God Is Not A Criminal
There can be no mistaking the kind of heavenly Father introduced to us by the Savior in every act and word of his ministry. It is the picture of a God filled with love and compassion, whose mercy endures forever, who does not condemn or destroy but seeks only and ever to save.
But this is not how we have viewed Him in the Old Testament. There we have seen Him as a stern God who has maintained His authority by superiority of power and knowledge. We have seen Him as One who spelled out His law as the symbol of His authority and called upon people to obey it, so He could feel the satisfaction of being in power. Thus, even though unwittingly, we have seen Him as a self-centered God. We have failed entirely to see the provision of the law as a love gift to save us from destruction. Therefore, we have failed to see God as One in whom there is no self-centeredness.
Having seen the nature of the law in this light, it has been natural to conclude that when the plagues fell upon Egypt, the fire upon the Sodomites, and flood upon the world in Noah’s time, and every other such incident, God was demonstrating that He was not to be ignored, trifled with, or disobeyed. We looked upon God as personally upholding His position and authority. We have regarded the utter destruction of lives and property as a just act on God’s part to terrify the remainder into obedience and thus into personal favor with God. Most people hold this concept of God.
But it is not the view of God that Jesus held, nor is it the picture of God that Christ presented. It was an altogether different God of whom Jesus came to speak about and to show us of.
What then? Are we to hold two differing views of God, one as presented in the Old testament and the other as proclaimed by Christ? If we cannot hold any other view of God than that presented by Christ, how are we to understand God’s actions in the Old Testament? The Majority will object that the pictures in the Old Testament are so clear that it would be impossible to view God in any other way than the traditionalist light.
This is exactly where people make a mistake. There is more than one way of looking at God’s actions in the Old Testament. Viewed through the colored lens of human preconception, it seems that there is only one way to view it – the obvious way. But this is not so. Furthermore, when the implication of the standard view of God as held in the past are considered, then God is characterized in the worst possible light. The time has come, therefore, to reconsider God’s ways in the Old Testament. This time His actions will be studied in the light which streams from the cross of Calvary and flowed from the life and lips of Christ.
A beginning might be made almost anywhere in the Old Testament wherein are recorded the numerous incidents where God appeared as an Actor in the human arena. The starting point chosen will be the well-known story of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.
The mighty Pharaoh, the greatest king in the world in his day, stood in determined defiance of God’s purpose to release His people from Egyptian bondage. But when a certain point of time was reached, the Lord called Moses and sent him with a message to the king. Moses commanded Pharaoh to set the people free with the warning that should he refuse plague after plague would descend upon the hapless Egyptians. The king refused, and the plagues came until the king’s power was broken, and he was obliged to release the captives.
In studying the event, the average person sees God as the Almighty One whose power is limitless. Backed by that power and the right to do so by virtue of His position as Creator and Ruler of the universe, He rightly and justly orders Pharaoh to release the Israelites. But Pharaoh is defiant and is prepared to resist God’s power. This, it is generally accepted, leaves God with no option but to obtain by force what the king will not surrender willingly. People generally do not question either God’s justice or right in dealing with the monarch as they see Him doing.
The dreadful outpouring of destruction on Egypt and the king’s steady resistance of this pressure until the very end is seen by most as being a contest of power between God and the king. They see it as physical power versus physical power.
In viewing this as a contest between two great powers, people see the plagues as direct instruments wielded in the hand of God against the Egyptians. These things were sent upon the Egyptians, it is believed, because God decided that this was the way they should be humbled. Then, having decided it, the Lord specifically gathered these forces and directed then against His enemies.
Nor is this all. Because the Lord desired to really show the nations of the world that he was not One to be trifled with, He raised up a Pharaoh who was unusually tough, defiant, powerful, resilient. Such a king, because he would fight doggedly to the very end, provided God with the opportunity to manifest how great He was, whereas a weaker king would have given in before the Lord had the chance to demonstrate the full range of His judgmental powers.
There is no denying that when interpreted in the usually accepted way that is what the Scriptures can be understood to say. For instance, consider such verses as the following:
So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden the Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My sign and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:1-15).
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (Romans 9:17; see also exodus 9:16).
The Lord would give the Egyptians an opportunity to see how vain the wisdom of their mighty men was, and how feeble is the power of their gods, when they as a king and people stand opposed to the commands of Jehovah. He would punish the people of Egypt for their idolatry and silence their boasting of the blessing received from their senseless deities. God would glorify His own name, the other nations might hear of His power and tremble at His mighty acts, and that His people might be led to turn from their idolatry and render Him pure worship.
Still the heart of Pharaoh grew harder. And now the Lord sent a message to him, declaring, “I will at this time send all my Plagues upon your heart, and upon thy servants, and upon your people; that thou mayest know that there is none like Me in all the earth And in very deed for this cause have I raised you up, to show in you My power.” Not that God had given him an existence for this purpose, but His providence had overruled events to place him upon the throne at the very time appointed for Israel’s deliverance. Though this haughty tyrant had by his crimes forfeited the mercy of God, yet his life had been preserved that through his stubbornness the Lord might manifest His wonders in the land of Egypt. The disposing of events is of God’s providence. He could have placed upon the throne a more merciful king, who would not have dared to withstand the mighty manifestations of divine power. But in that case the Lord’s purposes would not have been accomplished. His people were permitted to experience the grinding cruelty of the Egyptians, that they might not be deceived concerning the debasing influence of idolatry. In his dealing with Pharaoh, the Lord manifested His hatred of idolatry and his determination to punish cruelty and oppression.
These are the references and statements to which people point as support for their view that God wielded the powers of force in His own almighty hands to compel Pharaoh to release the Israelites. To human minds trained for so long to think of God as doing things our way, the Scriptures provide weighty support to such arguments and views. The deeper and correct message of these writings totally escapes those whose interpretations of God’s Word are guided by this concept. It is hoped that what follows will correct such sad misconceptions of our wonderful Father.
That which should alert every mind to the erroneous nature of such conclusions is the extremely bad light into which God is placed by them. Such teachings, no matter how well meaning the teacher may be or how deeply sincere their love for God is, declare that the ways of God and of criminal organizations are identical.
Note the following comparison.
The Agent of a large criminal organization come to a certain businessperson from whom they wish to obtain regular payments. The services they offer are “protection.”
The businessperson courageously refuses to make these contributions whereupon the syndicate resorts to a tried and proven method of obtaining their objective. They possess power of force in the form od destructive weapons. These they now wield, though they do not at first go all the way. They begin by smashing the business’ plate glass store window and emptying the display into the gutter.
This first blow is relatively mild, but as the own continues to refuse, they hit harder and harder, even to the point of threatening the lives of the owner’s family until he or she is literally pounded into submission.
Here is how the Almighty is understood to have solved the Egyptians problem. God desired the release of His people. He came to Pharaoh and demanded this, but the courageous king refused to obey. In God’s hands were mighty weapons of destruction, and with these, He struck the Egyptian monarch a deadly blow. He did not unleash all he could have so as to give opportunity for compliance with His demands.
When this was not forthcoming, God struck Egypt again and again, even to the slaying of the firstborn of every noncompliant family, until king and people were pounded into submission. Thus the nation did under compulsion what it would not do any other way.
Anyone who candidly thinks about the standard view of the Egyptian plagues will recognize that this is a correct analysis of how God is seen as behaving.
Immediately it is evident that this places God in the same class as the crime syndicate. It means that the methods used by the world’s leading criminals to secure their ends are those used by God.
Once this realization comes, the question of how we shall relate to it arises. There should be a great awakening to the need of obtaining a reversed and corrected view of God’s activities in Egypt.
But this is seldom so. Marvelous are the powers of the human mind to rationalize.
There are those who will readily admit the uncanny similarity between God’s action against the Egypt and the strong-arm tactics used by organized crime. But there is offered a rational for this. Yes, it looks very much like God uses the same methods as the extortionist. What makes the difference is God’s intention. He does it with a good intention for the benefit of others, while the criminal does it for greedy self-gain.
