COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART SIX

                                              SERMON PRESENTED ON 02-20-16

       Last time we continued in our series on the book of Proverbs and discussed the second of the seven things God hates as listed in Proverbs 6:16-19.

       Proverbs 6:16-19: There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

       Having discussed in the past two sermons the issue of haughty eyes and a lying tongue, today we will turn to hands that shed innocent blood.  The third of the seven things God hates are hands that shed innocent blood.  It is noteworthy that it is in the Biblical Scriptures that we find the first incident of the shedding of innocent blood.

       In Genesis, chapter two it is recorded that God planted a garden in the east of an area called Eden.  There he put the man he had formed and instructed him to maintain the garden.  At some point God determined the man he created needed a partner and that is when Eve was made from a rib taken from Adam.

       As a side note to the account of Eve being made from a rib taken from Adam, there was an interesting article in the September/October 2015 edition of Biblical Archaeology Review where the author examines the Hebrew wording associated with the making of Eve and has concluded that Eve was not made from a rib of Adam but from his Baculum, the male penis bone. I have this article if anyone is interested in reading it.

       After Adam and Eve sinned they were removed from the garden. In Genesis chapter four we find Eve giving birth to Cain and Able and in the course of time Cain became a farmer and Able became a Sheppard. As the story goes, Cain brought an offering to God of the fruit of the ground and Able brought an offering of some of the firstborn of his flocks.  The Scriptures record that God looked with favor upon Able’s offering but looked with disfavor on Cain’s offering.

       In retrospect it is apparent that from the beginning God required animal sacrifices which included the shedding of blood as prefiguring the shed blood of Jesus.  Cain apparently thought he had a better idea and when his idea wasn’t acceptable to God, rather than repent; he became angry and took his anger out on his brother.  We pick up the story in Genesis 4:7 where God tells Cain that if he does what is right he will be accepted but if not sin is around the corner. 

       Genesis 4:7:  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

       Well, as it turns out, sin was at the door and Cain did not master it.  Cain attacked his brother Able and killed him.  When God inquired of Cain where Able was, Cain said he didn’t know and proceeded to utter that now famous one liner, “Am I my brother’s keeper.” 

       Genesis 4:9:  Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"   "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

       By this time Cain had committed several sins. He apparently brought an offering to God that was contrary to what God had asked for. Then he killed his brother and lied when questioned about his brother’s whereabouts. This is a prime example of how one sin can quickly multiple into additional sin.  

       Now it appears that Cain, along with his brother and parents continued to live in Eden after the fall.  The land area called Eden was apparently quite large as is seen in Genesis 2:10 where it is recorded that a river watering the Garden of Eden flowed from Eden and from there it separated into four headwaters.  After the fall, it is recorded that God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, not necessarily Eden itself.

       Genesis 3:23: So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  

       The garden that God had created for Adam and Eve was a special place located in the east of Eden as the Scriptures reveal and is thus distinguished from the land of Eden in general.   After Adam and Eve sinned, God removed them from this special place in the east of Eden called the Garden of Eden.  After Cain killed Able the Scriptures indicate God removed Cain from the land of Eden and Cain went to live in the land of Nod.

       Genesis 4:16: So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

       It is instructive that it is recorded that Cain went out from the presence of YHWH.  The presence of YHWH appears to be ubiquitous in Eden.  YHWH is seen as directly interacting and communicating with Adam and Eve and their offspring on a regular basic in the first four chapters of Genesis. This is true both before and after the fall.  This has led some to believe God was actually residing in the Garden of Eden during this time.  In his book, “The Unseen Realm,” author Michael Heiser argues for the perspective that God and a counsel of advisors were living in the Garden at this point in history.     

       At any rate, we see the first shedding of innocent blood occurring near the dawn of creation.  Here we see confirmation of what Solomon wrote several thousand years later about God hating hands that shed innocent blood.  God expressed great dissatisfaction over what Cain did and punished him severely for his murder of Able. Able had done nothing wrong.  He was simply following God’s apparent instruction to offer a blood sacrifice. He was innocent of wrong doing and yet was killed by his brother.    

       We know from the account in Genesis that Cain intentionally killed Able.  It wasn’t an accident.  When God says He hates hands that shed innocent blood, He appears to be saying he hates hands that intentionally kill innocent blood.  We know this because of other instruction we see in Scripture regarding the killing of someone.

       When Israel settled into the Promised Land, they were instructed to set aside three centrally located cities of refuge in three different parts of the land.  They were instructed to build roads to these cities so there could be easy access to these cities.  The object was that a person who unintentionally killed someone would have a place to go to avoid the wrath of the relatives of the person that was killed.  

       Deuteronomy 19: 4-6:  This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life--one who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life.   Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought.

       Verse 10:  Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.

       When God says He hates hands that shed innocent blood he includes the innocent blood of those who may kill another person accidently.  God knowing the nature of man, wanted to insure that a person who killed someone unintentionally would be able to escape the emotionally generated rush to judgement that could result from such event.  On the other hand, God made it abundantly clear that intentional killing was to be punished.

