Sons of God and Daughters of Men

I grew up in a time when comic books were very popular. Superheroes and super-villains abounded and battled in earth-shaking combat. The resurgence of Marvel movies and television shows indicates that I am not the only one who enjoyed the diversion of mutants and aliens duking it out on imaginary battlefields.

One day a long time ago I noticed an old paperback at a book sale, Gladiator by Philip Wylie. It may have been the book that inspired elements of Superman and Spider-man. In it a scientist discovers the secret of genetically altering (by a different name, since this was the 1920’s) animals and humans to give them a strength and imperviousness proportional to that of an ant. (Seems more like Spider-Man than Superman to me.) He injects his own son with the formula while in the womb and they give birth to an enormously powerful and virtually indestructible baby.

As the boy grows up a combination of bad parenting and an accidental death caused by his great strength bring him to a point where he believes his only worth is to become a formidable warrior on the battlefields of WW I. He becomes greatly feared, even by his own nation, and decides to leave, finding a remote spot in South or Central America to camp out.

He finds himself in a ruin built from huge blocks that would have been impossible for normal humans to move and begins to lift them back into place. As he does this he has an epiphany. This was a place built by people just like him! All he has to do is go back over his father’s notes and rebuild a society of super-humans who will never have to do the will of mere mortals again. They would rule the world!

As he is meditating on this a storm builds around him. He faces it and challenges whatever gods there may be that think they can get in his way. The storm builds to a climax and releases a powerful bolt of lightning that strikes him, killing him on the spot, preventing him from bringing forth more of his kind.

We see also why the originators of that city no longer existed. God had wiped them out once before, presumably for the same desire to rule those they considered lesser beings.

I was initially disappointed by this deus ex machina ending. Surely there had to be a more interesting way to end his plot. That disappointment is more a product of my times than of the time the story was written. The idea of God actually intervening to prevent abomination was not a strange idea for a man of his times. Why should it be for a Christian in the late 20th Century?

All he had to do was read the biblical stories of  Noah’s flood, the tower of Babel or Sodom and Gomorrah to get the idea that God does intervene when society gets too far out of line with His will.

Wylie may well have gotten his ideas from the various myths of gods and demigods that feature prominently in ancient cultures. The Greek and Roman pantheons, Sumerian legends of characters such as Gilgamesh, Norse deities such as Odin and Thor

Speaking of beings with superhuman abilities, there are strange references in the Bible to beings of extraordinary size and power who lived both before and after the Flood. The one many of us are familiar with is Goliath of Gath, a giant of extraordinary strength and fighting ability. He was from an actual tribe known as “Anakim” – an entire tribe of giants that terrorized those around them.

For a look at some of the reasons other believe the Nephilim to be descendants of unions between angelic beings and human women, see Notes on the Nephilim.

The story of Noah’s flood begins with a strange statement (Genesis 6:1-4). “Sons of God” are finding “daughters of humans” (“daughters of men” in Hebrew) beautiful and are starting to marry them and produce offspring. The Common English Bible captures the idea well in Genesis 6:1-4, calling them “divine beings” and their offspring “giants.” The become the “heroes of old” and “famous men.”

No, this is not the part where I start talking about UFO’s and interplanetary beings hybridizing with humans.

The place where I actually begin is in Job 1:1-12. Job’s problems begin during a meeting between God and the “sons of God” at God’s throne in the heavens. God brings up the subject of the righteousness of Job to Satan, who claims that Job is only in it for the blessings. God gives Satan authority over all of Job’s family and possessions.

At no point in the Bible do we see such a meeting taking place between God and human representatives. It seems to be a regular occurrence since we see another such meeting soon after in Job 2:1-6.

Another story illustrates the same kind of scenario. The prophet Micaiah tells King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:19-23 of a vision he had in which God brings up the subject of how to kill Ahab. One of the “spirits” present at the meeting suggests that he will lie to Ahab’s prophets to draw him into a battle that ends his life. God approves the suggestion and empowers the spirit to do so. Ahab’s life ends in the battle, even though the king goes in disguise.

