Old Testament Vengeance

Some of God’s judgments from the Old Testament are often misunderstood and called atrocities. One of them is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Exodus 3-12 tell the story of Moses and his brother, Aaron, pleading with Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt instead of keeping them in bondage. On numerous occasions God hardens Pharaoh’s heart after he agrees to let them go. Notice that God tells Moses to perform wonders (miracles) before Pharaoh when telling him to let Israel go (Ex. 4:21). This implies an already hardened heart because Pharaoh evidently wouldn’t even consider letting them go unless he saw miracles performed to show him there would be consequences for keeping them in bondage.

In order to demonstrate His power (Ex. 9:16), God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to the point that he wouldn’t let Israel go regardless of the consequences. Before the first instance of Pharaoh’s heart hardening (Ex. 7:13), he told Moses and Aaron to show a miracle for themselves (Ex. 7:9). It was his way of saying, “Do you have any power I should be afraid of if I don’t let your people go?” Aaron performed a miracle that Pharaoh tried matching, but couldn’t (Ex. 7:10-12). After seeing that he couldn’t compete with the God of Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh would have let their people go only to avoid judgment. It’s not as if he would have let them go out of the goodness of his heart, so this wasn’t a case of God hardening the heart of a righteous man. God was bringing judgment on an already wicked man. Pharaoh’s refusals to let Israel go resulted in ten plagues on all of Egypt, which was justified since the country as a whole persecuted the Israelites (Ex. 1:8-14; 3:9).

The Old Testament gets heavily criticized for the number of times God orders His people to kill, but shouldn’t the Creator of life have the right to end life? The answer is a definite yes. Even so, I want to shed light on more alleged atrocities. In I Samuel 15:3 God orders his people to kill all the Amalekites, even children. This may be genocide, but it was the Amalekites who first tried committing genocide against the Israelites (Jud. 6:3-5). Destroying the entire Amalekite civilization was the only way for the Israelites to avoid being destroyed themselves. It seems awful to kill children as well, but there was no hope for them. They would have just grown up to be wicked like their parents. Their deaths were actually an act of mercy because they will never be held accountable for the evil they would have done had they grown up. Think about it. If it were possible for someone to go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler when he was a child, he wouldn’t be facing God’s wrath for the Holocaust. It’s a similar situation with the Amalekites.

Joshua 6:21 is another instance of the Israelites killing an entire civilization of people. These were the Canaanites. Their culture was so depraved that they were sacrificing their own children (Deut. 18:9, 10). Some of the Canaanite children who were killed by the Israelites would have been killed by their parents anyway, and the rest of them would have eventually become just as wicked as the culture they were raised in. There was only one righteous family among them all, and their lives were spared (Josh. 6:23). This is a good illustration of God’s mercy and fairness.

The only times God brought destruction on an entire civilization was when there was no hope for them. Consider the wicked city of Sodom. Before God destroyed it Abraham asked Him, “Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:23). Abraham followed this with questions concerning the number of righteous people in the city, with a smaller number each time. Finally, God answered that He would not destroy the city if it had ten righteous people in it (Gen. 18:32). But there weren’t even ten. Only Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his family were warned about the coming destruction (Gen. 19:13-15). As they were leaving the city they were told not to look back (Gen. 19:17). Lot’s wife disobeyed and was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26). She was obviously reluctant to leave, and her disobedience brought judgment on her.

One of the most controversial of God’s judgments is found in II Kings 2:23-24. These verses say God made two bears maul 42 children after they mocked the prophet Elisha for being bald. The Hebrew word that was translated as “children” (or “youths,” depending on the version of the Bible) would have been better translated as “young men.” These “children” were also guilty of more than just mocking Elisha. They were challenging the veracity of Elijah’s going up into Heaven (II Kings 2:11) when saying, “Go up, thou bald head.” This was a very serious form of blasphemy. If God were so hot-tempered He would have killed children just for teasing a man, he would have never given the sinful city of Nineveh a chance to repent. But He sent Jonah there to preach (Jon. 3:2) and they were spared the judgment they would have faced had they not repented (II Kings 3:10).

It’s rather strange that atheists challenge God’s morality when they have no absolute standard for right and wrong. How do they know certain things are morally wrong? Is it because their conscience, which they believe is an accident of nature, tells them so? It’s no accident that the majority of atheists are kind, loving, caring people. They may not acknowledge it, but it was God who gave them the ability to know right from wrong. Otherwise, they would have no business saying their opinion of right and wrong is better than anyone else’s. Not to be outdone by atheists, there are the critics who believe in God and think He’s morally wrong. I used to be one of them. I was questioning God’s righteousness with the very same conscience He created me with. Now I realize the absurdity of this. You can’t claim to have a better understanding of morality than the One who gave you that sense of right and wrong.

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