The Mercy Of God In The Old Testament
Skeptics of The Bible love pointing out to instances in scripture where God wipes out an entire nation or unleashes a punishment upon an evil person that may seem harsh from our vantage point. They’re attempting to argue that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster, evil and unworthy of worship. Richard Dawkins wrote “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” I’ve already deal with how God can be good despite these judgments in a prior post. If you would like to read that post, click on this link. The blog post is titled “Is God Evil For Ordering The Destruction Of Nations In The Old Testament?” Please check that post out at some point. When you do, I think you’ll see that God was completely justified in the killing of the Canaanites, Noah’s contemporaries, and the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Also be sure to check out Paul Copan’s book “Is God A Moral Monster”.
The purpose of this post is not to write a theodicy, but rather to emphasize 4 acts of kindness and mercy that God has shown to people in the Old Testament (each and every time, they didn’t deserve it).
1: Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve had sinned against God. God told them that they could eat of any tree throughout the entire garden but warned them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Some time later, Satan showed up and asked “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”(Genesis 3:1), Eve responded “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” (Genesis 3:2). God had warned Adam and Eve earlier not to eat the fruit from that tree. Satan told her that they wouldn’t die, and that God told them not to eat the fruit of the tree because God didn’t want them to become divine and have special knowledge like He does. In other words, God was holding out on them (Genesis 3:4-5). By the way, we human beings are still taking the bait even up to today. Many of us believe that God is a cosmic killjoy, trying to keep us from enjoying life by telling us that fornications, going to strip clubs, pornography, drunkenness, etc. and that’s why God says it’s sin. Satan's lie reverberates throughout human history. When will we learn to stop listening to him? God loves us more than any human being ever could. He is looking out for us. He has best interests at heart. Build your life upon His words (Matthew 7:24-27). He will never lie to you. In fact, He can’t (Numbers 23:39, Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2) "Did God really say...?" asks the snake. "Surely you won't die." He says. "God's only saying this to keep you from having a good time. Pay no heed to him."
Anyway, Adam and Eve gave into the temptation (Genesis 3:6-7), and God pronounced some curses upon them. Life was no longer going to be super easy like it had been. Now, life would be harder (see Genesis 3:13-19).
Then God barred access to the tree of life so that mankind would not be able to live eternally in their newly attained sinful state (Genesis 3:22) and kicked them out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23). Notice what didn’t happen: God did not destroy Adam and Eve even though they had rebelled against Him. They had spit in His face, exaulted themselves, rebelled against Him and He let them live…even though scripture says the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Moreover, He promised to redeem them from their sins against them (and the people who would come after them) so that He wouldn’t have to punish them any further (i.e in the afterlife). Many scholars interpret Genesis 3:15 as a messianic prophesy: “And I will cause hostility between you [[the serpent]] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The seed of the woman is Jesus Christ, who was bruised on the heel at the cross (they nailed His feet), but will deliver the mortal blow to Satan at the judgment (see Revelation 20:10). So God is saying “I will cause hostility between you and the woman, against your offspring (see John 8:44 and 1 John 3:10) and hers (Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 1:16), He will crush your head (see Revelation 20:10), and you will bruise his heel (Psalm 22:16)”
God promised ahead of time to offer a solution to the problem of sin now introduced by the first two human beings (Romans 5). We know now that what Jesus did to redeem all mankind was the most horrific, slow, torturous, agonizing death a person could go through. The only way I can think that Jesus’ suffering could have been worse is if they dumped salt into his wounds! Click here to read more about what Christ went through to save us from our sins.
In summary, God did not destroy Adam and Eve for sinning, even though He could have and even though they deserved it. He had mercy on them. He let them live and only cursed them with a hard life (described in Genesis 3:13-19). Moreover, He promised a Savior to absolve them and all of their progeny of their crimes (Genesis 3:15). We know from secular history how awful crucifixion really was, and that God became flesh and endured it for theirs and our benefit. See “Good Friday = Good News” and “The Doctrine Of Hell and Objections To It”.
2: Cain; the brother of Abel.
Adam and Eve, shortly after being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, had two sons named Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-2). One day, Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord accepted Abel’s but not Cain’s. Cain was living a sinful life and had an immoral heart and that’s why God rejected His offering. After all, what God cares about the most is what goes on in our heart, not just what we do. (read Genesis 4:4-9). In jealousy, Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4:8). Now, I’m highly skeptical that Cain killed Abel just because God accepted Abel’s offering and not his. It seems unlikely that such an incident would drive Cain to murder. There was probably tension between the two building up for a long time before this recorded event. The sacrifice incident in Genesis 4:4-9 was probably “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Anyway, God spoke to Cain, asking him where his brother was (Genesis 4:9). Now, this was at the very start of humanity so it’s unlikely they knew very much about God’s superlative attributes at this point. Cain’s response indicates that he did not know that God was omniscient. Either that, or Cain said it sarcastically. Cain responded “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:10-12). Cain said that his punishment was too much to bare and he was afraid that anyone who found him would kill him (Genesis 4:13-14).
