Monday, March 15, 2010

Immoral God and Immoral Bible? (Article IV): Commands of God Through the Prophets

Preliminary Notes

Profanity, Blasphemy and personal attacks will get the poster banned without warning.  If you wish to disagree with the article, please be civil and respectful in doing so.

I can only deal with certain issues (this article, at almost 6700 words, is well over the maximum word length I prefer [I prefer to cap at 3000 words] as it is. The omission of a topic is not due to evasion of an issue, but a consideration of article length. All the examples given are quite real and can be found in different atheistic sites (though the language was blasphemous enough I cannot quote them directly)

A Note on Revisions to the Sequence of this Series

When I wrote article III I stated I would have God’s punishment of David, God’s actions through Moses and a discussion of slavery in Article IV, and Genocide accusations in Article V. As I went through the editing, I noticed that discussing slavery in Article IV was out of place with the other topics. Therefore the layout will be: Article IV will be aimed at God speaking through the prophets and Part V will be on God speaking through the Law, where slavery and genocide will be covered.

Hopefully that will be the last change of layout I need to make.

Introduction: Commands and Actions From God

Many of the charges of God and the Bible being immoral are based on the words, actions and commands of God, or more accurately based on the interpretation of these things.  The accusations presuppose that the actions of God were done arbitrarily, and out of proportion to whatever the cause He responded to. It is becoming common to see on atheist sites the accusation that God “commanded” rape or murder or other crimes.

Let’s look at one of the more infamous quotes out there:

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.

– Richard Dawkins

These words of Richard Dawkins tend to set the tone how the “New Atheist” views the God presented in the Bible these days. While in Article II, the discussion was about the actions of men who were interpreted as paragons of virtue when they were actually viewed as sinners, this time we need to look at the statements and laws of God in the Old Testament. Since we, as Christians, hold God to be perfectly good, we cannot use the same argument as we did last time. Instead, we have to look at what was commanded and the context behind such actions, though we can use the more fundamental premise that the accusation is based on a misunderstanding.

First of all, I would say that Christians would almost universally reject Dawkins' charge on the grounds that he is giving a motive to God's actions that Scripture does not support and that Christian teaching views as error filled. If one wishes to argue their view of God over the Christian understanding, then let them present the evidence to be evaluated, and not base it on uninformed reading of Scripture

I think a particularly relevant reply to Dawkins comes from Presbyterian Pastor David Robertson who said:

When someone tells me they do not believe in God I often ask them what sort of God they believe in. They will then come out with the kind of statement that you do at the beginning of the chapter [Arnobius’ Note: Robertson is referring to Dawkins’ book The God Delusion] and I will tell them that I do not believe in that God either. You rightly point out that this argument is not valid for someone who is claiming there is no God whatsoever because there is no supernatural (a faith position, which is of course itself indemonstrable). However you spend a considerable amount of time attacking particular versions of God and therefore you open yourself to this rejoinder. Most of us do not believe in the God you so passionately attack.

– David Robertson, The Dawkins Letters, page 47

Robertson puts it well indeed. Christians look at the version of God presented by Dawkins and reasonably ask “On what basis can you justify your accusation?” This is why, before the credibility of the charges of Dawkins can be accepted, Christians insist on assessing the charges to see if they are valid.  If there is no evidence, the charge does not stick.

However, instead of evidence, we see certain actions pointed to, and we see people who claim that God is being evil are giving an evil motive without evidence. Then when Christians point out the accuser is making assumptions on motive based on the personal interpretation of Scripture being taken in a literalistic fashion, we are then accused of “trying to explain away” the texts.

So let’s put a stop to the nonsense here. The atheist who attacks God as evil either needs to provide evidence of their charge or recognize they are no better than the fundamentalists they ridicule.

Things to Consider Regarding Biblical Interpretation

Article III of this series is important to keep in mind here (you may want to open it in another tab to refer back to it), as the Ten Principles discussed there are required for the proper understanding of the Christian beliefs concerning the events this article will review. 

As I pointed out in Article III, the context of the times needs to be understood in interpreting Scripture. Moreover, in accusing God of an evil intent, one has to know the intent of God.

