Have you ever considered that the way the Bible portrays God is very immoral. If you carefully read the stories you find that God is attributed to doing things that if anyone else did them we would declare that person immoral. Yet of course we believe God is moral. So the challenge is how do we understand these stories of the Bible. We look closely at some of these stories and endeavour to provide a way to understand them and yet show that God is indeed moral as Jesus reveals.
IS GOD MORAL?
Some incidents in the Old Testament portray God as immoral, harsh, and arbitrary.
Does God define kindness, love, morality or can we decide if God is kind, loving and moral. Moral: concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character.
Here is an example. Part of the punishment for David’s adultery with Bathsheba was 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NLT
“This is what the LORD says: Because of what you (David) have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. 12 You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”
The biblical passage is emphatic that this is the LORD’s doing. It is not the prophet Nathan’s idea but the LORD’s.
There are going to be two punishments for David’s adultery with Bathsheba, 1. The LORD will cause his family to rebel against David This happened when Absalom rebelled against David (2 Samuel 15). 2. The LORD will inspire another man to have sex with his wives in public view. Ahithophel counselled Absalom to do so to make the rebellion irreversible (2 Samuel 16:21). According to the story it must have been the LORD who inspired Ahithophel to give this advise to Absalom.
Is this advice moral? Was it fair to the women involved? Who is the LORD loving with this punishment? What does this story tell us about God?
Usually incidents like this one are glossed over as they seem to contradict the picture we have of a loving, fair or just God. Is there an explanation that exonerates God as a moral being. Are we missing something in the story or was the author missing something? It is possible to interpret stories in the light of the larger picture given by the scriptures.
In 1 Samuel chapter 28 the dead prophet Samuel literally dialogues with king Saul in verses 15-19.
15 “Why have you disturbed me by calling me back?” Samuel asked Saul. “Because I am in deep trouble,” Saul replied. “The Philistines are at war with me, and God has left me and won’t reply by prophets or dreams. So I have called for you to tell me what to do.” 16 But Samuel replied, “Why ask me, since the LORD has left you and has become yourenemy? 17 The LORD has done just as he said he would. He has torn the kingdom from you and given it to your rival, David. 18 The LORD has done this to you today because you refused to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites. 19 What’s more, the LORD will hand you and the army of Israel over to the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me. The LORD will bring down the entire army of Israel in defeat.” “Instead of protecting his sheep, the shepherd king had turned into a predator, sleeping with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband. (Ann Spangler, "Less than perfect" 216) Annihilationist’s are adamant that this cannot literally be true because of their correct understanding of the State of the Dead. The literal words of the Bible are denied in this passage because of a larger understanding. They explain this one passage correctly with many good arguments to show that it was not Samuel who was talking to Saul but an evil spirit impersonating Samuel.
If this is true then the precedent is made. Any event described must fit the larger picture. The literal words are not the final arbitrator of what happened.
Jesus brought us the best picture of God since he is God (Hebrews 1:1-3). According to Jesus, God loves all people on the planet with an unconditional love which defines his grace. Any passage which appears to contradict this larger picture of God must be interpreted. We must be consistent about the character of God.
Old Testament writers were not aware of the existence of a supernatural, invisible, evil being who was working in opposition to God. We are of course referring to the devil whom Jesus revealed in many instances.
The Satan referred to in the Old Testament is not who we understand the devil to be. Satan for the OT writers was the equivalent of our public prosecutor who is there to uncover the truth of the matter. In the story of Job he wanted the selfishness of Job exposed. In this sense Satan was regarded as a servant of God.
Satan is referred to in Job 1, 1 Chronicles 21 and Zechariah 3. All these references are written about 500 BCE. The first two chapters of Job are different stylistically from the rest of the book. Job never knew about the existence of Satan and blames God repeatedly for his suffering.
Here are some incidents which suggest we need to discern an alternative to the literal wording.
The flood of Noah (Genesis 6).
The text is certain God causes the flood. It is possible that those people who lived for almost a1000 years were able to damage the ecology of the earth to the extent that a flood occurred. The flood was the opposite of day two of creation where God separated the waters. We are now in a position to destroy the earth with nuclear weapons or with global warming or with pollution of the air, land and water.
Rachel Carson in her classic environmental study, Silent Spring, quotes Albert Schweitzer, Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth. He is prophetic and profound.
The serpents bite Israel (Numbers 21).
Moses wrote that God sent the serpents because the Israelites rebelled and murmured in Numbers 21. In Deuteronomy 8:15 Moses tells us the serpents were always there and God protected Israel. Rebellion forces God away and venomous snakes were part of the consequences.
Plagues sent to punish Israel
1 Chronicles 21:14 NLT So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel, and 70,000 people died as a result. This was after David numbered Israel against the wishes of Joab his army commander. How is it fair to punish the nation for the king’s bad choice? This does not bother the writer of Chronicles at all. The people did not sin, David did. Killing 70,000 people for the king’s sin is immoral, unfair, arbitrary and many more pejorative adjectives can be used. In 2 Samuel 24:1 it is The LORD who causes David to number Israel as opposed to Satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1. How shall reconcile these contradictory accounts as we are sure the LORD and Satan are not working together. The answer lies in dating the two accounts. Samuel is written about 1000 BCE. Chronicles is written about 500 BCE. By this time the idea of Satan as a prosecutor was accepted in Israel as Zechariah 3 demonstrates.
