Friday, February 15, 2013

God's just judgments

I'm going to repost some comments  I left at Justin Taylor's blog:

steve hays
February 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Rauser simply rejects OT theism and the authority of Scripture. Rauser rejects Yahweh.

It’s futile to drive a wedge between Jesus and the OT, for Jesus reaffirmed the OT as the word of God. Likewise, it’s futile to drive a wedge between Jesus and Yahweh, for Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate.

Also, keep in mind that Jesus is the eschatological Judge of unbelievers as well as the Redeemer of believers.

To say that herem is human sacrifice is equivocal and deceptive. Human sacrifice has connotations of appeasing gods through killing humans. That’s a pagan concept.

steve hays
    February 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Caleb G.

    “This is a non-starter because it appears to me that you are asserting that anyone who interprets these narratives or the character of God differently is not a Christian.”

    That’s a typically ploy. However, Rauser doesn’t offer an alternative interpretation of the narratives. Rather, he rejects the narratives. He takes the position that the narratives falsely ascribe certain commands to God. That’s not interpreting the narratives differently. That’s interpreting the narratives the same way, but disbelieving them.

    “I could be wrong, but I don’t recall where the Scripture ever refer to themselves as the Word of God. The Word of God usually means a verbal proclamation not something written down.”

    You should read some of Warfield’s classic essays on the inspiration of Scripture, where he documents the equation.

    “You can make rhetorical statements about a wedge, but the fact still remains that the God revealed in Jesus who commanded us to love our enemies and let the children come to him, stands in start contrast to commands to ‘let nothing breathing remain alive’ including infants.”

    i) Executing the Canaanites wasn’t hateful. You’re creating a false dichotomy.

    ii) For some odd reason, people like you single out a one command of Jesus, while ignoring others. Jesus didn’t merely command us to love our enemies. He also commanded us to love our neighbors and honor our parents. But there are situations in which loving your enemy conflicts with loving your neighbor, if your enemy is threatening your neighbor (to take one instance).

    iii) Commanding the execution of Canaanite children isn’t an indictment of Canaanite children. Collective judgment is not a personal judgment on each individual in the collective. For instance, some devout Jews suffered horribly as a result of the Babylonian Exile. God wasn’t judging those individuals. But since human beings are social creatures, it isn’t possible to visiting divine judgment on a corrupt society without a degree of innocent suffering.

    “By pagan do you mean originated in non-Israelite cultures?”

    No, I didn’t say that.

    “The word herem is used in the Old Testament to indicate an act of devotion to a deity, in this case YHWH. In some places this refers to destroying material items. Do a word study as to how this word is used throughout the Pentateuch. It is portrayed as a sacrifice. In Joshua the whole city Jericho was to be ‘herem’ – devoted to destruction, including the men, women, and children inside. Thus the book of Joshua portrays the killing of the inhabitants of Jericho as a sacrifice.”

    You’re simply repeating the same mistake you made before while failing to interact with my argument: “Human sacrifice has connotations of appeasing gods through killing humans.”

steve hays
February 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm

You can’t appeal to “universal moral intuitions” to sideline certain OT commands, for the OT writers didn’t share your moral intuitions. If they did, these commands, which you find so offensive, wouldn’t be there in the first place. Your appeal to universal moral intuition is self-refuting in this context, for the very context furnishes evidence to the contrary.

Steve hays
February 14, 2013 at 11:05 am

There’s nothing to respond to. It’s incumbent on the questioner to how explain how he thinks OT herem is like jihad, before we can explain how they differ. It’s not my job to make his argument for him, then refute it.

    steve hays
    February 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    No, I don’t assume “the best of people” who impudently impugn the moral integrity of God’s word. The proper attitude is to assume the best of God’s word.

    No, you’re not entitled to stipulate “apparent similarities between God’s commands in the OT and Muslim jihad are clear enough.”

    If you’re going to level that accusation against the Bible, then it’s incumbent on you to articulate the alleged similarities.

steve hays
February 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

You haven’t given me anything to respond to. You need to formulate an argument. If you think jihad is comparable to herem, you need to spell out how you think they are comparable. Don’t throw out vague, unspecified comparisons, then demand that others should refute them.