Atheists and certain non-Christians look at some of the actions of the Bible and are scandalized by what they read, asking how one can reconcile such acts with the claims of a loving and merciful God.  I think one thing which such people overlook is that God is not merely merciful, but He is just as well.  This means that while God forgives the repentant sinner and calls to repentance, He may also choose to exact punishment for those who do not repent, and is just in doing so. God isn’t a sort of Santa Claus here who does nice things and doesn’t hold anyone to anything. As Creator of the whole universe, He does have the right to pass judgment on those who know actions are wrong yet perform those actions anyway.

The Issue for this Article: Prophecies

With these preliminaries in mind, we can move on to the issue of the word of God in prophecy.

When it comes to prophecy, I believe confusion exists when the message of the Prophet is misinterpreted as being something it is not intended to be. I have noticed that this generally comes about because the ancient wording of Scripture is taken in a sense which is not intended by the author. Remember, to attack a position which is not held is the Straw Man fallacy. To attack a Scriptural verse based on modern understandings of words, while failing to recognize that all of these have changed from the time, culture and language they were written is to attack a belief not even held.

How Prophecies Can Be Misunderstood

Some seem to believe that God directly causes what happens.  Others misunderstand symbolic acts which God commands His prophet (to perform to emphasize the verbal message), thinking the command to the prophet is a command to all the Israelites. The result is an interpretation vastly different from the actual meaning of the verses. We need to remember that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (except for the Deuterocanonical books, which were written in Greek). When we interpret literally based solely on an English translation, and do not consider the possibility of the English language being unable to capture fully the meaning of the Hebrew/Greek, the possibility for misinterpretation climbs higher.

Because the idea of prophecy is often misunderstood, people think it means “predicting the future.” Instead, a prophet acts as a mouth for God. God gives the prophet a message which is to be preached to the people. Usually, there is a pattern to the message. The people have strayed from God. God calls them to return and be reconciled with Him. The warnings of prophets are warnings of what will happen if they do not change their ways.

Sometimes the prophet is commanded by God to act in a certain way to bring home the warning God wishes to make. The people are confronted by an image which tells them what they are or what they will be if they do not change their ways. This image may be shocking, but often it is a case of “If you do not wish to suffer like this, then stop behaving wickedly and repent.”

As I said above, some people think prophecy is “seeing the future” and some believe God causes people to act in certain ways against their will on account of the misinterpretation of these things. Neither view is true. The prophet’s message is not as a threat but an attempt to bring the person, who is falling into sin, into a repaired relationship with God.

Prophecy I: Ezekiel and Dung. A Case of Extreme Misinterpretation in Literalism

I’ll start off with this example of an extreme case of literalistic misinterpretation that can happen when Scripture is interpreted out of context and without understanding of the verses. I have seen some atheists make the accusation that God commanded the Israelites to bake bread out of human feces and eat it. This appears to represent a case of either blind bigotry or willful malice, as it distorts a verse of the Bible into something so different from what it said, that it is difficult to imagine a rational person making such a mistake naturally.

The attack is based on the King James version of Ezekiel 4:12, which reads: “And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.”

The argument I encountered on the internet was that God commands that Jews eat feces as a component of bread. Attacks then go on with other verses describing siege conditions (commonly Isaiah 36:12 is cited) with the claim that they are eating dung because God commanded it. However, this is to take a 17th century English translation and apply 21st century grammar to it. “Bake it with dung” doesn’t mean “bake it mixed with dung inside it.” It means “Bake it over a fire of dung.” Repulsive yes… but such practices to cook with animal dung have existed on plains cultures (19th century Midwest and Mongolia among others) where there is no wood to burn.

We can see this is a misrepresentation of Ezekiel 4:12 by looking at translations other than the KJV:

· 12 For your food you must bake barley loaves over human excrement in their sight, said the LORD. (NAB)

· 12 “You shall eat it as a barley cake, having baked it in their sight over human dung.” (NASB 95)

· 12 Eat your food as you would eat a barley cake, baking it over human dung where the people can see.” (NCV)

· 12 Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” (NIV)

· 12 You are to eat this in the form of a barley cake baked where they can see you, on human dung.’ (NJB)

· 12 And you shall eat it as barley cakes; and bake it using fuel of human waste in their sight.” (NKJV)

· 12 Prepare and eat this food as you would barley cakes. While all the people are watching, bake it over a fire using dried human dung as fuel and then eat the bread.” (NLT)

· 12 You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung. (NRSV)

· 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” (RSV and RSVCE)

· 12 “Eat it as a barley cake; you shall bake it on human excrement before their eyes. (Tanakh)

Note all of these translations show that the food is to be cooked over dung, not with dung. Those individuals who have made this accusation have not bothered to see if their translation erred or their interpretation erred. Whether their interpretation is from malicious intent to distort or from a willingness to believe the worst based on a hatred of the Judaeo-Christian God, what we have is massive distortion nonetheless.

