Is the Old Testament God cruel?


 (All Bible verses used in this study is taken from New King James Version, if not mentioned otherwise)

 

Is the God of the Bible cruel, brutal, and even evil? Though this question is against the God revealed both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, critics cite incidents in the Old Testament more often than the New. This short study attempts to present some arguments in defence of the Biblical God.

 

Before we delve into the topic, we should understand some facts about the Bible. The Bible is not a book dictated by God or handed over to humans directly or through angels. Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by 40 human authors. The authors of all books are not known to us today. They lived in three continents and wrote in three different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek (common Greek). It was compiled (completed the canon of Scripture) over the span of 1500 years.

 

The oldest book of the Bible, according to most scholars, is either Genesis or Job, both written by Moses. He might have taken 40 years to complete the first five books, writing from 1445 BC to 1405 BC. The last book, in the Bible is Revelation, which was written about AD 90 or 95, by John the Apostle.

 

Still the whole Bible has one single theme, the restoration of the Kingdom of God. That makes it unique and divine. 

 

The human authors of the Bible, wrote in the language of their land and time. They followed the style and method of popular writings of the time about gods and divine mysteries. They used the language, the idioms and phrases of the time and area. Some of them had only limited vocabulary at their disposal. Different authors used different style and method. The Bible contains history, poetic narrations, prose narrations, prophetic writings, and apocalyptic writings. The writers have used different style to narrate heroism, war, kings and kingdoms, wise sayings, stories, songs, and end time prophecies. They were influenced by the contemporary perspectives, language, and style of writing.    

 

While the Bible has different human authors, it is considered as the Holy Scripture because God has breathed His breath into it, giving it life.

 

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

 

The "All Scripture" in this case refer to the Old Testament, since the full New Testament did not exist at that time. However, the principle laid out here, would apply to all Scriptures, including the books in the New Testament. New Testament writers recognized their writings as Scripture since that contained revelations from God.

 

2 Peter 3: 15, 16

15 … as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you,

16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

 

The Greek word used in 2 Timothy 3:16 for “inspiration of God” is theopneustos (theh-op'-nyoo-stos). Theos means God and pneō (pneh') means “to breath, blow”. The meaning of theopneustos is breathed by God.

 

Genesis 2: 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

 

Until God breathed His breath of life into Adam, he was a lifeless dusty form of a human. When God breathed into his nostrils, he became a living being. In God’s breath there was life.

 

So, when God breathed into the human written scripture, it received divine life, like Adam received life.

 

The ultimate source of all information is not human, but divine. God used human authors to write down all these information. The human authors wrote through their own personal perspectives and styles. Hence, always, and everywhere, there is a human part in all scriptural writings.

 

In 2 Peter 3: 16 Apostle Peter says that the writings of Paul “are some things hard to understand which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction…”. This underlines the human part in writing the scripture.

 

When Paul said that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”, he meant that it is the thought and life of God. Paul is not denying the part of human agency.

 

So, words, phrases and narrations are written in both the Old Testament and New Testament possess the individuality of the author, and the phrases and style of the time. They are written in different literary style. It is very important to keep this aspect in mind when we read the Old Testament narrations of war.

 

The beginning of the story

 

The Old Testament starts revealing God’s plan for restoring the Kingdom of God, from Genesis 12. Everything before it is an introduction to the main story. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham for fulfilling His purpose. God commanded him to go into the land of Canaan and inherit it for his descendants. God’s promise included the land, a multitude of descendants and earthly blessings. Abraham came to Canaan with his small family, a good number of animals and servants. He was a rich man of the time. But he did not fight a war against the inhabitants. His son Isaac or his grandson Jacob did not fight a war against the inhabitants. They did not conquer the land by force. They stayed there in peace with the Canaanites. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were few.

 

Genesis 34:30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I."

 

War during those ages were brutal. Before vast empires came up, many city states existed in the Mediterranean region. City states were small towns with their own king and self-governance. They lived in peace with their neighbours. But quarrelled now and then when a city state tried to conquer the other for food or wealth. Though all of them were polytheists, they had their own gods. They believed that their land belonged to a particular territorial god. Kings represented the god. So, wars were often considered as fights between gods. Whenever a war ended, the victor destroyed, and robbed the main temple of the defeated state, to show that that the defeated god is powerless before the victorious god.

 

Often the winner killed all inhabitants of the defeated state, including men, women, old and children. All men of a particular age were warriors. There were no sperate army for a city state. So, killing all men was killing all warriors of the state. Killing warriors were justified. Rebellion against a king was the worst form of crime. If anyone is left alive in the defeated state, he or she may gather people and rebel against the victorious king. Children who grow up will revenge against the other kingdom. Enmity often did not end with a generation, it continued into generations, unless a peace settlement occurs. So, it was safer for the victor to kill people in the defeated state.

 

The whole defeated city will be burned, water sources will be closed with stones, agricultural fields will be burned down, and even animals will be killed. The defeated state should not rise again in the future.

 

At a later age, large empires rose, uniting small city states under one king. Though the theory of elimination continued, its method changed. The Assyrians, Babylonians etc. also burned down the defeated cities, destroyed and robbed the temples, killed the warriors. But they adopted another method to wipe out city states, by taking away the inhabitants to their nation. Also, people from the victorious nation will migrate to the defeated state, occupying their land. The language and the religion of the defeated will be forcibly or tactfully replaced by the powerful victor. It is expected that, gradually the small number of people who remained after the war in a defeated state, will mingle, merge and assimilated into the larger victorious nation. The nations at these times realised the value of human resource. The learned and able men were specially chosen to be exiled into the victorious nation. They will get special training in the new nation, a new name, and a new family. Their human resource will be used for the nation.  

 

The Old Testament wars, described in the Bible, should be understood against this background. God had His own reasons for annihilating all men, women and children of the enemies.

 

Marcion of Pontus

 

In the process of explaining and defending the violent narrations in the Old Testament, some of church fathers in the 2nd century, fell into wrong assumptions. One such damaging heresy was proposed by Marcion of Pontus. 

 

Marcion of Pontus lived in the 2nd century AD in Asia Minor (Marcion of Sinope).

Pontus or Pontos is a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in the modern-day eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey. Sinope was the first Greek colony of Pontus.

 

None of Marcion’s writings are now available. But scholars believe that he wrote only one book containing his teaching, titled, Antitheses (Contradictions). Tertullian’s five-volume book titled Adversus Marcionem (Against Marcion) was written to refute the heresy of Marcion. Some other early church fathers, like Irenaeus, also wrote against Marcion. Their writings contain references and quatations from Marcion. These are the only source of information about Marcion’s heretic teachings.

