The OT may cause more disbelief in God than we care to admit. I have been slow to accept the awfulness of the OT because it has been easy up to this point in my life to simply trust God. But, I believe we have every right to expect a rational, moral explanation of God. Most if not all claim the only God worth believing in is a perfect or good God.
I Sam. 15:3 says: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them: put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” There are hundreds of OT passages that seem to advocate evil behaviors in the name of God. I have written about OT crazy laws elsewhere. How is one to think of God must less explain God when the Bible portrays God as lacking rational or loving feelings?
There are several possible explanations to passages such as the above:
- Warfare rhetoric was common in ancient literature to induce fear and victory. A US leader may say we will destroy ISIS and anything having to do with ISIS. This doesn’t mean women and children will not be spared when possible. It can also mean innocent lives may not be spared when necessary to destroy evil. Terrorists often used civilians as human shields to carry out their wicked goals.
- Exaggerative language may be going on in several passages. For example, Deut. 7:1 talks of driving out the enemy, 7:2 talks about not making treaties with the enemy, while 7:3 says you must destroy the enemy totally. Why mention not making treaties if the only goal is to annihilate the enemy. Extermination passages maybe are meant to be understood within the context of initially driving out the enemy.
- Some passages are elliptical in nature – speaking on a subject without stating exceptions. Is the Bible advocating domestic violence when says to turn the other cheek? Joshua speaks of utter destruction in Debir and returning to camp (10:39-43), yet the writer in the same breath speaks of survivors from Debir being destroyed (11:21). Writers either mindlessly contradicted themselves, or didn’t always mean to be taken literally or unconditionally.
- God obviously did not verbally dictate the entire Bible. We cannot be certain when God allowed the writers the freedom to misunderstand and express their understandings of God. Some declarations claimed to be the mind of God may be instead the writer’s beliefs of God at the time, explaining many violent passages supposedly in the name of God.
- God’s uncontrolling rather than controlling love may explain many practices in the OT. God may have accepted animal sacrifices to guard against the use of child sacrifices common in OT cultures. Humans are always seeking a scapegoat to lessen their guilt. I doubt polygamy, concubines, or divorce for frivolous reasons were God’s ideal. God doesn’t control but works within societies as freedom is necessary for authentic, lasting change. God’s interference or dictatorship can prevent a superior world because of moral improvement of free creatures.
We don’t have to throw out the Bible but read reflectively, just because a writer may be expressing an erroneous opinion of God at that time in their spiritual journey. God never intended a Book to take the place of a relationship with God and others. God wishes to influence our heart to make choices in the interest of ourselves and others in the long-run. We can always consider Jesus’ perspective when OT passages confuse us of what God thinks.
Universal moral intuitions exist, making some opinions wrong. God prefers peaceful alternatives to violence when possible. God never intended women and children to be hunted down and killed. God doesn’t condone rape and beheading of enemies. God surely never violates one’s freedom to obey God or not, or I would be dead. A God who creates freedom doesn’t control choices when such choices don’t violate the rights of others.