Superficial readers of the Bible sometime conclude that the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament. The Old Testament has a “God of wrath.” The New Testament has a “God of love.”
Mark Twain described the Gods of the Old and New Testament as “the Jekyll and Hyde of sacred romance.”
Head cheerleader of modern atheists, Richard Dawkins, described the God of the Old Testament as “the most unpleasant character in all fiction: 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.” (Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”)
Jehovah is the God of Both the Old and New Testaments
A careful reading of the Bible reveals that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same.
Like the New Testament God, the Old Testament repeatedly describes God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:4-6; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 4:31; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13)
Like the New Testament, the Old Testament God repeatedly commands His children to care for the poor and needy, and to reach out and rescue the “strangers.”
The New Testament God, like the Old Testament, does not condone sin and calls on people to repent of their evil ways. “Go, and sin no more.” “Repent or perish.”
Like the New Testament, the Old Testament God heals the sick and delivers both the slave and the sinner from bondage.
The Old Testament stories, like the New Testament, end with divine deliverance, redemption, and grace.
There is only one God in the Old and New Testaments. Jehovah is Jehovah.
The Threatened Total Genocide of the Canaanites Never Took Place
Religious antagonists point to the destruction of the Canaanites as proof of divine malevolance.
The Bible does say that Moses and Joshua were commanded to kill every living thing and burn every city of the Canaanites. After all, this was the land promised to the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The decadent pagan Canaanites had “defiled the land,” with their widespread perversions and human sacrifices. They were “accursed.” If allowed to remain, they would contaminate the children of Israel.
But the threatened total destruction of the Canaanites never took place. It was exaggerated by the Bible editors, after the fact, around 600 B.C., who wanted to prove that Israel’s God was almighty and more powerful than any god in the pagan pantheon.
Word had already spread among the Canaanites that Israeli’s army was approaching. This came as no surprise. Rahab confirmed that the Canaanites had heard that the God of Israel had delivered them from Pharaoh’s bondage and the Egyptian army though mighty miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea. The rumor was that an almighty God fought for Israel, making their army invincible.
Obviously, the Canaanites prepared for battle. Many families grabbed their tents and fled into the wilderness. Others sought refuge in caves.
Relatively few Canaanite cities were destroyed like Jericho. This is confirmed by a careful reading of the war chapters, and verified by modern archeology. The Canaanites continued to live among and surround the Israelites.
Total destruction should have been completed during the conquest of Joshua. But after he died, the Israelites asked God which tribe should go up against the Canaanites first.
Didn’t that already happen?
The tribe of Judah was chosen to spearhead the attack. (Judges 1:1) They were frustrated because they couldn’t clear out the valleys due to the enemy’s iron chariots. (Judges 1:19)
Israeli tribes entered into peace treaties with Canaanites. Canaanites surrendered and agreed to pay tribute/taxes. (Judges 1:28)
Because the Israelites did not destroy all the pagan altars and groves, and instead made treaties with the Canaanites, God declared, “I will not drive them out from before you, but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” The children of Israel “lifted up their voice, and wept.” (Judges 2:1-4)
In short, there as no ethnic cleansing or genocide.
What Was the Intent of the Old Testament Writers in the Context of the Times?
Various authors and editors of the Bible focused on the attributes of God they wanted to emphasis. Much of this editing of the Old Testament took place during the Babylonian captivity around 600 B.C.
By describing Jehovah as an all-powerful God who destroys evil and dispenses justice, the Old Testament editors wanted to embolden Israel and give them confidence and hope. Some of the stories of God’s wrath were exaggerated. Some accounts were sprinkled with hyperbole.
This is consistent with the times. Ancient writers in the Middle East regularly bragged about their powerful gods and kings. So, the Old Testament writers and editors countered. “Our God is stronger than your god!” “Our God fights our battles!” “Our kings prevail and reap vengeance.” “No enemy survives.” “No evil escapes Jehovah’s justice.”
Typically, God’s “judgment” or “vengence” was simply the natural consequences of those who rejected His prophets and commandments.
The Bible History is Incomplete and Lacking in Context
The Bible is not a complete exhaustive record from the time of Adam to Joseph and from Moses to Jesus. The history is sketchy and incomplete. For example, the 400-year history between Joseph and Moses is covered in one statement: “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) After all, only one Bible chapter covers the entire creation of the earth and the cosmos.