In this we are asked to accept that the end justifies the means. This means used by the criminal are unjustified because the end is selfish. The same means used by God are justified because the end is unselfish.
Once this line of reasoning has become established, any crime can be justified. During the Dark Ages millions of people were martyred on the basis of this rationale. Therefore, I offer that the end can never justify the means. Let ever child of God forever reject such a philosophy. There is no place for it in the ways, character, and government of God’s church. God has never worked like this and never will.
All His ways are the ways of righteousness and peace. Any belief that God and criminals use the same methods must be forever denied by the testimony of God himself when He said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, My ways’, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
We, therefore, reject the long-held traditional view of God’s behavior in Egypt because it makes God’s ways conform to the ways of wicked men.
There is no issue in regard to God’s intentions versus the intentions of criminals. They are different. This we accept as fact. What this series is devoted to proving is that the methods of God and of men are different. It aims to develop the unshakable conviction that God’s words in Isaiah 55:8, 9, mean exactly what they say. It will demonstrate that the methods used by God when dealing with those who oppose Him are totally different from humanity’s ways. No resemblance between them can be found.
God is not a God of force. This is a weapon He never uses.
God could have destroyed Satan and his sympathizers as easily as one can cast a pebble to the earth; but He did not do this. Rebellion was not to be overcome by force. Compelling power is found only under Satan’s government. The Lord’s principles are not of this order. His authority rests upon the goodness, mercy, and love; and the presentation of these principles is the means to be used. God’s government is moral, and truth and love are to be the prevailing power (The Desire of Ages p. 759).
The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority (Ibid., p. 22).
Earthly kingdoms rule by the ascendancy of physical power; but from Christ’s kingdom every carnal weapon, every instrument of coercion, is banished (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12).
In the work of redemption there is no compulsion. No external force is employed. Under the influence of the Spirit of God, man is left free to choose whom he will serve. In the change that takes place when the soul surrenders to Christ there is the highest sense of freedom (The Desire of Ages, p. 466).
God does not employ compulsory measures; love is the agent which He uses to expel sin from the heart (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, P. 77).
The message of these statements is clear. The use of compelling power is found only under Satan’s government. Herein lies at least one great distinction between the way of God and the ways of Satan and human beings. The only course they know by which to build their kingdoms and achieve their needs is by employing force. If God builds His kingdom by using compelling power, as so many believe then His and humanity’s ways are the same. But they are not. People rule by compulsion. God does not employ this means at all.
Therefore, the standard view of what God did in Egypt is a false one, needing to be replaced by another. The correct understanding of the role played by God must harmonize with the following principles:
- God must be seen as doing only that which Christ lived and taught.
- He must not be seen relating to this problem as sinful human beings would relate to it, e.g., by using force to solve it.
- Everything must be done in righteousness. As the law is the definition and limitation of righteousness, and as God’s character is transcript of the law, then all that God did must be within those principles. As the law says, “Thou shalt not kill,” then God did not destroy or kill in the land of Egypt.
- Any teaching or view that sees God as operating other than within these limits is erroneous and must be rejected as such. It is not the teaching of Christ and is, therefore, of the devil.
The evidence argued here call for restudy of the Egyptian incident. The long-closed case must be re-opened, and a new verdict obtained – one that will indeed reveal God as He is – the Lord our righteousness.
In our next post we will explore: “Rods and Serpents”
We will ask and answer the following questions. If, in “sending” the plagues upon Egypt, God did not either: 1) exercise His creative word to produce them by fiat, ex nihilo activity, or 2) by the application of His power, execute a direct manipulation of existing elements of nature, then how is it that He brought them upon the heads of the Egyptians?
Of what was Moses’ rod a symbol?
Why, if God can exercise His will by force, did He leave the Israelites in such misery for all those generations of grinding servitude?
What about Christ in the temple with the cord of whips in His hand? Was this not a demonstration of the God of force?
I hope you will visit again as we explore all this regarding the nature of sin and the character of God.
If you have missed any of the posts in this series, I invite you to click on the links below.