Posted in Commandments, Divine will, Sovereignty, Uncategorized

Axe or the Hand? The Wielder or the Wielded?

Let’s be honest what I have been saying is hard to swallow and few will want to accept it (cf. John 6.60).

People get nervous when you speak of “ought to do and ought not to do” (the Law of God).  People become uneasy when you tell them that God is full of wrath and hates sin and will judge them for it in this life and the life to come (i.e. negative sanctions, eternal consequences).  People want to cry foul when they are confronted with the idea that they are ultimately left to the whims and desires of the Creator of all things (i.e. God is Sovereign and does as He pleases).  And so, the resultant thought process is this: God’s love is unconditional; His Goodness is equally distributed to all and He never commands (or wills) that which is detrimental to any human being.  God wouldn’t do that because He values human life too much. He’d never force anyone to do anything against their will, our freedom is too precious.

I was once challenged by a fellow minister in an apologetic’s course in grad school for believing the early chapters of the Bible.  The man told me “people like you are the reason why we don’t get a fair hearing in the world. Your belief in the Flood or the Tower of Babel hinders apologetic ministry.” 

What was the problem?  I took God’s Word at face value.1 If the Bible teaches it, I fully accept it.  When I come to passages that assault my sensitivities I am left with either humbling myself (acknowledging my personal limitations) to its precepts or denying them looking for a humanistic rational; either explaining it away or flat out denying that it is original to the canon.

Sometimes, I think the knee jerk reaction to steer clear of the type of things I’ve said is due to ignorance.  No, I’m not “name” calling here.  Being ignorant just means that you don’t know.  That’s O.K. there are many things that we are all ignorant of.  For example, I’m ignorant of quantum physics.  It sounds cool, but I have no idea what it entails. Therefore if someone were to call me ignorant I would hope that I have the wherewithal to say, “Yeah, I am” without getting defensive because my feelings were hurt.

The fact is a lot of professing believers are biblically illiterate.  Who has time to study (let alone read) the Bible when your life’s schedule is full of obligations? We get up early and work all day (or night). If we have kids, then we are probably running to and fro from this activity to the next. Then by the time we get home, what do we want to do?  We want to relax, that’s what.  We want to unwind, and so pulling out our Bibles (or touching the app on our phones, tablets, etc.) is probably not high on the list.

I get it.  I’ve been there. But, let’s be honest with ourselves…that’s really not a good excuse. What ends up happening because of our normal weekly routine is we are left ignorant of what the Bible teaches.  Oh, we may squeeze in some quiet time here and there, but we merely scratch the surface.

Thus, when we hear something unfamiliar about biblical teaching we are naturally a bit skeptical.  I’m not denying being skeptical can be a good thing, but not when our skepticism is rooted in ignorance.  We should be skeptical as the Bereans were when Paul came to them, and then check the Scriptures to see where or not those things are true (Acts 17.11).

Does God ever command (will) bad things to come to pass?

After the reign of Solomon, king of Israel, the kingdom was split. The Northern ten tribes retained the name Israel (and at times Ephraim), whereas the Southern kingdom took the name Judah in reference to the tribe who stayed there.  In time, because of covenantal unfaithfulness both kingdoms fell.  The North to Assyria, the South to Babylon.

Israel fell to the Assyrians in approx. 721 B.C. The Assyrians were known for their prowess in battle and their brutality.  Who commanded Assyria to conquer? Who gave them the authority and power to do so? God did.

  • “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger, the staff in their hands is My wrath. I will send him against a godless nation; I will command him to go against a people destined for My rage, to take spoils, to plunder, and to trample them down like clay in the streets” (Isa 10.5-6).2

Here Isaiah the prophet explains why Assyria was able to conquer, who sent them and why they were sent.  God commanded (willed) that they should go, and so they went.  Regardless of how athletic you are, you are unable to remove God of responsibility for sending them and using them as an instrument of His Holy wrath, by doing hermeneutical gymnastics.

God desired for Assyria to carry out His wrath, which was His purpose (cf. Prov 21.1).  The Divine command (will/purpose) is not the same as man’s.  While, God was motivated by righteousness, the king Assyria was motivated by a sinfully proud heart/mind.

  • “But this is not what he [Assyria] intends; this is not what he [Assyria] plans. It is his [Assyria’s] ]intent to destroy and to cut off many nations…For he [Assyria] said: I have done this by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever.  I abolish the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants.  My hand has reached out, as if into a nest, to seize the wealth of the nations. Like one gathering eggs, I gathered the whole earth. No wing fluttered; no beak opened or chirped.” (Isa 10.7, 13-14).

This, the king of Assyria thought and said in his own heart, one that God reveals is full of arrogance (Isa 10.12). God commanded (willed; divine decree) that he should go.  God gave him the power and authority to accomplish victory, and even gave him the right of the spoils.  However, God did not command the king of Assyria to sin, to boast in his own strength, to wickedly desire the destruction of all in his path…that came from his own heart/nature.

The temptation is to remove God from the equation of what the Assyrian king did.  The argument often goes “if God hates evil, then He’d never command (will for) evil to take place.  If God hates sin, then He’d never be party to one whose actions are sinful.” The problem lies in our inability to separate categories between divine commands and human commands, divine will and human will, divine purpose and human purpose, etc.

