6 The Old Testament

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

—Moses, The Book of Numbers

6.1 Genesis

• Chapters 1 and 2 contain two different creation narratives that conflict with each other. Arch Taylor, after acknowledging that while claiming to “believe the Bible” he “had not really paid attention to what the Bible actually said” (2003, 159), provides a concise summary of the two different accounts (p. 160):

Genesis 1

God separates dry land out of watery chaos.

God causes vegetation to grow out of the earth.

God creates fish in the sea and birds on dry land and in the air.

God causes the earth to bring forth wild and domestic animals.

God creates humankind, male and female, in the divine image.

Genesis 2

Dry land, no vegetation or rain, only mist.

God forms a male human out of the dust of the earth.

God plants a garden and causes vegetation to grow.

God forms animals from the ground.

God makes a female human from a rib taken from the male.

Taylor says he

had conveniently ignored the details of the two accounts that were mutually inconsistent: the difference in the numbering of the days and the order in which God was said to have created various things. In keeping with the children’s story Bible on which I had been brought up before having my own Bible, I had unquestioningly assumed that the story about Adam and Eve was just a more detailed description of what had taken place when, as chapter 1 had said, God created them in the divine image on the sixth day. The Bible doesn’t say that; it obviously says something different. [p. 160]

• One reason why the evolutionary origin of life has been rejected in Conservative Laestadianism is that it conflicts with a literal reading of these creation narratives. In Reinikainen’s 1986 view (4.3.1), even interpreting “the biblical account of creation to mean that God’s creation work occurred through evolution” is considered “an outrage to the word of God.”

In the decades since Reinikainen attempted to slam the door shut on evolution, the evidence for it has continued to pile up and much of Christianity has come to view Genesis in an allegorical fashion. (Though not Conservative Laestadianism, at least not judging by any of the statements quoted in 4.3.1.) But even that doesn’t remove all the difficulties. Besides some major issues with Paul’s teachings of original sin (7.3), there is the dimished and confused role that evolution by random mutations and natural selection leaves for God the Creator.

This was brought out eloquently by John Haught, a Catholic theologian and “evolutionary creationist,” in a panel discussion broadcasted on Internet video by FORA.tv. Haught was asked why and how religions exist after Darwin. Saying he had spent a lot of time thinking about that question (he certainly has, with several books on the topic), Haught replied with a frank explanation of the “biggest reason why people have problems religiously and theologically with the Darwinian picture of things.” There are three ingredients,

which are problematic to those who think of God primarily as a designer. And those ingredients are: there have to be lots of accidents, plus natural selection, plus lots and lots of time. And to people who believe in divine providence, the Darwinian recipe at least at first seems to be very, very problematic. Because there are accidents not only in the origin of life but accidents in variations and mutations that provide the raw material for evolution, accidents in natural history such as the asteroid that impacted the Yucatan Peninsula, wiping out the dinosaurs, apparently making room for mammalian development and primates and eventually us. Why if there is a providential deity in charge of things is there so much undirected happening in the cosmos? Why isn’t there more evidence, would be the question that science would ask, of a designer as it were. And then there is natural selection, which operates so impersonally and mechanistically, and apparently unjustly and unfairly. Very difficult to reconcile, for a lot of people, with a benign providence. Certainly it’s true of Darwin himself, and it’s been true of countless people since then. And the vast amount of time that it takes for evolution to unfold. If God were truly interested in bringing about life and consciousness, why fool around and fool around for all these billions of years before this happens? [38:50-40:40]

Schimmel criticizes a small number of scientists from his former Orthodox Judaism who interpret the Bible literally and are hostile to evolution (2008, 68). But he also has little patience for the many more who defend theistic evolution. They “claim that the divine purpose and goal of evolution–cosmic and biological–was the creation of humans, and from humans, the designation of Israel as a chosen people,” which he finds “myopic, parochial, species-arrogant, and irrational”:

What they are claiming, in effect, is that God triggered the Big Bang event 14 billion years ago, which subsequently produced a universe of immense vastness filled with innumerable galaxies, stars, and planets in order to bring into existence the planet Earth so that organic life should evolve on it, for the purpose of the evolution of human beings (who are but a small fraction of all living species), with the goal of selecting for a special relationship with him a specific group, consisting of a fraction of a percent of the entire human population. But if God is all-powerful, why would he have used such an inefficient and wasteful process to achieve his ultimate goal? [p. 69]

• If Adam and Eve were the first human pair and Cain was their oldest child, why was Cain afraid of being killed? God put a mark on him so that he wouldn’t be harmed, and then Cain found himself a wife and built a city (Genesis 4:15-17), both of which imply that other people were around somewhere.

• As discussed in 4.3.2, the story of the Flood is impossible to reconcile with reality. Is it to be understood as historical fact? If the story is just metaphorical or allegorical, why all the detail, e.g., exact dimensions of the ark, number of months, depth of water over the high mountains? If it was just a local flood, why does it refer to “every beast,” the entire world, all mankind, etc. (7:21-23)? And why would Jesus and the writers of Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter refer to the story in a factual and historical sense (Mt 24:38, Lk 17:27, Heb 11:7, 1 Pet 3:20, 2 Pet 2:5), long afterward in the New Testament?

• Why do many aspects of the flood story have so much in common with the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, c. 2500-1500 B.C.? The main character rides out a deluge on a large, multi-decked boat covered with pitch (Gen 6:14-16; Tablet 11:58-68), which is loaded with animals (Gen 7:14-16; Tablet 11:86). After a while the deluge ends and the boat runs aground on a mountain (Gen 8:2-5; Tablet 11:142). The main character sends out a dove, which returns because it had no place to land (Gen 8:8-9; Tablet 11:148-150). He sends out a raven, which flies around (Gen 8:7; Tablet 11:153-156). He leaves the ark and makes a burnt offering, the aroma of which God smells, or the gods smell (Gen 20-21; Tablet 11:157-162).

The only way this level of coincidence seems plausible is for one narrative to have adapted the other. An unconnected Babylonian observer of the worldwide flood wouldn’t have picked up on all the details, and of course the idea of any survivors outside of Noah’s clan is contrary to the Genesis account (7:21-23). If the Genesis story is the original, the author of the Epic of Gilgamesh must have been a descendant of Noah. If so, why does the Epic appear to be much older than the Genesis account, and with the more primitive religious ideas, e.g., multiple gods?

• Were there rainbows before the flood receded? If so, why does God say that “it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud” (9:14)? If not, how did water fail to refract light up to that point? Human eyes wouldn’t have worked, for one thing.

• When God smells the sweet savor of Noah’s burnt offerings, he promises, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done” (8:21). Is the “as I have done” a caveat that he won’t use a flood again, or a reference to the fact that he just killed every living thing (except Noah et al.)? If he acknowledged that man’s heart is evil and that’s just the way it is, why is he planning to destroy humanity again?

• Why was Noah told that every moving thing that is alive shall be food for him (9:3) when there were many dietary laws about what critters not to eat later, but still in the Old Testament? The reason is that the text is not from a single author. It relates to the contradiction between the two pairs or seven pairs of clean animals. Those numbers arise from different authors, an original “Yahwist” or “J” author and a much later “priestly” or “P” author who was aware of distinctions between kosher and non-kosher. It was the later “P” writer who portrays Noah as ignorant of kosher and able to eat everything because this later writer wants the kosher parts of the law to have been given by Moses (Price 2011).

• Why did Noah, who was found to be the only righteous head of a household in the whole world, get drunk (9:21)? And why was it Ham who was punished for not ignoring the whole situation, rather than Noah for causing the scene in the first place?

• If Noah’s grandsons were separated, every one according to his language (10:1-5), how was it that the whole earth used the same language in the later narrative about the tower of Babel?

• Imagine a father who finds his house surrounded by a rampaging, lustful mob of men. To settle things down, he offers the guys his two daughters to do with what they will. What kind of father would that seem like to you? Later, he lets his daughters get him stone cold drunk, to the point where he is insensible when they have sex with him. That man, of course, is Lot (19:4-8, 19:30-35). Why is he considered “righteous,” and his the only household to be spared God’s wrath that destroys an entire city?

• In the story of Lot and Sodom, we are told that God would have been willing to withhold the fire and brimstone if just ten “righteous” had been found in the city (18:32). He didn’t, though. Apparently innocent children did not count as “righteous,” as there must have been at least hundreds of them there. That of course contradicts the belief that all children are born into faith and lose it to sin as they grow up.

• Why all the deceit in Jacob and his sons when he was favored by God? Jacob stole Esau’s birthright (27:18-29). Later, Jacob’s sons persuaded some foreigners who wanted to live peaceably with them to be circumcised, then killed them all when they were recovering from the painful procedure (34:13-29).

6.2 Exodus

• If Egypt became filled with Israelites, and they became more numerous and mightier than the Egyptians (1:7-9), why is there almost no record of the Israelites in Egypt’s many historical records? The only known records are a stele claiming that “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not,” and a drawing of some Semitic nomads meeting some Egyptian soldiers. Egypt’s ancient records include mundane details about everyday commerce as well as religious texts and narratives about kings. In all of that, there is nothing about a slave population that swelled to become a majority and rebelled, about plagues, or even a one-sided battle narrative that would favorably record Egypt expelling the rebellious slaves in their millions.

• God announces that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t let the people go (4:21, 7:3-5). He tells Pharaoh (through Moses) that he is allowing him to remain in order to show God’s power and to proclaim his name through all the earth (9:16). By the 15th century B.C., when the Bible asserts that the Exodus took place (1 Kings 6:1) the entire earth was populated; the last human colonizations had brought people from Southeast Asia into Polynesia around 1,500 years before (Wells 2006, 189). Pagan chiefdoms were found across Europe, the Shang dynasty was well underway in China, and domesticated crops were being farmed in South America. However, at the time of the Exodus and for hundreds and even thousands of years thereafter, this vast and populous world outside the Mideast remained completely unaware of the God of Israel.

• Why didn’t the Egyptians, with all their detailed record keeping, not make any mention of the firstborn of every one of their homes dying in one night, including Pharaoh’s own firstborn (12:29-30)?

• If all the livestock of Egypt died in Plague #4 (9:6), how did one servant of Pharaoh later have livestock to send into the houses to avoid Plague #6, and another to have livestock to leave in the field (9:20-21)?

• Why is there no archaeological evidence of the 600,000 Israelite men (plus children, and presumably, women) on the forty-year Exodus (12:37)? Despite fervent attempts to find such evidence during Israel’s occupation of the Sinai peninsula, despite specific place names being provided in the biblical account, absolutely nothing has been found that would indicate anything like such a mass migration. The Sinai Peninsula’s “climate has preserved the tiniest traces of ancient Bedouin encampments and the sparse 5000-year old villages of mine workers,” but “there is not a single trace of Moses or the Israelites; and they would have been by far the largest body of ancient people ever to have lived in this great wilderness” (Romer 1988, 58).

We are told that the people gathered manna from heaven, but how did the livestock eat? Light bread is not a suitable diet for ruminants, and there was no grazing to be had in the desert of Sinai. And even with miraculous food supplies, what about the logistical problems involved with moving, supporting, and coordinating around two million people in a desert over a forty-year span, without modern communication, sanitation, sources of replacement clothing, etc.?

Just getting everybody through the gap in the sea in time would have been an incredible feat. (The literal term used for the body of water they crossed was “Sea of Reeds,” which is widely mistranslated as the “Red Sea,” e.g., at Exodus 13:18.) They had just a few hours for the crossing, starting their march at their place of captivity in the “morning watch,” and getting everybody on the other side of the sea by daybreak (14:24-27). Assuming a sustained march at 3 mph (with children and livestock) and a procession 20 miles long, there would have been about 15,000 rows of some 150 people abreast slogging feverishly over soggy sea bottom in sandals and hooves for five hours straight, and that’s just to complete the crossing.

• The famous Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20. One of them is routinely violated by Christians who don’t really know what the Commandments actually say:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (20:4). Guess what? That fish symbol is a “likeness of [a] thing” that “is in the water under the earth,” at least as far as ancient cosmology was concerned.

• Various rules on slavery are provided. The master can give a Hebrew slave a wife, but she and any children they have remain the master’s property even after the Hebrew slave goes free (21:2-5). A man may sell his daughter as a slave, under various conditions (21:7-11).

• God’s edicts start getting pretty harsh during the Exodus. You could be put to death for cursing your mother or father (21:17), owning a habitual person-goring ox (21:29), being a witch (22:18), bestiality (22:19), or sacrificing to any god other than the Lord (22:20). But striking a slave (male or female) to the point of near-death was not a problem, as long as the slave survived a day or two, because the person was considered your property (21:20-21).

• When Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get out of control with the golden calf, he had the sons of Levi go back and forth in the camp and kill their brothers, friends, and neighbors (32:25-28). This wanton massacre of about 3,000 randomly picked members of God’s chosen people got no comment from God when Moses next spoke to him, but he then “smote the people” in some unspecified additional way (32:30-35).

• In chapter 33, God says that no man can see him and live. (Likewise, 1 John 4:12 says that no man has seen God at any time.) How was Moses able to speak to God “face to face just as a man speaks to his friend,” as recorded earlier in that same chapter? How was Abraham able to converse with the Lord when he appeared at his tent by the oaks of Mamre, as recorded in Genesis 17:20?

• How did Moses remember all of the painstaking details God gave him on Mount Sinai about the construction of the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle (chapters 25-31)? Why did God care about specific floral designs, the number of branches on lampstands, exact lengths of curtains, linen hangings, and screens, the number of loops on the curtains, etc.?

• Why does God say he is “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (24:7)? Why should someone suffer for what his great-grandfather did before he was even born? And why then are we told elsewhere that “[t]he fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16) and “[t]he son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20)?

6.3 Leviticus

• Two sons of Aaron offered “strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (10:1). The response was fire that consumed them, “they died before the Lord.” Aaron and two of his other sons were warned not to mourn the loss or they might die and incur God’s wrath toward the whole congregation (10:6-7).

Jason Long writes, “No matter how many times I read passages like this, I’m always amazed how God kills people because they do something silly like build a displeasing campfire, but as we will soon see, he allows them to rape female prisoners of war” (2005, 88).

