Ask a Christian Part 2: Tower of Babel

I received another interesting question from a long-time friend. My friend asked the following:

 When the people were building the Tower of Babel, and back then everyone in the world spoke one language. God came down and saw the tower and was impressed so to stop it he scattered the people around the world and made them no longer speak the same language. Now I’ve been wrestling this for some time now and though of a few reasons but why do you think God would keep them from cooperating and finishing the tower.

Option 1

The Bible does not offer any specific reason, so far as I know, for God taking the measures He did to prevent the tower from being built, so what I am presenting here is pure conjecture. My first thought on the subject is that God was making a point that the path to eternal salvation in Heaven will not be based on works. This message, I imagine, would have been quite clear.

Option 2

Genesis 11:4 reads:

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”.

I find this verse interesting. My first impression was that “let us make a name for ourselves” was intended to mean that they were seeking glory. Of course the only true glory is that of the Lord, and the confounding of the people may have been God’s way of proving this point. The curious portion of the quote is, “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”. Seems foretelling in a very specific way.

So which is it?

Maybe both. Maybe neither. Maybe something completely different. The reality of it is, at least from my perspective, that the tower would obviously never have actually reached Heaven. So what was the ultimate reason behind God’s actions?

I am open to suggestions.

The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 3: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis chapters 18 and 19 tell of God’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Does this show that God is immoral for killing the men, women and children in these cities? What about free will? Did God override our gift of free will out of wrath?

Background

Three men visited Abraham. As it turned out these men were the Lord and two angels. The Lord was en route to Sodom  as the Lord had heard the outcry that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were sinning gravely (See Genesis chapters 18 & 19 for the full text). Abraham attempted to intercede asking the Lord if He would spare the cities if 50 righteous people were found, then 45, then 40, then 30 until Abraham went as low as 10 righteous people. Each time the Lord agreed He would spare the cities if the number of righteous people Abraham suggested were found within. The Lord then sent the angels ahead to Sodom. Once the angels arrived in Sodom Abraham’s brother, Lot, took them in, and was hospitable, as was the strict custom in the region during this time.

Map of Sodom and Gomorrah locations by bibleatlas.org

Before the angels laid down for the night Lot’s house was surrounded by the men of Sodom, who insisted that Lot release the men (in this case, angels, but the men of Sodom were unaware of this fact), so the men of Sodom could have sex with the strangers. Lot refused, and even offered his own virgin daughters to the men of Sodom instead! The men of Sodom refused the offering of Lot’s daughters and rushed Lot, but the angels pulled Lot inside, and blinded the men of Sodom, so they could not find their way inside. Lot was allowed to leave Sodom with his two daughters to Zoar (his son-in-laws-to-be refused to leave), and the Lord rained sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah thereby killing all of the people in the two cities.

What does the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah say about the morality of God in the Old Testament?

The short answer is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is demonstrative of two attributes of God: His pure goodness, and His grace. Consider that God said the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were “very grave” (ESV), or “extremely serious” (HCSB). For the Lord, in His purity and goodness, to give special attention to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah the immorality and sinfulness of the people of the cities had to have been outstandingly heinous. Further, the Lord’s omniscience allows Him to see what will happen in the future should the gravely sinful acts of the people of the cities be allowed to continue unchecked. Certainly we have evidence of what could have occurred (albeit on a much larger scale if the cities were not destroyed) recorded in the book of Numbers, which we will get into briefly in a bit. The Lord was outraged at the people of the cities in a way that no other being could be based on His own pure goodness. The Lord showed His grace by destroying the people of Sodom and Gomorrah thereby eliminating the possibility of the grievous sins of the people infecting others who may have come in contact with the people of the cities.

Did God directly impede His gift of free will by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah?

No, God certainly did not get in the way of the gift of free will the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were enjoying so frivolously. The impediment of free will should not be confused with consequences borne of the choices one makes. All choices have consequences. In this case the choices made by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah led to their ultimate demise. Any individual living today faces the same danger. While we may not see the Lord rain down sulfur and fire we certainly could face an eternity spent in a similar environment should we make choices in life that separate us from the Lord.

A taste of what could have been

We got a peek into Lot’s twisted sense of right and wrong based on the influence of Sodom when lot offered his own daughters to the men of Sodom in order to protect his house guests. The moral corruption does not stop there. After fleeing Sodom, Lot’s daughters executed a plan to get Lot drunk on wine, so they could have babies by him. Their plan worked, and each of the daughters birthed a son.