Deuteronomy 28:58-62 NLT If you refuse to obey all the words of instruction that are written in this book, and if you do not fear the glorious and awesome name of the LORD your God, 59 then the LORD will overwhelm you and your children with indescribable plagues. These plagues will be intense and without relief, making you miserable and unbearably sick. 60 He will afflict you with all the diseases of Egypt that you feared so much, and you will have no relief. 61 The LORD will afflict you with every sickness and plague there is, even those not mentioned in this Book of Instruction, until you are destroyed. 62 Though you become as numerous as the stars in the sky, few of you will be left because you would not listen to the LORD your God.
The Lord is going to harshly punish them and their children with devastating plagues and diseases.
Numbers 25:10-11 NLT Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into his tent, right before the eyes of Moses and all the people, as everyone was weeping at the entrance of the Tabernacle.* 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear 8 and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. So the plague against the Israeliteswas stopped, 9 but not before 24,000 people had died. 10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by being as zealous among them as I was. So I stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my zealous anger.
The plague from the LORD caused by sexual immorality kills 24,000 Israelites.
Amos 4:10 NLT “I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and led all your horses away.* The stench of death filled the air! But still you would not return to me,” says the LORD.
This is a mixed message. “I send plagues and war to devastate you, but you don’t return to me!”
Jeremiah 19:8-9 NLT
I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will gasp at the destruction they see there. that your enemies lay siege to the city until all the food is gone. Then those trapped inside will eat 9 I will see to it their own sons and daughters and friends. They will be driven to utter despair.
This happened when the Babylonians besieged and then destroyed Jerusalem. It is interesting that God claims he did this. Does this mean he inspired the Babylonians to destroy the city? Apparently, there is no end to the horror of the punishment God will inflict on his people if we read the words literally.
Ezekiel 14:21-23 NLT LORD “Now this is what the Sovereign says: How terrible it will be when all four of these dreadful punishments fall upon Jerusalem—war, famine, wild animals, and disease—destroying all her people and animals. here to join you as exiles in Babylon. You will see with your own eyes how wicked they are, and 22 Yet there will be survivors, and they will come then you will feel better about what I have done to Jerusalem. 23 When you meet them and see
their behavior, you will understand that these things are not being done to Israel without cause. I, the Sovereign, LORD have spoken!”
These four punishments or curses are the covenantal curses described in Leviticus 26 for disobedience. They also describe the four horsemen of the seven seals in Revelation 6.
There are the Ten Plagues on Egypt (Exodus ) and the seven last plagues (Revelation 16).
Genesis 15:16 “Amorite’s cup of iniquity is not yet full.”
The implication is that when it is full, they can be obliterated.
The Old Testament prophets did not separate prediction and causation.
When God predicted the flood, they assumed God caused the flood (Genesis 6).
When God predicted the fall of Jerusalem, the Israelites believed God destroyed Jerusalem as a punishment. It was, however, first the Babylonians and then the Romans who destroyed the city (Jeremiah 7:14; Luke 21:5-6)
When God predicted the result of sin to be death, it was assumed that God kills sinners (Deuteronomy 32:39-43; Leviticus 26:16, 20, 22, 25, 29; Job 1:21; Ruth 1:20-21; 1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 50:16, 22; Isaiah 45:7). Jesus came, in part, to correct this monstrous idea (John 10:10-11).
The Prophets also did not separate correlation and causation.
When an evil spirit possessed king Saul his servants concluded it was from God because God had anointed Saul through Samuel and so God must be controlling Saul, his divinely appointed king (1 Samuel 16:14-23).
Jesus addresses the issue of causation before he heals the man blind from birth
John 9:1-3 NLT As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
Jesus had to correct the disciple’s idea on the causation of the man’s blindness. In John 10:10 Jesus will state that this blindness was caused by the thief or the devil who stole away his sight.
We need to understand verse three.
Jesus is not saying the man was born blind so he could come along a few decades later and miraculously give him sight. Two translations get the correct meaning: 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
“No, it wasn't!” Jesus answered. “But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him. CEV
Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. MSG
The Greek word translated “so” in verse three is “hina.” Hina can also be translated as “and.” It is up to the translators as to which English word to use. If “and” is used it puts God in the correct light.
In this case the translation would be: “This happened and the power of God will be seen in him.” The man is blind and Jesus is going to heal him. He was not born blind so Jesus can heal him.
In the Old Testament justice is administered according to lex talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This is limited retributive justice. This system was better than anarchy where passion decided the retribution. Jesus teaches a different justice system. “Do not resist and evil person (Matthew 5:39.” It is not commonly practiced even among Christians. This injunction describes the restorative justice of God. It is the description of heaven’s morality. This is the reason the controversy between good and evilhas taken so long.
Ian Hartley, May 2022.