The Merciful God of the Old Testament

There is a gross manifestation that is once again gripping the attraction of this new and becoming era of academia of new discoveries in fields all across science. It is a problem that has existed in the Church for centuries. The issue is the same topic of debate since it first appeared. Except with one difference, which is that it is now disguised behind the mask of intellectualism. The topic in discussion is that the God of the Old Testament is an unjust and tyrannical God who is not great. Once again the accusation intends to, as it always has to expose the Church and end the Christian religion. However as history has proved the Bible has survived more than two thousand years of scrutiny and still remains as strong as it did before. Are the claims that argue against the God of the Old Testament really true? Appealing to the Old Testament and more specifically the Book of Deuteronomy one will see that there is insurmountable evidence that defends against these audacious accusations.

THE CASE FOR GOD IS NOT MERCIFUL

       The problem explained in more detail is that the God in the Old Testament is completely different from the God of the New Testament. The New Testament portrays a God of love and good virtue who inspired Paul to exhort believers to think upon things that are pure, right, and lovely (Philippians 4:8).In contrast to that some critics portray the God of the Old Testament as an unjust, maniacal, contradictory being who relishes in the destruction of innocent people groups. One of the worlds leading and most respected scientist in the secular world today, Richard Dawkins has stated the objection clear and argues that God is not a loving God in his book the God Delusion. The God of the Old Testament is arguable the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticide, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Richard Dawkin’s strong admonishment demands strong evidence. Another critic who offers a more complete view of the argument is Christopher Hitchens. He appeals to how the God of the Old Testament is terribly contradictory. In his book god is not Great he first points to what seems to be a weakness in the text by writing God establishes that, “Thou shall not murder” in Exodus 20:13 to which God then commands the Israelites to slaughter the people in the Israelite camp for their idolatry. In addition to this Christopher Hitchens also points to the massacre that occurred in Egypt when the Holy Spirit killed probably more then three thousand infants to bring to pass what Moses had warned the Egyptians about. Secondly, Christopher Hitchens goes on to argue that God’s Ten Commandments are foolishness.He states an obvious fact that the Ten Commandments are simply objective moral values, values that exist in all societies. Everyone inherently knows that it is not advantageous to steal, rape, murder, or covet. Thus what Christopher Hitchens is attacking is the fact that the commandments are not really commandments but facts of nature. Consequently serving no purpose for the Israelites because humans are born with moral values. Thirdly, Hitchens goes on to question why the commandments exclude laws about “the protection of children from cruelty,” rape, slavery and genocide. His point is that God forbids the Israelites to do everything except those actions that the Israelites are already practicing with the exception of murdering. The Israelites all throughout the Old Testament appear to be performing acts of slavery, genocide, and cruelty. And in other occurrences that would appear as rape. What Hitchens also tires to make more difficult to understand is why Moses commands the Israelites to stone their sons if they rebel against their parents and flee.

EVIDENCE FOR GODS GREAT MERCY

       Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins claims are strong however a simple and a more comprehensive understanding of the text in Deuteronomy and a thorough study in the Bible reveals that their claims are simply hasty generalizations. Beginning with Moses Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are essentially moral values that humans inherently live by with the exception of the first five commands. However before the Ten Commandments there were no other Laws that the Israelites had for their people. The Ten Commandments primary purpose was to show that the people of Israel are guilty before a Holy God. No one could follow the law it was impossible, which indicates the standard of the God of the Bible. God’s standard is so high that no one can ever be completely sinless.

Subsequently the rationale behind God’s command to order the Israelites to kill anything that breathes (Duet. 20:16) is because God had promised the Land of Canaan to the Israelites. Reading the entire Old Testament one cannot ignore the fact that God demands just rulers and just people. Moreover God does not take pleasure in destroying the wicked. In Ezekiel 33:11 it reads that, “So to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his own way and live; turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die. . .” Remember also the account of Jonah. God sends a prophet to Nineveh to warn them of the impending destruction to come if they do not repent. Deuteronomy 4:11 states, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” God pitied the Nineties. God had sorrow and compassion for the misfortune of these people. In addition to this before Moses’ time remember also the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God was deeply compassionate to save the people whose outcry was great against them, and “their sin [was] very grave” (Duet. 18:20). Abraham appeals to God five times and and pleads that if there are at-least ten who are righteous will God not spare them (Gn. 18:32). And God replies answering, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Duet. 18:32). God is extremely merciful and his judgment is right. These people’s sin’s were “grave.” The unjust will be punished and the just will be rewarded. With the Canaanites God had given them 400 hundred years to repent and turn from their wickedness (Gen. 15:13). The abominations of the Canaanites were also extensive (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:21, 24-30; Duet. 9:4-5, 12:29-31, 18:10). Richard Dawkins earlier accused God as being genocidal. This is the deliberate act of killing off a large group of people. Nowhere in the Bible does God command the Israelites to commit genocide. Dr. William Lane Craig points out that God is clearing the land for the people of Israel to dwell in. Those who opposed to leaving the cities were killed but if they had fled God did not condone the Israelites to go out beyond the land of Canaan to hunt after and slaughter every single Canaanite until they no longer existed. Thus God is not genocidal and neither does he want to destroy people groups unless they are to be punished. God used Israel as their divine judgment for not obeying Him. And God also used the Babylonians hundreds of years later to punish his own people for committing adultery and numerous of other sins.  Moreover the Assyrians were used to judge the Babylonians for their sins as well. Deuteronomy 7:9 that God has, “steadfast Love” and that, “God loves justice (Isa.61:8).” God is also perfect (Ps. 18:30). Thus God is perfectly just and perfectly loving. Dr. William Lane Craig argues that God is the objective moral standard of what is good and bad. Therefore he is able to determine what is punishable and not punishable and the acts of the Canaanites were acts deserving punishment.