James Bradshaw
February 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Since “everyone deserves God’s judgment” while (I assume) you consider yourself to be one of “God’s people”, doesn’t that imply you have the right to kill … well … anyone who ticks you off because you consider them an “enemy of God”?

In any rate, I see no difference between your warped theology and that of the Muslim fanatics. Same murderous mindset … different god.

    steve hays
    February 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    i) Your statement is illogical. For instance, a soldier can be guilty of some offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That doesn’t give me a right to punish him. I’m not a military tribunal.

    ii) Likewise, universal guilt doesn’t imply instant retribution.

    The fact that you “see” no difference between our theology and Muslim fanatics is just your unargued opinion.

James Bradshaw
February 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm

By the way, there are numerous passages that note that “God’s armies” were to say everyone, including infants and children. What crimes could a toddler commit for them to be deemed worthy of having their bodies sliced open with a sword?

    steve hays
    February 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Corporate judgment doesn’t imply that everyone is guilty. If the parents are guilty, the child can’t survive alone.
        James Bradshaw
        February 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm

        “If the parents are guilty, the child can’t survive alone.”

        Who says they have to be left alone?

        Raise and care for the children of the parents you just killed in the name of God.
            steve hays
            February 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm

            The soldiers who killed the parents should raise the kids? And how would that work out once the kids were old enough to realize their adoptive parents killed their biological parents?

Caleb G.
February 14, 2013 at 7:59 am

Jonathan states the problem crudely perhaps, but the basic point still stands. That the Pentateuch was written hundreds of years after the events they portray is the consensus of scholarship. This does not guarantee that the scholarly consensus is right, but it does put the burden of proof on you, Steve, so show that they are wrong.

For a summary of these issues and how a Protestant might work through them, I recommend Peter Enns’ essay in the book The Bible and the Believer.

    steve hays
    February 14, 2013 at 11:10 am

    That’s not the consensus of scholarship. That’s only the consensus of liberal scholars. So your appeal is arbitrarily selective.

    Consensus doesn’t create a presumption that consensus is true. That’s viciously circular. Consensus is not a substitute for argument.

    I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What conservative scholarship have you read?

    The fact that you recommend Peter Enns tips your hand.

steve hays
February 14, 2013 at 12:59 am

Even if you could explain away the commands, that’s superficial. Thousands of children die every day from preventable causes. Some children die in natural disasters. God could prevent their premature death without violating anyone’s freewill. Some children die of cancer. God could prevent that without violating anyone’s freewill.

If you think God commanding the death of children is a problem, so is God allowing the death of children.

If, on the other hand, God is justified in allowing the death of children, then he’s justified in commanding their death. If they die at God’s command, someone else carries out the command, but God is behind the command. If they die of disease or starvation or natural disaster, God is ultimately behind their death. By not intervening, God ensures the outcome.

If you think the Bible is a problem, the world is a problem. Escaping the Bible doesn’t enable you to escape the world.


I’m using your own framework. How is God good in allowing X, but not good in commanding X? What is the morally relevant difference? Why is one consistent with divine goodness, but the other is not?

The question at issue is the death of children. You brought that up. Very well, then. How is God good if he allows children to die from preventable causes, but not good if he commands them to die?

steve hays
February 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Let’s take a NT example. Take Matthew 2. God foreknew, when he inspired Micah to deliver that prophecy, that God was painting a bull’s-eye on the back of the little kids in Bethlehem, hundreds of years later. God knew that Herod was going to use Micah’s prophecy as low-tech GPS to track the whereabouts of the Christchild. And Herod would murder all the kids to give himself a margin of error.

In fact, that probably bought Joseph some time to whisk Jesus and Mary out of Israel, while Herod’s henchmen were following the lead. Instead of looking for Jesus elsewhere, they were looking for Jesus in Bethlehem, but he had skipped town by the time they arrived. There’s a sense in which those children died so that Jesus would live. They deflected attention away from Jesus. Indeed, Herod probably called off the manhunt after massacring the children of Bethlehem, on the assumption that Jesus was somewhere among the pile of victims. He had all of them killed to make sure he got Jesus in the process.