• Rabbits don’t chew cud (11:6, see also Deut 14:7), though it might look like they do, given the motions of their mouths. This is just one of many cases where the Old Testament describes the world in ways that one would expect from the limited perspective of an ancient human observer, a perspective that is uninformed by and clearly in conflict with what we all now readily acknowledge:

• There is no “firmament” in which one might set stars or the moon or the sun (Genesis 1:14-17), though it might appear that something must be holding up those heavenly bodies. Isaiah certainly thought so, predicting that God would someday roll the sky up like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4).

• Putting cattle in view of a speckled rod does not influence the coloring of their offspring (Genesis 30:37-41), though it was common to believe in such environmental influencing even into the nineteenth century.

• In Leviticus 11:19, bats are listed as birds; an easy assumption to make, but not what they are any more than flying fish would be.

If all of this was divinely inspired, why couldn’t the writers show any evidence of knowledge beyond what we would expect of them as mere mortals? I will dare to yet again quote Robert G. Ingersoll:

Man has no ideas, and can have none, except those suggested by his surroundings. He cannot conceive of anything utterly unlike what he has seen or felt. He can exaggerate, diminish, combine, separate, deform, beautify, improve, multiply and compare what he sees, what he feels, what he hears, and all of which he takes cognizance through the medium of the senses; but he cannot create. Having seen exhibitions of power, he can say, omnipotent. Having lived, he can say, immortality. Knowing something of time, he can say, eternity. Conceiving something of intelligence, he can say God. Having seen exhibitions of malice, he can say, devil. A few gleams of happiness having fallen athwart the gloom of his life, he can say, heaven. Pain, in its numberless forms, having been experienced, he can say, hell. [Lectures on Gods]

• Sins punishable by death expanded to taking the life of a person (except, apparently, in the many cases where killing is commanded by God), blasphemy, adultery, incest, homosexual sex, being or consulting a medium or spiritist. In a special case, marrying both a woman and her mother results in all three being “burned with fire” (20:14). However, if a man has sex with someone else’s female slave, they won’t be put to death because she wasn’t free (19:20)

A host of other sins would get you “cut off from among the people,” which seems like it could well be a death sentence out in the desert of the Sinai peninsula. They include having sex during menstruation (both parties), touching any unclean thing (the uncleanness of man or unclean beasts), and eating flesh of sacrificial animals or any manner of blood.

• Why is God so particular about the physical attributes of the priest? He can’t be blind, lame, disfigured in the face, have any deformed limbs, broken feet or broken hands, have a hunchback or be a dwarf, or have any eye defect, excema, scabs, or crushed testicles (21:18-20).

• Why is God so hostile and cruel in his threats to punish his people for disobedience? He will inflict sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away their eyes. He will cause their enemies to rule over them. If that doesn’t make the people obey, he will punish them seven times more, rendering the land barren. If that doesn’t work, he will increase the plague seven times again, letting loose the beasts of the field to kill their children and cattle, and reduce their number until their roads lie deserted. If that doesn’t do the trick, he will send pestilence among them. Finally, as a last resort, he will act with “wrathful hostility” against them, whereupon they will eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, he will heap their remains on the remains of their idols and lay waste their cities. Understandably, any that may be left after all this will “have weakness in their hearts; the sound of a driven leaf will chase them and even when no one is pursuing they will flee and fall” (26:36).

It is interesting to note the one threat that God does not include in the many he makes against his chosen people, neither here nor anywhere else in the five books of Moses. That is the threat of hell, of any unpleasantness in any afterlife. There is no hint of any place of eternal torment until at least the Psalms, and even at that point it is unclear and contradictory.

Indeed, there is no Hebrew word for hell at all. The word Sheol is translated as “hell” in the King James Version, but refers to a shadowy nether world beneath the earth, neutral of any judgment, where all men go upon death. For example, King Hezekiah, who had no obvious issues with God, lamented what he thought would be his early entry there in Isaiah 38:10.

• Why are human beings assigned monetary values, with different figures for males and females, for young and old (27:1-7)? A male aged 20-60 years was worth 50 shekels of silver, versus 30 shekels for a female. Males aged 5-20 years were worth 20 shekels, twice that of female of that age. Males 60 years and up were worth 15 shekels, versus 10 shekels for females of that age. In Acts 10:34, Peter says that God is not one to show partiality, but that certainly was not true in the Old Testament.

6.4 Numbers

• Another capital offense, for a stranger to approach the tabernacle (“dwelling place”) in which the ten commandment tablets were placed (3:10).

• We recall with horror and disgust the trials “by ordeal” during the Salem witch madness. Consider, though, how a woman suspected of adultery without witnesses to prove anything is tried (5:11-28). The priest puts dirt in some water and has the woman drink of the “water of bitterness.” If her abdomen swells and her thigh rots, she did it. (There is no mention of anything a woman can do if she suspects her husband of adultery.)

• In chapter 11, Moses has finally had enough and talks back pretty forcefully to God, who takes it surprisingly well. His response is ultimately to blow in quail from the sea, covering the ground 3 feet deep, which the people gathered to the tune of at least 120 bushels apiece. When they‘re eating the meat, God’s anger is kindled against the people and he strikes them with a “very severe plague.”

• In chapter 12, we again see God getting angry with his people, threatening them, but being calmed down and talked out of the worst of it by Moses. Isn’t it disturbing to see a mere mortal leading an all-wise God through these anger management sessions?

• In chapter 13, why does God have Moses send spies into the land of Canaan when he could just tell Moses what was going on there himself?

• A man is found gathering wood on the sabbath and is stoned to death for it (15:32-36).

• Korah and his followers question the authority of Moses and Aaron, though they say nothing against God himself (16:3). Nonetheless, God’s retribution is dramatic and violent; some of them are swallowed up into a crack in the Earth, and the rest are consumed by flame (16:30-35). The next day “all the congregation” grumble against Moses and Aaron. In response, God kills nearly 15,000 more of his chosen people with a plague (16:41-49). Contrast this story with the current-day church congregation having authority over its leaders.

• God gets angry at the Israelites because they joined themselves to Baal of Peor. He tells Moses to “[t]ake all the heads [NASB, leaders] of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel” (25:3-4).

• In the midst of this unpleasantness, an Israelite brings a Midianite woman home to his relatives. In our day, this would likely be met with a resigned politeness and mixed emotions between joy at the loved one finding his soul mate and sadness at him leaving the faith. Not so in the Old Testament! When one of Aaron’s grandsons saw the couple, he ran a spear through them both, killing them then and there. Pleased with this action, God stops his latest plague, capping the body count of his chosen people at 24,000, and gives the grandson his “covenant of peace” (25:12). He then tells Moses to “be hostile to the Midianites and strike them,” something that will happen in the most horrific terms a bit later.

Why does God hate the Midianites so much? Yes, they apparently worship false gods, though there isn’t much specific detail on that. But at this point in history, the world was populated with people who had been developing widely varied religions, from the multiple gods of the Shang dynasty in China to a mature pagan cult centered around Stonehenge (it had been in use for at least a thousand years). None of them got any of the sort of abuse that the Israelites’ neighbors suffered.

• God changes his mind on something again in chapter 27, this time after some women point out that they stand to lose their father’s inheritance because they have no brothers. He acknowledges that they have a point and makes some new rules on the matter. It’s nice that he listens to reason, but why would an all-seeing, all-wise God have to do this?

• The slaughter of the Midianites recounted in chapter 31 is easily one of the most troubling portions of the Bible. The bloodshed begins with God telling Moses to take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites. Moses sends out the troops to make war on Midian; they kill every male, capture the women and children, plunder all their cattle, flocks, and goods, and burn their cities and camps. The Israelites bring the captives, prey, and spoil to Moses, who is angry at them. Why? Not because of their brutality, but because they spared the women! He commands the killing of all the boys and the women who aren’t virgins, but “all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” Stop and read the words again; they are horrific.

God then commands Moses to divide up the booty that was captured, both of man and of animal. The various participants divide up nearly a million head of livestock and 32,000 humans (the virgin girls), as recounted in precise mathematical detail for the remainder of the chapter.

Massacre, plunder, and rape of virgin girls, all from God’s chosen people and their leader operating under God’s direct command?

6.5 Deuteronomy

• The Israelites are warned not to lift up their eyes to heaven and see the sun, moon, and stars, lest they be drawn away and worship them (4:19).

• As the forty years draws to a close and they arrive in Jordan, Moses tells the Israelites that theirs is a compassionate God who will not fail them or destroy them (4:31). What about the tens of thousands of Israelites that God killed in various massacres and plagues, never mind the killing of Egyptians, Midianites, etc.?

• The Israelites are told to “consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them” (7:16). We are often told that the Old Testament is ultimately all about Jesus. In fact, Jesus said that Moses spoke of him (John 5:46). But how is this instruction, along with all the other violence discussed above, anything like Jesus’ commands to love our neighbors as ourselves, turn the other cheek, have compassion, etc.?

• How did Moses go without food and water for forty days in the desert (9:18)? The only explanation is a miracle, but Moses was recounting actions he took as his own demonstration of fear and prayer before God, not as something God was directing or supporting.

• Toward the end of Revelation is a warning about changing any words of the “prophecy of this book,” which is often extended to the entire Bible. But Moses makes his own such statement: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (12:32). Why do we then only observe parts of what Moses taught (e.g., the ten commandments) but not others (e.g., stoning sabbath-breakers to death)? Yes, it’s the Old Testament, but Jesus said that not even the smallest part would pass from the law until all be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). And even in the Old Testament, Moses’ commands were diminished. How else can one explain why David was not executed for murder and adultery?

• If a family member or your wife or a dear friend secretly asks you to go worship other gods, it’s not enough to say no and rebuke him or her for the apostasy. You have to kill him or her: “thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die” (13:9-10).

The same goes for an entire city. If its inhabitants have gone off to serve other gods, you will utterly destroy it and all that is in it, burning the city and all its booty as a burnt offering for God (13:12-16).

• A list of things the Israelites are told they can buy with some tithe money includes “wine or strong drink,” or whatever their hearts desire, and to eat in the presence of God and rejoice (14:26). Why so when the Old Testament elsewhere says that wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise (Proverbs 20:1)?

• Moses says that there will be no poor among the Israelites (15:4), but then says what to do if one of your brothers is a poor man (15:7) and warns that the poor will never cease to be in the land (15:11).

• More capital offenses: not listening to a Levitical priest or judge (17:12), prophesying something that doesn’t happen (18:20-22), and being a stubborn and rebellious son (21:18-21).

• An Israelite soldier who finds a beautiful woman among his captives can bring her home to be his wife. He just needs to let her mourn for a month (21:10-13).

• New brides had reason to be a bit nervous on their wedding night because the husband might charge her with not being a virgin, another capital offense. Chapter 22 goes into some detail about how the girl’s parents might present a bloody garment to the elders of the city as a defense against the husband’s charge.

• No one with his testicles crushed or his penis cut off was allowed to enter God’s assembly (23:1). Why? Was this checked on a regular basis?

No bastard, Ammonite, or Moabite, nor up to ten generations of their descendants could enter, either (23:2-3). Why should someone be denied entry because a distant ancestor from a couple of hundred years ago had parents who weren’t married or were of the wrong tribe? It is hard to recognize any similarity between this and Peter saying that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), or Paul writing that there is neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:28).

• Specific instructions on defecating are provided in 23:12-14. You had to go outside the camp with a peg and dig a hole, and then cover everything up when you finished. The reason given was not to avoid the spread of disease but concern that God might see something indecent when he walks in the midst of the camp.

• A wife had to be careful how to defend her husband if he got in a fight with another Israelite. If she grabbed the other guy’s privates, she‘d have her hand cut off (25:11-12).

• In chapter 28, Moses makes a litany of threats against the Israelites should they disobey any of God’s commands (few of which are reported in later accounts of Israel’s numerous strayings). God will smite them with consumption, fever, inflammation, blight, mildew, boils, tumors, scabs, itch, madness, blindness, and bewilderment. It will rain powder and dust until they are destroyed. They will be oppressed and robbed continually. Their wives will be raped. They will be driven mad by what they see. They will eat their offspring; women will eat their afterbirth for lack of anything else. God will delight over them to make them perish and destroy them. The curses will pursue and overtake them until they are destroyed, and will become a sign and wonder because they did not serve God with “joyfulness and with gladness of heart.”

6.6 Joshua

• Why was Joshua (like Moses) exalted by God in the sight of all Israel, so that they revered him (4:14)? We don’t revere our church leaders, but consider them fellow sinners. God says that he will not give his glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).

• More slaughter and pillage by God’s people, this time against Jericho. Except for Rahab and her family, they destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old. They burned the city and all that was in it, except for the precious metals that they “put into the treasury of the house of the Lord” (6:24). What had the people of Jericho done to deserve this except be in the way and have some valuables?

• One of the Israelites, Achan, takes some of the Jericho booty for himself. Joshua implores him to give glory and praise to God and tell Joshua what he has done. Achan confesses that he has sinned and tells how he coveted the stuff and took it (7:19-21). At this point, given how Joshua approached Achan and Achan’s penitence, we would expect forgiveness of some sort. Aren’t these the Old Covenant believers, who believed in the promise of a savior and forgave sins through the ritual sacrifices?

But that’s not what happened; the Israelites stoned Achen and his sons and daughters to death and burned them (7:24-25). No mercy, no forgiveness. And so much for sons not being put to death for the sins of their fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16).

• The next city on God’s hit list was Ai. He tells Joshua that he has given into his hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. The Israelites destroyed the city and killed everyone but the king, as recorded chillingly in 8:24-26:

And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

The king of Ai got special treatment; he was hanged on a tree until evening (8:29). Again, what had this people done to deserve this? How does the initiator of all this remotely resemble the God of love and grace that we hear of today?

• During the next battle, we are told that “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (10:13). Such a miraculous event might seem plausible in a time when God carried out conversations with people and the earth was viewed as a disk of fairly limited size, with the sun going up and down around it. In view of what we now know about the conservation of momentum and energy and the earth being a rotating sphere illuminated by a distant sun, it is hard to know where to begin in accounting for the necessary miracles.

