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  • Writer's pictureSusan

Punishment in Old Testament

Punishment and God

There are instances where God is perceived as a punishing God. How do we reconcile this with a God of love? It seems like these stories contradict His claims to be a loving God, but do they? This is an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the context of these stories and not loose sight of God's character. One day, we will declare "Just and true are your ways". We may not understand everything, but our faith in God must be reasonably satisfied to the point that we understand His actions and have confidence in Him. This is a work in progress, as I study more of these difficult to reconcile stories. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to see where the Holy Spirit leads as we reason it out together.

The Bible defines two types of death. The death we experience at the end of our lives is described as a sleep until the resurrection. It is not a final event. The second death, is what the wicked will experience after judgement and it is described as a permanent and final separation from God. God, in His mercy has laid people to rest before an event and in some cases, He has laid them to rest as a result of an event.

The flood is an example of God intervening and ending the lives of the antediluvians. In this story, we find that there was only one man in all the earth who was right with God. If we look at this story through the lenses of love, we can understand that if God had not intervened, humanity was doomed and the promise of a redeemer would never been fulfilled. You see, the people at that time all knew Adam or Adam's children. They all had the Garden of Eden still in their midst with an angel standing guard over it. They all had first hand knowledge of God and still chose to reject Him. There was violence in the earth continually, and mankind had perverted God's creation. God's intervention was to step in and preserve Noah. He had Noah work for 120 years to warn the people, then He demonstrated the miracle of the animals all lining up and coming into the ark. The door remained open during all of that time. Every opportunity was given. Then God removed His protection from the earth, only sheltering Noah, his family and the animals on the ark. Imagine this, if you were on a space shuttle and were jettisoned out into space, how long do you think you'd last? The fact that we survive on this planet at all is a crazy miracle as it hurtles through space at 67,000 miles per hour, and spins at a rate of around 1,037 miles per hour. God has us in His hands every moment of every day without our understanding. Not only is He protecting us from the elements, but also from Satan's constant attempts to destroy us. If God had not intervened, Satan would have had his way. Mankind would have destroyed themselves, there would have been no Savior and we would have ceased to exist.

The sin of Achan is not an easy story to digest. God had led the Israelites to a victory at Jericho indicating that all the silver, gold, bronze and iron should be consecrated to the Lord and brought into the Lord's treasury. However, Achan coveted the gold and silver and took two hundred shekels of silver ($2,100 US) and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels ($346,340 US). He also took a garment that caught his fancy and buried them in the center of his tent. When the Israelites went into battle against the people of Ai, they were badly beaten. God told Joshua that they would not be able to stand before their enemies with sin hidden in their midst. If we look at the application for today, we also cannot stand against Satan if we have 'hidden sin' in our lives. If we are choosing to hang onto the sin, God cannot come to our aid in our battle against Satan and his agents. Achan finally confesses to the sin and tells Joshua where the spoils have been hidden. Then, Joshua had Achan and his family including his children, ox, sheep and tent taken out of the camp and ordered their execution by stoning and burned all of Achan's belongings. Sin is a communicable disease. His family was aware of what Achan had done and were living with the lie feeling as though they had gotten away with something. Can we lie to God? Of course not. God knows the heart. Achan's sin was transmitted to his family and would have been replicated in their lives as well. As the family interacted with other Israelites, it would have been damaging to all who came within their influence. We don't understand everything about this story, and it is okay to continue to reason it out. If God's purpose was to preserve Israel, perhaps Achan and His family needed to be put out of the way. To stone them, is beyond my understanding, but that seemed to be Joshua's call, operating within the context of a group of slaves that only understood harsh justice.

If you were to compare a group of hardened criminals in jail, and a group of preschool children in the park, what would be your preventative action if one of the criminals picked up an object and started hitting one of the others? Now what would be your preventative action if one of the children did the same? Context and culture play a significant role in what happened in Ai, but unfortunately, we only have a small snippet of the story and the author felt satisfied that his readers of his day would understand the context and culture.

Another story to consider is that of Aaron's sons death in the Tabernacle. God had made Aaron, High Priest over Israel. He was to represent God in the sanctuary service. His sons, Nadab and Abihu, were also priests and knew of the importance of their position as examples before the people of Israel. They had been selected by God to come into His presence on Mt. Sinai to worship at a distance. They knew of the preparations that had taken place and understood the dangers. So, when Nadab and Abihu were to serve in the tabernacle, they knew how important it was to be right with God. So, what went wrong?

In Leviticus 10:9, God has asked to speak with Aaron directly, after his sons died. The first thing God says is, "Do not drink wine or strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when ye go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. I'd say that was a pretty big clue. In Leviticus 10:10-11, God goes on, to say, "that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statues which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.

Nadab and Abihu didn't take their task seriously and they allowed themselves to get drunk, which caused them to be careless. It seems like they couldn't properly distinguish between what was holy and unholy as their judgement was clouded. What was their spiritual state? What was their attitude? Were they prepared to be in God's presence? When they entered into the Most Holy Place inside the tabernacle, they would be in the compartment which housed the Shekinah Glory. This was God's presence in the form of a ball of fire, suspended over the mercy seat. When Nadab and Abihu entered with profane fire in their censors, fire from the Shekinah Glory went out and struck the two men, killing them instantly. Did God actually kill them or was it their drunken negligence that led to their deaths? In this case, God warned them to take precautions. They knew of the danger and had witnessed the power of His presence. God had given them very specific instructions which they seemed to not take very seriously. Do we do the same thing today? God gives us commands, then he gives us warnings about what will happen if we do not follow those commands. These are not threats, they are concerned warnings from a loving Father. You can warn a child of the danger of playing in traffic, but if they choose to do it anyway, the inevitable result will be injury or death. You didn't kill the child, the child chose to disregard your commands and warnings.

Other stories to research and understand... Miriam's leprosy, Pricilla and Aquila withholding a percentage of the sale of their property, Eli's sons sudden death, the golden calf and the earth opening up to swallow the Israelites.

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"The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. ! Only God has the right to end life since He is its Creator. He sees the effects of sin and acts according to His will. Sin is a cancer that will eventually kill anyway. But, in His great mercy and grace, he gives each opportunity to take the path to eternal life though we might die the first time. It is up to us to let God have His way in our life...the way that will lead to life. PS. God is not a torturer as some would suggest through a place called hell. That is not within His nature. It is a h…


I agree with what you say about Hell and that it is up to us to let God have His way in our life. I believe we have the freedom to choose to align with God or the enemy. God has all power, but He would not use His power forcefully against us. He sometimes acts to prevent greater suffering and pain and to keep the avenue open for the Messiah, but He is never arbitrary. He allows sin to play out, but intervenes when necessary for the plan of salvation.

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