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Old Testament Overview - A RESPONSE TO CRITICISMS OF GOD'S ACTIONS IN THE OLD TESTMENT

There are those who are very critical of the actions of God in the Old Testament. For example, they are critical of the mass killing of Israel's enemies—even the killing of women and children. How can a loving God require Israel to do what appears to be so unloving?  Paul Copan dealt with this subject in his book, Is God a Moral Monster?  I will give a summary of what I gleaned from the book and the thoughts I had as I read the book.

Man's fall ultimately led to the world described in Genesis 6:3, 5-6:  "Then the Lord said, 'My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.' . . . The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, 'I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.'" (Genesis 6:3, 5-7)  God's solution at that time was to "wipe" them "from the face of the earth."  God's plan at a later time, however, was to choose a nation and plant them in a land chosen for them. But, He would not do it until the sinfulness of the people of that land had reached its final stage of sinfulness. "In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." (Genesis 15:16) See also Lev. 18:28

Many problems come because God has given us the freedom to choose. When we choose to sin, we tend to minimize the reality that a righteous and holy God must deal righteously with our sin He must in some way punish our sin. When we have been treated unjustly, we desire that justice be done. There is a just judge. He will deal justly with our sin. He dealt justly with a totally sin-plagued world through a world-wide flood. He would also deal with the fully sin-plagued Canaanites in the land of Canaan—the land promised to Israel. See Lev. 18

If you or I were fully in charge of the world, how would we deal with a sin-plagued world with every type of sinfulness being continually practiced?  Can we come up with a holy, wise, and loving plan?  Do we have a better plan than God?  What we see in the Bible is a loving, righteous, and all-wise God's plan of dealing with a world populated by totally depraved people. Our armed forces have had the job of trying to eliminate the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Can they do it without any bloodshed?  Our police have tried to remove the corruption in our cities caused by gangs, drugs, and drug cartels. How are they doing?  These problems are very small, though, compared to God's task of taking a sin-corrupted world and moving it toward being part of His kingdom. Could we do a better job at this than God is doing?  For me, I am glad it is His job and not mine.

Another example that helps us understand the effect of sin and the difficulty of making progress against the spread of sin is how cancer spreads through a body and what is necessary to do to prevent it from killing someone. Parts of the body are cut out; and radiation and chemicals are used to kill cancerous parts of the body, so that the person will be saved.  Sin is like a cancer in our lives and in our world. Should we be surprised that drastic measures need to be taken to deal with it?  Still another example is what we do to stop the spread of gangrene. Again, drastic measures are sometimes needed to stop the spread of gangrene. Are not cancer and gangrene pictures of sin and how it also needs to be strongly dealt with?

Now, I will deal with some of the issues that are brought up by those who criticize what is taught in the Old Testament. First of all, is God's jealousy like a self-centered boyfriend who is hyper-sensitive and short-tempered if his girlfriend even has a conversation with another boy?  Some accuse God of having this type of jealousy—flying into a jealous rage when the Israelites get involved with idolatry. There is this selfish type of jealousy. "The acts of the flesh are obvious . . . jealousy, fits of rage . . . ." (Gal. 5:19-21)  But, there is also a godly jealousy. Paul expressed his concern for the Corinthian Christians in this way: "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him." (II Corinthians 11:2)  Godly jealousy is like a husband's or wife's jealousy when his or her spouse begins to inappropriately show interest in another. It breaks their covenant to each other—it destroys trust; it is destructive to both partners and to the children of the marriage; it also destabilizes the institution of marriage in our society; and it diminishes people's confidence in oaths and covenants in many other ways. This type of jealousy is very appropriate. God's jealousy about our relationship with Him is the second type of jealousy.

What about the severity of the laws given to Israel by God?  First of all, they were not permanent laws for all nations of all times, but they were temporary laws for the nation of Israel (like temporary speed laws during road work). They were made for the purpose of starting up His nation in the middle of a very pagan world where extreme selfishness and idolatry infected and totally dominated the culture of their time. God wanted His nation to be completely separated from their sinful culture. Some of the laws prohibited combining certain crops and wearing a mixture of cloth in clothing. See Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22;5, 9-11; Lev. 18:6-23  These laws pointed to Israel's need to be a separated nation—completely separated from and different from the other nations. They were not to intermix with them.

God did not expect that Israel would suddenly change and be a completely holy and separated people overnight. He provided a plan for them to slowly progress toward being a holy nation. For example, God allowed for such practices as polygamy, divorce, and slavery, though His ultimate goal was to eliminate all three. "'Why then,' they asked, 'did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?' Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.'" (Matthew 19:7-8)

God did not eliminate slavery, but His law required that there be more humane treatment of slaves. See Exod. 21:1-11; Lev. 25:8-55; Deut. 15:12-18, 23:15-16  Also, in Israel slavery was often a voluntary way to deal with indebtedness.

Why did God have children killed? As a young Christian, a Sunday school teacher explained that if the children had lived, they would have become part of a corrupt society and would have needed to face God's judgment for their sins. The ending of their life, then, was a merciful act. I do not know if this teacher was right about this. I do know that God has knowledge way beyond us. He has all knowledge and His plans include eternity. So, even when what He does in the Old Testament does not make sense to us, we can trust that in eternity when we have more knowledge, we will see why He has done everything. Then, we will agree that He has always done what was loving, righteous, and wise. "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Isaiah 55:8-9) "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?'" (Romans 11:33-34)

Old Testament Overview Studies

Old Testament Overview
Table of Contents
Old Testament Overview Outline
Old Testament Overview Genesis
Old Testament Overview Exodus to Deuteronomy
Old Testament Overview Furniture of the Tabernacle
Old Testament Overview Dress of Priests and High Priest
Old Testament Overview Dress of High Priest
Old Testament Overview Canaan: What Can it Teach Us?
Old Testament Overview Israel, God's Kingdom
Old Testament Overview Moses—Failure the Backdoor to Success
Old Testament Overview The Mosaic Covenant
Old Testament Overview The Ten Commandments
Old Testament Overview The Offerings
Old Testament Overview Uncleanness
Old Testament Overview The Priesthood
Old Testament Overview The Festivals
Old Testament Overview The Nazirite Vow
Old Testament Overview Joshua to Ruth
Old Testament Overview Prophecies of the Redeemer—Genesis to Ruth
Old Testament Overview I and II Samuel
Old Testament Overview Saul and David Compared
Old Testament Overview Jonathan and David Compared
Old Testament Overview The Davidic Covenant
Old Testament Overview I And II Kings
Old Testament Overview Israel's and Judah's Kings
Old Testament Overview Divided Kings who Divided
Old Testament Overview Criticisms of God's Actions in the Old Testament
Old Testament Overview Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
Old Testament Overview Ruth and Esther Compared
Old Testament Overview Job to Song of Solomon
Old Testament Overview Proverbs: Wise Man or Fool?
Old Testament Overview Isaiah
Old Testament Overview Jeremiah
Old Testament Overview Daniel
Old Testament Overview Hosea
Old Testament Overview Joel
Old Testament Overview Amos
Old Testament Overview Obadiah
Old Testament Overview Jonah
Old Testament Overview Micah
Old Testament Overview Nahum
Old Testament Overview Habakkuk
Old Testament Overview Zephaniah
Old Testament Overview Haggai
Old Testament Overview Zechariah
Old Testament Overview Malachi