God did not just allow or give permission for the Assyrian king to act; God was involved in the activity.  God wielded the Assyrian king for His purpose and then judged the man on the grounds of his own sinful heart.  The Assyrian king could do nothing outside the divine decree:

  • “Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? It would be like a staff waving the one who lifts it! It would be like a rod lifting a man who isn’t wood!” (Isa 10.15).

Axes do not wield themselves, neither do saws saw through wood on their own, nor does a staff cause itself to be lifted into the air.  These are all tools wielded by the wielder.  It is the hand that wields the tool by the power of His strong arm that brings about what comes to pass not the other way around. In other words, God is the wielder and man is the tool that He wields for His glory.

The Assyrian king was judged not for what he did, because it was God who sent him in to conquer (kill) and enjoy the benefits of his enemy’s wealth (plunder), but for the motivations of his heart (Jer 17.10).  He, though moved by God, was unwilling to acknowledge God in his life.  Like Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon after him, the king of Assyria exalted himself as the builder of his own domain, as the reason for his dominion (cf. Dan 4) and as a result was rightfully judged.

There is one last lesson I want to draw upon, but not today, after which I plan on moving to another subject of interest.  For now, chew on this…



1 I tend to shy away from using the word “literally” because not everybody defines the usage of this term the same.  Some take a “wooden-sense” which puts the stress on the meaning according to the presuppositions of the reader, without any consideration to literary genre.  And so, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth….” takes on the meaning of plucking out someone’s eye or pulling out their tooth as a form of punishment/justice/retribution.  Literal means “according to the letter” that is to say the natural reading of the text based on contextual clues; or, how the writer intended it to be meant (interpreted).  Therefore, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” is understood as equitable justice—i.e. the punishment meted out fits the crime/offense in question.  Justice in this understanding is balanced in the scales of righteousness.  If someone steals from me it would be unjust for them to lose a hand (or their life), but it would be just (eye for an eye) by making them pay restitution for what they had stolen.

2 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture shall be of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

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Posted in Commandments, Election

God Commands Good for Those whom He Loves

Here’s a text that many Christians are familiar with and rightfully cherish:

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom 8.28a; italics added).

Unfortunately, this text is abused a bit either because of traditions or lazy reading.  For instance, when something tragic happens a person might conclude in reference to this verse, “Everything happens for a reason…God will bring some good out of it.”  While there is a hint of truth in the statement itself, all things do happen for a reason, God does not bring out of the situation good things.  Let alone bringing good for all people.  The text limits the “all things work[ing] together for good” for those 1) who love God and 2) are “called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28b).  Those are specific individuals who are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8.29)—Jesus Christ.

Similarly, an error occurs when one suggests that God only commands that which is good for all people.  As you hopefully saw (learned perhaps?) in the last article I posted (Big Bad God or are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?; God does not always command for the good of all.  The reality that we want to skate by is that God chooses to whom He shall do good to.  I’m not sure why we are surprised to hear this, since we continually choose who we want to do “good” to in our daily lives.  I don’t buy other children gifts, but I buy my own children gifts.  Would it be a good thing for me to buy other kids gifts? I’m sure it would, but I choose not to because I share a special relationship with my own children that I do not share with another person’s child. (I am not speaking of charity here, as I do give those sorts of gifts when spiritually motivated.)

Whose benefit was the Command of God for?

Looking back at the Canaanites, we should be able to see that what God commanded regarding them was not for their benefit.  The benefit instead went to the people He had chosen to establish His Name in the earth, and the people through whom the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) would come.  It was to the children of Israel (Jacob) that the “land of milk and honey” was to go.

  • “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on your and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7.7-8)
  • “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut 9.5).

Ultimately, the reason God chose Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is His own.  He does not share the reason, but only shares what He has done.  Likewise, it is on the basis of God keeping His Word (promise) to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that He chose to love and redeem their descendants from slavery; giving them a land that they did not work for, homes that they did not build, wells that they did not dig, fruit trees and vineyards that they did not plant (Deut 6.10-11).  What we ought to remember is that creation is God’s and He does with it—the whole of it—as He sees fit, and He answers to no one.  God specifically chose to love (to elect) the Israelite’s and to demonstrate His awesome power not only in Canaan, but in Egypt and any other rebel who raised their ugly heads.

God did not love those nations (i.e. groups of people or people groups) in the same fashion that He did Israel, and He did not have too.  Throughout biblical history we see that God drew to Himself any He chose, and sometimes it was not Israel that He chose to love (see the book of Jonah).  This is something Jesus pointed out early on in His ministry and the people attempted to murder Him for it (cf. Luke 4.24-30).

God specifically commanded Pharaoh (through Moses His prophet), “Let my people go…” (Exod 5.1); and yet, this command was not given for Pharaoh’s good, but for God’s own.  For God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and purposefully would not let Pharaoh obey the command of the Lord:

  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21).
  • “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you” (Exod 7.3-4a).
  • “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exod 9.12; cf. 10.1, 20).

God prevented Pharaoh from obeying a command He had given.  How did He do that, if God does not sin?  I think we need to be reminded what sin actually is, how it is biblically defined.

To sin is act lawlessly, to act rebelliously, to miss the mark.  What law? Rebel against what? Miss whose mark? In a nutshell, to sin is to disregard the voice of God.  To go against what He has spoken.

