Some weeks ago I argued that Deuteronomy 7 [rules for 'herem' -- holy war or Yahweh War] is really a call to follow God alone, an outworking of Deuteronomy 4, "You shall have no other gods before me."
I used two basic points to look for a different reading: 1) that calling for genocide is not a realistic reading of any biblical passage, and 2) that OT cultures (like many majority world cultures today) often used indirect communication [the elephants of the title], so that the real meaning is beneath the surface. These two points let me argue for seeing the call to war as a metaphor for obeying God and not our culture.
The way I put this in the previous sentence is the problem: "These two points let me argue for ..." It's unsettlingly close to saying, "I don't like what this passage says, so let me make it say something else."
This post, then, to reaffirm my commitment to hearing Scripture speak what God means to say. I will not resort to "indirect communication" and "meanings beneath the surface", unless Scripture itself pushes me in that direction. In the case of Deuteronomy 7, the tension of such a call to violence is one such pressure, especially when combined with the way that Jesus taught peace. The fact that the early church was largely pacifist reflects this clear teaching of Jesus. (See this article on "Jesus Creed" to dig further.)
A war passage, then, begs for what a colleague has called a "figurative reading", digging beneath the surface to hear God speak to us today.
(If you want to get what the elephant in the title is referring to, the original post is here.)