"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 1



Chapter 1: "A Personal Approach"




Chapter 1: A Personal Approach


“Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed

good also to me to write an orderly account for you.”   (Luke 1:3)

Chapter 1 Contents

1.1 The Book, the Chapter, and a Suggested Approach

1.2 The Phenomena of Biblically Illiterate Atheism

1.3 Questions from Questioners

1.4 Declaring my Background: My Grounds for Writing

1.5 Lessons I've Learnt about the Bible and People's Prejudices

1.6 To Summarise


The Heart of Chapter 1: In order to be able to rationally investigate claims about the Bible, we have to first of all confront our ignorance, and our prejudices based on that ignorance.



1.1 The Book, the Chapter and a Suggested Approach


The nature of this book

This book is about the reality of the claim that God is a God of love, when confronted by the text of the whole Bible. We live in an age where there have been many challenges to the idea that God is a God of love, especially as revealed in the Old Testament. This book is about facing those challenges.

In the first eleven chapters we will lay down foundation stones about belief and about God, before we then move on to look at particular challenges about things that happened in the Old Testament.


Ch. 1-11 : Foundation Stones

Ch. 12-24 : Considering Complaints


 In those following chapters we will move chronologically through the life of Israel as seen in the Old Testament, picking up those things that usually raise the greatest questions.


This Chapter

In this first chapter I want to come to you with a personal view of what I have observed in this part of history, and things I have learned about people and the Bible as I have watched and studied over the past forty years or so. This first ‘foundation stone' challenges our whole approach to the Bible in a very general way and, as the title of the chapter suggests, it is a very personal chapter about what I have learned over the years of using the Bible (as a teacher) and listening to people (as a pastor).


I hope I may stand with the Gospel writer, Luke, and declare that I have ‘carefully investigated' these things and therefore this is not a careless or casual enterprise.



Lk 1:3 "Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it  seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you"

Similarly my intention is to write an ‘orderly account' for you. Some may have wished that I simply produced a short and simple answer to each of the questions that get raised against the idea of a God of love seen in the Old Testament, but if I did then you would complain about the gaps in the argument. 


Similarly, some may wonder why I have bothered with eleven chapters of 'explanation'. Why didn't I just write about the 'questionable' incidents seen in the Old Testament? The whole point, which I hope will come over again and again, is that:


The Bible needs to be read as a whole and not only in bits. Seen as a whole it makes absolute sense!


To reveal the purpose and subsequent content of this book, this first chapter will focus on the some of the negativities that are often expressed about the Bible by critics.

It may be an uncomfortable chapter in that it considers and challenges casual reactions to the Bible. My conclusions here are the result of many years listening and watching and are, I am sure, some of the real reasons people have doubts. They are reasons which have little to do with the intellectual integrity of the Bible itself. It is, I suggest, essential that we face these challenges if we are to genuinely make progress in the process of overcoming shallow doubts. This is not really a chapter with answers but I hope the things you will find here will ultimately be helpful.

  - casual reactions to the


   - hidden reasons for


   - doubts created by

    emotions not intellect.


Using this book as study material

I am aware that reading material on the Internet is a different exercise from sitting with a book. To me at least, it always seems longer and heavier. If that is so for you, then may I suggest you copy and paste a chapter and read it in smaller bite-size chunks when you have time, as a purposeful exercise to enlarge your understanding.


  Use this book as a STUDY COURSE

            - on your own, or

            - in a small group

But I have an even more outrageous suggestion: that you approach this book as a study course, either on your own or perhaps in a small group. To that end, at various points in each of the earlier chapters at least I have included simple study suggestions to help you look back, take in, and reflect upon what you have read.


This will not be a book for casual reading but if you can overcome that, you may find it has life-changing consequences, and certainly it will bring about major changes in your understanding IF you take time with it to check the facts.

