I often say that if I had it to do over, I would have been an archeologist. I love research, especially when it comes to digging into the past. That’s what I loved about traveling to Israel – there is so much past to walk through, so much to be touched and experienced there if you give yourself over to your imagination.
Recently, after reading an article posted in Biblical Archeology Society, I am rethinking that do-over. In my current position, there is a lot of tension and frustration in just trying to get my job done. After reading this article, I am thinking it would be more of the same, taking all the joy out of what I love to do.
The article, authored by Associate Professor T.M. Lemos asks the question “Did the Ancient Israelites Think Children Were People?” Her conclusion, based on the bible, is a resounding ‘no’.
In discussing the Exodus story, the professor shares how her students discussed all those firstborn babies that were killed. Did you catch that distinction? Did they not read the passage? It wasn’t just ‘babies’ that died, but all first born.
“This is what Adonai says: At around midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die—from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the maidservant behind the mill, along with all the firstborn cattle.” Exodus 11:4-5
The focus is on human babies, not the truth that God’s own words (or as the professor would say, “the Israelites views of their deity”) explain that His desire is for the Egyptians to know that He is God. All ten plagues address the ten major deities of the Egyptians, including Pharaoh, who believed himself to be a god.
In Rabbi David Forhman’s five-part video series on the Exodus, he presents the idea that God’s desire was to bring not only Israel to Mt Sinai but Egypt as well (just as had happened when Jacob died and Joseph brought him to Machpelah). Why? Because God is love and desires relationship with all His creation.
When we look at the Hebrew Scriptures through a legalistic lens, we see a bloody mess. We see acceptance of killing, babies with no personhood, enemies as sheep to the slaughter, and women and children as spoils of war to do with as we please.
Some people have looked at the ‘God of the Old Testament’ saying he condoned slavery. Did he?
When we add His character of love back into the mix, we understand that He saw an atrocity man was perpetrating on his fellow man and put a stop to it by laying out boundaries that His children should not cross.
The professor brings up the law of damages and uses it to support her view that babies had no personhood, as they were assigned a monetary value.
In ‘Growth through Torah’ Mishpotim, we read,
“The foundation of the laws pertaining to damages is the mitzvah (commandment) of loving our fellow man. When you care about others, you will be careful not to do anything that will cause them damage or suffering. When kind and compassionate people study these laws they do not think in terms of how much money they will have to pay, but in terms of what they can do to avoid causing others loss or pain.” (Page 193)
The spirit of the Torah is love because God is love. This concern for fellow man is the spirit of the Torah. Those who follow the letter of the Law will be concerned only what breaking it will cost them. The love of God and His Law, however, will be concerned for others.
We often have difficulty with many passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, like when God commands the Israelites to wipe out a people. When we understand that God is love, we understand that He is not doing so out of hatred, but protection. Not just protection for Israel, but all mankind, as Israel is called to be a light to the nations.
Though we – all mankind – were created for a love relationship with God, we so easily walk away from love and into hate. Just look at our society today – our schools and our government. The last presidential election sparked such venom in friends I never thought of as hateful and hurtful.
Now I’m not pointing fingers at anyone without full knowledge that I’ve got three pointing right back at me. I know all too well how easy it is for me to slip from a great conversation focused on good things into a bashing session, whether of people or situations.
Associate Professor Lemos goes on to quote scripture after scripture of how the Israelites saw their deity with little regard for children, punishing them for sins they didn’t commit. She went on to say that “a text or two even portrays Yahweh as threatening the Israelites with catastrophes so severe that they would devour their own children” and how child sacrifice actually worked (failing to mention that it wasn’t the Israelites who sacrificed the child, but the enemy).
There are scores of verses that show God is very concerned with children and how they are treated. However, Lemos dismisses these as ‘a longing for progeny’ rather than protective of children and their rights.
When we look at the verses referenced by Lemos with regard to ‘eating children’, we see that God was giving the Israelites a warning, not a threat. He warned them that if they did not turn away from their wicked ways and back to Him and His guidelines for right living, things would get so bad, that they would end up eating their children. It is the disobedient Israelites, not ‘their deity’, who took away the personhood of children.
The author ends with a warning:
“today’s teenagers had better hope that their parents look somewhere other than the Good Book for guidance on what to do with them when they find that cheap bottle of vodka stowed away under the piles of dirty laundry.”
This is the opinion of most that do not see the God of the Israelites as a God of love.
When we leave behind the Hebrew Scriptures, when we reduce their importance lifting the Apostolic Scriptures above them, we lose sight of the God of the Hebrews – the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
We no longer see Yeshua and God as one. We no longer give value to His statements ‘I and the Father are one’ and ‘If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father’. In essence, we become heretics like Marcion who taught that Jesus saved us from the God of the Old Testament.
I urge you, my friends, to go back and read the Hebrew Scriptures with a lens of understanding that Yeshua and Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh are the same. Once you do, you will never again see the Father as One who you need to be saved from but saved to.
God is love. When we refuse to remove His character from the Hebrew Scriptures, as some might teach us to do, the whole of Torah calls out with Yeshua, “Follow me – my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I am here to give you life in abundance. Love God. Love man.”