Let me be clear: I love Michael Savage. He is a great champion of traditional conservatism and a defender of America and freedom. On most points, I stand shoulder to shoulder with him. However, in his latest book, Trickle Down Tyranny (an absolute must-read for all freedom-loving Americans) he misrepresents the Bible. In chapter three, page 63, addressing “Christian terrorism”, he points out that the Koran instructs, “smite an infidel and put a knife to his neck”, adding, “If you look at the Old Testament of the Bible, it has similar edicts.” While I agree with his main point, that not all terrorists are Muslims, I take exception to his conclusions about the Bible.
If a terrorist is a Muslim, he can easily find passages in the Koran to justify his actions. One such verse is Sura 8:39 (PICKTHAL): “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.” Muhammad’s use of the word “fight” carries the intended meaning of armed combat. There are no “similar edicts” in the Bible. In order for any self-identified Christian to find similar justification in the Bible, he must twist the meaning of Scripture. That may not be too difficult for Christians who are unfamiliar with the “Old Testament” (the Tanakh or Jewish Bible), and I agree with Savage’s statement that most Christians don’t even read the Old Testament.
“MURDER FOR MORAL OFFENSES”
However, continuing on page 63 of Trickle Down Tyranny, Savage writes, “Read Leviticus, which is unbelievably full of murder for moral offenses.” The first error Savage makes is like comparing apples to oranges. The reason the Koran gives for fighting or killing “infidels” (unbelievers, non-Muslims) is that they refuse to convert to Islam. The reason Levitical law called for the death penalty, was for God’s punishment for sin (“The wages of sin is death” — Romans 6:3), not for refusing to be Jewish or Christian.
Another error he makes is judging Old Testament laws (written more than 3,000 years ago) through the filter of 21st century sensibilities. One must not look at Levitical crimes and punishment the same way we would look at the American system of jurisprudence. They are different systems of different times and of different origins — one human, one divine. I also don’t want to get bogged down in an argument over the death penalty being called murder. But there is a reason the God of the Bible prescribed such a severe penalty for adultery, homosexuality and other offenses. This reason becomes clear when you study the Bible and understand the special relationship between Israel and the God of the Bible (YHWH, the Tetragrammaton, also called Adonai, LORD and Elohim).
Biblical Israel was a theocracy. It wasn’t a secular republic. In the United States today, even though Bible-believing Christians consider adultery and homosexuality sins, society does not. Believers cannot take it upon themselves to punish sinners. That’s God’s job, not ours. While the foundation of American morals are Biblical, our legal system is secular, and has increasingly moved away from Biblical values. The Bible doesn’t give us permission to mete out justice in the name of God, but in ancient Israel, God did. He specifically instructed punishments for all crimes committed by his chosen people, including moral offenses, under the direct authority of leaders who were in charge of maintaining both religious and legal standards.
Strict laws and harsh punishments were intended to preserve Israel as God’s own pure and holy people. Leviticus 20:14 gives the reason for the death penalty in cases of sexual immorality as, “so that no wickedness will be among you.” Similarly, for stubborn rebelliousness, in Deuteronomy 21:21 (CJB) it says, “…stone him to death; in this way you will put an end to such wickedness among you…” This zero tolerance for sin came about because in the eyes of the LORD, those who lived in the Promised Land before Israel were so morally degenerate that God chose to use Israel as an instrument of his judgement against them. As Moses said, “After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you” (Deuteronomy 9:4). God was not about to rid the land of wicked people, only to have them replaced by more wicked people.
Leviticus 20:26 says, “Rather, you people are to be holy for me; because I, Adonai [the LORD], am holy; and I have set you apart from the other peoples, so that you can belong to me” (CJB). Perhaps Savage thinks this compares to Sharia law, but while he may be correct in terms of the apparent harshness of these two systems, the God of the Bible had “redeemed” (bought back) Israel from their slavery in Egypt, and they were now his (“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” — Exodus 15:13 (ESV). The primary purpose of the Torah was to teach the people to love the LORD and put into practice justice, righteousness, holiness and grace — God’s own qualities. The LORD desired to lift up Israel to be a holy, obedient nation, not force them into submission by cruel, repressive measures. So, in order to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God made a very unique offer to Israel.