God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh would not.  When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should not assume that Pharaoh’s heart was soft beforehand.  To have a soft heart (a heart of flesh, rather than stone) means that one is malleable to God’s Law—what He has spoken—but that is not what Scripture says of those in Adam.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…” (Rom 8.5a)

Question: Did Pharaoh have his mind set on fleshly things (carnal/sinful things) before God confronted him? What was Pharaoh’s state of being (his natural disposition) before God spoke to him?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was carnal and self-serving, and the love of God was far from him.  He worship created things rather than his Creator, things made by the imaginations of mankind.  Moreover, Pharaoh saw himself as deity—a god/man king—as many pagan kings before and after him were fond of doing.

  • “For to set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.6a, 7-8).

Question: Was Pharaoh hostile to God before or after God revealed himself? Was Pharaoh’s life pleasing to God before God spoke to Him through Moses?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was a rebel before God came and spoke to Him through Moses.  His hostility was already existent, although the presentation of God’s commandment provoked his heart further (cf. Rom 7.7-9).

In other words, all that God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was present Himself before Pharaoh.  By speaking to Pharaoh, the sinful disposition (bent/nature) reared its ugly head “seizing an opportunity through the commandment” (Rom 7.8) to show itself.  The more God spoke to Pharaoh, the more Pharaoh hardened his heart (i.e. rebelled; was obstinate).  God did not make Pharaoh sin, for Pharaoh did that all on His own.  Shine the light in the dark and all those who hate the light shield their eyes and run from it.  That is the natural reaction of mankind aside from grace.

Why would God do such a thing?

The answer is simple: 1) To glorify Himself, and 2) To save (deliver) His people.  This is seen immediately after God’s declaration of hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

  • “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn2 son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exod 4.22-23; italics added).
  • “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9-15-16; emphasis added; cf. Rom 9.17, 22).
  • “So Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there never has been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either to man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exod 11.4-9; italics added).

God had predetermined His plan beforehand in the life of Pharaoh, in the land of Egypt (cf. Eph 1.11).  This was foretold to Abraham (Gen 15.14), revealed to Moses, and then demonstrated to all in and around Egypt. For the gods of Egypt could not deliver the Egyptians from the mighty hand of God (cf. Exod 12.12).

In the end, we find the following to be true:

God commands that which is good for His people, a people called according to His purpose and design.  He keeps His Word. He never breaks His promises, and to those in Christ those promises are fulfilled (cf. 2Cor 1.20; Gal 3.16).  There are several such examples in Scripture where we see that God commands, but the only ones intended to reap the benefit are Him and His people that He has chosen to love.  This choice is not dependent upon the people as we saw with Israel, and then find to be true in the writings of N.T. (e.g. 1Cor 1.18-31), but the glorious God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.



1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 Firstborn signifies preeminence here as it does in the N.T.  Christ Jesus is called the firstborn of creation, not because He was the first thing created—the Living Eternal Word was not created for He was in the beginning with God, was God, and all things were made through Him, by Him and for Him—but because He has preeminence over all things (superiority). Cf. John 1.1-3; Col 1.15-20.  God holds His elect in special favor as they will inherit the earth and eternal life (Psa 37.11; Matt 5.5; Luke 18.30).

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Posted in Canaanites, Covenant, Ethics, Law, Wrath

Big Bad God or Are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?

My previous post was in many ways a bit redundant, as it is a carry-over of things I have discussed before.  However, my concern was establishing the right perspective in order to properly view things disclosed in the Old Testament.  Difficulty understanding certain biblical passages arises because of an incorrect outlook. Some examples we might point to would be: 1) being kicked out of the garden in Adam’s day, 2) the Flood in Noah’s day, 3) the plagues in Egypt or the Canaanite conquest during the period of Joshua and Judges.

Wrong viewpoints tend to pose various questions regarding biblical revelation.  Such as: “How can a loving God do those things?”; “Is the God of the O.T. the same as the one in the N.T., for His actions do not seem to line up with I understand God’s character to be?”; “If God is good, then how could He command such things?”

(In particular, the commands of God that calls for the entire destruction of whole groups of people including not just men and women but also children and animals. This shall be the primary focus of this article.)

Tacit Assumptions…

Pay attention to some of the tacit assumptions being smuggled in when such questions are posed, as a result of an improper perspective.

First, the questioner is presupposing that human beings are innocent.  However, we are not because we are sinners—that’s our identity before God.  Now that is not all of our identity, for we are also all image bearers of God, but our status before Him is guilty not innocent.

Second, the questioner is assuming that God is only good and loving.  However, He is not just those things; He is more.  God is defined as Holy (purity/separateness) from His creation in particular regarding sin which He hates.  God is defined as just meaning that He only does what is righteous (right), and therefore judges the motivations and activities of those He has created to reflect Him.  God is merciful, but He is also wrathful and as a result He delves out consistently what is deserved for all His rational creatures. There are many other attributes that could be described about God, but I am hoping you are beginning to get the picture.  God is more than love and goodness, He is perfect and as such no one defining attribute is properly demonstrated above another.  If you want to pick and choose which attributes of God you prefer to highlight (and some do this), then you are not describing the God of the Bible but an idol formed in your own heart/mind.