The entire spinning mass would have had to suddenly stop in place, the thin crust of the earth staying exactly in place atop the liquid mantle as an unimaginable amount of kinetic energy just disappeared into nothing. Then, when the fighting had finished, all that kinetic energy was miraculously inserted back into everything in and on earth again, in perfect timing and quantity, and the earth resumed spinning. And all this happened without any of the other peoples dispersed across the entire earth making any note of it, including the neighboring Egyptians who made detailed astronomical records and worshiped the sun as a god.

This event gets only a few verses in the Bible; it probably just didn’t seem that significant for the bright little dot of the sun to stop moving across the sky for a while. But the science-bending that in truth would have been involved makes it apparent that it is really the most incredible miracle of the entire bible. And for what? So that Joshua could continue a bloodthirsty campaign of conquest against some neighboring tribes in a tiny corner of the Mideast.

• After the next batch of enemies (apparently the Amorites) had been conquered, when Joshua and the sons of Israel had “made an end of slaying them with a very great slaughter” (10:20), Joshua told the chiefs of the men of war to put their feet on the necks of the five kings of the Amorites. After the kings were amply humiliated, Joshua struck the five kings dead and hanged them on five trees. Then he resumed his day’s work by capturing Makkedah and utterly destroying it, leaving no survivors.

• The bloodshed continued with Joshua and the Israelites killing everybody in the cities of Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. We are given a summary at 10:40 as follows:

So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.

Some more conquests are then recounted, with the Israelites leaving no one who breathed. The conquered peoples were not going to have peace or surrender even come up as an option, because “it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses” (11:20).

This is the loving and merciful God who we teach about in Sunday School, who we hear about in sermons, who will welcome everyone to him with open arms if they will only humble themselves and come unto him? The God who came down in the form of man to teach that we should turn the other cheek and love our neighbor as ourself?

• Joshua informs the people that God will not forgive their transgressions or their sins (24:19). Weren’t these the people of the promise? What about the animal sacrifices?

6.7 Judges

• “And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron” (1:19). So much for God’s omnipotence (see 4.4.1).

• Earlier, Moses had completely wiped out Midian, leaving only virgin girls alive as captives (Numbers 31). So how could God give the sons of Israel into the hands of Midian for seven years, and how did the “hand of Midian prevail against Israel” (6:2)? How was it that there were any Midianites left to do that?

• With the spirit of God coming upon him, Jephthah passes over a bunch of places and reaches the sons of Ammon, whom he wants to kill. He makes a vow to God that he will make a human sacrifice of whoever walks out of his house upon his return if God allows him to do the killing he wants (11:30-31). God does so, but when he returns home from his slaughter-and-conquer adventure, it is his daughter who walks out of the house. (Who did he think it would be, the postman?) Poor Jephthah explains his dilemma to his daughter, who takes it all in stride, mourning for two months before submitting to her fiery fate.

• Samson’s parents are told by the angel of God that their son-to-be would have no razor come upon his head (13:5). One would, though, by Deliah (16:19). Why does Paul teach that long hair is a shame to a man (1 Cor 11:14) if this special man of God was never to have his hair cut?

• How did the pre-haircut Samson manage to kill a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15)? Even assuming miraculous assistance, the men would have had to get their throats slashed one at a time by this amazingly sharpened mandible, a process that would take two hours at a rate of seven seconds per throat, all the while failing to somehow get a spear or sword into Samson.

• A certain Levite (one of God’s holy priests) goes off to fetch his concubine, who has run off to her father’s house. During their return trip, they stay at an old man’s house in Gibeah. A bunch of men surround the house and demand to have sex with the Levite. He sends his concubine out to the men instead, and they gang-rape her all night long (19:25). The next day, as she is lying on the doorstep, he tells her to get up. When she doesn’t get up and he finally realizes that she’s dead, he brings her body home, cuts it into twelve pieces, and sends them throughout Israel (19:29). Upon receipt of these grisly obituary notices, the anger of the Israelites is stirred up against the perpetrators, and they go into battle against Gibeah, with the usual slaughter of thousands.

There is a bit of a plot twist this time, though. Gibeah is a city of the sons of Benjamin, one of the tribes of Israel, and so the warfare was between fellow Israelites. After they had smote the sons of Benjamin “with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand” and “set on fire all the cities that they came to” (20:48), the remaining eleven tribes swore that they would never give their daughters to Benjamin in marriage. This created a problem for the remaining men of Benjamin.

The solution, it turned out, was that some other fellow Israelites in Jabesh-Gilead had not helped in the fighting. The congregation of Israel was able to teach these guys a lesson and get virgins for the lonely Benjaminite men with one simple act: slaughter all the men, and their non-virgin women and children. The 400 young virgins that were left were brought back to the camp, and given to the Benjaminite men.

6.8 First Samuel

• The sons of Eli sinned very greatly. The explanation given is in 2:13-16:

[T]he priests’ custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or cauldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither. Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force.

Got that? So Eli went and rebuked his sons, asking “If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall intreat for him” (2:25)? We are told that these were people of the promise, the Old Covenant believers who looked forward to the coming Messiah and sacrificed animals for their sins in the meantime. So we would expect some answer to the question (e.g., “the priests sacrifice for their own sins, too, go and sacrifice,” “one will come who will intreat for us”). But no such answer is given, and the question was asked in a way that implies that there is no answer. It doesn’t matter, though, because God wanted to put them to death (2:25), and thus they would not listen to Eli.

Later (3:13), God tells Samuel that he is going to judge Eli’s house forever because his sons had brought a curse on themselves and Eli did not rebuke them. Huh? How did Eli not rebuke his sons when we are told all about it in 2:23-25? God further tells Samuel that the iniquity of Eli’s house “shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever” (3:14). Not much of a forgiving God here.

• God kills all of the people of Beth-shemite, 50,070 men to be exact, because some of their men had looked into the ark of the covenant (6:19).

• After Samuel hears the people’s demands for a king, he repeats the words of the people in God’s hearing (8:21). Why couldn’t God hear what they were saying without Samuel having to repeat it?

• Samuel tells Saul that God wants the Amelekites dead. Saul is to utterly destroy all that Amelek has, put to death both man and woman, child and infant, plus livestock (15:3). Saul went and fought the Amelekites utterly destroyed all the people, except that he captured their king alive. He also spared the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and all that was good. This disobedience made God regret that he had made Saul king (15:10-11).

Here we have another example of God regretting something he had done. How is that possible with an all-seeing, all-wise God? We also have yet another example of how bloodthirsty God is, at least as depicted in the Old Testament. Again, stop and think about the horror of it all. God commanded a massacre of this entire people, including women, children, and infants. The only thing that he appears to find evil about the whole episode is the fact that Saul failed to completely obey him and left the king and some animals alive (15:19).

• Saul confesses his sin to Samuel and asks him to “pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord” (15:24-25). This would appear to be an ideal moment for the Old Testament to show that one could indeed turn to another for forgiveness, for these people believed on the promise. But Samuel declines to offer any forgiveness, saying that God will not “will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent” (or “change his mind,” 15:29). And God did in fact change his mind before this time, e.g., when “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:6) and when “the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (Exodus 32:14).

Saul persists and Samuel goes with him to where the captured Amelekite king was held. Samuel tells the king, “As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.” Then he cuts “Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal” (15:33). Samuel apparently misses the irony in the statement he makes to the king before he butchers him, in that Samuel is the one who ordered the attack on the Amelekites, children and infants and all.

• The search for a new king is on, and God tells Samuel not to look at the appearance or height of one rejected candidate’s stature, “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (16:7). If that’s the case, why did God specify a bunch of “outward appearance” disqualifications for his Levitical priests, including having a disfigured face, a hunchback, or any deformed limb, or being a dwarf (Leviticus 21:18, 20). And why does the story then bother to describe the ultimately successful candidate, David, as being “of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” (16:12)?

• An “evil spirit from God came upon Saul” (18:10) that made Saul want to kill David. How can evil come from God? Why would God send an evil spirit that could result in the death of his chosen candidate for king?

• David brought a hundred foreskins of the Philistines to Saul as a dowry for his daughter (18:27).

• If this is all nonfiction, why does Nabal (i.e., “fool” in Hebrew) just happen to have an unflattering name that fits his role in the story narrated in chapter 25?

• How could an evil medium at Endor have power to “bring up” Samuel, one of God’s holy men, in a vision from the dead (28:13-19)?

In that story, Samuel tells Saul that he will be given into the hands of the Philistines, and therefore Saul and his sons will be with Samuel tomorrow (28:19). Samuel was righteous and indeed had talked with God on a regular basis, so how is it that he and Saul, the wicked king who ended his own life in the sin of suicide, wind up in the same place after death? As will be evident below, the simple reason appears to be that the concept of hell didn’t develop until late in the Old Testament.

6.9 Second Samuel

• Saul had given David’s first wife Michal (1 Samuel 18:27) to Phalti the Son of Laish (1 Samuel 25:44) after David’s escape. Fair enough–Saul does lots of bad things and is not to be considered an example for us. But what are we to make of David’s behavior when he takes Michal from Phalti, not to get his first wife back, but to use her as a bargaining chip (3:13-15)? The text, by the way, talks about Phalti following her crying but doesn’t bother to note anything about her own reaction to being forced yet again into a new marriage not of her choice.

• Some guys decide to kill one of Saul’s sons as a way of avenging for Saul’s attempts to kill David, but David is not pleased. He has them killed, has their hands and feet cut off, and has them hanged up (4:12).

• David gathers “all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand” (6:1) to move the ark of the covenant on an oxcart. (What happened to the nearly two million Israelites of the Exodus?) One of the drivers of the cart, Uzzah, puts his hand to the ark and takes hold of it when it starts to shake (the cart had reached a threshing floor, apparently bumpy). For some reason, God does not look favorably on this instinctive attempt to steady his precious object. Rather, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error” (6:7). God’s behavior here is not baffling only to a modern-day reader; even at the time “David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah” (6:8).

• David dances around in a way and in a garment that apparently leaves little to the imagination. His ex-wife (not by her choice, of course) Michal sarcastically says to him, “How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself” (6:20)! David replies that God chose him a ruler over Israel and so he will play before God. Furthermore, he says, “I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour” (6:22). What is David’s behavior and arrogant reaction to her criticism supposed to teach us?

• David smites the Moabites and measures them with a line, “casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive” (8:2). Sound familiar? It should; these sorts of capricious live-or-die choices were made by the Nazis in the concentration camps.

• Did David kill the men of 700 chariots of Syria (10:18) or 7,000 (1 Chronicles 19:18)?

• In the story of David and Bathsheba, we are told that David had Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) eat and drink before him and got him drunk (11:13). Was drunkenness considered a routine part of the life of an Israelite? Why is it not mentioned again in the story, even where Nathan chastises David for his sins in chapter 12?

• There seems to be a reference to the afterlife in David’s lament about the son who was was killed as punishment for his sin (David’s sin, I might add, not any of the innocent child). He says, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (12:23). If all David had in mind for himself after death were non-existence, it seems that he would not have talked about going to his son.

In any event, his vague statement is one of just a few we will encounter in the Old Testament that even arguably refer to an afterlife. The lack of attention given to one’s fate after death may come as a surprise to the Christian reader whose primary religious motivations are the carrot and stick of eternal bliss versus eternal torture. So too with the bland, neutral nature of the only place the ancient Jews did think about as their final destination, Sheol:

All the dead go down to Sheol, and there they lie in sleep together–whether good or evil, rich or poor, slave or free (Job 3:11-19). It is described as a region “dark and deep,” “the Pit,” and “the land of forgetfulness,” cut off from both God and human life above (Pss. 6:5; 88:3-12). Though in some texts Yahweh’s power can reach down to Sheol (Ps. 139:8), the dominant idea is that the dead are abandoned forever. This idea of Sheol is negative in contrast to the world of life and light above, but there is no idea of judgment or of reward and punishment. If one faces extreme circumstances of suffering in the realm of the living above, as did Job, it can even be seen as a welcome relief from pain–see the third chapter of Job. But basically it is a kind of “nothingness,” an existence that is barely existence at all, in which a “shadow” or “shade” of the former self survives (Ps. 88:10). [Tabor]

• The anger of God burns against Israel (24:1), which incited David to command a census of Israel and Judah. God is angry at his chosen people yet again, but no reason for the anger is given. And why that anger would prompt David to count everybody is also unclear.

• After the census, David feels himself to have sinned greatly by wanting to know the number of people in his kingdom (24:10). One wonders why that action would be so sinful; as the name implies, the book of Numbers is full of descriptions of how the people were numbered. For example, “Moses numbered, as the Lord commanded him, all the firstborn among the children of Israel” (3:42). But God apparently agrees with David’s guilt, because he punishes his census by sending a pestilence that kills 70,000 innocent Israelites (other than David), the unfairness of which was apparent even to David (24:17).

Although it seems foreign to the modern reader, the criticism of David’s actions may be explainable in the context of an ancient Israelite who was to have trust in God as his secret weapon in holy war. For David to take the census implied a lack of trust in that area (Price 2011).

6.10 First Kings

• Did Solomon have 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots (4:26) or 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots (2 Chronicles 9:25)? Did the molten sea in the temple hold 2,000 baths (7:26) or 3,000 baths (2 Chronicles 4:5)?

• Why is the circular sea of cast metal reported as measuring 10 cubits from brim to brim and 30 cubits in circumference? The ratio would be pi (3.141 and change), and wouldn’t it have been easy enough to report the circumference as 31, or even rounding up to 32 given that the walls were about a handbreadth thick? Sure, it seems like a minor point and we can easily accept that the ancient reporter might have been sloppy with his measuring. But if we acknowledge an error in this passage, why are we certain there are no errors in more significant portions nearby, e.g., where we are told that a cloud filled the temple (8:10)?

• Solomon’s prayer of dedication talks about God forgiving sins through prayer, both inside the temple (8:33-34) and outside, but directed toward it (8:35-50).

• How did Solomon manage to sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep in one day (8:63-64)? That works out to more than three head per second over the course of 12-hour day! A different sacrifice recounted much later in 2 Chronicles 29:32-34 posed logistical problems with a small fraction of that number of animals. Even if Solomon pulled off the feat somehow, what was the point of such a large slaughter?

