Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan
Before discussing some of those rather odd and difficult Old Testament laws, the author mentions how important it is to understand ancient Near Eastern culture and not judge their standards in the same light as our own. In fact he states, "[R]ather than looking at Scripture from a post-Enlightenment critique...we can observe that Scripture itself acknowledges the inferiority of certain Old Testament standards." (pg. 61) Earlier he claimed that upon observing these people we would see "a culture whose social structures were badly damaged by the fall."
In the discussion section he asks:
1. Is it useful to think of Israel's laws as realistic, "incremental" steps toward the ideal? Is this a serious problem? Why or why not?
He gave the example of bringing democracy to Saudi Arabia and how perhaps many of the residents would balk if we suddenly brought tons of changes to the culture and social structure. He argues that ancient Near Eastern society was brutal and, in a sense, God met the covenant people (i.e.,Children of Israel) half way by raising standards, but not in a drastic, ideal society way. The author says the perfect world was before the fall, but after the fall it was characterized by patriarchy, misogyny, cruelty, slavery, inequality...you get the picture.
2. How does Matthew 19:8...give insight regarding the less-than-ideal legislation in the law of Moses?
It reads: "Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.'"
The OT record shows how Israel was told to do certain things in light of where God moved them. For instance at one point they were used as tools of judgment and told to fight the native inhabitants and take the land of Canaan whereas when they were in exile for their disobedience, God told them to plant gardens, marry and prosper their masters so they,too,would prosper in this foreign place. With that in mind, 3. Do you find the OT full of relativism or situational ethics? Is this a problem or just how life is? Should we live relativistically today or is there a set standard?
The author also discusses how some New Atheists (and really there are many others; I know Muslims who would say the same thing) point out how awful some of the biblical characters are portrayed. 4. In light of this, how important is it to differentiate between is and ought as related to the OT? Is meaning, yes, fallible human beings did this, but it does not mean we ought to live this way. Honestly I feel anyone who reads the Old Testament would get the impression that just because something is recorded doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. The Bible simply shows human nature, warts and all. It's not white-washed history such as I'd expect a proud Jewish nation to record if they were the ones writing their own history and speaking of their national heroes! Perhaps God was behind what was recorded for posterity. We can learn from their mistakes and know not to repeat those awful deeds.
Bonus note from a previous chapter: The author uses Moses and Abraham as examples of faith. Moses as a negative example of one who was given the Law yet failed to demonstrate the kind of faith Abraham displayed without the Law. Moses is a "sobering reminder to legalistically minded Jews that having the law and keeping it scrupulously are inadequate for being right with God. Rather, we're to approach him trustingly, depending on his grace and sufficiency rather than putting confidence in our own sufficiency." (pg. 45)
Any thoughts on that?