The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter 7: Pt.1

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This is the Chapter 7. Part 1, Page for the appraisal of the contents of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.



Page Contents:









Chapter 7 Overview

"The ‘Good' Book & the changing moral Zeitgeist"


Chapter 7 is divided into:

  (The above items are covered on this page, the following on the next page)


From the above links, you will see on this page we will only cover the first half of the chapter. To see the second half of the chapter, either click on the latter four Parts or use the link at the bottom of the page.




Chapter 7:  Content & Comments

First Half of Chapter



HEALTH WARNING: I think these pages for chapter 7 need to come with a health warning. Alister McGrath obviously got rather fed up in The Dawkins Delusion with this chapter, somewhat understandably I think, and declared, There is little point in arguing with such fundamentalist nonsense. It's about as worthwhile as trying to persuade a flat-earther that the world is actually round.”


At various times in this book Richard quotes people who support his position but really so often those people have no credibility in this area. If some sceptic, quite possibly an expert in his own sphere, ventures into the realm of Biblical theology, they so often end up making such enormous gaffs without realising it, and if biblical theology is not an area you have investigated seriously, you may think that what they say is quite reasonable.

A QUESTION OF AUTHORITY: We keep on encountering the problem of ‘authority'. What authority does this person have for making these suppositions? If they have not thoroughly examined the Bible and its background from all angles – and I am quite happy for them to read fringe, freaky, unsubstantiated writings as long as they will also read substantial scholarship – then frankly they should keep quiet and stop making such silly comments.


So here is my health warning: if you have a closed mind, please don't bother to read these pages. These pages are, I suspect, mainly for Christians who want to clear their minds, or possibly for open-minded seekers. If you come just wanting to criticise, don't bother reading. Stay with your flat earth beliefs. I really wouldn't want to upset you with the truth.

LINK to Appendix 6 - The Mis-Use of Liberal Theologians


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IT'S DIFFICULT: You might expect me to rant and rave at this point over Richard's total lack of understanding but, having been studying the Bible for forty years, I am aware that it does sometimes seem difficult and it does require careful reading and that means time and effort, and I'm sure Richard has been far too busy to study it – as you may have been.


READ IT: If you are someone who has similarly made negative noises about the Bible, which I'm afraid have been born out of your ignorance, then here, right now in this chapter, you have an opportunity to have lots of your doubts cleared up. All you have to do it read it. How you respond to this reveals your heart, your integrity or lack of it.


BACKGROUND IS USEFUL: I am not going to pull the wool over your eyes or go into such complicated detail that only an ‘expert' would understand. The Bible is not like that. It is quite simple and straight forward in what it says. It is helpful, living at this part of the 21st century, to have some background knowledge to explain the detail of what we find as we read the Bible.


GET MODERN: I notice that Richard insists on using an old version of the Bible with ‘thee' and ‘thou' in it. I can only assume either out of ignorance that there are many good modern-language Bibles around, or that he wants to portray the Bible as an out-of-date book. If you read it, read a modern version.



Quote 1: p.268


much of the Bible is… just plain weird…



DEROGATORY & INACCURATE: Richard then describes the Bible in very derogatory and negative terms, terms which, incidentally, are quite inaccurate! But then he has never taken the trouble to look into how true scholarship says the Bible came into being. If he knew more about it, he would never expose himself by using such silly language.

LINK to our Apologetics pages on the Bible


A SPIRITUAL APPROACH NEEDED: Now the Bible describes itself as a 'spiritual' book which means if you operate on a purely materially, intellectual level, you will probably have difficulties with it. Whenever I am teaching the Bible I always advocate that students pray first and ask God for help. If you have trouble with the Bible and it seems 'weird' to you, it may be because you need help. All I know is that when I ask for God's help, suddenly my mind is understanding what I'm reading much more clearly. I don't mind whether you are a Christian or not, risk it, suppose for a moment that all Richard's denials are completely wrong, and ask God for help next time you go to read the Bible.



Quote 2: p.269


a liberal bishop




BISHOP SPONG: Speaking of Bishop Spong, he describes him as one “whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognisable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians.”   Is this because the world of Christian scholarship doesn't recognise Bishop Spong as an authority because he has beliefs so different from that scholarship?


IGNORING SCHOLARSHIP: So why refer to him? Simply because he fits Richard's views and therefore Richard is guilty by association of burying his head in the sand and ignoring the massive scholarship and research that surrounds the subject of the Bible. If you start out with a closed mind that says there cannot be miracles or the supernatural because God doesn't exist, then you're wasting your time. Come with an intelligent, investigative, scientific mind, and you may find you are pleasantly surprised. Be warned, some of the answers below may be ‘substantial' but you will want nothing less!