We begin to see that the “sons of God” are non-human beings from the spirit realm who can interact in certain respects with human beings on earth. In the examples above they operate with God’s permission. What if they decide to disobey God?

The Apostle Peter speaks of “angels who sinned” not being spared, but are locked up in a kind of prison for later judgment (2 Peter 2:4-6). There seems to be a chronological flow from sinning angels to the flood to Sodom and Gomorrah. He seems to make the chronology of the angelic sin more specifically a pre-Flood event in 1 Peter 3:18-20.

Jude is even more specific about what the sin of the angels is: not keeping their own “principality” and .leaving their “proper habitation.” In other words, they moved from their proper “divine realm” into the “earthly” realm.

Let’s put it together. The timing of the angelic sin is pre-Flood. Angelic beings left the heavenly realm to go to earth. This suggests that the “sons of God” are the angels who left heaven to marry human women and produce hybrid children with superhuman abilities.Jude and Peter both seem to get their information from a book now called 1 Enoch, which specifies that this is exactly what happened in Chapter 6.

It would be easy to suggest that this is, in fact, the source of legends of gods and demigods wreaking havoc on earth in ancient times. Since I like things easy, I’ll suggest precisely that.

An what do I mean by “wreaking havoc?” Why would these angelic/human marriages and their giant offspring be mentioned in the introduction to the Flood account? The obvious reason is that their influence must be a large part of the evil that humanity is collectively embracing at that time.

In terms of plot-line Philip Wylie seems to have nailed it. Superhuman beings get the idea that they can rule humanity according to their own whims, and God steps in before they can completely carry out their evil plans.

Let that be a lesson to any would-be trans-human or post-human wannabes that would rule the world. There is only one Ruler: Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has given all authority in heaven and earth. Nobody will ever be tough enough to take him on and win.

Of course the main lesson of the Flood is that a world overwhelmingly driven by evil will come under judgment. In this Peter and Jude agree with all of the Prophets. Since it is easy to see the tide of evil rising, we need to seek Jesus, the only safety in the coming judgment.

Postscript: It turns out that giants return after the flood and affect Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land in surprising ways. We will turn to that subject in a later post.

 

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The Word of the Lord

This presentation is based on insights from Michael S. Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural Worldview of the Bible. This blog presents the material somewhat differently than I did in person in sermons at two different churches recently.

The Apostle John and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews both do something modern readers of the Bible might not have expected with the “word” of God. John says that Jesus is “the Word” of God, who is both God and with God, who became a man like us (John 1:1-14). For those not expecting it, it comes as a shock to learn that one God is at least two persons. We will discuss how John comes to this conclusion from the Old Testament record in just a moment.

The writer of Hebrews does something similar that is far more subtle, and most modern readers do not catch it. In Hebrews 4:12-13 the writer says that the word of the Lord is alive and powerful, judging the hearts, and that nothing is hidden from the sight of him to whom we must give account. Somehow most modern readers are led to believe that it is the Bible, the “written word of God” that this passage refers to, but a close reading in the larger context suggests that Jesus is the “word” in view here. He is alive and powerful! He is the Judge before whom nothing is hidden.

In Gen 15:1-6 we begin to see why the Apostle John so confidently claims that the man he knew personally as Jesus is, in fact, the eternal Word of God made flesh. In this incident the “word of the Lord” comes to Abram in a vision, speaks to him and then leads him outside to show him the stars. Is this not a strange way to express merely hearing a voice from God? First, the fact that this is a vision suggests that Abram actually sees the speaker. The speaker then conducts Abram outside and shows him the stars, telling him that his descendants will be even more numerous.

Jeremiah 1:1-9 is a passage in which “the word of the Lord” comes to Jeremiah and actually touches his face. It seems as though the “word” should be capitalized in this instance.

The dual person-hood of the one God becomes evident in another phenomenon in the Old Testament: meeting with the Angel of the Lord. There are many instances in Genesis in which the Angel of the Lord blends identity with the Lord.

In Gen 22:10-18 Abraham recognizes the “Angel of the Lord’s” (mal’ak = “messenger” or “angel” in Hebrew) voice as God.