 

Tertullian was born about AD 155/160 at Carthage (now in Tunisia) and died after 220 at Carthage. Irenaeus was a Greek bishop, born about AD 130, at Smyrna, Asia Minor, modern day Izmir, Turkey and died in 202 at Lugdunum, Gaul, modern day Lyon, France.

 

Marcionite taught that there were two cosmic gods. The Jewish god of the Old Testament and the god of the New Testament are two distinct beings. The Jewish god is a vain and angry creator god who ruthlessly exacted justice. He is an inferior god and is the creator of the material world. Humans possess, body and soul and hence are a part of this material world.

 

The New Testament god is the supreme god who is completely ineffable and bore no intrinsic relation to the created universe. But he is a good god and out of his goodness, he sent his son Jesus Christ to save human beings from the material world. He is the Father of Jesus.

 

Marcion regarded Christ as the messenger of the Supreme God. The Old and New Testaments cannot be reconciled to each other. So, he altogether rejected the Old Testament.

 

The Marcionites were considered as the most dangerous enemies of the Christian church. St. Polycarp identified Marcion as “the firstborn of Satan.” (Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna. He was born in AD 69 and died in AD 155 at Smyrna, modern day Izmir, Turkey. He was Roman in nationality.)

 

Marcion's canon, though was heretic, was the first Biblical canon ever compiled. The New

Testament cannon that we use today, which consists of 27 books was compiled after him. Marcion's canon consisted of only eleven books: a shorter version of the Gospel of Luke, and ten Pauline epistles. He dismissed the entire Old Testament, along with all other epistles and gospels. Marcion considered Paul as the only true apostle of Christ.

 

Though Marcion was excommunicated from the Church in AD 144, the Marcionites grew into a movement in the Roman empire and eastern countries. The movement declined by the 3rd and 4th centuries in the West but continued to exist for some more years in the East, especially in Syria, until the 10th century.

 

Unfortunately, those who try to picture the God of the Bible as cruel and blood thirsty is echoing the heretic teachings of Marcion. 

 

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A unique God

 

In the Old Testament, God stands unique, sovereign, and unchanging. He is the creator, sustainer, and the only true God of the Universe. He had uncompromising enmity with the gentile concept of gods who stood in sharp contrast to Him. The gentile gods were false, imaginary concepts which lead humans away the true God.  The gentiles believed that the infighting and failures of the gentile gods cause events on this earth. In contrast, Yahweh stood constant and faithful.

 

Jeremiah 10:14 Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge; Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image; For his molded image is falsehood, And there is no breath in them.

 

Jeremiah 51:17,18

17 Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge; Every metalsmith is put to shame by the carved image; For his molded image is falsehood, And there is no breath in them.

18 They are futile, a work of errors; In the time of their punishment they shall perish.

 

Since He is the only God, no other lesser gods exist anywhere, He grants himself the power of self-description. He is whoever He defines. No other beings including angels or humans have the authority to describe who God is. Angels or human never know Him unless He reveals Himself.   

 

The biblical writers describe God in human characteristics. But we are not sure whether God possesses them. So, these descriptions may be taken as attempts to portrait God in a language that humans can understand. God is the creator of all human beings and can of course use any characteristics or attributes of humans to communicate with them. And God always used events, human customs, and practices to convey His plan, thoughts, and commands. Thus, God speaks to humans in their own native language, appears in human form, appears as angel or warrior, wrestles with humans, dress like humans, etc. Throughout the Bible, God used the suzerain covenant to make known the unchangeability of His promises.

 

These manifestations suggest that there is a fundamental humanity to the personality of God. God casually walks in the garden with Adam and Eve. He walked with Enoch for 300 years (Genesis 5: 22,24). Two beings of different degree can walk together only if the superior walks with the inferior. That means, God walked with Adam and Eve, He walked with Enoch. This same God appeared as a pillar of fire and a thunderous mountain in the desert to the Israelites. These are only manifestations, not His mode of existence. God is always a spirit being. (John 4:24, 2 Corinthians 3:17).

 

Constancy or unchangingness is a character of God that makes Him trustworthy. The constancy of His character, at times, is misunderstood as inconstancy. More than once, God has stepped back from the punishment He pronounced upon Israelites and some other nations. Twice in Exodus, God threatened to destroy the Israelites, but relents, and then described himself loving, forgiving, and slow to anger. He pronounced the destruction Nineveh through prophet Jonah, but He withdrew the decision and let the city survive for another 150 years more.

 

This is not inconstancy of His character, but a constant feature of His character. He does not want any human to die because of divine punishment. He wants every human to live.

 

Ezekiel 33: 11 "Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?' (NKJV)

 

God’s interactions with humankind are also often unsolicited. Noah, Abraham, and Moses did not ask God for a relationship with them. The characters unexpectedly met God commanding them with a commission. God revealed His plan in brief and demanded trust and obedience from their part. This filled their heart with owe and faith. They suddenly realised that God had been watching, nurturing, training, and controlling them all through their life, for accomplishing God’s own purpose. They were left with no other choice than submit to Him.

 

God is always in control of human beings, He has definite plans and purposes, and has the authority and power to intervene into human life. That makes Him a sovereign God. A sovereign God has authority not only to bless us with good things, but to annihilate us from His created universe. We are His creations, not His masters. We cannot influence Him; He demands repentance and holiness from our part. Anyone who admits the sovereignty cannot blame for cruelties or brutalities in His actions against sinful human beings. 

 

Three categories of violence

 

Violence generally is any destructive act by God or humans. Violence in the Bible is the description of God or human beings killing, destroying, and doing physical harm to others.

 

Incidents of violence happened at the command of God through Israelites in the Old Testament have different reasons.  Some events happened as divine judgment against human sin. The destruction of “all flesh” in the flood story, murdering all the firstborns in Egypt, and God raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah were His just punishments. The conquest of Canaan by the Israelites was executed at His command. Some passages seem to suggest that God is harsh and vindictive and especially belligerent toward non-Israelites. The Old Testament also has stories of God lashing out against rebellious Israelites as well.

 

Generally, three categories of violence are blamed on the Old Testament God.

 

1.     God’s law for the Israelites has death penalty for certain crimes.

2.     God’s wrath in punishing Israelites.

3.     God’s command to the Israelites to commit genocide of the gentile people.

 

The death penalty

 

When God gave judicial laws to Moses, there are many crimes for which the death penalty is commanded. Among these are sacrificing to a god other than Yahweh (Exodus 22:20), persistent rebelliousness on the part of a child (Deuteronomy 21:18–21), a child who hits or curses his or her parents (Exodus 21:15 and 17), working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), premarital sexual intercourse (Deuteronomy 22:13–21), and the requirement for a priest to burn his daughter alive if she became a prostitute (Leviticus 21:9).

