Chapter 36

Isn’t the God of the Old Testament Harsh, Brutal, and Downright Evil?

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There is a common claim that the God of the Old Testament (even in the New Testament) seems very harsh, brutal, and even evil.

Have you ever heard questions such as these:

How could God kill all the innocent people, even children, in the Flood?

Why would God send Joshua and the Israelites into Canaan to exterminate the innocent Canaanites living in the land?

Do you really believe a loving God would send people to an eternal hell?

This view of God is commonly referred to in the secular media, atheistic books, and so on. There is a common claim that the God of the Old Testament (even in the New Testament) seems very harsh, brutal, and even evil.1

An initial response to this claim can simply be, “How can the atheist or non-Christian say God is harsh, brutal, and evil when they deny the Bible, the very book that defines harsh, brutal, and evil?” Even further, in atheistic, materialistic, and evolutionary worldviews, such things are neither right nor wrong because there is no God in their view to establish what is right or wrong. The same people who profess to believe in a naturalistic view where animals rape, murder, and eat their own kind are those who attack the loving God of the Bible and try to call Him evil (Isaiah 5:20).

But a closer look at such claims against the God of the Bible shows that these claims have no merit. Claiming that God is evil or harsh is an attack on God’s character, and every Christian should be prepared to have an answer for such attacks (1 Peter 3:15).

The intent of many of those who make such claims is to make a good God look evil in order to justify their rejection of Him, His Word, or even His existence.

The intent of many of those who make such claims is to make a good God look evil in order to justify their rejection of Him, His Word, or even His existence. But if God really doesn’t exist and the Bible isn’t His Word, then those who attack God and His Word by calling Him harsh and evil shouldn’t even care to attack Him. By attacking Him, they show that they know He exists and are simply suppressing that knowledge (see Romans 1:20–25). They are trying to justify their rebellion against God. Few that I have spoken with realize that when they attack God’s character in an effort to make a case against His existence they are refuting their own position.

Some of the events in the Bible that people commonly use to justify the claim that God is harsh include events in Genesis such as the Fall of man, the Flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And then they proceed to the Canaanites, Egyptians, Benjamites, or even non-Christians in general.2 So Genesis seems to be a good place to begin.

The Fall: Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve

Sacrifices made by the Lord for Adam and Eve to provide them coats of skin (Genesis 3:21)

Often people ask how God could sentence all of mankind to die because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Adam and the Eve knew the punishment for sin (Genesis 2:17), but they sinned anyway, going against the plain commandment of God. Adam knowingly sinned (1 Timothy 2:14), so his punishment was brought upon himself. Most people fail to realize, however, that all mankind sinned in Adam as we were in the body of our ancestor when he sinned (Hebrews 7:10). Due to Adam’s sin, we also receive a sin nature, and we sin ourselves (Romans 5:12). So we also die because of sin—we are no different from Adam and Eve. However, we should stop to consider the blessing that is found amidst the curse. When Adam and the woman sinned, God offered the first prophecy of Jesus Christ in Genesis 3:15. The curse of sin would be erased by the seed of a woman (the result of a virgin birth) sent to save mankind. A means of salvation was already being offered.

On top of this, the first man and woman should have died right then, but God is patient and gave them a “grace period,” covering their sin by sacrificing animals (when He made coats of skins in Genesis 3:21) in their place; sin is punishable by death, so something had to die (Hebrews 9:22). Abel followed this pattern (Genesis 4:4), as did Noah (Genesis 8:20), Abraham (Genesis 22:13), and the Israelites. These animal sacrifices were not sufficient to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4)—only a perfect, sinless sacrifice, fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ, could (Hebrews 4:15, 9:13–14). It was Christ’s sacrifice alone that was sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The infinite Son died to pay the penalty for the infinite punishment from an infinitely Holy God.

Noah Offered Sacrifices

Noah offered sacrifices of clean animals after the Flood (Genesis 8:20–21).

So there are two blessings so far: a final means of salvation in Christ and a grace period of the penalty for sin being covered instead of bringing about instant death. But there is another blessing that few may notice without reading the rest of the Bible. By being sentenced to die, man wouldn’t be forced to live in a sin-cursed world for all eternity—this is why the path to the Tree of Life was guarded (Genesis 3:22–24)! By dying in this sin-cursed world with Christ as Savior, one inherits the new heaven and new earth, which are restored to perfection, where there is no Curse, death, or suffering for eternity (Revelation 21:4, 22:3). Death will have no sting (1 Corinthians 15:53–56) for those in Christ.

So in this instance, man sinned and God acted justly by punishing that sin, and even went much further by offering three blessings: a grace period, a means of salvation, and a perfect place to live an eternal life without sin, death, or the Curse. Imagine if a thief went before a judge and the judge said, “You have broken the law so you deserve 50 years in jail with no parole, but I will give you 1 year in jail, and you don’t have to begin serving that for six months so you may set your affairs in order. After 1 year, I’ll give you a guaranteed release, and on top of that, I’ll buy you a million-dollar home and prepare it for you.” It seems strange that people would say that the judge would be harsh and evil for sentencing the thief to a year in jail. What would be stranger still is if the thief refused the generous offer.

