The Love of God in the OT Pt.1

Rev. Cameron C. Swanson

August 26, 2016

 

Greetings and Salutations,

To all who may enjoy this site and blog, I pray that you will be blessed by it.

**As a disclaimer, all Bible quotations are taken from the 2011 New International Version (NIV).**

Many people think that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are completely different but I find that to be far from true.  The God of the Old and New Testament are one and the same:  Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

     Many people now understand that Christ was present in the Old Testament in what were called “Christophanies or “theophanies.” Basically, these are times where the angel of the Lord appears to people, and Joshua meets the commander of the Lords armies, and this person (he appeared human, as Joshua was not afraid to approach him) accepted Joshua’s worship (Joshua 5).   We also know that the Holy Spirit was very present and active in the lives of the Old Testament saints.  The major difference between the Old and New Testaments was that the Spirit of God did not permanently live in the bodies of His people in the Old Testament as he now does in New Testament times.

So….if Christ and the Spirit of God are so active in the Old Testament, why does God seem so cruel and harsh in the Old Testament? 

In actuality, I think that if we take a closer look at the Old Testament, we will see the love of God woven throughout all 39 books.  First, I will open with a short video illustration.  In this video below, Dr. Ravi Zacharias illustrates how books like Hosea demonstrate and depict the love of God in the Old Testament

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4jLSSVjTJU

But before we progress to Hosea, let’s go to the specific “problem passages” that people wrestle with.  Specifically, let’s look at Deuteronomy and Joshua:

Deuteronomy 20:10-20 New International Version (NIV)

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

     So we see first of all that there was a high standard of ethical treatment involved.  Although the women, children and livestock could be taken as “plunder” or “spoils,” this is not the same as indiscriminately killing people.

     However, there are 6 targeted nations or ethnic groups that God called the Israelites to wipe out completely, and we will deal with this text……..verse 16

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

God told the people not to leave any alive of these nations/ethnic groups.  Is that too harsh? Is that too cruel? What was involved in the worship of their gods.

One big reason of the elimination of these groups was that the gods they worshipped and sacrificed to were actually demons, and part of their worship rituals included child sacrifices.

God then moves on and tells the people to preserve the land around them, so that innocent people would not starve….

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

     But if we go back to this passage about those 6 nations, it is problematic.  In fact, Because of such things, biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins describes God as, among other things, “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”Dawkins also complains about God’s jealous rage over the worship of other gods. “One cannot help,” he says, “marveling at the extraordinarily draconian view taken of the sin of flirting with rival gods. To our modern sense of values and justice it seems a trifling sin compared to, say, offering your daughter for a gang rape” (referring to Lot offering his daughters in exchange for the angels). “It is yet another example,” he continues, “of the disconnect between scriptural and modern (one is tempted to say civilized) morals. . . . The tragi-farce of God’s maniacal jealousy against alternative gods recurs continually through the Old Testament.”

The actions of the Israelites are often called genocide. Is this a legitimate use of the term?The word genocide was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew.According to Article II of the United Nation’s Genocide Convention of 1948, the term genocide means a major action “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Some twentieth-century examples are the massacre of Armenian Christians by Turks in 1915 and 1916, the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s, and the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994. Going by this definition alone, the destruction of the Canaanites was genocide.But there is a major difference between these events and the Israelite conquest of Canaan. The twentieth-century examples were basically people killing people simply because they hated them and/or wanted their land. The Canaanites, by contrast, were destroyed at the direction of God and primarily because of their sin. Because the Canaanites’ destruction was believed to be directed by God, obviously atheists will not find anything acceptable in what happened. If the atheists are correct in their naturalistic understanding of the world—that there is no God, no supernatural; that religion is just a human institution; that all the universe contains is nature; and that people are the products of random evolution—then the Israelites were no different than Hitler or other Ancient Near Eastern people who slaughtered people simply to take their lands.However, once the biblical doctrines of God and of sin are taken into consideration, the background scenery changes and the picture looks very different. There is only one true God, and that God deserves all honor and worship. Furthermore, justice must respond to the moral failure of sin. The Canaanites were grossly sinful people who were given plenty of time by God to change their ways. They had passed the point of redeemability, and were ripe for judgment.  The doctrines of God and of sin put this in a different light.