Third and finally, the questioner is assuming that they are in the position to determine the rightness or wrongness of the activity of God described in the Old/New Testaments. However, they (we) are afforded no such status in that we are creatures, not the Creator.  He is not in the dock, we are.

A proper exploratory question would be to ask, “Why did God call for the death of so many in the past, including not just men and women but also children and animals?”  I believe the answer is found in the fact that God is covenantal when dealing with His creation.  Ultimately, what the covenant establishes is life and death depending upon what position you (we) fall in regarding the covenant.

God created man (Adam) in a covenantal relationship with Him.  This is expressed in a variety of ways (check out God’s Covenant with Adam; where I discuss this in more detail), but is particularly seen in the two trees in the midst of the garden.  One tree signified life and was accessible via obedience; the other tree signified death and was accessible via disobedience.  How Adam chose to respond in regards to the covenant that God had established had a lasting effect not only on him personally, but all his offspring.  Since Adam was given dominion—the right to rule in God’s name over all of earthly creation (Gen 1.26, 28)—when he sinned the consequential result was a cursed creation.  In other words, Adam was not the only one who suffered as a result of his transgressions for all of life under his headship suffered in the wake of his rebellion (comp. Gen 3.17-19; Rom 8.20-22; on a small scale restricted to the land of Israel see Isa 24.5-6).

Suppose you don’t like that. Some don’t.  What do you do by denying it? Well you deny the same sort of result from the opposite position in Jesus Christ.  I have heard some theology teachers deny that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  Well, without delving into a rather deep theological debate I will just point out that if His righteousness is not imputed to us, if His holiness is not accredited to our bankrupt accounts, then we have no hope of eternal life.  Either Christ is our covenantal head and we are blessed by His obedience or we are left in a cursed sinful state with no hope of salvation/deliverance from the second death.  Human beings are not holy by any real or imaginary standard, and without such no one will be seen in the presence of God (Heb 12.14).

Getting back to God’s acts of wrathful judgment against sinful mankind…

Why did God destroy men, women, children, animals and the entire earth in the Flood of Noah’s day?  The short answer is that mankind’s dominion was in direct opposition to God.  Mankind (human beings if you prefer) was exceedingly wicked and rebellious and had hearts filled with violence (Gen 6.5, 11-12).  Violence against whom?  Ultimately against God, that’s who.

Yet, we read because of God’s merciful grace He preserved one man and through that one man all members of his household including his wife, their three sons and their wives, as well as all representative kinds of land dwelling animals.  The same reason God destroyed the many in Noah’s day is the same reason God saved the few.  God acts covenantally with His creatures and those who are covenantally faithful are blessed inheriting life; whereas those who do not are cursed inheriting death.

What the Law Reveals about our Status…

Now our disposition before God is not right.  We are not in a good spot when we stand before Him.  We are not innocent, which His Law demonstrates quite effectively.  I will use the summation that Jesus puts on God’s Law to demonstrate this: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is not one person who can make the claim (past, present or future) that they have fulfilled the entirety of these commands with absolute perfection.  Accordingly, one deviation, no matter how small, in God’s commandments reserves condemnation for the person(s) in question, for to break it at one point is to be guilty of all of it (James 2.10).

  • “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction” (Exod 22.20).1
    • NOTE: In case you were wondering offering a sacrifice to another, other than the Lord God is an act of worship. Accordingly, the entire human race since Adam has done this very thing and is therefore without excuse, fully deserving the entire wrath of God (cf. Rom 1.18-23). (This text will be helpful later when considering the question of “Who’s God’s anger against, false religion or the people who practice them?)

Dreaded Commands against the Canaanites…

Knowing this to be true, let us look at a couple references from Scripture that make ignorant believers blush.

  • “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittite, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them” (Deut 7.1-2; italics added).

–This same theme is taken up in Deut 20–

  • “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded” (Deut 20.16-17; italics added).

These people were to be totally devoted to destruction.  This is an act of worship, an act of righteous retribution in the Name of God.  Christians like Paul Copan argue for a hyperbolic understanding of such passages.  In response to Deut 7:1-2 quoted above, Copan makes the following statement, “Earlier in Deuteronomy 7:2-5, we find…tension [in the text].2  On the one hand, God tells Israel that they should ‘defeat’ and ‘utterly destroy [haram]’ the Canaanites (v.2)—a holy consecration to destruction.  On the other hand, he immediately goes on to say…”3

  • “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.  But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire” (Deut 7.3-5; italics added).

Continuing with Copan’s thoughts, “If the Canaanites were to be completely obliterated, why this discussion about intermarriage or treaties?  The final verse emphasizes that the ultimate issues was religious: Israel was to destroy altars, images and sacred pillars.  In other words, destroying Canaanite religion was more important than destroying Canaanite people.”4 (The current writer is seen shaking his head at the kitchen table as he is typing on his laptop reading this ridiculous statement by a notable Christian scholar.)

What would help at this point is if Copan and others like him would merely compare Scripture with Scripture.  God has already stated that to offer worship to any other god (so-called) than He is to invite a death sentence (cf. Exod 22.20).  So then, why the talk of “intermarriage or treaties” in the Deuteronomic text?  Actually, this is not the first time God has warned His people to be careful not to do these things when they enter the land (see Exod 34.11-16; cf. Num 25.1-2).

