Abel and killed him. God reacted by decrying, “What have you done? Listen … now you are under a curse and driven from the ground…. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:10-12).
There are three facts worth noting here. First, humans, not God, introduced violence to the world. Violence is the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, not the product of God’s original design. Or as Old Testament professor Jerome F. D. Creach puts it, violence is a man-made “intrusion” that represents “a major disruption of the order God intended.”
Second, God immediately responded to such violence with condemnation. The first time violence appeared in the Bible, God swiftly denounced it.
Third, God didn’t respond to such violence with violence, or even force. Instead, he limited Cain’s ability to grow and harvest food, which turned him into a vagabond. In addition, after Cain said he was afraid of violent retaliation by other humans, God marked him to warn others not to inflict the same violence on him that he had used against Abel.
In other words, God responded to humankind’s first act of violence not with violence (or force) but with natural consequences and an act of mercy—an oddly self-restrained initial reaction for a God who some claim is a raging, genocidal, bloodthirsty baby murderer.
Praise for The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence
“In the first six pages of his new book, Matthew Curtis Fleischer describes the problem of divine violence in the Old Testament as well as anyone ever has. In the following 200-plus pages, he offers Christians committed to biblical authority an intelligent and humane way of interpreting those passages, leading humanity from violence to nonviolence in the way of Jesus. Fleischer is an attorney, and he makes his case with clarity that would win over any unbiased jury.”
—Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration
“Who would have thought that the Old Testament reveals God’s hatred of violence and his desire to rid the world of it? Yet that’s exactly the case Matthew Curtis Fleischer makes—in a compelling manner—in this book. Fleischer gives us a portrait of a God who consistently chooses nonviolence over violence – and who expects his followers to do the same.”
—Dr. Bob Rambo, Lead Pastor, Christ United Methodist Church, Jackson, Mississippi
“In an effort reminiscent of fellow lawyers and lay theologians Jacques Ellul and William Stringfellow, Matthew Curtis Fleischer has produced a work of significant worth.”
—Willard M. Swartley, Professor Emeritus, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary
“Fleischer makes a strong argument for a Christian embrace of nonviolence based on both testaments.”
“An outstanding treatment of what is often taken to be the intractable problem of the dubious moral character of the God of the Old Testament. … An attentive reading of Fleischer’s crisp yet comprehensive account will dispel many of the pangs of conscience that have troubled believers over the years, while the honest agnostic or atheist reader should come away from his reading of The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence with a somewhat shaken faith that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster.”
—Gerard Casey, Professor Emeritus, University College Dublin
About the Author
Matthew Curtis Fleischer is a reader, writer, and attorney with a passion for exploring God’s beauty and brilliance. He lives in Oklahoma City with his fantabulous bride and their three super-duper children.