[https://bible.org/article/yahweh-war-and-conquest-canaan].  The part that concerns us here—the real culmination of Yahweh war—is called ḥerem. Ḥerem literally means “ban” or “banned.” It means to ban from human use and to give over completely to God. The ESV and NIV give a fuller understanding of the term by translating it “devote to destruction” (the NASB renders it “set apart”). Exodus 22:20 reads, “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.” Deuteronomy 7:2, speaking of the conquest of the land, says, “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.” Tremper Longman writes that “ḥerem refers to the climactic aspect of divine warfare: the offering of the conquered people and their possessions to the Lord.”https://bible.org/article/yahweh-war-and-conquest-canaan

goal of the conquest was the judgment of the Canaanites. Driving them out wasn’t simply a way of making room for Israel. The Canaanites were an evil, depraved people who had to be judged to fulfill the demands of justice. What about these people prompted such a harsh judgment?For one thing, the Canaanites worshiped other gods. In our pluralistic age, it’s easy to forget what an offense that is to the true God. This sounds almost trivial today. As noted previously, Richard Dawkins mocks this “jealous” God. But since Yahweh is the true God who created us, He is the one who ought to be worshiped.In the worship of their gods, the Canaanites committed other evils. They engaged in temple prostitution which was thought to be a re-enactment of the sexual unions of the gods and goddesses. Writes Bernhard Anderson.  The cooperation with the powers of fertility involved the dramatization in the temples of the story of Baal’s loves and wars. Besides the rehearsal of this mythology, a prominent feature of the Canaanite cult was sacred prostitution (see Deut. 23:18). In the act of temple prostitution the man identified himself with Baal, the woman with Ashtart [or Ashtoreth, the mother goddess]. It was believed that human pairs, by imitating the action of Baal and his partner, could bring the divine pair together in fertilizing union.{18}Although the worship of other gods and temple prostitution might not be sufficient grounds for the overthrow of the Canaanites in the eyes of contemporary atheists, another of their practices should be. In their worship of their gods, Canaanites engaged in the detestable practice of child sacrifice.The people of Canaan were viciously cruel. Christopher Hitchens speaks of the “Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites” who were “pitilessly driven out of their homes to make room for the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel.”{19} (“Ungrateful” and “mutinous” are silly charges in themselves. Ungrateful to whom? I don’t recall the Canaanites issuing an open invitation for the Israelites to move in. And mutinous? Did the Canaanites have some kind of inherent rights to the land? They had taken it from other peoples earlier.) One might get the impression from Hitchens that these were good people (maybe in the mold of good modern Westerners of liberal persuasion) who were just minding their business when out of the blue came this ferocious band of peace-hating Israelites who murdered them and robbed them of their just possession! To speak of the Israelites being “pitiless” with respect to the Canaanites is worse than the pot calling the kettle black. Apparently Mr. Hitchens hasn’t bothered to read up on these people! If he had, he wouldn’t feel so sentimental about their demise. Writes Paul Copan, The aftermath of Joshua’s victories are featherweight descriptions in comparison to those found in the annals of the major empires of the ANE [Ancient Near East]–whether Hittite and Egyptian (second millennium), Aramaean, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, or Greek (first millennium). Unlike Joshua’s brief, four-verse description of the treatment of the five kings (10:24–27), the Neo-Assyrian annals of Asshurnasirpal (tenth century) take pleasure in describing the atrocities which gruesomely describe the flaying of live victims, the impaling of others on poles, and the heaping up of bodies for display.In addition to the Old Testament claims about child sacrifice by the Canaanites, there is extra-biblical evidence found by archaeologists as well.Under the sanctuary in the ancient city of Gezer, urns containing the burnt bones of children have been found that are dated to somewhere between 2000 and 1500 BC, between the time of Abraham and the Exodus.{21} The practice continued among the Canaanites (and sometimes even among the Israelites) even up to the time Israel was deported to Assyria in the late eighth century BC. Jon D. Levenson, professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard, reports that thousands of urns containing human and animal bones were found in Carthage. “These human bones are invariably of children, and almost all of them contain the remains of not one but two children, usually from the same family, one often a newborn and the other 2-4 years of age.” It is highly doubtful the urns represent a funerary custom, he says. “The frequency with which the urns were deposited makes it unlikely that natural death could account for all such double deaths in families in a city of such size.  https://bible.org/article/yahweh-war-and-conquest-canaan

So if God is eternal and his sense of justice and hatred of sin are eternal and infinite, we must trust God that he had moral reasons for the extermination of these people groups, even if we disagree or don’t understand.   We must remember that even in the time of Abram (later changed to Abraham), God predicted that the people of Israel would come to the land of Canaan (modern Iraq) and that would be their inheritance….But then the Lord says something very interesting to Abram:

Genesis 15:12-17 New International Version (NIV)

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

“The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.  What does this mean? Could it be that God was watching the people of Canaan in the time of Genesis and Abraham to see if they would repent, and 400 years later they still had not repented, even though the Lord waited patiently and lovingly for over 400 years from Abraham to Joshua, and so God used people of Israel as his instrument of judgment on the Canaanites?

MORE TO COME….

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