Introductory note from Yvon: I created this infographic to go along with the lesson, The Fall of Israel, How Falling is Never Final with Our God. A key part of that lesson is the importance of the proper dating of when God gave the children of Israel His laws and the repeated warnings of the prophets before judgment came.
I realized that understanding this is a foundation to understanding the rest of the history of the Old Testament as well as the fairness of God, plus it has serious implications for us today, and so I wrote the following to explain it in more detail. For a full-size PDF of the infographic, simply click on the image to download it.
From the time a child can cry, “That’s not fair!” when they feel they are punished for no reason, to our resentment of a superior’s treatment of us as an adult, to how we perceive God’s management of the evils of our world, the idea of fairness seems built into each of us.
Fairness from a parent or a work supervisor is one thing; but the eternal fairness of God, both in how He is dealing with the world today and with our eternal destinies is a topic the dating of Old Testament events and prophecies can help us understand. It helps us answer the question of God’s fairness in what happened in Bible history, practical insight into how to please God in our daily lives, and challenges us with a reminder of the judgment seat of Christ for all believers and how we ought to live in light of it.
Granted, it is a lot to cover based on one infographic, and to do this, we need to start by understanding the Old Testament as a record of the words and actions of God that took place in identifiable times and places. Our faith isn’t based on fairy tales in lands far, far away. Just as our Jesus, our Savior rose with a tangible, touchable body after his death on the cross for our sins, the history of our faith is based on tangible, historically verifiable events.
This isn’t the place to establish the scholarly basis for the dates that follow, but if you are interested, my conclusions are based on the dating of Old Testament events from a variety of conservative, Bible-honoring sources, a good summary of which would be Gleason L. Archer’s book, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. If you want a detailed, thorough critique of higher criticism and a clear explanation of the conservative view of canonicity, historicity, and inspiration, this book will give it to you. I’ll give you some isolated quotes in what follows on the factual basis for the infographic but if you want exact graduate-school-worthy citations, consult that book. With that as the basis for dating, let’s proceed.
Here is the situation
Old Testament history, starting from humanity’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden to the end of Malachi is marked with a series of God’s difficult challenges and times of judgment for His people—the slavery of the children of Israel in Egypt; the alternating of oppression and freedom under leaders during the time of Judges, the time of the various kings and their resulting wars; the kingdom splitting in half, the conquering of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms with the deportation of both populations and the return of the Southern Kingdom only.
Where was the fairness of God in all of this? There are two apparent choices.
On the one hand, for God to allow His people to be enslaved, conquered, or exiled without warning or reason, would not seem fair. It would appear capricious and cruel.
If on the other hand, if God’s people knew God’s requirements, had agreed to follow them, and were repeatedly warned about the consequences of disobedience but then went ahead and flagrantly violated them, their fate would be the result of their choices. Not only would God be fair to do this, but the necessity of Him remaining true to His Word regarding the consequences of their choices, makes punishment essential.
Which is the correct view? Which version is true? And which version shows us the true character of God and answers the question is God fair?
The answer isn’t a confusing, philosophical argument. The basic question of God’s fairness is easily answered by proper dating for both when God initially gave His laws to His people and subsequently when the prophets reminded the people of the consequences if they disobeyed.
We might not like that God judges people based on them not following His laws. We might wish that God would just wink and say it’s OK for people to live however they want, regardless of what He said and regardless of their previous promises to obey, but that is not the reality. God is God and we are not. Sometimes the core of our issues with how we perceive God acting unfairly in the past has more to do with how we want Him to treat us with leniency than an objective evaluation of past events.
It is this reaction to what we might perceive as divine injustice that makes this issue important for us to look at closely today
Our God doesn’t change. His patterns of dealing with people in the past are the same ways He deals with people today. God makes statements, makes demands on the lives of His people. His people agree to follow Him. If they don’t do what they say they will do, there are consequences.