The Flood

God is often attacked for killing “all the innocent people, and even children,” in the Flood. In fact, some have specifically said, “But the children . . . how could God kill the little children?” The response: “If the earth was filled with violence and evil, it makes one wonder how many children were still alive anyway. After all, in today’s culture, where evil has a foothold, it is children that seem to bear the brunt of much violence (e.g., hundreds of millions of abortions). Even if there were some children left, God provided the Ark. Why did the parents of those children refuse to let them board? Why did they insist on putting their children in harm’s way? If anyone is to blame, it is the parents and guardians who stopped them from coming to the Ark.”

Why blame God for something when He provided a means of salvation, which the parents refused? Imagine if a boater came to rescue a woman and her child who were on top of a roof with floodwaters rising. The boater says, “Please get in and I can save you.” The woman says, “No, we will stay because I don’t believe you.” Then the boater patiently waits and even tries to explain what will happen, yet she continues to refuse over and over again. The boater even asks for her to send her child and she still refuses and swats the boater away . . . and then finally they drown. Is it appropriate to blame the boater for the death of the child? But consider this, judging Scripture by Scripture, it says that no one is truly innocent (Romans 3:23), and all will eventually die anyway—a repercussion of our own actions (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 6:23). Second, what brought such a judgment on the people before the Flood?

Noah's Ark

People had the opportunity to come in the Ark but they refused.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in 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 in their evil ways.

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 and received their judgment.

As an aside, the claim of children dying in the Flood has always been of interest, especially when skeptics and atheists bring it up. The hypocrisy is astounding since these skeptics and atheists often support the murder of babies as we have seen in the abortion debate. If people really were evil and their thoughts evil all the time, then abortion, child murder, and child sacrifice were likely commonplace. Disobedience to God would likely mean disobeying God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Resisting this command would result in drastically fewer children, so one could 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 the view that children may have been few and far between in those days). Even so, children are sinners and can also have evil intentions and thoughts (Romans 3:23). Today, for example, we see children killing children in school, child thieves, rape among children, and so on. But if children and infants didn’t make it to the Ark (the means of salvation at the time), whose fault is it but their own and/or parents/guardians who refused to let them?! So why blame God when He offered them a means to be saved?

Sodom and Gomorrah

In Genesis 18:20–33, the Lord revealed to Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah had sinned exceedingly. Their wickedness was not revealed in its entirety, but we are aware of their acts of sodomy (later in the chapter) that 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.

This reveals how wicked and sinful the people were.

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 among those that made 10 (along with Noah, his wife, and his three 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 eight (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, and his two sons-in-law only made six). Yet God provided a means of salvation for them—the angels 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 many, if 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. But like all these situations, if the children and/or the parents/guardians refused to let them have salvation and righteous teachings, whose fault is it? It is not the fault of God, who did provide a way, but the fault of those who suppressed the truth.

God was just and gave the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the five cities of the plain, what they asked for (their due punishment). They wanted a life without God and His goodness . . . and God gave that to them.

The Egyptians

In this instance, God used Moses and Aaron (Exodus 5–15) to judge the Egyptians for the wickedness they were inflicting on the Israelites through harsh slavery (Exodus 1:8–14), murdering their children (Exodus 1:22), and so on. God struck the land with many plagues and disasters because Pharaoh continued to sin and the nation of Egypt followed after him in sin. It culminated with the death of the firstborn in Egypt, even though this judgment could easily have been averted had Pharaoh listened and released the Israelites from their oppression—the blood is on Pharaoh’s head. Even Pharaoh and his army’s final demise was on his own head, not God’s. In fact, each plague could easily have been averted had Pharaoh responded to what God said through Moses and Aaron. So a means of salvation from the plagues was given, but Pharaoh and the Egyptians rejected it.

The Canaanites

As for God using people to do His bidding, this is nothing new, as we saw with Moses and Aaron and the Egyptians. God used people to build an Ark, His temple, and so on. God used judges and kings to ward off attacks and to provide justice, among other functions. So the concept is nothing new. With the Canaanites, God used the Israelites to enact His judgment under Joshua’s leadership.

The Canaanites were far from innocent! God was patient with them as they continued in their sin. Among the Canaanite tribes when Joshua invaded were the Amorites whose sin was prophesied to Abraham. Abraham received the prophecy that the sin of the Amorites had not reached its full measure (Genesis 15:16). During this time, Abraham met Melchizedek, a noble, kingly priest in the land of Canaan. But Melchizedek’s ministry surely had an influence on the Canaanites as it took several hundred years before their sin overtook them. Had they continued to listen to what he taught, they probably wouldn’t have been in this situation.