       Deuteronomy 19: 11-13: But if a man hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him, assaults and kills him, and then flees to one of these cities, the elders of his town shall send for him, bring him back from the city, and hand him over to the avenger of blood to die. Show him no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.

       In our society you can intentionally kill someone, flee to what you think is a place of safety, be found and apprehended by law enforcement and be jailed and then milk the system as long as you can to avoid punishment.  I have to wonder what impact it would have on the crime rate if we would implement the kind of quick justice as established by God under the Old Covenant.  

       We see throughout Scripture God’s hatred of the shedding of innocent blood.  In 2 Kings it is recorded how God judged Judah for their sin and in particular the sin of shedding innocent blood on the part of their king Manasseh.

       2 Kings 24:3-4: Surely these things happened to Judah according to the LORD's command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.

       A great deal of innocent blood has been shed throughout history.  Millions have been put to death by unscrupulous dictators such as Stalin, Hitler and others of their elk.  As we speak, the ruler of Syria is putting to death many of his own countrymen in the continuing civil war in that country.  

       It should be apparent from the Scriptures we have looked at that God truly does hate the shedding of innocent blood and yet He does allow it to occur.  God does not interfere with our free will to shed innocent blood.  God didn’t interfere with Cain’s shedding of Able’s innocent blood.  God did not interfere with the king of Judah shedding innocent blood.  However, God will intervene; when He deems it appropriate, to judge those who shed innocent blood as demonstrated in the Scriptures.

       Some will question how God can condemn the shedding of innocent blood when He, Himself, appears to shed innocent blood as seen in His historical dealings with the enemies of Israel and of Israel itself when Israel’s sin reached certain levels that God would no longer tolerate.     

       In the Scriptures we see many wars initiated by God to facilitate His will in the affairs of men.  As we all know, war almost always involves the shedding of innocent blood.  People who are not directly involved in the war and people who oppose the war are often killed.  It is considered collateral damage.

       God has time and again used violent means to advance His policies just as is seen within human governments.  We know from Old Testament (OT) history that God directed Israel to go to war against nations that stood in the way of Israel gaining possession of the Promised Land.   Not only did God direct Israel to go to war to free up the land, God also used war to punish nations that had previously stood in Israel’s way as they proceeded to the Promised Land.  A classic example of this is found in 1 Samuel 15.

       1 Samuel 15:1-3:  Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.  This is what the LORD (YHWH) Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

       As the story unfolds, Saul puts together an army of 200,000 foot soldiers and went to war against the Amalekites and pretty much wiped out the Amalekites but spared their king and the best of the sheep and cattle which he intended to use as a sacrifice to God.  God was very displeased with Saul because he did not follow His orders exactly and kill all the animals along with the Amalekite king.  This led to God rejecting Saul as king over Israel.

       So here we have the Eternal God over all creation, not only directing the Israelites to totally obliterate an entire nation of people including their children, infants, cattle, sheep camels and donkeys, we also see God becoming very angry when His orders to facilitate this massacre were not carried out to the full extent intended.  There are multiple examples of Israel being directed by God to go to war against their enemies.  There are additional OT examples of nations foreign to Israel being used by God to punish Israel through war for their failure to obey God and then God punishing those nations for various sin they committed.

       In the New Testament (NT) we have the Olivet Discourse where Jesus predicts a war that would result in the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.  This occurred during the war between Israel and Rome that began in A.D. 67 and ended with the death of the rebel holdouts at Masada in A.D. 73.  Other NT Scriptures reveal this was a war mediated by God to bring judgement upon first century Israel for not accepting Christ as the promised Messiah.

       Luke 19:43-45: The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.

       This was fulfilled when the Romans built an embankment around the city of Jerusalem and crucified anyone trying to escape, setting up the crosses on the embankment as a warning to potential escapees.

       In the Revelation given to John we see pictured catastrophic events involving the obliteration of many peoples in war seemingly orchestrated by God.  What is more interesting is that in the Revelation we see war in heaven involving non-physical beings such as angels.

       Revelation 12:7-9: And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.    

       This brief glimpse into events occurring in the non-physical world indicates that war is not limited to us humans but is a reality in the world of non-physical beings as well.

       Now some have looked at the Biblical record of war and have had a difficult time committing to and worshiping a God that would instruct a king of Israel to put to death not only the men and women of a nation but also innocent children and infants. Isn’t God guilty here of doing the very thing he condemns humans for doing, the shedding of innocent blood?  I have read books written by former Christian pastors who have abandoned Christianity and belief in the God of the Biblical Scripture because of an inability to accept that a loving God could facilitate what they believe to be atrocities, what they believe is a God who behaves contrary to his own condemnation of those who shed innocent blood.