 

We are not sure how Israelites executed these judicial laws. Judges were appointed for trial and conviction (Deuteronomy 16:18). They pronounced the punishment for the law breaker. Though the law prescribed death penalty for certain crimes, it was not mandatory to sentence every law breaker to death. The Judges had some other considerations also. 

 

The judge who pronounced the verdict also had some other divine instructions, in addition to Torah, for executing the law. These laws were the oral traditions of Israel. We know that these laws existed in effect even during the time of Jesus Christ. But examples of executing these commands are not available in the Old Testament. Even Absalom, King David’s rebellious son was not stoned to death. David wished to save his life. His death happened during the war against his father.

 

Jewish Oral Traditions further explained how to practice or execute the laws in Torah. Israelites believed that God gave written laws to Moses on the Mount Sinai during the daytime and oral laws or further interpretations during the night. So, they considered both written laws and the oral laws as divine and equally important. The written laws were called Torah and the oral laws were called Mishna. Moses passed on the oral laws to Joshua and from Joshua it passed on to the next generation. Thus, they were preserved. They were written down only in AD 200, under the leadership of Rabbi Judah the Prince.

 

The penal law as per Leviticus 24: 19,20, is interpreted by Jewish judges in a different way from what we understand.

 

Leviticus 24:19, 20  

19 'If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him-

20 'fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.

 

With the help of the oral traditional laws, the judges interpreted the law as “equal punishment”. That means, the punishment must be equal to the crime committed. “as he has done, so shall it be done to him” is the essence of the law. This law was always executed by a jury. The law necessitated that the person who committed a crime should give an equal price to the victim to compensate the wrong. The judges will calculate the amount to be paid.  This money will not go to the Temple, or the king, but will be given to the victim. Romans also had such a law which they called “lex talionis” or “law of like for like”.

 

So, we are not sure whether all judicial laws as we read them today were executed literally by Israel. It is better to understand that all judicial and social laws were reflections of God’s holiness. God wanted His people separated in all ways, from the neighbouring gentiles. 

 

God’s wrath in punishing Israelites

 

In the Old Testament, God’s anger repeatedly burns against Israelites for their disobedience. God punishes them for their sins. At times, the punishment seems harsh, unjust, and disproportionate. 

 

God created the nation of Israel from Abraham, one man in the Ancient Near East. His descents should be “holy people,” set apart by God.

 

Deuteronomy 7:6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. (NKJV)

 

God’s intention was to form a nation of chosen and holy people, who will be His own people, a special treasure for Him and a people above all others on the face of the earth.

 

To accomplish this, God chose a land and gave it to them to live there, worship Him alone, and live according to His laws. The land He chose was the land of the Canaanites. The Canaanites were against God. They practiced a pagan religion. They worshipped the pagan god Molech and sacrificed children to him by burning them in fire (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35). It was complete savagery.

 

Still, God graciously granted them more than 400 years to turn towards Him. After that he eliminated them from the land, took the ownership of it and handed over to Israelites to inherit and live there.

 

Deuteronomy 10:14 "Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it. (NKJV)

 

Leviticus 25:23 'The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. (NKJV)

 

But later Israelites also followed the wicked practices of their pagan neighbours. For that, God judged His own people harshly. God permitted the Assyrians and Babylonians to conquer the Israelites. God was not partial either to the Israelites or to the gentiles, in executing His justice against evil.

 

Genocide in the name of God

 

The conquest of Canaan was a kind of genocide commanded by God. Canaan was populated with small city-states or kingdoms made up of various ethnic groups speaking similar languages. God promised Israel that He would give them this land. But God did not allow Israelites to live among them. He wanted to eliminate the Canaanites so that, only Israelites would live there.

 

God wasn’t asking the Israelites to chase away or forcibly relocate them to other lands. God commanded the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child among the Canaanites. Moses commanded the Israelites not to let live anyone of the Canaanites.

 

Deuteronomy 20:16-18 (NKJV)

16 "But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive,

17 "but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you,

18 "lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.

 

These are stories of brutal murder of men, women, children and even livestock. Murdering the warriors and kings may be justified but what is the justification for the murder of innocent people. The whole population in the state was not responsible for the war. The women and children had no role in the fight. They might be spared, allowed to live there, or may be relocated to another land. During that time, there were deserted lands around without any population, that does not belong to any state. God’s people could live in any unoccupied land or conquer a city state and order the inhabitants there to run away. Instead, the whole population is annihilated brutally.

 

Do not these laws and incidents show that the Old Testament God is a cruel, and blood thirsty?

 

This is a question against the character, holiness, and righteousness of God. Often the intent behind these arguments is to justify human’s rejection of Him, His Word, and His existence.

 

The Bible reveals a loving, holy, and just God. He wishes to save all humans from sin and its punishment. But His holiness cannot be preserved without righteous response towards whatever is unholy. His character is constant and cannot fluctuate. His response to unholiness is the same towards Israel and their enemies. He never rejected anyone who came to Him for life. He never executed any kind of punishment without giving humans an opportunity for salvation.

 

God is all holy. He never tolerates any sin. When wickedness grows in this world, humans cry for God’s justice. But He is a merciful God also. It is because of His mercy that we live today. God permitted violent action in the Old Testament, only to restrain evil in this world.

 

Innocents often suffered for the sins of others. We suffer not only because of wrongs we have committed, but also of the wickedness of others. Everyone’s action affects his neighbour also. One may pollute the air, but many others breathe the pollution.

 

Exodus 34:6,7 speaks not only about the blessings that we inherit from our ancestor, but also about the curse. This is God’s that law prevails in this world.

 

Exodus 34:6,7  

6    And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,

7    "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation."

 

He always offered a choice of repentance to both Jews and Gentiles. God sent prophet Jonah to warn the city Nineveh of His coming wrath. He loved these people, even though they dwelt in one of the most wicked cities of the day. Jonah preached and the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways. God did not bring the destruction over them.

 

God’s divine violence protected His people. It also condemned their insidious neighbours. He was violent but never cruel; vicious but never malicious; and he judged ferociously but was never bloodthirsty. Only God can do that.

 

The Fall of Adam and Eve

 

There are two questions about the fall of Adam and Eve. The first is, why God created human beings, if He knew that they would sin and as a result will be condemned to eternal punishment?

 

The question places God’s omniscience and omnibenevolence in doubt. God is omniscient, that means He knows everything before the creation of anything to eternity. His knowledge is absolute, there is nothing hidden from Him. He knows what would happen, why it would happen, what will be the effect of it and a way of salvation.

