Why Did God Order Sinners to Be Burned to Death?

In Leviticus 20:14 we read: “If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you.” Leviticus 21:9 gives the same punishment for sexual immorality: “And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by whoring, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.” Critics of the Bible argue that these verses prove that the God of Scripture is a cruel tyrant who is unworthy of worship. If any nation today prescribed being burned to death for prostitution, we would say that nation is barbaric and levy sanctions against it. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment and no politician living today would ever advocate that we should burn criminals to death. Theological liberals evade the force of this argument by denying that these words come from God. They instead believe that these words reflect the beliefs of sinful Israel instead of Jesus. But Paul taught that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even if not all of it is binding on us today (2 Tim 3:16).

God gave this law to Israel for two reasons: as a deterrent so that no one would ever commit these sins and to paint a picture of hell which is what every sin deserves. The harsh laws of the ancient Near East were designed to keep people from ever thinking about breaking them. If the penalty is death for these sexual sins, then that severely limits the number of people who would dare break them. The law terrifies us because it shows us the penalty for breaking God’s law. The law of God is a reflection of his holiness and righteousness which cannot change. The law exposes us as sinners who stand under the sentence of God’s wrath (Rom 3:19-20). God’s law shows us our need of salvation. As Christians, we interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. These civil laws were designed specifically for national Israel living in their historical context as God’s chosen people. America is not God’s chosen people Israel. Because we are not Israel, the civil laws of Israel are not binding on us.

This command would be unjust if there is no future hell awaiting unrepentant sinners. A temporary fire which lasts for a moment is nothing compared to the eternal fire of hell. If a person has a moral objection to God’s command that certain heinous sins be punished with fire, then they certainly will have a problem with hell which is a fire that never ends. Liberals who do not believe that these commands come from God have no basis upon which to believe that the verses which teach on hell come from God either since hell is much worse than being burned to death. God commanded this penalty for certain types of sexual immorality because those who are sexually immoral will have their part in the lake of fire (Rev 21:8; 22:15).

But in an atheist universe, on what basis is it wrong to burn someone to death? There is no objective moral law binding on all people apart from God. Murder is wrong from a Christian perspective because murder is the taking of innocent human life and only God has the authority to take life. In order for life to be taken by the government, God must entrust the government with this authority and no government today is the same as Old Testament Israel. In order to say that it is wrong to burn someone to death, the atheist must borrow from the Christian worldview. It is only because people are made in the image of God that they have dignity and are distinct from animals. God’s Word alone provides an unchangeable basis for treating others the way we would want to be treated. Where God’s existence is denied, the government replaces God.

Sunday Meditation – God’s Deputy

“Our conscience is a silent reasoning of the mind that approves with delight that which we judge good, and disapproves with grief that which is evil. God has placed this in all men as a tribunal. It pries into all our actions both towards God and man. Everything of duty and sin is the object of the conscience. There is no way to get rid of your conscience. The wicked try to extinguish it. They flatter it with carnal reasoning, bribe it with mock devotions, wound it with heinous provocations and trample it under foot by sinning in spite of it. They run from it, and will not listen to it. They seek to blind it by divisions, yet it is still active. The conscience can stir the heart to see sin, perhaps forty years ago, as if it was yesterday. Even emperors of the world are troubled. Why don’t they shake it off? Is it the fear of men or shame? No! It was a secret sin. They are haunted by the fury of their own consciences. Even the atheist cannot relieve himself of God’s deputy, the conscience. Your conscience is your best friend. There is no greater riches, pleasure, or safety, than a good conscience. Christians, help your conscience to do its work. In weighty matters it will direct you that you do not err. You shall never lack the Spirit’s guidance as you seek to follow his leading. How shall we get a good conscience? Take heed of every sin, and do not count any small. Renew repentance every day, being serious and frequent in heart examination. Live as under God’s eye. All things are bare before him. Be much in secret prayer. Consider every action as a part of your life purpose. Enjoy Christ more and entertain good thoughts of God. Whatever you do, do it out of love for God.”

Samuel Annesley

Hell Is Not Locked from the Inside

C. S. Lewis once said, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside” (The Problem of Pain, 130). Lewis was heavily influenced by the universalist George MacDonald but wrote that he could not agree with him on universal salvation: “I parted company from MacDonald on that point because a higher authority – the Dominical utterances themselves – seemed to me irreconcilable with universalism” (David Mills, The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, 253). While Lewis was not a universalist himself, his idea that hell is locked from the inside has been used by universalists to argue for a kind of purgatorial hell that people can choose to leave of their own free will. This has become the standard response of universalists to those passages in the Bible which mention hell. But hell is not locked from the inside.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches that no one can leave hell to enter heaven: “And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’” (Luke 16:23-26). There is a great gulf fixed between heaven and hell. Universalism is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus and the rest of Scripture (Matt 16:26; 18:8-9; 25:30, 41-46; 26:24; Mark 9:47-48; 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 1:7, 13; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10-15; 21:8; 22:15).

