Thursday, April 19, 2018

Did The Judge Of All The Earth Always Do What Was Right?

From *The Skeptical Review*, 1998 January /February :

by Farrell Till 
Elsewhere in this issue (pp. 4-5), Roger Hutchinson continues his losing battle to prove that when Yahweh killed David's son, there was no violation of the biblical principle that children should not bear the iniquity of their fathers. This principle was stated in Deuteronomy 24:16, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." It was repeated in Ezekiel 18:20, "The soul that sins, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." My position has been that the killing of David's son for his parents' act of adultery was a clear violation of this principle, but Hutchinson has resorted to all sorts of verbal maneuvers to deny this conclusion.

I have decided that the best way to bury this issue is to let my rebuttal of Hutchinson's latest effort (pp. 5-7) and its predecessor articles speak for themselves as I take readers through the Bible to show other examples of where Yahweh violated his own moral code and held the innocent accountable for the "sins" of others. I hope that Hutchinson will go along on the trip and see for himself that he is trying to ride a dead horse.

First, I will need to establish that the Hebrew god Yahweh declared another moral principle that will be important in showing that he sometimes punished the innocent for the offenses of the guilty. That other principle was enunciated when Moses was reminding the Israelites of a rebellion against Yahweh when the spies who had been sent into Canaan had returned with a report of giants in the land. The people had trembled so at the report that Yahweh, in one of his typical tantrums, decreed that everyone but the children and Joshua and Caleb (who had urged the people not to listen to the spies) would be doomed to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until they were all dead, after which those who had been children at the time of the incident would be allowed to go into Canaan and possess the land. In Deuteronomy 1:39, Moses explained why Yahweh had spared the children the punishment of death in the wilderness that he had pronounced upon the adults: "Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them will I give it, and they shall possess it." The other principle, then, was a fair and just one: those who were too young to know right from wrong would not be held accountable for their actions or the actions of their parents. We will see that Yahweh violated this principle time and time again.

The most obvious example to begin with would be the Genesis flood by which Yahweh destroyed all life on earth except for that which was aboard the ark. Yahweh's complaint was that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). Therefore, Yahweh selected Noah, who had found favor in the eyes of Yahweh (6:8), and his family to build an ark by which life on earth could be saved from destruction. For sheer silliness, few stories in the Bible rival this one, but for this article, I won't concentrate on biblical absurdities. I will just take the Bible at face value and note that if this story happened as recorded in the Bible, then there were necessarily thousands of children all around the world who drowned in the flood. Even if we assume that the wickedness of their parents was "great" and that "every imagination of the thoughts of [their] hearts was only evil continually," this would not have been true of the children, who would have been just like the Israelite children mentioned above, who did not know the difference in good and evil. In killing them via the flood, Yahweh punished them because of the sins of their parents or adult guardians and in so doing violated his own principle that children should not bear the iniquities of their fathers.

The same is true of all the children who were killed when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 19:24-26 says that Yahweh rained fire and brimstone from heaven onto these cities and overthrew "all the inhabitants," except for Lot and his two daughters. If anything like this happened, then there would have been children and infants in these cities who, like the Israelite children in the wilderness, would not have known the difference in good and evil. So if the wickedness of these cities was "grievous," as Yahweh claimed in Genesis 18:20, it would have been due to the wickedness of the adults. The children, like all children who don't know good from evil, were innocent. In killing them, Yahweh violated his own law that prohibited children from bearing the iniquity of their fathers.

Another case in point was the massacre of children and infants during Joshua's invasion of the "promised land." Yahweh himself had told Moses that nothing should be saved alive to breathe in these cities but to utterly destroy them (Dt. 20:16). Joshua 10:40 and 11:11 claim that this commandment was carried out and that nothing was left alive to breathe in the cities that the Israelites destroyed in Canaan. Joshua 11:15 and 20 state that all this was done according to what Yahweh had commanded Moses.

