Many skeptics criticize biblical morality, claiming that the God described in the Bible is immoral.
For example, God is accused of encouraging slavery or encouraging fathers to sell their daughters as slaves. However, upon closer examination, it is clear that verses are being taken out of context by those attempting to read and understand scripture from a 21st century perspective.
The Bible is a story, and not a list of commandments, laws and rules, as some would have you believe. It is a story that describes an ongoing relationship between God and people.
Knowing the context of what is written in the Bible is vital to understanding the difficult sections in Scripture. Therefore, we would first recommend taking a step back and understanding the theological, political, social, cultural and historical context in which it was written. The Biblical narratives include moral, ceremonial and social codes of conduct. Therefore, their application in our day shouldn’t always be taken literally. Many of the commandments in the Torah are impossible to keep in our time, as they concern the Temple and the priesthood. However, the moral aspects that commandments in the Torah teach MUST be taken seriously.
For example, on their way to Canaan, God tells the people of Israel not to mistreat the strangers or foreigners in their midst. The reason given for this is that the people of Israel knew in their hearts what it is like to be mistreated. After all, they themselves had just escaped their own slavery in Egypt. Maybe they were accustomed to foreigners being mistreated as they were and perhaps they wanted to know how it feels to have that much power and authority, to torture and act cruelly to foreigners and strangers in their midst.
But God reminded the people of Israel that they, too, had been strangers in the land of Egypt. And thus we witness the first statement regarding human rights. Foreigners must be treated as residents for all intents and purposes. In fact, they must be loved as their own:
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Leviticus 19:34]
The New Testament offers a new thought pattern when interpreting biblical customs.
During one attempt made by the religious leaders to undermine Yeshua, He was tested on the subject of divorce with the following question: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” [Matthew 19:3] As we know, the Talmud allows for a man to divorce his wife merely if the food she cooks doesn’t taste good, or if her beauty has faded. Initially, it looked as though Yeshua was walking straight into their trap, as He quoted from the Torah: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” [Matthew 19:4-5] The religious leaders, who were convinced they have caused Yeshua to fail, replied with the question, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” [Matthew 19:7] But Yeshua, who could see through their attempt, offered a refreshing interpretation:
“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” [Matthew 19:8]
Yeshua gives us the key to understanding the commandments in the Torah. Yeshua clarified that many commandments in the Old Testament should be interpreted as accommodations to the hardness of the human heart, not as reflections on the holy nature of God. Now, let us apply that concept to the slavery mentioned in the Torah. The reality was that many of the people of Israel had workers for various purposes; or, to use the Biblical term, slaves. Many masters began mistreating and torturing their slaves. Therefore, God interfered and created rules which limit the master-slave relationship. When the people of Israel rebelled against their masters in Egypt, they were subjected to degradation and humiliation, which was expressed through severe physical abuse. Therefore, that is how some also treated their own slaves.
Let us take a look at one of the skeptics’ favorite verses
Exodus 21, verses 20-21, wherein God commands Moses to restrict the way by which the people of Israel punish their slaves. Say a slave is caught trying to steal from his master. Before the Torah, the master could beat the slave senseless. Now, the master was limited to punishing his slave only in such a way that would guarantee the slave’s full function on the very next day. Truth be told, the Torah is very lenient when compared to Muslim sharia law, according to which the thief’s hand is to be chopped off. That is also the case when compared to the Rabbinic Talmud, according to which even small children who are caught stealing are to be severely beaten and women who refuse to obey their husbands are to be flogged. God did not encourage the use of violence in any way, shape or form, but rather demanded curtailing the violent reality which was customary among the people of Israel.
Therefore, the conclusion that the Bible supports or encourages slavery is fundamentally misguided.
In fact, later on (in Leviticus chapter 25) we can easily see that slavery is not ideal in God’s eyes. Whoever reads that chapter will see God does not encourage slavery, but rather the opposite. However, the commandments were given in accordance with the reality and culture at that time.
Slavery was a fact. People owned slaves. God was taking reality into account, and therefore addressed the relationship between masters and slaves. In fact, the New Testament further teaches us that superiority of one person over another is a sin. The Bible teaches that all human beings were created in God’s image, and therefore they are all equal in their rights, dignity and status in the eyes of God – both Jews and gentiles alike. Take a look at what Paul the apostle said: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith….
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Galatians 3:26-28]
Therefore, abolishing slavery is fitting for all those who truly wish to honor ALL of God’s creations.
Okay, so what about the other example in Exodus 21, verse 7, wherein God allegedly allows a father to sell his daughter into slavery? If we read the verse in the context of the entire chapter, we see that this chapter protects the slave as well. It protects her future and her dignity. Families which were subject to financial hardships would sell their daughters to be slaves. Therefore, in essence God says: Father, if you have decided to sell your daughter into slavery (a customary practice at the time), the master who purchases her from you must take care of her and see to her future. If he is no longer interested in her, he must not kick her out or sell her to another man in order to get rid of her. He must either marry her to one of his sons or set her free with no recompense. It makes no difference if this should occur even one week after said master gave 200 camels for her.
To summarize, it’s easy to take verses out of context, trying to depict God as a morally twisted monster. But if you consider the context of each verse within the chapter, the context of each chapter within the book, and the context of each book within the entire Bible and add to that the cultural, social and historical background, you will see that God shows humanity the perfect balance between true justice and mercy, compassion and love.
For more information: iGod.co.il/019
Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.
Eitan is the producer of:
1) I MET MESSIAH (Jewish testimonials).
2) Answering Rabbinic Objections to Jesus.
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