I have long been puzzled by a seeming dichotomy at the heart of the Bible: the character of God as shown in the Old Testament vs the New Testament. So a few weeks I decided to embark on a study of the subject in order to get some clarity.
What I’m seeing so far:
– God did not seem to have a problem with slavery. Exodus 21 details laws around the treatment of slaves, including advice when selling one’s daughter as a sex slave, as well as guidelines for beating servants. (A beating is an acceptable form of disciplining slaves, as long as it doesn’t cause long-term injury or death.)
– God mandated many battles, too numerous to count (although I’m sure some scholar somewhere has done this), including the familiar story of the destruction of the city of Jericho (Joshua 6). In modern times we call this kind of action a number of things: invasion, ethnic cleansing or genocide.
I stopped reading this story to my children years ago when I realized that the sanitized version in their Bible story books was very, very far from the reality. Actually, this goes for a lot of the Old Testament!
(Incidentally, when one of the Israelites decided to keep some of the spoils of war for himself, contrary to the Lord’s command, Joshua stoned and then burnt him, as well as his sons and his daughters. This, according to the writer, appeased the anger of the Lord. (Joshua 7:24-36)
– Infringement of the Sabbath, including gathering sticks on the Sabbath, was given the sentence of death by stoning. This is recorded as being a direct command from the Lord (Numbers 32:36).
– God gives permission for the men to take female prisoners of war as their wives. If they weren’t pleased with her, they could let her go. “If you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free.” In modern times wouldn’t we call this rape?
Also, set her free to what? To wander around in a foreign land, with no way to support herself (all her male relatives having been killed in war) other than presumably prostitution?
– God does not seem to have a problem with infanticide, as long as it concerns the children of the enemy: “Happy shall he be who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” (Psalm 137:9)
Many Christians respond to these kinds of verses (as I have done for many years) by saying that Jesus brought a new dispensation, that we are no longer under the law, but under grace. But how does this work in terms of the unchangeable nature of God
(James 1:17, Malachi 3:6)? The fact that God commanded these things surely says a lot about his character. How do we reconcile this to the God of love that we learn about in the New Testament?
I would love to hear your thoughts.