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Disobedience and the Bible

What does the Old Testament Say about Disobedience?


God’s focus upon obedience was certainly not limited to children following the commands of parents. This god handed down a lot of laws — some of which even today appear reasonable and others which, as we have seen, are beyond any modern merits. So what was this god’s policy towards those who might question or even disobey his commands? What happens to someone who thinks that maybe women, children, and even strangers should be treated a bit better than this particular god decrees?

Chapter 26 in Leviticus gives a thorough explanation of what awaits both those who obey and those who disobey. The worst is perhaps Lev. 26:29, where it is declared to potential troublemakers that should they fail to toe the line, “You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.”

And what about someone who finds the commands of this alleged god to be as abhorrent as we find them, and suggests going off and finding a more amenable god? Deuteronomy 16 informs us that even if this person is “your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend,” your duty is clear:

    ...you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.

Death is the only option for such a person. And in the last sentence we see an addition which has appeared before: the penalty is designed to create fear among the rest of the population in order to keep everyone else in line. Humans have always ruled each other at least in part by fear — after all, fear can be a very strong motivating factor. Unfortunately, it is a dangerous motivator — fearful animals, even humans, can be unpredictable.

Regardless of that, however, which is more reasonable: that very typical humans created all of these laws in an attempt keep people in line and preserve their power by fear and intimidation, pretending to attribute the rules to a powerful god who would enforce them? Or that a loving god who created all of humanity instituted barbaric laws based upon death and fear so that some of its creations could rule over others?

Skeptics, nonbelievers and more liberal believers will be more likely to vote with the former. It should be clear to a reasonable observer that these laws are simply an expression of their time. From our perspective it was a barbaric age — so of course we’ll find barbaric laws. Some will certainly object to this article by pointing out that there are other laws which aren’t so bad - indeed, which are quite good.

They’d be right, because there are such laws, such as the command in Leviticus 19:15 which states that “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.” But that isn’t really an objection to this article, because I am not showing that the Old Testament laws are wholly evil and without redeeming quality.

Instead, what I am showing — and have shown, I believe — is that there are laws which are simply too much an expression of a barbaric age to be anything but a human creation. They are inconceivably a product of an all-loving, infinite god - and any god which could have decreed them is unworthy of respect, much less worship.

Conservative and fundamentalist believers, however, cannot manage to accept the idea that their bible is a very human creation, with both good and evil human qualities showing through. For them, it is ultimately a divine creation and, in essence, wholly good. There is nothing wrong with it except insofar as fallen, sinful humans misread it. The laws described here should, however, make it clear that there is equally as much “sin” in having such laws as there might be in enforcing them.

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