WHY WAS GOD SO HARSH DURING THE OLD TESTAMENT?
Some who read the Old Testament or hear of its contents conclude that Jehovah God was too severe in the manner in which He dealt with people. “Sure, people made mistakes. We all do that. I just do not understand why God had to be so harsh during the days of the Old Testament.” What shall we say about the Old Testament activities of God that some count as too harsh? Four basic facts come to mind.
(1) God blessed all humans during the Old Testament. Do you doubt that? In speaking of those who lived before Jesus’ birth, the apostle Paul said, “. . . the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15-17).
Jesus said that God provides sunshine and rain for both evil and good people (Matthew 5:45). Such provisions from His bountiful hand were given to all people in the Old Testament days, too. Question: Did the Lord have the right to bless people? Did He have the right to bless people abundantly and to continue doing so over a long period of time? Did He have the right to withdraw His blessings from anyone for at least a brief period of time? The answer to each of these questions is, “Yes.” Why? He had the right to do so because He is the awesome Creator, the Potter who formed and shaped the clay. What else did God do during the Old Testament era?
(2) God punished evildoers during the Old Testament. Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for offering unauthorized worship (Leviticus 10). After speaking against Moses, Miriam became a leper for a week (Numbers 12), while Uzziah was made a leper for life following his transgression (2 Chronicles 26). Uzzah was killed because he touched a physical object – the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6).
Was it ever appropriate for Jehovah to carry out such punishment on those who did wrong? Yes. Why? Because He is the all-knowing, all-powerful Maker. The creation is His to do with it as He pleases: “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). In the same way that it was right for Him to bless humans according to His perfect wisdom, it was equally correct for Him to punish others according to His same, flawless intellect.
If the Lord did determine that it was appropriate to punish a person, how quickly did He need to carry out such punishment? Was it okay to delay the punishment to a future time? How severely was He allowed to punish someone? And, once that punishment from God began, how long should He make it last? The answer to each of these thoughts is that only the great self-existent, eternal Lord of heaven and earth could make those decisions. By His justice, He blessed some and punished others. It also should be noted that if He determines that some should receive everlasting punishment, then that is how it should be (Matthew 25:46).
(3) God showed mercy during the Old Testament. You were aware of this truth, right? Yes, evildoers were punished, but God’s mercy was on display at the same time. Lot confessed that the Lord showed mercy to him by sparing his life during the destruction of the city of Sodom (Genesis 19:19). The Psalmist stated that Jehovah is “abundant in mercy” (Psalm 86:5). The prophet Jonah declared that He is “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (Jonah 4:2). Who can argue with such plain truths?
While some may focus on the horrors of the death of almost every human during the worldwide flood in Noah’s days, if we look at “the big picture,” we also see that the lengthy period preceding that catastrophe is described as the time “when once the Divine longsuffering waited” (1 Peter 3:20). That is correct: God was longsuffering toward even the disobedient, and He was gracious toward Noah and the seven who joined him inside the ark.
(4) God always did what was right during the Old Testament. Hear this immutable truth about the Lord God: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Abraham’s question had an unmistakable answer: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Yes, He would. He always does!
When it comes to the correctness of God’s thoughts, God’s choices, and God’s actions, I can think of no statement that is clearer than the words of Psalm 33:4, where it is written, “For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth.” As mere mortals, we may not understand completely all that our God does, but we can rest assured that it is right. Yes, He is right in what He does in every single instance.
Some respond to the biblical record of God’s actions by saying, “I do not understand why anyone would want to serve such a harsh being.” For humans to question or criticize their Creator is not something new. Feeble people have been doing so from the earliest days of history. Let us not be foolish enough to join their ranks. Rather than taking on the impossible task of finding a flaw in God’s character, humans would be much better off if they humbled themselves, corrected their own flaws, and submitted to His will.
— Roger D. Campbell