There are some questions that trouble non-Christians that really don’t trouble Christians.
- “Is there such a thing is as truth?” seems so self-evident.
- “Is the crucifixion cosmic child abuse?” is easy to answer if you’ve read the Bible yourself.
- “Is Christianity anti-Semitic?” seems ridiculous when you know the church was founded by 12 Jewish guys who followed another Jewish guy who was fulfilled the great Jewish hope.
Although we are happy to answer the questions of our friends and family, these things rarely ever make us struggle.
But there are some questions that do.
One such question is about God killing people in the Old Testament. God seems utterly brutal to do such a thing. How can we reconcile this with the loving God of the New Testament?
Dave Bish has put up an excellent blog post entitled “What about God killing people in the Old Testament?” where he discusses these issues. I would urge you to read the post for yourself. Let me summarise the main arguments here and then add some thoughts of my own.
No difference between Old Testament and New
Dave correctly recognises that the often hold assumption that “The God of the Old Testament is mean and of the New is nice” is totally unfounded. Here are his arguments:
a) Because we have one Bible, one God (in three persons).
b) Because of Ananias and Sapphira. What’s with that?
c) Because it’s not Love vs Wrath. Wrath is love’s right response to evil.
d) Because the Bible’s own self-reflection is that the God of the Old Testament is too gracious not too mean. The persistent question isn’t why people die its why they keep getting forgiven. See the objections of Jonah the prophet sent to tell good news to the nasty city of Nineveh. He rages at God: I knew you’d forgive them so I ran away from preaching too them.
What terrible news! The God of the New Testament is as much a God of wrath as the God of the Old. Do we want to believe in this God?
Dave argues: “Actually, ‘The God of the Old Testament’ is too forgiving.”
The Grace of the God of the Old Testament
Dave points out many examples of the grace of God in the Old Testament:
i) They were given 400 years to turn to Christ from killing their children and various other evil practices. That’s pretty excessive patience. Before we weep over their deaths we should weep over the evil they perpetrated while God was being patient with them.
ii) Played out on the stage of global politics was the liberation of Israel from slavery Egypt 40 years earlier (told in the book of Exodus). Everyone in Canaan knew about that. The account of Rahab tells us that everyone knew and everyone took a view on the matter.
iii) People, like Rahab the Canaanite prostitute, heard and turned to God. Everyone could do that.
iv) No-one had to die. They were asked to leave the land that they’d been occupying. They heard all that they heard, and stood their ground. Those who died died in defiance. It’s a picture in human history of the defeat of defiant evil. A picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
v) The same people used to exile/judge Canaan were subject to the same judgement themselves when they were exiled because they’d turned from Jesus to do the things that the people in Canaan did. There was no favouritism here.“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
I think this is the most robust answer to the question I have ever heard and raises up some examples I had never thought about. God overflows with grace, even to these most wretched people. There is good news here, there is something to praise God for, even in these blood-chilling passages.
What does this have to do with me?
But what does this have to do with us? In my podcast on How to Read the Old Testament, I suggested a three-step approach to reading the Old Testament. Let’s use this to examine this issue:
1.What did it mean to the original hearers?
The Old Testament believers clearly saw it as God’s grace that he destroyed these people. As Dave rightly says, this was a people who killed their own children as part of their worship to God.
It would also been something of sheer amazement to them that people like Rahab actually could be forgiven their sins. A prostitute, who was as much part of this sinful society as anyone else, was redeemed simply by putting her faith in the God of Israel. This would have stunned them.
2. What similarities are there now in Christ?
We would do well to look carefully at the despicable sins of the Canaanites. The same heart lies within each of us.
We murder babies. We just do it at a hospital rather than a temple.
We trap women in prostitution. We just do it on our computer screens.
We worship other gods. We just worship “Me” rather than “Baal” .
Jesus is a just God. He will return and he will punish the wickedness that has cursed his world. A tear was never meant to be shed on this planet and the cause of every one will be punished. We have a new Joshua and he will destroy all the Canaanites.
But we are the Canaanites.
That is why the next part is so fantastic. This Joshua not only killed the sinners. He sacrificed himself that the sinners may go free and be changed. Just as Joshua allowed the woman who pleaded for salvation to live, so Jesus allows anyone who truly pleads to be saved.
3.Think how it applies to yourself
The murder of people should not cause Christians to stumble. We should recognise that we don’t see our sin as clearly as God does. Rather we should look to the abundant grace evident in the Old Testament and say to God “Why O Lord such love to me?”
What about you?
Have you struggled with this issue? Are there any questions you have about this difficult question? Or do you have something to add to Dave’s ideas?
Oh and before you go, if you haven’t already, read Dave’s article for yourself. It’s a real cracker.
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Other posts on this topic:
- How to read the Old Testament
- If Christ was real, he wouldn’t send people to hell
- Rejected by God
- What is the Gospel?
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