Now here's a third suggestion, and you may like this one more. I don't want to encourage laziness, but I am aware of time limitations and the difficulties of reading large amounts on line - every three chapters through this book you will find "Recaps" which will be a synopsis of each of those three chapters, and they can be read much more quickly and will convey the gist or key points being made in those chapters. They won't give you the depth of the argument but they will provide a lot of thinking material, so just use those if necessary.


 For a short cut - read the 'Recap' pages and the last Chapter


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1.2 The Phenomena of Biblically Illiterate Atheism


This is going to be a book about God and about the Bible. The two are intricately tied together. That may put off some people who might pick this up to browse, but it's also going to be a book about us, human beings who are revealed in the light of the Bible. Perhaps you've never realised this, but the nature of who you are is revealed by your responses to the Bible. I'll explain as the chapter goes on.



  Beware atheists:

            - straying out of their own

               areas of expertise

            - speaking with virtually no

               knowledge of the Bible

I have observed a strange thing in the beginning of the twenty-first century in the West. I have seen atheistic writers proclaiming their creed, and one of the ways they do it is to denigrate the idea of God and to denigrate the Bible. What is more, they claim to know the Bible, but it is patently obvious to anyone who has any genuine knowledge of that book, that in reality they really have very little knowledge at all about it, about its origins and about its content.


In their own areas they are clearly experts but when they stray out of those areas and into the area of Biblical knowledge they make themselves look very silly. What is sad is that they don't realise it, otherwise they would do something to remedy that error. However, if they did trouble to deal with this atheistic ignorance by seriously reading the Bible, they might cease to be atheists!


Now there is something else that it not sad, but worrying: it is that I have also observed members of the media parroting these atheists' claims, but equally obviously with virtually no Biblical knowledge either. But it gets worse, because then there are hundreds of thousands of people today who echo their empty beliefs about God and the Bible, and it is equally clear that they, likewise, are largely clueless as to what the Bible is all about.


    Beware listening to:

        - media representatives with little

           or no knowledge of the Bible

        - atheists' followers with little or no

           knowledge of the Bible



My wife is a senior religious-studies teacher in a Grammar School, a school of apparently very bright pupils. However, what she increasingly finds is that many of her pupils find it almost impossible to be objective when she asks them to consider the basic historical evidence put before them. They have heard the sound bites of the TV atheists, or the unthinking, negative comments of their parents, and have been conditioned as to how they ought to think, and so find it almost impossible to be objective. That is worrying! It is a situation that needs addressing and if my words in these chapters can in any way remedy this state of affairs, it will have been well worth the effort.


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1.3 Questions from Questioners


Not very long ago, I set up a blog to answer the most common questions that are asked about the Bible. Here below are some of the comments that I have received in that time, from those who doubt or question. Now I have no problem with people who doubt or question – if only they will make a little effort themselves to look for answers. I reproduce them with some spelling mistakes corrected and some punctuation added to make reading easier. Beyond that, here are some of the comments and questions I've received. You will note that most of them have a problem with a God who kills children. I will deal with that later in the book as I hope to do with most of the obvious questions that arise about a loving God who, many think, does unlovely things. Anyway, here is a sample of the negative comments I have encountered:


“If God ordered the Israelites to kill everyone, that would include children, even young children. Killing pregnant women would even kill unborn children. I've heard an argument against abortion claiming that the unborn child doesn't get a choice. What choice is God allowing unborn children, if He orders that pregnant women within the city be killed. Everyone would also include newborns and toddlers.”


Good point if it were that simple!


“If these people's slaughter was necessary to stop corruption of the holy land, according to God's plan, then God failed. Look at the state of these lands today; their murders were in vain. If it's part of God's plan to murder children then he needs to come up with a better plan. If God tells me to kill a pregnant woman I'm not going to do it, no matter what his plan is. Maybe if God first revealed what his plan was, it would be easier to understand, but he doesn't, he just says kill. This is just more proof that the Bible is false and these people were not lead by God. What would have been more divine? Slaughter everyone or everything, or the matter being solved diplomatically without bloodshed and not one innocent child being killed? If they did the latter that would have been more compelling evidence of a God.”


Interesting! We'll look at this in some depth later on.


