The Courage to Say ‘No!’ When the Bible Counsels Otherwise


Quite a variety of comments about your article.

In response to your references to God’s ‘ungodlike’ OT actions, I would ask you and each reader these two questions:
-How can Jesus instruct us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, even pray for those who spitefully use and persecute us and so be like the Father when the Father several times ordered the extermination of Israel’s enemies - children and animals included, and, in one instance, even the Israelite children (Ez 9:6)?
-Jesus exhorted us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbour as ourself. In all honesty, how can we love Him without reservation when we read that in several OT instances God had the Israelites kill their neighbours without mercy?

There have been a variety of answers put forward by you and the commenters - most in an effort to deflect or lessen the evident callousness of God’s orders or actions. Laudable to be sure as we struggle, like many before us, to reconcile the apparent cruelty of Jehovah with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

I think there is truth in the idea that God meets and accommodates us where we are and those ancient Israelites surely lived in a very different world than ours. Because they were chosen to be the priesthood to the world, God protected them as He, in His wisdom, saw fit. (As an observation, you quote Deut 7:2 & 20:16 to show the cruelty of God in his dealings with conquered peoples. Deut 20:16 is from a passage outlining God’s laws of warfare. Please note that the first thing the army of Israel was to do as it approached an enemy city was to offer it terms of peace (v10). If you study it, there is much more mercy built into God’s law than other ancient law codes).

But the only way I can truthfully answer those two questions is in a belief that God is not finished with the Midianite women and children, the firstborn kids of Egypt, the people of Jericho, or any of the others He ‘devoted to destruction’ or ‘put under the ban’ by ordering their separation from the Israelites by their deaths. God is not a hypocrite ordering us to love those He does not. Because I believe that His love will not allow Him to discard any of those He has created, I can, in good conscience, at least attempt in my own faulty way, to love Him unreservedly. Someday, when His plan of reconciliation is complete, the Lord will say, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance’ (Is 19:25) and we will all worship together (Rev 5:13).

Concerning our role in countering evil in the world, I’d like to share something (I don’t think the author will mind) from a sort of devotional blog I receive on occasion:

As most of you know, it is not necessarily easy to always know the will of God in a situation, to know just where to step, and the reason for this is that there are no outer rules that we can follow with our minds into what is right according to God’s absolute reality. This is because each situation, each person, is very different, and because in one situation it might be right to do one thing, but in another situation (though that same thing might seem right to do based on outer appearances) the very opposite might actually be best. And thus, we cannot know God’s will by setting up rules with our analytical minds, minds that love to create labels that say, “Under these circumstances we should always do this, and under those circumstances we should always do that.” It just doesn’t work that way.

Trying to work things out in the realm of the intellect gets people into lots of messes, and this is why I often encourage folks to work on non-attachment to outer appearances and to certain outcomes, for this is the only way to resist the temptation to respond to a human standard for what should be right in this or that situation, and instead reach up for the higher reality of God and the spontaneous ability to do what is right (by divine standards).

Please realize that non-attachment is not the same as indifference. Complete non-attachment to the things of this world is an enlightened state of being, a place of resonating with/in Christ and is something that cannot be explained to people. We cannot enlighten people to a life of non-attachment as that is something that must be forged in them by the fire of the Spirit.

I will say that it is a delicate balance to remain non-attached but at the same time not become indifferent, to not give up or become a pacifist who just sits there and lets the world do what it will do without challenging what is unreal. We each must find our balance in this. In other words, we all have certain elements of the human condition that we must surrender and overcome before we can manifest a higher state of consciousness, and the human conditions that each of us have are precisely those conditions that are the hardest for us to see.

Of course, I share this with you all as an encouragement, for what one (the Christ) has done, all can do, and what one IS, all can BE. Truly, it is not doing “the right thing” that is the key to life, but us being “non-attached” to natural thinking and to certain outcomes and in that way able to be surrendered to the Spirit and the will of God in everything.

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Sirje, I agree with the spirit of your observation in defending a God.
I also agree with your analysis that Israel “only wanted Him to say it”

Now I want to take that idea further:
The people who wanted Him to say it were the war criminals who killed everything without mercy.
Q: Who were the only people with whom the Prince Of Peace went out of His way to pick a fight?
A: It was the same people who had the responsibility to safeguard and transmit the Holy Scriptures (our Old Testament) to succeeding generations; it was Pharisees and money changers. The same people who gave us “God’s orders” for murder of non-combatants were the ones who Christ threw out of the Temple, calling it a “den of thieves”.

In the days before printing, all written scripture was transmitted by people who copied it by hand. Many of them had very selfish human motives to add to or change the written history to suit their own purpose or the purpose of their boss. The Pharisees were Christ’s greatest enemies and they murdered Him like they did the prophets before Him. They also corrupted parts of the OT. The NT is more reliable because they have had less access to its transmission and preservation.

The Christian’s relationship with the Bible is different from the Jewish relationship. Our first source is Jesus - his words and deeds. Admittedly, the recording of these can be corrupted too, as you say, since mortal men wrote His words and recorded His deeds; however, that is the very best we can do; and we must start here.There are, then, at least two levels (maybe three) of hermeneutics involved when the Christian is trying to decipher the message from the Bible.

If we take the Hebrew understanding of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ references to the OT are based on the Hebrew understanding of it when He speaks to the Hebrews. When speaking to His disciples (His followers) He references the OT as a forerunner of the NT - “These are they that testify of Me.” Prior to Christ’s appearance, the Jews would read the OT as God’s direct word to them. Now, they must listen to Christ, as He interprets the OT - Hebrews 1 - “In times past God spoke through prophets…”, now He “speaks through Christ”. The most dramatic version of that message comes at the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus appears with Moses (representing the LAW), and Elijah (representing the PROPHETS). Together they represent the entire Hebrew Scriptures - THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. When Moses and Elijah disappear, Jesus is left alone, the voice from heaven declares, “LISTEN TO HIM”.

When Jesus speaks of the commandments, He means the two He referenced when asked which was the most important - LOVE GOD; LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR". So, when we hear that the “remnant” keep the commandments, it involves more than the 10; and even the ten, have been modified by the Sermon on the Mount, which made keeping the commandments more than adhering to the letter of the law.

The Hebrews, at an early point in time, became like all the other nations around them - motivated by the same motivations of power and realestate. That was never God’s motivation. The Hebrews imagined themselves as being God’s favourite people (Jesus would deny that in reality) and that is why the book of Job is a big problem for them. This book turned it all upside down for them, as did God’s declaration that He even “hates their sacrifices”, even though He presumably told them to sacrifice.

So, we interpret the OT, as the Hebrews understood it; but we also have to interpret the OT and the NT how Christ would use them and their relationship. We also, now, have to interpret it all as the Adventist church understands it.

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