 

So, He knew, before He created the universe that humans would fall into sin. Still, in His sovereignty, He created them and gave them freedom to choose good or evil. But He did not want humans to choose evil. After the creation, before leaving them to their own freedom, God warned them about the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden. He commanded them not to eat from it. He also informed them that the consequence of disobedience would be death.

 

Genesis 2:16,17  

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;

17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

 

God did not leave Adam and Eve in ignorance about sin. He foretold them about their free will, the temptation for willingly committing sin and how to subdue it. And He also told them what would happen if they sinned. He wanted humans to willingly choose holiness of God and faithfulness towards Him.

 

But God knew that humans would be deceived, and they would fall into sin. So, before He laid the foundation of the universe, He planned to rescue them from sin and its punishment. That divine plan is the salvation through Jesus Christ.

 

Revelation 13:8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

 

This verse says that God did decide, even before He ever laid the foundation of the world, to sacrifice a sinless lamb, for the atonement of human sins. God knew that humans would sin, He loved His creations, He wanted to save them from the punishment of sin, and He decided to offer His own son as a sacrifice to atone human sin. That would save human beings from sin.

 

The creation of the universe, all living things and human beings on earth, is not the complete plan of God. God’s plan of creation would come to perfection only with the creation of New Heaven and New Earth and the saved humans inheriting it as royal priests. This new Jerusalem is the eternal Kingdom of God. Their life in the New Jerusalem will be better than the life in the garden of Eden. It will be free of sin and any possibility of sin.

 

So, the creation of this world is only a part of God’s plan. It won’t be right to judge God only by a part of His eternal plan. The creation of the universe, the garden of Eden and the fall of humans are not His whole plan. They are only the first part of His plan.

 

The second question is that, is it fair to condemn all human beings because two persons, Adam and Eve committed sin?

 

God completed the creation of the whole universe, the living and non-living things on the earth, and human beings on the sixth day. He created all, out of nothing. He created nothing after that, in the same way.

 

Genesis 1:1,2

1    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

2    The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

 

Psalm 33: 6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. (NKJV)

 

Romans 4: 17 … calls those things which do not exist as though they did; (NKJV)  

 

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. (NKJV)

  

Everything after the creation of humans is procreation from the parent creatures. Animals give birth to the same breed; plants reproduce the same kind and humans reproduce their own kind. This was God’s plan, a law of increase proclaimed at the creation.

 

Genesis 1: 11, 12, 28 (NKJV)

11 Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth"; and it was so.

12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

 

28 Then God blessed them (Adam and Eve), and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

 

God did not create any human being as He created Adam or Eve. But all humans are created by Him through Adam. All humans were in His mind and knowledge before He laid the foundation of the universe. And all humans were in Adam. Even Eve was taken from Adam. In Adam, God contained all human beings.

 

God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, breathed His breath and gave life to Him. Eve was created from Adam. God did not breathe into the nostrils of Eve. Eve got flesh, bones, and life from Adam. The life Eve got was from God, through Adam.    

 

Genesis 2: 7, 21 -23

7    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

 

21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.

22 Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23 And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."

 

Here God brought into the law of inheritance. Whatever was in Adam passed onto his wife and his offspring. Adam’s first son, Cain was born after the fall and so he inherited the sin nature of his father. Sin continued to pass on to his generations. God has done nothing unfair and cruel in all these. This is simply the law of His creation. He has created everything and has established His laws once and forever.

 

God also revealed an important aspect of His just punishment for sin. Though He told Adam that he would die the day he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, God graciously allotted a grace period to repent and atone for the sin. God did not grant this privilege to the rebelled angels. All the rebellious angels were cast out of heaven. But God granted a gracious period for humans. Because angels were not deceived into sin, there were no external agency in their disobedience. But humans were deceived into sin by Satan. The role an external agency is there.

 

1 Timothy 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

 

2 Corinthians 11: 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

 

God graciously offered Adam and Eve a seed who would save them and destroy Satan and sin for ever. God follows this principle in dealing with all human beings, to this day. Justice will be executed for the sinful life of humans, but a grace period will be given to repent and accept His sovereignty. They will be informed of God’s salvation and the means to inherit it. If anyone repents and turn to God, they will be saved. On others, punishment which is already pronounced befall. That will be the consequence of their choice to sin.   

 

And Adam and Eve and the whole humanity in them were sent out of the garden Eden. Otherwise, they would live eternally a sinful life, rebelling against God, in the garden. They would suffer the consequence of sin the garden. But sin and its consequence did not match the divinity of the garden. The garden was the kingdom of God.

 

Though the sinful human beings were cast out the Garden of Eden, God did not destroy it. He kept it safe and protected.

 

Genesis 3:22 - 24    

22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" -

23 therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.

24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

 

The Garden of Eden was protected by an angel, from sinful humans and Satan. Both will not enter it again. It is kept safe as a holy place. At the same time, by offering an atonement for their sins through the seed of Eve, God has promised salvation to human beings. Once humans are saved, they will have a rightful inheritance to the Garden. God appointed the angel to guard the garden until the rightful inheritors in Christ would come back to live there. It is a great mercy of God.

 

So, the fall of humans is not a tragic story. It is a story of hope and blessedness. The creator has not abandoned His creation. The creation is not standing in hopelessness. Only the habitation and its blessings are temporarily kept away, for the good of humans.       

 

The Flood

 

God is often blamed for brutally killing all the innocent people, and even children, in the Flood, during the lifetime of Noah.

 

The Noahic Flood was the first instance, where God intervened in human history, in a large scale, to destroy evil. The Bible states the reason for God’s intervention.

 

Genesis 6:5-7

5    Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

 6   And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

 7   So the LORD said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."

 

God is the sovereign creator of the universe and everything in it. He has the sole authority to decide how the world and the creations in it should live. His intention in creation was not a world full of evil people. He wished for a world where people would live faithful to their creator, willingly choosing good. But humans chose evil and rebellion. Evil increased in a multiple number during Noah’s time.  

 

So, to keep the world free of sin or to control the excessive spread of evil, God had to intervene. He has the authority for it. But God did not do it suddenly or unexpectedly. He gave all humans gracious time to repent. He warned them about the impending divine punishment.

 

God sought and found one man, Noah, who was seeking God’s grace. He was a righteous man.

 

Genesis 6:8, 9

8    But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

9    This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.

 

2 Peter 2:5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;

 

If there were more people like Noah, who sought the grace of God, they also would have been chosen. But there was no other human being on earth who yearned for God’s righteousness. So, there is no injustice in God’s election of Noah alone. Rather, Noah’s election shows God's Grace towards those who seek Him diligently.

 

Go did not want to eliminate the whole humankind from earth. He intended to remove the sinners only, whose “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6: 5). So, God proclaimed a plan for the escape of all who turn towards Him.

