There is a common claim that the God of the Old Testament, even in the New Testament, seems very harsh, brutal, and even evil.
A look at the Old Testament and we see slavery, killing of the Canaanites, and harsh penalties, e.g., to put to death adulterers, blasphemers, and children who did not obey and respect their parents and people who work on the Sabbath.
Richard Dawkins, atheist. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal. – see my blog on ‘Is God a Megalomanic”
But by what standard do the atheist judge the Christian God? Just the atheist’s subjective opinion? By his own morals, by what is embedded in his DNA perhaps, or his society, or culture, all fleeting and changing over time, against the God of the universe? If God does not exist, there is no one to judge. If He does exist, the atheist is trying to judge the God of the universe. We don’t even know the essence of what we are: what is consciousness, what is life, are we just brain or brain & mind, and free will? Where does the information, the language written in our DNA, come from? We are but a speck on a speck on a speck in the universe and dare to judge the essence of the Creator of the universe, judge who and what He is.
How can the atheist or non-Christian say God is harsh, brutal, and evil when they deny the Bible, the very book that defines harsh, brutal, and evil? Even further, in atheistic, materialistic, and evolutionary worldviews, such things are neither right nor wrong because there is no God in their view to establish what is right or wrong. The same people who profess to believe in a naturalistic view where animals rape, murder, and eat their own kind are those who attack the loving God of the Bible and try to call Him evil (Isaiah 5:20). But a closer look at such claims against the God of the Bible shows that these claims have no merit. The intent of many of those who make such claims is to make a good God look evil in order to justify their rejection of Him, of His Word, or even His existence.
I will address slavery in the Old Testament, the killing of the Canaanites, and the harsh punishments in the Old Testament, as examples to prove the contrary to the atheists’ accusations.
One cannot read the Bible without knowing the context and without studying and digging into the difficult issues, same as doing science, or mathematics. Same Author!
Slavery in the Old Testament
Modern slavery, today’s idea of slavery, is abuse, forced labor, and ‘human trafficking’ of African Americans.
In the Old Testament God instituted slavery with the Hebrew word used is ‘ebed’, and literally means slave or servant, related to work, and is used interchangeably. This word does not have the same negative connotation of today’s impression. The Hebrew word ‘ebed’ for slave is really too strong of a word. A slave has no rights. A slave is considered property. In true slavery, you can do whatever you want to a slave without consequence. They are treated as less than human.
Compare what the term ‘slave’ meant in the Old Testament, in the Roman era, and in the more recent history.
The Hebrew word ‘ebed’ is best understood as a contractual servant. An ‘ebed’ has rights and benefits from the arrangement. It was a servanthood, a system in which a destitute person could voluntarily work to pay off his debt. They would be given food, shelter, and legal rights and after 7 years they were released of their debt and given generous gifts of flocks, wine, and grain.
Sometimes Israelites kept slaves from surrounding Nations following wars, but they were commanded to treat them humanely and protect them from mistreatment. Human trafficking was punishable by death.
In the New Testament times of the Roman Empire, it was different. Nowhere in the New Testament does the Bible condone slavery.
85 to 90% of the Roman population were slaves and encouraging slaves to rebel against the authorities, was punishable by death. Paul taught that slaves were equal to free persons in the eyes of God. This inspired Christians towards freeing slaves. John Wesley and William Wilberforce fought against new world slavery and led to the abolition of slavery.
Jesus did not speak out against slavery. It would have changed the course and purpose of His life. The Romans and society would have strongly opposed Him. His main purpose was not to be a good moral teacher but to be the Savior. Yet He taught love and that all men were equal. Out of His teaching, Christians were the reason for the abolition of slavery.
The Conquest and Ethical Question of War – the Killing of the Canaanites
God did not act arbitrarily against the Canaanites but gave reasons for judging them and other nations as well as the nation of Israel themselves in the Old Testament. In particular, God warned the Canaanites for 400 years.
The Canaanites were far from innocent! God was patient with them as they continued in their sin. Among the Canaanite tribes when Joshua invaded were the Amorites whose sin was prophesied to Abraham. Abraham received the prophecy that the sin of the Amorites had not reached its full measure (Genesis 15:16). Had they listened, they probably wouldn’t have been in that situation.
