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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Old testament

by Catherine Frakas 28 Aug 2001

Old testament QUESTION from Lilia Bodino on July 14, 2002 I read your previous Q&A; posting regarding being a baptist and a pastor even (your words). Maybe you may be able to help me.
Just finished study of the first half of the OT and my problem is: somehow I could not get out of my mind the difficult passages on Deut 28, Joshua 6, 1 Samuel 15, 2 Samuel 24, the ban of the Hittite suzerainty treaty to name a few where Yahweh exterminated the enemies of Israel - every man, woman, child and domesticated animals. Today even one life is said to be very precious indeed.
Yahweh decrees that the Israelites will be punished if they disobeyed God's laws specially in worshipping foreign deities and the enemies of Israel were punished so they do not infect the Israelites with their foreign gods-baal and asherah.
Looking at the OT from the 21st century perspective, the slaughter of 70,000 Israelites in 2 Samuel 24 as punishment for David's sin seems like punishment does not fit the crime; the extermination of the the people of Jericho in Joshua 6 and of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. It seems human lives were of little or no consequence at those times.
How can I reconcile in my mind a kind and merciful God with the massive destruction of human lives in these gruesome passages. This bothers me terribly. Our bible teachers seems to take these in a matter of fact fashion. What am I missing here?
I know I must accept the teaching in the Holy Scriptures. Why can't my mind grasp the meaning of these complex passages?
Could you help me please get past this quandary? I must say some OT passages are pretty hard on the sensibilities.
I appreciate very much any advice you can give with your experiences in the bible as a baptist pastor and now as catholic brother. Thank you so much.
My prayers are with you on your current health problem. I also have a chronic health problem.
Sincerely, Lilia
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 22, 2002 Dear Miss Bodino:
Thanks for your prayers concerning my health. They are greatly appreciated.
The Old Testament, indeed the whole of the Bible, can be very hard to understand. This is why God appointed a Magisterium to be the official interpretors of Scripture and of the faith.
Part of our lack of understanding is a phrase that you used in your question -- 21st Century sensibilities.
We can NEVER judge a past historical culture upon the sensibilities of our current day. Times were different then, the approach to the dignity of life was different thing.
But it is precisely the experience of the these past cultures, as barbarick as they may seem to us today, that brought mankind to evolve into the sensibilities that we have now.
In essense we would not have the kind dignity of person that we have today without the experience of the barbarians of yesterday.
Though, frankly, today's respect for life and dignity of life tends to be far worse than most times of history given the abortion, euthanasia, murder, incest, domestic violence, etc. that we have today.
Now with that generic statement made about the differences in sensibilities between two historical distant cultures, what about God's judgement to kill every man, woman, and child of a particular society, etc.
God is God. He is our judge. I am reminded of a joke told by Bill Cosby who said to his son, Son, I brought you into the world, and I can take you out!
God is our creator and if he chooses to do so he can wipe out the entire planet and it would be just. In fact He did just that during the Flood. Only Noah and his family were spared.
God knows the hearts and minds of all of us. If God judged a people and found them worthy of death, that is a ABSOLUTELY JUST judgment because God knows ALL and know EXACTLY what the hearts of those people are.
If God choses to use another group of people to implement his justice, then He has a reason for that too.
We cannot question the ways of God. God is beyond our questioning. But we can know that God is a just and merciful and loving God because He has revealed that to us in the Bible and in the Tradition. Thus we KNOW that all that He does is Good and with reason. Because we don't know the reason does not put into question God's actions.
I am reminded of a passage in Job chapter 38, God responds to our queries of why he does things the way he does things. We all should read this passage regularly to remember that God is God:
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8 Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb; 9 when I made clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10* and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, 11 and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed? 12 Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, 13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? 14 It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed* like a garment. 15 From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. 16 Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth? 34 Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? 35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, 'Here we are? 36 Who has put wisdom in the clouds, * or given understanding to the mists? * 37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38 when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cleave fast together? 39 Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40 when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?
WOW, what a sermon from our God.
God does what He does with PERFECT love and mercy and justice. We may not understand it, but then who are we to understand? We are but a drop of mud in the vastness of the sea.
Rather know that God is God and that He is Good. Have faith and humble ourselves before His majesty in the midst of our lack of understanding.
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