The Greatest Parable
One of the hardest questions for Christians to answer, is the question of the brutal, sometimes merciless, genocidal killings in the Old Testament. It is difficult to explain some of these things and especially when the Scripture declares that they were either carried out by God himself, or commanded by God. As a matte of fact, this is one of the strongest objections which people like atheists and other unbelievers have, to Christianity and the Bible. They ask the question, “how can we reconcile these stories with the idea that God is a loving, merciful, just person?” Either the Bible does not tell the truth or else, God is not really a loving person.
This is indeed a difficult question to answer and Christians have usually responded to this question by stating that God is all wise and that he knows best of all. We should not question his actions. Others sometimes suggest that all those who were wiped out by God’s commands were already lost and beyond the hope of salvation. They were people who had become so wicked and depraved that there was no hope for them and therefore God simply carried out judgment upon them in wiping them out.
None of these answers really is satisfactory. God expects us to serve him because we love him, he expects us to see his love in the things which he has done. The Bible is full of declarations that God is good, just, merciful and loving. It is not reasonable to say, “just ignore these terrible acts and believe in God’s love in spite of them.” They are a part of the evidence too.
Neither does it make sense to say, “all these people would have been lost anyway, so God simply judged and punished them before time.” Is this fair? Is this just? Should a person be judged and punished on the basis of what another person knows will happen? Is it justice to judge a person before he has had a chance to demonstrate the truth about himself? Can a just God simply operate on the basis of his own private knowledge in the way he treats people? How then can God be transparent and how can his fairness be seen by all of us?
Two Kinds of Law
No, there is another answer to what was happening in the Old Testament, something which harmonizes the reality that God did indeed command and perform those actions in ancient times, and yet, which still preserves the truth of God’s amazing wisdom, love and mercy.
First of all, let us remember the truth which we have often emphasized: There are two kinds of law, there is legal law and there is natural law. Natural law refers to the laws of nature, those eternal principles which God has set in place which govern how the universe operates. These laws exist in both the physical and the spiritual realm. These are the true laws of life. Legal law on the other hand are laws which are set in place by a governing authority. Legal law does not work automatically, somebody has to make this law and that person has to put penalties in place to ensure that the law works.
The Bible says,
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Gal 6:7)
Here we see a principle of life. What we sow, is what we will reap. This is true not only in the physical realm, but also in the spiritual realm. Let us notice that this is a natural law. It is not a legal law that we reap what we sow, it is the way nature works. However, we can see that the legal law has been established by God himself as a reflection of this natural law. So for example we see the legal law which says,
“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” (Exod 21:12)
If a man sows death, he will naturally reap death. However, the legal rule says, we will not wait for this to happen by nature, instead, those in authority will take you and put you to death by executing you.
God’s Teaching Tools
The next point we need to consider is that the entire Old Testament was set up by God to be a teaching tool, something which was to represent a greater reality. The apostle Paul says,
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:24)
Paul also speaks about the events of the Old Testament and he says that these things happened unto them for ensamples (examples).
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1Cor 10:11)
In other words, the system which existed before Christ, was a teaching tool, something that God set up as an illustration, intended to teach greater lessons.
One of the greatest teaching tools which God uses, is parables. A parable is a story, or a kind of event which is used to illustrate a greater truth. Sometimes parables are just stories that are told, but sometimes parables are acted out. Here is one example:
At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. (Isa 20:2-4)
Isaiah’s life, for three years was in a sense, not reality. He was play-acting a part representing what would happen to the Assyrians.
It is also important to remember that a parable is not necessarily true in itself, what is important is the truth that it teaches, not the story or the parable itself. For example, when Jesus told the story of the rich man who died and went to hell, it is clear that this was not a true story (Luke 16:19-31). In reading the story, we should look at the point he was making and not the details of the story. If we do, we will certainly come to believe in false doctrines.
The Greatest Parable
The Old Testament becomes easier to understand when we realize that the Old Testament is the greatest parable of all! What we see when we read the Old Testament, is not the truth about God, nor the way he really is. The Old Testament is a parable, but not just a parable like a story which is told, it is actually a parable that was lived, similar to Isaiah’s experience when he walked naked and barefoot.