LINK to Appendix 6 - Mis-Use of Liberal Theologians


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Part 1: The Old Testament



Now in this part, I am going to change style and my ‘quotes' will really be headings that cover the 10 subjects that Richard deals with. Under each ‘heading' we'll seek to pick up most of the nefarious points that he makes. If I miss bits and pieces it's because I don't want to comment on every line!



Quote 1.1: p.269-271   





ORIGINS: Richard declares this story is “derived” from the Babylonian and other myths of the world. Derived is a silly word because it can't be proved and it is as likely to stand on its own merit as any other ‘flood story'. Now the interesting thing is that there ARE a number of flood stories in the world and geologists do say there are many signs of a massive flood in various places around the world.


UNCERTAINTY OF EXTENT: What the Noah story does first, is make us realise that there are some statements of factual history in the Bible but we cannot know exactly how, when or, in this case, how extensive, they were. Some suggest that when the Genesis account was written down, being of a very different culture from ours and not concerned about precise exactness as we might hope for today, a declaration that “all the world” was flooded could have easily meant, “all our part of the world.” My only point is that we don't know.


MORAL JUDGMENT: Richard finds God's judgment “appalling”. Unfortunately what Richard does NOT do again and again, is paint a whole picture. The reasoning for the flood is given as:

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5)

Later that was expanded: “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (Gen 6:11,12).


I have often commented that if God made a mistake (and He didn't) it was to give us free will, the ability to choose how we live and what we do. What we don't like to think is that this human race that we are part of, went through a phase of complete lack of restraint, of total and absolute lawlessness (for that is what these verses with the verses around them infer.)


Imagine a world where any man can rape any woman without hindrance, kill any child without hindrance or any other man weaker than himself – and does! Today we balk at executing criminals – unless they have raped and killed my family without restraint infront of me – but are sufficiently two faced about capital punishment that we permit police or special forces to shoot terrorists, and indeed are happy for our own armed forces to join in combat against other nations or people groups.

We shy away from the death penalty because a) we have not been personally involved in such an atrocity as I described above, b) we have lost any perspective involving the eternal and so death is a terrible thing, c) we think that locking a person up for the rest of his life is less demeaning than death, and d) we don't think that the atrocity I described is sufficiently awful to warrant ultimate retribution.


Well, OK, these are the usual arguments for or against the death penalty but, as we'll see later, God's wisdom is that death of a person or limited number of people is a lesser evil than letting them live with the consequences that follow (as modern society clearly shows). As we suggested in the previous chapter, in what the theologians call this "Fallen World” – a world where wrong doing and godlessness prevail and things go wrong – sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of two evils.


Whether we like it or not – and Richard doesn't like it - God's decision was that either in the case of the whole world, or simply a part of it, to remove the population and start over with one family that had not given itself to unrestrained evil was the best option. We do this in respect of animals, shown by wiping out localized herds of cows or flocks of chickens to prevent a worldwide disaster in recent years.


If a single (island) country one day is subject to bubonic plague because of bio-terrorism, as much as there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, as long as we're not on that island, I have a feeling we'd go along with world opinion to obliterate that island before it spreads and destroyed the whole world. We could multiply such examples. Think about it and we're not quite so smug as we'd like to be when it comes to these things, but it does need thinking about!

The only reasons we struggle with this tend to be:

a) we just want a reason to be nasty about God, or

b) we just haven't seen the awfulness of the state of the world and what was happening to it, or

c) we just can't imagine it because it's never crossed our mind before.


WHY LAWS: Richard asks along the way, why we should assume that God should care “for petty human malefactions.” Just in case you're not familiar with ‘malefactions' it means criminal acts. I suspect that if Richard's home was broken into and his favourite possessions stolen, he would not be quite so casual as to call it a ‘petty' criminal act.


The answer to the question is that God cares because He loves us. I have no idea if Richard has children but if he has he will know (or at least I would hope he does) that if one of his children is being spiteful to their younger brother or sister, he would intervene to bring peace, because he loves them both and wants peace and harmony for them both.


Why have laws to start with? Because if you are God you know how you've designed the world to work best and you want to guide humanity to live in a manner that is loving and caring and respecting. However because you have given them free will you will know that they can have a tendency to ignore the design-rules (laws) and do their own thing, causing both self-hurt and hurt of others.