The image of an invading army massacring everyone in the conquered territory is repugnant to all modern standards of morality, yet the Old Testament depicts the god Yahweh as a barbaric national deity who commanded his "chosen people" to take no prisoners in their march through the "promised land." Rather than recognizing such stories for what they are, i. e., the superstitions of a primitive people who had created their god in their own barbaric image, biblicists resort to all sorts of desperate rationalizations to try to explain this embarrassing moral problem in their sacred scriptures. Some actually argue that God did these children a favor by having them killed, because they died sinless and went to heaven rather than growing up to be wicked like their parents. Inerrantists also talk about a "plan of redemption" that required Yahweh to eradicate entire nations of people who were so completely evil that unless they were utterly destroyed, they would have been a threat to corrupt the chosen "seed" through whom the redeemer would come, but even if we conceded that there was any merit at all to this "argument"--and there isn't--it would not explain why Yahweh ordered the massacre of even children and infants. Once the adults in these nations had been exterminated, there would have been no one left but the Hebrews themselves to corrupt the children and infants, who at that time did not know the difference in good and evil, so surely biblicists will not argue that keeping the children alive to be educated in the religion of the Hebrews would have posed any kind of threat to a "plan of redemption" that Yahweh may have had in mind. So if the Canaanite nations were killed because they were "evil," killing the children and infants too would have been a case of children bearing the iniquity of their parents. If not, why not?

In another case, Yahweh even held the entire nation of Israel accountable for the sin of just one man. After the defeat of Jericho, the Israelites turned their attention to the city of Ai, but even before the battle began, the Bible states that "the anger of Yahweh was kindled against the children of Israel" (Josh. 7:1). The source of the anger turned out to be the offense of a single man named Achan, who during the sacking of Jericho had found some precious artifacts and kept them for himself, buried in his tent. Such things were to become a part of the spoils of war that were to be "devoted to Yahweh," which is just another way of saying that they were supposed to be put into coffers that were controlled by the priests. Rather than informing Joshua that one of his soldiers had committed this offense, Yahweh allowed an Israelite force to attack Ai and suffer defeat as punishment for Achan's sin (7:2-5). In great anguish, Joshua then tore his clothes and fell upon his face before the ark of Yahweh to ask why this terrible calamity had happened. Only then did Yahweh tell Joshua what the problem was. "Israel has sinned," Yahweh said. "Yes, they have even transgressed my covenant that I commanded them. Yes, they have even taken of the devoted thing and have also stolen and dissembled also; and they have even put it among their own stuff" (7:11).

Well, pardon my insolence, but just where did Yahweh get all of this "they" and "their" stuff, because as it turned out, the man Achan was the only one who had kept artifacts for himself during the sacking of Jericho. Yet Yahweh was blaming all the Israelites for it and had caused them to suffer a humiliating defeat. He informed Joshua that this sin was why the Israelites had been unable to stand before their enemy, and announced that he would not be with them any more unless the "accursed thing" in their midst was destroyed (v:12). So Joshua began a family-by-family investigation, and when he confronted Achan, he somehow knew that this was the guilty party. "My son," Joshua said to Achan, "give, I pray you, glory to Yahweh, and make confession to him, and tell me what you have done. Hide it not from me" (v:19). Reading this, we have to wonder why, if Joshua had such insight, he had not recognized Achan's guilt before his troops had gone out to be defeated. Thirty-six men had died in that encounter (7:5), all because Yahweh was upset at one man.

At any rate, Achan came clean and told what he had done. Whoever said that confession is good for the soul probably never heard of the punishment that Achan received for the crime he confessed to. Achan and all of his sons and daughters, along with "his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and all that he had" were taken to the valley of Achor, where "all Israel" stoned them and burned them with fire and "raised over them a great heap of stones" (7:25-26). That must have been some sight when "all Israel," which according to census figures in the book of Numbers would have totaled about 2.5 to 3 million people, stoned this family and all their livestock to death. The ones in the back must have encountered considerable difficulty getting a clear shot at the victims. Anyway, this story is an example of Yahweh's not only allowing but requiring the punishment of children for an offense of their father.

