I was lecturing on holy war in my Old Testament class yesterday and today- specifically in Exodus. I have been relying heavily on Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology- not only because it’s incredibly awesome, but it covers the areas I want to focus on (literary and biblical perspectives).
An aspect of holy war that I think is interesting is God’s use of means. During the exodus, God is the one fighting the Egyptians, throwing the waters over their chariots. But later on Israel gets direction on how to carry out holy war. When the Israelites attack the Amalekites, God uses Israel to do the actual fighting. The victory in both examples (against the Egyptians, against the Amalekites) depends on faith in God. So the ends stay the same- God determines the outcome, but in holy war, God uses Israel to carry out His purposes.
This can really help to inform us on our freedom. We often think that freedom is living without constraints (hello, Sartre) but true freedom needs limits. True freedom is being able to express who who really are. If we are in love with someone, we feel free, free to be who we are without reservation. But this love does put contraints upon us, we now think of the other person and their needs sometimes at our expense. We have constraints and limits, but limits in themselves don’t necessarily inhibit freedom- indeed, they can free us.
Freedom has no better illustration than in jazz. There will be plenty of posts in the future about our freedom and jazz music (hello, Begbie). But here’s the basic idea: the soloist has room to create music when proper limits are put upon him/her. Limits such as tempo, tone, rhythm, key, etc. There will be more specific posts on this to come.
So let’s not think that boundaries are fundamentally opposed to freedom. If one does not have boundaries, one doesn’t care about anything, and actions must all be arbitrary. But if one has the right boundaries, one is free to be who they are.
And God actually wants this- he ordains this use of means to carry out His end. We have creative power to build up His kingdom. Although it might be lacking in emphasis, this is the common reformed and Calvinist view of our lives. God ordains the ends, yes, and he also ordains us to carry out the means.
So holy war and music might have more in common than what we think.