Yes, but if God was really concerned about destroying all of these people, then why the warning? Copan seems to be making a pretty strong argument here.  The answer is simple, God has already told them that He would fight for them, that He would drive them from the land, but at the same time He also said He would not do it too quickly.  He gives at least two reasons for this:

  1. For the welfare of His people who He is giving the land to: “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you” (Deut 7.22; italics added; cf. Exod 23.29-30).
  2. God left them there to teach the next generation war: “I will no longer drive out before them [Israel] any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not. So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua” (Judg 2.21-23).

Here’s the problem.  The reason that the Lord left the people in the land is because Israel was disobedient and did not follow God’s commands as He instructed (cf. Judg 2.1-20).  Therefore, they suffered negative sanctions as members of the covenant community.  They were handed over to their enemies as slaves as a result.

You see, God knows human hearts.  He knows our hearts better than we think we do.  Despite what seems to be our best motivations we are weak and powerless when faced with temptation, as we are always carried off by the desires of our heart.  “Always?” you ask.  Yes, unless God gives us sufficient strength to resist by His grace we will always fall flat in the muck and the mire.  We will be like a dog that returns to its vomit or a pig that corrals in the mud.

What should we see?

When you look back at Deut 7:1-5 what you should note is that God is saying two things at once.  On the one hand He is giving explicit instructions on what they are to do when they enter the land of Canaan.  They are not to pity their enemies, but to utterly destroy them. This would help ensure their safety from without (externally) and within (internally).  This command does not supersede the one formerly given in Exod 23:29-30 and then repeated in Deut 7:22 about not driving them out all at once lest the wild animals in the land over take them.  And those beasts would overtake them; if they did not obey the voice of the Lord, as that was one of the negative sanctions He promised them (cf. Lev 26.22; Deut 32.24).

Everything is to be done according to God’s timetable, not men.  We are to learn His scheduling of events (listening to His voice), rather than attempting to act like Sarah offering up Hagar to get God moving at a quicker, more convenient, humanly pace (cf. Gen 16.1-4; 21.12).

False Religion or the Practitioner?

Copan claims that God is more concerned by false religion than by false people, and that is why we should not read these commands as anything but hyperbole.  Uhm…false religion is not practiced in a vacuum.  By itself it is nothing.  False religion—its rites, forms and idols—are vacant lifeless things, unless people are found practicing them.

To say that God is concerned more about false religion than He is about the people practicing it ignores the many passages of Scripture that speak of God’s judgment against the people who do them.  The destruction of their idols was a physical/symbolic reminder of what ought not be done, unless one wants to die before a Holy God.

  • “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exod 20.5; Deut 5.9)
  • “…and [the Lord God] repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him.  He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7.10).
  • “You hand [God] will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.  The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them” (Psa 21.8-9).

There are many such passages in Scripture and while some of the language may no doubt be symbolic, let us not be so arrogant to assume that God will allow anyone who hates Him to get away with their misdeeds.  Take for example King Agag.  Did he escape from the wrath of God?  Did he have to wait for eternity to feel the sharp fiery sword of God’s judgment?

Saul was commanded as prince over the people of God to attack the Amalekites and wipe them all out, women, children and livestock included.  Nothing was to remain of them, they were to be utterly destroyed—given to the Lord above.  Saul refused to obey God, and it was Samuel who took up the task of hacking that wicked King Agag to pieces (see 1Sam 15.1-33).

Back to the Heart of the Issue…

Dare we assume that any such individuals are innocent?  Is there an innocent man on the earth?  Is there any who do good?  Is there any who seek God rather than foolishly denying Him?  The Lord, says “No there is not one.  None can stand before Me.  None can claim his innocence.”

For if it were not for the grace of God in Jesus Christ applied by the power of the Holy Spirit there would not be one wretch that would be saved.

It is only when you understand our covenantal standing before God in Adam that you see we are all unworthy, all unrighteous, all full of the filth of sin.  What we should be asking is how does God tarry with us?  How can God stand the stench of us within His nostrils?  It is by the pleasing, overpowering aroma of Christ’s sacrifice that frees us from doom.  Even the unbelieving enjoy some measure of salvation in the fact that He allows them life, power and wealth in spite of their sin—their unbelief.5

But this is the true heart of the issue.  Due to our standing before a Holy God we live on this earth on borrowed time.  God, at any time in terms of righteousness and justice, has the right to end life.  Because of mankind’s status as His image bearers in covenantal apostasy, no life may claim innocence or innate goodness.  God destroyed whole groups of people (old and young) and their animals, and the very earth upon which they dwelt because of their rebellion against Him.  There is “none…righteous, no not one” (Rom 3.10), and so we have nothing to open our mouths about in opposition to these commands.



1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 Pay special attention to the term “tension” when you are reading a work on the Bible.  That is a catch word that reveals the writer’s disposition towards the biblical text.  Tension means apparent disagreement.  For the scholar that may be leaning towards errancy (i.e. mistakes, errors, or contradictions in Scripture) this is a key indicator of their underlying beliefs. A lot of neo-evangelical “experts” on the truth have a strong tendency in leaning in this direction.