The first thing we need to understand is that the most important thing is the lesson which it was teaching. The events which are recorded really did take place and they did happen just the way they are recorded, but these stories do not explain the reasons and the motives behind what God was doing.
The Old Testament is a legal representation of how natural law works. In other words, God established a legal system, which was an illustration of how sin operates. The natural law of life is that sin will kill those who get involved with it in even the slightest way. It is sin that destroys people, it is not God. However when God set out to teach this lesson he had to teach it perfectly, because if he misrepresented the truth then the lesson could not be properly taught.
So when we look at the Old Testament we see people being killed by God, or by his servants, for what seems to be very small transgressions. It seems that God is harsh, merciless, exacting. This is not an expression of what God is like, this is an expression of how natural law works. Nature has no mercy, has no feeling, it does not care whether you are young or old, or whether you deliberately transgressed or whether you did it innocently. For example, if a woman picks up a deadly disease whether knowingly or ignorantly, she will be sick regardless. She may pass on that disease to her unborn child. This is how nature works and it operates this way in both the physical and the spiritual realm. This is how sin operates, it is merciless without feeling, uncompromising, harsh and brutal.
A lesson must be accurate
When God set up a system to represent the danger of sin he had to represent it perfectly or else he would have been teaching a lie. He himself represented the law of consequence, the sentences which he passed and the judgments which he carried out were an expression of how sin itself will react in a person’s life. So, in order to teach the lesson accurately, God had to be faithful in carrying out the penalties, since they were an expression, or a parable concerning this law of consequence.
One may ask, but what about the people who died under this system? Are we to conclude that they are all lost? When we watch a movie, or we watch a play, we may see people dying, but at the end we see the same people alive and well. We understand that what we were watching was not the real truth even though it represented something which might be true. This is what the Old Testament was like. Many of those that we saw dying, even dying under God’s judgments are not really lost eternally. I am not saying that this is true of every one, but it is true of many. Under the system of the law, under the illustration, under the parable, they had to die because God had to be true to the lesson being taught. However, ultimately at the end it will be seen that through the system of grace many of them will still be saved. They made mistakes, or sometimes, small transgressions and were killed for it. The story of Uzzah is one such example.
And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. (2Sam 6:6-7)
Another example is the disobedient prophet who was deceived into eating in Samaria when God told him not to (1 Kings 13:7-30). Even though he was genuinely deceived, he died because of listening to man, when God had already given him clear instructions. I think the lesson is that those who look to men to direct them when God has already spoken, will introduce death into their experience. This is how natural law works and under the system of legal law, God had to be faithful in illustrating this reality. Small sins, even ignorant sins will do great harm and will ultimately destroy a person, so the lesson had to be taught.
The story is not over
However, we should remember that under grace, Christ has delivered us from the consequences of sin and so, all who have faith in Christ may escape the effects caused by sin, whether deliberately or ignorantly committed, whether small or great. So, in the true, eternal reality, many of these people who died under judgment, under the system of the law, will ultimately obtain eternal life when it is all over. It will be seen that they were as actors in a play, people who died in the movie, but who come back to life at the end, in the real system of life.
One striking example of this is Moses. Moses did not die because of old age. The Bible tells us that when he died his eye was not dim and his natural force was not abated (Deut. 34:7). Yet he went up to God in Mount Nebo and there he died. It is clear that he was put to death by God. Why did God kill him? He died unto God’s judgment because of his sin just like thousands of others died under God’s judgment during those Old Testament times. Moses had to die, because God had to be true to the lesson that he was teaching. The lesson is that the slightest connection with sin will ultimately destroy a person. This is how nature works and this is the lesson that God was teaching in this system of the law. But we know that under the system of grace Moses has received eternal life! Now that the movie is over, the parable is ended, we see the truth, the way things really are, and we see Moses alive and well.
So the point is this: All the killings that we see in the Old Testament, commanded and carried out by God do not tell the truth about what God is really like, they tell the truth about what sin is really like. The entire thing is a lesson book and the lesson is that if we get involved with sin in any way, sin will end up destroying us. In the New Testament when we are no longer dealing with a parable but dealing with reality, we see the true character of God in living color, and undisturbed, because we are no longer seeing him through the parable of the law, but through the reality of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life.
(Source: Restoration Ministry)