Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promises, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. “
Ezekiel 18:23, 32” “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ saith the Lord GOD: ‘and not that he should return from his wicked ways, and live?’ ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.’ saith the Lord God, ‘Wherefore turn yourselves, and live.’”
When someone reads the Old Testament, especially the books of the Law (Genesis – Deuteronomy) and the historical books (Joshua – Esther), the stories of all of the wars, killings, and destruction that one reads may make God look terribly cruel. In the Old Testament’s first 17 books, not to mention many of the prophesies (Isaiah – Malachi), the death, destruction, warfare, and apparent cruel corporal laws can make one think that God is not worth following, not worth serving.
To the uneducated in the Bible, God can appear in the Old Testament to be heartless, ordering the slaying of the defenseless, the helpless, and the unbelieving in ruthless fashion. But is God really and truly as cruel as many say that he is portrayed as in the Bible? Is there something about God that we are not seeing or that is being ignored, either accidentally or by design?
Point number one: God is the God of the living: When Jesus was approached by the Sadducees – a Jewish Sect that didn’t believe in the afterlife, angels, devils, or resurrection – they asked Jesus a question, to which he replied that God “…is not a God of the dead, but of the living…” (Luke 20.38).
God is not a God who is filled with death or with the dead. In the Garden of Eden and the creation story, it is God who gave life to every living thing (Genesis 1.1-2.3). God is not a false god or idol who delights in death, but instead, it is He who sustains life (Luke 21.38, John 1.3). The two Key Scriptures for this lesson also say clearly that God does not delight in death, especially to those who die without knowing Him.
Point number two: Those whom God ordered to be destroyed were receiving His judgment after a long wait. The Old Testament is full of stories where the Israelites were ordered to totally destroy the Canaanites, and later, where the Assyrians, Babylonians, and other major ancient peoples were also commanded by God to make war against Israel much, much later.
These events may seem to make God look incredibly cruel. However, if we take a closer look into the facts and read the Bible carefully, we see something entirely different than what is perceived today of God. Instead of a heavenly tyrant bent on cruel and rapid destruction of any and all non-believers, we see a loving heavenly Father who waited long periods of time for those he loved to return to Him.
In the Story of the Exodus, God stated clearly to Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4.21). This may put God in an unfavorable light, that He is cruelly hardening the heart of the Egyptian King so that he can hit him and all his people with the ten plagues. However, we see in the Bible, Pharaoh’s attitude toward God very clearly and easily:
And Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice…? (Exodus 5:2).
In this verse, it is clear that the Pharaoh already had his mind made up about who God is. History also records clearly that all Egyptian pharaohs considered themselves the second-highest of the Egyptian gods, next to Amon-Ra, and further considered themselves much in the same way as the Pope in Rome considers himself: God’s number one man on earth.
The pharaoh, in Exodus, had beforehand rejected God, placing himself on the highest throne. This judgment came about from God because of the pharaoh refused to clearly see who God really was and is. In spite of ten clearly seen and easily identifiable plagues, Pharaoh never accepted who God really is. The rest of the Egyptians revered Moses later for his following of God, but Pharaoh never did. He never fully accepted God, and his life likely ended in the waters of the rolled-back Red Sea, as seen in Exodus 14.
The same can be said for the Canaanites. God was incredibly patient with them despite their refusal to acknowledge who He is. Even though they knew the God that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob served, acknowledging in the book of Genesis that all three of these men were ranked as mighty princes (Genesis 23:5-6), the Canaanites still rejected God.
Even after God had waited 470 years, after the Canaanites heard of and knew what God had done for the Israelites in Egypt, and saw further miracles that he did them, the Canaanites refused to accept who God was. God also waited more than 1,000 years for the Israelites to fully and totally accept and trust him after settling in Canaan, suffering them to be disciplined and punished until, in 722 BC and 536 BC, God removed them from their land for a time. God is limitless in his love, his mercy, and his forgiveness, but he is not limitless in his patience. And only a God who truly loved people would wait centuries and decades before executing his judgment on hard-hearted people.
Point number three: God is still merciful, loving, and patient today as He was in Old Testament times. The same God who waited through ten devastating plagues, who waited 470 years for the Canaanites to repent, and who time and time again waited and warned the Israelites over a period of 1,000 years is still the same, loving, merciful God today. Consider Ancient Rome: Jesus Christ was born and had his ministry in the midst of the power and might of the Roman Empire, but for 300 years, Roman Emperor after Roman Emperor tortured, crucified, and executed millions of his followers.
Finally, 400 plus years after the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Rome crumbled, the majority of her people never truly believing in Jesus Christ, and a false Christianity, based on works over grace, having risen to take its place. The same can be said for the great powers that followed, from the medieval Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne to the present-day United States of America. God allows – and even helps, in some cases – a nation to build up and become strong and powerful. But after years of trying and trying to get the attention of the people of those nations, He at last – usually after several centuries – passes and executes his righteous judgment.
God will wait for nations as a whole, and people in particular, and will warn, warn, and warn of impending, coming judgment. Whether we as a nation, people, and world choose to follow His warning is ours to make.
Conclusion: God is not cruel: As the title of this conclusion states. He is not heartless. He is not a tyrant. God is a God of love, who sent his Son, Jesus Christ to die on a cruel cross for the sins of everyone. God will wait and warn a long, long time, but he will not wait forever. His love is unending, his compassion and truth never-failing, but he will not wait forever.
As the books of the prophecies in the Old Testament, and the gospels, the letters of Paul, the general letters, and Revelation show in the New Testament, there is coming a Day of Judgment on the world as a whole, and each and every person in particular.
Are you ready for that day? If you are not, you can be. As Revelation 3:20 invites: Jesus stands at the door of your heart and knocks. If you open to him, he will come in, and he will show you exactly who he is.