Now one might wonder, reasonably, why God would command this to be done in the first place. This requires reading in context. God has delivered to Ezekiel a message which calls on the Israelites to repent or suffer the consequences of being delivered to their enemies, which will happen in siege. In chapter 4, God describes a siege which will occur, and Ezekiel is to act out by his suffering what the Israelites will go through if they do not repent:

1 “And you, O son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem; 2 and put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it round about. 3 And take an iron plate, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.

4 “Then lie upon your left side, and I will lay the punishment of the house of Israel upon you; for the number of the days that you lie upon it, you shall bear their punishment. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, three hundred and ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment; so long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, a day for each year. 7 And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared; and you shall prophesy against the city. 8 And, behold, I will put cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege.

9 “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt, and put them into a single vessel, and make bread of them. During the number of days that you lie upon your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it. 10 And the food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; once a day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; once a day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations whither I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, I have never defiled myself; from my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has foul flesh come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I will let you have cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with fearfulness; and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and waste away under their punishment.

If Israel and Judah will not repent, then they will suffer under siege as God withdraws His protection. The graphic image Ezekiel is to display is intended to be a shocking emphasis. Food and water will be scarce (mixed grains were considered inedible in ordinary times. 20 shekels weight was about 8 ounces. 1/6 of a hin is equal to 2/3 of a quart) [See New Jerome Bible Commentary 312] and so will the fuel for the cooking fires (hence the need for cooking over dung), so they will be reduced to desperate circumstances, being able to eat about 8 ounces of food a day and 2/3 of a quart of water a day. (See this site as to how drastic this would be). The cooking over human dung indicates a situation where all fuel for cooking, including animal dung would not be available.

We see the Israelites were definitely not ordered to do this. God speaking through Ezekiel was an act of mercy, giving the people a chance to avoid the suffering of a siege.

Prophecy II: David and Nathan… and God

The Act of Sin and Judgment

I haven’t forgotten that in Article II I promised to discuss God’s judgment of David’s sin. To remind the reader, this involves David's acts in committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed, then marrying her and proudly showing off the child they had together. 

This is a public flaunting of the disobedience to God and Nathan comes to David in 2 Samuel 12 with the following judgment:

1 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man. Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; 8 and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”

What we have in this prophecy, spoken through Nathan, is God’s passing judgment on David.

Interpreting the Prophecy of Nathan: Points to Remember

Now I have seen misinterpretations which assume that the wives of David and the Child were punished instead of David. This seems to be based on the assumption that the people who carried out the acts with David’s wives did so due to a direct command from God and that God was punishing the child for existing.  Neither assumption is true.

In order to correctly make sense out of God’s judgment, we need to recall some points:

1) There is a difference between God's direct will and His permissive will.  When God directly wills something to happen, it happens either through God directly willing something to happen or through natural causes He directly wills to happen. When it comes to His permissive will, it does not mean God forces a thing to happen, but rather He withdraws His protection and allows things to take their course.

In the case of David’s wives, we can say this is a case of God withdrawing His protection. Because David has spurned God, God withdraws His protection from David's house.  From this we can see that when Absalom does evil, David suffers the consequences.  God withholds His protection as a chastisement, but Absalom is not forced to do these things by God.  To say God directly caused sin is an example of taking literally what is in fact a way of saying what David suffers comes as a result of his chastisement.

The person who accuses God of doing horrible things often assumes that the evil acts done by people trying to kill David were directly willed by God.  However, all God needs to do is to withdraw His protection and those individuals with evil intent will be able to target David freely.  Remember, Nathan tells David the sentence of God is decreed "because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife."  David spurns God.  Is it just for David to expect God to ignore this?

