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.)
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 https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/gods-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:
- 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).
- 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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