“I have recently been reading Numbers and Deuteronomy and cannot wrap my head around God telling the Israelites to kill the women and children who were not combatants… You find in the New Testament, Jesus warning any person that harms an innocent child that they would be better off to tie themselves to an anchor and jump in the sea. Children can be so easily moulded and are full of potential. Depending on how they are guided through adolescence they could have been integrated into the Israeli society. I just can't get a grasp on this as a Christian, it is very challenging for me to accept this.”


On the surface I agree, and so it needs a little bit of serious thought.


“Genocide will always be quite a difficult thing to justify. I find it strange that I, as an atheist can declare that genocide is always wrong. It is because of your belief in an ancient superstition that you cannot admit it is always wrong. You sound no better than a Nazi explaining that Auschwitz was all for the best- that it was for some greater good. If your God wanted babies murdered he should have done it himself.”


This was a shameful comment because a) I believe that genocide is always wrong and b) it ignored the fact that I had just explained the possibilities that were before the Canaanites (which I will cover later).


“If he is all knowing and all powerful, and as you said previously, God knows the “destination” of babies, then there is no free will, he chose for us before it was written, who we would be, what we would do, and he punished us for being who and what he created. We have been stuck with the original sin which was enacted as soon as Eve ate from the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, if she never knew evil, or goodness or had knowledge, how could she decide for herself to eat/not eat the apple and condemn the world through eternity. She never had a choice and the all-knowing, all-powerful, god knew what would happen and let it be, thereby creating the world as we know it. There is no way possible to escape sin, there is no choice. And in order to enter into heaven you must proclaim Jesus the son of god and since the children and babies that were killed could never understand this, they have been condemned to hell as well. Congratulations on following such a just and loving God, I'd rather take my chances.”


This one misquoted me, and also reveals a lack of understanding, or perhaps we should say displays a confused partial understanding.


“You prefer to think God knew every baby and what they would have turned out to be. Is that your way of excusing the genocide of children, babies and pregnant women and still be able to call god loving? I find nothing loving about that. Your god uses fear throughout the bible to bring man into the “fold”. How can you claim free will when there really is no choice? Either you follow me, or die? This is what we now call, bullying.”


Again this was a ‘snippet' misquote that ignored the vast majority of the article I wrote covering this subject. It also demonstrates a lack of having thought through some of these issues and therefore arriving at shallow answers.


“For you to use certain parts of the Bible to excuse the practice of genocide is hypocritical, at best. A faith that goes on the premise of love thy neighbour as thyself, thou shalt not murder, judge not lest ye be judged, there sure is a lot of persecution and murder in the name of religion, but as long as it's in the name of the lord. The morality is lost here. Even for god, might does not make right and you can't absolve the action just because god told you it was okay. Murder is murder, judgement is judgement, fear is fear, hate is hate, no matter how you look at it.”


A lot of truth but badly applied and a complete misunderstanding of the concept of genocide being spoken about here, as we'll see later.


Each of those comments was in response to what I had thought were clear and logical explanations in my original blogs. Perhaps I need to be clearer in the future! However, one thing seemed to come through to me: often the respondents were being selective in their reading and did not take in, or ignored, the bigger picture being explained. The feeling that I was left with, is that often here are people who are responding out of hurt or prejudice and whose minds are made up before they read.


    Beware listening to critics who:

        - are selective in their quotes,

        - fail to see the big picture,

        - criticise out of hurt from the past,

        - criticise out of ignorant prejudice,

        - criticise to reinforce prejudices.


(I suppose I should also say that some respondents were very grateful for the understanding being brought.) However many bring forth genuine questions that deserve answers but only seem to do so as a form of reinforcing their own preformed prejudices.


I would love to talk at length to most of these people, but that often tends not to be the nature of blog commenting. Emotion seems, in the blog questions I receive, to be founded on past experiences and seems again and again to prevent the individual looking objectively at the evidence that is being presented. My appeal in this book would be to put aside the emotional prejudices that blind and come and approach the subject in as open-minded way as possible. If you are unable to do that, you might to well to stop reading here.



