Does God Ever Require Israel to Exterminate a People Group?
“The issue is not the people group itself. The issue is what their mark of identity is. When you look at the Canaanite people in the book of Genesis, they were friendly with the patriarchs. The problem is their behavior and the pernicious influence that they could exert on the Israelites.
If the Israelites don’t remove those idols and shrines and altars and so forth, they can get sucked into the lifestyle of the Canaanites. We know the Canaanites were being judged for their sinfulness and wicked acts, which would be considered criminal in any modern society. The problem is when they bring their ideological and religious baggage with them, that could be a stumbling block to the Israelites and therefore obstruct the mission of the Israelites to bring light and blessing to the nations, as well as compromising their identity as the people of God. So it was simultaneously a judgment on the Canaanites and bringing the Israelites into the land that would bring forth the Messiah, who would be the redeemer of all the nations.”
Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?
“Pharaoh started it. It wasn’t as though he was a nice Pharaoh minding his own business, and God hardened his heart. From the very beginning, you have a nasty oppressor who brought the Israelites to such a point that they’re crying out for relief from the Lord, so he sends Moses to rescue them. Often Pharaoh was hardening his own heart. But we see that God hardens his heart and lets Pharaoh have his way, letting him go with his desires, yet using the willfulness of Pharaoh to show that God is actually in charge of this leader. Even if you have these Israelite people on your turf, God will show that He’s greater than you and your nation.”
How Do We Navigate The Bible Literally and Symbolically?
“We don’t read a lot of Revelation literally, but it’s highly symbolic. We understand that there is a structure and style to how Paul wrote his letters, which were common in the Mediterranean world. For example, when we read ‘Paul, the servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ it is followed by his greeting to his audience. Then he sends grace, mercy, and peace, a common start to a letter in the Mediterranean world.
But there are some places where it could be a little trickier. You see how an author writes as you dig into the text a little bit more. They use highly symbolic or hyperbolic language here, just like we do in our sports talk. Sometimes it is helpful to know the background information. You’ll learn that when it says, ‘there were no survivors,’ and you see survivors in the next chapter, it’s not a contradiction. It enables you to see things much more clearly.”
How Do We Interpret 2 Kings 2:23-24?
“The fact that they call him bald is interesting because anyone compared to Elisha’s mentor would look bald because Elijah is described as a very hairy man. By contrast, you have someone with less hair, who may be bald, but this is primarily a picture of cursing in the name of the Lord. In Leviticus 26, we have blessings and curses. God threatens that if you break the covenant with the Lord who graciously initiated this relationship with Israel, He will bring certain judgments upon you, including sending wild beasts to attack. This is so that you will be ‘bereft of your children.’
The word bereft is used in 2 Kings 1, where you have Elijah before he ascends to heaven in the chariot of fire. That’s why it says, ‘go on up, baldhead.’ Elijah has just been to Jericho, where the water is contaminated. Elisha and the people are pleading with him to come and help them, and he purifies the water. The water had rendered the land fruitless or bereft.
These youths in 2 Kings 2 are engaged in soldiering, but they don’t have households of their own. They’re part of the false worship of Bethel. Those are some things that are part of the background and are helpful for us to understand as we look at this.”
Was The Imprecatory Prayer a Way of Talking About & Dealing With The Wicked?
“The imprecatory Psalms are cries with strong language for God to bring justice. These imprecatory Psalms speak out of raw emotion. The Psalmists ask God to do what He has promised to do and render everyone according to his deeds.
Some Psalmists are theologically imprecise. For example, when David says, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ We see at the end of the Psalm that God does not abandon those who cry out to Him. Psalm 89 looks like God has forsaken His covenant. However, that’s the Psalmist speaking in a language that reflects his feelings. It’s not as though we must insist on theological precision in these sometimes highly emotive Psalms. We must remember that as we interpret the imprecatory Psalms, there is the promise of God’s blessing to Israel. However, those who curse Israel will receive God’s judgment because He stands up for His covenant people.”
Are There Imprecatory Psalms in The New Testament?
“There are other imprecatory statements. For example, the heavenly martyrs in Revelation 6 call on the Lord, saying, ‘how long, O Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ This is yet another call for God to do what He promised: to vindicate. The New Testament also utilizes various imprecatory Psalms. For example, in Acts 1, two imprecatory Psalms are quoted. Paul also does this in Romans 11.”
The Truth About God’s Wrath and Love.
“Wrath and love are not opposed to each other, but wrath flows out of God’s love and passionate concern when there is injustice, and God’s image bearers are being degraded. If God were not to get angry, it would show that He doesn’t care. Wrath is an expression of God’s profound concern for what is going on, that He will take action. He’s going to do something about this. In the crucifixion, Jesus is laying down His life for the sins of the world. No one takes His life from him, but He lays it down and takes it up again. This is the act of the triune God.”