In Gen 31:11-13 the Angel tells Abraham’s grandson Jacob that he is God. Jacob wrestles with a person all night in Gen 32:22-30. This person changes his name to Israel, after which Israel realizes that this was God. He marvels that he was face-to-face with God and actually lived!

As Israel nears the end of his life Israel asks his son Joseph to bring his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh to be blessed (Gen 48:1-4, 14-16) As he blesses the boys he asks God and the Angel of the Lord to bless the boys. In one verse it is the singular elohim and in the next parallel verse it is mal’ak whom Israel asks to bless the boys.

At the end of the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 23:20-21) God tells the children of Israel to follow an angel who will guide them. At one point he tells them that this angel will not forgive their disobedience. What is this about an angel forgiving sins? Isn’t that God’s job? God also tells the people that His own Name is in that Angel.

In Judges 2:1 the Angel of God is quoted as saying, “I brought you out of Egypt to the land I promised to your ancestors.”

In Judges 6:11-24 the Angel sits under a tree, waiting for Gideon, burns up an offering, disappears and becomes God’s disembodied voice.

Let’s look again at John 1:1-14.

Why should it be difficult to believe that our one God can be both at least two divine persons at once? The Word of the Lord / Angel of the Lord is clearly the one who came to earth, born as a human of a virgin by the Holy Spirit as God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

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Paul, Epimenides and Acts 17

There was a time when I thought that the Apostle Paul’s speech to the Athenian council at the Areopagus was a failed attempt at being “relevant” to a Gentile audience. He reached very few people and seemed to have to leave the city very quickly. 

Of course, that probably had more to do with my displeasure at modern attempts at “relevance” that seem to leave out important parts of the gospel.

It turns out that Paul’s reference to the altar “to an unknown god” was far more deeply relevant to the people of Athens than most modern Christians have realized. It is a story that goes back some roughly 600 years before Paul preached.

The people of Athens had promised amnesty to a band of rebels, then killed them when they turned themselves in. Later, a devastating plague hit the city, killing about one third of its inhabitants and looking like it would kill the remainder. 

The  inhabitants suspected that their perfidy with the rebels had angered the gods and offered sacrifices to their many gods to try to stem the plague – to no avail. None of their gods was either willing or able to stop it. The next step was to call on the Oracle at Delphi, who told them to send to Knossos in Crete for the Philosopher/Prophet Epimenides, who would show them how to stop the plague.

As Epimenides arrives, he notes how many idols the Athenians have, and finds out that they have all been invoked. He reasons that there must be some god they do not know who is both powerful enough and kind enough to do something about their suffering.

In a dream he is shown a flock of sheep and is told to follow them until they lie down, then sacrifice the ones who stopped grazing to lie down. The next morning, when the sheep are hungriest, he does as the dream told him, making an altar dedicated “to the unknown god” on each spot.

The plague ends within two days, and Epimenides is hailed a hero. (He is later highly spoken of by philosophical luminaries such as Aristotle and Plato for his other contributions to philosophy, Greek unity and public hygiene.)

When Paul comes across the altar he tells the council that he is there to announce that this “unknown” God is none other than Jesus Christ, who was God, became human, died and was resurrected to a place on the heavenly throne. He is the God who “winked at their ignorance” (in words similar to Epimenides’ own) 600 years before, but who now calls on them to repent and believe.

This was actually a very powerful testimony. So why did so many disbelieve?

They were philosophers, the elite intellectuals of the day. This was their religious council, analogous to the Jewish Sanhedrin, which also was full of unbelievers. Even now it is difficult to convince the highly intellectual about a God who became man and who died and now lives.

Perhaps we just have to dig deeper for relevance to properly witness about Jesus.

Some sources for this message can be found on the Christians in Crete website. or this YouTube presentation. Here also is the story as told by Diogenes Laertius in the 200’s AD.

 

 

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Miracles of the Day of Atonement

 

As I was researching the Day of Atonement I was struck by a memory of information from a previous unrelated search that relates to events that happened on the Day of Atonement in history.

A while back I had tried to determine the year and date Jesus died according to our modern (Gregorian) calendar. I looked up research done recently and found several lines of evidence pointing to April 6, 30 A.D. One of the lines of evidence for the year involved some strange events surrounding the priesthood and Temple for the 40 years after Jesus died.

