Archives For Moses

The contents of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War and The Bible are unrelated. They are, by any quick comparison, worlds apart. The Art of War is a masterpiece in military organisation and strategy. It’s a sage, giving the wealth of a sage’s advice to all who would follow his counsel closely.

The Bible is a collection of books, filled with multiple genres, following centuries of the same consistent theme: God’s faithfulness. Testified to from multiple authors, God’s faithfulness often jars in contrast to human unfaithfulness, both towards each other and towards God Himself.

These include eyewitness accounts, poetry, proverbial wisdom, historiography; prophecy, a litany of apocalyptic predictions, historical letters and genealogies.

The Art of War is a manual. In it the wisdom and experience of Chinese Army veteran, Sun-Tzu is encapsulated in a list of haiku like principles. Whereas The Bible, from start to finish moves from point to point testifying to the revelation of God; as He slowly raised and continues to raise humanity, through Covenant, promise and fulfilment, up out of humanities trajectory towards inhumanity and self-annihilation.

What The Art of War and parts of The Bible share in common is the way in which truth and experience is communicated through metaphor, simile and poetic syntax.

For example:

‘A rushing torrent/carries boulders/on its flood; such is the energy/of its momentum’ [i] (Sun-Tzu, The Art of War)
‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 19:24, ESV)

There are truths expressed within both examples and experience is expressed.

The relationship between The Art of War and The Bible is established in its use of poetic language to recall history and communicate truths, through narrative and poetic prose.

Any question over commonality is therefore answered. The next question is, can there be any relevance between the two? Can The Art of War help us better understand The Bible?

My answer to this question is yes.

Though, it’s cultural setting, context, authorship, and in most areas its contents are worlds apart, sections of The Art of War can enlighten our perspective of ancient society, politics and warfare.

Much like Machiavelli’s, The Prince, The Art of War gives in insight into areas of human behaviour, organisation, rule and movement. These include leadership, social organisation, paradox (dialectic)[ii], relationships, management, hierarchy, strategy and, in a few specific places, the value of human life.

‘[Force] March ten miles for some gain/and two in three men will arrive’[iii] (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Relevance between the Bible and The Art of War can be found. Much of the first five books of the Bible, (the Pentateuch; Torah) discuss the state of the human race, God’s creation, liberation, government and ordering of humanity, centred within and viewed through the lens of His people.

God’s ordering, His governing where His leadership through a close friendship with Moses, is exemplified in the post Exodus, wilderness dwelling, Book of Numbers.

Here, Yahweh’s request under the Covenant with Israel is His way of bringing the Hebrews FULLY out of Egypt [psychologically & culturally, this was as much reformation as it was revolution]. As evidenced by the Golden Calf, one coup attempt, a number of formal protests and general disgruntlement about how much better things were under Egyptian rule. In other words, how much better things were under the rule of Egypt’s hybrid animal-human gods.

Yahweh is brought to trial. The just God is thrown unjust criticism and all manifestations of his grace through the miraculous provision and care given towards His people are forgotten.

The confrontation causes conflict, as Yahweh seeks to take their focus off the creature and put it onto the Creator; seeks to bring His people out of Egypt. To teach them that they are no longer under Egyptian rule, but are under His guidance, blessing, leadership; fatherhood – are united and reborn as the nation of Israel. The gods humans made are directly challenged by the God who made humans.

The victory is won, yet, Yahweh is still fighting against the influence of Egypt and the way of the Egyptian gods.

Throughout this contest, Yahweh is the model of a perfect General (Exodus 15). He avoids the pitfalls described by Sun-Tzu, even though, His people (and even Moses from time to time) fall right into them:

‘Recklessness – leading to destruction
Cowardice – leading to capture
Hot temper (manipulated or triggered into reacting poorly) – prone to provocation
Delicacy to honour (concern for reputation; perfectionism) – tending to shame
Concern for his men (easily swayed/influenced, people pleasing; concerned about offending them) – leading to trouble.’
(Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Numbers teaches us that God perfectly hears us, has perfect self-control, can be provoked to anger, but is patient, quick to restraint and shows mercy, by way of warnings and provision.

   ‘These five perils to leadership demand the most careful attention’ – Sun-Tzu, The Art of War.

God is tolerant up to a point. At which time He makes that point known. Just as He did with those who opposed Israel, there is a point at which He chooses not to allow His people to advance, or they advance into the jaws of their enemies, both without and within.

 “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? – Jesus Christ, Luke 6:39

What Numbers alongside The Art of War teaches us is this: the pitfalls of a General are human pitfalls. That God is the perfect General, and that we fail, when we fail to follow Him into battle, in life and in death. Humanity fails when it fails to recognize or it chooses to reject, His grace. The grace that firmly holds us, even though we walk on the precipice of, and sometimes are forced to hang over, the abyss.

‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
(Paul, Galatians 2:20, ESV)

References:

[i] Sun-Tzu, circa 500 BC. The Art of War: Potential Energy Penguin Ed. 2008 (p.26)

[ii] For example: ‘Orderly disorder is based on careful division; courageous fear on potential energy; strong weakness on troop dispositions’.