There are a lot of gaps. Context, required to interpret and understand, is missing. Lacking context, we jump to conclusions, instead of making accurate judgments.
The Antagonists Engage in the Fallacy of Card Stacking
Modern atheists who condemn Christianity and Judaism because of the Old Testament “God of wrath,” engage in the fallacy of “card stacking.” They selectively “cherry pick” the protrayals of God’s anger, and ignore the countless portrayals of His kindness, deliverance, redemption, grace, and love.
The antogonists ignore the rescue and reverance of Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute. They ignore the kindness shown to Ruth, another Canaanite woman. She is honored by having a book of the Bible named after her. The antogonists ignore Elijah saving the poor widow from starvation. And on and on.
The atheist antogonists would apparently prefer a world of decadent, immoral, murdering, raping, and pagan “Canaanites,” than a world of Christians and Jews. In their “card stacking” arguments, the antagonists “conveniently” ignore the horrific devastation perpetrated by the godless atheists, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and countless others.
Our Mortal Perspective is Very Limited
Unlike the hubris of the know-it-all modern atheists, we need humility before the vast unknown. “The more I know, the more that I don’t know.” (Socrates) Only God is omniscient. But for atheists, there is no higher source of knowledge and truth, than themselves.
The Lord promised, that when He returns, “he shall reveal all things.” “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day [millennium] when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things – Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth by which it was made, and the purpose and the end there of.” D&C 101:32-34
I anxiously await answers to my questions about creation and the cosmos. He will also fill in the gaps in the Bible history.
Only God Has the True Eternal Perspective
For atheists, death is the ultimate tragedy. It is the end of existence – annihilation.
But in the context of the plan of eternal progression, death is just another step forward on the path to our eternal home. The ultimate tragedy is not death, but losing our eternal inheritance and not returning to live with God.
Therefore, in the eternal scheme of things, the Flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the attacks on the Canaanites, were acts of divine love and mercy.
These periods of cleansing, were periods of rampant murder, torture, idol worship, rape, human sacrifice, immorality, incest, adultery, pedophilia, and bestiality.
The people had rejected every word of God. They rejected and murdered God’s messengers – the prophets. They were “ripe in iniquity.” God repeatedly warned them, “Repent or perish.” But they wouldn’t hearken. They chose to perish rather than repent. It was their choice. They had their free will and agency.
The spirit children of God born into such an environment had little chance to righteously exercise their agency and free will and stay on the covenant path to salvation and exaltation.
Why were they destroyed? President John Taylor opined: “Because in forsaking God, they lose sight of their eternal existence, corrupt themselves, and entail misery on their posterity. Hence it was better to destroy a few individuals, than to entail misery on many. And hence the inhabitants of the old world and of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, because it was better for them to die, and thus be deprived of their agency, which they abused, than entail so much misery on their posterity, and bring ruin upon millions of unborn persons.” (The Government of God, Salt Lake City: Zion Book Co., 1971, p. 53)
In short, a relatively few were sacrificed in order to same their innumerable posterity. The current decadent and evil generation perished in order to save future generations.
We Are Never in a Position to Judge God
God is the Judge. We are the ones being judged. God in not in the “dock.” We are.
Whenever we say, “How could God do such a thing?” we are judging Him.
Sometimes, in my courtroom, criminal defendants forget who is the judge and who is being judged. They say, “You can’t to that” or “You obviously don’t know who I am.” The quickly learn otherwise.
We must remember: “For God’s thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways God’s ways,” saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than your ways, and God’s thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God of the Old and New Testaments is a God of Love
The Old Testament’s God is a God of love.
The Old Testament God entered into covenants with Israel. They would be His children, and He would be there God. He never broke His covenants and promises. Unfortunately, Israel broke the covenant several times. But God, in His mercy, continued to deliver and redeem them. They were still “His people.”
The Old Testament God is a God of deliverance, grace, and redemption.
Finally, the Old Testament God Jehovah* came into the world. As the mortal Jesus Christ, he “suffered, bled, and died for man.” “He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.” This is the ultimate expression of love. There is no great love than this.
(* “LORD,” all small capital letters in the King James Version, is “Jehovah.” “Jehovah” comes from the consonants “YHWY” (JHVH), the abbreviation of the sacred/secret name of God, together with the vowels from “Adonai,” meaning Lord. “Elohim Adonai” is another Hebrew reference for “Lord God.”)