Four miracles concerning the Second Temple in Jerusalem are mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud and at least two of them are relevant to the meaning of the Day of Atonement. The first one is somewhat of a two-part miracle.

On the Day of Atonement two nearly identical goats are brought before the priest. He draws lots to choose which goat is “for the Lord” and which is “for removal” (azazel in Hebrew). The goat “for the Lord” is sacrificed to cover the  sins of the people of the land of Israel. The goat “for removal” has Israel’s sins pronounced upon its head and is sent into the wilderness, never to return (basically into exile).

By the time of Jesus it was considered a bad sign if the lot for the Lord came up in the left hand of the priest several times in a row.

The first part of the two occurred prior to Jesus’ ministry. There had been a particularly righteous high priest named Simeon who apparently functioned in the role for forty years. For every one of those years, on the Day of Atonement, the lot came up in Simeon’s right hand. This made the people of Judea confident that God had forgiven their sins for the year.

After his death the lot randomly came up in the following priests’ left or right hands.

The second part occurred once Jesus died. For the final forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot comes up on the left hand of the high priest every year. Needless to say the confidence in the effectiveness of the sacrifice to cover their sins was not high.

The odds against either of these occurrences are astronomical.

The second miracle mentioned by the Rabbis is also of two parts and parallels the first, in that righteous Simeon and the death of Jesus are also involved. Another part of the ceremony as practiced in the Second Temple era had a red cord tied to each of the goats. If, at the end of the ceremony the cord remained red the sacrifice was considered ineffective for covering and removing of the sin. If by miracle it turned white, God was pleased and the sin was forgiven.

The rabbis tell us that during Simeon’s reign as high priest the cords always turned white. Following him, it sometimes turned white and sometimes remained red. By this time you have probably figured out what happened during the last forty years of the temple. They always remained red.

While a few thousand Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah the majority refused to do so. For forty years they saw evidence that their sacrifices were no longer accepted and still refused to believe in Jesus for their salvation.

Forty years parallels Israel’s testing in the wilderness, but this time they started in the promised land and ended in the “wilderness” of destruction and scattering throughout the Roman Empire. In this instance the Day of Atonement served as a sign of God’s displeasure at their rejection of his Son, their Messiah and Lord.

Even so, there is a special place in God’s heart for the children of Abraham. God has promised to personally redeem Israel from its enemies in many places in the Hebrew Scriptures that we Christians somewhat inaccurately call the Old Testament.

Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 and 10, I look forward to a time when God personally returns to redeem his people Israel. What will surprise the modern Jewish people is just how personally God will do so.

 

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Atonement and the Great High Priest

On the evening of Sept. 18 we gathered to commemorate one of the days God set before the people of Israel as a holy day. While Christians are not required to observe these days, we recognize their prophetic significance in God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ.

We have spent many years studying significance of the two goats of the Day of Atonement ceremony in Leviticus 16. Did one goat represent Jesus while the other represent Satan? Or was it more like the parable of the sheep and goats, with one representing those whose names were written in the book of life and the other those consigned to the second death? Ah, the mystery of it.

For me this may have been a case of tunnel vision – of being too interested in the mystery to look at the obvious.

The book of Leviticus is somewhat different from the other books written by Moses. Its audience was not necessarily the general population of Israel, but rather the priesthood: the family of Aaron.

Leviticus was intended to be the operational manual of the priestly work in Israel. While it is good for the general public to know what the priest is supposed to do, the instructions were intended to be carried out by the priesthood. The focus of the book is on priestly duties.

This means that the instructions in Leviticus 16 are about the duties of the High Priest in atoning for Israel. The focus is not on bulls or goats, but on the priest’s role in atoning for Israel.

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews understood this much better than I did, which is why he concentrates on on the difference between the prophetic role of the Aaronic high priest and that of Jesus.

The Passover pictures Jesus as a Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. The prophetic picture of the Day of Atonement features Jesus in the role of High Priest using his own blood (!) to atone for the sin of all humankind.