3 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 172

4 Ibid, 173.

I don’t want to paint the picture that Copan is a total white-washed liberal.  As I said in a former post he does have some good things to say, and he is much smarter than I am in a lot of areas.  By way of example though, Copan does admit that the Canaanites were a vile, wicked people that practiced all sorts of immoral deeds (p. 159-60).  However, his concern is obvious to the reader.  He wants to protect God’s credibility, by showing that God is not a moral monster. Unfortunately, it also seems like he wants to make God more appealing to the Gerd Ludemann’s of the world by softening the message (the bite if you will) of God’s Word.

5  I want to clarify a distinction here that might not be readily apparent to the reader. What I refer to here is the common grace of God.  None deserve life, and yet it is the sacrificial Lamb of God that purchases even the reprobate a certain portion of this life.  It is true the chief concern here on God’s part are the people His Son has died for (that none of God’s elect should perish), but without Christ’s atoning work none of us would have a reason for living.  The life that all enjoy temporally is due to God’s predetermined plan in Jesus, but only those who are saved in Christ enjoy it eternally.

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Posted in Christian Perspective, Covenant, Sin, sinners, Theology

Proper Perspectives for Hard lessons…

All people sin. There is not a righteous person on the earth (1Kgs 8.46). The only one that ever existed in the history of human beings who did not sin is Jesus of Nazareth. That might not sound appealing to you. You may even want to say that I am exaggerating the truth a bit, but according to the Holy Triune God of the Bible that is the reality of how things truly are, and to take any other position regarding it is to call God a liar.

All are sinners and the evidence is that we all die. We are not sinners because we sin; rather we sin because we are sinners. Sinners is a noun, nouns describe a person, place or thing. Sinning (to commit sin) on the other hand is a verb; verbs describe the activity of the subject in question. There are stative verbs, verbs that identity a state of being, but when the Bible describes humanity as sinners, and then attributes to our good works as dirty menstruation rags fit to be cast out as they bear the fruit of death (Isa 64.6), the point being blatantly made is that our state of being is that of a sinner—it is who we are as fallen creatures—and the result of our state of being is that we sin. Death is the wages of sin, because sin can only produce death. Living in sin is living in death; because that is the only possible outcome since as sinners we are separated from the Lord of Life.

This is the direct result of Adam’s transgression in the garden. This is what he purchased (gave to) all his offspring. Again, this point is stressed in Scripture (cf. Rom 5.12-21; 1Cor 15.21-22). What happened in the garden is that Adam apostatized from the covenant that God had established with man when he created him (them). Through Adam the human race (his offspring) became covenant-breaker’s—i.e. apostate’s.

Death as Biblically Defined…

If you are not a part of the True Vine, you wither and die. There are those who will argue that true death did not occur in the Garden of Eden. They take a naturalistic view of death as the true definition of death, but the Bible does not describe death in that fashion. Death is also referred to as separation. Being separated from something like the body, righteousness/sin, or ultimately God.

For example, we are told that when we die our spirit returns to the One who created it (Eccl 12.7). The spirit within this earthen vessel returns to its Maker for judgment (Heb 9.27). The physical body returns to dust; to the very earth it was taken from (Gen 3.19b). **The reason we return to dust (body’s die being separated from the spirit that sustains them) is because human beings in Adam have been separated from the life of God.

And yet, we are also told that there will come a time when all human beings’ lives will be weighed in the balance (not just temporally, but eternally). The scales will either be tipped in our favor or against it. The determining factor is whether (or not) we reside in Jesus the Christ (Rev 2.11; 20.6). For those who do not their inheritance is eternal death—i.e. separation from the goodness of God for all eternity; the lake of fire. The lake of fire (final judgment of the unrepentant not found in Christ) is rightly called the 2nd death or lasting/final death (Rev 20.14; 21.8).

The in-between that I have not discussed is another instance of death. In Romans 6 Paul effectively argues that those who are in Christ have died in Him and have been raised to new life. What the Scriptures refer to as a heart transplant (spiritual) in other places where the heart of stone is removed, and then replaced with a heart of flesh (Jer 32.39; Ezek 11.19-20; 36.26; Heb 8.10; 10.16-17). This the Holy Spirit does for many, but not all. When this transaction takes place, Paul says we have just witnessed the death of sin in the life of believers. We are no longer slaves to that former dominion, but are now transferred to slaves of righteousness. As I noted earlier this does not mean that we no longer sin, but our desires because of a new disposition gained by a new heart (spiritual bent) have effectively been changed. We have died to sin, to live in righteousness. This circumcision of the heart as it is also called is true death according to the Bible, but it is not naturalistic.

Seeing the Relational Connection…

Why is that important? Do you not see the connection? Are you purposefully closing your eyes so that you cannot see it and then can willfully deny it? It should be obvious…

The reason that should strike a cord in our minds is because the exact opposite occurred in Genesis 3. You say that Adam (and Eve) did not truly die, but God says that they did. “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17). Some make a big deal about the fact that the words here repeat death in Hebrew so that it literally reads, “a death thou shalt die; or, dying you shalt die,”1 but the point is merely being emphatically stressed that death will result the very day this tree’s fruit is eaten. From the moment of Adam’s transgression (note the stress is on Adam in the Bible because he was the representative head of his wife and his children through him)—his apostacy—he died. He was separated from the life of God, his spiritual tie that originally bound him to the Lord was severed and this is evidenced by him and his wife’s behavior immediately after the deed was finalized.

Therefore, through Adam we have all become covenant-breakers. In a very real sense, we have been born in this world as apostates of the original covenant that God established with our forefather. We did not ask for this status, but we did inherit it.

