Friday, July 6, 2012

Is God Cruelly Vengeful?

In Exodus 32:10, God gets angry at the disobedient crowd that Moses is leading and suggests to Moses that he (God) exterminate the crowd and build a nation from Moses' offspring. After Moses expresses sincere concern over that idea, verse 14 says: "And Jehovah began to feel regret over the evil that he had spoken of doing to his people."

Since Jehovah is perfect and cannot make even a mistaken judgment, how can it be that after Moses appealed to Jehovah, he (Jehovah)  “began to feel regret over the evil that he had spoken of doing”? This is particularly a good mental challenge because an online Jewish Bible of this verse renders this passage as:  “And HaShem [God] repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” 

That would definitely make it sound as if God had done something wrong, which he needed to correct. The version of the Bible that website claims to be using is the Tanakh, which is the Jewish Bible. This includes all the books Christians know as the Hebrew / Aramaic writings (aka “old testament”).

However, I have a copy of the Tanakh that I bought more than 20 years ago. It was printed by The Jewish Publication Society with a copyright of 1985. It renders that verse as: “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring...” This conveys the idea of rescinding an official decree. Further, one of the reference works the online version says it used renders that verse as: “God refrained from doing the evil that He planned for His people.”

Those two works together most probably carry the closest rendering to convey the correct idea to the English reader--God rescinded the decree, held back his decision, calmed his heart. According to W.E. Vine's "Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words," the original Hebrew word, "nacham," meant to have a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of action-plan.

In complete harmony with this research is the comment in the October15, 2010 Watchtower, which states: “In Hebrew, this expression can simply mean that Jehovah did not bring about the calamity he stated that he was inclined to bring upon the whole nation.” It then cites that a similar passage that occurs in Numbers 14:20, which, according to the New World Translation reads: “Then Jehovah said: ‘I do forgive according to your word.’” Yes, Jehovah was moved by Moses' unselfish concern for the peoples and his concern that God's name not be besmeared by those that would wrongly conclude that God's righteous judgment was a sign of weakness--inability to provide for the people and control his temper. Although God was fully justified and capable of carrying out his will either way (to use Moses as a foundation for a new society or continue using the crowd following Moses), as the Watchtower notes, it more likely that God was testing out Moses to see how he would react to the proposition.

So why then do our English Bibles use words & phrases like "felt regret" or  "repented"? There are several possible reasons. The King James version is one that uses the word "repented." Perhaps in the 1600's that word was understood to merely mean a change without implying a wrong that needed to corrected. Another contributing factor is knowing which manuscripts were used in any particular English translation. It is interesting that the NIV uses the word "relented" (to soften or relax) and the Amplified renders it that God "turned from the evil" he had mentioned doing.

All this reminds me of the need each person has to accept the personal responsibility to gain accurate knowledge of God and not merely accept things at the superficial level and thus make wrong conclusions. For me, the basis I examine any confusing scripture on is the belief that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that he is dependable. (Speaking of God's stalwart determination being as solidly fixed as a rock (like the Rock of Gibraltar), Deuteronomy 32:4 says: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, For all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; Righteous and upright is he.”)

Another lesson learned: Although God is Love, and a God merciful, abundant in loving-kindness and slow to anger, he is also a God that exacts justice on those stubbornly wicked. (Exodus 34:6,7) So we would never want to turn God's patience and undeserved kindness into an excuse for behavior that God disapproves. (Jude 4)

No comments:

Post a Comment