“Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”
Robert Burns in Man was Made to Mourn
Many would-be readers are put off by all the violence in the Old Testament. (See MY BIBLE.) Even Christians who read their New Testament hesitate to read the Old. Murder enters the story in the fourth chapter of Genesis, and murder, violence and warfare continue through the pages. Many times it appears to be instigated by God Himself.
This seems so out of place when we read the New Testament, which advocates the opposite. One could almost get the impression that there are two different gods – the violent, vengeful God of the Old Testament and the loving, gracious God of the New. But, of course, we know that this is not true. Nor did God change His mind from the Old Testament to the New.
A careful reading shows that God has acted with both violence and grace in both Testaments. In fact, the word grace is introduced in the first book of the Bible, a few verses before the word violence.
“But Noah found Grace (HEN) in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).
“ … the earth was filled with violence (HAMAS)” (Genesis 6:11).
And the last book of the Bible, Revelation is filled with violence from chapter 6 through chapter 20.
Where does violence come from? A brief history of violence:
• When “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), He created it good. Seven times in Genesis 1, we read “And God saw that it was good” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The last verse tells us “And God saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good!” That included man (Adam). There was no violence. (I will not discuss here the question as to whether or not there was animal violence in the original creation.)
• But man, whom God created with a free will, chose to disobey God and brought sin and death on the human race (Genesis 2:17; 3; Romans 5:12).
• It was Adam’s son Cain who introduced violence, when he murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). Apparently violence from then on became part of human culture. The rest of the 4th chapter describes the development of culture – arts, trades, civilization, but includes violence. See verses 23 and 24.
• Finally, after some generations we are told that the LORD had enough! “Now the earth was corrupted in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupted for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth Is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth’” (Genesis 6:11-13). God reacted to man’s violence with a violence of His own. Later, after the flood we read that God gave Noah a principle. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Violence is to be dealt with by violence!
God is a God of justice. We can only understand God’s violence when we understand how horrible sin is in His sight. This is shown in the crucifixion. God in the person of His Son took on Himself the violence of man to atone for that very violence. “This One, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death!” (Acts 2:23)
Man is violent by nature (not as created, but as fallen). Not only the Old Testament, but our history books and our newspapers are filled with it. So also is our entertainment: movies, television, music. God for reasons of His own has chosen to use the violence of man to achieve His own ends. This, however, does not justify all the acts of violence recorded in the Old Testament. Much of it is simply recorded without a “moral” being drawn and we should not be too eager to draw one.
So then, how do we read the Old Testament with all its violence? By recognizing that:
• Violence is not its main theme.
• Violence is part of human history, even of the history of God’s people.
• God is working through sinful people and their acts – through warriors and murderers, as well as fornicators, adulterers and liars.
• The Old Testament is not an end in itself. It points toward the New.
• We look forward, as did the Old Testament saints, to the day when “ … they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3)
Also see THE CHRISTIAN AND WAR, VENGEANCE, WHOSE PREROGATIVE? and THE VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE.