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Is the God of the Old Testament really hateful and spiteful?

In my conversations with non-Christians and agnostics over the years, the Old Testament has always been one of the greatest points of friction. They would read about constant wars and killing; about how God commanded Israel, the so-called chosen people, to destroy other nations. And they would conclude that religion was about war, saying to the effect; “If God is so hateful and wrathful, then I want nothing to do with him.”

And from a cursory glance, this impression seems reasonable. After all, is not the Old Testament filled with continual war and killing? And did God not command Israel to kill and destroy other nations? Is there, therefore, any moral continuity between the Old and New Testaments? This question, it seems, has been a source of confusion and frustration for potential converts—-and has even confounded many Christians themselves (some sects of Christianity even expunge the Old Testament completely).

Thankfully, the answer to this question is found in the pages of the Old Testament itself. One need only to read it in full to see it more clearly. In fact, upon reading the Old Testament, quite a different picture emerges than merely a sea of blood and death. Yes, there was violence in the Old Testament. But who was causing that violence to begin with? Just as people want to blame Christianity for the crusades, few realize how it started—with an aggressor on one side, attacking a victim on the other.

In fact, the Old Testament is, in large part, all about victimhood. From the very beginning, Israel started as victims, as slaves in a foreign land. And throughout Israel’s flight from Egypt, they were constantly subjected to outside aggression from other nations. It was the outside nations, in other words, who waged war on them. All they wanted to do was pass through; they just wanted to get to the promised land, to the land “flowing with milk and honey.” But the other nations would not let them. Moses even politely asked the others nations, “Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, neither will we drink water from a well…we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” (Num 20:17) But what did Edom say in return? “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” Again, Israel sent messengers to the Amonites, “Let me pass through your land; we will not turn aside into field or vineyard; we will not drink the water of a well…until we have passed through your territory.” (Num 21:21) But what did the Amonites do in return? They went out and attacked Israel. And what happened in Bashan? The very same thing: They wouldn’t let Israel pass, and instead came out to destroy them. Even hundreds of years later, and after many victories, Israel was accused of unjustly attacking neighboring nations (as is often the case, the victims are often accused of being the aggressors), and Jephthah, one of the judges of Israel, had to correct the record, saying; we are not the aggressors, we are the victims! (see Judges 11:12-20)

Even after Israel reached the promised land, they were still subjected to continual attacks and threats of destruction, from kings, kings servants, and from neighboring lands. In fact, story after story of the Old Testament is, essentially, stories of victimhood. It is about faith against all odds, when all hope seems lost. It is about trusting in God’s protection (and in doing so, receiving even greater reward). From Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers, to Israel’s slavery in Egypt, to Daniel and the lion’s den, to David and Goliath, to Esther, Ezra, Judith, and Maccabees, the Old Testament is filled with stories of long-suffering and affliction, of trusting in more than what can be measured by the eyes. As David told his enemies; You come after me with swords and spears, but I have God on my side.

And should it be any surprise that the whole world seemed to want to destroy Israel? Remember, the world was not a pretty place back then. Most people on the earth were entirely corrupt and wicked. When you have civilizations who practice human sacrifice—even sacrificing of one’s own children—can you expect anything else from such a people? Do people who burn their children alive sound like a peaceful reasonable people? God even repeatedly said, do not do as they do; “When you come into the land which the Lord  your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering…” (Deut. 18:9, see also 1 Kings 14:24, 2 Kings 16:3, 2 Kings 17:17)

You see, rather than destroy the earth again for man’s wickedness, God chose to abide by His promise and do something different. He chose a small tribe of people who He would nurture and raise by His own hand; a tribe that began as a family and would grow into an entire nation; a tribe that would be the moral barometer of the world. Where other nations practiced temple prostitution and human sacrifice, God was teaching Israel about compassion to the stranger, about caring for widows and orphans, about treating foreigners as brothers (“Love the foreigner therefore; for you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt”–Duet. 10:19), about kindness, honesty and integrity—all the values we uphold as dear. Israel was the smallest of all nations, the weakest and most helpless of all. But they were God’s chosen people. “For…the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the people that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people…for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you…that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh.” Israel was God’s chosen people. And because of that special election, they were guaranteed victory, so long as they persevered in faith through trials.  Would they trust that God would lead them safely through to the promised land? Or would they turn back to their old ways? Would they love their neighbor and care for widows and orphans, or would they abuse their neighbors as the other nations did, as Sodom and Gomorrah did?

