♣ When the Scriptures Seem Harsh
“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge1 the evil from your midst” – Deuteronomy 17:2-7.
THE ABOVE REFERENCE, among many others of like nature, is not palatable reading for most people; it certainly is not considered a good and encouraging meditation for many who want to start out their day with something positive and uplifting – nevertheless, it is God’s holy Word. We cannot pick and choose what we feel is wholesome when it comes to approaching the Scriptures; it is all God-breathed. Neither are the considered ‘tedious’ parts there for historical reading or theological competency; it is there for our instruction in the ways of the Lord.
Some Scriptures will seem harsh to many on surface value. Not only do we have atheists picking out such verses to justify their mentality in accusing God (of Whom they deny exists) of being cruel, but we also have the liberal-minded in the Church who become the ‘authorities’ in deciding what is and what isn’t the Word of God.
Why are such unsavoury passages contained in the Bible? What differentiates the Scriptures from the harsh ways of the Quran? What sets apart the God of the Old Testament (and the New – being One and completely the same) from that of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad? These are worthy considerations.
One thing we can be certain of is that God is perfectly just and righteous in all of His ways. There is no shadow of turning with Him; He is the same yesterday, today and forever; He is not the God of wrath in the Old Testament dispensation and the God of love in the New. We cannot read the New Testament while discarding of the Old; we cannot grasp hold of grace if we fail to feel the weight of the Law. Both Testaments are the revealed mind of the Lord to finite minds – one cannot be considered without the other and for anyone to count the Old Testament as irrelevant has a seriously flawed understanding as to the purpose of the Scriptures. We are to hear the whole counsel of God and it is every preacher’s responsibility to make that known and it is our responsibility to not only acquaint ourselves with the entire written Word of God, but to embrace it all, seeing that every verse and minute detail has it’s perfect purpose.
Can we just imagine living in the times of Moses; how would such judgements fare in our day and age? Some agree and disagree to capital punishment for serial killers, savage rapists, child molesters and war criminals – but for worshipping and serving another god sounds as cruel as Muslims killing their own family members for walking away from Islam.
Why such severity in the Scriptures? Why is it that Israel had to wipe out entire foreign clans and races, to include their women and children when possessing the Promised Land? Isn’t that what we condemn today – Genocide?
One answer where we can certainly begin with – and this alone should suffice the matter once and for all – is that the acts of God’s judgement shows the severity of sin. God absolutely abhors all that is contrary to light, purity – righteousness. If God’s blazing holiness infinitely burns brighter than the biggest of stars and if the purest of angels have to cover their eyes from the majesty of God, who are we fallen creatures to dare insinuate and dictate to God what is and what isn’t fair? Our idea of justice and righteousness is so tarnished beyond measure that it takes the grace of God to give us eyes to see what is right. Sin has abolished everything; its result has and always will be death. It even dares to twist and distort Who God is – and we see so much of that prevalent in the Church today; we have a god fabricated in the minds of many, not the One true God of the Old and New Testament.
There are numerous Scriptures that ‘seem’ (to our limited understanding) to contradict, but the more they are read with the understanding of the Holy Spirit, the more we will see the perfect symphonic beauty of God’s Word. It doesn’t gloss over anything; it is downright honest and cuts straight to the heart. It shows how man fails while God stays faithful to His covenant with humanity. All the years, decades, centuries and millennia’s that have passed reveal the overwhelming patience and mercy of God; it is an absolute wonder as to why man still breathes, but that is God’s tender mercy Who desires all to come to repentance and restoration.
If we find such scriptures hard to reconcile ourselves with, we must always remember that God’s Word is the authority. It is not what we think or feel is the determining factor. It is not our theological leanings that determine what we deem to be the Word of God or not. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said in dealing with some difficult passages of Scripture: “We certainly are entering into the realm of ultimate mystery. Let us therefore ‘take off our shoes from off our feet, for the place on which we stand is holy ground’. This is a passage that must be approached with reverence, with humility and with care. It does indeed hold us face to face with some of the most mysterious elements of biblical teaching, and of Christian teaching in particular… Now that is the spirit and the way in which we must approach this. We are dealing with the mind and the ways of God and we must therefore anticipate that we shall not be able to understand it fully… Let us be careful. We are all too ready to speak our opinions and when we do not understand the mind of God we say that something seems to us to be wrong…”
Do we bow ourselves with reverence, fear and humility when we approach God’s Word, no matter how familiar we may be with it? Do we still hunger and thirst to know the ways of God, or have we lost that child-like wonder and faith in God because we are now confident in knowing the Scriptures and are competent in teaching them?
If we find ourselves uncomfortable with certain Scriptures, the problem is not with God; we have failed to understand Him; we are failing to see His holiness; we are failing to see the diabolical nature of sin and why He had to give over His Son to remedy our enmity with Him. Anything that stands opposed to Him, no matter how innocent and just it may appear and feel to us, is the remnant of our sinful nature that vehemently hates God. As Oswald Chambers said, “Sin is blatant mutiny against God, and either sin or God must die in my life.”
We most certainly do live in the days where a famine of God’s Word is prevalent. We will hear many passages read from the Bible, especially in our Bible-Belt until it comes back out of our ears, but seldom is it expounded in context and in demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, where true understanding is imparted, the mind is illumined, the heart softened and the will moved to truly worship and serve the One and only Living God.