By Vexen Crabtree 1999
“But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy  of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them.”
1 Samuel 6:19 [NIV]
The story is that God killed 70 people for looking inside the Ark of the Covenant. There is no further mention of this particular story (i.e., it is self-contained). My question is: how did 70 people look inside the Ark and then get killed? Did they all queue up and wait their turns? Or did they all crowd round like children and then after a few minutes God decided to smite them so?
* Many manuscripts including the Septuagint use the figure 50,070 people, and also some people claim it should read "looked AT the Ark" rather than "IN" it.
What morals does this teach us? That we should not show curiosity? Or what? It certainly doesn't tell us much useful information about morality or justice! Except perhaps, that God doesn't have much of either!
“But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there a wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left.”
Another amazing story with a rather dubious moral foundation. A wall fell on 27000 people and killed them? Really! What an amazing, just god! What nonsense! The story is that one army was retreating from the field of battle into their city.
“Elisha left Jericho to go to Bethel and on the way some boys came out of a town and made fun of him. "Get out of here, Baldy!" they shouted.Elisha turned around, glared at them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys to pieces.”
2 Kings 2:23-24 [NIV]
Eli'sha was travelling to Bethel. Some children insulted him calling him "Baldy" and he cursed them, two she bears then killed 42 of them. Amazing! How is it possible that over FORTY children all insult one person - it's an entire classroom full of children. Not only that but how did TWO bears kill FORTY TWO children? Did they take them by surprise one by one? Didn't the children run away after they killed the first few of them? What are the morals of this story? Is death a suitable punishment for those who take fun of you? Of course not! What happened to the great virtue of humbleness and forgiveness? Eli'sha seems to be highly immoral for cursing them for merely calling him names, and that good OT God is even more immoral for carrying it out in such a way.
And to think they used to allow this book in schools! Good riddance!
“When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 Then David was angry because the Lord's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. 9 David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, "How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?"10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.”
This is quite ridiculous. Like "I shall punish sinners for up to 4 generations", God appears to punish and kill even for things they did not do. The same applies to the very concept of original sin. This is not the actions of a moral God! There's not much I can say about this. It reads like the author/story-teller was trying to simply present his God as very very fearsome, not as moral (sounds more like Satan to me!). God's character is invented by Humans according to their needs.
Numbers 16:16-49 continues with the story of the escaped Israelites. They had been complaining to Moses about the lack of water, sustenance and food in the desert that they have been led to by Moses (also Numbers 21:5-6):
16: Moses commands that 250 of them must come to the tent and present incense at the altar. They do so.
21: God says "stand back from these people, and I will destroy them immediately."
Moses then asks an important moral question:
22: "Moses and Aaron bowed down and said, "O, God, you are the source of all life. When one man sins, do you get angry with the whole community?"
The answer follows:
31-34: The ground under Dathan and Abiram split open and swallowed them and their families, together with all of Korah's followers and their possessions. The earth closed over them, and they vanished. All the people of Israel who were there fled when they heard their cry. They shouted, "Run! The earth might swallow us too!"
35: Then the Lord sent a fire that blazed out and burnt up the 250 men who had presented the incense."
When told to offer incense they did, no doubt wandering what the answer to the complaints would be. They were told they were to be destroyed. The answer to Moses' important question "When one man sins, do you get angry with the whole community?" is apparently, yes. All those who offered incense, as told to by Moses, were killed by a blazing fire.
You would think that that was enough. It only really the worst kind of terrible, murderous psychopathic dictators whom react in such ways to protests. But God wasn't finished yet!
41: The next day the whole community complained against Moses and Aaron and said, "You have killed some of the Lords people" ... then the Lord appears with his customary cloud over the tent.
45: God speaks to Moses, "Stand back from these people, and I will destroy them on the spot!"
So what is happening here is that after 250 people are killed plus a load of families and supporters, the entire community complain. And you would expect that too, if that many people in any community were killed by its leaders. God's repeated punishment for complaining is again, destruction of the complainers. This time round (in versus 46-48) Aaron performs a ritual of purification and stops the plague that the Lord had sent to kill them all.
Mass murder? Killing people for complaining? Death by earth, fire and plague? What is going on? I thought the evil ones were Satanists and the devil? And to bring it to an end, an occult "ritual of purification" is performed to save the people from God's anger. It is hard to see any good in God or Moses, or in any of these stories, at all.
48: This stopped the plague, and he was left standing between the living and the dead. The number of people who died was 14 700.
It then notes that this doesn't count those who died in the previous incident, making the total killed:
250 killed for complaining and then bringing incense when told to plus followers and family who were not numbered.