Some may decry the unfairness of God’s judgment in this. “How can I be held accountable for Adam’s sin?” The answer is “You’re not. You are held accountable for your sin.” But then you say, “Yes, but doesn’t the Bible teach we are all condemned in Adam (cf. Rom 5.16, 18)?” The answer is “Yes, it does. However, the condemnation is judgment already past. The result or consequence being that in Adam we all die because we are all separated from the life of God. The resulting bent in the human heart is now in opposition to God. Thus, a new birth is necessary to have communion/fellowship/life with God (cf. John 3).

Proper Perspectives for Hard Lessons…

Why trudge on well beaten paths? Because, if we are going to understand properly the commands by God that seem to some cruel beyond measure in the O.T. we need the proper lens through which to view them. When individuals read or hear about the accounts of the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the devastation of Egypt and Canaan, or one that really baffles the minds of some which I shall revel later, then our assumptions/presuppositions needs to be checked at the door.

Human beings are not described as good, but evil. We are not described as free, but slaves. We are not described as seeing, but blind. We are not described as living, but dead. Nor are we described as innocent, but guilty. Human beings are not neutral towards God, but it is written that they hate him. Therefore, with those precursors in place, I am hoping that you are prepared to properly digest what comes next…

Not everything that God’s commands are for the good of all people, but only for those who love Him (Rom 8.28). God does not always command that which is beneficial towards humanity, but is always beneficial to Him so that He alone receives the Glory owed to Him….:

“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16.27; ESV).



Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (published 1810-1826), Gen 2.17. Clarke was an Arminian minister/theologian that was an expert in multiple ancient languages. I chose him primarily to show that this is an orthodox understanding of this text. Despite the claim often said that this is just the Calvinistic understanding. For Clarke also states in his notes that this declaration of God is not limited to physical dying, but spiritual death: “Thou shalt not only die spiritually, by losing the life of God, but from the moment though shalt become mortal and shalt continue in a dying state till thou die…Other meanings have been given of this passage, but they are in general either fanciful or incorrect.”

Posted in biblical justice, Law, Theology, theonomy

Legal Relativism: Hasty Conclusions drawn about God’s Justice

Today, I want to deal with the legal relativist. You know the Christian who says, “Well, that Law was valid back then in that time, in that place, but not so today.” I want to pick on the Paul Copan’s of the world, men and women who are extremely talented Christians that have a strong aversion to applying God’s Law today. I realize that’s not a popular position to take, because it offends my brothers and sisters in Christ. Can we stop wearing our emotions on our shoulder’s please? We need to develop a little backbone and be able to take some criticism. Or do we, as professing believers, fail to realize that judgment begins with the house of the Lord (cf. 1Pet 4.17)?

For example, Copan argues “…as we look at many of these Mosaic laws, we must appreciate them in their historical context, as God’s gracious, temporary provision.”1 Copan is making this statement in light of the penal sanctions expressed in the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.). Highlighting the death penalty for adultery, he appeals to 1Corinthians 5:1-5 where the man is caught having an affair with his step-mother. Copan thinks that the only role the Law of God is to play here is for excommunication from the church body, since that is what the apostle Paul says the Corinthians should do. I’m sorry to say this, but that’s just sloppy exegesis on his part. A shame really when you get right down to it, because in a lot of ways, Copan is a very bright individual.

“Where does he commit an error?” you ask. Great question, glad you asked it.

First off, let’s look at the sin the man is guilty of. It is true that he has committed adultery for he has slept with his father’s wife, but he’s also guilty of incest. Biblical law takes familial relationships very seriously, and when one is grafted into a family through adoption, etc., they are considered a genuine family member. The man has not only seen his father’s wife’s nakedness, but he has fornicated with one who is considered his mother.

  • “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness” (Lev 18.8).
  • “If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Lev 20.11)
  • “A man shall not take his father’s wife, so that he does not uncover his father’s nakedness” (Deut 22.30).
  • “Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen'” (Deut 27.20).

Second, notice the penalty is a death sentence. That alone makes many Westerner’s pause, reconsider and pull back. Is there really any crime deserving of death? God says there is. You say there isn’t. Who’s right? Well, unless you think you are God, then the answer seems rather simple. But surely we live in an age of grace such extreme (harsh, awful?) penalties are no longer applicable.

Hmmm, really? Again, I guess it depends on who you think you are. And you do realize that if you truly think this way you are calling the God of the Bible “harsh” and “awful.” I understand why unbelievers do this, but why you?

The death penalty is just, but there are limitations on how it may be applied. Let’s deal with the justice of it first, and then we’ll return to the limitations.


Why would the death penalty be just? How can taking the life of another be right? Two quick answers will settle it.

1) The punishment fits the crime. How you treat others, the Lord through His civil servants (cf. Rom 13.1-7) will do to you.

  • “If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him…You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God” (Lev 24.19-20, 22).
  • “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut 19.21).

**Obviously, the concern is for the victim not the perpetrator.

2) The punishment causes other criminal activity to lessen; evil doers don’t want to be blatant with breaking the law if there is quick retribution brought against them.

  • “So you shall purge evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. (Deut 19.19b-20; cf. 13.11).

The alternative is seeing crime rising in society, because civil rulers fail to do what is right and just according to the Word of the Lord.

