The Old Testament God

It has become rather commonplace to denigrate the God of the Old Testament (usually assuming from the outset that He is a different God than the God of the New Testament). For instance, Richard Dawkins says about Him the following in a now rather famous quotation from his book The God Delusion:

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.

I was just reading a book of Ezekiel essays, and a few of those essays say much the same thing, if a bit less rhetorically high-handed.

There are a number of things one could say in answer to these charges. The first thing I want to draw attention to is the most quoted Old Testament verses in the Old Testament. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what that quotation is? That’s right, you guessed it! Exodus 34:6-7, which say this: “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” These verses, or parts of them, are quoted in the following places: Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 111:4, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, and possibly Micah 7:18. It seems fairly plain, when once these passages are looked up, that there is a significant difference (to understate things rather drastically!) between Dawkins’s understanding of the Old Testament God and the Old Testament’s view of the Old Testament God.

It is important to notice that Dawkins seems to be laboring under the (mis)impression that, if there is a God, He owes His creatures something. The facts concerning the Fall into sin make it rather plain that God owes humanity nothing. The fact that any humans at all get to breathe, live, eat, and procreate is a marvel of grace in and of itself. Anything less than annihilation of the human race (which would have been perfectly just!) is pure grace. What, after all, should the God of the universe do when His creation spits in His face, and tries to take Him off His rightful throne, and usurp His place? Instead of destroying mankind utterly, God not only let them live, but He provided a promise of salvation right in Genesis 3, that there would one day come a seed of the woman which would crush the head of the serpent. This alone ought to answer the questions about the supposed “ethnic cleansing.” A closer look at the passages dealing with the Israelites’ destruction of the Canaanites reveals that God delayed His judgment on those sinful people by many long years, giving them opportunities to repent (“the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” for instance, in Genesis 15:16). The wickedness of the people driven out is constantly the reason for judgment. God owes them nothing.

Is God jealous? Yes, but what definition of jealous are we meaning by the term? The Bible says that God’s name is jealous (Exodus 34:14). But we tend to import our human understanding of jealousy into the word, and then refashion God into our own image. God’s jealousy is for our good. He does not want us to worship any other god, for the other “gods” are all false. If we have a relationship with the one true God, then we have the greatest good of all. God does not want to share that relationship with anyone or anything else. It is similar to the proper jealousy of a spouse: a spouse does not want to share that exclusive relationship with anyone else.

Does God hate women? No doubt today’s radical feminists would disagree with me here (as would Dawkins!), but I would have to say no. Woman is clearly represented as a full image-bearer, having the image of God stamped on them, just like men (Genesis 1). Just because they are not heads of the marriage does not mean they are hated, any more than a colonel is hated just because he is one rank below general. There is to be love and understanding between a husband and wife (Genesis 2).

Does God hate homosexual people? More and more when I get this answer, I just direct people to Rosaria Butterfield’s book, which says it SO much better than I ever could. Read that book and you will understand what God says about it in His Word, and how Christians, incidentally, should treat the homosexual population. I will only say this: God loved all His children, even while they were yet His enemies.

Is God racist? This is really the most puzzling one of the bunch. All races come from Noah, and all races come from Adam. The main promise of the Old Testament God to Abraham is that God would make him a blessing to all nations. Exactly how is this racist? The fundamental covenantal structure of the Old Testament is that God’s solution to Adam’s messing up the world would include bringing about a salvation that has equal scope.

Dawkins probably got the “infanticidal” from the story of King David and his son, which is the only possible place I could even imagine such a charge coming up. But what does God owe to any human being? Does the potter owe anything to the pot? No, the pot owes everything to the potter. Besides, why should Dawkins object if God simply weeds out someone would probably (under Dawkins’s belief system) be not the fittest? Survival of the fittest targets infants as weaker people. Dawkins is much more akin to infanticidal than God ever thought of being. With God, an infant is a human being, created in God’s image right from conception. With Dawkins, an infant is a piece of tissue until birth. Which view is more infanticidal?

