What Can We Learn from False gods of the Bible?

There are some things that are just not up for debate when it comes to deciding what to believe as Christians. One of those things is that there is only one God.There are not household gods, city gods, and gods for different parts of nature and culture. There is only one God (Deut 6:4). There are many things we can disagree on and have different opinions about. But as Christians this is something we must all agree on. The moment you say there are multiple “gods” running around and Jehovah God is just one amongst many you lose the very essence of Christianity because you put God in competition for authority with others and scripture makes it clear that is not the case.

You probably learned in school about ancient mythology and the gods of the Greeks. There were different gods with different areas of responsibility. You have the god of war and the goddess of wisdom. The same was true of other ancient cultures including many cultures that surrounded and were concomitant with the ancient Hebrews. The Egyptians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Persians, and many others celebrated and worshiped multiple gods. For instance, you remember when Cyrus became king of Persia and he sent the Jews back to Israel and reversed their exile/captivity. He wasn’t just being a nice guy. His belief was that if he could let all these nations the now conquered Babylonians had dispersed all over the place go back home and worship their gods on their own soil that his kingdom would prosper and that the gods would show him favor.

The importance of studying contemporary culture:
We see this reflected in scripture in many places. In fact, having a cursory understanding of how the surrounding cultures viewed their “gods” can have a dramatic impact on how we read and understand scripture. Like any document we study, it is important to try to understand their culture so that we can try to hear things like they heard them. When we do that, many texts we have read many times will sound different to us and meanings we never noticed before will jump out at us because we are hearing the text with an understanding of their own background.

How did cultures develop the idea of multiple gods?
It all comes down to power/control and survival. Strip away all your ideas of science and scripture and stand in a time 6000 years ago where man is doing what man has always tried to do – understand and make sense of the world around him. The number one concern is survival. The number one means of survival is food. The factors that make having food abundant include factors out of our control (sun, rain, etc). Logically, if man is dependent on food for survival and the food/crops are dependent on sun and rain for survival then wouldn’t it make sense that the rain and sun might also depend on something greater than themselves?

The ancients believed that if you could name a power you might find a way to control or manipulate that power for your own good. This is what idolatry comes down to. We often think people made idols because they wanted something to worship. But it is more than that. They make idols are representations of beings they believe live above and apart from us in an effort to give that god glory and praise in hopes that the god might show them favor. So idol worship is a selfish act of manipulation and control rather than worshiping something out of love, respect, and adoration. There is no commitment when it comes to worshiping and idol. If it doesn’t answer, find yourself another god who might and make an idol of him to try to manipulate and control. We see hints of that in Mark 9:38 where the disciples complain that they found a man casting out demons in Jesus name and they wanted to stop him. There is an example of this in Acts 19 with the sons of Sceva where the attempt fails. Ancient culture believed there was power and authority in a name.

So what did they do? They named gods for the areas they believed could be manipulated for their own good (sun, rain, sea, fertility, etc). We read about some of these in the Old Testament. Baal was the god of the storm/rain/lightning and fertility. Asherah was goddess of the sea. We find examples of how they used the gods to explain the cycles of nature. The Canaanites explained the seasons by saying that Baal (god of fertility and the storm) would get together with Anat (goddess of war) and they would make sweet lovin which would result in springtime. A short while later Mot, god of death, would come and slay Baal in a great cosmic battle. With the ceasing of rains and fertility came winter time. Anat was none to please so she came and retrieved Baal’s body, putting him back together. Then they could make love again and bring on the spring time the following year.

gods like us:
What is interesting in this example is you notice when man makes up gods they sound a lot like man. They are killing each other having incestuous relationships and on and on the list could go of evil cruelties they doled out against each other in an effort to gain dominance and superiority. These are gods made in the image of mankind.

It is quite unlike what we find in scripture. In scripture, the one true God is holy and other than us. He does not vie for power. He does not have competition for authority. We are made in his image and not the other way around. In fact, the creation story is a direct attack on the gods of the land and a competing narrative for how this world began that shows Jehovah God being greater than the powers of the universe. For instance, the Canaanites believed in Yam, the god of the sea (which is also the Hebrew word for sea). They believed he was a god of chaos, just as the sea is an unpredictable place. When you read in Genesis 1 that God created the heavens and the earth and that by just his words alone his brought control over the seas and put them in their place. This is a direct attack against pagan idolatry and polytheism. God is in charge of the heavens, not El and not Baal. God has power over the sea not Yam or Asherah.