The belief that hell is locked from the inside undermines how horrible hell is. The Bible uses the language of fire, burning sulfur, smoke, darkness, and torment to picture hell. The rich man in Luke 16 is depicted as wanting to leave the torment of hell but unable to do so. If hell is locked from the inside, then the rich man would have unlocked that door. If the rich man had no desire to leave hell and enter heaven, then why does Abraham bother to tell him that there is a great gulf fixed between the two so that those who want to leave hell cannot? But from Lewis’ perspective, there is no one in hell who wants to do this. Those in hell have no desire to worship the one true God, but that does not mean they have no desire to leave. If they were to enter heaven, their sin would defile it (Rev 21:27). As Charles Spurgeon once said, “A change of nature [is] absolutely necessary, for if a thief went to heaven without it, he would be a thief still, and would go round the place picking the angels’ pockets.” They do not want to enter heaven to worship God, but to escape suffering. In hell, their rebellion is contained and their sin can no longer disturb the people of God (Rev 22:11, 15). The lost do not stop sinning when they enter hell. Only those who are in the Spirit can do that which is pleasing to God (Rom 8:7-9). Only those who have been glorified can cease from sin by loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matt 22:37; Rom 8:29; 1 John 3:2).

The mistake that is being made by both Lewis and the universalists is their precommitment to man’s libertarian free will. They believe it would be unfair for those in hell to desire something that could not be given to them. For the universalist, if those in hell desire to leave and enter heaven, then God must allow them to out of respect for their free will. For Lewis, those in hell must not want to enter heaven and would rather remain in torment than to surround themselves with the sights and sounds of the worship of God. Though they begin with the same starting premise, they come to radically different conclusions regarding the wills of those who are in hell.

But if man’s will is not absolute, then we can imagine a place that corresponds with the hell of Luke 16 where those who are in it do not get what they want. Those in hell receive perfect justice for their sins, not the freedom to do whatever they want. What makes hell so horrible is that those who dwell in it can do nothing to change their fate. Their punishment is eternal because they have sinned against an infinite and eternal God. But the good news of the gospel is that today is the day of salvation for all who trust in Christ alone for salvation (2 Cor 6:2). Put your faith in him and what he did for sinners when he died and rose again (Rom 10:9-13). No sin is worth an eternity of torment in hell.

Sunday Meditation – Do Not Undervalue Christ

“You are unkind when you undervalue Christ: when you do not see enough value in him to take time to seek him, and show higher esteem for things of little worth; when outward enjoyments, relations and interests claim more of your thoughts and affections that Christ; when any object is more lovely, any happiness more desirable, and enjoyment more delightful than Christ’s presence, and when any suffering is more fearful than Christ’s absence or displeasure. When he comes will you send him away without admission? Will you refuse and weary him with denials and excuses? Are you so busily employed in the world that you cannot, or will not come? How often are we guilty of this! Love him in his person, his excellencies, his loveliness, and not just for what you can get out of him. Seeking only to get is a selfish love, and comes short of true friendship. His is not a true friend who loves you only for what he expects to get from you. His love to us counted nothing too hard, or too expensive, or too hazardous, or too grievous. Let us cross our carnal inclinations to follow him in painful and costly service.”

David Clarkson

The Historicity of the Fall of Jericho

The majority of archaeologists living today do not believe that the walls of Jericho miraculously fell down as described in Joshua 6:20-24. Based on the research of Kathleen Kenyon, they believe that modern archaeology has disproven that the city of Jericho fell when the Israelites entered the land because the city had already been destroyed by the time Israel arrived. The archaeologist Bryant G. Wood has challenged this criticism of the Bible through his own archaeological work that will be summarized in this response.

The following evidence favors the Bible’s chronology of the events of the destruction of Jericho: 1. The shards of pottery found in the ruins of City IV match those made during the 15th century. 2. The scarab beetles found in the graveyard of the city have written on them the names of Hatshepsut (1507-1458), Tuthmosis III (1504-1425), and Amenhotep III (1386-1349). 3. The jars filled with grain left in the rubble indicate that the city fell suddenly without a long siege and not all the spoils were taken. 4. The city was burned to the ground as indicated by layers of ash found in the ruins and the fire damage on the jars of grain.