If you are a caring parent you take steps to challenge your child's wrong or antisocial behaviour and will use a variety of corrective techniques. Whether they are physical (controlled smacking) or emotional (sent to the 'naughty corner'), you take steps to bring discipline, bringing an ordered and controlled change of behaviour.


Again to counter the self-righteous smugness that appears on the pages of this chapter of The God Delusion, I have observed that we do that as a nation, as the Falklands and the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq have demonstrated. If you demonstrated against those, fair enough. I simply make the point that most of us didn't and were quite happy to go along with them under the prevailing conditions we were told existed at the time. To pillory God for doing what we do, seems a bit smug, and tongue in cowardly cheek to me.


GOD DOESN'T RELISH DEATH: These things come up a number of times in this chapter, which is why I deal with some of them at length this early on. It is worth observing at the outset – and it will become obvious later – that God clearly declares that He does not relish the death of mankind:

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezek 18:23) and in case we didn't get it the first time, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!(Ezek 18:32).

If Richard is good at something in this investigation, it is in ignoring the tremendous volume of Old Testament scripture that points towards a benign, loving and caring God. His own closed-ness stops him seeing things from any other angle.


ATTRIBUTING JUDGEMENT: Yes, a difficult area to say the least. I do believe there are prophets around who have a high level of accuracy of what will happen, but perhaps not too many. If we want to rein in the mavericks then a Biblical model should be observed, i.e. before God brings judgment (which I believe He does on occasion), then He will warn through His prophets again and again and only after constant warning will the judgment come.


ALTERNATIVE - GOD STEPS BACK: Now, there is an alternative form of judgment that the Bible speaks about (see Romans ch.1) where essentially God says, “Fine if that's how you want to live, I'll lift off my hand of restraint that is normally there, and you can go down the slippery path of self-destruction.” That doesn't stop God still speaking to individuals and blessing individuals, but overall a society will be sowing the seeds of its own self-destruction. I personally believe that is what is happening in our own society in the UK today. God also uses this form of ‘judgment' as a means of turning people back to Himself, because increasingly people become disaffected with their ungodly lifestyles and the self-destructive nature of it (although there will always be those who prefer to destroy themselves rather than turn to God.)


When it comes to Pat Robertson the note at the bottom of the page rather indicates that Richard overstepped the accusatory mark. The quote of what he said to the people of Dover was actually not prophetic but simply common sense, but Richard can't see that. Basically he was saying, if you push God out don't go crying to Him if you are in trouble. The good news from the Bible is, however, that when people repent and cry out to God He hears and receives them, but they will still be answerable for their own misdemeanours. The Biblical challenge, “a man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7) is so obvious in life as to almost not need comment. Any pastor or counsellor could tell tales of people reaping the fruit of their actions.


As a general comment, whether it is Pat Robertson or any other Christian voice, we need to make a distinction between the clear Biblical doctrine and the attempts at applying it by fallible human beings – and Christians can be just as fallible as anyone else.


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Quote 1.2: p.271-272  





REALITY RECORDED: Lot is a good illustration of something of which Richard and many others appear to be completely unaware, that what we find in the Bible is often historical narrative of what happened, and that the record includes men and women doing great and wonderful things AND/OR terrible and stupid things. Merely because some historical action is recorded in the Bible, that does not make it right. We'll say some more about this later, but we simply need to observe this as a principle for the present.


BALANCED COMMENT: I think I would feel happier about Richard's comments if they were more balanced and came with a genuine spirit of investigation instead of critical judgment. For instance in the case of Sodom, I think I would be more accepting of Richard's concern for women if he had at the same time condemned the unrestrained desires of the homosexual community. As it was a homosexual group outside the door, I suggest that Lot's offer of his daughter was somewhat ingenuous, although in the later example that was clearly not so.


CULTURAL REALITY: I am glad we live in the day we do. I am part of a church where women exercise equal roles in leadership etc. and (to my knowledge at least) there is no male-female conflict. The reason for that is that Jesus Christ came to establish an equality of relationship while maintaining a distinction of role. The imbalance of male-female equality etc. has not been a religious thing but a cultural issue throughout the world, flowing out of the tendency for the man to go out and do the heavy manual labour and fight off marauders, and the woman to bear children and raise the family. To pillory the religious community for an individual following cultural norms – as alien as they may appear to us three thousand years later – is naïve and ingenuous.