Not only that but Jehovah God is interested in us. He is not distant and unconcerned or uncommitted. He has exerted himself into our situation in order to bring salvation and reconciliation to his creation. He is not self-absorbed or self-interested. He cares for us! That is quite unlike the “gods” of the world.

Reading the Bible with this in mind:
Creation –
There are several places in scripture where this impacts our reading. The creation account was already mentioned.

Exodus – A second place we see this is in the Exodus. There is a little verse tucked into Exodus 12:12 where we learn that the plagues of Egypt were done in judgment of the Egyptian gods. It is an easy verse to pass right over but it sheds light on what was happening with the plagues in Exodus 7. God was putting the “gods” of Egypt in their place. Think about it for a moment. What Egyptian gods can you name? Probably Re, god of the sun. How do the plagues address him? The plague of darkness is a slap in his face and shows his authority and power to be zero. The Egyptians had a god for the Nile, a god for the frogs and even Pharaoh himself was believed to be a god. God put them all in their place and showed his own control over them. Nahum Sarna even points out that Heqt, the frog god, also had connections with fertility/childbirth. So it could be a double slap in the face for killing the Hebrew baby boys (Exploring Exodus, 79).

It would then make sense that when God gives them the 10 commandments in Exodus 20 that he would start with establishing himself as supreme.

“And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…”

God is showing himself to have supreme authority even over the “gods” they saw the Egyptians worship for the last 400 years. And remember, the Egyptians were successful people. They would appear to be blessed by the gods with all they were able to accomplish. Yet, God establishes himself among his people as superior and of greater authority than anything they saw in Egypt.

Conquest – A third place we see this influence is in the conquest of the Promised Land. We often have trouble with the book of Joshua because of the killing of innocent women and children. It is a difficult thing to explain away. Deuteronomy does give us some insight as does this discussion on foreign gods and the mindset that comes along with them. God didn’t want his people to fall into idolatry and the mindset that they could manipulate and control the forces of the universe to get what they want. Deuteronomy 12 gives us some insight. God tells them to destroy all their places of worship to false gods when they get in the land. God goes on to forbid them from worshipping him in the same ways as the pagans worshiped their gods (Deut 12:29-31):

“The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”

Why would this be tempting? Some have postulated it was because of their leap from shepherding to farming. If you remember when the spies came back they told of the great bounty of the land. A shepherd might have a tough time tending grapes! So what do you do? Ask the locals how they did it. What do they tell you? Do this and that and make sure to worship Baal to get his blessing on your field. Just that easily the people fall into worshiping false gods.

Psalms – We see direct attacks on Canaanite gods in the psalms. In some cases we see God given the titles that the Canaanites had given to Baal like “rider on the clouds” (Psalm 104). See Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament, 77)

Isaiah – There was a comment on the blog over a year ago where someone said the NIV was from the anti-Christ because it called Jesus and the devil the same thing – “morning star.” This was in reference to Isa 14:12 where the Latin Vulgate translated the word Helel as “Lucifer.” We think Satan when we hear that term but literally it just means “light bearer.”  The KJV translated it “Lucifer” and the NIV “morning star.” This commenter pointed out that in Rev 22:16 Jesus is called the morning star and so they believed the NIV put Jesus on level with the devil when that is not what is happening at all. Instead, Isaiah is calling out the King of Babylon for comparing himself to God (Isa 14:14).

Here is where Greek mythology helps us understand what Isaiah was getting at – “The Hebrew word helel means “shining one”; this and other features of the poetry led a number of scholars to suggest that the mythological background of the petry was to be found in the Greek myth of Phaethon. Phaethon, in the Greek story, was the “shining” son of Helios, who attempted to drive his father’s golden chariot but was unable to control the massive power of its horses. The parallel is contructive, for like Phaethon, the Babylonian king attempted to assert powers that were too great for him; his inadequacy would result in his doom,” (Craigie, 86).

The result, like Phaethon, would be a fall from great heights (Isa 14:12-17),

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!

13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. [c]

14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”

15 But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.

16 Those who see you stare at you,
they ponder your fate:
“Is this the man who shook the earth
and made kingdoms tremble,

17 the man who made the world a desert,
who overthrew its cities
and would not let his captives go home?”

When you read it in context, this is obviously talking about the king of Babylon and not any ploy on the part of the NIV translators to parallel Jesus with the devil! The parallels are clear with ancient mythology and that allows us to make the same connections Isaiah was making when he wrote this. Here and in many other examples we could cite, we see just how important it is to know the stories they knew in order to make the same comparisons they were making and not make false conclusions about scripture and even Bible translations. It is important that we are informed about these things.

