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Dear friends,

Welcome to my blog. I am honored to have you visit. I hope you'll find my articles a blessing. I welcome your input and especially comments and questions.

I write as a Christian from Jerusalem, Israel about Biblical subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subjects of children, families, women's issues, corporal punishment, science and nature as these subjects relate to the Holy Scriptures.

For more information, see my website: www.biblechild.com

With every good wish - Samuel Martin

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Severity of God and Finding Peace in Some of the Bible's More Difficult Texts

The Severity of God and Finding Peace in Some of the Bible's More Difficult Texts

Recently, I received the following question from a dear friend (Brenda King) who I have known for about seven years. We became friends after she and her husband read my book "Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy" - get it for free here - http://whynottrainachild.com/2013/06/22/download-martins-book/

Here is the question and it is an important one.

My husband and I have had some long talks recently about the apparent disconnect between the loving, gracious God of the New Testament and some of the harsh stories in the Old Testament. Do you have any book recommendations that address that?

Now, this is a hard question full of tension. It makes me uncomfortable. I think many people could say the same thing.

I started to write something up on this question and in fact, I stopped writing on it and just abandoned it and started this piece. I was thinking of doing something really different for me and try and answer this in a different style. Sorry, but it just did not get the traction I hoped for. I guess we can all say that this happens from time to time. Just crumple up the proverbial piece of paper and toss it in the rubbish and start over.

There are many stories in the Bible which are quite hard to reconcile with our overall belief that God is love (I John 4:16) and this is because, on the surface, in some of these texts, God seemingly does not appear to be very loving at all.

We are not alone in our uncomfortable feelings. 

I can remember studying about Augustine a number of years ago and reading about his views on whether or not the innocents who were killed due to the order of King Herod in Bethlehem would be saved or not. 

I have to admit that I also did not find reading Augustine so comfortable.

I still don't have all the answers on the stories of the innocents in Bethlehem, but I think I would like to give a few ideas which guide my thinking concerning this question.

Some of these really hard texts are one's that I have noted even in my own upbringing living in the home where my father was a pastor and a theological scholar. Even in all of his writings, some Bible stories Dad never managed to publish material on. 

I have also read Dr. Gleason Archer's book "The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties". I have found it of some value so I am mentioning it here. 

However, with all due respect to the late esteemed Professor Archer (who I understand was fluent in 27 languages), a highly respected theologian and Bible scholar, I would like to open up some possibilities to share some of my own ideas. In fact, I have to thank my dear friend Brenda for reaching out because her question came at a time where I have been thinking quite a lot of late on some similar questions. 

Recently, I have been working on a new publication, which is turning out to be quite involved. The working title of this new publication is:

Infant/Child Salvation:
God’s Redemptive Plan For Children Who Die Before Knowing the Message
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

I can hardly open up all of the issues that I am currently considering in that book here, but I would like to home in on one text and to give some ideas, which as I said earlier, are slightly new even to me.

Which text to discuss because there are quite a few difficult texts in the Bible?

While my post does indeed have the terms "More Difficult Texts" in it, I have to choose one text and for me, this text has become a clear entry point for this most difficult of subjects. 

This, of course, can become a huge exercise where we get into an examination of scores of commentators and theologians looking at a whole host of scholarly opinions. This is useful and to always be considered as a good idea, but in this area, as I said, I have not found too many explanations for some of these hard texts from scholars that I trust yet.

Definitely I need to keep looking and searching and by reaching out here, I hope you'll share your feedback with me. 

So, now let us look at the text which is going to be the focus of our discussion.

The Death of King David and Bat Sheva's First Son found in II Samuel 12
Now here is the text in question.
"David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and he became sick. 16 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17 And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (II Samuel 12:13-23 ESV)

Of course, I think we all agree that in this very difficult passage and the very troubling text for all of us is found in verse 15:

"Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and he became sick."

I am not going to side step this text and how (on the surface) I feel about it. It is troubling and hard to fathom from the God we think that we know. Our God is Love. (I John 4:16) How could a God of Love do this? I mean it says that the Lord "afflicted" this child and he became "sick" and then "died."

Now, about 20 years ago, I was doing research for my first book ("Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy" - Get it free here -http://whynottrainachild.com/2013/06/22/download-martins-book/) and I came across this text from the Talmud which has always stayed with me and resonated with me because I think it represents the tension that many Rabbinical scholars had who also read these texts and were troubled by them just like you and I are. 

We are not alone in how uncomfortable this makes us feel, especially those of us who have children. It just feels wrong, misguided, and cold and putting a judgment for sin on an innocent child.

While I say that, here is where I have to put on the brakes to my emotions and thoughts and say: "Wait a minute. What are you saying and thinking? This after all is the Word of the God who made heaven and earth and everything in them, including you and me."