So what did God do to Cain? Did he kill Cain? No. Although Cain deserved it because he was a cold blooded murder. God did not kill Cain for his evil action against Abel. Instead He put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. Also, God promised that he would severely punish anyone who laid a hand on him (Genesis 4:15). God not only didn’t kill Cain but also promised to protect Him! Now, this is the merciful God we see in Jesus! This is a God who is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:6), who loves His enemies (Matthew 5:38-44)!
Cain deserved to die for the dastardly deed he did to Abel! But God protected Him, and had mercy on Him!
3: The City Of Ninevah
Anyone who has either read The Bible or saw the very first VeggieTales movie will know the story of Jonah, God called Jonah to travel to the city of Nineveh to warn them about their impending judgment, because of their wickedness. Jonah did not want to because he actually wanted God to judge the city of Nineveh and kill all their inhabitants. He was disappointed that the king and the people repented of their evil and were spared from God's judgment. In fact, Jonah was so angry with God that he asked God to kill him. Imagine that! Jonah was so distraught at Ninevah’s salvation that he would rather die than see them live! He certainly wasn’t loving his enemies and praying for those who did evil (Matthew 5:38-44)! After that conversation, Jonah left the city and sat outside of it hoping that God would still destroy the city. God caused a plant to grow overnight to give Jonah shade during his watch, but then caused the death of the plant the next day. Jonah was furious about the plant. God pointed out that Jonah's priorities were completely whacko (my word, not scripture’s), since he was more concerned about a plant that gave him shade than the fate of 120,000 souls in Nineveh:
Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on 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?" (Jonah 4:10-11)
So, it was clear to Jonah that God was merciful and He would reconsider His judgment of evil if the people repented. Since Jonah wanted no part in God's mercy, he tried to avoid following God's instructions to warn the people. God was going to treat the people of Nineveh exactly as He had treated the Canaanites previously. But, because they heeded the prophet’s warning and repented, He did not destroy them. God always forgives someone who repents of their sin (see Isaiah 55:7, 1 John 1:9).
Jonah said “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2)
In fact, I’ve noticed 2 things with regards to God’s judgment. He (1) Waits for the depravity to hit an overwhelming level before destroying the evil people en masse (see my article “Is God Evil For Ordering The Destruction Of Nations In The Old Testament) and (2) God always sends a prophet to warn the people to repent before the feces hits the fan.
Richard Deem of GodandScience.org writes “Atheists would like you to believe that the God of the Old Testament just randomly killed people for no good reason and without warning. It turns out that atheists often don't present the entire stories about God's judgment. For example, in the greatest story of judgment, God sent a flood to kill all humanity except Noah and his family. However, Noah preached to the people of the coming judgment during the 100 years he was building the ark. In another famous example, God destroyed the cites of Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their evil. In fact, all the men of Sodom (including both young and old) attempted to rape the two angels who came to warn Lot of the impending judgment. Although warned, the men attempted to harm Lot, but were prevented when the angels caused them all to become blind. In many lesser known stories, God warned the people prior to executing judgment. Some of these warnings were heeded and others not with the expected consequences. God's own people were often recipients of God's judgment, when they refused to heed His warnings."
Here is a short list from the writings of the prophets. This chart was made by Richard Deem, owner of the website GodandScience.org. So please don’t give me any credit for it. Richard Deem made this chart and put it on his website GodandScience.org. All I did was take a screenshot of it.
4: King David
If you’ve either read The Bible or watched “The Bible: The Epic Miniseries”, you’ll remember the narrative of David committing adultery with Bathsheba. David had arranged for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to be killed so that he could get together with Bathsheba and no one would know that the baby in Bathsheba’s womb (they had sexual relations prior to the death of Uriah) wasn’t really Uriah’s.
Now, this was a dastardly deed on David’s part. While you’re reading about this in the Old Testament, you kind of want to punch him in the face, don’t you? That was quite a scumbag move. God did not take David out of this world and send his soul to an eternal Hell. No. Instead, he took the baby to Heaven. David was remorseful and repented. He expresses his remorse in Psalm 51.
God dealt a lesser punishment on David rather than the one he truly deserved (i.e physical death followed by damnation to Hell). God had mercy upon a murderer and an adulterer.