Go back over the quotes from questioners and see if they ring bells with you. If so, you will find the later chapters very helpful.


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1.4   Declaring my Background: My Grounds for Writing


You, the reader, may have been pointed in the direction of this book by a friend, or you may have just stumbled across it accidentally. You may be

•  a committed Christian, who simply wants to clarify your belief system, or

•  you may be a seeker who is interested to search out the truth, or

•  you may even be someone who is only vaguely interested and has wondered about having a look to see what is here.


You are all very welcome and I hope I can help you all in the pages ahead.


From the outset you need to know who I am. I have been starting to make some strong claims and, indeed, have made some negative comments in the paragraphs above, and I need to let you know why I have the gall to say such things!


LONG TERM EXPERIENCE: For over 25 years I have been writing daily Bible Studies and daily ‘meditations' based on the Bible, for ordinary everyday readers. The daily verse-by-verse studies probably cover at least three quarters of the Bible now. Please note what I just said – they are verse by verse studies and they have covered about three quarters of the Bible. I know what it says! At the time of writing there are also almost a thousand meditations, all based on the Bible. I have also led a church for roughly that same length of time.


A QUESTIONER: I am also a questioner. I challenge and question many of the things that are said both in the Church and outside. Since becoming a Christian over forty years ago, I have read and studied and will take nothing for granted. I constantly challenge Christians to think and to study. I am not a mindless Bible reader!


SOCIAL COMMENTATOR: Why am I saying this? Because I want you to understand that any comments I make about the Bible are well founded on at least twenty five years of personal study and writing experience – and teaching. I also went through a period of writing social commentary on the news of the week and what I learnt doing that is that any particular situation or event tends to be very much more complex than it appears at first sight. A number of times I have gone to write about things that had been happening in the world, and after I had written my blog, I looked at what I had written and considered it too shallow and scrubbed it. There are often many facets to any particular issue and so often when you write you realise you have only covered a few of them and left many other crucial issues untouched.


I believe studying the Bible is rather like this. It is so easy to make superficial and shallow comments which, with a little more knowledge, are seen to be just that – shallow, superficial and often lacking any real understanding. That is one of the reasons why I said earlier that our responses to the Bible reveal a great deal about us – often in a not very complimentary way!


TRAINED ANALYST: Almost more as an aside, I should emphasise that any expertise that I may claim, is in respect of the Bible. My professional training and original career was as a Chartered Building Surveyor. Within that role I learned how buildings worked and how to diagnose what was going wrong with them – a building doctor if you like. I then moved on to teach in a college and, with specialisms of Law and Economics for those in the Construction Industry, I found my diagnostic training being applied to what was happening in the economy, to help the wide spectrum of careers found linked to the Construction Industry who came to college. Analysis of social trends, legal trends and economic trends became my bread and butter for seventeen years. I learned to read the ‘small print' of legislation and complex contract documents. All of this, I suspect, gave me a critical, more analytic mind which built my understanding of the Bible also.


LONG TERM OBSERVER: Over that period of time, of studying, writing and teaching, I think I've learnt one or two simple things that pertain to the Bible and to people, and I think they are worth sharing here. I say again, these comments are based on years of observation, and I will use them as the foundation for all that follows in the pages of this book.


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1.5   Lessons I've Learnt about the Bible and People's Prejudices


This part is all about people's badly founded biases or prejudices against the Bible. I have observed by own responses to using the Bible and have listened to many people over the years and the following are just some of the simple conclusions that I have arrived at and which I hope you will find challenging:


 1. Most people don't get excited by the Bible because they don't really read it!

I have observed that when I just read a passage of the Bible, ask me about it ten minutes later and I can't tell you much about it.  It's only when you really do read it, study it and take it in that you realise the wonder of what is there - but that takes commitment, time and energy, and few are willing to give those! If only the critics would read and study it, they might cease to be critics!
There are times when I open this spiritual Book and read it and it does nothing for me. I stop and realise what I'm doing and then ask God for help and you'll never guess what - suddenly it goes alive!  In fact every single morning when I pray first and ask for God's help with it, the Book goes alive!  Every single morning! It is a spiritual book and you need spiritual help. If only the critics would dare risk an experiment and pray before they read and study! If they did, there would be less criticism!

