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The Morality of God in the Old Testament (Christian Answers to Hard Questions) [Paperback]

Greg Beale

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Product details

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Presbyterian and Reformed; First edition (20 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596388528
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596388529
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 14.2 x 0.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 31,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. 29 Oct 2013
By Josh Skinner - Published on Amazon.com
This is another great book in a series that P&R and Westminster Press have teamed up to publish. If this is not the best one, it is definitely right up there and a genuine 5 star book (especially when looking at it for what it is).

The question of God’s morality in light of certain events recorded throughout Scripture is one argument that will be cited over and over again by skeptics and unbelievers. Beale looks at this topic, narrowing his focus on how to specifically defend the morality of God against accusations made based on this particular event.

“The purpose of this booklet is to discuss the problem of how God can be considered to be morally good, while at the same time he does things and commands people in the Old Testament to do things that do not appear to be good. One famous example is God’s command to israel to exterminate every man, woman, and child of the Canaanites (e.g., cf. Deut. 20:12–15 with 20:16–18).”

Beale presents the problem and takes the reader through a few possible defenses including : “The Divine Command to Kill All Women and Children Is Not Meant to Be Taken Literally” and “Wartime Ethic Legitimately Different from Peacetime Ethic”, where it is argued that what is considered good moral behavior in war is sometimes different from that in peacetime. Neither of these are convincing to Beale and he settles on a 5 fold approach to defend the morality of God as presented in Old Testament Scripture.

Beale makes a great case and explains it clearly and forcefully. While he does not hold to the “not literal” argument, he gives plenty of space in the book to explain its merits and leaves the reader with a rather forceful argument for it as well. Will this book settle in everyone’s hearts and minds the issue of certain Old Testament wrath passages or imprecatory Psalms coupled with God is love and a “love your neighbor” ethos that pervades the New Testament? Probably not. But it is a great primer and a great place to go when faced with these passages and these concerns. Beale gives the willing reader the ammunition to go and face Scripture on this issue rather than avoid it, which is a mighty task in its own right. This book is well worth the money and the time. Pick up and read!!

I received a review copy of this to provide an honest review.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a great introduction to one of the most difficult questions of non-Christians and Christians alike 29 Oct 2013
By Jennifer Guo - Published on Amazon.com
One of most pervasive and difficult questions posed in relation to the Christian faith by non-Christians and Christians alike pertains to how God can be good in light of some of the things He did and commanded people to do in the Old Testament. Noteworthy examples that appear again and again include God's command to Israel to kill the Canaanites, every man, woman, and child, and God's striking Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant. Christians throughout the ages have wrestled with this issue, and the second century heresy of Marcionism (rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel; believed that the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the loving Christ of the New Testament were different, separate gods) shows the worst that can result from an incorrect reconciliation of the apparent differences between how God operated in the Old Testament versus the New.

The "Christian Answers to Hard Questions" series of booklets from Westminster Seminary Press and P&R Publishing was "written to equip and strengthen laypeople in their defense of the faith" and "challenges contemporary opposition to Christianity with concise, practical answers" (publisher description). Noted New Testament scholar and biblical theologian G. K. Beale contributed this 48 page booklet to tackle the important issue of how God can be morally good if He commanded apparently evil acts. Although there are several different kinds of problems pertaining to God's morality in the Old Testament, in this booklet Beale deals primarily with the killing of the Canaanites and secondarily with the imprecations (cursings) in the Psalms since these post the greatest challenges to the morality of God. Because some of the principles behind these two major issues also underlie an approach to some of the other problems related to the morality of God in the Old Testament, these two issues can serve as examples of how to approach other problems of this type.

Beale begins by summarizing two popular solutions proposed by those who want to uphold the moral goodness of God despite His command to annihilate the Canaanites, and concludes that they are unsatisfactory. The first is that wartime ethic is legitimately different from peacetime ethic; the second proposed solution states that the divine command to kill all women and children is figurative and refers only to wiping out the Canaanite armies.

Then Beale suggests a fivefold approach, which he spends the rest of this book developing:
First, how does the killing of the Canaanites demonstrate God's justice and righteousness? Second, how could Israel's unique commission as a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:16) shed light on the extermination of the Canaanites? Third, how does God's sovereignty over all things help us to better understand that he can be considered blameless in all that he does, despite the problems just mentioned above? Fourth, how does the idea of God's judgement of unbelieving humanity at the end of time shed light on this problem? Finally, how does the law of loving one's neighbor now and at the end of time help us to better apprehend the issue about the Canaanites and the psalmist's cursing of his enemies? (p. 8, emphasis original).

