Wrestling With the Old Testament

May 2, 2019 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

Sometimes the Old Testament is not easy to read. Not only are we separated by the millenia and the cultural differences, but also some activity and practices of the Israelites seem so foreign, even repulsive, to our Western sensibilities. If God is the “same yesterday, today, and forever,” how can he direct his people to do things in the OT that seem so contrary to his ways in the New Testament? 

Perhaps the best example of this is God’s command to “drive out” the inhabitants of the Promised Land. He says in Exodus 23:23-24, “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces.” We read of how God fulfills this in Joshua and Judges. How should we make sense of this apparent genocide, ethnic-cleansing? 

  1. God promises this land to Abram at least five hundred years before the Exodus. In Genesis 15:18 God says, “To your offspring I give this land,” and he outlines how Abram’s descendants will be enslaved in Egypt and then brought back. In this centuries-long plan, God reveals an important detail: “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (v. 16). The people who dwelled in the “promised land” were not innocent. God established a plan with Abram to patiently endure (for over 500 years) the sin of this people. 
  1. God executes his justice when he calls Israel to drive out these nations. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Moses outlines the flagrant sins of the people. He says in verse 12, “And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.” God, who knows the beginning from the end, has the right to execute justice on sin as he wills. We know that in the final judgment Jesus “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15). God, however, does not need to wait until the last day to execute justice. God chose to bring justice on the Canaanites. Theologian Meredith Kline called this “the intrusion ethic.” The judgment of the final day “intrudes” early for the Canaanites. 
  1. God gives direct commands to Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites to carry out his justice. This is important. These are not commands we are to replicate in any way. Judgment is God’s prerogative (“Vengeance is mine,” Deut. 32:35), and he chose to use Israel to bring it to the Canaanites. 
  1. God, in his mercy, seeks to remove the stumbling blocks from among his people. The sin of the Canaanites was problematic for Israel. He warns in Exodus 23:32-33, “You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” God knew that allowing the Canaanites to dwell with the Israelites would not lead to salvation for the Canaanites, but idolatry for Israel. 
  1. We are no better than the Canaanites; it is only by God’s mercy that our sin is forgiven and not judged. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus has a curious interchange with some people. Jesus asks them, responding to the news that some Galileans were murdered by Pilate, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” (v. 2). Perhaps we would come to such a conclusion about the Canaanites (or any group of people who suffer more than us). Let’s remember Jesus’ response in Luke 13:3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Every person is equally sinful and equally deserving of God’s judgment. Our only hope is to repent and trust in the sweet mercy of God.

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