I use this word ‘ingenuous' increasingly because the more I go on through this book, the more I feel that some of Richard's comments appear in a spirit of frank, innocent comment, but actually have a snide motivation behind them. In this Part it is in respect of the part-sentence, “the respect accorded to women in this intensely religious culture.”   Now I may have to apologise here because it may be that he is simply genuinely ignorant. Let's explain.


GROWTH OF GODLY RELATIONSHIPS : By godly relationships, I simply mean relationships between men and women and God. What is patently obvious to anyone who reads through the first book of the Bible, is that Genesis 12 onwards is the history of growing relationships between those we refer to today as the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph) and God. That there were pagan superstitious beliefs among other cultures is quite clear but the only ‘religious' people – being those entering a relationship with the One Creator God revealed in the Bible – were these Patriarchs and their families, and it was a very embryonic level of relationship, as we will later see.

That is what makes these men even more incredible and, as we'll see, they are very ordinary men getting into very ordinary messes in life! To call this an ‘intensely religious culture' shows total lack of understanding of ‘religious' development of that time. The story of Lot's family would probably stir most of us to agree with Richard's description that this was truly a dysfunctional family – except that after the horror of the destruction, its enormity might have left these girls thinking they were the only people left on earth and felt this was the only way to promulgate the earth's population, in which case Richard would have missed it again by his comment (as we might have done previously).

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Quote 1.3: p.272-274   


The Levite



CULTURE AGAIN: The story of the unnamed Levite is thoroughly unpleasant from a number of angles but perhaps not as mysterious as Richard would make out. Yes, it was a day when there were still concubines and outside of the Middle East today, most of us do not feel comfortable with the idea of a ‘lesser wife', but culturally that was what happened in those days – and it wasn't just ‘religious' people.


PROGRESSIVE HISTORY: Those who do not read their Bible much are not aware that the early books of the Bible are progressive and show changing history, and so by the time we come to Judges, we have left the period of the Patriarchs, and Israel's family has grown into a nation, and it is now a nation that has been led by God to take possession of the land we call either Palestine or Israel. More of that later!


The period of the judges is exactly what the title of the book says, a period where the twelve tribes of Israel occupying this Promised Land, are ruled over by judges. Being in the early days of their relationship as a nation with God, they were really very slow on the uptake and didn't realise that every time they drifted away from God, despite Him calling them back, when they turned from Him He would not force Himself upon them but would leave them to their own devices. Living in a very hostile age (isn't any in the history of the earth?), even as now, nations fought over boundaries and rights and every time Israel turned from God they found themselves weak, and were subsequently defeated by those round about who wanted land.


The Levites, part of the priestly tribe, would have been particularly sensitive to the moral and spiritual climate. Thus when the culture within one of the tribes allows flagrant and open and violent sexuality that blatantly went contrary to God's laws, and resulted in this man's concubine being gang-raped to death, on return to his own home he cuts up her dead body and sends parts of it to all the tribal elders throughout the land. Nothing more could have been designed to grab their attention!  I almost like Richard's comment, “Actually, it is not quite as loopy as it sounds” because it was designed to bring about an end which, yet again, Richard gets wrong. It wasn't to provoke revenge, but to provoke justice and a re-establishing of order within the nation.


Yet again he gets it wrong in the snide way he says, “Judges chapter 20 lovingly records, more than 60,000 men were killed.” There's no sense of rejoicing over this. Indeed it's quite to the contrary, for chapter 21 shows the anguish that there was in the nation. The reason that so many had died was that the tribe of Benjamin had not followed the Law and had not followed the correct procedure for coming in confession and repentance before God. They had instead banded together against the rest of the tribes and had stood their ground over tolerating the awful behaviour that seemed commonplace in their part of the land.


As for Richard's closing remarks about similarity with the story of Lot, where he wondered if it was from the same manuscript, he falls into the trap that careless readers fall into, of failing to note the incredible differences in the development of Israel. In Lot's case there was not a nation of Israel, only one nomadic family working out its relationship with God; in the Judges story there is a totally different social structure with twelve tribes in existence and established in the land. There is no social similarity whatsoever.


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Quote 1.4: p.274-275    





HISTORY OR MORAL TEACHING: Before we move on to consider Abraham's story we need to confront the falsity of Richard's initial premise in this chapter. Early in this section he asks, “What modern moralist would wish to follow him?” If Richard, and others who might think like this, knew anything about Biblical Interpretation, they would know that one of the rules scholars use for interpreting the Bible is, “Narratives only can be used to form doctrine if they are confirmed by teaching.” In other words no one decides on morals by simply observing behaviour within the Bible.