        In Genesis 6, we see that the earth had become so filled with violence that God decided to drown all life in a great flood except for Noah and his immediate family. This would have included babies and small children, innocents as we would define them.  Yet after the flood, God instructs that shedding the blood of man is punishable by having the shedder of blood have his own blood shed.  In view of what we read in Deuteronomy we can assume that this instruction pertained to the intentional killing of an innocent person. 

       Genesis 9:6: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

       So is this instruction in Genesis a universal injunction against man shedding the blood of man or for that matter God shedding the blood of man?  The people of Israel engaged in warfare from the time they left Egypt and throughout their recorded history.  Such warfare is often seen as sanctioned by God and often directly ordered by God.  It appears that when God instructed man to not shed another man's blood; this prohibition did not include the shedding of blood in warfare. 

       The prohibition against shedding human blood appears to pertain to the murdering of someone out of anger, jealousy and other such human emotions.  The sixth commandment prohibits killing.  It is apparent, however, from the details of the OC itself, that this command to not kill is to be seen in a limited context and not as a universal injunction against all killing of humans.  That war was sanctioned by God for Israel is confirmed in that God even laid down rules of warfare.

       Deuteronomy 20:19-20: When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

       Deuteronomy 24:5: If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

       The fact that the prohibition against killing another human was not an all inclusive prohibition is borne out by the fact that Israel was ordered to go to war which involved killing humans. Since war involves the collateral damage of innocents being killed, such collateral damage apparently does not come under God’s condemnation of shedding innocent blood.  But what about God’s instruction to Israel as recorded in Leviticus 19? 

       Leviticus 19:16b, 18, 34: Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

       The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

        In Leviticus 19:16 God is recorded as saying:  "Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD."  In verse 18 Israel is instructed to not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, "but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."  As to foreigners living among the Israelites, the instruction was to treat them as if they were native-born. God instructs to love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.        

       It is sometimes asked how Israel could be directed to love each other and yet practice capital punishment.  It is asked how Israel could be told to love the alien in their midst and yet destroy any foreigner who got in their way or who refused to submit to them.  Is there a disconnect here?  No there isn’t.   It must be remembered that the people of Israel were called out to be a special people who would provide an example to the world as to how to live in harmony with God and with each other. God was working only with Israel at this time in history.  All other nations were living in idolatry and did not know the one and only true God.   

       The wars that Israel became involved with were largely fought to eliminate any contamination by pagan religious to the Covenant system Israel had been given by God.  Capital punishment was initiated much for the same reason.  God wanted Israel to obey the Law He had given them so they could be an example of righteousness to the nations.  Therefore, unrighteousness had to be punished and punished swiftly in order to maintain the kind of society God intended for Israel. 

       Loving ones neighbor and practicing the Golden Rule does not mean tolerating sin.  Love and punishment for unrighteous behavior are not mutually exclusive.

       In Leviticus 26 we read of the blessings God would bestow on Israel if they would be obedient to the Covenant.

       Leviticus 26:3-8: `If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,   I will send you rain in its season and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. "`I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

       They were told that if they obeyed, God would grant them peace in the land. The sword would not pass through their land. Yet this promise did not mean that Israel would be free from warfare.  Part of the blessings bestowed upon them included success in warfare.  They would pursue their enemies, and their enemies would fall by the sword before them. A similar blessing is found in Deuteronomy 28.  Here too, victory in war, not freedom from war, was shown to be one of the blessings Israel could expect.  Israel's enemies would flee from them.

       Deuteronomy 28:7: The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

       Peace cannot be attained within a context of evil.  It cannot co-exist with evil. During the time of Israel’s theocracy, Israel could not co-exist with the idolatry that was all around them. God allowed them to engage in warfare as a means of protecting them from being sucked into the evil practices of the societies that surrounded them.  

       As I have said before in sermons, we must be careful not to take too wooden of an approach to Scripture.  We always need to look at the whole of Scripture on any given issue and arrive at an understanding of said issue based on such an overview.

       Do the judgements of God, often seen as facilitated by war, run contrary to the many Biblical passages that indicate it is God’s desire that we humans live in peace.  There are many exhortations in Scripture as to we living in peace.  God is called a God of peace a number of times in Scripture. Peace is considered a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Is there an inherent contradiction in promoting peace on the one hand and sanctioning war on the other hand?

       The answer is that peace cannot be attained within a context of evil.  It cannot co-exist with evil.  Peace involves the exercise of the law of love.  When the law of love is not mutually exercised in a given context, peace cannot prevail.  When one nation tries to impose its will on another nation resulting in diminishing and degrading the basic rights of another people, peace cannot exist.  War is often the only means of preserving peace and insuring basic human rights and the triumph of good over evil.  This has been the case throughout all of human history and apparently is even the case in the heavenly realm as indicated in the passage we read from Revelation 12.

       Yes, God does hate the shedding of innocent blood and we should hate it as well. However, innocent blood is sometimes shed in order to accomplish a greater good.  Christ Jesus was innocent and yet shed his blood to accomplish the greatest good of all, the salvation of the human race.