God made a covenant (a binding legal agreement) with Israel, to which Israel agreed. He promised to give them a bountiful land of their own, and he promised them a special relationship to him as his chosen people, with eternal blessings of safety, abundance, countless descendants, disease-free health, happiness and contentedness. Israel accepted the terms of the covenant and promised to do the one thing that God required: faithfully obey the LORD. In order to make sure the people knew exactly what he wanted, God instructed Moses to write down all the laws he expected them to obey. He also gave detailed instructions to Moses on how they should worship and how they should not worship. Exodus 19:8 records, “The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said.'” Understanding better than anyone else that humans struggle with sin, the LORD set up a system of sacrifices to pay for those sins.
In God’s eyes, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22), but humans tend to lean on sacrifice because it gives them some wiggle room, something like saying a number of Hail Mary’s and then you’re guilt-free. But the LORD listed some offenses so egregious that the only appropriate penalty was the death of the transgressor. The death penalty targeted willful rebellion against God’s authority — the conscious decision not to obey God — and it was the necessary last resort to keep his chosen Israel purged of all wickedness.
Numbers 35:33-34 directs, “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” Idolatry and Sexual depravity also defiled the land. Chapter 18 of Leviticus lists many such sexual sins and then says, “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants…for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (verses 24, 25, 27 & 28).
Basically, the LORD’s plan was this: Because I am Holy and I dwell with you in a holy land, you must be a holy people. God’s laws, and his expectation of obedience are explained and repeated throughout the written Torah (also called the books of Moses or the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). I won’t presume to speak for Jews, but one detail overlooked by many Christians is the fact that God not only promised tremendous blessings for Israel (if they were careful to obey all his commands), but he promised them equally tremendous curses if they did not. You can read about the blessings and the curses in chapters 11, 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy.
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. — Deuteronomy 30:16-18
As things turned out, Israel was disobedient from the very start. And with the exception of a few rulers who brought Israel back to faithfulness for short periods of time, Israel stubbornly continued in idolatry, sexual immorality and the spilling of innocent blood for much of its history. Eventually the LORD brought about all his curses down upon Israel, as a judgement for their rebellion against him. But their punishment wasn’t forever. They’ve paid their debt to God. And the story has a happy ending. From Israel came Jesus. Prophecies tell us that Israel will one day receive untold blessings of prosperity, peace and security — this time at the behest of the Messiah. I can hardly wait.
Christians who haven’t studied the Old Testament tend to have a simpler, shallower understanding of the foundations of their faith than those who have studied it. There is a deep connection between the Old and New Testaments. Remember, Jesus was a Jew, his first followers were Jews, almost all of the New Testament writers were Jews and Jesus himself came to fulfill the Jewish teachings (Torah). But before God sent his only begotten Son (first to the Jews, then to everyone else — Romans 1:16) he chose Israel to be his very own. He wanted a holy relationship with his chosen people, and he wanted to live among them.
As Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (emphasis added). That means God revealed himself to Israel (and to the world) so they (and we) would be equipped to obey his teachings. The purpose of the “law” is to glorify God, not to satisfy human desires, and not to satisfy the wisdom of men. Yet the human intellect wants to demand that God explain himself according to human wisdom. But God is not answerable to us. We are answerable to him.
Coming from the wisdom of men, there is a movement today which embraces Islam as an “Abrahamic” religion. The basic assumption of this movement is that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God. This assumption implies that Sharia law is comparable to Levitical law. Both assumption and implication are proven false by the fact that the Koran and the Bible present two different descriptions of two different deities. Though many of the same words are used to describe their characteristics (due to the fact that Islam borrows from both Jewish and Christian traditions) Allah is not a god that desires fellowship or intimacy with humans. Unlike the God of the Bible, Allah is “unknowable”. So too, Islam is more about vengeance than redemption. My sole reason for this comparison is to clarify differences between the source of Sharia law and the source of Levitical law. Don’t be deceived into thinking they are the same, they are not morally equivalent.
