The “Harsh” God of the Old Testament

Feedback for the Week of February 12, 2007

by Bodie Hodge on February 16, 2007

"For a while a question has been on my mind; how come in the Old Testament God seems so mean and brutal?"

For a while a question has been on my mind; how come in the Old Testament God seems so mean and brutal?

I hear of unbelievers using this against christians and it also makes me doubt my faith a bit. I want to try to find an answer. Please, help.

– Donny, U.S.


Just read article on “Churches in praise…of Darwin!”. I think the idea postulated of “Creation Sunday” is a great idea. We need to think about Sunday before or Sunday after
opening of Musuem for that theme.
– Pastor Bruce Viar, U.S.

This view of God is commonly referred to in the secular media. We often hear that the God of the Old Testament seems very harsh/brutal and “evil.” But as Christians, we need to evaluate such claims against the Bible and see if they are with or without merit.

Such claims are an attack on God’s character, but are the claims true or are they missing something? Knowing that God is good (Mark 10:18), when I hear this, the first verse that pops into my head is:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

The intent of many of those who make such claims is to make a good God look evil to justify their position of rejecting Him, His Word, or even His existence. But if God didn’t exist and the Bible weren’t His Word, there would be no basis to say that good and evil exist, and therefore, brutality would be neither good nor bad. Few that I have spoken with realize this when they attack God’s character in an effort to make a case that He doesn’t exist.

At any rate, let’s analyze this and see if God really is harsh/brutal and evil. Among the common events in the Bible where I’ve heard people say God is harsh, they usually begin in Genesis: the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course there are others, but for this short feedback, I will just discuss these.

The Flood

God is often attacked for killing “all the innocent people and even children” in the Flood. But judging Scripture by Scripture, we read that no one is truly innocent (Romans 3:23) and all will die eventually anyway—;a repercussion of our own actions (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 6:23). Second, let’s see what brought such a judgment on the people before the Flood:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).

What a strong statement! Every intention and thought was evil all the time. Imagine the murders, rapes, thefts, child sacrifices, cannibalism, and so on. This was happening continually. Yet this was about 120 years (maximum) before the Flood (Genesis 6:3). So God was still patient, allowing time for repentance and change (1 Peter 3:20). God even called Noah to be a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), yet people still refused to listen and continued to murder, rape, and so on.

God even went so far as to offer a way of salvation! He provided an Ark through Noah and his family and yet others didn’t come. Only Noah’s family was saved (2 Peter 2:5). The means of salvation, preaching of righteousness, and God’s patience were there, yet everyone else refused them and received their judgment.

As an aside, the claim of children dying in the Flood has always been of interest to me. If people really were evil and their thoughts evil all the time, then abortion, child murder, and child sacrifice were likely commonplace. And disobedience to God would mean disobeying God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Resisting this command would result in drastically fewer children, so I wonder if many children were even around at the time of the Flood. Noah himself had no children until he was 500 years old (lending to my postulation that children were few and far between in those days—;I wouldn’t be surprised if Noah took a long time to find a godly wife who wanted children as well).

Even so, children are sinners and can also have every evil intentions and thoughts (Romans 3:23). Today for example, we see children killing children in school, rape among children, and so on.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Please read Genesis 18:20–33. In this section, the Lord revealed to Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah has sinned exceedingly. Their wickedness was not entirely revealed (Ezekiel 16:49) but we do know of their acts of sodomy (later in the chapter) had overtaken them in their actions, enough to rape.

Abraham asked if God would sweep away the righteous with the wicked. He asked the Lord if there were 50 righteous, would the Lord spare it; He said yes. He asked the Lord if there were 40 righteous, would the Lord spare it; He said yes. He asked the Lord if there were 30 righteous, would the Lord spare it; He said yes. He asked the Lord if there were 20 righteous, would the Lord spare it; He said yes. He asked the Lord if there were 10 righteous, would the Lord spare it; He said yes.

If God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah for only 10 righteous people, then would God have spared the earth if 10 people were righteous before the Flood?
This reveals how wicked and sinful the people were. They were without excuse and judgment was finally coming. This also reveals something interesting about the Flood. If God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah for only 10 righteous people, then would God have spared the earth if 10 people were righteous before the Flood? It appears that He did. Methuselah and Lamech, Noah’s father and grandfather may have been those two that made 10 (along with Noah, his wife, his 3 sons and their wives). Of course, there may have been others who were righteous too, up until the Flood. But at the time of the Flood, we can surmise there were only 8 (Methuselah and Lamech had died just before the Flood).

Lot and his family numbered less than 10 in Sodom and Gomorrah (Lot, his wife, his two daughters, his two sons-in-law, and two angels only made 8, the same as the Flood). Yet, God provided a means of salvation for them. The angels came and helped them get to safety.

Were there children in Sodom and Gomorrah? The Bible doesn’t reveal any, and homosexual behavior was rampant, so there may not have been any children. Since God made it clear that not even 10 people were righteous in the city, then even the children (if any) were being extremely sinful.

I hope this helps explain that God acts justly, punishing those whose crimes reach a point that it is time to act. Interestingly enough, people who say God is cruel want justice when they are wronged, e.g., if someone steals from them, attacks them, and so on. So they really have a double standard.

God is the same God of the Old Testament and New Testament. In both cases, people have/had the opportunity to get back to a right relationship with Him. In both cases, God judges sin (2 Peter 3:5–7). Mercy and patience were to be found through God’s vessels Noah, with his preaching for years, and Abraham, with his pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah (even Lot urged the people not to be so wicked)—;just as mercy and patience are still available today (2 Peter 3:9). And He has provided a means of salvation in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18), as the Ark was with the Flood and the angels were in urging Lot and his family to flee Sodom and Gomorrah.

No one can blame God for not providing a merciful alternative or call Him evil for providing justice against sin. Please pray that people will open their eyes and realize that they should hate sin (Romans 12:9) and love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) who acts justly against sin (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10). Yet he offers abundant mercy to those who love Him (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Ephesians 2:4). I pray this helps, and for those reading this that are not familiar with the good news of Jesus Christ please take some time to read this short article on the subject.

Kindness in Christ,

Bodie

Recommended Resources

Newsletter

Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

See All Lists

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.