Another example of God’s mercy is found in Deuteronomy 9. In this Chapter Moses recalls the account when Israel constructed the golden calf. When Moses had descended from the mountain with the law written on two tablets, there before him was Israel worshipping the calf. Despite the disobedience and faithlessness the Israelites displayed before their God, God still shows that He wants to be in a relationship with His people. After Moses reproofed the people God tells Moses to ascend the mountain again and rewrite the Law. Thus God is fully committed and dedicated to His people. Further evidence of God’s mercy displayed in Deuteronomy is chapter 10 verses 22. It states, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” Yet still today one can see that this promise is still true. The Jewish people are the oldest religious people that still exist from antiquity. God has not abandoned His people.

One controversial passage in Deuteronomy is chapter 13. Within the context of Moses warning God’s people to avoid idolatry by any means (Deut. 12:19-32) God gives Moses the message to kill anyone in the Israelite camp if they serve another god (13:6-18). This could appear envious and vindictive, yet God is still extending mercy upon His people. In the Shema (6:4-9) Moses clearly writes that there is only one God, and He alone desires all of our praises. Therefore if God the one who created all things is one, then for His people to serve other created things that are not gods is the real criminal act. God is protecting His people from Himself. That is, God is a Holy God (Isa. 6:3) and thus He cannot tolerate idolatry and sinfulness and must punish all sin because He is also just (Isa. 61:8). Consequently, God will punish whoever brings upon the disease of idolatry to spare the entire nation of Israel.

The most climatic point of God’s great mercy can be found in Chapter 28 through 30. Beginning in chapter 28 God promises all His people numerous blessings in they obey the commandments that have been given to the people (28:1-14). However if they do not obey the commandments that have been given to them they shall receive a significant amount of curses (v.15-68). This is important to note that perhaps 80 percent of chapter 28 is curses. For the reason that God demands faithfulness and obedience from His people or else they will experience His complete wrath. Since God is a one merciful God only does one fully understands how much God loves His people, until one fully understand how much God hates sin. When one realizes the seriousness for the consequences of sin, one can see the beauty of God’s love for His people when He choose to enter into a convent relationship with sinners, which is renewed in chapter 29. Finally in chapter 30 one reads that God will forgive His people if they turn and repent. There is no argument to suggest that God is not merciful. The evidence is clear and has been made explicit. The God of the Old Testament, like the New Testament is a merciful God.


            [1]I will use the ESV throughout, unless otherwise noted.

            [2]Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 1st Mariner Books ed. (Boston [Mass.]: Mariner Books, 2008), 51.

            [3]Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great : How Religion Poisons Everything, 1st trade ed. (New York: Twelve Hachette Book Group, 2009), 99-102.

            [4]Ibid., 98-101.

            [5]Ibid., 100.

            [6]Ibid., 106.

            [7]William Lane Craig, Slaughter the Canaanites. [on-line] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites.

            [8]William Lane Craig and William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith : Christian Truth and Apologetics, Rev. ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), 172-79.

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3 thoughts on “The Merciful God of the Old Testament

  1. Nice blog! I also wrote up a response today on the very same Richard Dawkins quote that you referred to:

    “Let’s look at the God of the Old Testament from the perspective of the Israelites. It’s almost odd that the Israelites even follow this God and consider the Old Testament the sure Word of God – nearly every book is full of condemning indictments and prophecies against the Israelites. So why do the Israelites even follow this Bible and this God?

    “Because the God of the Old Testament is jealous for the Israelites and happy to be that way; he is unjust in how often He forgives and attempts to redeem the Israelites over their petty idols; He is an almighty protector, saving His people from many wars and giving them victory in many bloody battles that the Israelites should have lost; He is a God that gave many children to barren women, gave important roles to women like Ruth and Esther, would establish a bloodline from King David leading to a young girl named Mary; He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah not for their sexual sin but for their selfishness; He let most families prosper more than they deserved and promises and fulfilled abundance for many families; He often gave favor to the second-borns over the firsts; He often brought His people out of exile and slavery; He regularly showed His divine power through mass providence for His people; He found pleasure in keeping His people out of harm; and He loved them all so much that He ended up jumping in front of the bullet and dying for them.

    “Why the Israelites? When God created the universe, he decided the Milky Way would be the most holy galaxy; He decided that Earth would be the most holy planet; that Israel would be the most holy land; Israelites, the most holy people; Levites, the most holy tribe.

    “So now, with the way the God of the Old Testament treated His holy people, why would we be complaining that the God of the New Testament (which is the same god, mind you) wishes to turn the whole world into Levites, turn the whole world into His favored and forgiven people?”

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