God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 4)
Does anybody else love those Japanese Godzilla films? You have a daft, unfeasible science fiction plot, but you don't have to worry about that because you get to see Godzilla battle another huge monster like Ebirah (the big crab) or Mothra (the big moth).
According to Gregory Boyd, the ancient people of the Near East viewed the cosmos rather like a Godzilla movie, with hostile monsters constantly threatening the world. The principle monstrous adversary of the cosmos was Leviathan, referenced in Psalms 74 and Job 41. This creature (sometimes mistakenly identified as a whale or crocodile) was a fire-breathing water monster. Boyd does not discuss the view held by dinosaur adoring creationists that this was a dinosaur, but I think if the myths of Mesopotamia originated in reality, this view would be compatible with his mythological interpreation.
Boyd also identifies the Behemoth as a creature in the same order. He argues that the purpose of the Lord in describing these creatures to Job was to affirm a warfare worldview. It is thought by many conservative expositors that the Lord was revealing to Job the complexity of His plans, thus entailing that evil was part of some mysterious divine blueprint. In contrast, Boyd argues that God was revealing the awesome power of the cosmic adversaries with which He was doing battle. While the comforters falsely ascribed evil to sin (as do legions of well meaning Christians), the Lord reveals that suffering can be traced to the incredible power of the beings that the Lord has created. These creatures cannot be defeated by man, yet the Lord has the power to overcome them (as is seen in Psalms).
Isaiah 27 also references leviathan:
1 In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
Boyd argues that the leviathan device is here used eschatologically, represeting Yahweh's defeat of evil forces. It is a future event. This is a deviation from the mythological tradition of the water monster being defeated at creation. This reinvention of the myth as eschatological has such importance within the biblical tradition that the apostle John also presents it in Revelation 12 with Satan as the great red dragon. However, it must not be thought that there was any contradiction in presenting in other texts, the leviathan as having been defeated at creation or (as in Job 41) still engaged in an ongoing war. This is a literary device that is used in diverse ways, yet in each case representing a conflict between Yahweh and cosmic evil of unimaginable power. Boyd says of this ongoing conflict:
This "survival of... potent forces of chaos" is what permits classifying the Old Testament view as a warfare worldview. Yahweh's battles are not simply apparent, nor are they simply in the past: they are, for these authors, very real, and they are present, and they are even yet future. While some conservative exegetes fear that acknowledging the ongoing reality of this cosmic opposition compromises Yahweh's "absolute sovereingty," the point of this early Old Testament tradition is to portray Yahweh's sovereingty as being all the greater precisely because he has engaged in conflict and has been victorious. This gives them confidence that He shall do so again in the future.
God at War, p.98
In Boyd's view, at the foundation of the earth something has rebelled against God and continues to make war against His rule over the cosmos. This is rebel and his cohorts is the same being that the New Testament calls, the 'principality and power of the air.' It is the same doctrine of Satan, yet packaged in the Near Eastern mythological form.
Boyd maintains that the sea monster myth is connected theologically with creation. He argues that this material strongly indicates a rebellion against God that occurred in the prehistoric past. The Near Eastern myths that have been introduced and adapted for Scripture are inseperably connected to creation and imply an event that occurs before it.
Boyd revisits Genesis 1. He points out that the main objection to viewing creation in the light of cosmic warfare is the absence of any conflict in the creation account of Genesis 1. Yet Boyd points out that to take this line is to ignore other creation texts in the Bible that imply a cosmic conflict. He queries the notion that Genesis 1 should be viewed as the normative account of creation in Scripture. In a surpisingly unfashionable move (especially given that Boyd is a radical evangelical), he suggests the Gap theory of creation as a means of harmonizing Genesis 1 with the cosmic struggle texts:
Stated differently, both ancient and modern exegetes have argued with some plausibility that the account of Genesis 1 is not so much an account of creation as an account of God's restoration of a world that had through a previous conflict become formless, futile, empty and engulfed by chaos- the world of Genesisd 1:2 in other words. According to this view, sometimes called the "restitution theory" or "the gap theory," but which I prefer to call "the restoration theory," the cosmos that had been created in verse 1 had become embattled, corrupted, judged and brought to the nearly destroyed state we find it in verse 2. The rest of the chapter then describes God's creation of this present cosmos out of the formless and empty chaos of the previously ravaged one.
This reading makes a connection with the Mesopotmian myth of creation. In that story, the cosmos was created out of the carcass of Tiamat, the sea monster goddess. Thus the cosmos was created out of a ruin. The present world is built on the ashes of a former creation. However, as Boyd points out the defeated enemy in Genesis 1 has not been given the dignity of a name or personal reference. In order to emphasise that there has been a complete new start in perfection, all remembrance of the struggle has been blotted out and the cosmic monster has been depersonalized into simply the 'waters.'
This view entails the importance of mankind in God's creation:
In this view, moreover, humans are made in the image of God and placed on the earth precisely so that they might gradually vanquish this chaos and establish- or better, reestablish- God's all-good plan for it. As God's earthly agents, we are "to effect the conquest of an evil being who had penetrated the creation."
A similar view to this advocated in Joseph Dillow's excellent book 'The Reign of the Servant Kings.'
Boyd argues that the ruin and restoration idea provides the funamental cosmic backdrop for the Warfare worldview of the Old Testament. It presents the powers of evil as fundamentally connected with the cosmos and the natural forces it contains. The world has been overtaken by an hostile power, who has become its god and prince. Hence, as Boyd points out, the Lord Jesus does not dispute Satan's power to grant Him all the kingdoms of the world. Yet as the same conflict texts indicate, the 'sea monster' is going to be defeated and cut in pieces. Yahweh will triumph and His kingdom will be established over all.