DEVELOPING A GODLY RELATIONSHIP: As we have already noted above, the Patriarchs, of whom Abram was the first, were the first recorded in the Bible who were called by God to work out lifetime relationships with Him in order to bring about a godly nation, yet the reality was that it was more by occasional interaction than any designed relationship course given by God! They had no Scriptures to guide them, merely the sense of God's presence that they felt and ‘heard'.  As Abraham, as he later became, was the first of these men, it was not surprising that he struggled with his life and relationship with God. What is amazing about the account of his life, is that he starts out as a nomadic pagan from Mesopotamia, and eventually becomes an incredible man of faith who is both rich and consulted by kings.


SPECIFIC BEHAVIOUR: Having said what we've said about behaviour not being ethical teaching to be followed, and Abraham working out an embryonic faith with God, we can look on his behaviour in respect of his wife in Egypt more charitably than Richard does. Abraham is simply afraid and takes the cowards way out. When it comes to the matter of God sending ‘serious diseases' (Richard – ‘plagues') what is surprising is that God hadn't sent them before, because it is quite probable that, as later occurred, they worshipped gods and idols and so on, and could have incurred judgement way before. As one theologian has commented, when it comes to the judgment of God, what is surprising is not that He occasionally brings judgment, but that He doesn't judge us all. To understand that comment you need to understand the depth and significance within each of us of this thing the Bible calls Sin.


As to the matter of Isaac being sacrificed by Abraham there are two points to be observed. The first is that from God's perspective He never wanted Abraham to kill Isaac but wanted to see how far Abraham would be prepared to go in terms of obedience to Him. The second point to be made, is that from Abraham's perspective we are told that he believed that God had the power to bring Isaac back to life again (Heb 11:19). Now we may from our perspective from today consider his action horrific, yet in his day what he was doing was what the pagan religions often did (we'll see that shortly). As something to be imitated, a basis for morality, as Richard keeps saying, there is no question that anywhere else in history or in the Bible is there an indication that God ever wants such a thing. How real the thing was to Isaac is uncertain and so the question of trauma is equally uncertain.


LOOKING FOR MORAL GUIDANCE: At the end of this section, Richard reiterates his desire to show that we do not get ‘our morals from scripture'. As usual it is a careless or unknowing faux pas. No Christian will ever say that they get their morals from all of Scripture. As we have stated already, a standard rule of interpretation is don't make rules out of observed behaviour. It is almost a crass use of Scripture to try to prove a point by using the most unlikely or extreme examples of negative human behaviour. Of course everyone is going to say, oh no, of course we don't follow the behaviour of Abraham when it comes to child sacrifice.

What Richard does not do, presumably because he doesn't know about it, is take the immense amount of guidance that there is from both the Law and the Prophets that reveal God's will and His design for living for us. If we wanted to embarrass him we would quote large numbers of the Proverbs that he or anyone else would be quite happy to agree with. Imagine the headline: “Dawkins agrees with the Bible!” No this is, and continues to be, a lop-sided, blatantly slanted, bad portrayal of the moral values of the Bible and of God.


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Quote 1.5: p.275-276       





GETTING IT WRONG: Richard seems to have a thing about sacrifice! I'm not going to spend a long time on this one. You've already read what I've said about not building morals from actions. You can find elsewhere on these sites my comments about the stupidity of this man Jephthah who considers his pride in performing a stupid, self-centred vow more important than his daughter and who therefore fails to go before God and receive His mercy and forgiveness by saying, “I'm sorry I got it wrong.”


IGNORING GODS WAY: Jephthah's right course of action, would have been to go, according to the ceremonial law, and offer a sacrifice, confessing his folly. That was exactly what the Law given by God was there for – to redeem stupid people.


GOD NOT INTERVENING: It is a valid question to ask why God didn't intervene as Richard implies at the end of this section. Our answer has to be, I don't know because we are not given a reason. All we can do is speculate about it. How does God intervene? Most of the time He does it, He does it, not like the cavalry charging over the hill, but simply by talking to people. I suspect that the truth is that Jephthah couldn't hear Him because he had a closed mind – like a lots of other people. Oh but the girl died, says our apparently aggrieved writer. Yes and I don't want to be casual about life because I'm not, but death is not the end (although I realise it is for the atheist), and many of humanity have shortened lives for a whole range of reasons. This comes into the category of “Why doesn't God intervene?” that we have considered in previous chapters. You may not like it, but the question is: where does He draw the line and intervene or not intervene?