 

God instructed Noah to build a huge ark, in a public space, for all who wish to escape from the coming destruction. He ordered Noah to preach about sin, its consequence, the coming flood, and the ark as a means of salvation from it.

 

1 Peter 3:20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

 

It is believed that Noah preached for 120 years. He built the ark and preached. Noah announced God’s message about the punishment for sin and the way of salvation, to the whole human beings. God waited for 120 years before the execution of the punishment.

 

If the matured men and women wished to continue in sin, they may choose it. But they could let go their children to be saved. The door of the ark was open for 120 years. But they rejected salvation, not only for themselves, but for their whole family. 

 

Was God acting rash, cruel or brutal? Men and women could save themselves; they could leave their children in the ark. But none believed God. They neither sought salvation, not turned away from their sins.

 

120 years is a long time for repentance. After the grace period, God send the flood. The whole humanity, except Noah and his family, who entered the ark, were saved.

 

After the flood, God made a solemn proclamation, which we call the Noahic Covenant.

 

Genesis 8: 21, 22

21 And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.

22 "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease."  

 

God looked into the seeds of time and proclaimed that, though “the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth”, a flood to annihilate the whole disobedient humans is not a permanent solution to the problem of evil. So, He declared that He will never resort to the same method to annihilate the wicked humanity on earth.

 

God declared a common grace to all humans, good and evil.

 

Genesis 8:22“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease”.

 

God behaved graciously to humans. Though His justice punished the wicked, His grace is again extended to us. This God cannot be cruel, harsh, or brutal. 

 

Proverbs 21: 15 It is a joy for the just to do justice, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.

    

Sodom and Gomorrah

 

Sodom and Gomorrah were two ancient cities of Syria, located in the plain of Jordan. They were destroyed by God for their wickedness.

 

Genesis 18: 20, 21  

20  And the LORD said (to Abraham), "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,

21 "I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know."

 

Their wickedness was not revealed in its entirety, but we know about the practice of sodomy in these cities. They tried even to abuse the angels who came to Lot as guests. God informed Abraham, Lot, his family, and his would-be sons-in-law about His intervention to eliminate evil from those cities. Only Lot who lived in Sodom was a blood relative to Abraham. But God graciously permitted Abraham to intercede for the whole people in the city.

 

The interceding of Abraham further reveals the immensity of sin practiced by the people there. The first thing Abraham reminded God was that He, as a merciful God would not kill the righteous with wicked. God agreed. Then Abraham proceeded to find some righteous humans there. He pleaded on behalf of 50 righteous people to spare the cities from destruction. But God could not find 50 righteous humans. Then Abraham reduced the number to 40, 30, 20 and finally 10. But there were not even 10 people who sought God’s righteousness. This was the depth of their sinful life. Men, women, and children all were indulged in sin.

 

There weren’t 10 people in the family of Lot. They were only four. Lot, wife and two daughters. Lot’s sons-in-law did not believe in God. Even if they too are counted, they would be only six.

 

Two city states where all people lived a wicked life. God must do something to control or eliminate the wickedness.

 

But before that God provided a way of salvation and a grace period to accept it. He informed Abraham, Lot, his sons-in-laws about the coming judgment of God. Lot’s sons-in-law represented the people there. They rejected the good news of salvation for the judgment. And God’s wrath fell on them.

 

Can we blame God for being cruel to them? We may, because, the present world is living in sin, denying the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. They wish to live in a world of illusion, convincing themselves that the Bible is only a myth. They choose to reject the warning of the coming judgment.    

 

The Egyptians

 

God’s dealing with the Egyptians, as narrated in Exodus is also criticised by the non-adherents. The story tells that, God used Moses to judge the Egyptians for the wickedness they were inflicting on Israelites through harsh slavery and murder of Israelite children. God asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites free to go back to their Promised Land. But Pharoah refused freedom. Egypt was a mighty power, and it was impossible for Israelites to go out of the land without the consent of the king.

 

Because Pharoah refused freedom to Israelites, God struck the land with many disasters. But the king and the Egyptians hardened their heart towards Israelites. God’s punishment culminated in the death of the firstborn in Egypt. Pharaoh could have averted this punishment if he released the Israelites from their oppression. So, the blood is on Pharaoh’s head.  

 

God sent no plague without warning and a way to escape from it. Moses and Aron warned Pharoah about each plague before it happened. The only demand was the freedom of Israelites, the oppressed slaves. But Pharoah and Egyptians rejected God.

 

Exodus 5:2 And Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go."

 

Pharoah and the Egyptians were acting against God’s eternal plan of restoring the Kingdom of God.   

 

The Paschal supper was the last opportunity for salvation. It was offered, not only to Israelites, but to all who accepted the Abrahamic covenant. Everybody who was circumcised could participate in it and be saved.

 

Exodus 12:43 – 45  

43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it.

44 "But every man's servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it.

45 "A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it.

46 "In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones.

 

Exodus 12:48, 49  

48 "And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.

49 "One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you."

 

Exodus 12: 38 A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds-a great deal of livestock.  

 

Reading all these verses together, we may rightly assume that God offered salvation to the Jews as well as the Egyptians with only one condition. They must be circumcised to become an heir to the Abrahamic covenant. Because the Israelites were delivered from their slavery as per the Abrahamic covenant.

 

So, the destruction of the Egyptians was a choice they made, rejecting the graciousness of God. God’s purpose was not the destruction of the Egyptians, but the freedom of the Israelites. His plan is the restoration of the eternal Kingdom of God.

 

The Canaanites

 

In the conquest of Canaan God used His elect people to punish the evil and occupy their land for Himself. The land was for Israelites and they should fight to conquer it. So, God’s people received a special favour from Him. Israelites were elected as His own people, a special treasure, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

 

Exodus 19: 5, 6

5    'Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.

6    'And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."

 

The wars narrated in the Old Testament are not equal to the crusades or the ethnic-cleansing genocide happened in human history. The Canaanite Conquest was unique. This was a Yahweh War. Canaanites were not just the enemies of Israel, but the enemies of God. God was the “commander-in-chief,” and he decided how to deal with the people and the spoils of war. It was God’s own war accomplished through human agents. These wars were an act of God to fulfill his promises to Abraham. They were limited and in no way meant to be a model for the people of God after they settled in the Promised Land. This is not a model for the New Testament believers.

 

The pagan life and worship of the Canaanites was cruel, brutal, inhuman, immoral, and unholy. They were not innocent people by any standard. God patiently gave them more than 400 years to repent and turn towards Him. But they continued in their sin. The sins of Amorites were prophesied to Abraham in Genesis 15. Amorites were one of the several tribes lived in Canaan. Amorites stood for the whole pagan people lived there. God told Abraham that the sin of the Amorites had not reached its full measure, for God’s punishment.