Regarding the first point, Beale shows that the Canaanites had been entrenched in wickedness and idolatry for so long that God was finally going to judge their sin. He would use Israel as his instrument in punishing the Canaanites for their sin, and the former would replace the latter in the land in preparation for the ultimate coming of the Messiah. The annihilation of the Canaanites was part of a unique redemptive-historical circumstance and not to be repeated. This view makes sense theologically but leaves some questions unanswered, most notably, why God commanded the children, women, and elderly to be killed.

In the second point, Beale expounds upon the sanctuary motif - the garden of Eden was a sanctuary, and Adam was commissioned to keep out uncleanliness and expand the garden-sanctuary until it filled the ends of the earth. Adam failed, as did Noah. Israel was then given the command to enter the Promised land and make it into a garden temple by completely cleansing it from the uncleanliness of the Canaanites. They were to wipe out every aspect of impurity; again, this was a unique and unrepeatable commission for a specific part of redemptive history.

Pertaining to the third point, Beale highlights the self-sufficiency of God, which necessitates His absolute sovereignty over His creation. Then he touches upon on God's glorifying of Himself and His desire for all to glorify Him and answers the objection of God being selfish and egomaniacal. Finally, Beale ties these concepts together and states that there is no judge above God to declare that He has done something wrong. Whatever He does is right and just.

Concerning the fourth point, Beale writes that "the command to destroy the Canaanites was an anticipation of this latter-day judgment. When such anticipations of the last judgment occur, ordinary ethical rules of the preconsummation world are suspended and the ethical principles of the last judgment penetrate back into history (p. 17). Beale demonstrates that this same principle applies to the imprecatory Psalms. Subsequently, Beale highlights several Old Testament passages and shows how their use in the New Testament demonstrates that those OT passages foreshadow eschatological judgment. Finally, Beale mentions that although the Canaanite episode is a negative foreshadowing of end-time realities, there were often positive foreshadowings as well. This section concludes with several of the most prominent examples.

The final point is comparable to and a further elaboration of the penultimate one. At the end of time, God will no longer bestow common grace blessings upon the unbelieving, but will judge them. Likewise, believers will no longer be obliged to love their unbelieving neighbor, but will identify with God's attitude of judgment.

It is in light of the final judgment, when neighbor love ceases, that the psalmist's cursings and expressions of hate toward his enemy are to be understood. Such an attitude is a suspension of the law to love one's enemy in this world because it is the end-time inbreaking into the present of the abrogation of loving even one's enemy. In such expressions, the psalmist's relationship to his own enemies becomes an anticipation of Christ and his people's attitude toward all of God's enemies at the time of the final judgment (pp. 29-30).
The next section responds to a potential objection to the idea that ethical laws were suspended during typological episodes in the Old Testament. The booklet concludes an excursus addressing a popular solution mentioned at the beginning - that the divine command to kill all the Canaanite women and children was not meant to be taken literally.

This little booklet is a great introduction to the issue of how God can be morally good when He commanded apparent evils. Of course there are questions unanswered and difficulties unnaddressed; however, this booklet provides satisfactory introductory answers and a good springboard for further reflection and inquiry. The last two points and the idea of temporary suspension of ethics in eschatological foreshadowing was new to me, and I found it very helpful in relation to issues related to the morality of God in the Old Testament. This booklet is written at a popular/lay level, and I highly recommend it to all Christians seeking to reconcile the goodness of God with difficult Old Testament actions and commands.

*I received a free electronic copy of this book for review from P&R Publishing through NetGalley for review. I was not obligated to provide a positive review, and the views expressed here are solely my own.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Morality of God In the OT 16 Oct 2013
By Kicker - Published on Amazon.com
Beale's purpose in writing this book is to succinctly discuss "the problem of how God can be considered to be morally good, while at the same time he does things and commands people in the Old Testament to do things that do not appear to be good." Beale's question is a legitimate question, and if we are being honest with each other, one that all of us, as Christians, have thought about at one time or another. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but if I had to wager a guess I would assume that this is one of the reasons why a lot of Christians avoid the Old Testament. To them, it appears as if this is a completely different God than the New Testament Jesus who is both "unjustly" cruel (commands Israel to kill all the men, women, and children of the Canaanites) and always angry about something (makes Israel march for 40 years in the desert while killing off the disobedient generation who doesn't believe God's Word that the Promised Land is theirs for the taking). Though there are a lot of different "problems" that can be discussed as it pertains to God's morality in the Old Testament, Beale's book focuses on the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites and then the imprecations (cursings) in the book of Psalms. If we come to biblical conclusions about God's commandements pertaining to the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites and imprecations in Psalms, then that will provide a biblical approach on how to handle the other moral "problems" of God that one might come across in the Word. [Normally, the best way to approach a review of a smaller book such as this one is to provide a succinct review, but the subject matter of the book is so deep that a more thorough review is required.]

