In the Old Testament, under the instruction of God, the nations in the Middle East suffered much violence and slaughter at the hands of God’s people. Most unbelievers find such abundance of slaughter difficult to accept, especially when Christians present God as being merciful and loving, and as Christ taught against any form of violence.
In the Old Testament, when God leads Israel out of Egypt to the ‘Promised Land’, he presents Israel with his law, which requires that his people must abstain from anything unclean and unholy. God specifically shows his displeasure of sexual perversions, and says:
“Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” — Leviticus 18 v 24-25
Many people believe that Israel committed a merciless slaughter at God’s command; however, as we read above, God had a reason why these Middle East nations were to be put to death: they were doing all of the things that God abhorred: acts of violence, child sacrifice, sexual perversions, etc. The wars between Israel and the surrounding nations were not to kill innocent people, but to punish wicked people for their sins.
“Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.” – Deutoronomy 9 v 5-6
Again, the Bible clearly states that God gave Israel the land in the Middle East because of the wickedness of the nations that lived there. There were many nations that God told Israel to leave, and not to harm, which did not participate in the evil things the other nations did.
Moreover, if the wicked nations were allowed to remain it was clear that they would have a negative influence on Israel. Regarding the land of Canaan, God said:
“But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell. Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.” – Numbers 33 v 55-56
Israel did not completely destroy all of the Canaanites, and later on started to follow their evil practices, resulting in God’s wrath coming upon Israel as he had planned for the Canaanites.
Although he pronounces judgement upon sinners, God does not want people to die for their sins: even in the Old Testament there is evidence of God’s mercy. In the book of Jonah, the prophet Jonah was sent on a mission to tell the inhabitants of Nineveh (ancient Assyria) that God was going to destroy them because of their sin. After hearing of God’s judgement, they believed God, humbled themselves, and changed their ways; and God, in his mercy, did not destroy them because of their repentance.
“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” — Ezekiel 18 v 23
God showed mercy to those who were not his people, because they repented. When God’s people fell into sinful behaviour, and did not repent, ignoring the words of the prophets who spoke against their wickedness, God allowed neighbouring countries to attack them and lead them into captivity. This was what God said should happen to them if they failed to keep his law and would turn their backs on him. God did not wish to utterly destroy his people because of their ways, but he would remove his protection from them if they no longer followed him. It is described in the book of the law what would happen to the Israelites if they disobeyed him; also God’s merciful nature is revealed: how, even after these things came upon them, he would again lift up his people if only they would humble themselves before him:
“If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” — Leviticus 26 v 40-42
When a person is helpless, and fear or sorrow overwhelms them, one usually finds that such a person calls out to God:
“Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. They they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” — Psalm 107 v 10-15
God desires that we should call upon him; however, this does not mean that God helps anybody who merely asks for his help: if we call upon God we should do this in humility and repentance:
“When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” — Ezekiel 18 v 26-27
At the end of the Old Testament God speaks of how he would scatter Israel, because of their wickedness and because they would not repent:
“Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts. Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts: But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.” — Zechariah 7 v 10-14
For years God may be gracious, refraining from administering punishment, giving people time to change their ways. Under these circumstances many seem to think that God is just ignoring what is going on, and they continue walking in their sinful ways.
Many people despise God because he allows suffering. In the example above God had called his people to follow him; but they ignored him. Then when they called to God in their need he would not hear them. Many people, even unbelievers, call for God’s help; but do we want to follow his ways? Many people want God’s mercy yet show no mercy to others:
“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” — Matthew 18 v 23-35
Israel did sin against God, and the calamities God pronounced did come upon them. The Jews were scattered amongst the nations, to the four corners of the globe. But God is merciful, and, as the prophets foretold, God is even now still bringing back his people to their own land again:
“And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all:” — Ezekiel 37 v 21-22
In 1948 the nation of Israel was set up. Instead of Israel and Judah being separate kingdoms, as in Old Testament times, there is now only one nation. Even now God’s people are flocking back to Israel. God is still adhering to his word. Are we?