2) Free will of Man.  This is the counterpart of #1 above.  We see in a later chapter that the son of David (Absalom) rises up against his father and does have sexual relations with David's wives in public in 2 Samuel 16:22 which fulfils the prophecy of Nathan.  However we must remember Absalom did not do these acts on the command of God.  He did these acts on his own volition as a display of power encouraged by his advisor.  [Essentially by doing this in public, Absalom was committing an act which indicated a total rejection and defiance of David.  People who might consider support Absalom would know that Absalom wasn't going to cut a deal with his father and leave them holding the bag.]  God told David (through the prophet Nathan) in chapter 12 that these things would happen, but they happened through the choice of Absalom and not because God commanded them to happen.  If Absalom had been a righteous man, he would not have done these things.

3) God’s judgment is essentially David’s judgment brought upon himself. What he has decreed was that the unnamed wrongdoer deserves death and shall be required to repay in a proportion which is punitive. He has been hoisted by his own petard.

4) Sin has public consequences.  David had a trusted soldier murdered, taking Uriah's wife for his own.  This is something which doubtlessly upset the balance of power among David's family, and the immorality of David served as an evil influence.  2 Samuel 13 tells us of David's son Amnon raping his sister Tamar, resulting in Absalom murdering Amnon.  This disintegration of morals in the House of David spirals out of control.  None of these acts can be attributed to God however.

Even from a human perspective, David has probably made a lot of people angry… friends of Uriah, David's sons offended to see this woman Bathsheba replacing their mothers in the hierarchy of things, people seeing David publicly flaunting his actions.  Is it surprising some of them will be inclined to turn on David, given the chance? Is it surprising that some of these people will seek to harm those close to David when they cannot reach him directly?

What David did (aside from the fact it was sinful) to others did not just harm Uriah, but others as well.  As a result, the aftermath of David's sin harms him and affects other people as well.  David committed adultery and did injustice to Uriah.  He abused the power given him as King.  Depending on whether Bathsheba was forced or seduced, David was guilty of at least adultery and possibly rape (Scripture does not tell us whether she was willing or not).  He impregnates her, causing a life to come into being, and he takes Bathsheba as his wife after the death of Uriah, which gives a public scandal as to his contempt to the law of God. 

David was living publically in sin, having murdered the husband of the woman he committed adultery with, taking her as his wife and having the child of this action publically acknowledged as his son. It’s like History of the World Part I: “It’s good to be King.” No man would dare challenge David, and some might even think it acceptable. “After all, if the King did this, then why is it so bad if I only do that?”

5) Finally, In light of the fact that we as Christians know of the Resurrection, we recognize that the Lord does have the right over all life and death is not the end of all.  Not one of us knows when we shall die or how.  A man might live to be a hundred.  An infant might die shortly after birth.  If God chooses to grant the child of David a short life before the sins of the House of David corrupt him, if He chooses to grant a long life to a bitter individual so he might find salvation in the end, God does have this right to determine how long each person shall live.

Because all life is from God, God has the right to decree when a individual’s life ends. (See Article III Principle Three).  I might live for another 50 years, or I might die of an auto accident tomorrow.  I do not think the time of life given to me is unjust.  I merely have the time I have.

Where is the Malice?

We believe God does no evil, and because of this we can see that the death of the Child was not a punishment to the child, though David was punished because of his sin which resulted in the death of Uriah and David impregnating Bathsheba.

When we consider that the death of the child was not a punishment of the child, the arguments against this section of the Bible begins to collapse.  Many atheists I have read who comment on this say the child went through prolonged suffering before dying.  The problem is Scripture doesn't say this.  It says the child became ill (2 Sam 12:15) and died after a week (2 Sam 12:18).  The Christian who believes God is both just and merciful recognizes the possibility that God did not cause the child to suffer. That the author described the situation of the child dying is clear. That the child suffered during this time is not described. This is a meaning added by one who wishes to impute a malicious intent to God. This addition of detail is really an Appeal to emotion employed here.  But where is the evidence for this accusation against God?  There is none.