When we look at the “gods” of the surrounding cultures and see how they compared the one, true God to His “competetors” you can’t help but see that there was no comparison. It helps us see just how dissimilar the real God is from anything made up by mankind. That builds my faith and helps me appreciate how just and involved God is in the affairs of the world he created. It gives me a renewed appreciation for God’s interest in His creation and his active role in bringing redemption and reconciliation to a broken and  hurting world.

Gospel of Mark – Theological Use of Location

In Mark and in the other synoptic Gospels, a large portion of Jesus’ ministry is spent in Galilee. The Galilean section of Mark spans 1:14-8:27 ending at the hinge of the Gospel with Peter’s confession and the journey toward the end (Jerusalem and the events that will unfold there). This is significantly different from John’s Gospel which places Jesus in Jerusalem over and over again to fulfill various Feast days with significant theological overtones. This difference in location between the synoptics and John has underlying theological reasons. The synoptics, Mark in particular, are probably trying to show a fulfillment of Isaiah 8:23 (or 9:1 depending on your translation). “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-” which is written just prior to the famous passage,

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.”
Isaiah 9:6-7

Many believe first century Jews thought this passage taught the “end times” would start in the north (Galilee) [See McKnight Dictionary of the Gospels, 253] and so Mark is pointing out this connection.

Luke also has a Galilean ministry but he fine tunes it even more and bridges Luke with Acts with the key being in Acts 1:8 –But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We have the order: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Blomberg (Jesus and the Gospels, 143) believes this mirrors the locations in Acts and is the inverse of the locations in Luke:

Gospel of Luke:
A – The birth of Jesus in the context of the Roman world
B – Jesus’ ministry in Galilee
C – Jesus’ ministry in Samaria and Judea
D – Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem
Resurrection & Ascension links Luke/Acts
Acts of the Apostles:
D’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem
C’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in Judea and Samaria
B’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gentile world
A’ – Operation of the apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit all the way to Rome

It is not an exact match but it warrants consideration.

Mark shows us many parallels with the Exodus experience by his use of location. One of the reasons Mark does that is because he is highlighting the theme of liberation. Similar to how God was present with his people in the Exodus we find Jesus in the wilderness, on the sea, and on the mountain top as he is initiating people into a new promised land (the kingdom of God – notice his first preaching in Mark 1:15). These three types of location are mentioned repeatedly in Mark to more fully define who Jesus is based on their understanding of their previous nation-building experience in the Exodus. Jesus walks on the water, he goes up the mountain to be transfigured, and he seeks out wilderness places for time with God and his disciples. More of these will be pointed out as we work through the Gospel of Mark here at K.L.

For some great information on Mark’s use of location see Mark as Story by Rhodes, Dewey, and Michie (Thanks to Frank for reminding me of that book!).

A Twist on the Divine Name

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Not only is that one of the hardest verses in the Bible to figure out where to put the quotation marks, it also gives us some insight into the nature of God. The name “I am” implies eternal existence. Jesus repeatedly expressed his identity this same way in the Gospel of John – the two most significant being in 8:58 – “before Abraham was born, I am!” and in 18:6 & 8 at his arrest. Jesus is clearly expressing his divinity in these passages in John.

In contrast to Christ, the I am, are those who are not the “I am.” Two stand out in the Gospel of John:

John the Baptist, when asked if he was the Christ (the I am) replied – “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20)

When confronted by the campfire outside the residence of the high priest Peter was asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. To that he twice replied, “I am not“. (John 18:17,25).

Just one more reminder that “He is God and we are not!”

Was Jesus Being Unreasonable? – John 6

“Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” – John 6:53-57

In continuing the Exodus and wilderness wondering themes in John 6, Jesus continues the thought by paralleling himself with the mana their forefathers ate in the wilderness. John has a lot of double meanings (some call it double entendre) but usually Jesus is more subtle about it than he is here. Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Very soon the Passover festival is going to change. You are still going to eat unleavened bread and drink wine but the meaning will change. You will remember me when you eat the bread because just as you break the bread so my body will be broken. You will remember me when you drink the wine because just as wine is poured out as an offering my blood will be poured out as an offering for you.”

