Book Review – The Morality of God in the Old Testament (Christian Answers to Hard Questions)

by Josh Davis

Beale’s purpose in writing this book is to succinctly discuss “the problem of how God can be considered to be morally good, while at the same time he does things and commands people in the Old Testament to do things that do not appear to be good.” Beale’s question is a legitimate question, and if we are being honest with each other, one that all of us, as Christians, have thought about at one time or another. I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but if I had to wager a guess I would assume that this is one of the reasons why a lot of Christians avoid the Old Testament. To them, it appears as if this is a completely different God than the New Testament Jesus who is both “unjustly” cruel (commands Israel to kill all the men, women, and children of the Canaanites) and always angry about something (makes Israel march for 40 years in the desert while killing off the disobedient generation who doesn’t believe God’s Word that the Promised Land is theirs for the taking). Though there are a lot of different “problems” that can be discussed as it pertains to God’s morality in the Old Testament, Beale’s book focuses on the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites and then the imprecations (cursings) in the book of Psalms. If we come to biblical conclusions about God’s commandments pertaining to the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites and

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imprecations in Psalms, then that will provide a biblical approach on how to handle the other moral “problems” of God that one might come across in the Word. [Normally, the best way to approach a review of a smaller book such as this one is to provide a succinct review, but the subject matter of the book is so deep that a more thorough review is required.]

The first possible solution to the dilemma that Beale mentions is that wartime ethics are legitimately different from peacetime ethics, and the use of lying and deception are “an accepted ethic in wartime”. For example, “an army may ambush another army through deceptive tactics. This is legitimate practice during war. Killing the enemy is also condoned during battle.” This was true in ancient times just like it is true of modern times. However, the killing of all the men, women, and children is not condoned in modern times of war (even though it happens). How does one reconcile the fact that God is the one who commands the Israelites to annihilate all of the Canaanites, and it wasn’t a bunch of Israelites taking orders from corrupt leaders? Beale doesn’t answer the question right away, but moves on to laying out for the reader other possible solutions to the moral dilemma…

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Book Review – The Morality of God in the Old Testament (Christian Answers to Hard Questions)

 

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