(3) We cannot live responsibly in our era without coming to grips with the problem of war. Our fathers fought in past wars. Our sons and daughters, it is reasonable to assume, will fight in future wars. Students of antiquity know that war is a perennial subject of ancient history, and the meaning of war, a perennial question. Students of the present know that the situation is unchanged in our day. This fact makes the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament more relevant, not less, to the tasks which hang over us.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Peter Craigie, one of the finest scholars of the Hebrew Bible Scotland has produced. While a student at the University of Toronto, I was in danger of losing my way. The acids of modernity, not to mention the climate of debauchery we call campus life, had just about destroyed my faith. By chance as it were, I picked up a copy of Craigie’s commentary on Deuteronomy. While I found his historical-critical conclusions on the book impossibly conservative, there was something else I noticed while reading its pages: a certain humility, an awareness of standing in the presence of a text that is greater than you or me or anyone else who reads it. In a dark moment, Craigie’s approach pulled me back from the brink.
In a book that still bears reading, Craigie had this to say:
I have met too few [adults] who have grappled seriously with the problem of violence and war. I have met many who have been puzzled by the Old Testament treatment of war and who, as a consequence, have simply omitted large portions of Scripture from their studying and teaching; many have virtually dropped the Old Testament from the Bible and have kept on safe ground, namely, the New Testament. . . .
[T]here is a further, perhaps more critical, aspect to the problem; it relates to the curriculum of the theological colleges and seminaries. It is not so much what is done there that worries me, but what is not done. Old Testament studies are often pursued in a conventional fashion; the history of Israel, Hebrew grammar, literary criticism in its variety of forms – these and other matters are pursued in detail. I have no quarrel with that, for such matters form the foundation of Old Testament studies. But rarely is anything built upon the foundation. The theological problems posed by the Old Testament, the relevance of the Old Testament to Christian preaching, these are matters left to the individual’s initiative. When I was a theological student [Craigie began his adult life serving in the Royal Air Force, and turned to the study of theology later], I worried about the “holy war” problem in the Old Testament and sought the advice of a professor for further reading. He recommended one or two commentaries and von Rad’s Der heilige Krieg im alten Israel (“The Holy War in Ancient Israel”). I went off to study and found a mass of material of linguistic, historical, and cultural interest. But I found nothing which spoke to my problem, the theological anxiety I had about the identification of God with war.
In the end, Craigie’s book is unsatisfying,
but it is still one of the best introductions to the topic available. I think Craigie
was right to emphasize that, in the history of God’s relationship with Israel as told
in the Bible, the truth about who God is and who we are emerges from defeat
in war, not in victory. More on that in future posts.
 Peter C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 105-106.