3 Tough Questions
From Deuteronomy chapter 2
by Robert Krumrey
Sunday's Sermon got more feedback (positive & negative) than any sermon I've ever preached. By the way, what I'm calling "negative" was very gracious disagreement and not mean spirited at all. Several questions came out of the experience. Here are three that have been reoccurring:
1. Why is Israel given permission to kill the Canaanites if everyone is a sinner and deserves to die?
I'm actually going to answer this question in a future sermon (OCT 15th), but I will give you a hint where to find the answer. Read Deuteronomy 7 and see if that helps. You may not necessarily like the answer, but God is very direct about why it's Israel and not another people group.
2. You said God is consistent with his character. How is God being consistent if he's wiping people out in the Old Testament and forgiving them in the New Testament?
I think this is an excellent question. I also think a more in-depth look at scripture shows that he is forgiving people in the Old Testament (as well as wiping them out) and wiping people out in the New Testament (as well as forgiving them). We all have biases that we need to watch out for. Some of us seem to gravitate toward God's holiness and truth telling. Others of us gravitate toward his love and tenderness. There is so much that is wrapped up in that - temperament, spiritual gifts, past wounds, experiences with our parents . . . We must keep going back to scripture again and again to help us see more clearly who God really is and reject the God of our own making which is a false idol. This includes our personal reading and reflection and discussion with others.
Here is an example of God forgiving in the Old Testament:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
God sends the prophet Jonah to declare judgment on a people group that is not Israel (Ninevites) and when they hear the words of the prophet, they repent and God holds back the judgment. He gives mercy to them. One might say this is inconsistent with God's character in the Old Testament, but that's not what Jonah thinks:
And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Sounds like Jonah is talking about the New Testament God - gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love. The truth is he is talking about God. The same God we read about in the Old AND New Testaments. He is merciful and he expresses that mercy to Israel and to those who are not Israel.
He's also just. There is an end to his mercy if humans are not willing to respond with repentance and faith. This is true in the New Testament too - mostly in the descriptions of the final judgment in Revelation. These verses come to mind:
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”
It's the beginning of the wrath section in the description of end times. Do realize that God has been holding back for the entire book of Rev.; releasing partial judgment (much like ONLY judging the 2 cities of Sodom and Gomorrah on the Canaanite plain in Abraham's day). There does come a time when mercy runs out and full on judgment is delivered. You see the end of this wrath section here:
21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,
“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
and will be found no more;
22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,
will be heard in you no more,
and a craftsman of any craft
will be found in you no more,
and the sound of the mill
will be heard in you no more,
23 and the light of a lamp
will shine in you no more,
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
will be heard in you no more,
for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slain on earth.”
God's mercy is over. Judgment against Babylon (representing all that is opposed to God) is final and complete.
He's the same God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Loving, gracious, full of mercy, AND holy, just, and delivers judgment. This is what we see at the cross. Love and justice.
Remember these verses from Sunday's sermon that show how the cross demonstrates the justice or righteousness of God:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)
Only two chapters later, Paul points to how the cross points to the love of God:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)
Many of you reading this know Romans 5:8 really well, but couldn't have found that Romans 3:26 verse to save your life. We are biased toward the love of God for all sorts of reasons as I mentioned before. God is revealed consistently throughout all of scripture as both loving and righteous. Look at Paul's command to his readers toward the end of the book of Romans:
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God . . . (NIV)
They are both characteristics of God and are incredibly valuable for us to consider!
3. Why does God use the Israelites to deliver the judgment of the Canaanites? Why doesn't he just do it himself? I'm thinking this was very traumatic for the men who had to carry this out.
One thing about God's relationship to humans that is consistent throughout the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is that he is always inviting human beings to co-labor with him. Part of our image bearing is to use our mind, will, and emotions to help move ahead the agenda of our Creator. This is true in the garden of Eden when God asks Adam to name the animals (see Genesis 2:19). Surely God could have come up with some awesome animal names, but he wants Adam to work in his Father's business. This is true in Redemption as well. At EVERY phase of the plan, humans are invited to participate in the reintegration of the universe. At the point in redemptive history represented by Deuteronomy (and really no other) the way in which humans were called to co-labor with God was to annihilate those who lived on the Canaanite plain. It was hard and emotional and risky and and and . . . and it always is. Whatever God is inviting us into is a stretch for us and requires dependence on him. He is sustaining the OT people throughout this conquest as he does for us in this current season of making disciples of all nations - which can include being beheaded, having family members imprisoned, being ostracized, etc.
Also, we must remember that the people of the OT lived in a culture of bloodshed. Killing people that were not in your people group was a cultural norm. It's partly why God is telling the Israelites "an eye for an eye". It wasn't harsh, it was to dial them down so that they wouldn't seek retribution that was x 100. When reading both OT and NT, we have to try to put ourselves into the mindset of the original hearers. I think their hesitation regarding the conquest was more about fear of getting their butts kicked rather than fear of killing someone with their bare hands.
I liken it to growing up on a farm vs. growing up in the city. I grew up around animals and helped my family slaughter them. It was normal. We treated the animals humanely, but I never thought twice about wringing a chicken's neck or slitting the throat of a calf. I actually thought it was kind of cool. I tell those stories around here and people wince. Even though they just ate a chicken sandwich for lunch.
The mess we made in allowing sin into the universe was a huge one and required an incredibly complex plan of redemption that was carried out over thousands of years. What we are looking at in Deuteronomy is one small part of that plan. The goal was to set up a kingdom from which God could bring about a King who would save the world and he did just that in Jesus.
More Questions? Q&A this Sunday (9/24) in the sanctuary after second service. Grab a plate at lunch on the lawn and join Pastor Robert. Want to give him a heads up? Tweet your question to @rkrumrey