Note what the Rabbi Simon be Lakish, a scholar who lived here in Israel almost 2,000 years ago said about some of the more difficult passages of Scripture found in the Bible (which he referred to as 'Torah').

"There are verses which are worthy of being burnt, but they are [after all] essential components of Torah." (Babylonian Talmud - Hullin 60b)

I gravitated towards this quote because even in that early time (even before I turned 30 years old), I was troubled with some of the texts in particular in the book of Proverbs which seemed to suggest that it is fine and suggested to strike a child with a stick of some kind.

Now, I realized that after studying this matter more carefully, that my view point and understanding was incorrect about the book of Proverbs and it is here where I would ask you to ask yourself the same question about the text we are talking about here. 

Now, here is where we have to ask ourselves a question. Perhaps it is possible that there is no problem with this text when it comes to our understanding of a loving God, but rather it is our earthly, terrestrial perspective which limits our understanding and maybe we don't see the full picture of the whole of the matter just in this text itself?

Your Ways Are Not My Ways

Now, this is what occurred to me just very recently after Brenda asked this question. Maybe there is nothing wrong with this text, but what is wrong is I need to get my human imperfect, sinful, weak, corruptible orientation out of the way and let's God's truth speak here. 

In this regard, I was reminded of this text (which I think we are familiar with) to be quite important. See if you agree with me:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:6-11 ESV)

This text really spoke to me. I am well described in the first part of this verse where it speaks about "the wicked" and "the unrighteous man". This for sure is me.

As I said earlier, I want to put my human approach to this text aside and try to see the mind of God.

As the passage says, not only are "my thoughts not your thoughts", but "neither are your ways my ways."

In fact, God's ways and thoughts are elevated to a higher level than ours that they reach up to a new level of heaven that we just don't know anything about. Or do we?

Here is where I think that these hard texts in Scripture give us a glimpse into the mind of God Himself and if we are willing to see what God is trying to show us, we may be on the way to a more correct understanding.

We are here being asked to take, not the earthly perspective, but definitely the heavenly one. Doing this may cause us some consternation as human beings, but this is a part of spiritual growth I believe. We have to as children of God grow up spiritually and in doing so, sometimes we might have to think or see things which are difficult to accept or understand.

In fact, isn't that what growing up is all about in life anyway?

We are not alone in facing difficulties in understanding things from God's point of view, the heavenly perspective. St. Paul himself also had challenges, so much so that he chose simply not to discuss them openly. This is exactly what he said. Note it here.

"I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter." (2 Corinthians 12:1-4, ESV)

Whatever Paul saw and heard during this heavenly vision, he was not prepared to discuss it. This story reminds me how I feel when I read II Samuel 12. Maybe you feel the same way?

Now, if we return to Isaiah 55 for a moment, there are a couple of things in this text that I think are important. I think we have to acknowledge that the way God does things is very different than you or I might do them. The thing is, though, God tells us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:4-6).  For me, this is clear and I am going with this idea 100%.

This is what really occurred to me in a greater way of late. I needed to trust God more to guide me through His Word here so I could embrace an understanding, which was not my own, but was hopefully closer to what the Lord is really trying to show us in this passage.

Now, I can say one thing that some of us might also be able to appreciate. Twenty years ago, when I was reading Simon ben Lakish, I was a totally different person than I am today. For one thing, I am a married father of two who is almost 50, so I look at things quite differently than I did 20 years ago for sure.

I think that all of us will also agree that while this text is a difficult one and we might on the surface ask ourselves why it appears in Scripture, I think those of us who feel close to the Lord will agree that this text is definitely not placed in the Bible to create a barrier between us and God. Unfortunately, I see this idea quite often on the Internet. Some people who have chosen to leave Christianity or somehow ridicule it will bring it up saying that our God is evil and brutal and worse.

But I say: "Wait a minute!" Do you understand it in a fuller way or are you just reading the Bible like today's newspaper? 

No, it is placed there to teach us something very important which we could not learn without it being there. This is the view that I am taking concerning this text. As Jesus told us, we need "eyes to see" and "ears to hear" what this text is saying.

Now all of us have eyes and ears under normal circumstances, but what the Lord was saying was that we needed to have a type of "eye" or "ear" which was in tune with Him, in tune spiritually.

If I have to choose overall, generally speaking, whether or not it is I or God who are wrong about something, I think I have to be honest enough to say that I am going to take the safe bet and raise my own hand saying I am wrong before I tell God that He needs to acknowledge here that He in fact is in error.

No! God is not wrong. You and I are wrong and our opinion is in error.

If we start from this point, I think we are closer to the truth.