Of course, that can only work if he is resurrected. The writer of Hebrews seems to have picked up on that, for he notes that Jesus’ priesthood is of a whole different order of magnitude higher than Aaron’s, “through the power of an indestructible life” (7:16).

He brings his blood to the heavenly tabernacle that Moses’ tabernacle was only an inferior copy of. In this heavenly tabernacle he enters the Holy of Holies with his blood to “purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God.” (Heb. 9:14)

Jesus’ high priestly function on our behalf has already brought “good things” on our behalf (vs. 11) including the most important thing from our perspective, “eternal redemption” (vs. 12).

He also uses his blood to inaugurate a new covenant, a role that combines the prophetic roles of both Moses and Aaron (vs. 15-22, recalling the events of Ex. 24).

(Note: Remember that it was Moses who didn’t think he could do what God wanted  by himself, not God. Moses could have fulfilled both roles if he hadn’t tried to refuse God’s calling in Exodus 4:10-16. Instead, he angered God, who then appointed Aaron to help.)

The perceptive will notice that the sacrifices of Leviticus 16 are very similar to those of Exodus 24, at the ratification of the covenant with Israel. Every Atonement ceremony was a kind of refreshing of that covenant.

Jesus has done something much better. With one sacrifice on our behalf he has freed those who believe in him from sin and its eternal consequences. We are now free to come to God and worship with boldness that comes with a cleaned conscience. Jesus himself intervenes on our behalf at God’s throne as our High Priest.

Remembering who Jesus is, what he has done, what he is doing and what he has promised yet to do can help us to retain our boldness in following him.

Speaking of what he will do, there are interesting scenes in the book of Revelation that resemble the priestly function of the Day of Atonement. In Rev. 8:1-5 the Lamb gives a great quantity of incense to an angel, who burns it in the incense altar before the throne. It generates a great deal of smoke that combines with the “prayers of the saints.” It is as though Jesus is “hearing” the martyred saints asking to be avenged. (Of course at this point Jesus is on God’s side of the curtain.)

Another “priestly” scene involves Rev. 15:5-16:1. The temple/tabernacle in heaven is opened and seven angels dressed as priests prepare to send the seven last plagues on the earth. The temple/tabernacle becomes filled with the smoke of God’s glory and nobody can enter it until the final plagues are unleashed upon the unrepentant. God’s voice proceeds from the temple/tabernacle and orders them to pour out the plagues.

This highlights another role of the priest: judgment. This explains why the writer of Hebrews laces his message with several warnings about falling short of “entering” the “promise.” Some of these are found in 4:1, 6:4-6, 10:26-31 and 12:25-29.

Indeed, the “word of God” in Heb. 4:12-13 is none other than Jesus Christ, “the one to whom we must render and account.” He is sharper than the flaming sword that prevented access to the Garden of Eden. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God.

The point is this: follow Jesus. Follow him even into the valley of the shadow of death. He will make sure you come out the other side better than you were. He will be there to pronounce blessing, not curse. Life, not death. Just follow.

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With a Blast of Trumpets

This post is based on a message given at Wascana Fellowship on September 16, 2018. This service took place on the day the NIV version of the Bible translates as “a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.” This post also provides background that the original participants had heard on previous occasions.

One of the ancient uses of trumpets in the Old Testament was to announce the coronation of a new king. Examples of coronations announced this way will appear below.

Many prophecies in the Bible speak of a time when God himself intervenes on behalf of his people by extending his dominion over the earth. For example, Daniel 7: 13-14 states, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Another prophet who echoes this theme is Zechariah, who poetically describes the return of Israel’s true King, their own God, in passages like Zech 9:9-10, 14. Mixed in with the theme of God as their King is the sounding of a trumpet announcing his return, such as in verse 14, “Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south.”

There are also many psalms depicting God’s sovereignty over the earth. They include Psalm. 2Psalm. 45, and Psalm 47 . Psalm 47 is considered an “enthronement psalm” and it joins a group of similar psalms between Psalm 93 and Psalm 99. A brief description can be found on this post. Ps. 47:6 associates God’s rule with trumpet blasts,  “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.