When Joshua entered the land of Canaan, the Amorites’ sin (Canaanites) had reached its full measure and it was time for judgment. Leviticus 18:2–30 points out the horrendous crimes that were going on in the land of Canaan. They were having sex with their mothers, sisters, and so on. Men were having sex with other men. They were giving their children to be sacrificed to Molech (vs. 21). They were having sex with animals (vs. 23). So, it is impossible to make the claim that those tribes were innocent and undeserving of punishment.
God stopped the evil and atrocities of the Canaanites and still people ask why does God not stop evil in the world and, when He does, they judge Him!
‘Wipeout every man, woman and child’ is typical hyperbolic speech of the Bible. In the very next verse, God commanded the Israelites not to intermarry with the Canaanites, implicating the hyperbolic speech that we see throughout the Bible. Similar to say in a sports game the one team annihilated the other team.
It must also be remembered that in the book of Joshua it does not address itself to the abstract ethical question of war as a means for gaining human ends. It can only be understood in the context of the history of redemption unfolding in the Bible, with its interplay of divine grace and judgment.
It is rather the story of how God, to whom the whole world belongs, at one stage in the history of redemption reconquered a portion of the earth from the powers of this world that had claimed it for themselves, defending their claims by force of arms and reliance on their false gods. It tells how God commissioned His people to serve as His army under the leadership of His servant Joshua, to take Canaan in His name out of the hands of the idolatrous and dissolute Canaanites whose measure of sin was now full.
Joshua is the story of the kingdom of God breaking into the world of nations at a time when national and political entities were viewed as the creation of the gods and living proofs of their power. Thus, the Lord’s triumph over the Canaanites testified to the world that the God of Israel is the one true and living God, whose claim on the world is absolute. It was also a warning to the nations that the irresistible advance of the Kingdom of God would ultimately disinherit all those who opposed it, giving peace in the earth only to those who acknowledge and serve the Lord. At once an act of redemption and judgment, it gave notice of the outcome of history and anticipated the final destiny of humankind and the Creation.
God gave His people under Joshua no commission or license to conquer the world with the sword but a particular, limited mission So the land had to be cleansed of all remnants of paganism. Its people and their wealth were not for Israel to seize as the booty of war from which to enrich themselves. On that land, Israel was to establish a commonwealth faithful to the righteous rule of God and thus be a witness (and a blessing) to the nations. If Israel became unfaithful and conformed to Canaanite culture and practice, it would, in turn, lose its place in the Lord’s land—as Israel almost did in the days of the judges, and as it eventually did in the exile.
War is a terrible curse that the human race brings on itself as it; seeks to possess the earth by its own righteous ways. But it pales before the “curse that awaits all those who do not heed God’s testimony to Himself or His warnings—those who oppose the rule of God and reject His offer of grace. The God of the second Joshua (Jesus) is the God of the first Joshua also. Although now for a time He reaches out to the whole world with the Gospel (and commissions His people urgently to carry His offer of peace to all nations), the sword of His judgment waits in the wings—and His second Joshua will wield it (Rev 19:11-16)
Harsh punishments in the Old Testament.
Why are there such harsh punishments, like stoning to death, for many of the trespasses in the Old Testament? It would almost seem to be out of proportion to the wrong being done. At least 28 sins that called for the death penalty.
If you do not believe in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, you will not understand the reason, see the logic, the coherence, the righteousness and purpose of the punishment and why it was so harsh, and why it is not applicable anymore since the time of Jesus Christ. God is infinitely holy, and sin is infinitely offensive to Him. This is the story of God and man: ‘Your eyes are too holy to look at evil, and you cannot stand the sight of people doing wrong’ Habakkuk 1:13 and ‘How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you? My heart will not let me do it. My love for you is too strong.’ Hosea11:8
Yet how do we understand death by stoning for sins like working on the Sabbath -Exodus 31:15, sorcery -Leviticus 20:27, rebellious children -Deuteronomy 21:18-21, kidnapping -Exodus 21:16, homosexuality -Leviticus 20:13, blaspheming God -Leviticus 24:16, bestiality -Exodus 22:19, idolatry -Leviticus 22:20, adultery -Leviticus 20:10, rape -Deuteronomy 24:17-22:25, murder -Exodus 21:12, and more.