TRUSTING GOD: Richard (or you) may not like this but after years of reading the Bible, I have come to the point where I realise I don't have all the answers. Sometimes, quite often in fact, I am just left to speculate. But what I am also left with, is an incredibly strong, intelligent sense that because there is so much that is so good in the Bible (and we're talking about the Old Testament here), that when I find I don't understand, I can trust God to do what is right because of all the good that I do understand.


I am actually convinced by my reading of the Bible, carefully, intelligently for forty years, that when I get to meet God face to face, if He should allow me to look back over my entire life with unrestricted sight, I will never have any grounds whatsoever to criticise Him. Now I know that is a statement of faith, but it comes from a lifetime of learning both from the Bible and from life, but please don't give me any of this garbage about mindless, unthinking, fundamentalist (or whatever other abusive term you want to use) and try to apply it to me, or to many of the other intelligent and mature Christians I know!


If you'd walked with me you might think the same, but because you haven't I simply ask you to open your mind to the possibility that my belief system isn't as weird as you thought. Perhaps it has far more answers than yours! This is not to say there aren't days when I have ask, “Why?” because there are. Things go wrong, I get it wrong, and other people are sometimes nasty. Sometimes I'm very much aware of God, and others not. I realise I am probably one of the Christians that Richard gets annoyed with, but that is simply because he thinks we are shallow and haven't had forty years of study and experience!


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Quote 1.6: p. 276  





CONTROLLED ANGER: Richard's opening sentence in the part about God getting upset about idol worship indicates both a lack of understanding of God and a lack of understanding of life. His emotive language sneaks in again: “God's monumental rage”. That sounds like an out-of-control emotion that perhaps Richard has experienced, but it not the way God's righteous anger works. Sometimes we need to catch God's behaviour rather than just the words.


I wonder how you respond to your misbehaving children, particularly when they are doing something that is dangerous and could harm them? “Stop doing that please.” “I said stop doing that!” “Did you not hear me? I said stop doing that!” “If you carry on doing that you will be in big trouble, so stop doing it now!” Four times? Hmmm.


IMMENSE PATIENCE: Read through Jeremiah sometime and list the number of times God called to Israel, its leaders and the people of Jerusalem – far more than four times! The apostle Peter marvelled over the Lord's patience and ended up writing, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9). This is a very different picture from the one Richard paints!


A PURE JEALOUSY: Richard speaks of God's jealousy saying it “resembles nothing so much as sexual jealousy of the worst kind.” What? This obviously comes from only reading the Bible to pick out bits to criticize! If Richard read his Old Testament (in a modern version!) carefully and intelligently, he would see that God's jealousy is born out of what is referred to in the Bible as a covenant relationship. This was God sovereignly moving on Pharaoh to release this chosen family-become-nation from slavery in Egypt to become a nation in their own right, to act as a light to the rest of the world (that's how the Bible describes it), by going and taking over the land we now call Palestine or Israel and thoroughly enjoying the fruits of it and the fruits of living in relationship with God.


Now all that required Israel to do was keep the design-laws that God had given them and acknowledge the Lord as their one God, and He would bless them and ensure great provision for them so that peace, harmony and prosperity would be the primary characteristics that you might use to describe them. The climax of this was seen in the reign of God's first king, David, and then in his son, Solomon. During those years, peace harmony and affluence were known by every one in the nation. Now this was supposed to be God's role model for the rest of the world. There was nothing negative about it whatsoever. In fact it probably made the idol-worshipping surrounding nations pig-sick! The jealousy that God had for Israel was a protective one that knew if they turned to the habits of the surrounding nations they would end up in the same mess as those nations.


JEALOUSY GENERALLY: There is a right jealousy, a good jealousy. It is the emotion that fights to save a covenant relationship, a marriage. It is the emotion that fights to protect children from drugs or whatever else might harm them. Modern couples, it seems, rarely fight for their marriages. We've lost the belief that jealousy is a good thing in a right context. Perhaps that's why Richard cannot see it when it comes to God and His people. Sad!


