One common objection to the proposal I am making in my series on how to understand the violence of God in the Old Testament (see the link list below) is that this view seems to make God out to be a liar.
The objection is this: If God inspired the biblical authors to record that He is doing and commanding things that He is actually not doing or commanding, doesn’t this mean that God is lying? But Scripture says that God does not lie (Num 23:19). So how can God inspire biblical authors to write that He commanded Israel to do things that He did not actually command them to do? As with the previous objection, there are a few things that can be said in response.
If God Did Commit Violence, Then Jesus is a Liar
First, we can turn the question around. It seems that if God truly is violent, then the real lie is in Jesus claiming to fully reveal God to us, but not showing or revealing any of the murderous and bloody violence that so characterized God in the Old Testament. Take for example, John 14:9-11. Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father,” and in response Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
But if God truly does have a violent and bloody side then Jesus was being deceptive, for nowhere in His life or ministry did He reveal God as someone who goes to war against His enemies or commands the genocide of people who do not love or obey Him.
If there is a dark side to God, it was certainly hidden in Jesus during His ministry, which means that when Jesus tells Philip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” what He really meant was “You haven’t fully seen the Father; only the loving side.” If God really is violent, but Jesus revealed none of this violence, then the real lie is Jesus hiding this side of God from us so that He appeared more loving and gracious than He truly is.
If someone believes that God truly is violent, the burden of proof lies on them to explain how Jesus fully reveals God to us but fails to reveal the violent and bloody side of God’s nature. If Jesus is the exact representation of God and is the image of the invisible God (John 1:14, 18; 14:9-11; 2 Cor 4:4; Php 2:6; Col 1:15; Heb 1:2-3), but during His life and ministry never revealed the aspect of God as a warrior, then there are only two options: either God is not a warrior and Jesus did truly reveal the Father to us, or Jesus was being deceptive.
This is even more true in the instances where Jesus tells His disciples that rather than go to war with their enemies, they should love their enemies, pray for them, and bless them (cf. Matt 5:43-48). If there is a side of God that wanted to kill His enemies, harm them, and curse them, then Jesus was being deceptive in His revelation of God.
In Luke 9:54 when the disciples ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven to burn up a Samaritan village, but Jesus rebukes them for doing so (9:55), Jesus was being deceptive if there was truly a side of God which would have condoned and even commanded such behavior.
So the first way to respond to the objection that God was lying in the Old Testament is to say that if God truly does have a violent side, then Jesus was lying.
God Looks Guilty Because God Takes Responsibility
In the Old Testament, when God looks like He is behaving in ways that do not match the nature and character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, this is not because God is being deceptive, but because God is taking the sins of His people upon Himself just as Jesus did on the cross.
And this is not deceptive.
It is not a lie for God to take the sins of His people upon Himself. Why not? Because although God is not guilty for these things, nor did He want them to happen, He nevertheless views Himself as ultimately responsible for what goes on in this world. How? Because He created a world where such sin and horror was possible.
In a way, God truly is guilty. How? Because He made a world where horrible sin and nightmarish tragedy was possible. So when the nightmare began, God took the blame, and through divine responsibility, took it upon Himself to make the nightmare stop.
Ultimately, God pled guilty for the sins of the world, and paid the penalty on the cross by dying a sinner’s death. One of my favorite theologians put it this way: Jesus “dies as a criminal, under the curse of the Law—as if to say, ‘Look, I’m as guilty as you are in this situation because I set it up in the first place; let’s just forget about blame and get on with the party” (Capon, The Mystery of Christ, 34).
God is not lying to take the sins of Israel upon Himself. Quite to the contrary, He is being true to what Jesus has taught us about God.