[iii] Ibid, pp.40-41

Image credit: Rembrandt, 1659 Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

I had originally set out to write this the other night. My thoughts eventually turned into another article, which although different, has a somewhat related subject matter.

I did some research on the axiom, don’t shoot the messenger. What I found was this: it is linked to Shakespearian play Henry IV. Act 1. Sc.1 and can be sourced in various forms way back to Ancient Greece. I’ll spare you the history lesson and only point this out so as to establish historical context.

Here is the quote from said play.

 ‘’The first bringer of unwelcome news hath but a losing office; and his tongue sounds ever after as a sullen bell…thou shakest thy head and holds’t it as fear or sin to speak truth’’

Translation:

‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ because they are more than likely NOT as willing to share it, as you are in NOT wanting to hear it.

Another relevant aspect of the Shakespearian statement is uncovered in the final part of what could be a monument to his influence on the modern and post-modern zeitgeist or spirit of the age.

 ‘’…Thou shakest thy head and hold it as fear or sin to speak truth’’.

Has Western society really come to this?

For example: are our familial relationships, society and politics a loci for what may have become Fear or Sin. To. Speak. Truth?

In his book ‘’Let your life speak’’, Parker Palmer writes:

‘there is a great gulf between the way my ego wants to identify me, with its protective masks and self-serving fictions, and my true self…’ (2000:L.83 kindle ed.)

What Parker is saying here is qualified a little later by his suggestion that when we ‘refuse to embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of, we misread our own reality’ (2000:L.98 kindle ed.)

Suffice it to say, if we shoot the messenger we may fail to receive the message a messenger has the duty of delivering. Therefore we deal in the ignorance of what could be named a ‘happy silence’. The effort required to stay informed is too much so we avoid the details, context and historical points of impact which anticipated the current reality we find ourselves in. This smug ‘happy silence’ becomes indifference and is subsequently fed by conflict avoidance and complacency.

Jean Bethke Elshtain points out that this is exemplified by a ‘style of action…that repudiates the very existence of those with whom one disagrees’ (Public man Private woman 1981:365).

If we contrast this with the Judeo-Christian narrative of the Free God who frees us for others and Himself (Karl Barth & Ex.3:1-12), we end up with an interesting challenge to freely participate in seeking truth through respectful dialogue. This is counter to self-serving activities which seek to undermine that process.

…’God’s promises are rude and relentless. These promises do not honour our despair or our complacency. We are the people who believe that God’s future will cause a new-ness in the world, in which our old tired patterns of displacement and fear and hate cannot persist…. God has come to enlist people into these promises for the future of Israel and the future of the world’

(Walter Brueggemann, ‘Subversive Obedience’ 2011:25; Ex.3:1-12)

This enquiry raises two questions:

1. Might we actually mean what we say, say what we mean and choose to live by both?

2. Might we find the tension, ambiguity and imperfection found in the translations of these, as useful to our movement forward?

Take this gem of a thought from  American Mychal Massie, writer and Los Angeles talk show host:

 ‘I have a saying that ‘’the only reason a person hides things, is because they have something to hide’’ (Cited by Kevin Sorbo, Facebook August 26th 2013).

Perhaps we need to move beyond  assumption, by reassessing the impression management so closely linked to social media?

I realise this is wordy, but bear with me and maybe go back over those two questions above in order to really process them. There is a real need, in my view, to resist the Machiavellian ideological perspective which allows for a covert aggressive nominalism. A kind of manipulated-artificial  existence, where people are given permission to covertly tear others down and yet make themselves look innocent and victimized, because they have been enabled by others to do so. Historically speaking this is reflected in the abhorrent potentiality located within the ‘logic of deconstructionism, which reverses a claim like “the Nazis oppressed the Jews,” showing instead that the defenceless Jew’s oppressed the Nazis’ (Cited by Gene Veith, 1993:2615-2617, ‘Modern Fascism’ Kindle Ed. paraphrased)

In short: this could also apply to the practice of being something in public and then being the absolute opposite in private.

Abuse thrives when assumptions are fuelled by what we are led to believe about a person. Whether this be through appearances, gossip or lies-through-omission.

A protest against this is found in Swedish Musician, Ulf Christiansson’s contrasts outlined in the song ‘Entertainers and Soldiers’. Although here I acknowledge an argument could be made that Entertainers are ”messengers”, therefore the use of this song makes my overall point redundant and confusing. My response to this is to say that the phrase ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ points to a paradox of appearance, intention and purpose. For me, this is only reinforced by the lyrics not limited by them. Therefore this is an adequate example of the conversation between art and theology regarding nominalism.

Entertainers and soldiers

Sources:

Brueggemann, W. 2011 Subversive Obedience
Elshtain, J.B 1981 Public man Private woman
Jerusalem, ‘Entertainers and Soldiers’ available @ iTunes and amazon.
Parker, P. 2000 Let your life speak Kindle Ed.
Shakespeare. Henry IV
Veith,G. 1993 Modern Fascism Kindle Ed.