How Do We Depict God as He Truly Is?
“God does not have a body, but we have body language, like the eyes of the Lord or the arm of the Lord. This is the anthropomorphic language using human forms to depict something about God. You also have literary devices that give the impression that God doesn’t know the future. For example, in Genesis 22, God says, ‘Now I know that you fear me.’ It wasn’t as though God didn’t know it before, but He outlines that Abraham has proven his fear of the Lord.
Abraham himself is convinced that God is going to bring Isaac back with him because he says, ‘we will go and worship, and we will return.’ Even in Genesis 18, where God is talking with Abraham, He says, ‘I will go down now and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’ Open theists interpret this as evidence that God doesn’t know the present, but this is not the case. We must be careful of how we push certain language in scripture.”
How Do We Explain ‘Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated?’
“This is a comparative term in that God makes a covenant and sets His unique love on Israel, but He does not make a covenant with Esau. This is reflected in the words of Jesus, that the person who loves his father and mother more than Christ cannot be His disciple. Matthew 15 talks about honoring your father and mother, so He is not against loving your parents. The point is that allegiance to Christ sometimes demands saying no to what the family insists on.
So when God is saying, ‘Jacob, I’ve loved, Esau, I’ve hated,’ He’s saying, ‘I have chosen this nation.’ It’s not as though God somehow has an ethnic opposition to Edom or Esau. In fact, at Pentecost, we have those who are Edomians, who are present at the reception of the message from Peter. They become believers. They are the recipients of the blessing of God. But the language of binding oneself in a covenant looks like you’re no longer concerned with the other people. When you get married, you’re saying no to everybody else. You’re singling out one person and removing all other options. We look at Jeremiah 18, seeing that any nation that repents from its wickedness, God will relent from sending judgment as He had promised.”
How Do We Navigate Having Allegiance to Christ Alone?
“When Paul is turning the rebellious man over to Satan in 1 Corinthians 5, there is no hostility because the goal is that his flesh might be saved. The hope is that this discipline could lead that person to repentance. Until that person repents, church discipline is the only alternative. Jesus, Himself makes these sorts of statements that the one who leads these little ones astray would be better off with a millstone hung around his neck. In Acts 9:3, God says, ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Jesus identifies with His people to such a degree that He feels the pain of that persecution.”
What Does The Bible Say About The Death Penalty?
“In the Old Testament, starting in Genesis 9, we see that, at least in principle, it is not immoral, and God commands the death penalty to preserve order. Then, of course, we see violence at the time before the flood. So the death penalty that comes in Genesis 9 is seen as God dealing with future violence to prevent the depths of depravity and degradation that had come.
When we get to Israel and the Mosaic law, we see that the death penalty is mandated. For murder, there is no ransom payment, but the death penalty must ensue. There is an understanding that not every potential death penalty case must end in the offender’s death, but it could instead be commuted to payment. Numbers 35 makes this clear. So we have a picture of ransom and payment where there have been damages.”
How Does The Bible Address Slavery?
“One of the points that I make in Is God a Vindictive Bully? is that many of our translations could be very misleading. We’ve had a history of imperialism, colonialism, and Jim Crow laws abolishing slavery. Yet, our earlier Bible translations have a lesser word. They talk about more of a servant or worker, but our more modern translations utilize the stronger terminology of slavery of slaves. This is unfortunate because it does not consider the history and what it triggers. It’s better to use a term like servant or worker because that better captures what is going on. In addition, there is indentured servitude, where you pay off your debt after seven years.
If the law of Moses were followed, we would not have any slavery issues because kidnapping is prohibited. So if you make provision in the law, you are keeping them out of the position where they would have to sell themselves to someone else and be indentured servants. In Israel, to be a servant was to be part of the family and enter into their life.
It could be that you like this arrangement, and it could be a place of security, of someone else taking care of your housing, food, and wages. If the institution of slavery could be voluntary, there would be no sense of inherent oppression. We also see that Israel was meant to be a refuge for runaway slaves. It has humane, livable conditions, rather than being a place of oppression.”
About Dr. Paul Copan
Paul Copan (Ph.D., Marquette University), a Christian theologian, analytic philosopher, and apologist, is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. For six years, he served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He was a visiting scholar at Oxford University in 2017. Copan is the author or editor of more than 40 books, including Is God a Moral Monster?; True for You, But Not for Me; That’s Your Interpretation; When God Goes to Starbucks; and A Little Book for New Philosophers.
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