Abraham and Job: Painful Testing
Abraham and Job have both been praised for their righteousness and faithfulness to God. Yahweh was pleased with them and blessed them more than their peers. This blessing comes after severe divine testing. Abraham became the father of a nation but not before Yahweh asks of him the ultimate sacrifice, that of his only son Isaac (Gen. 22).
Why would God test a righteous man? One does not associate misfortune with godly people and when it happens we are taken by surprise. However, it is precisely the righteous whom God tests as it is evident in the lives of both Abraham and Job. Abraham had once pleaded on behalf of Ishmael (Gen. 17:18); would he now have faith in Yahweh’s promise through Isaac?
Job’s wife wants him to curse God and die and his friends are no comfort either. How would he respond? Job loses all his sons and is himself tortured by physical sores all over his body and yet, not once does Job blame God. Abraham obeys God without question and submits to his sovereignty just as Job does.
Abraham’s faith in Yahweh is revealed when he tells his young men that they (he and his son) would both return (Gen. 22:5). When Isaac asks him about the lamb for the sacrifice, he replies that God himself would provide one (Gen. 22:8). Yahweh does indeed provide a lamb for the sacrifice and for his obedience, Abraham becomes the father of nations.
Sudden catastrophes can either draw one to God or away from him. In Job’s case, he continued in faithfulness to God in spite of tremendous loss. Job is willing to receive both good and bad from the hand of Yahweh (Job 2:10). In the end, God restores Job’s fortunes and the second half of his life is better than the first. Both men have a unique relationship with Yahweh, an intimate friendship in spite of the pain.
Suffering is connected with both the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus. Those who struggle with difficulty can identify with the pain and suffering of Abraham and Job to find hope and a deeper understanding of God.
Justice and Mercy: A Tale of Sodom, Gomorrah and Nineveh
In Exodus 34:6-7 it is apparent that sin has consequences which last for three or four generations but, on the other hand, God’s steadfast love lasts for a thousand generations. God’s graciousness and loving kindness are abundant and yet justice demands that he punish sin.
In Genesis 18, we have an example of God’s justice and mercy. Having heard of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, God comes to investigate if it is really as bad as he has heard. Yahweh hesitates, wondering if he should tell Abraham that he might destroy the cities. He decides to do so because of Abraham’s faithfulness and his future role as the father of nations. Abraham has the audacity to confront Yahweh and challenge him on his decision: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Abraham’s suggestion is for the God of heaven and earth to abide by an earthly moral code. Such is the relationship between them that Yahweh is willing to spare the city if he found as few as ten righteous men there. Not finding any righteous, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed but Lot’s family is spared. Justice is served but in the process we find a God who is full of mercy and willing to acquiesce to Abraham’s demands. God’s justice and mercy are not limited to the nation of Israel but [are] available for all his creation.
Yahweh’s compassion and divine turning is highlighted clearly in the story of Jonah and Nineveh. Although Jonah has been the recipient of God’s compassion and long-suffering, he becomes petulant when the same is meted out to the inhabitants of Nineveh upon their repentance.
In all fairness, Nineveh’s bloodguilt should have been punished as Jonah points out to God. That God would show mercy to hated foreigners did not sit well with Jonah. This pericope demonstrates for us that Yahweh’s sense of justice and mercy are far different from human standards.
As Isaiah 55:8-9 so clearly states, God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours. Ezekiel also points out that Yahweh takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. All he wants is that they turn from their wickedness and repent. God is not exclusive. He will hold all people accountable for their moral behavior and act according to his justice and righteousness. So Yahweh ends his conversation with Jonah by asking: “Should I not be concerned about Nineveh?” Justice or mercy? I believe God’s compassion and mercy far outweigh his justice.
The Problem of Lot and his Daughters: Sexist God?
In Genesis 19:5-11 we find a gruesome story that makes one wonder if the God of the Old Testament is sexist. Lot is entertaining the two angels sent by God to bring him out of Sodom when the townsfolk pay him a visit. They demand that Lot send out his visitors so they can gang rape them. Lot refuses but offers his two virgin daughters instead. A shocking tale for 21st century ears!
Some contend that hospitality was so important in their culture that Lot would sacrifice his daughters for his guests. How can a father do that to his daughters? Does the God of the Old Testament stand aside and condone such villainy? Certainly not! God hates rape and considers it punishable by death (Deut. 22:25-26). God does not punish the women.
In the Ancient Near East, a woman’s status came through her marriage and her children. Without a husband or children, she would have no livelihood as demonstrated by the story of Naomi and Ruth. If a young girl is raped, her loss of virginity renders her ineligible for marriage and she would be destitute.
The Old Testament law therefore makes a provision that states that the person who violated her must marry her and can not divorce her. Inhumane as this solution may sound to us, it was a common understanding accepted among women in that culture for their own protection, and that is why Tamar pleads with Amnon not to send her away after he rapes her. The unfortunate result of his refusal is that Tamar never remarries (2 Sam. 13:11-20).
To an Ancient Near Eastern woman, remaining unmarried was a fate worse than death which is why they do not look at their rapist as sexist. These laws, though strange and repulsive to us, were a way of God’s protection and provision for such women and accepted by them as such. So also was the custom of the Levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10).
Lot’s behavior cannot be condoned. Lot is generally not known in the Bible for his upright behavior. Yahweh’s rescue of Lot and his family is entirely due to Abraham’s righteousness and intercession on behalf of his nephew. Lot’s wife is also pictured as looking back at what she has left rather than looking forward and thanking God for his salvation.
Fortunately, the angels take control of the situation, shut the door, blind the men of the city and protect Lot’s daughters from the horror of what their father proposed. Yahweh did not want Lot’s daughters raped and so he acts immediately through his angels and destroys Sodom and Gomorrah for their horrible sins against him.
To be continued.
Northern Baptist Seminary
Today’s post was written by Vanu Kantayya, one of my students at Northern Baptist Seminary. Vanu wrote a research paper for the course “Old Testament Theology: The God of the Old Testament,” in which she seeks to demonstrate that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. Her paper is titled: “The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.
Today’s post is the fourth installment in this series
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
. David Penchansky and Paul L. Redditt, eds., Shall Not the Judge of all the Earth Do What is Right?: Studies on the Nature of God in Tribute to James L. Crenshaw (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000), 57-72.
. James L. Crenshaw, Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 87-89.
. Ibid., 91-92.
. David Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 61-63.
. Ibid., 60-61.