We need to trust that God knows what He is doing

Now, it might seem strange to title this section in this way, but this is what I came to see in looking at this text. I for some reason began to say: "Ok, God, I trust you. I know you love me and I know that you loved that innocent child of David's and Bat Sheva's. However, I don't understand what you are trying to teach us with this example."

This was my starting point and this is where I think maybe God opened my understanding to consider some other viewpoints.  Being a parent also I think has helped me dramatically to engage this text that someone who does not have children just could not do.

When I started to think about this more I noted the following point which helped me to make a type of overall consideration about this and other difficult Biblical passages. It was the following. In the New Testament, this text is not mentioned specifically and the New Testament writers do not specifically draw some direct attention to this text, so it must have not been so important to the Lord to inspire them to add it, so if that is true, then maybe I don't need to give it more consideration than I need to.

However, I think that we can say that a general principle about some of these harder texts from our point of view has been addressed by St. Paul in the book of Romans.

Look, St. Paul was one of the most wise, erudite scholars of the ancient world. Without question, he was very knowledgeable of the Bible and was inspired by God to write more in the New Testament than anyone else.  

It would seemingly not make much sense for St. Paul not to have addressed some of these types of questions because without question some of his non-Jewish readers would have read these texts in the Bible and not understood them.

St. Paul goes to great lengths to address one particularly difficult text concerning Esau and Jacob in Romans 9. In this section, he shows a number of principles which I think we have to take cognizance of if we want to have the correct understanding. Let us look at this text and consider it, because herein St. Paul deals with several hard Biblical texts.
"I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Romans 9:1-23 ESV)

Now, it is very interesting in this text that Paul shows using a number of examples of hard Biblical texts that these texts in fact are as Simon ben Lakish said "essential elements of the Torah/Bible".

God has His hand involved in ways which are hard to understand, but note what this passage says clearly (and I am believing it 100%)

1. "But it is not as though the word of God has failed."
2. "What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!"
3. "You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?"
4. "Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?"

So here is the message I get from this text in summary. 1) The Word of God was, is and will always be perfect; 2) God is just; 3) God is not to be questioned by mankind for His actions; 4) God has the right to intervene or work in humanity as He sees fit according to His good pleasure.

If we will be guided by these four principles and look at these hard texts through these spiritual lenses, perhaps we are on the road to a better understanding of them.

Mitigating Circumstances and Perspective - 
Making a difficult choice which is the right one in the long term

Sometimes seeing things from God's point of view is not so easy. St. Paul was allowed to go to the third heaven to see what was there. He was forced to see a side of God which was not earthly and it made him feel uncomfortable, so much so that he refused to speak about it.

Seeing God how He really is, is uncomfortable for us because we don't appreciate or understand Him properly.

I can remember my father (Ernest L. Martin) referring to the following three texts (II Timothy 2;15; Isaiah 28:9-13; Colossians 2:2-3) in a publication he wrote which was fundamental in his orientation to understanding how God presented the subject of knowledge. (1)

Here is where we have use our intelligence and really "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (II Timothy 2:15)

Now as I am here showing, sometimes this is easier said than done and the Bible even mentions this. Note the following text from Isaiah:

“To whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
For by people of strange lips
and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
  to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
yet they would not hear.
And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 28:9-13 ESV)

What this text shows is the method that God can use to teach us knowledge (and we certainly need God's knowledge to understand II Samuel 12). This is the subject of this passage starting in verse 9. But then He tells us that we must be "weaned from the milk" (verse 9).

This is simply telling us we need to be mature and in this case it means to be mature spiritually.

Now He shows us how to understand knowledge saying:

For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” (verse 10)

This is no small matter because it is repeated in verse 13.

This text really describes how we have to look at the whole of Scripture to appreciate any one concept and this is where those who just look only at II Samuel 12 can fall into the category of people mentioned in verse 13 saying: "that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken."

We definitely do not want to be in this category of being. We want to find the riches of God and His wisdom and Truth as found in the Holy Scriptures with St. Paul saying:

"that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2-3, ESV)

A Clearer Spiritual Focus on II Samuel 12

Now, I want to talk very specifically about this text in II Samuel 12 and the potential that exists in it to look at it in a different way.

I think we will all agree that whatever the text says, we really should not concern ourselves so much with what the text itself says, but rather seek to understand what the text means.

Now, I think that we will all agree that to attempt to interpret this verse outside of the context it was given is just really ridiculous. That text, to be understood and appropriately appreciated, must be engaged not only in the context of where it is found in the Bible, but we have a whole host of issues concerning it that have to be taken into consideration to have a greater understanding of the whole picture.

We have to almost look at this text from a ship and we are trying to safely navigate through arctic waters. These hard texts are like icebergs that we have pass through safely. But, when going through waters where there are icebergs, we know that the thing we see in the water is just the "tip of the iceberg." There could be something really huge and dangerous underneath. This is why we have to navigate this text with great care. After all, we want to navigate these arctic waters and reach our destination safely.

