Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
“According to this verse, the Christian is to decide between doubtful things by choosing the best.”
James Montgomery Boice
When did you last read Genesis? What about Judges or 2 Kings? I believe the narratives of the Old Testament constitute the most overlooked section of the entire Bible. I think their content stands as the main reason we do not often turn to these texts for understanding. Certainly, they do not often lift us up like an Isaiah 40 or give us the confidence of Romans 8, but Paul certainly did not exclude them when he penned 2 Timothy 3:16. One minute, one sees the narrative of Joseph unfolding, and the next one finds his brother Judah involved in some of the most sexually reprehensible behavior imaginable. In Judges, one receives the (literal) gory details of the assassination of King Eglon of Moab by Ehud the southpaw. Later, a lady named Jael puts a tent peg through the head of a man. The death of Jezebel, the evil wife of Ahab likewise receives graphic description. We know these details because Scripture records them. If we desire to believe the Bible comprehensively and exhaustively, we must say these words come from the mouth of God himself.
So what do we say to these things? Honestly, Judges and 2 Kings do not sound like “God’s Leather-Bound Love Letter” to me. They sound like a show one would find on HBO or Showtime. They sound like something I would not let my children watch. After all, we condemn graphic depictions of violence and discourage people from any depiction of sex. I just recently blogged about the violence in Deadpool 2, and I stated how the content of the film dissuades me from viewing it. (That and Deadpool being annoying.)
If we approach our minds’ input with the flat idea to use Philippians 4:8 as a guideline of what not to consume, we will find ourselves avoiding parts of our Bible. Old Testament narratives come to mind first, but various prophetic texts also figure into the picture. What follows will not exactly explain how these texts point to Christ (though Jesus says they do) as much as indicate how they differ from pop culture depictions of similar things.
Notice: though you may read your Bible on a screen these days, the Bible remains a text. God gave his people a text to read rather than a video to view. So, in all the dirtiness of Genesis 38, we never see what Judah and Tamar do. Instead, God tells us. We never become onlookers. We hear or read, never do we see. We receive the shock to our system—wow, Judah, your ethics belong in the toilet — but without visual sensory input, the likelihood of the scene becoming anything other than disgusting remains low. Not so in movies and television. The images imprint on the mind. They shock, but as a creature primarily relying on visual sensory input, they remain lodged in our memories. We did not need to see Judah’s liaison with Tamar to know it happened. Movies and television would rather show than tell, for showing increases viewing. Therefore, even if a director intends a negative depiction of a sexual act, he or she knows the filming of said act will sell ads for television and popcorn for cinemas.
We do not know physical descriptions of Judah and Tamar; the Bible rarely describes people physically. We can assume they resemble people native to the modern-day Middle East, and we can reasonably guess they wore clothes appropriate to the era. Judah was an older man and Tamar a somewhat younger woman. If one hired an actor and actress to depict the details of the scene as described by the pen of Moses, one would sinfully uncover the nakedness of two individuals and create pornography, rather than tell a reader of God’s sovereignty over a broken world, in that the act becomes a link the lineage of Jesus himself.
One might object. Do we not recall the infamous mommy-porn of Fifty Shades of Gray? The tale existed as a book prior to becoming a film. Would the above categorize the story in its book form as something other than pornographic? Short answer: no.
In addition to the Bible existing as a text rather than a set of images, it also does not glorify adultery or fornication. Nor does the Bible glorify violence. For the most part, the Bible does not provide terribly graphic descriptions of violent acts. Despite the extreme torture of crucifixion, the Evangelists put the matter plainly. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sterilely say, “They crucified him.” The Ehud narrative in Judges stands as a rare exception; however its details should push one away from desiring to commit violence. The death of Eglon at the left hand of Ehud has no pleasantry about it. Only in a culture with a steady diet of graphic horror movies does a person read Ehud’s narrative and think, Whoa, that’s awesome! In Ezekiel, God indicates twice his lack of personal enjoyment in the death of wicked people. Ehud’s assassination of Eglon did not elicit a high five from the Son to the Spirit. Rather, we the readers should see the lamentable depth of fallenness and the lengths God goes to in order to overcome it in space and time. Lest we think war and violence are so cool, bro, Scripture reveals otherwise. Rather than drawn in, we become repulsed.
Perhaps if we read and reflected on these narratives, we would find ourselves tempered in how we think of these things. We would perhaps see the lamentable state of the world through the words of the Holy Spirit. We would understand the world’s brokenness before its Creator. We would see significance in Christ as the Prince of Peace. We would see and understand our God does not stand mouth agape at the sin of the world. He sees it better than we ever could. The sex and the violence found in the Old Testament stand among the things Christ kept himself from without a hint of taint by them; those guilty of illicit sex and gross violence find themselves redeemed by the perfect Christ, should they submit themselves to him.
Come back next week for thoughts on how young eyes and those with young faith approach texts such as these.
James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 285.
Heroics certainly receive glory in Scripture. 2 Samuel 23 centers around the acts of David’s might men. Scripture does not describe these men as lovers of violence; instead, they prove themselves able to withstand great opposition in times of war. Note Joab does not receive commendation in this chapter despite his defeat of many of David’s enemies. Joab loved violence; thus, he died by the sword.