The conclusion that the city of Jericho had already been destroyed by the time Israel arrived is based on Kenyon’s excavation of a small part of the city in the 1950s in which she failed to find any foreign Cypriot pottery which was common at the time of the exodus in 1446 BC. But this conclusion ignores the dating of the local pottery found in City IV and the Cypriot pottery that had already been found in the city by John Garstang in the 1930s. Because Kenyon overlooked the Cypriot pottery that had already been found in the city by Garstang, she came to the wrong conclusion. If she had known about this earlier discovery, then she could not have used the absence of Cypriot pottery as an argument against the dating of Jericho’s destruction in the Bible. This is why when doing research, we must first fully analyze the discoveries of those came before us before doing our own work. Sometimes, the research has already been done for us and we just need to know where to look.

The differences of opinion on the date of Jericho’s destruction illustrate the importance of presuppositions. All archaeologists look at the same body of evidence, but how they interpret that evidence is based on the lens of their worldview. Since many archaeologists living today do not believe in miracles, they are more likely to agree with those conclusions which support their worldview. Even though Wood has revealed that Garstang found evidence of Cypriot pottery in Jericho before Kenyon did her research, the majority of archaeologists continue to believe in Kenyon’s dating of Jericho’s destruction even though the basis upon which Kenyon came to her conclusions has been disproven. Because people have already made up their mind that the walls of Jericho did not miraculously fall down, the evidence to the contrary is dismissed or ignored. When searching for the truth, people tend to agree with those who advocate positions that confirm the beliefs they already have. Because of the effects of sin, we are prone to self-deception and will accept illegitimate arguments not based on facts. People are comfortable in the echo chamber they have built for themselves. There the voice of truth is drowned out by the viciously circular quest to be proven right all along.

Sunday Meditation – No Good Thing

“The people of God only only lack what is bad for them. God has promised to withhold no good thing. A father who loves his child only keeps things from him for his good, because he loves him. You can conclude that if you lack something of enjoyment, it is withheld since it is not best for you. It is no defect in the love Christ, but a defect in what you are asking for. God’s love is infinite and eternal, without beginning and without end. It has no limits to its endurance. How shall we enter into Christ’s love? Seek to be like him in holiness and obey all his commands. Avoid all that Christ hates and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. When Christ speaks, do not act as if you did not hear. Where there is disobedience, there is a covenant with hell and a league with Satan. O what madness it is to prefer a lust before the love of Christ. Use all means to know his will, and obey it immediately and cheerfully. God loves a cheerful doer.”

David Clarkson

How Could God Command People to Kill Others?

God is the one who gives and takes life. As 1 Samuel 2:6 says, “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” He can choose to take us out of the world any time he wants (Deut 32:39; Job 1:21; 12:10; 14:5; 34:14-15; Isa 45:7; Lam 3:38; Dan 5:23). He is sovereign over life and over death. Murder is wrong because only God has the authority to take life. Because only God gives life, only God has the right to take life. To kill an innocent person is to usurp the authority only God has and put ourselves in the place of God. Because only God has the right to take life, how could it ever be just for one person to kill another? On what basis could God order someone to kill another person?

One principle we must take into consideration when answering this question is that it is essential to distinguish between those who are innocent and those who are deserving of death. Murder is the taking of innocent life, not all life. Lying is not telling the truth to those to whom the truth is owed, not all acts of deception. God commanded that those who murder be put to death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). All men have dignity and value because they are made in the image of God unlike animals who can be killed for food. It is exactly because man has value that murderers must be punished with death so that the punishment fits the crime. Destroying the image of God is a crime worthy of the greatest punishment.

God commanded Israel to kill the Canaanites because of the greatness of their sins (Deut 18:9-14). It is just for Israel to kill pagan idolaters in warfare because they are great sinners deserving of death. God allowed for the Israelites to use lethal force to defend themselves against thieves (Exod 22:2). The failure to distinguish between those who are innocent and those who are guilty leads to much of the confusion surrounding this question. Everyone whom God has ever ordered to be put to death was either someone deserving of death or in corporate solidarity with those who deserved to die. As in the case of Achan, everyone who was associated with him had to die for the guilt to be purged from Israel (Josh 7:24-26). But this extreme example is an exception to the general rule that children are not to be put to death with their parents (Deut 24:16).

God is just to order human government to kill those who are deserving of death because the government is an extension of God’s sovereignty when it is acting on his behalf (Rom 13:1-6; 1 Pet 2:13-14). When God tells the government to shed the blood of men who are guilty of murder, the government is acting as God’s instrument. It is not human government who is ultimately taking life, but God who is doing so through them. The government is not sinning when it takes the lives of those who are evil because it is fulfilling the Word of God. Only God can take life, but he has delegated this authority to the government. God has also revealed in his Word that it is appropriate to take life when necessary to protect the innocent from those who try to kill them (Neh 4:13-14; Esth 8:11; Ps 82:4; Prov 24:11; Acts 7:24). In these situations, the one who takes life is exercising an authority delegated to him by God. It is only just for man to take the life of another man in specific situations where God has revealed that doing so is appropriate. In such cases, it is God who is taking life through the means he has ordained.