This is definitely what God wants for us, but He expects us to study the entire body of information we have at hand to navigate these waters. (II Timothy 2:15)

I am going to summarize some points now without much elaboration, but I think you get the picture of the circumstances surrounding this birth.

1. The legal status of Bathsheba according to Judaism

2. The uncertainty of who was the real father of the child according to the law

3. Were there two witnesses alive who could corroborate the fact that David was the actual father of the child?

4. The issue of the child being designated an illegitimate child and would be disqualified from a normal ritual life and forbidden to marry anyone but a similar person and to be banned from entering the Temple of God.

5. Was the child in fact legally a Jew?

6. Would the priesthood have allowed the child to be taken into the Tent of Meeting and presented to the Lord as the law of Moses requires?

7. What about the future prospects within Judaism for a happy life for this child due to the sin of his parents?

8. Would the child have been legally able to marry within Judaism?

9. Would the sin of the father pass down to the son in this case as the Bible shows in the Torah?

10. Was God sparing the child a horrible life by taking his life before the eight day of life?

11. What does the future hold for that child?

To conclude, when you start to look at some of the mitigating circumstances surrounding his arrival on earth, they show that in fact what happened to him was far better for him from an individual view? Only God knows the answer to this question, but I think I am going to trust God's choice in this situation as the best one.

A Final Question

Now, as we reach the end of this discussion, I have one final question to ask and here I am going to rely on a teaching that my late father (Ernest L. Martin) developed during his ministry of over 40 years.(2)

We have all heard the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is well known.
But there are two rules which are a bit higher than the Golden Rule and my father elaborated a teaching surrounding them. These two rules are as follows: 1) The Platinum Rule and 2) The Diamond Rule.

Now the Platinum Rule is a little bit more valuable than Gold, so here it is:

"Do unto God as you would have God do unto you."

Now, as I said, there is one higher rule: The Diamond Rule and it is this Diamond Rule which I think is going to help us finally to understand II Samuel 12 better.

The Diamond Rule is: "Do unto God as you would have Him do unto you, IF our positions were exchanged: that is, IF You were God and He were You."

Now, let's not miss the point here. What I am asking you to do is to put yourself in God's place (though it is not possible) and try to think like Him.

What we find is that God made a decision in the life of David's infant son that the best thing for that child at that time was to die! Could God see something in the future life of that child which was not good? No, God could not see something! God could see EVERYTHING and the picture was not a pretty one!

Now, that is a pretty hard judgment, but wait a moment. Put yourself in God's situation if you can think of it and here is the question.

Can you think of a situation in your own life where death might be the best choice for one of your own children?

As a father of two daughters, it does not take me too long to think of a number of situations, where were those situations presented to me, I would not only say that death of my own child would be the best thing, but in fact, if I had to be the one to cause my own child to die, I would not hesitate for one moment to end their lives.

It might sound like I have lost my mind, but wait a moment. I said that there were a number of situations where this might be needed.

For example, the thought of someone taking my daughters and enslaving them in some type of situation where they were going to suffer unspeakable horrors at the hands of evil people, were I given a choice where I could control a situation and eliminate unspeakable horror, I would choose the lesser of two evils.

Another example might be a situation where someone was lost or shipwrecked and there was no hope for escape and a horrifying injury was causing unspeakable pain to a loved one. Herein one again might have to choose the lesser of two evils.

Many other such situations could also be proposed.  Scores probably.

Taking someone's life, no matter their age would be evil, but what would certainly be ahead of them in life were they to live which if it were certain, known and apparent, then taking their life would definitely be the best choice. It would be an act of love, even godly love!

This is what I believe happened regarding the child of David and Bath-Sheba. I cannot explain every nuance of the story, but I trust God enough and I also know that the love that I have for my own children mirrors the love that He has for us and that in some rare cases, very extreme measures are the best thing for all intended. That is what love is.

To conclude, look for a fuller discussion of the wonderful, full life that awaits David's son in the afterlife in my new book coming out, I hope, very soon. I believe you will rejoice in this very hopeful story of a child who God took home at such an early age. The Lord did not take that child home for no reason and with no plan for the future!

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.". - Romans 8

Final Comment: I would be blessed to share your input to this post. Thank you very much.

Samuel Martin
Twitter: @byblechyld
Email: info@biblechild.com

(1) Ernest L. Martin, "The Fundamentals of Biblical Knowledge" - Lesson One - ASK Publications, Alhambra: CA, 1987)
(2) Ernest L. Martin Audio Cassette Tape "The Judgement of Man and God" ASK Cassette Tape: Portland:OR 1991)



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