• In one year Solomon took in 666 talents of gold, or about 50,000 pounds (10:14).

• Solomon let his wives turn his heart away after other gods when he grew old, and his “heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (11:4-5). Why would he do such a thing, with all the great wisdom and very great discernment God had given him, making him wiser than all men (4:29-31)? Remember this wasn’t just “man’s wisdom”; it was provided directly by God.

• God was angry with Solomon for turning his heart from God and failing to keep God’s covenant and statutes. He punished Solomon by taking the kingdom from his son. As in the rest of the Old Testament, however, there is no sign of any everlasting punishment. Indeed, we are told that “Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father” (11:43). That is the exact same end that came to Asa (15:24), one of his successors whose “heart was perfect with the Lord all his days” (15:14). On the other hand, chapters 14-16 list a bunch of other successor kings who were evil but, like Solomon, wound up “sleeping with their fathers,” including Omri who “wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him” (16:25).

This is eternal life versus eternal damnation we are talking about, certainly no trifling matter! So why does this book of Scripture make it appear that there is no distinction between the fate of the evildoer and the faithful?

Luther was persuaded that all of all those who “slept with their fathers” are all in heaven (Table Talk §540). That retrojects the post-Exilic idea of a place of eternal reward into this early biblical text, whose authors more probably meant what they said when they referred to the unconscious “sleep” of death.

6.11 Second Kings

• Why are we told that Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind (2:11) when John 3:13 says that “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven”?

• One of the first things that Elijah’s replacement Elisha does is to get back at a bunch of young boys who mocked him saying “go up, you baldhead, go up you baldhead!” He curses them in the name of God, whereupon two female bears come out of the woods and tear up 42 of the boys (2:23-24). That’ll teach those brats not to disrespect God’s prophet!

• Did Ahaziah begin to reign in the twelfth year of Jorab at age 22 (8:25-26) or in the eleventh year of Jorab (9:29) at age 42 (2 Chronicles 22:2)?

• Elisha informs Jehu that God has anointed him as king over Israel (9:6) and that “the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her” (9:10). Later Jehu has Jezebel thrown down from a window and he rides his horse over her bloodied body (9:33). Miraculously, when they go to bury her, there is nothing left but her skull, feet, and the palms of her hands (9:35). Sure, Jezebel had done some bad things, but why does God’s punishment (he commended Jehu later) always have to be so vicious and disgusting?

• Imagine that a modern-day leader wants to kill all the adherents of a religion he believes to be false. He pretends to have a worship gathering for this false religion and invites all the adherents to assemble for it at their service hall. When they are all gathered together and the leader is certain that none of the members of his own religion in the hall, he massacres all the false-religionists and vandalizes their worship hall.

This is basically what Jehu did to the worshipers of Baal (10:19-27). And God commended Jehu for all his actions (10:30), including that, the killing of seventy people and laying their heads in heaps by the city gate (10:7-8), and taking 42 other captives alive and slaughtering them in a pit (10:14).

• In 18:3, we are told that Hezekiah “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord,” and in the next verse that Hezekiah “removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it.” God had specifically told Moses to make that brazen serpent back in Numbers 21:8.

• God says that he will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down (21:13). Are people just like so much scum on a dirty dish to him?

6.12 First Chronicles

• David says to Solomon that he has prepared for the temple 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver. That’s over seven million pounds of gold, nearly as much as is currently held in Fort Knox. And this was accumulated by a kingdom of a million or so people in the Bronze Age Mideast?

• Satan is finally mentioned, for the first time since the Fall of Man back in Genesis 3, assuming the serpent of Genesis and Satan are one and the same. And it is only a very brief mention: “Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” (21:1). The Chronicler attributes David’s actions as being motivated by Satan, though the original story, written centuries earlier, says that “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he [God!] moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 24:1).

Price explains the apparent discrepancy by noting that Satan was actually viewed as an agent of God at that point in Old Testament theology. In both versions of the story, God wanted to test David (mustn’t say “tempt”) to see if he would rest on God’s assurances about being ruler over Israel, or if he would decide to do a census to get some earthly assurance as well. But that leaves us with Satan playing the remarkable role of acting in God’s stead, which seems even harder to reconcile with our current theology than the presence of a drastic discrepancy between the two versions.

6.13 Second Chronicles

• Chronicles is a much later retelling of the stories of the kings, dating from around the fifth century B.C. Still there is still no mention of any reward or punishment after death. Good and evil kings alike all “slept with their fathers,” Solomon (9:31), Rehoboam (12:16) who “did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord” (12:14), and Asa (16:13) who “did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (14:2).

• God has a conference with the “host of heaven” with various spirits chattering away around his throne. He asks who among the spirits will entice King Ahab to take a fall, and one of the spirits volunteers for the job. God sends the volunteer to be a “lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (19:18-22). This picture of God as a cunning king who uses spirits as courtiers and resorts to subterfuge to achieve his ends is hardly the stuff of current Christian theology.

• Was Jehoiachin eight years old when he began to reign (36:9) or eighteen (2 Kings 24:8)? If the former, how did an 8-year old boy manage to do evil in the sight of God during his three-month reign (36:9)?

• The sons of Judah capture 10,000 people and throw them from the top of a cliff so that they are “broken in pieces” (25:12).

6.14 Ezra

• Some of the Israelites had intermarried with Canaanites, Hittites, etc. “so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands” (9:2), which gets Ezra very upset. Isn’t this all about tribalism (“the holy seed”), rather than about marrying unbelievers? Anyhow, Ezra weeps and casts himself down before the house of God and persuades the transgressors to “put away all the wives and such as are born of them” (10:3). What happened to these wives and children that they “put away”? Assuming that we are just talking about divorce, it was not grudgingly allowed due to the hardness of hearts, as Jesus said Moses had permitted, but was commanded by one of God’s prophets.

Stark calls Ezra a “xenophobic nationalist” who was commissioned by a Persian Emperor to finish restoring the Jerusalem Temple. He returned “home to discover that Judeans had begun to intermarry with ‘the people of the land,’ i.e., non-Jewish inhabitants of the region.” To purify God’s people from these undesirables, “despite the fact that many of these marriages had already produced numerous children, Ezra decreed that every Jewish man married to a non-Jewish woman and her offspring were to be expelled from the land, abandoned to fend for themselves” (2011, 1-2).

6.15 Nehemiah

• Reading the book of Moses and finding it to command that “the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever” prompts the Israelites to exclude all foreigners (13:1-3). Apparently the centuries-old misdeeds of the foreigners’ ancestors now prevented them from being in the one place where they could worship the true God.

• Nehemiah seems pretty proud of himself. The book is written in the first person, and talks at length about his own works. He concludes one account of his doings with a request that God think upon him for good, “according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19). After another account, he asks God to remember him “concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof” (13:14).

6.16 Esther

• King Ahasuerus made a feast and gave drink to the people in his palace, and “royal wine in abundance” (1:7) “And the drinking was according to the Law” (1:8). On the seventh day, “the heart of the king was merry with wine” (1:10).

• What are we supposed to learn from the story of Esther’s continued demands for the Jews’ vengeance, culminating in the killing of 75,000 of those who hated them (9:16)?

6.17 Job

• Job offers burnt offerings for his sons, saying “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts” (1:5). But we can’t believe for our children, can we?

• Who are the “sons of God” who “came to present themselves before the Lord” (2:1)?

• The book of Job speaks much of the sufferings of this life, of God’s justice, of Job’s yearning for an end to it all. In 19:23-27, Job does look forward to some sort of afterlife:

For I know that my redeemer [literally, kinsman] liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth [lit., dust]: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.

Elihu mentions the prospect of a righteous man seeing God’s face with joy, of God delivering such a man’s “soul from going into the pit,” and his life seeing the light (33:26-28).

But why does the rest of the book make it seem as though death is the end of everything, for good and evil alike? Note the following:

1. Job laments that he did not die at birth or in infancy, for he should “have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, with kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves; or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: or as an hidden untimely birth [NASB: miscarriage] I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master” (3:13-19).

There the wicked cease from troubling? And they are in the same place as innocent infants?

2. Job says that, as a cloud is gone when it vanishes, “he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more” (7:9).

3. He says that he will “go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness” (10:21).

4. Unlike a tree that may sprout again after being cut down, “man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (14:10-12). The “till the heavens be no more” clause looks interesting to us because it looks like what we view as the end of the world, but there was no such apocalyptic expectation in Job’s Old Testament worldview. Still, intriguingly, he laments to God, “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come” (14:13-14).

5. Job says that, when a few years are come, then he shall go the way of no return” (16:22).

6. In Chapter 18, Bildad the Shuhite goes on at some length about the fate of the wicked. He mentions nothing about any eternal punishment (nor is there any such mention in the entire book of Job), but says that the memory of the wicked perishes from the earth, he is driven from light into darkness and chased from the inhabited world.

7. Job compares the fate of one who dies in his full strength, and one who dies with a bitter soul, never tasting anything good. “They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them” (21:26). He asks who will confront the wicked with his actions, who will repay him for what he has done? “While he is carried to the grave, men will keep watch over his tomb. The clods of the valley will gently cover him; moreover, all men will follow after him, while countless ones go before him” (NASB, 21:32-33). God’s justice thus seems to be cold comfort for Job; he then asks his companions how will they vainly comfort him, for their answers remain full of falsehood.

8. He complains about the lack of justice for the wicked: “Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave those which have sinned. The womb shall forget him; the worm shall feed sweetly on him; he shall be no more remembered; and wickedness shall be broken as a tree” (24:19-20).

9. Job knows that God will bring him to death, “and to the house appointed for all living” (30:23; NASB: house of meeting for all living).

• The book of Job describes a micromanaging God who fits ancient perceptions. Elihu describes God telling the snow and rain to fall (37:6), and of frost being given by God’s breath (37:10). God himself asks Job if he has perceived the breadth of the earth (38:18), or if he has entered “the storehouses of the snow,” or of the hail? (NASB, 38:22-23) He asks from whose womb the ice has come, and who has given birth to the “frost of heaven” (38:29). He asks if Job can “tip the water jars of the heavens” (38:37).

• God goes on at some length about a fearsome “Leviathan,” whose sneezes flash forth light (41:18) and out of whose mouth go burning torches and sparks of fire (41:19).

• Ehrman isn’t particularly impressed with the book of Job, citing it as part of “God’s Problem” of human suffering (4.9.4). He finds the end of the book most offensive,

when God restores all that Job had lost–including additional children. Job lost seven sons and three daughters and, as a reward for his faithfulness, God gives him an additional seven sons and three daughters. What was this author thinking? That the pain of a child’s death will be removed by the birth of another? That children are expendable and replaceable like a faulty computer or DVD player? What kind of God is this? [Ehrman 2008, 172]

To Ehrman, the book is “supremely dissatisfying. If God tortures, maims, and murders people just to see how they will react–to see if they will not blame him, when in fact he is to blame–then this does not seem to me to be a God worthy of worship. Worthy of fear, yes. Of praise, no” (p. 172).

6.18 Psalms

• “David” laments to God that “in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (6:5).1 He also says that he will depart and will “be no more” (39:13). This sure doesn’t sound like a belief in an afterlife.

On the other hand, David states in Psalm 16 that God will not abandon his soul to Sheol, nor allow his “holy one” (or “godly one” per NASB; from the context, presumably David himself) to undergo decay. He says that God will make know to him the path of life; in God’s presence is fullness of joy and in his right hand there are pleasures forever (16:10-11).

Elsewhere David mentions being given “length of days for ever and ever” (21:4). He also says that “all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him” (22:29). In the familiar Psalm 23, he says will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (lit. “for length of days” per NASB) and he says he will praise the Lord “forever” in 30:12. The writer of Psalm 71 says that God will revive him again and will bring him “up again from the depths of the earth” (71:20).

The writer of Psalm 49 says that man will not endure, that he is like the beasts that perish (49:12). Death will feed on the foolish, that “their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling” (49:14). He describes no further punishment for the foolish, but the writer says that God will redeem his own soul from the power of the grave and will receive him.

The first hints of anything that is arguably like the hell of the New Testament are in Psalms 11 and 140:

Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; The upright will behold His face. [NASB, 11:6-7]

As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them. Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again. [140:9-10]

Hell as we understand it is the ultimate threat of punishment, where God is going to allow the wicked to suffer unimaginably cruel tortures for all eternity. (Had your skin peeled off and your limbs slowly hacked away for trillions of years? You‘re just getting started!) But the above references, a full two thirds of the way through the Old Testament and written thousands of years after the dawn of civilization, are the first that could be construed as providing any warning of the horrors of hell.

Given the magnitude of what’s at stake, why does God completely ignore the topic for most of the history of his chosen people? It’s not that God is uninterested in details; he specified what people could eat, when they could have sex, what body parts wives shouldn’t grab when defending their husbands, and how many hins and ephahs of flour and oil to sacrifice with this or that animal. And it’s not just a lack of warnings; God allows it to appear that there really is no hell at all, providing scripture that tells of the good and evil kings all going to sleep with their fathers and the story of Samuel and Saul winding up in the same place after death.

• David brags about being rewarded according to his own righteousness:

The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me. I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight. [18:20-24]

• In Psalm 18, David glories in his violent adventures, noting how he has pursued and overtaken his enemies and did not turn back “until they were consumed” (18:37). He praises God who has given him the necks of his enemies,

that I might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets [18:40-42].

It is God, David continues, that executes vengeance for and subdues people under David, who delivers David from his enemies and lifts him up above those that rise up against him. Then, without apparent irony, David notes that God has rescued him “from the violent man” (18:47-48).

• David asks God to have mercy on him and to blot out his transgressions, probably those involving Bathsheba, “according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies” (51:1). In a significant departure from the teachings of Moses, he asserts that God does not desire sacrifice or burnt offering. Instead, David says, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (51:16-17).

How was David authorized to change the “statutes and judgments” that Moses had taught under God’s command, which he said that the Israelites should do in the land where they were to go to possess (Deuteronomy 4:5)? And wasn’t the substitute for the animal sacrifices to be the sacrifice of God’s own son? David alludes nothing to that. Indeed, he says that, at that point, God does not desire sacrifice.