The first possible solution to the dilemma that Beale mentions is that wartime ethics are legitimately different from peacetime ethics, and the use of lying and deception are "an accepted ethic in wartime". For example, "an army may ambush another army through deceptive tactics. This is legitimate practice during war. Killing the enemy is also condoned during battle." This was true in ancient times just like it is true of modern times. However, the killing of all the men, women, and children is not condoned in modern times of war (even though it happens). How does one reconcile the fact that God is the one who commands the Israelites to annihilate all of the Canaanites, and it wasn't a bunch of Israelites taking orders from corrupt leaders? Beale doesn't answer the question right away, but moves on to laying out for the reader other possible solutions to the moral dilemma.

Next, there is the possible solution that the divine command to kill all women and children is not meant to be taken literally, and "merely refers to wiping out only all the armies of the Canannites." The gist of this possible solution is the focus on "total and decisive victory over the fighting forces" and not on the utter destruction of all the Canaanite men, women, and children. Those this solution is possible, it doesn't look to be highly probable based on the evidence provided in the Bible. Truth be told, there were more than likely Canaanites who repented of their wickedness and were spared, and also others who escaped, but the evidence seems to support the fact that God wanted his commandment to be carried out literally.

Beale then proceeds to offer five different angles that might better help us understand this moral "problem" more thoroughly, and then provides a detailed breakdown of each of these angles in proceeding chapters:

(1) How does the killing of the Canaanites demonstrate God's justice and righteousness?
- Israel is uniquely seen as God's instrument of justice in a redemptive-historical setting that pertains to the exterminating of a people who were wickedly depraved, and is something that is not to be repeated in history again. Basically, there is a standard for righteousness, and the Canaanites violated that standard and were rewarded with destruction. Beale rightly asserts that the problem with this view is that it really doesn't provide an answer as to why killing defenseless women, elderly, and children is needed in order to execute God's justice.

(2) How could Israel's unique commission as a "kingdom of priests" shed light on the extermination of the Canaanites?
- The focus, again, of this chapter is a view of Israel from a redemptive-historical vantage-point. The Garden of Eden was to be a Sanctuary and to expand is reaches to the rest of the earth. Adam failed to keep it from uncleanness, was kicked out from Eden, commissioned to become a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6), and to "enter the Promised Land and make it another garden temple by completely cleansing it from the uncleanness of the Canaanites." The Promised Land is even referred to as being "like the garden of Eden" (Gen. 13:10; Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35; Joel 2:3). As a "kingdom of priests", Israel was to exterminate all Canaanite uncleanness, just like the Priests in Jerusalem were to keep out every bit of uncleanness from the Temple. Again, this is a unique commandment and not one that was to be repeated.

(3) How does God's sovereignty over all things help us to better understand that he can be considered blameless in all that he does, despite the problems previously mentioned?
- The self-sufficiency of God is defined (no one else helps him to be who He is and to do what He does; He is unconditionally self-existent). Therefore, He has the freedom to determine what He will do towards His creation and we have no right to question it since God's will is perfect and not dictated by anything outside of Himself, but is always done with a mindset to bring Him the greatest glory. And the greatest thing that can happen for man is that God be eternally passionate for His own glory since He is not subject to the same rules of humility that His creation is subject to (since we are creatures and He is the Creator).

(4) How does the idea of God's judgment of unbelieving humanity at the end of time shed light on this problem?
- Basically, Beale presents an eschatological view of the annihilation of the Canaanites that says, "God's command to annihilate all the Canaanites is an anticipation of the end-time judgment of all people and thus a suspension of the expression of His common grace to unbelievers during the epoch of Israel." The command to destroy the Canaanites was done with an eye on the day of Judgment when "ordinary ethical rules of the pre-consummation world are suspended and the ethical principles of the last judgment penetrate back into history." The scale to which this was carried out against the Canaanites was small compared to what will be meted out to the rest of the unbelieving world in the end-times.

