Not much time for posting this morning, but I highly recommend you go on over to Peter Enns’ blog and read this post:
I remember telling my middle school mates that my father was an engineer who left a promising academic career before coming to America. He also knew a lot about guns, since he was in World War 2, and killed bad guys left and right.
That story was genuinely connected to my real father, but honor was at stake. How I told the story was dictated, unwittingly, by rules of the schoolyard.
My father was a blue-collar machinist (not engineer) who wanted to be a school teacher (not academic), but World War 2 got in the way. He was in the war, but I didn’t dare let on that he did not fight for our side. He was born in Russia, was captured by the Germans, and was forced to be a German-Russian translator (and therefore a German soldier). He also hated guns, since his community in Russia was pacifist Mennonite. But he won a turkey shoot when I was young, a fact I exaggerated and incorporated into my narrative.
But I never mentioned the many things my father did that were also heroic but not quite as exciting—like coming to all my little league games, working long hours to make sure we kept a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and cars to get around in even though money was very tight. Had I talked like that, it would have fallen on deaf ears.
When God lets his children tell the story, the way that story is told is deeply and thoroughly influenced by the “rules of the schoolyard”; in the case of the Old Testament that means ancient tribal societies that valued in their people and in their gods such things as taking land, vanquishing (i.e., killing or enslaving) their foes, and generally bragging about who has the best gods and the best kings.
That is how people thought, and this “rule” is stamped all over the Old Testament. This is a way of understanding why the Bible behaves the way that it does. It bears the marks of the limitations of the cultures.