So, who is God to you? A God of love, or a God of legalism?
As we continue our journey looking at the bible for things that are likely God did or did not say, today we will start by turning our attention to Moses and look at a couple of passages that contain both confusion and contradiction. In Exodus 17 Moses told Joshua to choose some of their men and go out to fight the Amalekites. The following is the bible’s description of this event.
A God of Legalism?
Exodus 17: 10-13
So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands (with the staff of God in his hands vs. 9), the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
So, this passage of the bible would have us believe that God would be so legalistic that when Moses held his staff in the air, God was for the Israelites, but when Moses’ arms grew weary and he lowered the staff, God was suddenly for the Amalekites? Really?? And now to keep God’s favor, the two guys with Moses had to hold his arms so the staff would stay in the air or they would be defeated? This actually sounds like more of a story you would tell around a campfire, with fictitious embellishments added in to make the story more dramatic. What exactly is this legalism we are reducing God to?? No wonder so many people think they must be legalistic to please God, when God has been misrepresented in this way.
This is like praying for your favorite team to win. Have we reduced God to the point that God cares who wins a sporting event? People who love God, and may not love God, represent both sides of the contest, both players and fans, so why would we think God would care which side wins a sporting event? There are much more pressing issues for us to be interested in. If only we would put this same effort into issues like equality, peace, love and acceptance.
A Loving or A Killing God?
We have heard it said that God is love. But is this how God is depicted? In Numbers 31 we see God depicted in quite a different light.
Numbers 31: 7-18
They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba – the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho. Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army – the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds – who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
So, now we are to believe that God would want all people killed that were outside of what the Israelites believed? Even the little boys and the women? Oh, wait, but not the women that hadn’t slept with a man……. keep them as pleasure for yourselves????? Really?
No wonder we can see so much hate from certain religious people toward others, when God has been misrepresented in the way. Why do we say these would be confusing and contradictory thoughts? Because when we turn our attention to some of the beautiful things the bible has to say, it is in direct contradiction to what we have just looked at. Let’s look at some of these beautiful things now.
Loving and Compassionate God
Compassion is defined as a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. So, what would we rather have? A God who kills us for the distress we face in life, or a God who is compassionate toward the distress we have in life?
Lamentations 3: 22-23
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
What great words! God’s compassions NEVER fail, and they are new every morning. Not only this, but because of God’s great love, we are NOT consumed. These do not sound like the characteristics of a killing God! On the contrary, they sound like the characteristics of a loving and compassionate God. And speaking of love, we have words that make this sound even better.
God is Love
1 John 4: 7-8, 18-20
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
Again, what great words for us to live by, and when we couple this with the two greatest commandments, we have a true recipe for success.
Matthew 22: 36-40
Teacher which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
What the World Needs Now
These last two passages we have looked at are truly a recipe for what our world needs today. First, God is love……God is not fear. There is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment and God represents love, not punishment. If we could just get this and start living by love instead of being driven by rules because we are afraid! So, the formula to life is to love God and love others. How much simpler can it get? And the way we show that we know and love God, is by loving other people. If we say we love God, but we don’t love other people, we are a liar! Again, how much simpler can it get.
So, would you rather live life in legalism, feeling superior and judging and condemning other people? Or, would you rather live life with compassion and love for other people and return the love God intended?
Peace, Acceptance and Love
Again, my intent is not to destroy anyone’s belief system, but perhaps to strengthen it. Over time, we have turned the bible into God. When you can open your mind and look at the entirety of what the bible says, it becomes very clear that much of it would not be what God would have said at all. The reason this is so important is because some people use the bible for superiority, exclusion, condemnation and judgement, which is a direct contradiction to what God would want. When we finish this journey, my hope is that we can replace this with equality, peace, love and acceptance, which is exactly what God would want.