“You Reap What You Sow”: Violence in the Old Testament Part 6
In my last article I looked at the nature of God and sin as a reason for the need of judgment (I would encourage you to read or reread that article before continuing, as many of the ideas presented there are important for the discussion here). In this article I will provide a second reason for judgment. The easiest way to sum up this response is with the biblical teaching “You reap what you sow” (e.g., 1 Kgs. 2:32; Hos. 8:7; Gal. 6:8). Although many passages declare that God brings judgment on wicked human beings, the Bible also teaches that sinful people experience the consequences of their own choices, bringing judgment on themselves. Perhaps one of the clearest statements of this principle is found in Psalm 7:14-16: “Behold the wicked brings forth iniquity; Yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood. He made a pit and dug it out, and has fallen into the ditch which he made. His trouble shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down on his own crown” (NKJV).
Proverbs, Esther and the Theme “You Reap What You Sow”
Previously I noted that, since God is the Author and Giver of life, any choice that excludes God is a choice of death. If this logic is pursued, then it becomes clear that we bring judgment on ourselves by making the wrong choices. This idea is stated clearly throughout the Book of Proverbs. One of the best examples concerns the speech of Lady Wisdom in chapter 8. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom claims to have been with the Lord before the creation of the world, as well as present at creation (Prov.. 8:22-31). Everything said in these verses parallels what we previously established about God’s Word (see Part 5 of this series). It is not surprising then when Wisdom states, “For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:35-36–italics are mine for emphasis).
Stories in the Old Testament frequently illustrate this theme. In fact, some of the acts of violence which are recorded are not acts sanctioned by God, and this violence results in the culprit(s) experiencing the principle: “You reap what you sow.” The story of Haman, recorded in the book of Esther, is an example of this. Haman hated a man named Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther, because Mordecai would not bow down before him and show him the proper respect he thought he deserved (Esth. 3:1-6). As a result, Haman planned to have Mordecai hung on the gallows he had constructed, as well as have the Jewish people massacred (Esth. 3:8-15; 5:14). In the end Haman’s plan was uncovered and he was hanged on his own gallows (Esth. 7:4-10).
The Flood and the Theme “You Reap What You Sow”
Although the story of the Flood is portrayed in Genesis as God’s judgment on His creation (Gen. 6:7), there is another sense in which humans bring judgment upon themselves. Last time we noticed that Genesis 1 teaches that the Word of God created structure and order out of what was “formlessness and void” (Gen. 1:2) resulting in a good creation (Gen. 1:31). We also noted that sin is a disregard of God’s Word which results in crossing over, or destruction of, the good boundaries He has put in place. The example of a house with walls, doors, and structural beams was used as an analogy to illustrate that order and structure are necessary for a quality existence. To commit sin is similar to knocking out the beams and walls that hold the structure in place. When enough damage is done, the roof caves in. The story of the Flood is told similarly.
Genesis 6:1-6 describes the growth of sin in God’s creation until it is said, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5–my emphasis). The description continues in verses 11-12 stating, “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Gen. 6:11-12). In other words, all of the good order and structure that God had built into His original Creation had eroded away. Instead of the good quality of life that God had created, there was only violence and corruption. As a result of humans kicking out all of the God-given structure that God had put in place, the roof caved in on them and the ground gave way beneath them (Gen. 7:11). If this seems like stretching the language a bit, all one needs to do is check out the language of Genesis 7 (a good modern commentary such as Kenneth A. Mathews, “Genesis 1:-11:26” vol. 1 New American Commentary, p. 376 is also helpful). Genesis 7 purposely recalls the language of Creation in Genesis 1 using similar expressions found there (e.g., Gen. 7:14–”every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, etc. Compare Gen. 1:24-25). The difference is that the language of the Creation story occurs in reverse order in Genesis 7 until the world returns to the formlessness and void of Genesis 1:2. The message is clear: not only has God judged His creation, human beings through their sin, have “reaped what they had sown.”
This message comes through in another way in Genesis 6. After God tells Noah in verses 11-12 that the earth is “filled with violence” and “corrupt,” He pronounces judgment on it by saying in Genesis 6:13, “for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold I will corrupt (NKJV reads “destroy”) them with the earth.” In other words, God uses the same word to speak of destroying the earth that describes the sin of the people. There are two potential messages here: 1) God’s judgment is fair; Just as people “corrupted” the earth through sin, so He “corrupts” it in judgement; and 2) people have brought judgment down upon themselves. By using the same verb for judgment that describes peoples’ sin, the Bible is declaring, “You reap what you sow.”
When God Takes His Hand Off the Wheel
Another way of looking at this biblical teaching is by saying that God simply takes His hand off of the controls and allows people to experience the consequences of their actions. Again, this is much like a parent who has warned their child to no avail, and finally realizes that they will only learn by experiencing the consequences of their actions. Some will object that the consequences God allows are more severe than what a parent would allow. However, this objection fails to take into account two important factors: 1) the destructive nature of sin (which we established in the previous article leads to death); and 2) the matter of human freewill. Ultimately a parent is helpless if their child exercises free will by destroying their lives with drinking, drugs, or suicide. So it is not true that a parent would not allow their child to experience serious consequences. Sometimes they have no choice! Sin has its consequences and neither a parent or God can prevent those consequences when someone is determined to go in a deadly direction. As we previously established, departure from the God of life, results in death. If God stopped a person from making decisions that led to harmful consequences, then the atheist would complain that God is unfair for not allowing free will. If God allows free will, then He is considered a moral monster for allowing the choices that people freely make to destroy themselves and others. Either way, God cannot win!
Romans 1 and the Theme “You Reap What You Sow”
Romans 1 is an example of the principle we have been talking about. This passage is particularly important for what it teaches about the nature of free will and God’s wrath. In Romans 1:18 Paul’s discussion begins with the statement: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” When we hear the words “wrath of God” we immediately expect to read of God sending thunderbolts or other calamities to “let people have it” for disobeying Him. In fact, what Paul says, and this is repeated three times, is that “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). In other words, those who don’t want to follow God and insist on going their own way are permitted to do so. This permissiveness of God is an expression of His wrath according to Paul! God simply allows people to do what they want to do and to reap the consequences for their actions. This is then a passive way in which God’s wrath is expressed. God actually does nothing. He takes His hand off and allows us to do what we want. Since what we want has nothing to do with God, the Giver of life, then our choice leads to death (Rom. 1:18-32). This is the same message then that was taught in the Old Testament and once again it can be summed up in the statement: “You reap what you sow.”
Even though this all sounds like bad news, we must not forget the context of grace in which even God’s judgments are set (see Part 4 of this series). The good news is that God has provided a way to escape the power of sin and death (e.g., Rom. 7:24-25). God gives us the freedom to choose, for love must involve freedom of choice. However, the story of Scripture is that whenever people have chosen the path that leads to death, God has always graciously provided a way back to the path of life. That remedy is the free gift of His Son Jesus (Rom. 6:23) and it is received when we repent. Repentance means we turn from the path of death we are on, and turn back to God and the path of life He has illumined for us by His Word.
Near the beginning of this article, I mentioned that a number of the acts of violence spoken of in Scripture are not sanctioned by God. Atheists often refer to such passages claiming that the Bible endorses violence. I will take a closer look at this idea in the next installment of “Violence in the Old Testament.”