Friday, July 3, 2009

Killing and Sacrifice

Starting back in Exodus 20, God has been giving His commandments to the Israelites through Moses. These commandments are God's first complete set laws for mankind. They should tell us some truths about God. So far we have learned that God definitely approves of capitol punishment and has no issue with inequality under the law based on social class or sex.

What else will we learn about God? Let us continue our study of God's commandments.

Killing and Sacrifice
Nearly all Christians believe that Christianity is a religion of peace and tolerance. For the most part, it is. However, just like words can develop different meanings based on their usage by the general population, so too can religions stray from their original intents as their associated theologies evolve according to the times. Let us explore some of the foundation of the religion founded by the God of the Bible, who is, as we know from the Bible, also purported to be Jesus.

Exodus 22 continues on in a list of commandments given by God to Moses to be the legal foundation for His Chosen People, the Israelites. There have been many spirited debates about whether or not the laws in the Old Testament (OT) are applicable to Christians. Regardless of which side someone takes on this issue, it does not diminish the significance of these laws in revealing God's nature. After all, the Israelites were going to be, in essence, representatives of God on earth. God's sense of righteousness and justice was to shine through them, and one of the most obvious signs to outsiders of God's influence would have been these Godly commandments by which the Israelites lived.

As you read through the list of commandments, you will find that most of them are reasonable. They even include some laws established to be charitable, yet just, to foreigners, orphans, widows, and the poor. You will also find that the punishments are generally proportional to the crime; a hallmark of justice. (Of course, this is quite contrary to the one-size-fits-all eternal torture of Hell which many Christians believe to be the fate of the unsaved.) However, not all of these laws are so palatable.

Exodus 22:18 calls for the death of sorceresses (a.k.a. witches). This is somewhat funny, as there is seemingly no true power in sorcery. It is also somewhat tragic, given that this verse has prompted the slaughter of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in Christian-world witch hunts which occurred back in times when society was much more superstitious in general. However, Hebrew word used here may actually be more applicable to a user of poisonous potions, so perhaps this killing in justified. Or, perhaps in God's mind the power of sorcery came from demons, and therefore was an abomination to God. So maybe this is justified.

(It is strange that this law does not instead call for the death of anyone who practices sorcery, but rather seems applicable only to women. I have seen it explained that it really applied to both sexes, but mentioned only women because people generally would be more lenient in punishing a woman. However, such an interpretation stands in contrast to the format of the remainder of God's laws.)

In Exodus 22:20, God calls for the death of anyone who sacrifices to any other god. In God's defense, these were His Chosen People who were to be representatives of God, so it is perfectly reasonable for God to desire a show of unity and purity in the Israelites. On the other hand, the punishment demonstrates God's lack of mercy, tolerance, and patience. These pagans could have simply been expelled from the land of Israel, left to discover on their own that their false gods could not do anything for them, and thereby allow for a repentant person return to the one true God. Or, God could have withdrawn His blessing from these pagans to let their lives serve as living examples of why you should only worship God. Instead this text suggests that God of the OT was not really interested in making converts or allowing such repentance, paradoxically unlike the God of Christianity.

Speaking of sacrifices, there are some laws in this first set of commandments about sacrifices to God in Exodus 22:29-30:
"Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give Me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to Me on the eighth day." NIV
Note first that it is specifically the firstborn sons which must be given to God. Females were just not as valuable to God.

Then note that these firstborn sons are to be given to God just like the cattle and the sheep. This passage is a bit ambiguous, so you may need to reference Exodus 13:1-16 and Exodus 34:19-20. Unlike the cattle, the firstborn sons are not to be killed. Instead, they are to be redeemed, or in other words bought back, or in other words taxed by the Temple.

The Bible does not cover what happens if you are too poor to redeem your son, but it is possible that such a case would mean death for the son. There are many OT references where God condemns sacrificing sons (and daughters). However, these seem to exclusively deal with sacrificing children specifically in fire and to other gods. Perhaps God would approve of sacrificing a son to him, even as a burnt offering, such as like what almost occurred with Abraham's son Isaac under God's direction. Plus, let us not forget that even God sacrificed His own Son to Himself (1 John 4:10).

What makes this child sacrifice or redemption silly is that God ends up superseding these laws later on. In Numbers 3:11-13 and Numbers 8:15-18 you see how God instead swaps out the Levite clan for all of the firstborn sons of the Israelites. This change in the law happens within the lifetime of Moses and Aaron! It makes you wonder why the original law existed in the first place. Why would God change His mind, especially in such a short time frame? You are stuck wondering if either God is not omniscient and He does not have everything planned out from the beginning, or if the author was simply making the story up as he went along.

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