 2. Most people don't get excited by the Bible because they don't ask God for help with it.


3. Most people don't get excited by the Bible because they don't let it touch them.

I know that when I treat the Bible as just another book to be read, I'm untouched by it.  When I realise afresh that it is inspired by God and is therefore the most important book in the world and that I must pay attention to it, it suddenly starts being very pertinent and starts impacting in ways previously unknown! It has not been given to us for mere academic study. It has been given to us to impact and change our lives! The more I let it touch me the more it comes alive and the more I realise the wisdom that is found there.
I have bits of the Bible I don't understand (fewer as the days go on) but I'm not sure I've found any bits that are flat contradictions.  I realised many years ago that when you have two or more people recording the same incident, they'll emphasise the bits that stood out to them - and may even not mention certain bits that really impacted others. The only problem about this is that it takes time and effort to think through some of these things. It's easier to give it a surface read and then be critical!

 4. Many people say it's full of contradictions, because they don't fully read it.


5. Many people say the God of the Old Testament is harsh, but then they haven't read much of it.

I think my mind was transformed on this issue when I did a verse by verse study of the prophet Jeremiah and the thing that hit me was the number of times God warns Israel about the way they were living.   Again and again and again and again, came the calls from the heart of God, crying out to Israel, warning about what would happen if they continued in the way they were going. What is staggering for Israel, and for us, is God's amazingly longsuffering heart that goes on and on and on crying out to us to avoid the destruction that we're bringing on ourselves.   Oh no, read it fully and carefully and you'll see that 'harsh' is the last thing that you can call God! We'll look at this in detail further into the book.
What I've found so staggering is that writings of three thousand years ago can be SO relevant to life today.   Take the book of Ecclesiastes for instance. This is a book that many people find dry.   It's a book written by King Solomon near the end of his life, probably after he's disobeyed God's wisdom and had taken many foreign wives who lead him into much foreign idolatrous worship of pagan gods. Key words in the book are "under the sun" meaning it's written from an earthly standpoint.   Solomon has been there and ‘got the tee shirt' six times over. You name it and he's done it and at the end he says it's all pointless.  An amazing book by one of the richest men the world has ever known.   And he realised that without God in your life, it's all pointless.  A primer for modern management trainees that book! The Law of Moses that speaks about community life, which I've studied more in recent years, I've found, is logical, straight forward common sense, and much of it is mirrored in our modern laws. There is nothing strange there, merely wise guidance by the God who designed us and knows best how we ‘work'.

6. Many people say that the Old Testament is irrelevant to modern day living, but they've never read it.


7. Many people say the Bible is sexist, but then they're the ones who have only read the odd verse.

Such people jump up and down about the apostle Paul in the New Testament who, as modern scientists are beginning to recognise, merely acknowledges that men and women are made differently and function differently, and not just physically!   

Study the genealogy of Jesus in the beginning of Matthew's Gospel sometime.   This is a family tree about Jews, written by Jews who placed men in the key place of honour – but are yet inspired by God – and what you find between verses 3 and 6 are four women mentioned!  Tamar had sex with her father to carry on the family tree, Rahab was a prostitute, Ruth was a foreigner, a non-Jew, and Uriah's wife had her husband murdered by a king and was then taken to be his wife. Here are four women who all played significant parts in the life of Israel in strange and varying circumstances.   This is the family tree of Jesus!  It says that God cares about women in His economy, and it doesn't matter where they come in the social strata, they're important.   

Read the accounts of Jesus' followers and you find he had many women with him, from a variety of backgrounds. They were an important and significant part of his band. No, study the Gospels carefully and you find that Jesus came to bring equality to women in a way that was contrary to both his own culture and that of many other nations.

