Monday, November 25, 2013

God of Old Testament: Genocidal Monster or Holy and Merciful Judge?

An idea that has been floating around for a long time, and that I actually believed at one point before I started studying the bible, is that the God of the Old Testament is radically different from the God of the New Testament.  While the God of the New Testament is supposedly portrayed as a God of love and forgiveness, the Old Testament God is portrayed as a mean god who told his followers to wipe out men, women, and children.  The main evidence that supports that assertion is God's judgement of the Canaanites in the Old Testament.  The question is, did God really order his people to completely eradicate entire people groups, and did the Jews actually wipe out all the men, women, and children?  Is there really a disconnect between the Gods of the Old and New Testaments, or is there a consistency?

God's Judgement of the Canaanites:

Many people have wondered why God, if he's truly loving and merciful, would judge a people group like the Canaanites.  What did the Canaanites do to earn God's wrath?

The Canaanites worshiped a god called Moloch (Molek in the Old Testament).  Canaanites burned their children as sacrifices in honor of him, and practiced sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vice as forms of worshipping Molek.

Leviticus 18:21-24:   Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.  Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.  Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.  Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.   

God makes it clear that he wants the Israelites to have nothing to do with the Canaanite's worship of Molek in Leviticus 20:1-5:

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.  I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.  If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.

Because of God's anger over the evil religious practices of the Canaanites, God ordered King Saul to attack  the Amalekites (a sub-group withing the Canaanite people) in 1 Samuel 15:1-3:

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Moses says the following in Deuteronomy 20:16-18 within an explanation of God's rules for them when going to war:

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.  Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.  

Difficult Phrases:    

At this point, it seems that the God of the Old Testament rightly calls out the evil of the Canaanites, but the mercy and forgiveness of the New Testament God seems to not exist.  I can already hear all the people saying, "See!  The God of the Old Testament is way different from the God of the New Testament!"  There's just one problem:  THE CANAANITES REAPPEAR IN THE STORY!!!

After God told Saul to wipe out the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:1-3 and the battle had been fought, the Amalekites reappear in 1 Samuel 27:8-9:  

Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?”

So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since.  David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months.

Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish. 

David had another encounter with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 30:1-18, and Haman from the book of Esther was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, whose ancestor was Agag, who can be read about in 1 Samuel 15:7-34.

Because of the fact that the Canaanites reappear later on in the story, it becomes clear that the Israelites did not wipe out every Canaanite man, woman, and child.  The question then becomes, what does the phrase men, women, and children, and other similar phrases mean?

Dr. Richard S. Hess, professor of Old Testament and Semantic Languages at Denver Seminary, deals with this very issue in his article The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua.  Here is what Dr. Hess had to say:

This text appears to include women, children, and the aged in this mass destruction.  However, is this really the case? The actual expression is translated, “men and women,” literally, “from man (and) unto woman.” The phrase occurs elsewhere seven times, referring to the inhabitants of Ai ( Josh 8:25), Amalek (1 Sam 15:3, here without the waw), Nob (1 Sam 22:19), Jerusalem during David’s time (2 Sam 6:19 = 1 Chr 16:3), Jerusalem during Ezra’s time (Neh 8:2), and Israel (2 Chr 15:13). In 2 Sam 6:19 (= 1 Chr 16:3) it describes the joyful occasion of David’s entrance into Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant and his distributing food to all the onlookers. Except for Saul’s extermination of the inhabitants of Nob in 1 Sam 22:19, where children are specifically mentioned (unlike the texts about Jericho, Ai, and elsewhere), all other appearances of the phrase precede or follow the Hebrew kol “all, everyone.” Thus, the phrase appears to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders. It is synonymous with “all, everyone.” 

Dealing with the same issue in his article How Could God Command Killing the Canaanites?,  Paul Copan, professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, points out another interesting definition:

This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).  The word “city [ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants."  The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites.

Scripture and scholarly study of the Near Eastern language show us that God did not actually order his people to wipe out all the men, women, and children of the Canaanite civilian populations.  God's anger was clearly aimed at their religious practices, and using the Israelites, God judged the Canaanites for their evil.  God did not target all the innocent Canaanites as well as the guilty Canaanites; God made a discrimination between the innocent and the guilty.  Otherwise, the Canaanites would never have reappeared later in the story.        

God's Promises to the Canaanites:

It doesn't stop there; in multiple passages in the old testament, we can clearly see God promising to redeem and bring salvation to Israel's most hostile enemies:

Psalms 87:1-6:  He has founded his city on the holy mountain.The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.Glorious things are said of you, city of God: “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush--and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”  Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” 

Isaiah 19:23-25:  In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.  In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork,and Israel my inheritance.

Zechariah 9:7: I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth.  Those who are left will belong to our God and become a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 

If it isn't clear at this point that the Canaanites were implicitly included in God's plan for salvation for all humanity in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ made it crystal clear in Matthew 15:21-28:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.


Hopefully at this point, I have made it clear that there are no contradictions in God's nature between the Old and New Testament.  Here is what I mean:

Both the God of the Old Testament and Jesus talk about repentance:

Ezekiel 18:26-32:  If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die.  But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.  Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.  Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! 

Mark 1:14-15:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Matthew 21:31-32:  ...Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Both the Old and New Testament refer to a Day of Judgement where God will punish evil:

Isaiah 61:1-2:  The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.  

Matthew 12:33-37:  “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

Jesus talks about what will happen on the Day of Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46.  

In Hebrews Chapter 11, we are given a partial list of people from the Old Testament who are going to be in heaven.  Paul writes in Hebrews 11:39-40:  

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

In other words, people in the old testament who put their faith in God were credited with righteousness based on the work that was to come in the future with Jesus's sacrifice on the cross.  Christians after Jesus are credited with righteousness based on Jesus's sacrifice on the cross that happened 2,000 years ago.  All people, both before and after Jesus, are saved through Jesus.    
Having done the research myself, I have come to the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one in the same.  His promises of redemption and salvation are true, and he loves you so much that he wants you to enter into a personal relationship with him.  He wants to be your savior, but if you continually reject him throughout your entire life until you die, he will be your judge, and you will be accountable for each of your sins when you have to face him on judgement day.

The thought of anyone willingly choosing to go to Hell makes me sad, so I beg you to choose eternal life.            

No comments:

Post a Comment