The Hebrew Bible introduces a tribal deity fighting Canaanite deities for land supremacy, instructing God’s people to do likewise.
God’s chosen, liberated from Egypt’s bondage, are led to a Promised Land, which inconveniently, is already occupied. The solution? Portray them as evildoers existing outside God’s salvation. Not being chosen provides spiritual justification for their extermination.
Joshua instructs the people of the true God to invade their land and “enforced the ban on everything in [Jericho]: men and women; young and old; ox, sheep, and donkey, massacring all of them” (6:21). This savage, genocidal act is sanctified because violence is conducted in Yahweh’s name, in accordance with God’s will.
This is a blood-thirsty deity. “A blessing on the one who takes and dashes [the enemy’s] babies against the rocks,” the psalmist sings (137:9). Women and the land were simultaneously raped and enslaved.
Moses instructs the “armies of Yahweh” to kill the men of the lands they invade. And as to virgin women, God’s armies are permitted to kidnap and rape them, confining them to serve in sexual servitude (Deut. 21:10-14).
Surprised that early ministers of the 16th and 17th century referred to local Indigenous people in their sermons as Canaanites? The message was clear. God wills modernity’s Indigenous people to the same fate faced by premodern Canaanites: genocide.
Indigenous scholars like Vine Deloria, Jr. remind us that the liberation of the original people of the land ended when “God’s chosen people” came in thanksgivings to take what belonged to others.
Is God’s call to occupy the land of others what today we call crimes against humanity? “There is no way,” Deloria concludes, “to combine white values and Indian behavior into a workable program or intelligible subject of discussion.”
The dream of a Hebrew (European) homeland proclaiming obedience to God became the Canaanite’s (Native American) nightmare of genocide and subjugation.
The Lord may be my shepherd who “prepareth a table for me in the presence of my enemies,” but this God at times appears bipolar.
God might doctrinally be portrayed as forgiving, merciful, just and loving; but this God has a dark side. To take the biblical text seriously means recognizing a God who commands blood-soaked wars and massacres – even against God’s own chosen people.
On one occasion, God sends a pestilence, killing 70,000 men (no mention of women) because King David decided to conduct a census (1 Chr. 22:1,14). Then this interesting verse appears: “God sent to Jerusalem an angel to destroy it. But as he was about to destroy it, Yahweh saw and was sorry for this evil” (1 Chr. 21:15).
Evil? Is this God responsible for being the cause of both good and evil? “I form light and create darkness; I form peace and create evil” (Isa. 45:7).
This is a God who on two occasions sent evil spirits unto King Saul – his chosen. I thought only Satan sends evil spirits. Yet, the biblical text states: “an evil spirit from Yahweh filled [Saul] with terror,” and “an evil spirit from Yahweh came on Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14; 19:9).
When Yahweh’s prophet Elisha was mocked for being bald by “small boys” – as often happens with children – God responds by sending “two she-bears out of the forest to savage forty-two of the boys” (2 Kings 2:23-24).
This is a God who, on a bet, allows great misfortune and death to befall the household of his faithful and honest servant Job (1:4-12). And when Job seeks an answer to his tribulation over some 37 chapters, the heavenly response is, “I’m God, you weren’t there when I created the world, hence I do whatever I please, and how dare you even question me” (38-42). Not very pastoral.
And yet, the chosen nation often is referred in the most intimate terms, a bride to a God who is like a groom. Despite terms of endearment, this relationship is rooted in the violence of patriarchy, where the bride exists under the rod that is not spared. If this bride proves unfaithful, then the groom rains down upon her all forms of domestic abuse.
Consider Ezekiel pronouncement over Jerusalem and Samaria (referred to as Oholah and Oholibah, respectively, in the text) who, because they were unfaithful, are cursed as “playing the whore … lusting after others who were like big-membered donkeys violently ejaculating as stallions” (Ezek. 23:19-20).
Hence, God turns God’s back and allows them to experience “terror and plunder,” as a mob comes to “stone them and cut them down with their swords,” as well as to “kill their sons and daughters and burn down their houses” (Ezek. 23:46-47, NIV). Elsewhere, God empowers nations to invade, pillage and rape God’s chosen, like the Assyrians (1 Chr. 5:26) or the Babylonians (Ezek. 21:11-12).
The lesson is clear: you will be faithful to a merciful God who is your lover or else you deserve a violence steeped in toxic masculinity. Such behavior today would be deemed domestic abuse.
I refuse to serve as an apologist, seeking to save God from God; especially when the text speaks clearly for itself. True students of the Bible must wrestle with these troubling and terrorizing texts. Do you dare to also engage in the wrestling?
Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.