Some may argue that the members of Achan's family knew about his theft of the artifacts and therefore shared his guilt, but that would be pure speculation. The biblical text gives no indication at all that anyone was involved in the "crime" except Achan himself. Certainly his oxen, asses, and sheep couldn't have known anything about it. This story is simply indicative of the barbarity of the times when it was believed proper to punish a man by killing his entire family in order to abolish his "name" forever by leaving him no descendants. If space permitted, I could cite other biblical examples of this barbarous practice. This was exactly the mentality behind massacres of civilian populations during the Israelite invasion of Canaan. The disgrace is that Bible believers accept this as appropriate conduct and bend over backwards to defend the claim that "God" had decreed it to happen.

Probably the most flagrant example of Yahweh's requiring the innocent to be punished for the "sins" of their fathers is found in his command to utterly destroy the Amalekite nation. During their trek across the Sinai wilderness, the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16). As a result of this battle, Yahweh swore that he would "have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (v:16). In his farewell address to the Israelites, Moses mentioned this incident and told them to "(r)emember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt" (Dt. 25:17). He went on to say that it would be "when Yahweh your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which Yahweh your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget" (v:19).

All of this happened in the wilderness during the 40-year wanderings of the Israelites, but about 450 years later, when Saul was king of Israel, Yahweh decided it was time to make good his prior threat and "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." He sent the prophet Samuel to Saul with this message: "Thus says Yahweh of hosts, I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Sam. 15:2-3, emphasis added). If ever there was an example in the Bible that shows the utter futility of trying to depict the Hebrew god Yahweh as a just deity who did not require descendants to bear the iniquity of their fathers, we certainly have it in this passage. Inerrantists have tied themselves into verbal knots trying to explain this text. They argue that the Amalekites at this time were a morally depraved nation, and so it was for their own iniquity that Yahweh ordered their destruction. But what does the text say? It has Yahweh clearly saying that he would punish the Amalekites for attacking the Israelites on their way out of Egypt. The KJV has Yahweh saying, "I remember that which Amalek did to Israel," so the only reason that he gave for these orders was the Amalekite attack on Israel about 450 years earlier. One could reasonably argue that the Amalekites had simply reacted to protect their territory from the intrusion of a nomadic horde of about 3 million, who had an army of 600,000 foot soldiers, but that is really beside the point. Whatever the Amalekites may have done to the Israelites in the wilderness, the Amalekites living 450 years later were not responsible for it. To hold them accountable by ordering their "utter" destruction can be seen only as a clear case of Yahweh's violating his own moral standard that had exempted children from responsibility for the sins of their fathers.

The extent of Yahweh's grudge against the Amalekites is seen in the rest of this story. Verse 9 states that Saul carried out Yahweh's instructions by attacking the Amalekites and "utterly destroy[ing] them" with the exception of Agag, their king. When Saul kept Agag alive to bring back as a prisoner, Yahweh sent Samuel the prophet to meet Saul and strip him of his kingship for disobeying the command to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites. Samuel then took a sword and hacked Agag to pieces (v:33) as an apparent indication that when Yahweh said "utterly destroy," he meant utterly destroy.

This is the god that Roger Hutchinson has been defending in a vain attempt to show that the Bible "consistently teaches that children are not to be punished for the sins of their fathers" (p. 4, this issue). Needless to say, the Bible does not consistently teach this. In the next life, Hutchinson should try to see how much luck he can have in convincing the Amalekites that Yahweh never punished the innocent for the sins of their fathers. Earlier I mentioned Yahweh's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of his holding children accountable for the sins of their fathers. In a famous biblical scene in Genesis 18, Abraham tried to persuade Yahweh to spare Sodom. He pleaded with Yahweh to spare the city if 50 righteous people could be found in it. "Will you consume the righteous with the wicked?" Abraham asked Yahweh, and we see now that the answer to that question is yes. On many occasions Yahweh consumed the righteous with the wicked. It didn't seem to matter to him. In this same context, Abraham asked Yahweh, "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" If we assume that this Yahweh exists and that he is the "judge of all the earth" and that the Bible is an accurate account of his affairs with humanity, we are forced to say that the answer to Abraham's second question is, "No, the judge of all the earth won't necessarily do what is right, because he sometimes kills children for the offenses of their parents." If inerrantists think that this is "right," then they need more help than I can give them.

No comments:

Post a Comment