Though we’d all like to avoid consequences for our actions, it’s much better to learn from the mistakes of others than to ignorantly assume things about God that can have serious consequences for us. The Apostle Paul reminds us that what happened in the Old Testament happened as an example in Romans 15:4
For us to learn correctly from the Old Testament, I refer to the infographic to answer the question about the fairness of God based on when He gave His laws to His people, what they agreed to do, how and when He reminded them of His laws repeatedly, and when and what were the consequences when they didn’t listen.
As a foundation, God gave his laws to His people
It is incredibly important that we fix in our minds the proper date when God gave His laws to His people, and when they agreed to follow them, for the rest of the Old Testament, in their history, and the messages of the prophets to make sense.
When we understand this, we can correctly view attacks on dating, not as alternate scholarly findings, that we can pick and choose to believe whatever we want, but as foundational issues we must settle for a firm foundation for our faith and practice. If these laws weren’t collected from anonymous sources in their final form until near the end of the Old Testament time period, somewhere around 500 BC (as some contemporary critics claim) as opposed to their final form given by God to Israel early after their departure from Egypt, makes a huge difference in how we read and understand the entire Old Testament.
In contrast to that false claim, my firm belief based on extensive study, is that the law in its complete form was given to and accepted by Israel directly after God delivered them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt around 1446 BC.
My belief in this date is based on Jewish tradition, the testimony of Biblical writers themselves, and thousands of years of Christian tradition that affirm that the Laws of God and the Covenant were given to the people when they came out of Egypt.
Why I believe this follows.
One verification of Moses’ authorship and with it the 1446BC date comes from the following quote from Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote shortly after the time of Jesus, after 94 AD in his extended defense of the dating and composition of the Jewish scriptures in his work, Contra Apion, where he says [bold and italics mine]:
How firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation [books in the Jewish scriptures starting with Moses and ending prior to the end of 400BC, the dated ending of Malachi] is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them.
Not only did Josephus verify that Moses wrote the early books of the Bible, but he also says that this is the accepted belief of the centuries of Jews who followed and who are “willing to die for them.”
The claim that Moses wrote these books when he did was accepted without question for most of church history until the movement known as “Higher Criticism” emerged in Europe from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century when some critics began to claim the Pentateuch was not written, “canonized” or accepted in its final form until over 1,000 years later than the traditional date of Moses’ authorship of it. Though there have been many challenges to the truth of the Bible, this idea is also known as the Documentary Hypothesis. This quote explains the basic ideas in it [again, bold and italics mine]:
The documentary hypothesis is essentially an attempt to take the supernatural out of the Pentateuch and to deny its Mosaic authorship. The accounts of the Red Sea crossing, the manna in the wilderness, the provision of water from solid rock, etc., are considered stories from oral tradition, thus making the miraculous happenings mere products of imaginative storytellers and not events that actually happened and were recorded by eyewitnesses. The documentary hypothesis, along with the JEDP theory, denies that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and instead ascribes its authorship to four (or more) different authors/redactors spread out over several hundreds of years. The documentary hypothesis is liberal theology’s attempt to call the veracity of the Pentateuch into question. https://www.gotquestions.org/documentary-hypothesis.html
Though uncounted volumes of scholarly and secular works have been written refuting this totally incorrect, but sadly highly influential idea, clear verification that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible also comes from the internal testimony of the Bible itself as this quote demonstrates:
The most powerful argument against the JEDP theory is the Bible itself. Jesus, in Mark 12:26, said, “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” Therefore, Jesus says plainly that Moses wrote the account of the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-3. Luke, in Acts 3:22, comments on a passage in Deuteronomy 18:15 and credits Moses as being the author of that passage. Paul, in Romans 10:5, talks about the righteousness Moses describes in Leviticus 18:5. Paul, therefore, testifies that Moses is the author of Leviticus. So, we have Jesus showing that Moses was the author of Exodus, Luke (in Acts) showing that Moses wrote Deuteronomy, and Paul saying that Moses was the author of Leviticus. In order for the JEDP theory to be true, Jesus, Luke, and Paul must all either be liars or be in error in their understanding of the Old Testament. Let us put our faith in Jesus and the human authors of Scripture rather than the ridiculous and baseless JEDP theory (2 Timothy 3:16-17). https://www.gotquestions.org/JEDP-theory.html
Why it is so important to be assured of the date when Moses wrote and gave Israel the Pentateuch
The confirmation of the date of Moses, as the sole author completing the Pentateuch (of course, the note at the end of Deuteronomy about his death is added by someone else and does not change the dating of his entire works), that the entire first five books of the Bible were completed by him in his lifetime is essential for understanding the remainder of the history of the Old Testament and understanding God’s fairness in dealing with His people.