• David considers the reward of the righteous as seeing God’s vengeance and having the opportunity to “wash his feet in the blood of the wicked” (58:10-11). Again, though, no eternal punishment is envisioned. Instead, the wicked will pass away like a melting snail or a woman’s miscarriage, “that they may not see the sun” (58:8).

• David says, “unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work” (62:12). What about the tens of thousands of people that God had killed via Joshua, for no apparent reason except that they were in the way of the land that had been promised to his chosen people? What about the tens of thousands of children whom he had killed along with their fathers? What about the grandchildren of the Ammonites and the Moabites, who were cast out of the congregation because of what their great-grandfathers did? And that doesn’t consider our current understanding of hell, to which untold millions of people have been been condemned, starting thousands of years before the Psalms were written, for not knowing anything of God’s chosen nation or having access to the sacrifices that pleased him.

• Various New Testament writers present parts of Psalm 69 as foreshadowings of Jesus’ work and his suffering on the cross. John 2:17 writes of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as being prophesied by the statement that “the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (69:9). Paul tells the Romans (15:3) that Jesus did not please himself, but that “the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me” (69:9). John 19:28-30 tells us that Jesus drank sour wine to fulfill the Scripture, apparently referring to the Psalmist’s statement, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (69:21). But why does the Psalmist sound so unlike Jesus outside the verses that have a familiar ring, e.g., where he asks that his oppressors have

their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents [69:22-26].

Jesus, in sharp contrast to the Psalmist, asked God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

• The Psalmist laments “the prosperity of the wicked, for there are no pains in their death” (73:3-4). He consoles himself with what he finally understood to be their end: “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! [NASB: destroyed in a moment] They are utterly consumed with terrors [NASB: swept away by sudden terrors]” (73:18-19). It would be easy for someone steeped in the New Testament’s theology of eternal damnation to see this as a vision of hell, but look at the words and consider the viewpoint of the Israelites at the time of the Psalmist’s writing: God has destroyed and swept away the wicked in sudden moments of terror, and continues to do so.

The Psalmist, naturally, does not see any such unpleasantness in his own future. It seems that he may even look forward to something after death, because he says to God that “Thou shall guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (73:24).

• The writer of Psalm 83 asks God to deal with some unnamed enemies who are making an uproar as he did with Midian and other recipients of God’s wrath. He asks that God pursue them with his tempest like a fire burns wood, fill their faces with shame (“that they may seek thy name”), let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish (83:14-17).

• “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (84:11). What does this mean, given that believers in the Old and New Testaments alike have suffered violence, hunger, and poverty at various times in history? Of course, the verse can be made immune to criticism simply by defining a “good thing” as whatever God has decided, in his inscrutable wisdom, to be good. An example of this is the well-meaning explanation I heard about a child’s tragic death I witnessed: The child made it to heaven without having to undergo a normal lifetime of temptation and peril.

• Psalm 88 is a lament about the writer’s imminent death and lack of any conviction about any life thereafter. He considers the dead to be remembered by God no more, cut off from his hand (88:5). He asks, skeptically it seems,

Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah. Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? [88:10-12]

• Contrary to Psalm 98:3, which states that “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God,” only a tiny fraction of the world’s population at the time had heard of the God of Abraham.

• Psalm 104 shows an ancient view of cosmology that probably seemed reasonable enough when it was written but no longer can be considered anything but devotional. It is also interesting to consider the possible influence of Egyptian sun worship, as evidenced in the “Great Hymn to Aten,” written in the 14th century B.C. The following passages are excerpted from the NASB:

God covers himself with light as with a garment, stretches out the heavens like a curtain, lays the beams of his chambers in the waters, and makes the clouds his chariot (104:2-3). He walks on the wings of the wind, making the winds his messengers and flaming fire his ministers (104:3-4). He established the earth on its foundations so that it will not totter forever and ever (104:5), covered it with the deep as a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains but fled at his rebuke and the sound of his thunder (104:6-7). He waters the mountains from his upper chambers (104:13), the sun knows the place of its setting (104:19), he looks at the earth and it trembles, he touches the mountains and they smoke (104:32-33).

It is interesting to see one parallel with modern geology, though. “The mountains rose, the valleys sank down” (NASB, 104:8), which indeed they did over billions of years, contrary to the pre-scientific thought that the world is exactly as God made it a few thousands of years ago.

• The Psalmist praises God for causing vegetation to grow for food and “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (104:15).

• Psalm 127 is one of the few parts of Scripture cited against the use of birth control: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (127:3). But the NASB translates this as “Behold, children are a gift [or heritage] of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Luther translates it as “See, children are a gift [Gabe] of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is a present [Geschenk].”

• The Psalmist is angry at the “daughter of Babylon,” and pronounces blessings on the one who “taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones” (137:9).

Departing from his usual disdain for wild allegory, Luther attempted to whitewash this disgusting statement by associating it with “prayer and the Word of God,” a fleeing to prayer “when evil lust stirs”:

Thus says Psalm 137: “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth the little ones of Babylon against the rock,” that is, if the heart runs to the Lord Christ with its evil thoughts while they are yet young and just beginning; for Christ is a Rock, on which they are ground to powder and come to naught. [Treatise on Good Works (1520); PE 1, 276]

• Many authors who attempt to make God fit into the framework of 21st century scientific knowledge treat him as a hands-off deity who started things off at the Big Bang, set things up with laws and chemical reactions that would result in us evolving as humans eventually, and then stepped away to watch the fun. But that’s certainly not the kind of God David writes about in Psalm 139:

O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell [Sheol], behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

It is also not the kind of God we read about earlier in the five books of Moses, who apparently didn’t forsee how evil man would be (Genesis 6:6) and changed his mind numerous times. And how about the God of Job, who had Satan test him repeatedly to see what he would do?

• David clearly didn’t agree with his descendant Jesus that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44, Luke 6:27). He says, “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect [NASB: the utmost] hatred: I count them mine enemies” (139:21-22). Why did God change such a fundamental thing as loving versus hating from the Old Testament to the New Testament if he didn‘t change things like working on the Sabbath, being fruitful and multiplying, coveting stuff, and honoring one’s father and mother?

• David proclaims God to be “gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (145:8-9). How can this possibly be a description of the same deity who commanded the genocide, conquest, plague, deception, and misogyny that we have already seen, and will continue to see, through the entire length of the Old Testament? Does being “good to all” include subjecting the Egyptians to horrible plagues, or authorizing Joshua’s conquest of the Canaanites for their land and valuables, and the slaughter of all their people, men, women, and children alike?

• Psalm 145:18-20 assures us that God is

nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.

In our time, millions and perhaps billions of people fear and love God in complete sincerity. They agonize over their sins, and write eloquently of their struggles with doubt over their beliefs. Many of them are driven to read the Bible, pray, sing praises, and evangelize. Quite a few of them draw comfort from personal forgiveness of their sins in the name of Jesus. But in the Conservative Laestadian viewpoint they are excluded, and the phrase “all them” means “almost none of them.”

6.19 Proverbs

• Contrary to the assertions of Proverbs 12:21 (“There shall no evil happen to the just”) and 19:23 (“The fear of the Lord tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil”), the just and those who fear the Lord have experienced plenty of evil. Nero’s persecutions of the Christians come to mind. Jesus acknowledged the equal-opportunity nature of things by noting that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

• “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going. A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident” (14:15-16). Does that advice apply to words of doctrine that have been handed down for generations?

• There may be an oblique reference to Sheol being more than just the shadowy “nether world” in the admonition to discipline one’s child: “You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol” (23:14).

• We are told to “[r]ejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him” (24:17-18). But the Psalms are full of such vindictive thoughts. For example, David praises God, saying “I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence” (Psalms 9:2-3).

6.20 Ecclesiastes

• The Preacher writes that “the earth abideth for ever” (1:4), which contradicts the New Testament’s apocalyptic teachings and our current understanding that the world will end. Nowhere in the Old Testament thus far (except in the story of Noah and the destruction of the “first world”) has there been any mention of an end of the world.

• The Preacher writes at some length about a man’s ultimate fate, and it is definitely not what a typical Christian reader would expect to see written in Scripture. The Preacher says he knows that one fate befalls both the wise man and the fool who walks in darkness (2:14). He looks back on his life and wisdom, saying “there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool” (2:16). He concludes that “[t]here is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God” (2:24).

He wishes that the sons of men would realize that they themselves are beasts (3:18), a conclusion that puts him in agreement with modern evolutionary biologists. And the fate of Homo sapiens and beasts is the same:

[A]s the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? [3:19-21]

Again, the Preacher concludes that “there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works.” That is man’s portion, he says, “for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” (3:22)

He certainly doesn’t look forward to any eternal correction of injustice for the oppressed. Rather, he says he congratulated the dead more than the living, who had no comforter in their oppression. But better than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil that is done under the sun (4:1-3). This is quite a contrast to how we often comfort ourselves about one who has “gone to his reward!” The reward of a man, the Preacher contends, is “to eat, to drink, and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils during the few years of his life which God has given him” (NASB, 5:18).

Just as he sees no difference between the fates of man and beasts, the Preacher sees one fate for the righteous and the wicked, for the good and clean and for the unclean, for the man who offers sacrifice and the one who does not, for the good man and the sinner (9:2). It is, he laments, “an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all.” The hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and full of madness while they live, and afterwards? They go to the dead (9:3).

And the dead, according to the preacher,

know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. [9:5-6]

His conclusion then? It is a very pragmatic, cheerful one, with none of the agonizing over sinfulness and its eternal consequences that would torture fearful souls in the thousands of years to come:

Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity [NASB: your fleeting life], which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life [NASB: your reward in life], and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. [9:7-10]

6.21 Isaiah

• Why does God change his mind about sacrifices, new moon festivals, and Sabbaths (1:11-14)? He went into a lot of detail establishing all that stuff through Moses, who had warned the Israelites, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut 12:32). And the transition from Old Testament to New Testament won’t happen for centuries.

• God sends Isaiah to prophesy to the people with a divine guarantee of failure: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (6:10). Why does God deliberately prevent people from converting and being healed?

• In a familiar passage, Isaiah says that the Lord will give the house of David a sign:

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. [7:14-16]

The word “virgin” was translated from the Hebrew word almah which has a rather generic meaning of “young woman” or “maiden.” (Elsewhere Isaiah uses the specific word for a virgin, betulah, but not here.) That translation was questioned already in antiquity. Around 200 A.D., Irenaeus defended the “virgin” translation based on the presupposition that

God in truth became man, and the Lord himself saved us, giving the sign of the virgin; but not as some say, who now venture to translate the Scripture, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bring forth a son,” as Theodotion of Ephesus and Aquila of Pontus, both of them Jewish proselytes, interpreted; following whom, the Ebionites say that he was begotten by Joseph. [from Eusebius, Church History, Chapter 8]

However, we no longer are dependent on the Septuagint translation into Greek. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible translates the passage as follows, based on the ancient scrolls found at Qumran, including the complete record provided by the Great Isaiah scroll:

Look, the young woman has conceived and is bearing a son, and his name will be Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey by the time he knows to refuse evil and choose good. For before the child knows to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

The passage is familiar because Matthew, probably relying on the Septuagint, quotes it as a prophecy of Jesus:

When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [Matthew 1:18-23]

If we look afresh at the words of the original passage, though, without trying to make it fit, the prophecy seems a lot less clear. Obviously, lots of young women bore sons, and Isaiah states that this particular young woman had already conceived. We know nothing about Jesus eating curds and honey, or any land of two dreaded kings that became deserted during his youth.

• Finally we see what may be the first real prophecy of the Messiah in the Old Testament, not counting the vague stuff about the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will be on his shoulders. He is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. His government will expand, and peace will be endless for the throne of David and his kingdom, to establish it and to sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forevermore. [Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 9:6-7]

A child is born, a son given, bearing the title of Mighty God himself, along with that of Wonderful Counselor!

Still, parts of the passage don’t entirely add up. Nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus referred to as the “Prince of Peace.” Isaiah looks forward to the Prince of Peace expanding his government, and peace without end for the throne of David. However, Jesus did not have any role in the government of Israel (which was Roman, not Jewish, in his day), and said that he did not come to send peace on earth but a sword (Matthew 10:34). And what do we make of the text right after the quoted passage, which is full of God’s typical Old Testament threats and anger? The Lord will set up adversaries who will devour Israel, but his anger will not be turned away. Therefore he will

cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day. The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail. For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed. Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke. Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother. And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm: Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

All that is certainly a jarring contrast with a promise to send a wonderful counselor and Prince of Peace.

• Another Messiah prophecy concerns a shoot who “will come forth from the stump of Jesse,” a branch from his roots who will bear fruit. “The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. His delight will be in the fear of the Lord” (Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 10:1-2).

Sounds good, but what’s with all the talk about the Messiah judging and ruling, and not in a particularly Jesus-like manner? “He will not judge by appearance, nor decide by what he hears, but with righteousness he will obtain justice for the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the land. He will strike the land with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips the wicked will be killed” (Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 10:3-4).

• Isaiah prophesies bad things for Egypt. Among other things,

[t]he waters of the Nile will dry up, and the riverbed will become parched and dry. And the canals will become foul, and the streams of Egypt will dwindle and dry up, reeds and rushes, and they will wither away. The reeds along the Nile, on the brink of the Nile, and all the sown fields of the Nile, will dry up and be driven away, and there will be nothing in it. [Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 19:5-7]

Also, the land of Judah is prophesied to become a terror to the Egyptians, and there will be five cities in Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of Hosts. There will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of Egypt and a pillar to the Lord at its border (19:17-19). The Egyptians will cry unto the Lord, and

he will send them a savior and he will go down and will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will acknowledge the Lord on that day. They will even worship with sacrifices and burnt offerings . . . [Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 19:20-21]

None of this has ever happened, and we are well past the times when God was in the practice of smelling burnt offerings. The prophecy has nothing to do with anything about the Second Coming, either. According to the New Testament, Jesus will be in no mood to rescue people at that point.

• God tells Isaiah to walk around naked and barefoot for three years “for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (20:2-4).

• We finally see a real, worldwide apocalypse in chapter 24. The earth is to be completely laid waste and devoured by a curse. Its inhabitants are to be burned, and few men left (24:6). There is more apocalypse in chapter 30.