(5) How does the law of loving one's neighbor now and at the end of time help us to better apprehend the issue about the Canaanites and the psalmist's cursing his enemies?
- The psalmist's cursings need to be read in light of their ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament, and specifically those that are applied to Christ. Beale also discusses in pretty good detail how certain laws have been "uniquely suspended" throughout history for positive typological reasons (see 1 Samuel 21:1-6 / Matthew 12:3-4). Reading these examples throughout Scripture shows us that the "suspending" of the moral law of "loving one's neighbor" is not violated in the end-times when true justice is brought down by God on those who reject Him. Of course, an objection to this suspension and application of certain moral laws is that it leads to "moral relativity". Beale again answers this, like he has done many times before, with the fact "that certain episodes in Israel's history were uniquely designed to be pre-figurements of later end-time events in redemptive history, whether events concerning Christ's first coming or his final coming and last judgment."

Beale spends a good bit of time towards the end of his book devoted to helping the reader understand the uniqueness of what God was asking Israel to do, and the cursings of the psalmist towards wicked men, and how those things were foreshadowings of judgment and some of redemption. He repeats that their was a temporary suspension of the moral law to "love one's neighbor" because the Israelites are carrying out a judgment that typologically prefigures the last judgment.

Overall, this was a really good book that lays out most of the arguments for and against why God commanded Israel to annihilate all of the Canaanite men, women, and children, as well as the curses found in the Psalms, and how the carrying out of these things does not violate the moral goodness of an omnipotent God.

Title: The Morality of God in the Old Testament (Christian Answers to Hard Questions)

Author: Gregory K. Beale

Publisher: P & R Publishing (2013)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the P & R Publishing book review bloggers program on NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Insightful! 20 Feb 2014
By J. Duque - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This book presents a view that is insightful and challenging. The use of questions to cause the reader to think critically about the many events in the OT that foreshadow what is to be realized in the NT and in our future is very much appreciated!
4.0 out of 5 stars Good work 5 Nov 2013
By SLIMJIM - Published on Amazon.com
NOTE: This book is provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
A work that is accessible for a lay audience on the problem of the righteousness of God as He is revealed in the Old Testament. Although the author G.K. Beale focuses specifically on the genocide of the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms in this work, the principles Beale employ would apply to other similar dilemma people might have with the Old Testament. Beale appeals to the fact that the Canaanite genocide was a specific redemptive historical event that cannot be repeated again, as a special suspension of the second table of the Ten Commandments that foreshadows the final Judgment Day. While I agree with Beale that the imprecatory Psalms and elimination of the Canaanites points ahead to the final Judgment of God, I think Beale’s argument is rather weak when he said “such brief behavioral suspensions do not occur during the era of the church age because God has designed no events during this time as foreshadowings of the future” (Location 348 onwards). There are I believe, New Testament events that foreshadow the future such as the Lord’s Supper which points towards a future return of Christ (1 Corinthians 11) where we will dine with Him one day, the Holy Spirit’s manifestation at Pentecost pointing forward to a future release of the Spirit, etc. Beale’s stronger argument is the one in which he draws parallel between the ceasing of miracles after the New Testament era likewise there is a ceasing of the mandate for war against Canaanites and imprecatory Psalm for right now as well. I think Beale’s position could have also benefited from noting the difference between the institutions of the Church versus that of the state of national Israel. Ultimately, I think the best defense of the morality of God in the Old Testament is the Ex Lex approach as advocated by Gordon Clark and Jay Adams. I see this approach employed in the pages of Scripture such as in Job 38-42, Habakkuk and Romans 9: God is the source of morality; he has not many any laws forbidding Him to judge the wicked, so therefore there really is no rational ground to charge God for immoral conduct. Beale does appeal to God being above the second table of the ten commandments but he could have capitalized on this more and made it the centerpiece of his thesis. After all, the issue seems to be not whether it’s applicable today but the fact that God even allowed imprecatory Psalms, killing of Canaanites, etc. I think appealing to Ex Lex goes to the heart of the issue. What I most appreciated from this work is the excursus in the end by Beale which gives a solid exegetical argument for why we must take the Canaanite killings as literal and not just a hyperbole. Here Beale does an excellent job interacting with Paul Copan’s position and the scholarship behind Copan’s arguments. I definitely recommend this work but believe this can be supplemented by other works.
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