Many people assume that the commandment of love and mercy began with Christ in the New Testament. But it is a constant and ever-developing theme in the Old Testament as well. Even as far back as the pages of Leviticus, we see God establishing the law of love on the hearts of his people, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor…You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge…but your shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:17) The journey from external ritual to the heart, in fact, began in the Old Testament. As the Lord repeated to Israel time and time again, “it is not sacrifice and burnt offerings that God desires, but a humble and contrite heart.” And these messages are repeated to Israel throughout the Old Testament. Be kind to the stranger. Welcome the traveler. Do not oppress your neighbor nor covet his goods. Do not kill, steal, or lie. Be upright and just, honest, patient, and faithful. Do not do as the other nations do, in other words, and God will reward you.

In no other document from this period of history do we find such a message of love. Try as you might, but you will not find it. For its time, the Old Testament is a diamond in the rough. It is morally ten steps ahead of anything that existed at the time. And for this reason, it should be cherished and reverenced. When we read its pages, we should always keep this in mind. When we read about Abraham and Isaac, for example, we should not see a hateful God asking a man to sacrifice his own son. Rather, we should see a merciful God showing, instead, that He is not like other gods—that instead of making Abraham sacrifice his only son, rather provides the lamb Himself (and indeed, becoming the lamb Himself, in atonement for all sin). We see a God who, rather than destroy a people for their sin, will later “destroy” Himself on their behalf, and on behalf of all mankind. We see, in other words, an unfolding of love in its highest form, which culminates on a cross.

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters
    Kevin Walters at |

    “Old Testament is all about victimhood”

    Rather it is about the enlightening voice of Truth, showing us the ‘Way’ to our true home in heaven, to understand this journey, we have to understand the ‘Fall’ and the developing Hebrew mentality.
    Jesus tells us, he came to save that which was lost. My understanding of ‘the lost’ is that we are lost in time and place; we all carry a divine timeless spark within us, we are more than a physical being.
    Please see (Continue in) my post @16 in the link below before continuing
    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2014/06/irish-catholic-catechism-for-adults-and-the-fall/

    “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”

    Man’s Innate knowledge, all though greatly diminished at the “Fall” still tells man that this is so, but now from his broken, distorted heart, he sees the physical cosmos as been in a state of continual flux, held in a continuum of distortion.
    This physical plane as perceived by man is the reality of his fallen state.
    This realty in our fallen state is not the same reality that is seen on the spiritual plane, as in a ‘timeless moment’, where all is (appears to be) in perfect harmony.

    The early Hebrews, searches of the heart, as in the understanding the Light of God, can be seen in Abraham, as he sees/believes in the ‘spiritual reality of Creation’ as in all things been the Will of One God.
    Human sacrifice was probable practiced by many tribes at that time, although Abraham looked to the Light, we must not forget that he dwelt in his fallen state, as we all do and in that state it would not be unreasonable to consider that he would have also be drawn into the sacrificial mind set, which he was part of, as in animal sacrifice.

    We do not know in what manner God spoke to Abraham, but possible through dreams, visions or happenings in nature, as in the lamb caught within a bush, just prior to the intended sacrificing of Isaac, but these occurrences as in dreams are all open to an act of faith. But what we do know is that Abraham acted in singular (pure) intent to his ‘understanding’ of the Will of God.

    Here we are drawn into the spiritual reality in that all things are in ‘harmony’. Yes it was the Will of God, in that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but to us in our fallen state, who dwell upon the earthly plane, it can only be accepted in faith, as it cannot be seen to be in harmony, with a God of love.

    God chose a practical way that could not be misunderstood, to convey his Will, to his people, that would be passed down through the ages by word of mouth (storytelling). God’s ways are not our ways, Isaac was not sacrificed.
    And as this story was passed down around camp fires, men would reflect upon the Wonder of our God and continually reflect like ‘twinkling stars’ do, and grow in their understand of the Light (Spirit) of God, and we see this onward growing understanding as in

    Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”

    This spiritual journey home, that is one of spiritual enlightenment , individual and collectively by the early Hebrews, in their fallen nature, is a constant battle between the then known light of “Truth” and earthly ignorance; as in an eye for an eye, to “do not resist the evil doer”

    Psalm110.
    ‘Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool’.

    This spiritual insight comes from God
    In earthly ignorance, this could be understood as justification for the suppression of a Godless people. But to dwell/sit in the full reality of the enlightening light of Truth, is to wait patiently, while the justice of God unfolds.

    This same battle is still been played out today within the Church As seen in the ‘just’, self-inflicted chastisement by ‘Truth’ (God) upon the leadership of the church, as our Lord Him-self has placed before these men of power, the elite within the church, who in their own hu-bris ensnared themselves, by crystalizing their hypocrisy before God and the whole church, in such a way that cannot be misunderstood by all.
    In endorsing a communiqué that incorporates the direct Word (Will) of God and then using that communiqué, they shamelessly made God in their image, a self-serving image of cleri-calism.
    But today we are more ‘enlightened’ in that we do not pass a death sentence (Go to war) on blasphemers.