 

According to Andre Hendricks there are 4 parts to coronation ceremony:

1)      Giving of decree – Ps. 2:6-7Gen. 49:10Heb. 1:8

2)      Ceremony of taking the throne – 2 Sam. 5:31 Ki. 1:34 (note the trumpets)

3)      Acclamation by the subjects: Long live the King! – 1 Ki. 1:392 Ki. 11:12;

4)      Subjects pledging their allegiance – Ps. 50:4-6Ps. 102:13-22.

Source: Andre Hendricks on Youtube.

 

Revelation 5 introduces the worthy heavenly candidate for rulership of the earth as the Lamb of God who was slain. Note the acclamation by everyone in heaven and earth in verses 13 and 14.

Rev. 11:15-19 appears to present a scene of coronation of Jesus in the heavens, prior to coming to earth. At the end of the ceremony, the gates of heaven are opened and the heavenly throne-room is opened up to the earth. I believe this is the preliminary to Jesus’ return to take possession of his Kingdom on earth. Chapter 19 describes Jesus’ descent and the war of conquest he wins to take over his rightful territory. This is followed by what seems to be a coronation ceremony and throne-taking (and sharing!) in Chapter 20:1-6.

[This is where the new material begins]

]In ancient times a city might face a formidable army intent on conquest and decide to surrender before the attack. A scene similar to this occurred at Jerusalem during the conquest of the world by Alexander the Great. It is described in the following excerpt from Flavius Josephus’ Jewish antiquities 11.317-345. (The quote itself comes after an introduction by the site’s historian.)

There is usually a procession out of the city, led by the leaders and elders. They have left their weapons behind, making themselves vulnerable as a sign of submission. They meet the attacking general or king and formally surrender, pledging allegiance.

This is probably the imagery of 1 Thess. 4:15-18, as all believers (dead or alive) rise to meet the descending Jesus in the air. He is returning to earth, and his followers do exactly that – follow!

A list of people who enter the “rest” of Jesus appears in Hebrews 11. Along with it the “encouraging” statement in verse 13-14, “All these died in the faith without having received the promises, but from a distance the saw them and greeted them. The confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” [NRSV]

Of course, there will be a futile resistance by those opposed to Christ’s rule. They are quickly despatched. The mightiest fighting forces in all of human history will be swept away with virtually no effort by the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus came to set up what the Gospels call “The Kingdom of God” and “The Kingdom of Heaven.” His return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords is essential for the redemption of the creation as Paul mentions in Romans 8:16-25.

May we be faithful, and then rise to meet him in joyful acclamation as he comes to establish his rule over the Kingdom.

 

 

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New Atheists’ Complain: “God is a Moral Monster” and the “Weird Laws of the Bible”

Most of the information in this post comes from Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.  It is an excellent resource for connecting the Old Testament with God’s justice and mercy in the New Testament.

The main complaint about our God by the new generation of atheists is that the God of the Old Testament is a harsh, unforgiving tyrant who is quick to anger and has a desperate need for praise and worship. He engages in genocide of the Canaanites and the Amalekites, for example, by telling Israel to wipe them out. Not only that, he even gives Israel weird, harsh and abusive laws to live by. These appear to be laws that endorse slavery and abuse women, among other things. All this to appease a God’s megalomania, believe the critics.

What that tells us is that they don’t know the Bible and they certainly don’t want to know God. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that God created humankind and the universe we live in and that therefore he owes us nothing.

 

“Genocide”

 Let’s find out how quick-tempered and harsh God is to the Canaanites by turning to Gen. 15:13-16. Deut. 9:5

By Abraham’s time the Amorites, the leading tribe among the inhabitants of the land known as Canaan, were already marked as great sinners. God was willing to give them an additional 400 years because their sinfulness was not sufficiently bad to do something about it. The Apostle Peter explains God’s reason for waiting before intervening in2 Pet. 3:9.

By the time Israel moved in the people of the land were so corrupt that, for example, many would burn their own babies alive as a sacrifice to a god known as Molech. I think I can see why this might irritate the God who told mankind to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Exodus 17 describes the reaction of the Amalekites to the appearance of Israel close to their border. Israel went around the Edomite lands after Edom’s leadership refused permission for entry to Israel. The Amalekites (an Edomite tribe) attacked a people who had no army without provocation. Amalekites were closely related to Israel through Esau, Jacob’s brother. The obvious undying hostility of this people to Israel so many centuries later is why God declares holy war.