“NO SURVIVORS WERE LEFT”
To me, a more compelling argument for the Bible teaching the use of terrorism would be to address those passages in the Old Testament which record Israel wiping out entire cities of non-Jews at the LORD’s command. In those cases, men, women and children were mercilessly slaughtered. Even animals, buildings, belongings and fields were destroyed, and no booty was allowed to be taken, if God commanded it. There is no denying that these were ruthless attacks.
But it wasn’t terrorism. It was God’s judgement on his specified enemies. Repeated throughout the written Torah are the names of the peoples God aimed to dispossess from the Promised Land. The list is once again given in Joshua 3:10: “This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.” These were the inhabitants of the land who practiced every form of idolatry and sexual perversion — even the religious practice of burning children alive as a sacrifice to their “god”.
After the LORD miraculously brought the walls of Jericho down, Joshua 6:21 records, “They… destroyed with the sword every living thing in it — men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” The justification of killing children is beyond our ability to understand, but interestingly, children are not specifically mentioned here. Nor are they mentioned in Ai, the next city Israel destroyed. “Twelve thousand men and women fell that day — all the people of Ai” (Joshua 8:25). Unlike at Jericho, the Israelites were allowed to carry off plunder and livestock from Ai. Perhaps children were considered plunder. If so, they would have become slaves. As it was, “aliens” did live among the Israelites. And as a side note, Mosaic law required the just treatment of slaves and aliens.
Later, in chapter 10 of Joshua, more cities are described as totally destroyed, with no survivors. So we see a pattern of destruction that is overwhelming. However, emphasizing that these were attacks of conquest, to the extent that Israel obeyed God’s commands, he certainly did drive out the existing inhabitants. However, when Israel broke faith with God’s purposes, the LORD withdrew his hand and allowed his enemies to gather their strength and win battles. All of Israel’s military victories were due to their obedience, and all their defeats were due to their disobedience.
Joshua 13:2-5 lists the land that Israel still had not possessed through conquest. Several of the listed areas wouldn’t be conquered for hundreds of years later, when David was King. And some of those areas are still in hot contention to this day, such as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan heights — all stemming from ancient Israel’s lapses in obedience.
I am by no means saying I could have obeyed any better. Trying to put myself into that situation, the idea of having to kill the civilian inhabitants of a whole city becomes unbearable. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the instrument of God’s judgement. But I am forced to recall the judgements that befell ancient Israel, itself, at the hands of the Babylonians, Persians, Seleucids, Romans and others. The history of civilization and war is chocked full of atrocity and cruelty. An awful lot of that has been going on in our own time, too, including the grizzly machete slaying of an entire village in Murleland, in the South Sudan in January of 2012.
More than 3,000 years ago the Bible was still being written. The harsh judgements of the Bible, such as the earth opening up and swallowing the guilty (Numbers 16:32), or Israel being commanded to wipe out entire cities, were recorded for our benefit. 1 Corinthians 10:11 puts it this way: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” Bible believers are able to learn from Israel’s history.
The Old Testament is intended to teach us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Neither Christians nor Jews believe we are to act out battles of the Old Testament. The Bible teaches us to live at peace with our fellow-man, not to fight them because they aren’t believers. That’s where freedom of speech comes in. We want to tell others about what the Bible teaches. And we want to be free about discussing matters of faith — not issue fatwas calling for the death of those who disagree with us.
The LORD’s commands to kill entire cities in the Old Testament were directed to specific people at specific times, during specific circumstances (the conquest of the Promised Land). The Koran’s instructions to fight or kill the infidel are directed generally to any non-believer, any time, any place. The Bible has no “similar edict” to the Koran’s “Kill the infidel”. Sure, extremists and terrorists can come from any religious background. But the foundation of Christianity (the Bible) does not foster or support terrorism. The Koran does. These two “holy books” are as different as night and day. In fact, the one leads to the light, while the other leads into darkness.
[UPDATE] Another article addressing this issue may be found at: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/Bible-Quran-Violence.htm