The Cliff Notes
People often ask, “If God is love, why was the Old Testament God so violent?”. They position the Old Testament God vs New testament God as if they were somehow two very different Beings. When we look at the way God dealt with humanity prior to Jesus, it is possible to point out things that would appear to contrast. But do they?
As Christians, we cannot simply ignore this concern. Truthfully, even devout believers can struggle with the concept of the old testament. As Israel was being led by God to the promised land and toward the coming of the Messiah, there were some pretty intense times including wars, death, and destruction delivering hardship both upon God’s people and by their hands, even at the Father’s command.
If you just pull out Old Testament events, without proper context, they seem to be a far cry from Jesus. The alleged discrepancy has provided talking points for devout atheists like Richard Dawkins. In his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably 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, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Needless to say, his feelings are strong, but his argument isn’t. It’s important to note that the atheistic view does not give Dawkins the liberty of good or evil. If there is no God, there is no absolute standard. Right and wrong are objective and subject to the mere opinion of the individual. Dawkins, himself, claims that we not responsible for our actions. He states “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
So Richard Dawkins and many other skeptics don’t really have a dog in the fight when it comes to Old testament God vs New Testament God arguments. By their worldview, good and evil don’t exist. Nonetheless, there is an explanation for why violent wars and events occurred in the Old Testament.
If you want to learn more about the Old testament God vs New Testament God comparison, I highly recommend Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan
Even the phrase “Old Testament God vs New Testament God” is not accurate, at all. They are the same God. So, did God change? No! When we look at the events of the old testament, we find God’s people in a completely different covenant from the one we are in, through Jesus.
A covenant is a promise or agreement between 2 parties. God has always had covenants with humanity.
According to Genesis, humanity chose to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This directly disobeyed God. Humanity fell to sin, but immediately God set out a path for restoration. That meant first establishing new terms for His relationship with humanity. Through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, we see the Israelites covenantal journey toward a greater promise. One day a Messiah (Jesus), would come and restore all back to God.
The journey was difficult. In the Old Testament, God was establishing a temporary, non ideal, agreement between He and His people. The law that was given to Moses both showed humanity right and wrong, but also we could never live up to God’s standard of perfection on our own.
Sin, idolatry, and rebellion led to death and destruction. Unfortunately, Israel continuously fell away from God and into sin.
Forgiveness of sins in the Old Covenant came in the form of atonement. That was accomplished through ritual sacrifice by which the blood of an animal was shed in place as temporary payment for sins. This, of course, was a type and shadow of the complete forgiveness that would come through the sacrifice of Christ.
Throughout history, we find God’s judgement coming on nations through battle. God’s people were not even immune to this. There were times when God’s people had to go to war with the nations around them. This is where most of the Old Testament God vs New Testament God comparisons are used.
In seasons of disobedience, Israel suffered huge losses on the battlefield. They were overtaken, exiled, oppressed, and enslaved. The skeptics claiming that the God of the Bible “committed evil acts”, however, point to the instances where, under His direction, Israel defeated her enemies.
Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges come under scrutiny, accusing God of atrocities. As the Israelites pursued their Promised Land, the Canaanites stood in their way. Through Moses, Israel is told to “utterly destroy” them, leaving no-one alive. At first glance, this Old Covenant God vs New Covenant God sounds to most of us as a harsh and cruel command coming from a supposedly loving God.
However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 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.
For so many skeptics, the Canaanite story is a focal point in comparing what they would deem an “immoral” Old Testament God vs New Testament God that is touted as loving by Christianity. For the sake of this article, let’s closely examine the account of the Canaanites and hopefully dispel the criticism.
First, let’s look at the Canaanite culture and what was taking place. The Canaanites were known for all sorts of terrible sins against God. Perhaps the most abominable of all is the child sacrifice to Moloch. Moloch was a false god. The Canaanites would light a fire inside the metal statue of Moloch and murder their babies, cooking them on the red hot hands that were extended from the statue. This is what God was referring to when He said:
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 both wanted to stop this terrible ritual and keep Israel from temptation of worshipping of false idols.
It’s important to note that the reports of child sacrifice are not only a biblical account. Several historians and philosophers have written about his. Plutarch, the first century philosopher wrote this account of atrocities.
… but with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums that the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.
Plutarch, De Superstitione 171
So, for all the times we hear atheists and skeptics question God’s intervention (or claim the lack thereof) concerning evil, here is a clear case where God did something about it.
Read More: Epicurus God Quote | Good and Evil
You may be thinking, “That’s horrible! Isn’t killing everyone too harsh?”. What would Jesus do? Consider these factors:
Let’s further consider factor #3 above. Hyperbole was very common in ancient culture pertaining to war. Even a marginal victory in the stories passed down were presented as if it were completely one-sided and the description of events embellished for impact.
We still talk like this today! It’s not uncommon to hear things like “The Rangers got destroyed by the New York Islanders last night!? Did a hockey team literally wipe another off the face of the earth? No. Its language we use to describe that our team won. This is likely the case in the scriptures as the words pass through the filter of human culture and language.
Understanding this brings more light to the Old Covenant vs New Covenant Conversation. A great example would be in Deuteronomy 7:2,3.
“…and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons…”
If God meant to literally kill everyone, why did He warn them also not to intermarry with them?
In Joshua, it says the predecessor of Moses was said to have done “everything commanded of him” (Joshua 22:2) yet the Israelites welcome Rahab and later we see him including Canaanite descendants in the reading of the Law. (Joshua 8:34). Cities like Jericho were conquered and Israel’s enemies suffered many causalities, but there were large numbers that lived in the countryside that were not “utterly destroyed”.
Hyperbolic language was certainly present in describing the victories of Israel.
The point of this article is that we have to look deeper before drawing conclusions around differences of an Old Testament God vs New Testament God. They are the same God Whom we find interacting with people through 2 different covenants. The accounts of the Old Covenant are from a time where God is allowing mankind to work its way through a non-ideal arrangement, judged by our works, where we are separated by the very presence of sin and not yet possessing the promise of full reconciliation.
The New Covenant, however, offers complete restoration and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. This is not just for a nation, but all people! Because man is now redeemed, there is no place for war, conquering civilizations, sickness, hunger, and all the other things that harm humanity. Unfortunately, these things still exist because much of the world fails to realize the fullness of God’s promises.
Our prayer for you at Sound of Heaven is that we would awaken to realize that God is the same today, yesterday, and forever. By understanding the Old Covenant vs. New Covenant, we can discover the journey of mankind through our history and acknowledge the present day victory available through Jesus.
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