This book, like no other book in the world, describes the human condition as it really is.  It tells it exactly as it is and pulls no punches.  But it doesn't leave it there; it provides hope for the lost, release for the captives and healing for the sick.  Millions can testify to its life-changing power. As I read it, as I've described above, this book lives. It explains why life is as it is, it explains why I am as I am, and then it gives me hope!  Boring?  No way!

8. Most people who say the Bible is boring haven't ever really troubled with it.


9. Most people who think you have to be perfect to be loved by God, clearly haven't read the Bible.

I have been absolutely staggered as I have read of God's grace, especially in the stories of some of the Old Testament ‘saints'.  The thing to realise is that they weren't saints to start with.  Abraham who is considered the father of faith, the father of Israel, and the father of Islamic Arab nations, shows us a man whose early life was a catalogue of blunders.  Yes, there was faith interweaved with it, but if I was God, I would have written Abraham off very early on.  When you look at his grandson, Jacob, it's even more so.  The staggering thing is the length of time that God worked with these individuals before they could anyway be considered for ‘man of the year' awards!  If God could take that time over them, He surely will with me and you. In fact virtually every person described in the Bible (apart from Jesus) is revealed as a flawed person. It describes it just as we are – and God loves us!
Yes, God did have dealings with all these sorts of people, but actually they are only a small proportion of the characters you find in the Bible.  Look at the people that Jesus gathered around himself, for instance, and you see the sort of people that God is interested in: the poorly educated, underdogs of society, those disliked by the rich and well off, those despised by the religious elite.  As I read my Bible I am excited by the wonder of God's love that reaches out to all and sundry - and that must include you and me.

10. Many people who haven't read the Bible think God was only concerned with religious men, or kings or prophets.


Now here is a problem: that same tendency that says, “I can't be bothered to read the Bible,” may well say after glancing at this first chapter, “I can't be bothered to read all this.” So, let's make it clear; this is a book for people who want genuine answers, but genuine answers need thinking about. In some ways this is a book about simple theology. At its heart it will look at what the Bible says and explain it in simple terms which, hopefully, the ordinary Christian, or the ordinary seeker, can understand.



The ten assertions above talk about our experience of the Bible. An ‘honesty exercise' might be to consider whether we fit the particular assertion, e.g. that we thought the Bible was sexist, and then be honest about how much or how little we have bothered to read or study the Bible. 


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1.6 To Summarise


It is always useful to recap where we have been so we will do this at the end of every chapter. In this first chapter we have see the following:



1.1 The Book, the Chapter, and a Suggested Approach

•  introduction to the chapter

1.2 The Phenomena of Biblically Illiterate Atheism

•  We simply noted how vocal atheists in the beginning of the twenty first century demean the Bible but show that they have very little knowledge of it.

1.3 Questions from Questioners

•  We saw a sample of questions and comments that I have received on my blogs, which indicate people's difficulty in seeing past their preconceived prejudices.

1.4 Declaring my Background: My Grounds for Writing

•  I explained my background of reading, studying and teaching the Bible for many years, as my qualifications for writing

1.5 Lessons I've Learnt about the Bible and People's Prejudices 

•  Here I shared what I've learned over the years about attitudes & prejudices of people as I have  talked and listened to people who criticise the Bible.



This chapter has been the first of various foundation stones that I wish to lay in preparation for the rest of the book. It has focused on negativities that are often expressed about the Bible. The following chapters seek to provide some answers. Those answers may not be welcomed by many because ultimately they suggest that the best way to overcome such negative attitudes is to read and study the book and assess it on strictly objective, scientific and logical grounds.


Although I will constantly be referring to the Bible in the chapters that follow, I will seek to provide verses wherever possible to save you time having to look up large portions of the Book, but also the references so that you may look them up yourself in a Bible, if you wish, to check what I am saying. I hope you'll find that helpful. Remember, this is a serious book of answers for people who have open minds – and who are also willing to take time and make the effort to find answers!


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