Why would Jesus be this confusing? Following the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 we have the following conversation,

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?…This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. – Matthew 13:13-17

Jesus later references this same scripture in John1237ff in regard to those who disbelieved even though he had done so many signs and wonders before their eyes. Those who want to follow Jesus will trust that what he says is true whether they understand it or not. At face value, Jesus seemed to be telling them to violate the law – drinking blood and eating human flesh would have been an abomination. How could Jesus have expected them to understand his words any other way? It is no wonder the disciples responded the way they did, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” – John 6:60.

The answer is found in the concluding verses of the chapter,

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

The grumbling is another clear parallel of the wilderness journey of their forefather who, although presented with bread from heaven, grumbled against it. Jesus’ generation is no different. Even when presented with bread from God they reject it and not just any bread – bread that brings life. Jesus said all of this knowing which of them would leave. A genuine follower of Jesus would have the same response of Peter, an understanding of who Jesus is, “to whom shall we go?…you are the Holy One of God,” and what Jesus is offering, “You have the words of eternal life.” If you don’t start with that understanding the words of Jesus will only result in grumbling and rejection.

Was Jesus being unreasonable? Only if he was not able to deliver on what he promised. What do you think?

What’s the Prophet Like Moses Got to do With It? – John 6

“After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” – John 6:14-15

There had already been a stir in Judea that it may finally be happening, that the Prophet was among them. The first hint came by a camel-hair clad, honey eating man, who preached the coming of the Messiah and the need for repentance. They asked him if he was the “Prophet”, a claim he unequivocally denied. What he did not deny was that such a Prophet was among them (John 1:19-28). The next hint came at a well in Samaria where a woman was told “everything she ever did.” She knew the one who spoke to her was “a prophet” and wondered if he was the Christ. The Samaritans only believed in the first five books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch), where did they get the notion of the Christ? Finally, we have the story of feeding the 5000 in John 6, the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry recorded in all four gospels. What would cause the crowd to come to the conclusion that Jesus was “The Prophet?”

Who is this “Prophet”?

In Deuteronomy 18 God warns the people of Israel about following after witchcraft, sorcery, and divination. God says he will send another voice to give them guidance – the prophet who they are to listen to.

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:18-22

This passage is of key importance in understanding the Gospel of John. This is John’s bone to pick with the religious leaders and authorities who he typically calls, “the Jews.” John, himself a Jew, is not being “anti-Semitic.” Instead, he is saying that a true Jew should have understood these things. The Jewish leaders evaluated Jesus’ claims against their pride and arrogance instead of evaluating his claims against scripture. It is evident that they used the second half of this scripture in critiquing Jesus but not the first. They liked the part that said, “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” because that fit their agenda of wanting Jesus dead. How could they work that out? They credited Jesus’ miracles to demons, which would have qualified him for death. They also said that Jesus was speaking in the name of God without being commanded by God to do so – that would qualify Jesus for death. What they ignored was the second part of this scripture – that if he indeed does speak in the name of the Lord he is to be listened to and those who ignore him will be called into account. They did not evaluate Jesus based on all of the criteria laid out in Deut 18 – that his words come true. If they had they would have realized that he was The Prophet.

Back to the feeding of the 5000. There are a number of parallels between this story and the context of the Prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy.

Notice what time of year it is – Passover (6:4). hat did Moses do at this time of year? He lead them out from Egyptian bondage. What did the 1st century Jews expect the Prophet like Moses would do? Release them from the Romans.
In reality there was a more significant bondage that Jesus was trying to deliver them from than the Romans. Jesus is with these people in the wilderness where there were no stores to buy food. So like mana in the wilderness Jesus provides them food. There are 12 baskets of leftovers – one for each disciple or one for each tribe. In doing all of this Jesus parallels the wilderness experience.

What happens next in John 6? Jesus walks on the water – paralleled to parting the Red Sea to deliver God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. As many people have noted the sea represented chaos and upheaval in their world. The sea was a place where friends and family who had left on ships never returned. That is significant in the creation story that God’s word had power over the sea. With a word God separated the waters and in doing so showed his power of chaos. Jesus walking on water is doing more than a neat party trick – he is showing that he also has power over creation and over the powers of chaos and darkness. In doing so he parallels the exodus experience.

Jesus is indeed the Prophet like Moses and because of that God tells us we are to listen to him (Deut 18:15).

Ananias & Sapphira – A Closer Look (Acts 5)

After the earlier post on The Providence of God in Acts 1-10 I received the following email that I thought was interesting and I wanted to address it here to see if anyone had any other thoughts on the matter…

Good Morning Matthew …

As a “New Garment” Christian, I don’t allow myself to fall for many of the “old garment” fables.