If God Exists, then Sin is against God as Well as against Man

God sent Nathan to challenge David who openly spurned God’s teachings. As I mentioned in the first article, if God exists, then the doing of Good and avoiding Evil requires this balance not only in relation to the fellow man, but also in relation to God. Because David so publically defied God in doing this evil, and did harm to others, God is justified to exact punishment for these sins.  As I mentioned in Article III, Principle 10, punishment can serve multiple purposes. We see several intentions for the punishment David received.  There was Retribution of course.  God was punishing David because he sinned in a severe way.  There was also Deterrence.  Knowing that God will punish evildoers, David recognizes there is a strong need to avoid future behavior of this type, and others thinking it might be acceptable to behave likewise are shown it is condemned by God.  But most important, this punishment is given to bring David to repentance.  When faced by Nathan's parable, David realizes he is the man he condemned and regrets for his actions.

A Look at Motive in the Act of God

So let us look at the sentence God gives David through Nathan with this understanding in mind.

God withdraws His protection from David. Those enemies of David, whether through lust for power or desire for revenge or other motivations, turn on him and do evil to him by committing adultery with his wives, trying to usurp him and take over his kingdom, etc.  As David did violence to Uriah by ordering his death, after God withdraws His protection from David, his son will seek to do violence to him by trying to kill him.  David and Bathsheba have a child together of adultery which is flaunting their sinful act to the public.  God calls this son of David to Himself which brings home to David how evil his deed was.

What we are seeing is that what David and his family suffer is a logical consequence of what he has done. If one removes a stone from a wall of rock and starts a rock slide, regretting the removal of the rock will not stop the slide.

Now admittedly the idea of innocent people being caught in the middle of a rebellion is a sad thing, and that a child did die is something which stirs the heart with pity.  However this is exactly why it is not prudent to trust to merely what one thinks it means without considering context.  To interpret out of context is to misinterpret.

Prophecy III: Moses and the Pharaoh

The Issue of Moses and Pharaoh

The main objection to this story seems to ultimately be focused on the 10th plague (the angel of death) slaying the firstborn of Egypt and the verses of God "hardening" Pharaoh's heart.  However, to understand the verses objected to, we need to recognize the context of the verses in relation to why these chastisements were inflicted.

In the account of Exodus, we see the Egyptians oppressing the Israelites, forcing them into a condition of slavery.  Because the rulers feared to have a large ethnic minority in their midst, the orders were given to kill all the male children.  This was not merely an action performed by the legal authorities.  We see in Exodus 1:22 that the pharaoh commanded all his subjects to throw any male Hebrew children they came across into the river to drown, though allowing the girls to live.  (Which seems to indicate an example of sexual exploitation of minorities was a common barbarity of ancient times.

Who Is Responsible For Pharaoh’s Heart Being Hardened?

Now when Moses comes to Egypt and gives warning to the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, probably what is considered most scandalous to the person who does not understand Scripture is the phrase, in the KJV of the Bible, where we hear that “And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 7:13 KJV). 

The Hebrew word is [אֲחַזֵּ֣ק] (chazaq) which is used in Scripture in verses which tell us that Pharaoh was hardened in heart.

Indeed, in Exodus 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, and 9:35 we see the same word used to describe Pharaoh’s action… all of them recognizing that Pharaoh hardened his own heart “just as the LORD had foretold.”

Indeed, if one goes ahead to Malachi 3:13, chazaq is used in this verse:

13 You have defied me in word, says the LORD, yet you ask, “What have we spoken against you?”

Chazaq is defiance in this case. A person or people who defy God can expect to pay the price if they refuse to heed the warnings of God and refuse to repent.

So ultimately the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh must be understood in the sense of the Hebrew text and not the rendering of the verse in English. Indeed, in the context of the other verses, we can see that the phrase objected to is not intended to be taken in a literal sense.

Pope Leo XIII, writing in 1893, issued the encyclical Providentissumus Deus which laid down certain requirements for the study of the Scripture. One of the things he laid out was the importance of the understanding of the context and the use of idioms in the original languages, saying (in #18):

Ordinary speech primarily and properly describes what comes under the senses; and somewhat in the same way the sacred writers-as the Angelic Doctor also reminds us – “went by what sensibly appeared,”(54) or put down what God, speaking to men, signified, in the way men could understand and were accustomed to.