37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today.

If you recall in my post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?, it was the daughters of Moab and Midian that seduced the Israelites in an effort to curse the Israelites. Imagine this type of corruption on a much larger scale if two full cities of like-minded sinners were allowed to continue.

God alone can forgive us our sins, but only if we truly seek Him to do so. God is the ultimate good. Ask yourself, would you do anything less for your children? When you ask yourself that question bare in mind that our human anger is more often then not, unjustified. God’s anger is righteous and just, as He knows all and sees all. Without God no objective moral truths or duties can exist, as we have no ultimate good on which to base such objectivity. God is good, and that is why I am…

believinforareason

The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?

The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2Intro

Welcome to part 2 in a series of posts on the morality of God in the Old Testament. In this post we will discuss the Israelite conflict with the Midianites.

Numbers 31 tells of God speaking to Moses with instructions that the Israelites should:

2 “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”

What was so bad about the Midianites?

Vengeance may, at face value, seem like a concept outside of God’s character; however, the commands given to Moses did not stop at vengeance.

17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.

This is where this chapter of Numbers really gets a lot of questions. The two most frequent questions I see are as follows:

  1. Does this account go so far as to constitute genocide?
  2. Does God really give instructions to the Israelites to keep the virgin girls for themselves for the purposes of rape?

Before we address these two questions we should likely first answer the question: What was so bad about the Midianites?

Numbers 25 tells us:

1While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods

In this case, the people of Moab and Midian specifically sought to curse the Israelites at the direction of Balak. Instead, however, of direct assault against the Israelites the daughters of Moab and Midian were used to seduce Israelite men into committing acts of sexual immorality, and worshipping pagan Gods. Considering this type of behavior is in direct conflict of the laws given to the Israelites by the Lord through Moses. This was the gist of why the Lord was angry with both the Israelites and the Midianites.

Equal Opportunity

Prior to the Lord striking the Midianites through use of the Israelites the Israelite transgressors were first dealt with – the leaders of the transgression more severely, and the remainder with a plague that took the lives of 24,000 Israelites. Of course, no one today should be surprised that the Lord disciplined His chosen people. After all, Hebrews 12:5-6 tells us “… “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives”.

The discipline of the Israelites did not, however, mean that the Midianites would not have to pay a price for purposefully leading the Israelites into sin.

Back to the Questions

  • Does this account go so far as to constitute geonocide?

The short answer is, no. Dictionary.com defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group”. Thus, by definition this event does not constitute genocide, as a portion of the Midianites were spared. Certainly this event is not akin to the Holocaust.

  • Does God really give instructions to the Israelites to keep the virgin girls for themselves for the purposes of rape?

To be fair, the text has no indication that God gave a specific command to rape the Midianite virgins. Secondly, God commands those who were in battle, and any spoils from that battle to remain outside the camp for seven days to go through a purification prior to reintegrating with the camp (Numbers 31 19-20).

 19 Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. 20 You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.

Sexual relations with any of the women captured would have caused further impurity thus disallowing the soldiers back into the camp for an extended period of time. The text makes no reference of such instances. Clearly, no evidence exists to assume the Midianite girls were kept for the purposes of rape. One may ask why only the virgins were kept. Logically, the virgin Midianite girls could not have been part of the plot to curse the Israelites through seduction since those girls had not laid with any man. As such, these girls were spared punishment.

Still, was all of this really morally correct?

The difference between God’s anger or vengeance and our anger or vengeance is God is always just. Our anger more often then not stems from our sin nature, and is therefore not righteous anger. Furthermore, God is omniscient. He knows all outcomes, everything that was and everything that will be. God is in the ultimate position to make decisions involving human life. We owe God everything, yet He owes us nothing. In the case of the Midianites we had a people attempting to corrupt another group of people in a very specific manner. We can hardly attempt to consider the Midianites innocent in this matter. Certainly the Israelites that fell victim should have had the fortitude to turn away from Sin; however, despite being the chosen people of God the Israelites were still human. As humans we will sin. This is not an excuse for the Israelites – just a statement of fact.

The bottom line? God is just. God is morality. God is good.

And I am believinforareason.