I Samuel 22:1-23:29; John 10:1-21: Psalm 115:1-18; Proverbs 15:18-19
I was on a panel recently at Biola University where I’m an adjunct professor, and a student asked a question about the brutality of the Old Testament. In particular she was questioning the spoils of war and why a foreign woman could be taken captive by Israel after a conquest. And somehow implied in her question was the comment, “If I were God, I would be much kinder than that and I would not allow such brutality as taking an innocent woman from her home as the spoils of war.”
Today we read two contrasting parts of Scripture: in I Samuel, we see Saul ordering 85 priests to be killed and their entire town and families demolished because he fears David will take his throne from him. And in John, we read of the tender care of the Good Shepherd for His sheep.
In one scene, brutality.
In the other, benevolence and tenderness.
Which is true of our God?
We misread the Old Testament if we read it and think that God is unjust or unkind or unfair to allow what He does. The people who lived around the Israelites were savage people, turning their backs on the True God and choosing instead to live in barbarity. Even Saul, who is an Israelite, in fact he is the king of Israel, orders an atrocious act. Saul’s own men know this is uncalled for and they refuse to kill Ahimelech the priest. However, Doeg steps forward and does the evil deed (I Sam. 22:18).
Is God unkind to allow a foreign woman to be taken into Israel as the spoils of war? In short, the answer is no for God cannot be unkind, He cannot be unmerciful and He cannot be unjust. It is against His nature. He is all kindness, all-merciful and all justice. So we are asking the wrong question. When we don’t understand God’s actions in the Word of God, we should ask, “Lord, help me to understand what you are about in this passage. Show me the truth of You and Your nature and give me skill in reading and researching and understanding your Word. I humbly place myself under Your benevolence and I wait on You for the answer.”
We don’t resist His actions in the Scriptures; we must assume God is always acting in righteousness and we ask for wisdom. This leads to a tender heart and not a prideful heart that says, “I’m kinder than God.”
I don’t fear the violent passages in the Scripture; I don’t fear people who say that the God of the Old Testament is cruel. He is the same in both Testaments; He is both just and benevolent. The God who says, “I am the good Shepherd” is the same God as the One who was present when Doeg murdered Ahimelech.
If He were only good, he would wring his hands, figuratively speaking, over this vicious act. And if He were only just, He might err in too quickly punishing those who do wrong. But He sees the whole picture; He balances love and justice. He will require justice for Ahimelech’s murder and He will do good at the same time. Anywhere we see God judging people, we can be absolutely sure that He is doing it in justice and love. If they are punished, they deserved it. If they receive mercy, they benefited from His love.
So the student’s question, although not directed to me, reaffirmed in my heart that I have no problem with the female captives of war being brought home to Israel and going through a process of cleansing before they entered life with the Israelite community. The nation they had come from was undoubtedly committed to the worship of idols and if God decreed it, and I don’t understand it, then it is my desire to humbly seek truth in Scripture. But I will never charge Him with being unkind or unjust.
- Nell Sunukjian
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