A Defense of God's Moral Character: Part 2

Dan Lenington on December 21, 2016

lighted path

Does God sanction slavery? Slavery in Bible times was a completely different issue than it was in America during the 1800’s. American, African, and British slavery was based on race whereas slavery in Bible times was not a black vs. white issue. Slavery in Israel was mainly a voluntary way for a debtor to work off his debt (Lev. 25:39-43). Another form was when a conquered people would become the servants of the ones who conquered them. Israel was given permission to take some of the ones they conquered as servants because God was judging these nations through Israel for their cruelty. However, God also warned Israel that they would also be conquered and made to serve other nations if they became like the nations they had conquered (Jer. 5:19). Israel was indeed conquered by Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. From this context let’s look at a few references.

            Leviticus 25:44-46, says Israel was permitted buy and own slaves from nations they had conquered. Barnes says, “It was the object of Moses, not at once to do away with slavery, but to discourage and to mitigate it. The Law would not suffer it to be forgotten that the slave was a man, and protected him in every way that was possible at the time against the injustice or cruelty of his master.” Servitude in this culture was closer to modern day employment than 19th century slavery. Servants had many rights (Ex. 20:9-10) and protections under the law (Ex. 21:26-27). Exodus 21:7 protected women in the roles of service they had to perform. Incidentally, the man selling his daughter as a maidservant is for the purpose of her helping to pay a family debt. She was not permitted to be sold again. Once the debt was paid she would be free. In Exodus 21:20-21, if a foreign servant who is disciplined for bad performance dies from the punishment, the life of his master is forfeit (Ex. 21:12). However, if the servant lives, then the master’s life is not required. The punishment was viewed as his right in order to enforce good behavior in the servant master relationship. We have an aversion to corporal punishment today, but it was commonplace in that culture for all social statuses. It encouraged immediate improvement, was over quickly as opposed to imprisonment, and didn’t place an individual in greater debt as with a fine. Incidentally, the kidnapping of individuals to sell them into slavery (such as in the slave trade of the 1800’s) was forbidden and punishable by death (Ex. 21:16).

            Finally, in 1 Peter 2:18, Peter tells servants to be obedient to their masters with respect even if the master was difficult or unfair. This challenge is easily understood in the context of authority. A good Christian honors and obeys the authority over him whether it is an employer, a police officer, a king, or a president. This verse doesn’t say that slavery is necessarily good or bad. It just challenges servants to obey the authority of their masters in the positions they have in order to have a good testimony. If Peter had told all slaves to revolt it would have only caused death and persecution. The apostles knew society wouldn’t change by them encouraging slaves to rebel. Therefore, Paul encouraged each person to use their current status and opportunities to love and serve God and others (1 Cor. 7:20-23). Interestingly, Christian doctrine was the first to advocate for the equality of all men (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). So this objection rises from a misconception of the cultural context in the ancient world.

           

            Does God sanction rape? Deuteronomy 22:28-29 gives one of a few regulations concerning rape. It commands that if a man rapes a virgin who is not betrothed to be married, he must pay her dowry and marry her for life. In our legal system, this man would instead be put in prison for a period of time. However, in this culture, there were no long term prisons. We should also know that in this culture, this woman would carry a stigma and would be unable to find another husband. Therefore, this regulation served not only to deter men from raping women (since they would be financially responsible for them for the rest of their lives), but it would also ensure that the woman had a home and would be provided for. This regulation in no way excuses rape. Rather, it provides social protection for the woman and ensures financial and physical responsibility from the perpetrator.

            In Genesis 19:8, Lot does the unthinkable. He offers his two virgin daughters to the gang of men demanding that he turn over the two angels staying with him. The men are not interested but would rather have the two angels whom they think are mere men. We might readily condemn Lot’s actions. However, 2 Peter 2:7-8 calls Lot a just man who was vexed with the wickedness in Sodom. How can God through Peter say that Lot was a just man if he made this suggestion? First, God never says this particular suggestion was good and right. Certainly, Lot made a lot of bad decisions and made a foolish, unthinkable suggestion, but God was looking specifically at Lot’s attitude toward the wickedness around him in Sodom when calling him just. Each of us should look in the mirror before we get too hard on Lot. We’ve all made some stupid and careless statements. Thankfully, God sees our occasional good intentions and heart despite all of our weaknesses.

            In the same vein, God announced to David after his adultery with Bathsheba that David’s wives would be violated just as he violated the wife of Uriah. In 2 Sam. 12:11, God says that he will allow Absalom, David’s son, to seek David’s throne. Absalom would be advised by David’s former counselor, Ahithophel, to secure the throne by taking David’s concubines for himself. Clearly, this act would be considered rape. However, once again God is not the active agent. He knew the future. He knew Absalom would do this. God did actively make Absalom do this. God says He will give David’s wives unto Absalom. This choice of words means that He would allow Absalom to take them. So the question comes down to this, why does God allow evil to take place? In this instance, He allowed it as a just punishment on David for His adultery. But we must remember that Absalom didn’t get away with it. Absalom was killed by Joab, David’s general, in battle (2 Sam. 18:14).

            What about the concubines? It wasn’t their fault that David sinned. This is true, but it reminds us that our sin always affects other people. This kind of collateral damage is not fair, and much of what happens in this life is not fair. However, God tells us that one day all injustice will be brought to justice. We must also remember that we chose a world without God’s direct control when mankind rejected God in the Garden of Eden. One last thought: we often want God to restrain the evil of others, but we want Him to let us do whatever we want. What if God had no mercy at all, and swiftly punished every sin? No one would be left standing. These objections, though unique in circumstances, each assume that God must always intervene to stop man from doing the evil he desires to do. However, if God were to do this, we would have no choices and genuine love would be impossible.