• Other lords have had dominion over Judah, but “[t]hey are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish” (26:14). It doesn’t seem like there is anything after death for these lords; they will not rise. But just a few verses later, it says “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (26:19).

• God will slay Leviathan, the dragon that is in the sea (27:1).

• We come upon a clear mention of a resurrection of the dead, arguably for the first time in the Old Testament:

[T]he dead will live, their dead bodies will rise. The dwellers in the dust will awake and shout for joy! For your dew is like the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the dead. [Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 26:19]

• We are told that the guilt of Jacob will be forgiven by its contending with an enemy by banishment and exile (27:8-9). There’s no hint that the forgiveness comes by anything other than the people’s work; nothing about any sacrificial offering, either the Old Testament animal sacrifices or the coming sacrifice of Christ.

• God says he is “laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of sure foundation; whoever believes will not be in panic” (Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 28:16). Paul quotes the passage in his letter to the Romans, but erroneously:

Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? [i.e., Why?] Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. [Romans 9:31-33]

In the original passage of Isaiah, though, God doesn’t say anything about the stone being something to cause offence or stumble over. It’s a cornerstone, not an obstacle. It’s also not clear that he refers to anyone believing in the stone (or Jesus, which Paul supposes it represents) as opposed to one who merely “believes.”

• The beasts of the Negev included the lion, viper, donkey, camel, . . . and the “fiery flying serpent” (30:6).

• Isaiah prophesies a day of God’s indignation and slaughter against all the nations, where the mountains will be drenched with blood, the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll (34:1-4). That sounds a lot like the Last Day, until you read further about pelicans, hedgehogs, owls, ravens, jackals, ostriches, desert creatures, wolves, hairy goats, night monsters, tree snakes, and hawks dwelling in the desolate land thereafter (34:10-15). So either our understanding of the Last Day has changed to fit a more global and eternal judgment theme (requiring us to disregard parts of the original text), or Isaiah just got this one wrong and prophesied something that never has and never will happen.

• In contrast to the idea that God would like everyone to be saved, e.g., in 1 Tim 2:3-4, God here states that his sword will come down upon Edom, upon the people he has “doomed for judgment” (Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 34:5) or, as the NASB translates it, the people he has “devoted to destruction.” And he certainly didn’t want Pharaoh to believe, having hardened Pharaoh’s heart throughout a bunch of plagues.

• The angel of the Lord goes out and strikes dead 185,000 Assyrians (37:36). It’s just a single verse, and we‘ve read about so much killing by God at this point that it’s easy to just gloss over it. But think about it; God snuffs the life out of more souls (unbelieving Assyrians) in a single day, for reasons not particularly clear, than the number he has preserved in the last hundred years via services, Sunday School, etc. in Conservative Laestadian Christianity.

• As a sign to Hezekiah, God makes a shadow to go back ten steps on a stairway (38:8). Apparently no other shadows were so disturbed, at least not that anyone has ever recorded. Isaiah treats this as a run-of-the-mill “sign,” devoting just a few lines to it, but it has the same incredible scientific ramifications as the fixing of the sun during Joshua’s battle, discussed in 6.6.

Theologians typically deal with the gaping conflict between modern science and what is asserted in these difficult passages by retreating behind Dennett’s “pious fog of modest incomprehension” (2006, 10). Often, as we saw in 4.3.5, they redirect our attention to some supposed spiritual meaning. Thus, we can throw up our hands and say that we just don’t understand how the entire population of the earth avoided noticing and recording that sun not only stopped, but suddenly went backwards. Surely the Chinese astronomers who were studying the skies at the time would have noticed? In many parts of the populated world, the dusk skies would have suddenly brightened, and in other parts the evening would have ended into abrupt darkness. But in the spiritual realm, we can dismiss the fact that the mass of the earth’s crust and everything resting on it instantly lost all its momentum and violated the physical laws holding that energy can never be destroyed.

• In chapter 40, widely quoted as prophesying John the Baptist and Jesus, we finally see a compassionate God, who comforts his people and pardons their iniquity (40:1), who promises to

come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. [40:10-11]

This is a kind, loving God, more characteristic of the New Testament than the Old. It’s easy to see Jesus in the prophecy of God’s arm who will rule for him and act as a shepherd. God shows a compassionate side in other parts of Isaiah, for example where he says he longs to be gracious and waits on high to have compassion (30:18).

It is a bit jarring, though, to come upon these passages after reading about a cruel, angry, unforgiving, killing God for more than half of the Bible. The Psalms speak much of God’s lovingkindness, but that is mixed heavily with praise for how God destroys his enemies and with calls for him to do more of it. Even elsewhere in Isaiah, we see abundant examples of God’s anger and cruelty (3:24-26, 5:25, 6:11, 9:17-21, 10:23-26, 13:6-18, 14:21-13, 14:30, 15:9, 24:1-6, 29:5-6, 30:27, 34:1-9, 37:36, 47:1-5, 63:3-6, 66:24).

• God put water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert for his people, his chosen, to drink, the people which he formed for himself (43:20-21). God has not “formed for himself” the tens of millions of other people who were spread out around the globe at the time Isaiah wrote? Similarly, Moses had said that God has chosen the Israelites to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6). Doesn’t it seem a bit coincidental that the people who recorded these words were themselves members of the chosen people? Where is there any record of any of the millions of “unchosen” people outside the Mideast agreeing with or even recognizing this categorization? How about the fact that the definition of “the chosen people” had morphed from one based on Jewish ethnicity to one based on Christian belief by the time 1 Peter 2:9 was written on the topic, for a partly or even predominantly Gentiles readership?

• “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour” (45:15). That is certainly the way things seem today, but earlier in the Old Testament, God was not hidden at all. He appeared in cloud and fire, and spoke directly to Noah, Moses, Joshua, et al. What happened?

• Sexual assault as metaphor for God’s judgment?

Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man. [47:1-3]

• Isaiah’s amazingly prophetic description of the “suffering servant” in chapter 53 is one of the bright spots in the Old Testament, assuming that it does is fact portray the fate of Jesus the Messiah. Other uplifting and “easy” passages are chapters 55, 56, and 61. It is too bad that nothing like them really appears (with the exception of some psalms, as discussed above) until we are most of the way through the book of Isaiah, and indeed through the Old Testament itself.

And guess what? There are problems with even this centerpiece of the supposed prophecies. Jews and some scholars assert that the Messiah was supposed to be a powerful king-like figure, nothing like the “suffering servant” of chapter 53. That servant doesn’t entirely match up with Jesus, either. Two significant issues are posed by verse 10: He “shall see his seed [NASB: offspring],” and “he shall prolong his days.” The website “Jews for Judaism” has a collection of short articles that (as might be expected) attempt to explain away any connection. One of the articles has this to say about verse 10:

Christian commentators would like us to believe that the term “seed” is used metaphorically, meaning . . . “disciples.” Generally, the Hebrew word bayn (“son”) may be employed metaphorically with the meaning “disciples,” but never is the term zer’a (“seed”) used in this sense. . . . Hence, zer’a must be taken literally, which rules out the possibility that it refers to Jesus since he had no children of his own.

The second part of the promise, “. . . he shall prolong days,” also cannot be applied to Jesus, who died at a young age. To apply these words, as Christian commentators do, is not only evasive but also meaningless. How can such a promise have any meaning for Jesus, who is viewed as being of divine substance and whose existence is believed by Christianity to be eternal? There would be no need for God to assure a fellow member of the Trinity eternal life.

The impact of Isaiah 53 is how literally it seems to apply to Jesus in many ways. So attempting to explain these issues with allegory looks an awful lot like trying to have it both ways–literal prophecy where it suits one’s doctrinal purposes, and allegorical to patch up everything else.

6.22 Jeremiah

• God threatens his chosen people yet again in chapter 5. He will bring a nation (apparently Babylon) against them from afar, and they will devour their harvest, sons and daughters, flocks and herds, etc. God will avenge himself against his people in this violent way because, among other things, they did not plead the cause of the orphan or defend the rights of the poor (5:28-29).

• God says that he did not speak to or command the Israelites concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices, but commanded them to obey his voice and they would be his people (7:22-23). But that’s simply not true. God gave many instructions on the subject; Exodus and Leviticus are full of them. As one of many examples, he commanded:

An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. [Exodus 20:24]

• God will fill the inhabitants of Jerusalem with drunkenness and will dash them against each other, the fathers and the sons together. He will not show pity or compassion (13:13-14).

• God says that he will relent concerning the calamity he planned against a nation if it turns from its evil, and might think better of the good with which he had planned to bless a nation if it does evil (18:8-10). Thus he makes it clear that he doesn’t know the future, and it is up to man to decide to do good versus evil. Contrast this with our contemporary view (and David’s, as expressed in Psalm 139) of God as all-knowing and all-seeing.

• Jeremiah is a real drag, going on for chapter after chapter about the destruction that God will bring to the people for their sins. He seems to positively delight in the details he provides of God’s forthcoming cruelty. And he tops off one litany by asking God not to forgive the iniquity of his opponents, or blot out their sin from his sight (18:23). Like David in his more vengeful psalms, Jeremiah has an attitude that is completely opposite to that of Jesus and the martyred Stephen of the New Testament.

• In 20:14-18, Jeremiah sounds a lot like Job cursing his birth, before his repentance (Job 3:1-19). Who borrowed from whom? Why does Jeremiah apparently get away with his curse?

• Jeremiah 23:5-6 says,

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.

That passage is widely viewed as a prophecy of Jesus. But when you read it objectively, without the hindsight provided by the Gospel writers, what really matches up? Judah and Israel weren’t even a divided kingdom when Jesus arrived on the scene, and the Jews of the Roman-ruled Israel that he dwelled in suffered great oppression, culminating in the awful destruction of Jerusalem a few decades after his death. They certainly didn’t “dwell in their own land,” nor did they “dwell safely.” And Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36); he certainly didn’t execute “judgment and justice in the earth.”

• God tells Jeremiah about his upcoming wrath against the gentiles:

For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood: for the Lord GOD of hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates. [46:10]

God also promises destruction to the Philistines (chapter 47); Moab (chapter 48); Edom, Damascus, Kedar, and Elam (chapter 49); Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans (chapter 50). At this point in the Old Testament, God relies on his faithful soldiers to do his killing for him. We no longer hear about God striking down with fire, sending plagues, and opening up crevasses in the earth. Lest anyone doubt how serious God is about getting his killing done, however, he curses any of his soldiers who “keepeth back his sword from blood” (48:10).

• In the New Testament, John tells us of a loving God in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). But here and elsewhere thus far in the Old Testament, we have seen a very different God who promises to “bring evil” with the sword in his “fierce anger” against entire cities (49:37), who will send soldiers who “shall hold the bow and the lance . . . are cruel, and will not shew mercy” (50:42). He promises to the people of Babylon that he will

break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid; I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers. [51:22-23]

6.23 Lamentations

• The writer of Lamentations, Jeremiah (at least per ancient tradition), tells of a famine so bad that women cannibalized their children (2:20). In chapter 3, he tells of affliction that he personally suffered because of the rod of God’s wrath, where God turned his hand against him repeatedly all the day, causing his flesh to waste away, breaking his bones and teeth. Despite all that he asserts that God’s “lovingkindnesses never cease, for his compassions never fail” (NASB, 3:22-23). How can such brutal treatment constitute “lovingkindness” or “compassion”? Do the plain meanings of words simply fade away in the face of pious rationalization?

6.24 Ezekiel

• God introduced himself to Ezekiel by showing him four weird creatures, each of which had four faces, four wings, and feet like calves’ hooves, yet somehow had human form (1:5). The things ran to and fro like lightning bolts around a bright fire, without turning as they went (1:12-14). They each had a wheel on the earth beside them, with the wheels having rims that were “lofty and awesome . . . full of eyes round about” (NASB, 1:18).

• Ezekiel was instructed to play pretend war using a portrayal of Jerusalem on a brick. He was to lay siege against it and build a fort against it, etc. This child’s sandbox activity was to be a “sign to the house of Israel” (4:1-3).

• Then Ezekiel was told to lie on his left side for 390 days, by which action he somehow was to “bear the iniquity of the house of Israel” (NASB, 4:4-5). Wasn’t bearing the iniquity of sinners supposed to be the task of Christ alone?

After over a year of lying on his left side, Ezekiel was to turn over and lie on his right side for 40 more days. To keep him from turning from one side to another, God put ropes on him (4:8). Ezekiel’s bedsores must have been pretty bad, but his diet wasn’t too great, either. God proposed that he live on water and barley cake baked over human dung. Ezekiel objected that he had never eaten anything unclean, sounding a lot like Peter during his dream of the sheet full of beasts (Acts 10:14). God relented and allowed Ezekiel to cook his barley cakes over cow dung instead.

• God is still in the business of tormenting his chosen people. Because of their failure to keep his judgments, he says,

the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds. Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord God; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity. A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. [5:10-12]

In behavior that would be labeled psychopathic if exhibited by a person, God kills in anger and fury, and takes comfort in the suffering he inflicts:

Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the Lord have spoken it in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them. Moreover I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by. So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments in thee in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the Lord have spoken it. When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread: So will I send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee. I the Lord have spoken it. [5:13-17]

• God promises death and destruction in various forms so that the victims, his chosen people, will know that he is the Lord (6:14, 7:27, 12:16, 12:20, 13:14, 13:21, 20:26). He will pour out his wrath on them and spend his anger against them; his eye will show no pity nor will he spare. Then his people will know that he, the Lord, does the smiting (7:8-9). Why does he have to reveal himself through cruelty? When we look at the abundant death and destruction still afflicting humanity across the globe today, we don’t point to it and say, “Aha, there’s evidence that the God of Abraham is indeed the Lord.” We tend to credit God for our own personal health and well-being and ignore the horrors going on in the world, or vaguely blame them on Satan.

• God indignantly shows Ezekiel the “abominations” being committed against him. They consisted of 70 “men of the ancients of the house of Israel” burning incense and surrounded by carvings on the walls of his sanctuary of “creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel” (8:10-11), some women weeping for a Babylonian fertility god (8:14), and 25 men prostrating themselves toward the sun and “putting the branch to their nose” (8:16-17). These activities, misguided pagan worship though they were, caused no harm to anyone. But God’s wrathful, grossly disproportionate retribution certainly did.

