In my previous post, I wrote about how we might interpret the violence seemingly commanded by God in the Bible, by looking at Jesus’ words about divorce.
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses order a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hardness of heart; but it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:7-8)
Based on this I concluded that it wasn’t God’s ultimate desire to command violence, but that he permitted it due to their hardness of heart. Living in such a dark and violent time, God had to meet them on their level, feeding them the milk they could digest, rather than food too solid for them to chew. Violence and evil were not the way in the beginning, but man had fallen. As I said in the previous post, these are my own reflections and represent my personal understanding that is still in development. So please bear this in mind when reading.
To build on my previous points further, we know that God consistently uses what is imperfect or evil for his good purposes. If such an evil generation were left to its own devices, there would have been no chance of redemption for mankind. The challenging commands of God are always from the motivation of trying to preserve and nurture holiness in a corrupt and degenerating world. If the seed of holiness was to survive, then the weeds of evil would need to be purged, lest the plant be choked of life.
Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. (Deuteronomy 13:10-11)
It may seem shocking to read that God ordered people to be stoned to death, but we have to remember that this was a very different time to our own. This was a generation where violence and war was glorified, and humanity was getting progressively more evil. The wages of sin is death, and left alone, the whole of humanity was heading to spiritual death and permanent separation from God. God had to work with and lead evil men, and this led to actions on his part that would seem strange to his nature. As the above verse says, he did this in order to set an example and deterrent, so that man may not fall off the edge altogether. We see this also in the writings of Paul:
God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:5-6)
So Paul is saying here that God used these terrible events to illustrate the consequences of evil, so that we might avoid them. So this is God’s heart, he wants to protect us. He doesn’t want us to fall so far into evil as the Israelite’s did.
The world of the ancient Israelite’s was a harsh place, full of evil men on a downward spiral. God’s discipline was all that kept them from total spiritual annihilation, but this time of discipline turned to a time of mercy, when Jesus Christ was born into the world. This chapter from Hosea illustrates this change from discipline to mercy, as God’s people are likened to Hosea’s adulterous wife. No longer would we call God master, needing his punishment and discipline to stay afloat, for a time was coming and has now come, when we would call him husband:
“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.
I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.
Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’
Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.’
She has not acknowledged that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold—
which they used for Baal.
“Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens,
and my new wine when it is ready.
I will take back my wool and my linen,
intended to cover her naked body.
So now I will expose her lewdness
before the eyes of her lovers;
no one will take her out of my hands.
I will stop all her celebrations:
her yearly festivals, her New Moons,
her Sabbath days—all her appointed festivals.
I will ruin her vines and her fig trees,
which she said were her pay from her lovers;
I will make them a thicket,
and wild animals will devour them.
I will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but me she forgot,”
declares the Lord.
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.
“In that day I will respond,”
declares the Lord—
“I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.
I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”