When Joshua entered the land of Canaan, the Amorites’ sin had reached its full measure and it was time for judgment. Leviticus 18:2–30 points out the horrendous crimes that were going on in the land of Canaan. They were having sex with their mothers, sisters, and so on. Men were having sex with other men. They were giving their children to be sacrificed to Molech (vs. 21). They were having sex with animals (vs. 23). So it is impossible to make the claim that those tribes were innocent and undeserving of punishment.

But one can’t neglect that children sin, too. As previously pointed out, today there are kids killing kids, kids thieving, kids raping, and so on. So the innocence of children is a farce. In fact, if they were sacrificing their children, then how many children were alive when Joshua entered the Promised Land anyway?

At Jericho, both young and old were to be destroyed (Joshua 5:13–6:21), so at least Jericho had young. Yet Jericho is also the place that Christ Himself appeared as a theophany to lead Joshua into battle. Jericho must have been very bad to warrant a physical appearance of Christ to have judgment poured out on them. Perhaps all the sins listed in Leviticus 18 were going on there as well! Yet even in Jericho, there was a means of salvation as Rahab and her family were saved. She can even be found in the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:5).

The Benjamites

The Benjamites asked for it as well (Judges 19:22–25, 20:13) and sided with the wicked. So no one can claim the Benjamites were innocent either. Sadly, the Benjamites knew the consequences of their actions prior to sinning. They were Israelites who had no excuse for not knowing what Moses wrote. They should have known better, but chose to sin deliberately (Leviticus 18, especially verses 26–30). They also brought it on themselves.

Had the Benjamites repented, the Lord would have forgiven them. The Israelites had extensive means of sacrifice to cover sin and to expel the wicked from among them. However, the Benjamites refused this means of salvation and sinned against God.

Non-Christians

Jesus Was Born

Jesus Christ was born to save mankind.

When discussing eternal salvation in Christ with non-Christians, they often ask, “Do you really believe a loving God would send people to an eternal hell?” The response is: only if they sin! And the fact is, all have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The fascinating thing is that some will not spend eternity in hell. Everyone deserves that punishment, including me, but God has provided a means of salvation just as He did in the Old Testament situations described above. If one refuses to receive this salvation, can God be blamed?

There is only one God; He is God of both the Old Testament and New Testament, even though some try to suggest there are different presentations. In both the Old and New Testaments, people had the opportunity to get back to a right relationship with Him by repenting, asking forgiveness of their sin, and receiving Christ as their Lord and Savior.3 In both Testaments, God judges sin. 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 (John 7:37–38).

And He has provided a means of salvation in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18), just 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.

Conclusion

Naturally, there are plenty of other examples in Scripture where these same principles apply. Consider the analogy of a person who steals and gets caught. When he stands before the judge, the judge finds him guilty and imposes a fine. But then the judge offers to pay the fine. Instead of accepting, the thief refuses and blames the whole mess on the judge who acted justly and even offered a way out!

Sinners still say no to God and then proceed to blame Him for the situation they are in!

This is really what is happening in today’s culture. Mankind sins and gets caught. People are found guilty by a Holy God. God steps in and offers a means of salvation from the punishment of the crime (which is eternal death), even so far as to die in their place so that they can have eternal life. Yet in all this, the sinners still say no to God and then proceed to blame Him for the situation they are in! It simply doesn’t make sense.

In summary:

Event/people Were they sinning? Did God provide justice? Did God provide a means of salvation?
The Fall: Adam and Eve Yes Yes Yes
The Flood Yes Yes Yes
Sodom and Gomorrah Yes Yes Yes
The Egyptians Yes Yes Yes
The Canaanites Yes Yes Yes
The Benjamites Yes Yes Yes
Non-Christians Yes Yes Yes

In light of this, God should not be blamed, but those who were punished for their sin retain the blame. God did provide a means of salvation in each of these cases even though He was not obligated to do so. God should not be blamed. Interestingly enough, individuals who say God is cruel want justice when they are wronged, for example, if someone steals from them, attacks them, or offends them in any way. They really have a double standard.

We are all sinners already under the death penalty (Romans 3:23). But again, God has provided a means of salvation in Christ. It would be nice if people realized 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). Please consider this, if you haven’t already.

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Isn’t the God of the Old Testament Harsh, Brutal, and Downright Evil?

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Footnotes

  1. For example, atheist Richard Dawkins wrote that the God of the Old Testament is, “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), p. 31.
  2. Of course, there are other instances that can be found in Scripture where people may try to claim God is harsh, brutal, or evil, but these examples should suffice to answer this particular issue.
  3. Although those alive before the time of Christ did not know His name, they still knew of the coming Messiah, as prophesied in Genesis 3:15 and many other places. Their salvation from sin was secured by their faith in the work that He would do on the Cross.

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