14 700 killed for complaining about the 250 who were killed.
Which makes this entire escapade (death by earth, fire and plague for complaining) a dead cert for a Top Ten Smiting Certificate.The Flood, which saw God wipe out all of humankind, is neither a good response to being displeased, nor is it even a good moral story symbolically.
The time that God flooded the entire Earth, drowning all living things, animals, humans and plants, is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament, told in the Book of Genesis chapter 6 through 8. The moral of the story is if you regret your relations with a people, you can murder them all, innocent and guilty alike, and start anew (Genesis 6:7,17 - forcing all species to commit incest for many generations, forever damaging their gene pools). The history of the story is false; there has never been a worldwide flood since animal life began. Theologically, it portrays God not as an infallible, all-knowing being, but one that tries things out and regrets making imperfect decisions (Genesis 6:6). This contradicts most people's idea of a monotheistic God. It is clear that the god, and the story, are both more mythological than factual and it has passed from culture to culture over a 5,000 year history, in a gradually changing form. The global deluge as told in Genesis is primarily a cultural story, for entertainment at best. Given the morals it teaches and the shortcomings of God in the story, it could even be a hindrance to spiritual or religious development.
The story became part of the Bible because the myth of a great flood was common in Mesopotamia, and it became a standard part of creation stories. The most convincing historical evidence is when the Black Sea filled with water from the Mediterranean, perhaps drowning and displacing untold numbers of people from that large area - or, if it was a slow event, just displacing them. Either way, it had a large impact on the mythology of all ancient civilisations across the Near East. The first archaeological evidence of a written story of the Flood dates from 3rd millennium BCE
There is plenty of evidence that no such global flood took place. (1) Clear and voluminous historical and archaeological evidence that the flow of life throughout the world has remain undisrupted by such a flood, (2) geological evidence that no such worldwide flood occurred (i.e., no evidence from fossils), (3) there has not been enough time for humankind to re-populate the Earth since the flood, (4) paleontological evidence that was no mass extinction event and (5) tribes settled in the world's continents before the date of the Flood and yet were not wiped out by it. There is also genetic evidence. We can measure the age of genetic lineages and the timescale of how species have branched off from one another. This has given us more evidence against the idea of a global flood: (6) There is no genetic convergence of all genes down to two ancestors of each species (genetics proves the existence of countless interacting families of species with histories thousands of times older than the flood, and continuing through it) and (6) there is no genetic evidence of a period of mass incest.”
“And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.”
Poor education is correlated with war and strife; and yet, when populations in the Old Testament are engaged in struggle, God itself seems to also indulge in barbarism: we in the modern world know too well that pummelling an enemy with missiles from above creates loss and suffering amongst families and communities, and perpetuates conflicts. The enlightened route of a caring, benevolent protector would be not to send missiles at enemies, but to educate them, fight disease and allow stability. "If you're not part of the solution", they say, "then you're part of the problem".
This is part of the wider genocide against the natives of Canaan when the Hebrews invade the region after escaping from Egypt. They are commanded by Joshua.
“It is a story of invaders wiping out an indigenous population. This immoral prejudice is now widely regarded as representing the worst and most unethical periods of Human history. We know it is abhorrent to behave like that. It is still a crime against humanity to behave like that even if you think you're doing it in the name of your religion. But there it is, in the Book of Joshua, teaching us all that if your God tells you to murder, pillage and conquer, then, it is just fine to go ahead and do so. Not only is it fine, but actually you will be punished if you refuse. So now, we see Joshua as a story presenting God as fundamentally immoral: To follow God, you have to abandon Humanitarian ethics. This is one of the greatest problems modern-day readers have with Joshua2.
Some examples from the city of Jericho (chapter 6) and Ai (chapter 8):
“And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. [...] And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.”
“And When Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. [... A]ll that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. [...] And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.”
Joshua 10:10-11, 10:28-32, 10:34-40, 11:6-17,21 contain more of the same, over and over (sometimes with Joshua's forces doing the killing, sometimes God itself doing it directly), with no sense of sadness, regret or pain on behalf of the killers. Kill children and animals with God behind you and there's no need for guilt or doubt.”
“And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.”
No commentary is required: there is little criticism that can add to the scorn that any moral person must feel for the any god which holds such sentiments, or any person who writes about such attributes with pride. As a species, it is simply time to move on and admit that the reason that God had barbaric personality traits is that it was created by barbaric personalities.
Current edition: 1999
Last Modified: 2017 Jul 23
Parent page: Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Holy Bibles Across Different Traditions
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