In the early chapters of the Pentateuch, for example, violence surfaces in the actions and reactions of the Patriarchs.
In a statement which camouflages what the experience must have meant for Dinah, we read that the young nobleman sees this pretty foreigner, takes her and violates her. Having abused her and used her as a plaything, the prince, whose name is Shechem, falls in love with her. He installs her in his house.
When Jacob and his sons hear what has happened, they burn with grief and fury because Shechem has shamed them all — he has done a disgraceful thing ‘against Israel’, not ‘against Dinah’. They rescue Dinah from Shechem’s house and loot the city. Jacob protests to the two vengence-takers that they have now made him a stench to the other inhabitants of the land. His sons shrug their shoulders and suggest that they had no choice in the matter —
“But why should we let him treat our sister like a prostitute?” they retorted angrily.” – Genesis 34:31
A far more drastic conflict, emanating from a similar concern for avenging honour, developed years later after the people of Israel had settled in Canaan. In some senses, the God of the OT comes across as violent, though always in a sense which is perfectly ethical. Just as there is an incredible, divine hospitality, so there is divine violence.
In Yahweh’s anger with Moses for losing his temper, in the judgement upon Eli’s faithless household, in the rejection of Saul, in the abandonment of the northern kingdom of Israel and later the southern kingdom of Judah, and in the many prophecies against the nations of the world, violent language is used and violent events occur. The people of Israel had a choice from the beginning — blessing or cursing. Either they could live in close family relationship to the God who loved them because He loved them, or they could endure the hell of stepping outside His family.
Mark, the gospel-writer, uses violent language to describe God’s breaking in on the human scene to rescue lost humanity. A favourite word of the evangelist is schizo – it means ‘to split asunder’. When Mark begins his gospel with an account of the baptism of Jesus, he is describing a breakout from heaven —
One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. – Mark 1:9-10
The account then moves at a fast pace, describing the effects on earth of that breakout. From then until after the resurrection, Jesus ‘does’ nothing – in fact He is the object of 56 verbs!
Mark uses his special word again at an important hinge in his account. In the death of Jesus, Mark proclaims, God rips open the veil between Himself and His people, and widens the family to include the Gentile, as well as the Jewish, world.
As Mark signs off at the end of his account, we are left with the quick pace quickening once again. The breakout from heaven continues on earth via the apostles —
And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs. – Mark 16:20
At various times, Jesus interprets His own ministry in quite violent terms. When some onlookers claim that He is driving out demons by the authority of Beelzebub, prince of demons, Jesus warns them that such a possibility is logically impossible. A family divided against itself could never stand. No! He drives out demons by the finger of God and that is proof enough that the kingdom of God is come. The spiritual dynamic that market Jesus’ ministry denoted warfare against the enemies of God’s kingdom —
And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. – Matthew 11:12