This is because we must keep in mind that the people of Israel had this foundational, corporate knowledge of God’s requirements and had made a covenant, an agreement with God to obey them before any of the rest of Old Testament history and the messages of the prophets happen, as Exodus 19:1-8 records:
Exodus 19 – On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. . . . .
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
This commitment to follow God’s laws is repeated in:
Exodus 24: 3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”
In the final book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy, which consists of his final sermons before they enter the Promised Land, Moses again summarizes the Covenant and adds that it is not only for the ones listening but for the people that follow. In addition to the blessings of following the covenant as seen in the quotation here, the chapter goes on to list the consequences of not following the covenant and how the ultimate punishment would be removal from the land.
Deut. 29:9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.
And when the people in the future would not follow the covenant, their punishment was foretold.
Deut. 29: 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”
25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”
As we continue to read the remainder of the Old Testament, it is essential to keep in mind this foundation of the Covenant, that Israel had promised to obey it, and they knew the consequences if they did not
We need to keep this in mind when we see what happened when they subsequently disobeyed God’s laws. God in mercy (He could have simply wiped them out or sent them into exile at their first sign of disobedience) sent prophets to them reminding them of what they promised and reminding them of the judgments God promised would follow for disobedience.
This confirmation of God clearly laying the requirements of obedience and then sending prophets to warn them of the consequences is important because God is not a cosmic bully who punishes people without reason.
On the contrary, for hundreds of years, using a variety of voices and messages He reminded His people of His covenant and that they had freely agreed to follow.
The content of the covenant between God and His people was the foundation for the messages of the prophets. They weren’t simply a group of angry men railing at the evils of their time, though many of the current evils were objectively worthy of condemnation and they did speak to them. The evil of the actions of God’s chosen people was compounded specifically because they were HIS people and had promised to live differently.
God is fair in His dealings with His people.
If proper dating of the Pentateuch is disputed, the rest of the Old Testament doesn’t make sense
If, as some critics falsely claim as I’ve shown previously, the Pentateuch was not written, “canonized” or accepted in its final form until over 1,000 years later than the traditional date of Moses’ authorship of it, or if the Pentateuch is merely a collection of the writings of scribes scattered throughout two thousand years of Old Testament history, the entire Biblical history of the Old Testament and the messages of the prophets make no sense.
Without the Pentateuch as a historical foundational document of a covenant, an agreement between God and His people, the prophets cannot be “covenant enforcement mediators,” which is how they are referred to by Gordon and Fee in their book (which I highly recommend for a deeper understanding of the genre of prophecy), How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. With the Pentateuch as a historical covenant, the Prophets had the basis for their message to be a call to their audience to remember who they were—a people who had chosen to obey God following their salvation from Egypt, a people who had agreed to accept the blessings that would come from obedience, and the discipline that was also promised, from disobedience.
The corresponding challenge to us today
Just as God expected certain behavior from His people when He rescued them from Egypt and called them to be His people, God has expectations of us, as we are reminded in 1 Peter 2:9-12, Phillips—
But you are God’s “chosen generation”, his “royal priesthood”, his “holy nation”, his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you.
It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. In the past you were not “a people” at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.