He called for the executioners of the city to draw near, each “with his destroying weapon in his hand” (9:1). He commanded that the men of Jerusalem who disapproved of the aforementioned abominations be marked on their foreheads. Then, he directed,

Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. [9:5-7]

It’s bad enough to see God engaging in yet another vengeful, pitiless massacre. But what possible justification is there for the slaughter of women and innocent children who, unlike the men, had no way to take sides and avoid God’s wrath?

• After inflicting all this bloodshed, God has the temerity to complain about the house of Israel having “multiplied your slain in this city, and . . . fill[ing] the streets thereof with the slain” (11:6).

• In chapter 16, Ezekiel seems to have sex on his mind a great deal as he portrays God as the jealous husband of Jerusalem. Like chapter 23, it is not a text you will find read anywhere on church property.

God found the metaphorical Jerusalem as an abandoned infant and watched her grow to the point where her breasts had formed and her pubic hair had grown, yet she was naked and bare (16:7). He passed by her and saw that her “time was the time of love,” so he spread his skirt over her and covered her nakedness, and entered into a covenant with her so that she became his (16:8). He bathed her, washed away her menstrual blood, and anointed her with oil (16:9). He dressed her in fine clothes and sandals (16:10), and adorned her with bracelets, a necklace, a nose ring and earrings (not making very Laestadian fashion choices there), and a crown on her head (16:11-12).

Unfortunately, Jerusalem turned out to be quite a gal. She “poured out her harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing” (16:15). She took the fair jewels that had been made of God’s gold and silver and made for herself “images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them” (16:17). She “spread [her] legs to every passer-by to multiply [her] harlotry” and “played the harlot with the Egyptians, [her] lustful neighbors” (NASB, 16:25-26). Still unsatisfied, she went on to play the harlot with the Assyrians and the Chaldeans (16:28-29).

God of course didn’t put up with this forever. He said to her,

Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them; Behold, therefore I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness. And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy. And I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thine eminent place, and shall break down thy high places: they shall strip thee also of thy clothes, and shall take thy fair jewels, and leave thee naked and bare. [16:36-39]

After subjecting his Jerusalem to violent sexual assault, God has her stoned and thrust through (16:40). Then, finally satisfied, he says, “will I make my fury toward thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry” (16:42).

• Does God want everyone to be saved from condemnation by their sins or not? This would seem to be the most important question of all religion, and yet no clear answer is provided by the Bible! In the Old Testament, the question is limited to an earthly condemnation of (early) death, because the vast majority of Old Testament writings do not even hint at any afterlife or eternal consequences, only God’s killing of sinners. For those who try to fit the New Testament Hell onto the Old Testament writings, however, this discussion will apply to the question discussed later regarding God’s wishing for everyone to avoid eternal damnation, or not.

In chapter 18, Ezekiel has God expressing the wish for all to be saved from condemnation. God asks rhetorically, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? . . . and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (18:23-24) He goes on to say that his ways are equal and a wicked man can turn “away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive” (18:27, save his life per NASB). He urges the house of Israel to repent, “and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (18:30). For, God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth . . . wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (18:32).

Chapter 33 has near-duplicates of these statements. God declares,

I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it. Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live. [33:11-16]

In contrast, consider just a few examples we‘ve already seen of God’s merciless killing of sinners:

• In Exodus, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that God can inflict plagues that include a lot of killing of Egyptians, none of whom had the option to side with the Israelites.

• God orders the massacre of the Midianites (Numbers 31) and Amelekites (1 Samuel 15), citing their wickedness, and had Joshua go on a reign of terror and conquest to make room for his chosen people in the promised land. But he sent no missionaries to call repentant sinners beforehand, nor did he offer any mercy to innocent children. He just ordered his troops in with the sword, got angry when they left anyone alive against his orders, and had the booty divided up amongst his people.

• God kills off thousands of his chosen people as punishment for the sins of one or a few (1 Samuel 6:19, 2 Samuel 24:17).

• God says that his sword will come down upon Edom, upon the people he has “doomed for judgment” (Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, Isaiah 34:5) or, as the NASB translates it, the people he has “devoted to destruction.”

• The following are excerpts from chapter 20. Do they seem like the pronouncements of the all-wise, all-powerful creator of the huge and magnificent world we have occupied on all its continents (except Antarctica) for many tens of thousands of years as Homo sapiens, evolving in all of our hundreds of different cultures with our varied physical characteristics, beliefs, and modes of living?

In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord your God; In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them . . . [vv. 5-6]

But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands. [vv. 14-15]

I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. [v. 34]

For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. [vv. 40-41]

Well, that was written by holy men of the one isolated tribe of nomadic warriors and herdsmen, eking out a tenuous and fearful existence in a small, harsh region of the Middle East, the very same people who seem to be so favored by the God that their writings describe. Now we know that the world is made up not just of the Israelites and its surrounding enemies, but has been fully populated by humanity–since the days of Ezekiel–from Africa to Asia and Europe to the Pacific Islands and Americas. Human skeletons have been found in Australia that date from at least 45,000 years ago (Wells 2006, 120). Yet theologians still venerate these xenophobic words and claim that the God of Abraham who speaks through them is indeed the creator of all mankind, despite the fact that he completely ignores, or at most dismiss as “heathens” and “countries wherein ye are scattered,” everyone else. Those “others” are all part of God’s miraculous creation, we are told, but he expresses nothing but contempt for them.

• Because his children had rebelled against him, failed to execute his judgments, despised his statutes, and polluted his sabbaths, God “gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live” (20:25). This is remarkable–the same deity that is praised as having in him no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), the father of lights with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning (James 1:17), gave his children bad statutes and unlivable judgments! not only that, but God himself has claimed to create evil, saying in Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

It gets worse when you read in Ezekiel’s next verse that God “polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb” (20:26) and realize that he is probably talking about human sacrifice of the firstborn child. It’s not far-fetched at all to think so when you consider that God commands in Exodus 22:29, “Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me” (Stark 2011, 66), comparing it in the next verse to the sacrifice he also requires of oxen and sheep. Such cases of sacrifice were not unprecedented: recall from Judges 11 (6.7) that Jepthah sacrificed his daughter to satisfy a vow he had made to God, and that Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice his firstborn son in obedience to a command he had heard from God (Gen 22).

Stark asks “inerrantists who are committed to Reformed [i.e., Calvinist] conceptions of divine sovereignty” the following poignant question:

If Yahweh’s sovereignty entails the use of evil means to accomplish his undisclosed objectives, if Yahweh sent lying spirits in order to deceive [see 6.13], if Yahweh intentionally commanded the Israelites to sacrifice their children in order to punish them, if he intentionally gave them bad commands . . . then what is to prevent God from intentionally giving us other bad scriptures, intentionally obfuscating revelation as a form of punishment, or as some sort of examination, to test our mettle? [p. 66]

• Ezekiel devotes chapter 23 to a vivid description given by God of the sexual habits of two sisters, who played the harlot in Egypt in their youth, “there their breasts were pressed and there their virgin bosom was handled” (NASB, 23:2-3). The older one, a metaphor for Samaria, lusted after her lovers, after the Assyrians,

desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. She bestowed her harlotries on them, all of whom were the choicest men of Assyria; and with all whom she lusted after, with all their idols she defiled herself. She did not forsake her harlotries from the time in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her, and they handled her virgin bosom and poured out their lust on her. Therefore, I gave her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. They uncovered her nakedness; they took her sons and her daughters, but they slew her with the sword. [23:6-10, NASB]

Her younger sister, a metaphor for Jerusalem, saw this and became even more corrupt in her lust. She lusted after the Assyrians as well,

desirable young men. [God] saw that she had defiled herself; they both took the same way. So she increased her harlotries. And she saw men portrayed on the wall, images of the Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with belts on their loins, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like officers, like the Babylonians in Chaldea, the land of their birth. When she saw them she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. The Babylonians came to her to the bed of love and defiled her with their harlotry. And when she had been defiled by them, she became disgusted with them. She uncovered her harlotries and uncovered her nakedness; then [God] became disgusted with her, as [he] had become disgusted with her sister. [23:12-19, NASB]

Size mattered indeed for this younger sister, for she lusted after the sisters’ paramours, whose genitals were like that of donkeys and whose seminal issue was like that of horses (23:20). She became wistful about the lewdness of her youth, when the Egyptians handled her bosom because of the breasts of her youth (23:21).

Upset at all this untoward behavior, God told her that he would

arouse your lovers against you, from whom you were alienated, and I will bring them against you from every side: the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them; desirable young men, governors and officials all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. . . . I will set my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in wrath. They will remove your nose and your ears; and your survivors will fall by the sword They will take your sons and your daughters; and your survivors will be consumed by the fire. They will also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. Thus I will make your lewdness and your harlotry brought from the land of Egypt to cease from you, so that you will not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore. . . . They will deal with you in hatred, take all your property, and leave you naked and bare. And the nakedness of your harlotries will be uncovered, both your lewdness and your harlotries. [23:22-29, NASB]

• God takes Ezekiel’s wife from him and tells him not to mourn or weep (24:16), thus making him a sign to the house of Israel (24:24). Too bad for the wife and any human emotions Ezekiel may have had.

• God continues his threats and cruelty: “I will destroy thee” (25:7); “I will execute great vengeance” (25:17); “I will bring terrors on you” (26:21, NASB). But there’s a silver lining in this cloud; God says that those with whom he has such displeasure “shalt be no more . . . never be found again” (26:21); “never shalt be any more” (27:36); “never shalt thou be any more” (28:19). (The NASB uses the phrase “cease to be forever” in 27:36, 28:19.) At least the Old Testament God is still satisfied with inflicting a bit of terror and a painful, humiliating death, followed by simple annihilation. There’s no resurrection unto eternal damnation in these passages.

• God tells Ezekiel that he will bring Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon upon the city of Tyre (26:7). Nebuchadnezzar would slay the daughters of Tyre with the sword, to make siege walls against it, and raise up a large shield against it (26:8). He would break down the walls and towers and pillars, a multitude of horses and wagons and chariots would enter and he would slaughter the people with the sword (26:9-11). Tyre would be made into a bare rock, never to be built any more (26:14), a desolate city (26:19).

Well, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Tyre, but what he got after some fifteen years of siege was a negotiated settlement. He never broke down any walls or towers and his horses never set foot into the city. Later, Ezekiel himself admits that Nebuchadnezzar’s army had no wages from Tyre for the labor he had performed against it (29:18). But take heart, Neb, for God will give you Egypt as a consolation prize! You “shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for [your] army” (29:19). The land of Egypt was to become

utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years. And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries. [29:10-12]

But that has never happened, either.

• After expressing his disgust at “the shepherds of Israel,” God promises,

I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. [34:11-16]

That seems like a prophecy of Jesus, and indeed Luke reports Jesus as saying he had “come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). But then, a few verses later, we read that God’s servant David is to be the “one shepherd over them,” who will feed them and be a prince among them (34:23-24). So much for that, unless you construe God’s servant David to somehow actually be Jesus through his (adoptive) genealogy.

• Because the cities of Mount Seir did not hate bloodshed, God will make bloodshed pursue them (35:6).

• God as jealous landowner: “Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea, which have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart . . .” (36:5).

• In what is widely held as another messianic prophecy, God says,

David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [37:24-27]

There are a couple of problems with this, though. God is speaking not about some group of people to come who will believe in any Messiah, but only about two divided peoples of Judah and Joseph, respectively (37:16), whom he will join together (37:17-19). The reunited people were to walk in God’s judgments (NASB, ordinances), and observe his statutes, whereas the Christians jettisoned much of those ordinances and statutes right away.

• Ezekiel talks to mountains (35:2, 36:1), the land of Israel (21:3), skeletons (37:12), and birds and beasts (39:17). In the latter instance, Ezekiel informs the critters that God will be giving the flesh and blood of mighty men to them to eat as a sacrifice for them (39:17-19). Why is offering a sacrifice (of humans, no less) to mere birds and beasts? It is certainly an ironic reversal of the early ritual killing of animals as sacrifices for humans!

• Why did God give to Ezekiel a painstakingly detailed vision, with precise specifications of layout, measurements, materials, and customs of use taking up five chapters (40-44), of a temple that would never be built? In the vision, chapters 43-45, God explains exactly how the priests are to operate in the temple, clearly assuming that it would in fact be built. Either God failed to accurately forsee the future, or Ezekiel was, at least in this instance, a false prophet.

An easily dismissed alternative is that God really meant that this temple would be of some nebulous “spiritual” form, all the detailed physical plans notwithstanding. The only other option would be that the temple is yet to be built. Nobody, certainly not any but the most marginalized Jews and Christians, would now be in any way inclined to construct an edifice of Bronze-Age worship. And the reinstatement of animal sacrifice after Jesus made his ultimate sacrifice would seem to be a blatant contradiction and repudiation of the New Testament. One possible “way out” would be for such new temple sacrifices to be somehow considered a commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice rather than precursors to it (Price 2010).

6.25 Daniel

• In 3:25, Nebuchadnezzar sees four men loose, walking unhurt in the midst of the fire. The KJV has him saying that “the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Many expositors have of course latched onto this as being a prophecy of Jesus. In the NASB, the fourth man is reported as having an appearance “like a son of the gods.”

• Nebuchadnezzar, who died in 562 B.C., is asserted to be Belshazzar’s father in chapter 5, verses 2, 11, 18, and 22. But Belshazzar was actually the son of Nabonidus, who was the last king of Babylon (555-538 B.C.). There is no evidence that Belshazzar was even a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar.

• We are told that “Darius the Mede” received the kingdom of Babylon at about 62 years of age (5:31), and that this “King Darius” cast Daniel and his friends into the Lions’ den. But there is no historical record of any “Darius the Mede,” and there was never any “King Darius” of Babylon.

• Daniel has what seems like a remarkable prophecy of the Messiah:

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. [7:13-14]

As always, though, there are some issues with the details of the prophecy. The NASB translation states it as “one like a Son of man was coming,” with no implication that there is just one “Son of man.” Why did this Son of man have to be brought before the “Ancient of days” if he was one with the Father (John 10:30), being in the Father and having the Father in him (John 14:10)?