  • “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8.11).

Do we not read of this in Israel’s history when they failed to abide by God’s judgments, seeking instead to do their own? Do we not see the fruit of this philosophy (cf. Eccl 8.11) in our own societies here in the West? We refuse to punish rapists, murders, child-molester’s, etc., speedily and with justice, preferring a man-made standard because the God of the Bible is too harsh, and so these individuals become more emboldened to continue running to harm their neighbors and shed blood. Justice would be better served if we did what was right in God’s eyes, and stopped pretending that we are the true kings.


There is a notable distinction that God makes between certain sins. Some are criminal in nature and deserve a negative civil sanction, others do not. For example, the 10th commandment is against coveting (desiring/lusting after) what is your neighbor’s (fellow human being’s) property. This is a sin that needs to be repented of, but there are not civil sanctions against it. How in the world can a judge (civil authority) discern another man’s heart? They can’t (we can’t), and so that type of sin is judged by God alone (cf. Jer 17.9-10). However, this is not the case with adultery (which actually falls under the umbrella of sexual fornication). Adultery, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, etc. are sins that God provides civil sanctions against—i.e. they are crimes.

However, there is a caveat that needs to be mentioned. While certain crimes (sins that) deserve a civil penalty, there are limitations on how one may prosecute them. There has to be evidence. Specifically, there has to be two-to-three lines of evidence, and we are not talking about circumstantial here, but direct evidence.

  • “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deut 19.15; italics mine).
  • “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Deut 17.6; italics added).

You could not convict someone of a crime deserving death without first meeting these necessary limitations. The people in question were innocent until proven guilty. Does that sound familiar? It should.

Moreover, the one being charged with a crime was protected from perjurers. If an individual or group of individuals brought false charges against another, and they were found guilty of lying, then they were the ones punished with the penalty that they sought against the other (Deut 19.16-19a). I cannot help but think of the Cavanaugh case in recent months as I contemplate the aforementioned verses.

Dare we say that these laws are from days gone by and are no longer applicable? Have you not read Matt 18:16 or 1Tim 5:19 or even Heb 10:28? Perhaps, you should for it is clear that their validity still stand.

“Wait a minute, if this is true, what about 1Cor 5? It seems that Copan does have a valid argument, since Paul did not insist on the things that you are claiming!” you say. Thank you, I appreciate the attentive nature of your reading. Please allow me to respond with the final thing that Copan failed to recognize in his hasty conclusion.

Understanding the Three Spheres of Governance…

Who was Paul speaking to in 1Cor 5? To what sphere of government was he referring to, in order to make a judgment against the man sexually fornicating with his stepmother? That’s right! Paul was speaking to the church in Corinth. There are three spheres of governance that God has established. Each sphere has a specific area of authority to rule and exercise godly dominion. They are the family, the church, and the state.

While it may be properly said that the Church has the authority to offer biblical guidance (godly counsel) to the other two spheres of governance (family and state), the Church through its elders, deacons and congregants2
has no right to rule in them. The parents are over their children, and the father is the head of them all in submission to his head—God. The civil magistrates are over their citizens, and they—the magistrates—are to be under their head who is God.3

Why is that important? Because, it would have been unlawful (against God’s Law and therefore sinful) for Paul to have the man sentenced to death. It was (is) beyond the sphere of authority for the Church of God (of Jesus Christ) to sentence a man to death, as they are not civil authorities.

However, they did offer the man a sentence of death in the sense that he was cut-off from the fellowship, handed over to Satan, and treated as an unbeliever. If the man failed to repent of this sin and plead the mercy of Christ in confession to the body from which he was forced out of, then his physical reality of being cut-off would be fully realized in the life to come. Being eternally damned, cast into darkness—bound and chained—where weeping and gnashing teeth is the norm.

The reason we do not see the application of the full penalty of these laws in existence today is not because they are invalid, but because we are rebellious sinners and our governments reflect this disposition. This should be obvious to the Christian living here in the states where many of the just laws of the past, based upon the Law-Word of God, have been slowly overturned and done away with. Why has this happened? Because the Church who should be counseling the nation’s civil leaders at all levels of government have been cowed into a corner, or they have truncated the gospel to a get out of hell free card, rather than standing for what is right and true.

While, I am saddened by Copan and other Christians for their confusion regarding these truths, I am not surprised as they are a product of a watered-down gospel; the gospel of the kingdom (rule) of God in Christ the King. Living in the land of relativists, we should not be baffled that many Christians are legal relativists to.



1 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 65.

2 There is no true hierarchy in the congregation/assembly of Jesus Christ. He alone is the head of His church. Though there are notable rules of leadership, no one person elder or otherwise has explicit rule over the people of God. All members of the covenant community are on equal footing, although there is a slight difference in the roles each one plays, dependent upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10.42-44; ESV).

3 It should be noted in God’s economy that the citizens of the city would carry out the punishment determined by the elders at the gate.

“The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all of the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deut 17.6).

Why? More than likely so that those who brought charges against another image bearer would not take lightly giving false testimony since God would hold them accountable for murder if they did so. No doubt this was also a testimony of zeal for the Name of God whose name had been defiled by the act of the criminal (cf. Num 25.1-11); as well as, the righteous vindication of the victim who had suffered at the hand of the wicked person being condemned.