Families were killed. Women. Children. Everyone was dead. It doesn’t take much reading in the Old Testament to run across the violence caused by God. We see God picking sides and the detrimental repercussions of being the opposition.
God gave Joshua the plan to conquer Jericho. The walls fell, and “they devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21). Soon after God led Joshua and his army to defeat Ai, “For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the LORD had instructed Joshua” (Joshua 8:26-27). We see more of this in the book of Joshua, and even more in the life of David. In 1 and 2 Samuel we see the Lord giving David devastating victories over the Amalekites and the Philistines.
The question has to come, to any thinking Christian, is God brutal?
I wrestle with this, mainly because I have a hard time fully embracing the extremity of what occurred when Adam and Eve chose to rebel. Paul writes in Romans 5 that in Adam we chose death. He chose rebellion, as do we. From birth we are bent towards selfishness and self-absorption. Death was created in us. We are flawed and do shameful things. There are no innocent people. There is something wrong with the human condition—there is something wrong with me. I don’t always live as should. We think hideous things. We say hurtful things. We harm others and create injustice.
Throughout the Old Testament God suppresses evil, and upholds His justice, through annihilating people who do and pleasure in evil. At times I’m not comfortable with this. I wonder about the fairness of such extreme actions by God. But I too would make similar decisions to rid evil. If I walked out of Wal-Mart and saw a five-year-old little girl being beaten by a grown man there would be no question that I had to stop it. I would be demanded by the good in me to stop the violence, even if it meant I had to be violent. I would grab a pipe and break his legs or karate-chop his arms off.
Sin deserves justice, it always has and always will, and a loving being always has wrath towards sin. God righteously does this; His character being fully just and righteous demands action. We think this is overboard, but we forget that sin is horrible. It’s not pleasure without effects. It eventually causes depression and hurt, wounds that ache and rot people from the inside out.
The remarkable reality of the Old Testament is that God’s justice didn’t wipe out all people. It is glorious that He chose to be merciful to anyone, “God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in He forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).
Jesus’ sacrificial death absorbed the full wrath of God due our sin, and we are left with a God we can call Father. The frightening characteristics of God in the Old Testament are primarily replaced with his forgiving, gracious qualities. He no longer wipes people off the face of the earth. He loves them. He serves them. He died for them as they spit on him.
In the Old Testament the people of God were tools used by God to demonstrate his justice, thus they fought battles and destroyed rebellious people groups. But in the New Testament (and today) the people of God are tools used by God to demonstrate his grace. So we serve and love.
Is God brutal? Yes, He rightfully was, but no longer.
The brutality of God was taken out on Jesus, violence on his son as to give us peace. So we find a God who waits on the front porch for His rebellious children to return home. As we limp up the driveway ashamed of how we thought or lived He comes off the porch. He meets us and throws his arms around us. He overwhelms our failures with His love and throws us a party, another victory party, just radically different than the ones in the Old Testament.
Russ Masterson is a husband, father, child, friend and pastor. He also teaches, through talking and typing. Visit his blog at www.liesioverheardinchurch.com.