The Mercy of God as Found in the Old Testament

by Rich Deem

Introduction

According to Richard Dawkins, Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is “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.”1 Absent from any of Dawkins’ description of God is His mercy. People tend to think of the God of the Old Testament as cruel and unforgiving, whereas the God of the New Testament is seen as the God of mercy, who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of the world. The Old Testament prophets were always warning the people about the wrath of God should they stray from the path of righteousness. However, what is usually ignored by atheists is God’s mercy for those who did repent of doing evil. Yes, God judged many people groups, but not before warning them.

Jonah and God’s mercy?

For those of you who only remember the whale part of Jonah’s story, here is a brief synopsis to get you a better background about Jonah. God called Jonah to travel to the city of Nineveh to warn them about their impending judgment, because of their wickedness.2 Jonah had different ideas, and attempted to flee from God by paying for passage on a foreign ship.3 However, God was not amused and sent a violent storm.4 The sailors were terrified and eventually figured out that Jonah was the cause of their endangerment, which he eventually admitted to them.5 Jonah was thrown overboard and God directed a great fish (or whale – the Hebrew is not that specific) to swallow Jonah and take him to the shore.6 Once expelled from the whale, Jonah decided to do what God had originally requested and travelled to Nineveh to preach repentance from their evil.7

A number of Christians assume Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh because they were known for their cruelty, and he feared for his life. However, the account gives a different reason why Jonah did not want to go. Jonah 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.8 In fact, Jonah was so angry with God that he asked God to kill him.9 After that conversation, Jonah left the city and sat outside of it hoping that God would still destroy the city.10 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.11 God pointed out that Jonah’s priorities were completely messed up, 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.12 Since Jonah wanted no part in God’s mercy, he tried to avoid following God’s instructions to warn the people.

Did God warn others?

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.13 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.14 Although warned,15 the men attempted to harm Lot, but were prevented when the angels caused them all to become blind.16 In many lesser known stories, God warned the people prior to executing judgment. Some of these warnings were heeded17 and others not,18 with the expected consequences. God’s own people were often recipients of God’s judgment, when they refused to heed His warnings.19 Here is a short list from the writings of the prophets…

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The Mercy of God as Found in the Old Testament

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:  Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God / Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors / More suggestions…