 

Genesis 14 narrates a meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the priest of the God Most High, the possessor of Heaven and earth. He was also the king of Salem. Salem might have been a city state in Jerusalem. It also was a Canaanite city state. But was ruled by God’s royal priest.  

 

Though Melchizedek worshiped God the Almighty, his faith was not accepted by other Canaanite states. We may guess that Melchizedek might have tried exercise some influence on them. He was a model for others to worship the God Most High. But the Canaanites rejected God and lived a pagan way.

 

So, God prophesied to Abraham:

 

Genesis 15:16 "But in the fourth generation they (Israelites) shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."

 

Melchizedek liven in Canaan as the king of Salem. Abraham came introduced the true worship of God. But Canaanites continued to live evil. Still, God waited for another 400 years before He finally punished them.  

 

When Joshua entered the land of Canaan, the Amorites’ sin 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. It is not right to claim that those people were innocent and undeserving of punishment. They were vomited by their own land because of the brutality of their sins.

 

Jericho

 

Jericho was the first city state the Israelites captured and destroyed when they returned to Canaan. It was the most powerful city in Canaan. It situated in the Jordan valley, where modern day Palestine and Israel are located. It had 13 feet high walls and 28 feet high watch towers. It had a strong military force.

 

Israelites won the war against them and they “utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.” (Joshua 6:21).

 

Jericho is also the place where Christ appeared as a theophany to lead Joshua in the battle (Joshua 5: 13). Christ promised Joshua a sweeping victory.

 

Joshua 5:13 - 15  

13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "Are You for us or for our adversaries?"

14 So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?"

15 Then the Commander of the LORD'S army said to Joshua, "Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.

 

Joshua chapter 6 is a continuation of 5. Christ, appeared in chapter 5 as the Commander of the Lord’s army, continues to speak in 6. He gives the command to Joshua, to annihilate the wicked people of Jericho and inherit the land.

 

Joshua 6: 2 And the LORD said to Joshua: "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.

 

Let us spend some minutes to examine how fair was God in dealing with the inhabitants of Jericho. The inhabitants of Jericho, and all the people in Canaan, heard about the exodus of Israelites from Egypt. They knew well about the plagues that devasted Egypt. The crossing of the Red Sea, the war in the desert against the Amalekites and all those miracles happened in the desert were known to them all. They knew that Israelites were marching towards them. God has decided to take away the land from the Canaanites because of their iniquities and has promised to give the land to the Israelites. They had forty years to repent from their sins and turn to God. Instead, they rebelled.

 

Joshua 2: 9 - 11  

9    and (Rahab) said to the men (Israelite spies): "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.

10 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

11 "And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

 

The destruction of the city was not done without offering a way of salvation. God waited for 400 years for their repentance from sinful life. Even at the last moment, He offered a way of salvation. But only one woman, Rahab and her family accepted the salvation. And they were saved. And Rahab is honoured by a prominent place in the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:5).

 

Joshua 2: 12-14  

12 "Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token,

13 "and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death."

14 So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you."

 

Joshua 6: 17 (Joshua said to the people) "Now the city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

 

Turning to God and seeking salvation was not forbidden to anyone. It was a choice that they should make. Rahab stands as an example to those who escaped destruction by seeking salvation from God. Turning to God is repenting from their wickedness and pagan worship.

 

After the destruction of Jericho, Israelites attacked the states of Ai, Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon and Debir. Everywhere, all men, women, and children were killed. Thus, the entire population of thirty-one city-states was destroyed.

 

The great medieval Jewish sage Maimonides explained that the commandment to destroy the Canaanite state was not absolute. According to the Deuteronomic precepts, before fighting, it was required that the Israelites peacefully request the enemies to accept the Noachide laws and pay a tax to the Jewish kingdom. Wars occurred only if they refused.

 

Deuteronomy 20:10, 11 

10 "When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it.

11 "And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace, and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you, and serve you.

 

Gibeonites

 

The story of the Gibeonites is an example for the salvation that was available to all those who turned to God. The Gibeonites’ story is that of deception. It is not a story of glorious salvation. But it bears the message that God never rejects anybody who run towards Him for life.

 

The Gibeonites descended from the Amorites (2 Samuel 21:2). They lived in Gibeon (Hill City), a city state, about five miles northwest of Jerusalem. In ancient times, it was a Hivite city. Hivites are the descendants of Ham’s son, Canaan. They were one the tribes lived in the Promised Land, before Israelites conquered it. It was slated for destruction along with all other cities of Canaan. After the conquest of Canaan, Gibeon was inherited by the Benjamites. It was a Levitical city which later became a part of Judea.   

 

After the destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai, the Canaanite states united to form a large army to fight Israel (Joshua 9:1,2). The Gibeonites, however, took a different approach. They believed in the sovereignty and authority of the God of Israel. If God has taken the land as His own, He would surely chase out all the wicked inhabitants. They can either run away from the land, or rebel against Him. If they resisted, they will be annihilated. So, they decided to save their life by deceiving the Israelites into a peace treaty. They knew that God’s people would not break treaties.

 

They went as a delegation to the Israelites. Their donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked, and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. Their bread was dry and mouldy. They met Joshua and the Israelites at Gilgal and said: ‘We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us’” (Joshua 9:4-6).

 

Joshua and the Israelites were deceived, but the Gibeonites could save their life. And God respected this treaty. But because they adopted deception to save their life, they lived as slaves among the Israelites. Their land was allotted to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 21:17).

 

The important thing in this story is that God approved and respected the treaty. Later King Saul broke this treaty and attacked the Gibeonites. As a punishment from God, a famine occurred during the time of King David. When David asked the Lord about the famine, God said that it happened because King Saul broke the treaty and killed the Gibeonites.

 

2 Samuel 21: 1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, "It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites."  

 

To appease the Gibeonites and put an end to the famine, seven descendants of Saul were given to the Gibeonites. They killed them. (2 Samuel 21: 6). God healed Israel’s land after that (2 Samuel 21:14).

 

Gibeonites were not Israelites. They were one of the many city states in the land of Canaan. They too lived a pagan, wicked life. But they believed in the sovereignty of God and accepted the possession of the land by Him. They sought His protection. They explained their cause to the Joshua and the Israelite leaders, in Joshua 9:24.

 

Joshua 9: 24 So they answered Joshua and said, "Because your servants were clearly told that the LORD your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing.   

 

The incorporation of the Gibeonites into Israel shows the mercy and grace of God to all people.

 

So, the people lived in all the city states of Canaan had the opportunity to turn to God, submit to His will, and abandon the wickedness of pagan worship. Instead, they fought against God, trusting their pagan gods to protect them. God had to execute His judgment upon the wicked people through Israelites. Executing judgment is not cruelty or brutality.