The Hebrew manner of speaking does not mean God forced Pharaoh, against his will, or forced Pharaoh to be obstinate. Commentary on Scripture describes this as God leaving Pharaoh to his own devices. It is important to remember this, as we need to understand how the Christian understands the Bible in light of the atheistic accusation against the Christian that we ignore what is inconvenient to us.

Really, in order for the charge for a “wicked God” to stick, one needs to establish that God would not have spared Egypt even if Pharaoh had repented.

True Repentance vs. Toying With God

In all cases, the theme of Exodus runs as follows: Moses, acting as God’s prophet, tells Pharaoh to stop oppressing the Israelites. Pharaoh refuses. God visits a plague on Israel. Pharaoh appeals for respite, promising to comply with God’s command. Once respite is given, the oppressions continue.  Pharaoh is not repentant for the evil he has done.  He simply believes he can do acts of lip service without changing his behavior.  The reader should reflect on Ezekiel 18 (which is shown in entirety in Article III).  A person who truly repents will be spared.  The person who does not, will not.

Repentance is not "OK I'll stop doing this until you stop smacking me around," and then changing one’s mind once the suffering is over.  Repentance is recognizing that an act is truly wrong and turning away from it, regretting the wrong done and seeking to make amends.

This shows us Pharaoh’s culpability personally. Now how about society? Many may argue that the punishment of the whole society for the sins of Pharaoh was wrong.  But is this a fair assessment?

After all, what we have seen is a society which sought to enslave an ethnic minority in a brutal fashion, and seemed to be willing to kill the male children (and perhaps exploit the females). Slavery tends to corrupt the people who are the masters, and this seems to be such a case.

Now, as I mentioned in Article III Principle Eight, the ending of slavery in entirety seems to have fallen under the idea of Recapitulation. However the drowning of the male children and oppression of a race by the Egyptians seem to fall under the idea of chastisement for an evil which the people punished cannot claim they did not know what was right (See Article III Preliminary Two).

When we consider this, it seems that the ultimate basis for the charge of an immoral God is meaning which the challenger puts into the text but is not actually found in the text.  Essentially the worst possible "spin" is given to the text, without giving proof of why this "spin" should be accepted.

The Angel of Death

The tenth plague is the death of all the firstborn of the Egyptians. This is not just infants. This includes the adults as well. Now one may ask, “How is this just?” Well consider this. If the Egyptians consented to the killing of all the Hebrew males, then it follows that they must face judgment for this act. However, if the Egyptians had consented and released the Hebrew slaves, they would have been spared this. We see in Exodus 4, where God tells Moses:

22 So you shall say to Pharaoh: Thus says the LORD: Israel is my son, my first-born.

23 Hence I tell you: Let my son go, that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, I warn you, I will kill your son, your first-born.”

This didn’t come out of the blue here. After nine plagues, it became quite clear that when Moses said God would do a thing, the thing would be done. Since Pharaoh was warned this would happen, and the previous nine plagues show the God of Moses could do these things, it indicates a profound stubbornness to continue on the path to destruction.

As for the individual Egyptians who were not the Pharaoh, did they deserve such treatment? It seems to me the question is: Did they repent of their part in Egypt’s oppression or did they just want to escape their own destruction?

Really, the accusation of the immoral God is a case of arguing in a circle:

Q: How do you know God is evil?

A: Because He condemned the Egyptians to die

Q: Why did God condemn the Egyptians to die?

A: Because He is evil

So where is the evidence that God was “Dag nasty evil”?

Evidence of a motive is again absent. Scripture tells us of why God saw fit to punish Egypt. If one wishes to claim the Egyptians did not deserve the punishment meted out, or accuse the account in Exodus of being false, the question is, where is the evidence for the claim?


In the examples given above, we see that the interpretation given by those who claim an evil act on the part of God do not consider the context and intent of the Biblical verses, instead taking a literalistic meaning of Scripture (“It says X so it means X literally”). When one considers the context and language used (Hebrew), we can recognize that God chastises evil acts but gives the peoples involved a chance to repent and change their ways first. If the Israelites had repented, they would have avoided the siege. If David had repented, he would have avoided his chastisement. If Pharaoh and the Egyptians had repented and freed the Hebrews, they would not have been afflicted with the plagues.

From this we can see that to condemn God as immoral is to grossly misinterpret these verses.

[Next time, I will discuss the Law of God and the issues of Slavery and “Genocide.”

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