 The so-called genocidal side of God is much more tempered and reasonable than the critics will allow themselves to admit. Of course, this does not make those who wish to live as though God does not exist very happy, because there is eventually a Judgment on their actions. And that judgment is based on God’s rules, not our own human ideas.

Harsh Laws?

 What about the laws of the Old Testament. Aren’t they harsh and abusive? It depends on what you are comparing them to.

We tend to look at the Old Covenant law as out-of-date, crude and morally bankrupt, but we are actually missing the point. The point is that society at large in Old Testament times was already even more morally bankrupt, and that the law was intended to point Israel from where they were toward a better way of living.

 The key is that change is hard. Imagine the Soviet Union, with all of its military might, trying to enlighten the “backward” tribes of a place like Afghanistan with Marxist doctrine, for example. Oh, right. They utterly failed and got their proverbial backsides handed to them in the process. Of course, a rapid imposition of American-style democracy is much more likely to succeed, right?

Of course not. If it happens at all, it takes time and a great deal of goodwill.

So how about Israel? How do you change an Egyptian-enculturated people to an entirely God-oriented, creationally-restored state in less than one generation?

You don’t. You try to do it incrementally – a bit at at time. You start from where they are and make improvements along the way.

For example, because of hardness of heart, God didn’t outlaw divorce. He allowed it in order to protect the life of a wife from a hard-hearted man in a society organized along patriarchal lines. He also prevented remarriage to the same man if the man had married someone else in the interim – to prevent a woman from being further abused by that man. In addition, unlike other nearby cultures he allowed the woman to remarry, since a divorced woman had few other options for making a living.

Yes, slavery was not abolished. It is important to note that Israel did not invent slavery, either. What God did in Israel was reinvent slavery – making it much more humane for Israelites who couldn’t make it on their own. You only got to “own” your slave for six years – after which you had to actually pay them out at the end of their term. (One might say that God invented the severance package.) God was subtly undermining the concept of slavery, turning into something more like our modern sense of paid employment. There was room and board for service, and payment at the end. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than what was practiced all around, and even in the American south.

 Yes, women did not own property: unless their father had no male heirs. This is an improvement over the nations around. (Women like this were highly desirable as mates, but at least one of their kids probably had to take her family’s name.) What this meant is that women had a higher standing in Israel than in other nations around.

 Yes, people, even youth, could be stoned to death for certain things, such as blasphemy, sabbath-breaking or even stubborn disobedience to parents. But there were rules to follow.

There had to be at least two witnesses and a fair trial in the case of blasphemy or murder. What the atheist fails to acknowledge is that the people had entered a covenant with God to worship, honor and obey only him. Blaspheming him certainly works counter to that covenant.

In many cases there had to be an element of blatant disobedience. Note that the context of the actual infractions immediately follows the spelling out of the command. God wanted Israel to understand that he is not to be trifled with. Blatant disregard of his instructions had to have consequences to establish a certain respect for God. Most parents understand how this works with children and youth. God was working on a national rather than individual scale. 

It is important to understand also that God wasn’t giving Israel a pass when it comes to following his rules. “Most favoured nation status” was not a “get out of jail free card” for Israel. They would have their turn at national destruction at God’s hands when disobedience and evil got to the level of the previous occupants of Canaan.

Weird Laws?

My personal favorite in the “weird laws” department is the jealousy law in Numbers 5:11-31. If a man is intensely jealous and thinks his wife is having an affair, without evidence, he must see the priest with his wife. The priest sprinkles some dust from the floor of the tabernacle into a glass of water and makes her drink it after pronouncing a curse on her if she has been unfaithful.  

If her womb shrivels up and she dies a horrible death he was right. End of problem.

 If nothing happens, he is never allowed to accuse her again and is never allowed to divorce her or abuse her in any manner.

 (Guys, if you want to get rid of her you have to get this one right the first time.)