Yet there’s another side to the story. There’d come a day when Jesus would die for others. Lay down is life so that others would enjoy eternal life. Sooner or later, all of us will die. The only hope any of us has, including the dead children of Bethlehem, is through salvation in Christ.

steve hays
    February 15, 2013 at 11:46 am


    “Thanks for your extended response. I don’t think the issue is simply ‘the death of children,’ the issue is the mass killing of children.”

    Thousands of children die every day around the world. If your objection is to children dying en masse, that happens all the time. Children are killed by murder, accident, disease, starvation, &c.

    Therefore, even if you could explain away the OT commands, you still have the real world situation to deal with. If children dying outside of Scripture is consistent with God’s character, why does Scripture present a special problem for God’s character?

    “You seem to be arguing that if God allows a person to carry out any action, He might as well have directly commanded the person to perform that action. But surely you don’t believe this. We would have to conclude that every sin God allows a person to commit might as well have been directly commanded by God, which is nonsense. For example, God allowed that Shechem rape Dinah in Genesis 34. But God did not directly command Shechem to rape Dinah. God did not desire for that to happen, or command for that to happen. Shechem’s action was contrary to God’s character. Similarly, Herod’s slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem was sin, was evil, was not commanded by God, and was contrary to God’s character. God’s character is portrayed, as you rightly described, in how God redeems that heinous action. So the question remains, how can God then command the Israelites to slaughter infants, actions that seem similar to that of sinful Herod, and not compromise His character?”

    i) To begin with, there’s no point discussing the issue in purely hypothetical terms, as if we were asking whether God would command such a thing. For the Bible does, in fact, attribute such commands to God. So we already crossed that bridge. There is no turning back. Clearly the Bible regards such commands as consonant with God’s character.

    All sides of this debate agree that Scripture attributes these commands to God. There are then different reactions to these Biblical ascriptions.

    You have Christians like Justin Taylor and Christopher Wright who defend the traditional interpretation as well as the moral propriety of God’s command.

    You have some Christians like Richard Hess and Matt Flanagan who question the traditional interpretation.

    You have liberals and atheists who accept the traditional interpretation, but reject the authority of Scripture.

    ii) Keep in mind that I don’t think God was commanding evil.

    iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, the command to execute Canaanite children was an evil command. What makes that an evil command?

    Is it evil because it wrongs those who are tasked to carry out the command? Is it wrong because it makes them do evil?

    Or is it wrong because of the harm done to the victims? Or both?

    If the latter, children are harmed every day under God’s governance.

    iv) Let’s compare two different scenarios:

    a) A police chief orders his officers to make businessmen pay protection money to the police.

    b) A police chief knows that his officers are extorting businessmen to pay protection money to the police, but turns a blind eye to the shakedown racket.

    I don’t see a moral difference between what the police chief commands and what he allows.

    v) Back to Mt 2. God allowing Herod to massacre the kids was clearly in keeping with God’s character. If that was out of character, why would God allow it?

    In addition, God did more than letting it happen. God set into motion the conditions that would result in that outcome. God knew how Herod would use Micah’s prophecy. God was also responsible for the existence of Herod. God opens and closes the womb. So God intended that to happen.

    You can only deny that by denying other things. By denying God’s foreknowledge. By denying God’s providential role in conception and gestation (e.g. Ps 139).

    vi) Or take the Babylonian exile. That resulted in the death of many Jewish kids. Read Lamentations.

    Yet God didn’t merely permit that to happen. Lam 2 attributes that outcome to God. It makes God ultimately responsible. God was punishing covenant-breakers (Lam 4:10; cf. Deut 28:25,53-57). Babylonian and Assyrian kings attack Israel at God’s instigation (Isa 10:5ff.). They are instruments of his judicial will.

    vii) We need to distinguish between God’s intentions and the intentions of the perpetrators. God’s intentions are just, whereas the intentions of the perpetrators may be just or unjust.

    We also need to distinguish between something that’s sinful, and the good use that God can put to something that’s sinful.

1 comment:

  1. BTW, I'd like to thank Jim Pemberton for his kind words.