• Most scholars now believe that Daniel was written around 165 B.C. rather than the traditional 530 B.C. date. One reason is that the alleged prophecies of the book (see chapter 11) become increasingly accurate as the date of their occurrence gets closer to 165 B.C., and then get very cloudy after that point. There’s no historical record of the events predicted in 11:40-45. At the end of the book, Daniel is finally told to go on his way, for the words of prophecy at that point “are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (12:9).

It is possible that Daniel was a prophet whose vision was divinely limited. But the more mundane possibility that historians do and must consider more realistic is that the book was the product of a second-century B.C. writer who presented history as prophecy (much more accurately about events of his recent past), made some vague guesses about what would happen after his times, and dealt with his inability to even guess about the distant future by having the prophecy “close up” on him at that point.

• According to a footnote to Daniel 12:2 in Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible, the verse offers “the first clear reference to a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” Well, it’s about time! Even assuming the traditional 530 B.C. date of authorship, there’s been a lot of muddy water about the afterlife under the Old Testament bridge at this point. As mentioned way back in the discussion on 1 Kings, there would seem to be no more important topic for God to address than the eternal fate of the righteous versus that of the wicked. Yet the righteous and wicked alike have lived and died over scores of generations, from the earliest days of God’s chosen people through the Exile, the Mosaic law, the judges and kings of Israel, without having any “clear reference to a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”

And, actually, this supposedly “clear reference” has a very large patch of mud smack in the middle, the word “many.” It does not specify a fate for every last soul, but says rather that “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” What happens to the others? And “shame and everlasting contempt” sounds more like a bad legacy than the pitiless, unabated torture of the New Testament hell.

6.26 Hosea

• Why does God order the prophet Hosea to take “a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms” (1:2)? When Hosea complies, God gives the resulting children names that reflect his lack of compassion (1:4,6,9).

• What is it with these guys and their fixation on misogynist cruelty and sexual imagery? According to Hosea, God says that a certain woman (no doubt metaphorical) is to “put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; Lest [God] strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born” (2:2-3). God “will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms. For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully” (2:4-5). He will take away his wool and flax that were “given to cover her nakedness. And now will [he] discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of [his] hand” (2:9-10). Somehow it seems doubtful that battered wives of cruel, dominating husbands turn much to this passage for comfort, or to the ones discussed earlier that are so much like it (Isaiah 47, Ezekiel 16,23,33).

• Why does God tell Hosea, “Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend (lit. companion), yet an adulteress” (3:1)?

• God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (4:6). It is ironic to see a condemnation of someone “rejecting knowledge,” because that is exactly what we are told to do when that knowledge doesn’t support our doctrinal presuppositions.

• God says he will not punish his people’s daughters when they play the harlot, or their brides when they commit adultery, for the men go with harlots and the people are without understanding (4:14). It seems like some small progress towards fairness and civility, but it is a change to the supposedly never-changing Mosaic laws nonetheless (Deut 12:32).

• Hosea asks God to give Ephraim “a miscarrying womb and dry breasts” (9:14). There are no “love your enemy” or “pro-life” sentiments in his angry rant that he

hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters. Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations. [9:15-17]

• Ephraim will return to Egypt (8:13). Wait, no, they won’t (11:5).

• “Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up” (13:16).

6.27 Joel

• After descriptions of the day of the Lord coming as destruction from the Almighty, with food cut off, seeds shriveling, beasts groaning, fire devouring pastures, etc. (1:15-19), we are told that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (2:13). Does that description make any sense, do those words have any meaning, in view of what we‘ve seen thus far?

• God promises that his people will never be put to shame (2:26-7). Later, Israel would come under Roman rule and ultimately have its temple and holy city destroyed. The Jews would be scattered into countries where they would be persecuted for millennia, and a large proportion of them would perish horribly in the Holocaust. If we are to speak of the Christians instead, under the assumption that they and not the Jews would be God’s people once the New Testament commenced, we need only refer to the cruel and humiliating persecutions they suffered under Nero.

6.28 Amos

• As we near the last books of the Old Testament, God is still very much in the killing business. In chapters 1-2, he promises to send fire to numerous places, devouring their palaces. To people he calls “cows of Bashan,” he says he has “sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks” (4:1-2). He has smitten with scorching wind and mildew, caterpillars, plagues, and slaughter by the sword (4:9-10).

• Those who “desire the day of the Lord” are not given any comforting words about a resurrection unto eternal glory, as one might expect to hear when “believing on the promise.” No, woe unto you, Amos says, for

to what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it? [5:18-20]

That sounds like a sad, nihilistic end for people who are waiting longingly for the last day. Presumably the godless evil ones were too busy living it up to even think about it.

6.29 Jonah

• We are told that Jonah spent three full days alive in the stomach of a large fish (1:17), where he prayed to God (2:1-9) and from which he was vomited onto dry land (2:10). He apparently made his way down the esophagus and back again, had a continuous supply of breathable air, and avoided being crushed or digested.

This story has been the subject of discussion at LLC gatherings as an example of how we need to put our “carnal mind” aside and believe “God’s Word.” It’s certainly a good test case. Luther mused at his dinner table that the “history of the prophet Jonah is almost incredible, sounding more strange than any poet’s fable; if it were not in the Bible, I should take it for a lie; for consider, how for the space of three days he was in the great belly of the whale, whereas in three hours he might have been digested and changed into the nature, flesh and blood of that monster” (Table Talk §547).

But if we set aside that slavish devotion to the Bible’s inerrancy for a moment, does this really seem like a historical event, a miraculous way for God to transport Jonah to his destination? Or does it seem more like an ancient myth, an explanation for how Jonah made his journey without God having to do something that a reader of the ancient world would have really found impossible, like teleporting him there in a puff of smoke? The answer seems painfully obvious to me, but the stakes are higher than just shrugging our shoulders at some wild tales of the Old Testament. Matthew 12:40 has Jesus referring to the Jonah story as a factual event when making a metaphor about his upcoming death. (It’s not just Jonah. Jesus gives historical treatment to Noah and the Ark in Matthew 24:37-39.) Thom Stark isn’t too concerned about that, saying that it

hardly amounts to a claim on Jesus’ part that Jonah should be taken to be historical. Jesus regularly used parables to make theological points that pertained to the real world, and he was not duplicitous in doing so. The genre of the fictional short story was very common in Jewish literature of the second temple period, and Jesus no doubt would have been astute enough to recognize it when he saw it. [2011, 4]

• God sees the repentance of Nineveh and relents about the calamity he had declared he would bring upon them (3:10). That’s nice, but it shows that God cannot be omniscient and have everyone’s fate predestined.

• For some reason, Jonah is angry that God decides not to destroy Nineveh. God asks him,

Should I not have compassion on [spare, KJV] Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals? [NASB, 4:11]

It’s great to see this sort of compassion, but take a look again at where we‘ve been in the Old Testament. This is not a picture of God that is consistent with the anger, cruelty, and violence we‘ve seen earlier, where God wiped out cities at least as big as Nineveh without giving them any opportunity for repentance. And how compassionate is it to send billions of people who have never even heard of the correct means of repentance to an eternity in hell?

6.30 Micah

• A favorite passage of Micah that is widely held to be a messianic prophecy, and referenced as such in Matthew 2:6, is the following:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [5:2]

When viewed in isolation through our Christian lenses, this seems remarkably clear. But how does it look when read objectively in its full context?

Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands [NASB, clans] of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and feed [NASB, will arise and shepherd his flock] in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth. And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders. [5:1-6]

Israel was bracing itself against a siege by the Assyrians, and looked forward to being rescued by a mighty king from the clan of Bethlehem Ephrata, who would draw strength from “the Lord his God.” Under his reign, the land of the Assyrians would be wasted with the sword. How does this speak about a gentle, meek prince of peace who would in fact be God himself in the flesh, and would be humiliated and executed by hated occupiers of Israel as an offering for the sins of the people?

• Remarkably, Micah comes to question the whole business of offering sacrifices for sins:

Wherewith [With what] shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? [6:1-7]

God has told us what is good and what he requires of us, Micah says, and apparently has concluded that sacrifice isn’t it. Rather it is “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (6:8). It’s a beautiful thought, but it is hard to see how the person writing it was a “believer in the promise” that God would someday torture his son to death as a final, perfect sacrifice for sins.

6.31 Nahum

• This book consists of an angry rant by God against Nineveh. That city, we may recall, was the one to whom God relented concerning the calamity he had declared he would bring upon them, to Jonah’s chagrin (Jonah 3:10-4:1). Now God has changed his mind again, in a big way; he is jealous, avenging and wrathful (1:2), there are many slain, a mass of corpses, countless dead bodies, “[b]ecause of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts” (3:4). In sexual imagery that is now all too familiar, Nahum has God saying to Nineveh that he will “lift up your skirts over your face, and show to the nations your nakedness, and to the kingdoms your disgrace” (NASB, 3:5). He will throw filth on her and make her vile, and set her up as a spectacle (3:6).

6.32 Habakkuk

• Habakkuk begins by lamenting God’s failure to right the wrongs of an unjust world. To anyone who has struggled with doubt about God’s existence, about the one-way connection that prayer seems to be, the words are poignant:

O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Does God help in time of need? Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth. [1:2-4]

• God pronounces woe “to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence” (2:12). Does that include Joshua, who undertook a ruthless and bloody conquest of the cities of Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon (to name a few) under God’s direct command?

6.33 Zephaniah

• Zephaniah predicts that the “great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly,” (1:14) “near and coming very quickly” as the NASB puts it. God will “utterly consume all things from off the land,” including man and beast, birds, and fish (1:2-3). The mighty man will cry bitterly, in that

day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And [God] will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance [NASB: a complete end, indeed a terrifying one] of all them that dwell in the land. [1:14-18]

This is the clearest indication yet of a Revelation-style “End of the World.” But there is still no hint of any eternal punishment; to the contrary, there will be a “speedy riddance” (or “complete end, indeed a terrifying one” per NASB). And Zephaniah’s statement that the great day is near and coming very quickly puts him in the distinguished company of Jesus, Paul, Luther, and many Laestadian preachers who each made it seem that the end was imminent in their time.

6.34 Zechariah

• Zechariah makes a prophecy that does seem impressive; Jerusalem’s king would be just, endowed with salvation, and humble (9:9), in contrast to the expectations we‘ve seen thus far that the Messiah would be a powerful warrior king. Zechariah’s king would arrive mounted on a donkey, a triumphal entry scene with the ironic contrast of a lowly beast of burden that is vividly portrayed in the New Testament and subsequent Christian teachings. Less attention is paid to the inconvenient fact that Zechariah mentions two mounts: the donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey. Of the four gospels, Matthew follows the prophecy most faithfully, portraying Jesus as somehow riding on both (Mt 21:2-7).

• Zechariah provides his own bit of the now-familiar divine threats of gory destruction that we have found scattered throughout the Old Testament. God will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of Lebanon. While Zechariah had “pastured the flock doomed to slaughter” (NASB, 11:7) per God’s command, he is no longer to do so. Instead, he says he will break his covenant that he had made with all the peoples (11:10). “What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another’s flesh” (NASB, 11:9).

• God promises to raise up a shepherd in the land who “will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs” (NASB, 11:16, emphasis added). This is not the “Good Shepherd,” but someone quite the opposite. And we can’t dismiss this uncaring, indifferent “bad shepherd” as some dark force in a fight of good versus evil; he was to be raised up by God himself.

• Zechariah predicts that Jerusalem will kick butt someday. God will make Jerusalem “a cup of trembling unto all the people round about” and “a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it” (12:2-3). In that day, God says,

I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness. And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the Lord of hosts their God. In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem. [12:4-6]

He goes on about God saving the tents of Judah, defending the inhabitants of Jerusalem, making him that is feeble among them as strong as David, and seeking “to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (12:7-9). And, God says,

I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. [12:10-11]

Buried in all this is a passage that has been plucked out as a messianic prophecy: “They shall look on him whom they pierced” (John 19:37). Never mind the parts about Jerusalem’s vengeful military conquest, which was not exactly in the cards around 33 A.D. when Jerusalem was a powerless occupied territory entirely under the control of the Roman empire.

• God will strike a plague against all the people who have fought against Jerusalem. “Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth” (14:12).

6.35 Malachi

• God says he hated Esau (1:3). He’s not expressing disappointment, sadness, or even dislike here, just simple hatred.

• Penitent sinners are turned aside: “This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand” (NASB, 2:13). There’s nothing to indicate that Malachi is speaking of any future event, e.g., at the Judgment Day described in the New Testament. No, it seems that Malachi envisions God denying grace to the penitent right in the here and now, which is utterly inconsistent with the “seven times seventy” endless grace of Conservative Laestadianism and Lutheranism.

It is not that inconsistent with the rigorism of Christianity in its first couple of centuries, however, which allowed for at most a single post-baptismal repentance (5.1.2). The epistle to the Hebrews clearly asserts “that, if those who have tasted of the heavenly gift fall away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance” (Kirk 1966, 160). “Unfortunately for the Church, the rigorist view of the epistle to the Hebrews predominated for many generations, and poisoned the whole atmosphere of Christian ethics” (p. 165).

• God will send his messenger, who “shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide [NASB, endure] the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (3:1-3).

Malachi clearly views the arrival of this messenger as a fearsome thing, asking rhetorically who will be able to endure the day when he comes, and who will be able to stand when he approaches. Then God will draw near to the people for judgment (3:5), and will consult a “book of remembrance” to identify and spare those who fear him and esteem his name (3:16-17). At that point, the people will once again “discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (3:18).

Matthew 11:10-11 has Jesus referring to the messenger as John the Baptist, a connection also made in Mark 1:2-4. But John the Baptist was an ascetic preacher who emerged from the desert to preach “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). No fire and brimstone accompanied his arrival; nobody was struck down with his judgment. Indeed, the Baptist’s only recorded rebuke ended in his beheading, hardly a testament to any divine power of judgment (Mark 6:18-28).

1 I use the traditional attribution as it appears at the beginning of each Psalm, without regard to any evidence for David actually being the writer. For most of the discussion here, it doesn’t really matter.