In the Old Testament we learn that God made the world perfect, people sinned, and then God gave commands to Israel to show them how they ought to live. God gave commands because people were not acting the way he had originally made them to act. He gave them commands to show them how to act towards a holy God (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16). But He also gave them commands to show them their sin: ‘In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin’ Romans 7:7. ‘For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are’ Romans 3:20.
‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’ Leviticus 19:2. ‘But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.’ 1 Peter 1:15-16. God demonstrated His holiness in the Old Testament and His absolute hate for sin in raising a holy people from where the Messiah would be born so that people would also understand the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. Sin from which we can only be freed through the death and the blood of Christ. Through Abraham God revealed Himself to a specific people group, the Israelites, and instructed many laws, 613 laws, to make this people group holy, to make them understand what holiness is, and thereby understand God’s holiness, who He is. They were as a nation to be separated from God, to live a pure life in a covenant with God. From this people group, the Messiah would come with the new covenant once the Israelites and the world would understand who and what God is and how horrible sin is in His sight and in addition how great Christ’s sacrifice was and necessary to cancel the horribleness of our sin.
The harsher the penalty, the more it points to God’s infinite holiness, His absolute incompatibility with sin, and the greatness of Christ who took it all unto Himself and freed us from these penalties if we would accept His sacrifice. If not, we are still under the law and will be judged accordingly and righteously. The more God’s presence manifests, the harsher the penalty for sin becomes . . .. The harsh laws in the Old Testament seem at odds with the love of God expressed in the New Testament. But with a closer look, we can see that the New Testament does not hide the fact that when the manifest presence of Jesus Christ returns through His second coming, the chance to receive God’s grace will vanish. Unless we have repented of our sin and accepted Christ’s sacrifice, we will still be under the wrath of God, under even harsher penalties.
Exodus to Deuteronomy, the 613 laws, does not apply to the Christian of today, even the Ten Commandments. If a law is not repeated in the New Testament under the new covenant, it is not applicable for example keeping the sabbath because Christ came and fulfilled the law. God gave all those laws so His people could get an idea of His absolute holiness. Nine of the 10 Commandments are repeated in the New Testament and still hold for our lives.
The more holy God is, the more sin would be an abomination to Him. He is infinitely holy as the greatest conceivable Being – God. He was making it clear to Israel how serious these sins were and did not want these harsh punishments to be executed as He is a God of love yet was making a very serious and strong point. And preparing the way for Christ.
We are all sinners already under the death penalty (Romans 3:23). But again, God has provided a means of salvation in Christ. It would be nice if people realized that they should hate sin (Romans 12:9) and love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) who acts justly against sin (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10). Yet He offers abundant mercy to those who love Him (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Ephesians 2:4)
From Genesis to Revelation the theme is God is love. (1 John 4:8 ), the narrative of God, slow to anger, abounding in love, and forgiving sin and rebellion. (Numbers 14:18) and see the wrath of God in the light of His holiness, love, and care to reach out to humanity, to you and me.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis.
What the Bible says about Subjugation of Women – in short (follow the links for more comprehensive insight.)
‘Eve’s curse, Genesis 3:16-17, has resulted in the virtual subjugation of women ever since. Until the Enlightenment in the 18th century, women had few rights, if any. Fathers sold their daughters into slavery or wed them to the highest bidder. Wives existed to give the husband pleasure and sons and to keep the house. Many societies insisted that women be veiled in public, and some considered it a criminal act for a woman to walk out of her house without a chaperone. In short, a woman was chattel.
Not every society was this strict. Because of God’s law, Israel was one of the most enlightened in this area. Israelite women had certain rights of inheritance, and they could even own land and run businesses (Proverbs 31:16, 24), situations unheard of in other nations. Deborah judged Israel and gave her people forty years of peace (Judges 4:4; 5:31). An Israelite woman’s life has frequently been better than her Gentile counterpart’s because of Israel’s acquaintance with the Bible.’ Link
The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. Beth Allison Barr
‘Evidence shows me how Christian patriarchy was built, stone by stone, throughout the centuries. Evidence shows me how, century after century, arguments for women’s subordination reflect historical circumstances more than the face of God. Evidence shows me that just because complementarianism uses biblical texts doesn’t mean it reflects biblical truth. Evidence shows me the trail of sin and destruction left in the wake of teachings that place women under the power of men’Follow us >>