A friend wrote, “I haven’t read the Bible from start to finish since I was twelve. There was torture, murder, and betrayal on nearly every page, and at least half of it was done by the good guys. The experience made an atheist out of me.”
Can you relate? I can. In Bible college we had to read through the entire Bible from beginning to end. I recall getting into Deuteronomy and then Joshua thinking, “This God is a pretty mean guy. He does not seem to be the same character we see in Jesus. So which one is really God? Is there a God?”
Let’s travel back to ancient Egypt. Moses leads about a million people out of slavery. Next, guided by God, he leads these people in circles through a desert for forty years. This is a region which could be crossed on foot in about fifteen days. So why forty years of wandering? My hunch is this: the Israelites needed some tough boot camp training. They were about to march into hell.
Forty years later they arrive at the edge of Canaan, a scary place with strong walled cities and mighty armies. God tells them to go in and take over, killing everyone, and flattening the cities.
“But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 20:17,18
Does this seem like a God of love or hate? Kill everyone? Remember The United States did that to Hiroshima. How about the bombs the Allies dropped on Germany? Lots of innocents were killed. Were we wrong? Were the Hebrews wrong? Was God wrong?
To answer that let’s take a look at the culture which God ordered destroyed.
“And the astounding characteristic of Canaanite deities, that they had no moral character whatsoever, must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time, such as sacred prostitution, child sacrifice and snake worship.” http://www.theology.edu/canaan,htm
Ancient Canaan sounds worse than Hitler’s Third Reich or the Japanese prisons.
What happened when Joshua lead the Israelites across the Jordan to attack Jericho? God directed them to walk around Jericho for seven days. What does God know that Joshua does not? On the seventh day the walls collapsed inward: the Hebrews went in and took over. There is archeological evidence that many people died that day due to an earthquake. Here is a link, if you want to study all the archeological details.
But here is the twist to the story. Do you remember who survived? The last person you would expect – a woman – a prostitute who betrayed her own people! And then she married a Jew and gave birth. She was a great,great…grandmother of Jesus! Hum, seems like the God of the Jews didn’t kill everyone in Canaan after all.
Let’s move forward around 700 years to a hell hole called Nineveh. God tells Jonah to get up there and preach to the heathens. The message? God is going to destroy them, if they don’t change their ways. No way is Jonah even going to consider preaching to them. He knows what God is really like – a wimp. Jonah hops on a ship to Spain – totally the wrong direction. When the storm of the century comes Jonah knows he is going to die, if he doesn’t get off that boat. Jonah ends up on the beach, covered with fish vomit, and heads to Nineveh. When he preaches there all the people repent. Now Jonah is really MAD. He goes outside the city, sits down, and cries. God comes by, covers him with a fast growing vine, gives him something to eat, and listens.
Jonah says, “I told you, God, when I was back in Israel, that you would forgive these people. You are this kind, merciful God. So I planned to run off to Spain just to be sure you slaughtered these people. Why don’t you just kill me? Put me out of my misery.” (paraphrase of Jonah 4:2,3)
God’s rebuttal: “Should I kill all these people? They are 120,000 of them too young to know their right from their left hand, not to mention cattle.”
Flash forward hundreds of years and read what Peter wrote, “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 You decide: is God love or hate?