No. 4 – GOD IS HARSH/CRUEL IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
One of the most common accusations you will hear is that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is a cruel God. Some go so far as to say that he is a monster, a racist, an egotistical maniac who orders the killing of anyone he dislikes.
Other sincere people genuinely struggle to make sense of this God being described as supremely loving in the face of commands to kill.
What are we to make of this God, is there any explanation that can help us or our friends to understand these events?
Further still can we still hold on to a loving view of God as displayed in the person of Jesus?
Is there an inconsistency between the portrayal of God in the Old and New Testaments?
The first thing to say with any scripture or any other writing from a previous era is that we simply must read it in its appropriate context. That is to say that we appreciate the time, culture and people’s that we are reading about.
So what answers can we glean from scripture? How can we begin to understand the character and mind of God as revealed in these events?
To begin with it is acknowledged that God clearly commanded his people (Israelites) when entering the land of Canaan that they were to completely destroy anything that breathed (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).
So does the Bible give us any idea why God would issue such a command to his people?
3 points will attempt to clear this up.
1) Command given on account of their sin and its influence
The reason for this command and the destruction is explained to the Israelites as being on account of the Canaanites sin (Deut 9:4). He specifically told the Israelites to take this course of action “otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do.” Deuteronomy 20:18
Not because of race, ethnicity or because of God’s whim but because of their actions.
Will cover further in no. 3.
2) God always gave time to repent/change.
In Genesis 15:13-16 God explained to Abraham that he had put up with the sin of these people for 400 years and that it hadn’t yet reached its full measure (would get worse).
In other words there will come a time when their sin must be dealt with but God is holding back at the present time.
Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone. He therefore holds back from punishment in the hope that the person/people’s would repent.
“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”
This mercy of God was also seen prior to the giving of the command in Deutoronomy 20:10, God told his would-be army that they must make an offer of peace to the people’s of the town first.
3) God ordered their destruction because sin reached full measure
Amorites and others sin at full measure and we’re committing child sacrifice.
Child sacrifice was practised in honour of the god molech. He was revered as a protecting father figure. Images of molech were made of bronze, their outstretched arms were heated red-hot. Living children were then placed into the idols hands and were burned alive or were rolled into a fire pit below. Other sources indicate that a child might be passed through the fire prior to actual sacrifice in order to baptise the child.
This practice was pervasive and despite God’s instruction some Israelites engaged in the practice. King Solomon was reported to worship molech in 1 Kings 11:4-11 and others such as Kings Manasseh actually sacrificed their children.
How did God feel about this act?
Before we consider this think about how you would feel about it yourself?
God reported that the act of sacrificing your child had never entered his mind (Jeremiah 32:35) and was one of the main reasons that the Israelites were exiled into Babylon as a punishment.
In Leviticus 20:1-5 he reports that there will be serious consequences for not only those engaged in this practice but also for those who stand by and tolerate others doing it.
Clearly God knew that this detestable practice could be adopted by the Israelites (Deuteronomy 20:17).
God clearly lays out in Proverbs 6:17 that he “hates the shedding of innocent blood”.
So people judge, criticise and condemn this “unfair”, “unjust” God of the Old Testament.
If we were given sovereign authority and witnessed this practice with our own eyes how would we react?
I believe most of us when we realise the true extent of this detestable sin
Would be slower to condemn God’s actions towards them.
Just as we react when news stories come out regarding child abuse and the murder of an helpless, innocent little child.
We would also react with a similar anger if we were to actually witness what God had witnessed, the burning and slaughter of many helpless and innocent children.
We should not be surprised at such things as even today there has been an increase in child sacrifice in places such as Uganda.
This practice was abominable, detestable and grieved the heart of God. In the absence of an active established police force, law courts & social workers etc he had little choice but to deal with the perpetrators of these crimes and try to prevent anyone else from being corrupted by it.