 

Why annihilated the whole population?

 

Let us look into one more question regarding the Canaanite annihilation. Why God commanded to annihilate all the inhabitants of Canaan? The Canaanites were living in their own land for many years. Why did God not allow them to continue to live there? Why were the Israelites not permitted live along with the Canaanites?

 

As we have already discussed, Israel was as God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood. They should live worshiping only the true God. They must be a witness of the living God, to the world.

 

God promised the land of Canaan to their forefather Abraham, while there were pagan inhabitants. The land was surrounded by heathen nations. But Israelites were warned not to adopt any of their ways. So, God gave them, on the mount Saini, not only moral laws, but also ceremonial or religious laws and social laws. Social laws contained, judicial laws, laws concerning food and dress, laws for constructing buildings and so on. The intention was that Israelites must be a holy nation, they should worship only the one and true God, and they should live separated in all ways from the surrounding heathen nations.     

 

But the Promised Land in which the Israelites were to settle was populated by the Canaanites who led a wicked life and worshiped pagan gods. The Canaanites worshiped Astarte or Ashtoreth and Moloch. Children were laid on the brass arms the statue of Moloch, heated red hot from inside. There they burned to death. Children were also sacrificed to their gods and goddesses. The Canaanites also indulged in fertility cult and temple prostitution. There were both male and female prostitutes in their temple. 

 

So, God warned Israelite not to follow these abominations. They should live a holy life because they were the people of a holy God. (Leviticus 19:2). If they live mingled with each other, the Canaanites will infect Israel with their moral depravity. So, God commanded Israelites to destroy the Canaanites.

 

Deuteronomy 20:15-18 

15 "Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.

16 "But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive,

17 "but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you,

18 "lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.

 

Later history says that failure to eliminate all the pagans in the Promised Land eventually led the Israelites to fall into gentile worship. So, God’s warning and His command to wipe away all pagan worship and worshipers is justified.

  

Judges 2:1-3

1    Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: "I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you.

2    'And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.' But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this?

3    "Therefore I also said, 'I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.'"

 

As a punishment for the iniquity on the part of Israelites, they were given to enemies. Israelites were defeated, captured, killed, and taken into exile. They were not immune to God’s justice. Israel was destroyed by foreign powers and ejected from the land of promise, whenever they rebelled against God. God’s justice applied to them as it applied to other nations. God’s justice does not show favouritism.

 

Why God commanded to kill innocent children?

 

What about children? Did they commit any sins? The answer is another question, are we sure that the Canaanite children during that period were innocent? Today, we are witnessing the sins committed by children. We hear news about, kids killing kids, kids thieving, kids raping, and so on. So, the innocence of children is a farce. In a society where sin is so rampant, legal, and part of their worship to gods, children also may commit sins, as they could.

 

According to the Bible, children are not innocent beings. They are born with sin nature, inherited from their parents, who inherited it from Adam.

 

No one can assure that the children of the Canaanites, if they were spared from death, would grow up loving and worshiping God. History gives us evidence that the enmity between God’s people and the heathen continued through the descendants till all of them are eliminated.

 

Theologians agree that many of the people the Bible says as eliminated, were not fully wiped out. In Exodus, God said,

 

Exodus 23:23 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out”.

 

Centuries later, a man named Uriah served King David faithfully. Uriah was a Hittite, showing that God blotted out pagan practices, but not necessarily all the people.

 

To conclude our discussion about the Canaanite extermination, let us say that the inhabitants of Canaan were neither ignorant nor innocent victims of an angry God. They had been committing terrible sin knowing well about the true and living God. God’s harsh judgment fell upon them because they rejected Him and His salvation.

 

Evil and death should grieve us. At the same time, it should not stop us from praising God for his justice.

 

Amalekites

 

Another criticism against the God of the Old Testament is His command to King Saul to annihilate the Amalekites. God commanded to “kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

 

1 Samuel 15:2,3   

2    "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt.

 3   'Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"

 

Most people, non-Christians, and Christians alike, react to this command asking: How could God command this? The God of the Old Testament is so cruel. The God of the New, revealed in Christ, is all peaceful and loving.

 

Amalekites were an ancient nomadic tribe, lived in Negev, a desert area, in the south of Judah, during the Old Testament period. Amalek was the son of Esau's son Eliphaz by Eliphaz's concubine Timna (Genesis 36:12). They were a hereditary enemy of Israel from wilderness times to the Persian empire.

 

The story of the Amalekites begins with their unprovoked attack upon Israel at Rephidim, as they were travelling through the desert (Exodus 17:8). They were the first enemy that Israel encountered after the crossing of the Red Sea. The Amalekites attacked Israelites at the rear end of the troop. Israel, by God’s help, under the leadership of Joshua, could defeat the Amalekites. But they could not annihilate the whole Amalekites. So, the enmity continued between them for many more years.

 

Because of this and their many other sins, God vowed to blot out the Amalekites.

 

Exodus 17: 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."  

 

Moses reminded the people that after they settle in the Promised Land, they should wipe out the Amalekites. It was God’s commission.

 

Deuteronomy 25:17-19  

17 "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt,

18 "how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.

19 "Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.

 

Numbers 14 narrates a story of another war in which the Amalekites defeated the Israelites. We see again the Amalekites in the Book of Judges. While living in the Promised Land the Israelites did evil in the sight of God. So, God delivered them to their enemies.

 

Judges 3:12, 13

12  And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.

13 Then he gathered to himself the people of Ammon and Amalek, went and defeated Israel, and took possession of the City of Palms.

 

During the time of Gideon, the Amalekites and the people of the East joined the Midianites and raided the Israelites for seven years (Judges 6:3). They fought against Israelites in the valley of Jezreel. Israel won the war under the leadership of Gideon. But all the Amalekites were not eliminated in this war, and their center in the Negev was not harmed.

 

A decisive battle between Amalekites and Israelites, happened during the reign of King Saul. Saul was commissioned by God, through the prophet Samuel, to eliminate the whole Amalekites. But the war wasn’t a genocide. It was a divine judgment. The enmity between the Amalekites continued from generation to generation. An elimination was necessary to protect God’s people. So, there was no injustice in God commanding Saul to destroy them.

 

1 Samuel 15: 3 'Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"   

 

Saul fought with Amalekites, defeated them, but he did not eliminate them as God commanded. He spared the best of the sheep and cattle and Agag, king of Amalek. All the Amalekites were not killed in this war. We see them again in 1 Samuel 30, at the end of the reign of Saul.