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Quote 1.7: p.276-278     






GOLDEN CALF EXPERIENCE : Richard makes a remarkably good assessment of Moses on the mountain side, but I realise it is his method of ‘build-them-up-and-then-knock-them-down!' with his reference to “kill as many people as possible.” This is where casual reading takes you! The record of what happened is basic and clearly some details are missing. Let's recap it to make sense:


a) Yes Moses got very angry when he came down the mountain and saw the pagan worship that had ensued while he was away. What was so incredible about this was that it had only been about a month back that Israel had had the most amazing encounter with God at Mount Sinai that any previous people had experienced (see Ex 19-). They had been aware of the Lord's greatness and His call to them to be holy.


b) In establishing this motley group of ex-slaves, probably over a million of them, as a nation under God, they had received this amazing revelation of God and had willingly agreed to enter into a covenant or agreement with Him that, as long as they let Him lead them, He would guard, protect, bless and provide for them. For a bunch of ex-slaves it was a good deal (and when it worked out in later years as we've already referred to, it was an incredibly good deal!). Their entire future hung in the balance at Sinai.


c) When Moses called for those to come to him who were for the Lord, it was in response to the fact that he saw that, “the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies” (Ex 32:25).

His instruction to the Levites to, “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor,' is obviously an incomplete record of exactly what he said because, in fact, they only killed 3000 people, a tiny percentage of the total people of Israel.

It is more likely that he would have said this but added, “all those who were part of the debauchery that took place here.” Only with such an instruction would they have limited their killing and would Moses have been satisfied. This capital punishment, for that is what it was, is a far cry from Richard's, “kill as many people as possible.” It is horrendous from our perspective but to put it in perspective, it is only about 1% of the people who are seriously hurt or killed on UK roads each year – and we don't seem to make much of a fuss about that!


d) Capital punishment of this scale IS horrendous but to re-establish order and indeed their integrity in the eyes of the surrounding nations who would be against them in the years ahead, it was, in Moses' eyes, necessary for the future protection of this embryonic nation. We might have been less severe, and that might have been the end of Israel, then and there. Don't be too hasty in denouncing decisions of over three thousand years ago in a very primitive society.


THE CASE OF MIDIAN: In a day of apparently ‘civilised war' where the media is able to spotlight exactly what is happening, we have remarkably short memories – of indiscriminate bombing of Dresden and wholesale devastation by nuclear holocaust. Our logic in both the cases cited was that it was necessary to avoid a much greater evil, but in both cases all men, women and children were wiped out – and we justified it, and would, no doubt, do it again in the future if the circumstances were sufficiently bad.


THE CRUCIAL ISSUE: What is missing from Richard's understanding is the enormity of what was going on. God has separated out this nation and is teaching them to live in relationship with Him, with all the tremendous benefits that the Old Testament (when read completely) shows us. The most crucial point, that Richard and other critics completely miss, is that the success of this experiment relied upon this people living in relationship with God, following His leading and His design-rules or laws. The threat to that was the counterfeit religions that prevailed in the surrounding nations which threatened to lead astray the people of Israel and threaten their very existence.


UNDERMINING ISRAEL: A more careful and wider reading of Numbers, would reveal the account of how the king of Midian had sided with the king of Moab and hired a seer to specifically curse Israel. His objective was specifically to destroy Israel and, failing by this means, took the counsel of the seer and sent his women to seduce the men of Israel and lead them away from God. Again, and the importance of this cannot be overstated, the very existence of Israel was under threat. The undermining that took place created a very real threat to Israel and the only way to ensure that Midian did not keep on coming back to attack or undermine them was to fight them and completely obliterate them.


Ignoring our own recent history enables us to have a holier-than-thou view of what took place three thousand years ago in what I described earlier as a very primitive society, now fighting for its very existence. I'm not willing to be such a hypocrite.


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Quote 1.8: p.278-280     






FALSE RELIGIONS: Hopefully something of what has been said above will shed some light on Richard's ongoing negative descriptions of what took place. Perhaps his descriptions of God's “characteristic fury” and “God's maniacal jealousy” say more about his own feelings of authority, rather than accurately portraying what happened here. There may also be a measure of ignorance about what was involved. To talk about ‘false religions' may invoke the wrath of the author who would wish to do away with all religions, but it is necessary to consider this in the life of Israel.


THE THREAT OF BAAL: When the Israelites entered Canaan they found that every piece of land had its own deity, its ‘owner'.  The Hebrew word ba'al means ‘master' or ‘possessor' or ‘owner'. There were, thus, many Baals in the land. However two of these Baals became prominent, Baal, the son of El (son of God), who was revered as the god with power over rain, wind, clouds, and therefore over fertility, and Ashtoreth, a goddess thought to be the consort of Baal, who supposedly brought fertility to the people who worshipped her.   