For instance … claiming that God “killed” Anannias and Sapphira is not true because scriptures does NOT support this. For instance, we all know perfectly well that neither the OT or the NT state a thief or a liar should be SENTENCE TO DEATH. On the contrary, Eph 4:28 and Provs 6:30 both say to “put the thief to work”. Further, it is also not written anywhere that liars should receive death. In fact, Peter LIED THREE TIMES about knowing Jesus, and Judas STOLE from the money bag…and neither were “killed” by God. (Judas killed himself.)

Please be also advised the Hebs 13:8 states God NEVER changes His mind or His ways. And He will not DEFY His own word … not even to illustrate a point just once ! ! !

Therefore, it would be truer to say that … the devil killed these people. Based on John 8:44 Jesus said anyone who “works” for the devil “belongs” to the devil. He also identifies the devil in John 10:10 as the true killer of mankind. Therefore, the devil owned them “legally” and was in fact their “father”. Additionally, they were married and of one flesh. This means they carried equal parts of the same demon spirit … which is why they dropped dead, exactly the same way!

Please do not think for one moment that the devil cannot kill people and “collect them” to hell whenever he wants to. Notice that hell is stacked full with MILLIONS of people as we speak, whom the devil claimed and collected … legally.

While I applaud the attempt to keep a systematic view of God’s dealings with people I think there are a few things that need to be addressed.

The overarching principle behind her argumentation is that God cannot change and will not contradict himself. Heb 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Because of that she says God would apply the same punishment to a thief and/or a liar across the board. Peter lied three times and he didn’t die so God couldn’t kill another person for lying since he didn’t kill Peter for it. She then appeals to two verses that say thieves should be put to work, not death. If all of that is true you would have to draw the same conclusion she did. If God didn’t kill them who did? The devil?

Hebrews 13:8 in context is an exhortation for the Christians being written to to continue in their faith and not waiver. In 13:7 they are told to, “remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. In 13:9 they are told to not be, “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings…” Why not? Because just as Jesus Christ has always been the same, we are not to waiver. In context this verse does not say God or Christ cannot change their mind or deal with people differently (See Romans 9!). God never changes who he is or his attributes: such as holiness, omniscience, etc. But God does and has dealt with people differently even in the pages of scripture.

If there is even one case where God punished two people differently for the same offense in scripture then the above argument that God could not kill Ananias and Sapphira cannot stand. Again, I respect the angle taken to come to that conclusion and think there are some really good motives to think that way but I don’t think it really stand when the context of the scriptures mentioned and additional scriptures are taken into account.

Murder:

  • What God said – Numbers 35 is clear that someone who murders another is to be punished by death.
  • God doesn’t always do it the way he laid it out:
    • Moses murders an Egyptian in Exodus 2:11-13 and receives no punishment from God.
    • David has Uriah murdered and commits adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12). Nathan’s charge against David, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own…” (12:9). It is clear that the guilt for this murder is on David’s hands even though he did not personally kill him. God sees him as guilty of murder.

Adultery:

  • What God said – Lev 20:10 – “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”
  • God doesn’t follow through with that toward David & Bathsheba (see references above)

Stealing:

  • What God said – Leviticus makes it clear that the punishment for stealing is restitution and often a repayment of more than what was stolen (Exo 22:7, Lev 6:1-7, etc)
  • This is not the case with Achan who stole at Ai and was punished with death (Joshua 7)
  • God said what Achan had done – “They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions…” (Joshua 7:11) Achan’s confession of his sin – “I coveted them and took them…” (7:21). The penalty – “Then all Israel stoned him…” (7:25).

What about Jesus who forgave people of their sins unlike others who had committed the same sins but had to offer sacrifices? The list could go on and on. The point is, God doesn’t treat everyone the same. Does that mean God changes? Of course not.

I see a lot of similarities between Achan and Ananias/Sapphira. They both stole (God says that his people had lied as well which points toward Achan). Both moments were times when God’s people were trying to define themselves as a holy people/nation. Achan’s sin came as the people were finally going into the promised land and God was teaching them to be holy. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin came as the church was being established and God was teaching them to be holy. God doesn’t need to use Satan to do his dirty work. Satan doesn’t need to be legal to kill someone. The point is, God doesn’t contradict himself to treat two people different. It happens all over the place in scripture and doesn’t mean there are contradictions or violations.

Any thoughts?