 

Since Saul sought to kill David, he escaped to the land of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 27:1). David had with him his two wives, six hundred men and their family. Achish king of Gath (the easternmost city of the Philistines, near the border of Judah) permitted him to live in Ziklag. While living there, David raided the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites.

 

The Amalekites invaded Ziklag and burned it with fire, in the absence of David and his men. They took captive women and children to their nation. David went after them and defeated them. But four hundred Amalekite young men rode on camels and fled. (1 Samuel 30:17). 

 

After the battles of Saul and David, the Amalekites ceased to be a considerable enemy of Israel. During Hezekiah king of Judah, some of the descendants of Simeon went to Mt. Seir and attacked the rest of the Amalekites (1 Chronicles 4: 43).

 

The last mention of the Amalekites is found in the book of Esther. Haman the Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag, conspired to annihilate all the Jews in Persia by obtaining a command from King Xerxes. But God saved the Jews in Persia, through Esther, the queen. Haman, his sons, and the rest of Israel’s enemies were killed. (Esther 9:5-10).

 

The Amalekites fought against the Israelites through successive generations that spanned more than hundreds of years. The enmity and cruelty of Amalekites did not end with a generation. Children took up their fathers’ hostility and fought against Israel. This justifies God’s command to annihilate all the Amalekites including children.

 

Old Testament God and New Testament God

 

Is the Old Testament God and the New Testament God are different? If He is one God, has He changed His character in the New Testament?

 

Our answer begins with an explanation about Torah, the first five books of the Bible, which contain Mosaic Laws. For many, Torah or the Mosaic laws are harsh, unbendable regulations that invite brutal punishment when they are broken. But that is not how the Bible communicates it. In Hebrew thought, the word torah that is often translated “law” also refers to instructions from a parent or teacher.

 

Proverbs 1:8 “My son, hear the instruction of your father and do not forsake the law (torah) of your mother.”

 

The Hebrew word used of “law” is tôrâ (to-raw'). The word means, law, direction, or instruction. The same word is used to describe the Mosaic Laws. That means, the Old Testament Israelites considered the Torah like the loving instructions of their mother. Torah is God’s caring instructions for the right way of life. So, King David exclaimed:

 

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!  

 

Torah is the heart of God. This meaning is suggested by the first Hebrew word in Genesis and the last word of Deuteronomy. Genesis to Deuteronomy are the five books of Torah. The Hebrew word in Genesis 1:1 is “bereshit” (בְּרֵאשִׁית), which means “in the beginning“. It starts with the letter Bet (בּ). The last word of Deuteronomy is Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), which ends with the letter lamed (ל). If you join these letters, the very last with the first, they spell the word “lev” (לֵב), the Hebrew word for heart. This signifies that the entirety of Torah is about God’s heart for mankind.

 

When we understand this perspective, we see less “judgment” from God and more of His loving discipline of Israel. The idea of discipline is used throughout the Old and New Testament. The Lord is not an angry God ready to destroy human beings, but a loving Father bringing correction.

 

The God who gave Torah to the Israelites is the same God who sent His only begotten son to the world to save us by being a sacrifice to atone human sins. There is only one God, and He cannot change in essence, character or actions.

 

Malachi 3:6 "For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.  

 

Psalm 102:27 But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.  

 

The writer of the book of Hebrews applies this attribute of God to Jesus Christ, signifying that He is the same God of the Old Testament.

 

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

 

New Testament authors always claimed that the God revealed in the Old Testament is the same God who is now revealing himself in and through Jesus Christ. Referring to Jesus as the Word, John wrote that the God of the Old Testament took flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

John 1:1-3  

1    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2    He was in the beginning with God.

3    All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

 

John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.  

 

From Genesis to Revelation, there are statements and descriptions about God’s love. He has been always a loving God who also is righteous.  

 

Ezekiel 33: 11 "Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'  

 

These are the words of a loving, compassionate God recorded in an Old Testament prophetic book. This God cannot be cruel or brutal. Here is another passage which reveals His mercy.

 

Exodus 34:6,7  

6    And the LORD passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,

7    "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation."

 

King David wrote about God’s love in his Psalms. Psalms 103 is a good example. It was written many years before Jesus died on the cross:

 

Psalm 103: 2-5

2    Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:

3    Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,

4    Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies,

5    Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

 

Psalm 33:5 “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord”.

 

God loved His people back in the Old Testament as much as He did when He sent Jesus Christ to die for them.

 

But He was always a holy God, who never endured any sin or injustice. It was His responsibility to bring justice on His creations whenever they exceed in sin. He did always execute justice with mercy and long suffering.

 

Christ has spoken many times about the impending punishment on the unrepenting people. In fact, the New Testament punishment is harsher than that in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the judgment and punishment are temporal. But in the New Testament it goes beyond the temporal into eternity. 

 

Matthew 10: 28 "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

   

Jesus spoke about God’s judgment at more than one occasion.

 

Matthew 10:14, 15  

14 "And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.

15 "Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!

 

Matthew 13: 41, 42  

41 "The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness,

42 "and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

Matthew 18: 34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.  

 

Matthew 22: 13 "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'  

 

Matthew 25: 41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  

 

The epistles also have passages about the coming judgment:

 

Hebrews 10:26-29   

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

 

2 Thessalonians 1:6-9  

6    since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,

7    and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,

8    in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 9   These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

 

Conclusion

 

Everybody demands for justice when they are wronged, someone steals from them, attacks them, or offends them in any way. At times of injustice, we cry, “where is God? Is there is a God alive?” But when God execute His justice, we cry that He is so cruel and brutal.

 

When we talk about salvation in Christ with non-Christians, they often ask, “Do you really believe a loving God would send people to an eternal hell?” The response is: God shall surely sentence humans to eternal hell, only if they continue to live in sin, rejecting the great salvation offered freely through Jesus Christ.

 

All of us will not spend our eternity in hell. Everyone deserves that punishment, but God has provided a means of salvation just as He did in the Old Testament situations described above. God cannot be blamed if one rejects salvation through Christ.

 

The judgment of God on the pagans as well as the Israelites convey a warning to us. They point to the Last Judgment of God on all who do not turn to him.

 

There is only one God; He is the God of both Old and New Testaments. God always offer an opportunity for a right relationship with Him by repenting, asking forgiveness for our sin, and receiving Christ as our Lord and Saviour. In both Testaments, God judges sin. In the Old Testament, mercy and salvation were offered before the judgment. God provided an Ark before the Flood, angels were sent to Sodom before the fire, Lot invited his would-be sons in law to join them. God saved Rahab and counted her righteous for Christ to be born in her lineage.  

 

The same mercy and salvation are available to us in and through Jesus Christ. (John 7:37,38). So, God cannot be called cruel or brutal, for executing justice against sin.

 


 


 

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