In discussions surrounding Old Testament ethics—Canaanite “genocide,” imprecatory Psalms, etc.—I have found Meredith Kline’s article “The Intrusion and the Decalogue” to be tremendously helpful. The problem of evil, and this ethical dilemma in particular, was perhaps the biggest stumbling block to me when I was an unbeliever in the church. It may not be helpful to everyone, but if it’s helpful to a few then I think it’s worth the time to highlight it.
The points at issue within Christian circles do not necessarily involve an express denial of God’s omnipotence, his omniscience, or his goodness. I might argue the case below very differently as an apologetic to an unbelieving audience. To those Christians who struggle with Old Testament ethics, the point of contention is often one of consistency—given that God calls murder evil, how can he then command his people to do what is evil? If moral laws reflect his character, what does it mean when those laws circumstantially change (and do they lose their status as laws)?
The whole article by Kline is well worth reading and presents a valuable biblical-theological complement to systematic approaches. I’ll offer some choice statements as a teaser and as Cliffs notes.
- “Creation is not eschatological. But it does provide the pattern for eschatology.”
- “Eschatology antedates redemption.”
- Eschatological delay and common grace are coterminous.
- Eschatological consummation and common grace are mutually exclusive.
- There is an eschatological intrusion of the power, principles, and reality of the Consummation into the covenant of grace, both in the OT and the NT.
- The Consummation is the permanent core, manifested but veiled through earthly, temporary patterns.
- “Christ and his kingdom is still in the category of Intrusion rather than perfect Consummation, as is signalized by the fact that the New Testament age is still characterized by Common Grace, the epitome of the [eschatological] delay.”
- Some OT types find their antitype in the NT, others find their antitype in the not-yet world to come.
- Typology is primarily eschatological and secondarily pedagogical.
- “There is a marked difference between the relevance of the Intrusion concept in the application of the first and second tables of the decalogue.”
- Under the theocratic intrusion in the OT and looking ahead to the Consummation, death is prescribed for violations of some moral laws, unlike in the non-theocratic NT.
- “The ordinary state had no more authority in the OT than in the NT period to enforce the first table.”
- “The laws of the second table are subject to change in their application because the relations they govern are subject to change.”
- “The unbeliever is the believer’s neighbor today; but the reprobate is not the neighbor of the redeemed hereafter for the reason that God will set a great gulf between them.”
On Imprecatory Psalms:
- Regarding imprecatory Psalms, the welfare of man is not the chief end of man; the prayer itself is altogether proper since it is divinely inspired.
- “During the historical process of differentiation which Common Grace makes possible, before the secret election of God is unmistakably manifested at the great white throne, the servants of Christ are bound by His charge to pray for the good of those who despitefully use and persecute them.”
- “What is required is that we cease stumbling over this as though it were a problem and recognize it as a feature of the divine administration of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament which displays the sovereign authority of the Covenant God.”
On the conquest of Canaan:
- “It will only be with the frank acknowledgment that the ordinary standards were suspended and the ethical principles of the last Judgment intruded that the divine promises and commands to Israel concerning Canaan and the Canaanites come into their own and the Conquest can be justified and seen as it was in truth — not murder, but the hosts of the Almighty visiting upon the rebels against His righteous throne their just deserts — not robbery, but the meek inheriting the earth.”
On the command to sacrifice Isaac:
- “As God gave a special meaning to one of the trees of the garden, which it did not possess according to the ordinary constitution of things, making it the tree of forbidden fruit; as God gave a peculiar significance to certain meats in the ceremonial of the Old Testament, making them unclean; so now God effectively redefined the life of Isaac, making it the life to be sacrificed.
- God had not intended to interpret Isaac’s life as the life which must actually be sacrificed, but only to try Abraham, whether he would by faith recognize God’s right to do so.
On the command for Hosea to marry a prostitute:
- In this case there is intruded the principle operative when a Bride formed from a multitude of defiled sinners is received by Christ as His own.
In each of these cases, the abstract ethical principle revealed to us by God himself must not trump his revelatory, express command.
Finally, these issues should spur us to evangelize our present neighbor:
“The recognition that the hour cometh when it will be our duty to hate the unbeliever must not diminish and ought to intensify our efforts to show him the love of Christ in the hour that now is.”