I beg you, as those whom I love, to live in this world as strangers and “temporary residents”, to keep clear of the desires of your lower natures, for they are always at war with your souls.
Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always be good and right, so that although they may in the usual way slander you as evil doers yet when disasters come, they may glorify God when they see how well you conduct yourselves.
The process is repeated—if we accepted God’s offer of salvation, we are called to be God’s people; we have been given the requirements for how to live in His Word; the New Testament prophets remind us again and again of how we are supposed to live and the consequences of disobedience. We are also told in many other places in the New Testament that a day of accounting will come, not just for a group of people as it did in Old Testament times, but for the entire world.
When Israel fell to the Assyrian armies, there is a commemorative carving of the conquering leader Sennacherib with a line of people standing before him sitting on his throne and him pronouncing judgment on each one. Some are led to horrific punishments; some to carts loaded with goods that carry them to a new land.
Each destination depended upon a judgment of their lives prior to the occupation of the land as perceived by the conquerors. It may or may not have been fair. We have a judgment ahead of us that will be entirely fair because it will be from a God of justice.
A throne of judgment is ahead of us, the judgment seat of Christ
Sadly, this reality is little talked about in churches today. Many churches focus on claiming great things from God as a result of salvation and though salvation from eternal damnation is a great thing, that isn’t what many churches proclaim.
The great things claimed in many churches today focus on financial blessings, perfect health, wonderful relationships that are presented as our rights as believers in Jesus. Now only as a Christian’s right, but that the blessings are due them right now. Our situation is similar to a passage in Jeremiah 6: 13-15:
“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
The historical setting of this passage is the prophet Jeremiah’s challenge to the people of Judah who were living self-indulgent lives in contrast to living according to God’s demands on them. His condemnation uncomfortably fits many Christians today.
Instead of solely looking for what we can get out of being a Christian, being greedy for gain in every area of life, and looking for deceptive promises of peace, we need to consider the following two passages:
So, we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Cor. 5:9-10
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Cor 3:10-15
The foundation of our salvation is Jesus, but we have a choice of how to build on it, and how we choose has eternal consequences. The consequences are not a reversion to the idea that we need to do good works to achieve salvation. Just like the Children of Israel were supposed to live after God saved them from Egypt as His representatives, living in the ways He commanded, we need to live in a way that pleases God and reflects that we follow Jesus after we receive His gift of salvation.
Ephesians 2:8-10 is a clear summary of the whole of our salvation, saved by grace but for a purpose—that we live our lives as a reflection of our salvation. Far too often, we only quote and remember the first two verses of this passage:
Eph. 2: 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The first two verses are an incredible affirmation that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Following in verse 10, we also must keep in mind that we are recreated in Christ for a purpose, “to do good works.” The clear teaching of this verse and the responsibility we have related to it is often forgotten.
Our life as Christians isn’t about grabbing all the goodies God can give us and living how we want to live. It isn’t about complaining when the least little thing goes wrong or isn’t perfect and demanding God make everything better NOW.
Two words in Greek give us a wonderful picture of what our new life should be. The phrase “God’s handiwork” is the Greek, poema, and as you would imagine it means His creation, His poem. The phrase, “prepared in advance for us to do” is the Greek, peripateō, which means to walk around, to live one’s life.
You might say we are to be a walking poem of God’s love, His character, and His way of living in our lives—what a wonderful calling that is! Yes, we have been reminded of God’s expectations, but what extraordinary expectations they are.
Difficult things may happen to us in our lives as they did to the children of Israel. If we take time to learn the whole Word of God, as we should, we realize that we aren’t being mistreated, that God is fair, and that He is using challenges and difficulties to make us into the people He intended us to be when we accepted His gift of salvation.
My ministry of Bible805.com and Bible805’s associated social media have much to help you do that and my prayer is that we will all live as walking poems of God’s love and His priorities in our lives so that our meeting with Jesus will be a time of great joy.