Unlike other cultures around, he doesn’t just get to murder her. Unlike other cultures with a similar “test to the death” the mixture she drinks isn’t poisoned, which would require the gods to intervene to save her. You can imagine how often that happens. In this case Yahweh only intervenes if she is actually guilty. A definite improvement.

There are a couple of good angles from which you can approach the food laws of Leviticus 11.

Angle 1) Keeping within the kinds: Sea, Land and Air Animals. Don’t blur the categories.

Eating animals that are that are clearly of is symbolic of not mixing true and false religion by mixing with other nations. Why not eat unclean animals? God has limited himself to only one particular people, Israel. They limit themselves to serving God.

 Angle 2) Fall, death and abnormality (Gen. 3)

Abnormality in appearance or function is a departure from God’s perfect creation. So anyone in God’s direct service and any animal offered to him as sacrifice must be without blemish in appearance and must be physically healthy and without defect in structure or senses.

Avoiding certain animals in sacrifice or for eating was not unusual. For instance,  other Ancient Near Eastern cultures considered the pig an abomination, too!

What is interesting is to analyze the differences between “clean” and “unclean” animals. Some have noticed that Israel didn’t eat predatory animals, perhaps because they eat blood. We must respect the “life in the blood.” That’s why Jesus died via shed blood. (Lev. 17:14; Gen. 9:4; Exod. 22:31)

Don’t eat fish without scales and defenseless (hoofless) animals – victims of predation because they represent the alien, the widow, the orphan, the poor and the oppressed. Holiness and predatory activity (preying on the vulnerable of humanity) don’t mix. (Deut. 14:29; 16:11; Isa. 1:17)

In Paul Copan’s words, “Vaginal blood and semen are powerful symbols of life, but their loss symbolizes death.” Menstrual blood means a potential life has been lost. Spilled semen also represents the loss of potential life. Therefore to lose one of these fluids represented moving in the direction of death.

In the same way, cooking a kid in its mother’s milk is a mixture of life-giving milk with death of the kid this milk is supposed to keep alive. When you think of it, that is kind of disgusting. (Exo. 23:19) Similarly with killing a mother sheep or cow and its young on the same day. (Lev. 22:28)

Unlike other nations, Israel had certain restrictions regarding when they could have sex with their wives (not during their time of the month). This keeps wives from being entirely possessions to be used  exclusively for male pleasure.

The law was designed to highlight the “holiness gap between Israelites and God. This placed them in a position to seek God’s grace and purification. Such was the role of animal sacrifice, which pictured an animal being sacrificed to substitute for the sinner. God, by grace, allows a substitute.

The same priciple applies in the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac. They become a picture of God offering his own Son Jesus as the ultimate substitute for sin.

Copan notes that Richard Hess sees a pattern in the sequence of sacrifices in Leviticus:

  • First: purification from sin offering
  • Second: burnt offering indicating total dedication to God
  • Third: fellowship or ordination offering

Hess (and presumably Copan) sees a parallel with how one becomes a true Christian. The Christian life begins by confession of sin, then dedication to God, and then fellowship with God. Even though Christ has fulfilled this part of the law, what it teaches remains valid.

 One might even say that the New Covenant requires in reality what the Old Covenant required in symbol. That is why in Gal. 3:24-25 Paul calls the law a tutor to lead us to Christ. The law’s sacrifices, priesthood, even its holy days pointed forward to Christ as their ultimate fulfilment.

 Just as a side note: Passover and Pentecost have obvious fulfilment in the Gospels and Acts. I leave it to you to find the fulfilment of the fall festivals of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles in Christ. (The book of Hebrews is a good place to start regarding Atonement. Others might not be so easy unless you are looking for Christ’s return.)

 The point of all this is that the objections of the New Atheists do not come from careful examination of the scriptures. It takes care and patience and study to understand the Old Testament and its several covenants. Yes, I said several. If you read carefully, you will see that God makes two covenants with Adam, one with Noah, at least two with Abraham (Ismael and Isaac), two with Israel, One with Aaron, one with Phinehas (Aaron’s grandson), with David, and with Solomon.

Jesus is the one that all of these covenants point to. Redemption in him is the goal they all 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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