    This has come about because we as a church, do not practise/teach the full reality of ‘Truth’

    Nevertheless on the spiritual plane all is in harmony, while His guiding Light, the Spirit of Truth, leads God’s holy people along the ongoing ‘Way’ of spiritual enlightenment.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    Reply
    1. Kevin Walters
      Kevin Walters at |

      Addition to my post above

      “If God is so hateful and wrathful, then I want nothing to do with him.”

      So in the context of a wrathful God of the Old Testament, how do we as Christians explain the ever- lasting punishment of Hell, as given within the Gospels, to none believers.

      ”All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven to men”

      My understand of these words, are that, when one deliberately destroys the potential of the soul, by persistently denying the Truth (light/grace/living water) of the Holy Spirit, who prompts the heart to flourish and grow spiritually, would eventual result in that person, been able to call evil good, and good evil.

      Any individual, who deliberately separates the intellect from the heart, receives a cold light, the product of which is an intellect, free from the normal constraints of conscience, as self-will rules. Because the light is cold, its deliberate application via free Will upon the heart/soul, has a drying effect, resulting in that soul/heart been devoid of true love and compassion, a self-contained dwelling place of spiritual desolation.

      Many cultures throughout the ages have believed in Heaven and Hell and it could be said that this belief is innately known; as we hide in the bushes so to say, to cover our nakedness (Sinfulness/evil) before God (Goodness)

      Many years ago, before I knew what the early Greeks did know (Sibyl #)
      Speck of light, in darkest night
      Opening eye orange sky
      A universe in a grain of sand but opened on whose command?
      Wide waste land of orange clay, continual day
      No shrub, tree or hill, total still
      Horizon racing to the eye, empty land and sky
      Then black speck so far away drawn back for display
      A woman dressed in shabby black, seen from the back
      Walking with purpose to nowhere, further into the orange glare
      Now her frame fills the eye wide as the widest sky
      Turning a dried out corpse, every part intact
      Groaning, “Why have you brought me back?”
      Obduracy, holding back despair, nowhere to go but on ward into the orange glow
      In desolation she did stand, a soul contained within her own land
      Whom she spoke to I do not know, but me she did not see
      In sadness I left her orange sky, with the closing of the eye
      Knowing that she would never die

      First, extract from one of two letters I wrote many years ago, encompassing the above subject matter.
      “Are you watering the white Chrysanthemum? As I write to you I am conscious of the chrysanthemum on top of the fridge. I am refusing to give it a human name, because I cannot comprehend how any human being would want to become what this symbolizes, to me it symbolizes misery, something that has seen no love or has seen love and lost it. It is uncared for, truly alone, as no human would want it… Do water the white Chrysanthemum xxxx, don’t let it become like this one here, it cannot be revived”

      Extract from letter two
      “I come back to the dried out unwatered flower (White Chrysanthemum) sat on the top the fridge. This is the key, for me to open the door, to look at this dark place. I was going to call the plant Aphrodite, I once spoke to you, about her been in a desert, but could not describe her to you, she looked so terrible, the more I look at this plant the more I see her. I could now describe her to you, by saying, look at this plant this is her. The early Greeks obviously could see through her deception of beauty and see the real essence of her being; she had nothing to offer, she was a reflection of self-love, which is desire. From my simple understanding of Greek mythology, it seem some of the original messages, were very simple and spiritual. But like most things, the crudity in man’s nature, turned the messages to comply with their own self-love and justify their baseness. But I believe that I have found a better name for the dried out plant on the top of fridge. That is Sibyl; now it seems that the
      message about Sibyl as I see it, is that she was a woman of great intelligence and gave her heart (hand, love,) to Apollo, light to the intellect and music to the soul. The light is a cold light and the music dry, it kills the heart, it’s the same music (song), that the Sirens capture men’s heart with, and ensnares them forever, drying out their bones (inner self) as it dried out poor Sybil’s heart. Sybil is now in a bottle; she can still see the cold/dry light.
      The King of the weeds holds her aloft under the roof of the underworld. No water (Love) can reach her now. He looks at her with a smile, the smile of Aphrodite, another soul has been captured/lost

      #Sibyl. Any of a number of women, believed to be oracles or prophetesses, devotees of Apollo. One of the most famous was the Sibyl of Came. Apollo asked her to be his lover in return he offered her anything she would like, she accepted his gift and asked for as
      many years as a pile of sweeping contained grains of dust. The grains numbered
      a thousand. Unfortunately she did not ask for eternal youth. She changed her
      mind about becoming Apollo’s mistress and continued to age. She finally became
      so old that she hung from the ceiling of her cave, in a bottle all shrivelled up, and when the children asked her what she wanted most she replied, “I want to die”

      Note: Every sin can be forgiven, that includes the seven deadly sins.

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      Reply

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