I recently wrote about some of the harsh Bible verses we find in the Old Testament, where God commands his people to kill entire people groups, including their women and infants.
These are the verses picked out by leading atheist Richard Dawkins and others who are anti-Christian to smear God’s name, and in general serve as troubling texts that push many away from faith in God. At the very least, they create a dichotomy between the “Harsh, judgmental, Old Testament God” and the “Gracious, loving, merciful New Testament Jesus”, causing some to accept the NT version, while rejecting the OT version. (I write about that here)
After writing the first post, I thought it would be helpful to uncover some further insights on these texts.
One is that when we create this image of a ruthless, infant-killing OT God, we have a presupposition that 100% of judgment is wrong. That any time anyone in power brings judgment on someone else, the one bringing judgment is evil. There is first off a great irony in this because this is a very judgmental statement to make! But beyond this, let’s look at some contemporary examples of judgment. If there is a serial rapist or a serial killer who has stood trial and the judge and jury have deemed guilty due to overwhelming evidence, would you think it is evil to bring judgment on this criminal? If this criminal were given life in prison, or even the death sentence, would you consider it evil or ruthless the way you do God’s judgment in the Old Testament?
If you read Genesis 19 and Judges 19, you’ll find two incredibly disturbing accounts of sex-crazed mobs seeking to rape town visitors, a man who offers his daughters for this brutal rape instead, as well as another account of a man who offers his wife for this, who is abused and killed in the process, so he chops her up into pieces. This is downright savagery! (One Bible-reading tip to note is that God never ever approves of this behavior, these are simply historical accounts of what was happening — they serve to show the need for judgment!)
Regardless of Richard Dawkins’ moral compass, a mob beating down someone’s door to rape them all night long, as well as being the person to throw the victim to this savage mob, are instances that definitely deserve judgment! To say that God’s judgment on people in the Old Testament was not needed is to turn a blind eye to how savagely immoral these people at become. These weren’t people who were simply skipping Sunday School or stealing cookies from the cookie jar, this was brutal anarchy beyond what we can comprehend.
Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are only two examples of such lawlessness. History tells us that the entire culture acted this way. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 tell us “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” This means literally what it sounds like: Everyone did whatever the heck they wanted, no matter who it hurt. “Might is right” was the prevailing method of the day. This is a simple historical truth: this was a very barbaric time in history.
It’s also very important to see that while God gave his people commands to rise above this brutal anarchy and shine the path of life to the world, he treated them with the same judgment as the surrounding nations when they too disobeyed his life-giving commands. God wasn’t racist or genocidal when he sent his people in to take out entire cities / people groups, because he did the exact same thing to his people when they turned to these brutal rebellious ways, using the Babylonians and Assyrians to wipe out the Israelites (his people) in the same way he used the Israelites to wipe out the Amalekites, etc. (see Jeremiah and Lamentations)
The other key to note is that God gave warning after warning (hundreds and hundreds of years in fact) to his people before bringing judgment on them, giving them tons of opportunities to repent of their ways and return to him. And we see him doing the same things to the neighboring peoples. We see a great example of this in the non-Jewish city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. God sends Jonah to Nineveh; he tells them judgment is coming if they don’t change their ways; they do change their ways; and judgment doesn’t come.
A big question that still stands as an elephant in the room is Why infants? Judgment makes sense for savage people, but it’s hard to swallow this same punishment for their infants. Wouldn’t it have been better to judge the parents who committed the sins and left the infants and children to live? Couldn’t the Israelites have adopted them? Would the infants and children have reverted back to their idolatry/savage cultural ways, leading the Israelites to the same? Would the infants have grown up and rebelled against the Israelites for destroying their parents? Does God give his saving grace to these “innocents”, even though they die physically, he saves them spiritually?
The list of questions is endless. And there really aren’t solid answers to these speculations.
My hope is that we can move on from judging God’s entire character on these instances of judgment, and trust him. At the end of the day, to be able to say, “God is God, I am not, and He’s got it covered.”
And most importantly, to be able to see that this is the troubling period of history God led us out of. One scene in one chapter of a very long story of redemption, love, and rescue.
He had every right to wipe away humanity completely (He still does…), but instead he preserved the light of those who remained faithful, no matter how small and faint this light became. This small, faint light eventually led to Jesus, the One the entire Old Testament anticipates and points toward. Jesus is the ocean of fuel that the small faint light of the Old Testament sparked, causing an explosion of redemption to the entire world. A redemption of God’s grace and forgiveness offered to each of us.
Other posts in this series:
- Understanding Weird Parts of the Old Testament: Old vs. New Covenant
- Where the old covenant came from and why it doesn’t apply to us.
- Why the old covenant is still God’s Word to us and why it is still useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting (i.e. 1 Timothy 3:16)
- Why the entire Bible matters, even if Rob Bell says it doesn’t
- Why the Weird Old Testament Laws Ever Existed
- Richard Dawkins: God commanding Wars, Genocides, Infant Killing???
- You can’t have the New Testament Jesus without the Old Testament God