Disturbing Divine Behavior?

Provocatively titled, Eric Seibert’s book, “Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God” tackles a complicated subject but comes up short repeatedly. Unfortunately, Seibert forces Scripture to submit to his philosophy of pacifism as the controlling hermeneutic for approving the truthfulness of the text. This is nothing new. Many before him have superficially entertained a  dichotomy between the Jesus Christ of the NT and the God portrayed in difficult OT passages.

Seibert’s handling of difficult OT passages leaves him open to justifiable criticism of his views of the truthfulness, historical integrity and, shall I say, “godliness” of portions of the OT. Anything in the OT that portrays God in ways he would consider different from a God of love revealed in Jesus Christ is unacceptable.

Admittedly some portrayals of God in the OT are hard for us to understand. What do we say about passages like Deuteronomy 20:10-18

“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.”

Our tendency to reject divine judgments of this kind probably reflects more of our cultural bias toward a high view of humanity and a low view of God. On a deeply personal level, I look at the apparently harsh actions and commands of God in the OT and feel the depth of the Psalmist’s question: “Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive?” (Psalm 130:3, NLT). Perhaps when we read these things the words of Jesus should ring more clearly in our ears: “I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:5, NLT)

Steve Cornell

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