COUNTERING SUPERSTITION: One has only got to look at the world today, and see the areas of the world where people worship shrines with idols or, in our own country, people who are influenced by ‘following the stars', to see that people are incredibly susceptible to superstitious nonsense. A loud ‘Amen' comes from Oxford! As a pastor I know that many people are bound by superstitious fear and my role is to free them from that fear by facing the truth about themselves and about what the Bible genuinely teaches about God.  What worries me so often about secular counselling (atheistic counselling, if you like) is that I hear of people having to visit their counsellor for years on end.  By contrast, I have know people come to wholeness speedily as they have received the truth and received prayer – and speedily means hours or a few days or at the outside a few weeks – and I do mean transformed lives. I simply wish Richard could see these. I would also like to hear if the enlightening ‘truth' of atheism also brings such wholeness and life transformation.


SELECTIVE READING: Of course one of the aspects hardly touched upon here, apart from the superstitious fear that was there, was the frequent tendency to occult practices involving occult prostitution and child sacrifice, and it was against these things that Israel was constantly warring, but of course those haven't been mentioned in the book. It is only a selective reading that can possibly portray Moses as a violent warrior. A more careful reading finds a man who was described as ‘the meekest man in the world'. Yes, he led Israel out of Egypt, and yes, he led them through the wilderness and against pagan kings, but no way was this man as portrayed in this book.

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Quote 1.9: p.280-281      





Ethnic cleansing : Oh my goodness! Selective reading in the extreme and a messy and unclear description of what took place! A full reading of the earlier part of the Old Testament reveals that there were in fact THREE options for the inhabitants of this land:


1. They could leave the land peaceably – it is quite clear from the way Israel came up from the south and the way that they approached the kings of the south, that death was not high on their agenda. Who wants to risk death if there is a peaceful way through?


2. They could join Israel – this is clear from the story of the Gibeonites. As we've noted before, that wasn't a bad deal and in fact would have given them a much more stable and secure life than they had previously experienced under superstitious paganism.


3. They could resist and fight and either win or lose. Some lost and some won and stayed in the land despite the Lord's instructions to Israel. In fact when they failed to clear them out, the Lord said He would allow them to stay to act as a constant provocation to Israel (to encourage them to constantly rely on Him!)


None of these options is anything like the ethnic cleansing we have heard about in recent decades around the world.


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Quote 1.10: p.281-283  


The Death Penalty



MODERN COMPARISONS : I have already referred to this in some detail in the second part of Chapter Two, so I simply refer you back there, especially in the light of Richard's comments about stoning. As to the list of things for which the death penalty was required, Richard's scathing comments are more an indication of the laxity of moral life in the West today than of the awfulness of life in Israel three thousand years ago. What is instructive is that a number of Westerners in recent years have turned to Islam simply because they have observed a law-keeping in some Arab nations that comes out of Islamic law which, by Western standards, is usually considered very harsh. While never wishing to be under such strict and harsh laws, I can, nevertheless, see the order and lack of crime in those nations which almost seems refreshing in the face of the increasing lawlessness of Western nations.


ISLAM : Failing to find any modern Christian examples of destructive behaviour, in the closing pages of this Part, Richard turns on Islam again, albeit briefly (any more and he knows he would suffer the fate of Salmon Rushdie – coward, shoot at Christians, they don't retaliate harshly!).


A WASTE OF A PART? “we… as a matter of fact don't get our morals from scripture.” Well we certainly don't from observing human behaviour; whoever said we did? This Part has been a complete waste of time – apart from giving an opportunity to reveal his incomplete and inaccurate understanding of the events of the early part of the Bible. It is the classic example of what he says he doesn't do – argue about something that the rest of us don't believe – so why???


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In the preamble Richard is simply derogatory about the Bible and appeals to a liberal theologian to confirm his confused beliefs. Not very good!



Part 1: The Old Testament


Unlike previous pages, I am not going to provide you with links back to the points I have made in this part because there is too much said. There are two primary points to be made and beyond that you really do need to read through each comment if you want to see the truth of what is there in the Old Testament:


1. Richard seeks to show that we do not follow Biblical morals, by pointing us to the behaviour of a variety of Old Testament characters. What he obviously doesn't realise, or purposely disregards because the truth spoils his story, is that theologians don't get morality from questionable human behaviour. The Bible records good and bad behaviour but morality comes from the specific instructions of God.


2. Richard reveals that neither he nor any of his sceptical atheistic friends has much of a clue of what is actually in the Old Testament, because he makes us feel embarrassed for him by misunderstanding the characters he quotes and by failing to quote from the massive Old Testament resources that show God as good.


This is a disastrous Part and no other description fits it.

To move on to the second part of the chapter, please CLICK HERE


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