Filicidal? How does Dawkins get that from the Old Testament? Yes, there is the promise of the suffering servant, and yes, Jesus is present in the Old Testament, according to the New Testament. But usually this charge is directed against the New Testament God for “killing His Son.” But the Son laid down His own life. No one took it from Him. It was a sacrifice for sins so that we might have salvation.

Is God capricious? No. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, and yet not allowing the guilty to escape punishment. This one would need to address specific passages that Dawkins had in mind, and since we don’t know those passages, it is fruitless to try to answer his query. From the standpoint of one who believes in the Old Testament God, I find God to be amazingly consistent, and the very farthest thing from arbitrary. I will say this: just because God does not always explain His reason for doing such and such a thing, does not mean that a reason is non-existent. He may have a reason that He does not choose to tell us. This is, in fact, the burden of God’s message to Job in the last part of that book. God is not answerable to human beings. We are answerable to Him.

8 Comments

  1. November 20, 2014 at 6:38 am

    […] There are a number of things one could say in answer to these charges. Continue reading → […]

  2. roberty bob said,

    November 20, 2014 at 11:13 am

    The Lord our God is jealous with regard for his bride — his covenant people — in the same way that a loving husband treasures and protects his wife so that she will not be found in the arms of another man.

    This kind of jealousy is a good attribute, and one for which we who are the beloved of God should be thankful.

    If Dawkins, and those who share his views, would open themselves up to the Divine love, then they would appreciate the beauty of it and be thankful too.

  3. November 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    He won’t strive with them forever. Of course a faulty view of God always involves a faulty view of self. John MacArthur ” one must understand how lost he is and his utter spiritually bankruptcy to understand God and his need for salvation.”

  4. November 21, 2014 at 12:02 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  5. Greg said,

    November 21, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    “Dawkins is much more akin to infanticidal than God ever thought of being.”

    Just as Jeremiah wrote:

    (7:30-31) “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

  6. November 23, 2014 at 8:05 am

    […] The Old Testament God – “From the standpoint of one who believes in the Old Testament God, I find God to be amazingly consistent, and the very farthest thing from arbitrary. I will say this: just because God does not always explain His reason for doing such and such a thing, does not mean that a reason is non-existent. He may have a reason that He does not choose to tell us. This is, in fact, the burden of God’s message to Job in the last part of that book. God is not answerable to human beings. We are answerable to Him.” […]

  7. December 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Filicidal probably comes from the binding of Isaac. That God would ever command someone to kill their son (setting aside, of course, the context of testing) is a rather common moral objection by atheists.

  8. CD-Host said,

    December 2, 2014 at 10:06 am

    There is a lot in this comment that misunderstands atheism.

    It is important to notice that Dawkins seems to be laboring under the (mis)impression that, if there is a God, He owes His creatures something.

    No. What he does believe is that God can either act as if he owed his creatures northing or he can be moral, but not both. We are all products of gravity (among other forces), gravity owes us nothing and gravity makes no claim to being anything but amoral.

    What, after all, should the God of the universe do when His creation spits in His face, and tries to take Him off His rightful throne, and usurp His place?

    What do parents of 2 years olds do when their children are ungrateful and try and steal their chair?

    This alone ought to answer the questions about the supposed “ethnic cleansing.” A closer look at the passages dealing with the Israelites’ destruction of the Canaanites reveals that God delayed His judgment on those sinful people by many long years, giving them opportunities to repent (“the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” for instance, in Genesis 15:16). The wickedness of the people driven out is constantly the reason for judgment.

    X does stuff Y doesn’t like and Y kills him. That’s homicide. Tribe X does stuff tribe Y doesn’t like Y wipes them out. That’s genocide. The fact that Y gives X a chance to repent doesn’t change the definition.

    In general your argument is mainly repetition on the theme that God’s behaviors would fall under Dawkins characterization if God were not the rightful king to whom we owed our allegiance…. Modern people mostly reject the idea of persons who are rightful kinds. Dawkins himself would agree that states have an asymmetrical relationship with the citizens. What he wouldn’t accept is that that asymmetrical relationship is moral unless the state exists to serve and is ultimately answerable to the citizenry. You cannot just assume a monarchist political morality which is what I think underlies a lot of these arguments.


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