Recently one of my Facebook friends posted a question on his wall about why in the Old Testament God sent the Death Angel to kill people and then ordered the Jews to kill people when they occupied the Promised Land. I thought his question was valid and it is one that I have been asked many times by young adults. I have asked the same question myself, so I understand his struggle to understand why things like that happened in the Old Testament. I thought that perhaps my response to his question might help others who are also struggling with this issue. I have changed his name to protect his privacy.
Thanks for your thought provoking comments that you posted on your wall the other day. I commend you for asking hard questions, it shows that you are looking for real answers and not just shallow theological tidbits. I have asked those same questions myself and therefore wanted to give you my thoughts on the subject.
I am assuming that you are referring to the 10th Plague in Egypt and the command of God for the Israelites to kill all the occupants of the Promised Land after the Exodus. In regards to these two incidents I mentioned above, and to so many other difficult passages of scripture, it is important to remember that God is both a God of love and a God of Justice. His justice demands that sinful actions be accounted for and dealt with. His love demands that those of us who have sinned and deserve justice have every possible option available to us to get things right before the hand of justice falls upon us.
In light of that important truth, consider these ideas. The incident that you cite of the first born Egyptians being killed by the Death Angel must be understood in the context in which it happened. The context of the situation was that the Egyptians had enslaved the Jews for 400 years. During that time the Jews were subjected to the most horrendous acts. The Egyptians did everything possible to exterminate the Jews, but God kept multiplying the Jews because He loved them. For 400 years the Jews had lived godly lives in front of the Egyptians. I’m sure there were a few individuals who failed to be godly, there always are, but as a people, they lived godly lives in front of the Egyptians. In the face of the most terrible oppression, they lived the faith in front of their oppressors. One would think that the Egyptians would see that faith, realize the Jewish God was real and change their ways and follow Him. But for 400 years the Egyptians ignored the calling of God.
What a God of Love He is, that He withheld judgment on the enemies of His people for 400 years. I am a pretty nice guy, but I would not have been that patient or loving!
Even when it came time for the hand of justice to fall, God sent Moses to give the Egyptians another chance to repent and make things right. Not just one chance, but NINE more chances. After 400 years of chances, our loving God gave them 9 more opportunities to get things right! God gave them details about each one of the plagues so they would clearly understand why these things were happening. But the Egyptians ignored them all. So much for the argument that if God just gave people a chance they would turn to Him. He gave them so many chances that we can’t count them all. He is such a loving God. But in the end, when all the chances were used up, God sent the Death Angel and justice was finally served on the Egyptians for their evil acts against the Jews.
Even then, God, in His overwhelming love, provided a way out. He told them how they could put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and the Death Angel would pass over them. Some Egyptians did this because the Bible says that it was a “mixed multitude” that finally left Egypt. This means that some of the Egyptians believed in the God of the Jews and joined up. So after all those chances, God still gave one more opportunity to escape the justice that was to come.
WOW, what a God of love! May His name be praised!
But sadly, the vast majority of people in Egypt chose not to take any of the many opportunities God provided for escape. Instead they chose the way of justice. They even knew when it would happen and how it would happen and to whom it would happen, because God told them in advance so they could avoid it. Yet they ignored His warning.
How can we blame a loving God who bent over backwards to save the enemies of His people when they ignored every warning along the way? The reality is that we cannot blame God for this. The Egyptians made a choice. It was the wrong choice and the consequences were severe. But it was their choice and they made it with full knowledge of what the result would be. They made it knowing there was a way out.
The same is true in our own lives. God gives us messages all the time about His love for us and He calls us to follow Him. He speaks through nature, through the Bible, through signs and wonders, through people, through the church, through dreams and visions, through words of knowledge and insight into our lives, and through the still small voice of His Spirit. We hear those voices over and over again. We know our lives are filled with problems and we know we have made many mistakes. We know that one day justice demands that we pay for our mistakes. Yet we ignore the many messages from a loving God and we choose to keep going our own way. One day we will eventually pray the price. We can get angry and blame God if we want to, but if we look at our lives in context, God has done everything possible to help us avoid justice. I don't want justice, I want mercy! Justice will destroy me, but mercy and love will save me. Oh, God of Heaven, give me mercy!
If we move past the 10th plague and into the period when God told the Jews to occupy the Promise Land, we must also view God’s orders to kill all the inhabitants in context. God had promised the land to the Jews hundreds of years prior to them occupying the land. That promise was very public and everyone in the land knew it. At the time the promise was given, the land was sparsely populated and only a few small towns existed. But people ignored the prophecies and built cities and kingdoms in the land, knowing full well it was promised to the Jews. When the Jews left Egypt, no one questioned where they were headed; everyone knew exactly where they were headed, people had expected it for hundreds of years. The Jews were clearly going to claim the land they had been promised. Those who had become squatters on their land could have moved away. They could have converted and become followers of God. They could have made peace with the Jews before the battle started, one city did that and though that city used deception to make the treaty, God made the Jews keep the covenant they made with that city. So peace was an option.
And once again God gave the people in the land many extra chances. Not only did they have 400 years of squatting on someone else’s land during which they could have relocated at any time, but then the Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. That was plenty of time for the squatters to realize the end was near and to relocate, but they chose not to. And then when the Jews finally entered the land, they did not take it all at once. It was a process that took decades. Any time during that long occupation the squatters could have relocated, or converted, or taken any number of other options. But most of the inhabitants of the land did not choose those options. They chose to fight against God. What did they expect would happen when the battle finally began? Once again we see the long suffering and patience of a God of love. But we also see that eventually justice MUST come.
I am glad God is long suffering and patient, as I surely need that in my own walk with Him. I fail Him often and if He was a God of quick justice, I would have been stuck by lightening a long time ago. Aren’t YOU glad God is a long suffering and patient God? Aren’t you glad God is withholding justice and instead giving you one chance after another to return to Him?
The down side of all of this is that we don’t know when the “last chance” will come. We do know that once it passes, all that will be left is justice. If you feel God calling you to come back to Him today that means you still have at least one more chance. Why not return to Him today? You will not find an angry mean God who wants to hit you in the head with a club. You will find a loving father who has been patiently waiting for one of His most beloved to come home.
Just some thoughts for you to consider as you struggle with these very real questions.