In 1 Samuel 15:3 God commands King Saul: “Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Bible stories like this are fodder for atheists like Richard Dawkins, who writes in The God Delusion, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Though less strident than Dawkins, other cynics struggle to see God as loving and merciful in light of such scriptures. So we must ask, “Is God a genocidal maniac?”
Did God really regret He created mankind, as Gen. 6:6 suggests? Why did He order King Saul to wipe out an entire race of people (I Sam. 15:18)? Who should be turned over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5)? And what is the sin that brings death (1 John 5:16)? These are so-called “hard sayings” of the Bible.
What is a “hard saying?” Simply put, a “hard saying” is a passage of Scripture that is difficult to understand. We shouldn’t feel badly that we struggle with some Bible verses; even the apostle Peter had a hard time with some of Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16).
Why are some Bible passages difficult to understand?
- They seem to contradict other Scriptures (“No one has ever seen God”).
- They are isolated passages that cannot be cross-referenced with other Scriptures (“Being baptized for the dead”).
- They call God’s character into question (“The Lord regretted that He had made man”).
- Or they seem to make unreasonable – even unholy – demands of God’s people (“Go and complete destroy the sinful Amalekites”).
What are some keys to understanding these “hard sayings?”
- Context (who, what, when, where, why and how?)
- Key words (“The Lord regretted …”)
- Comparison (“I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau”)
In this 12-part study, we will explore some of the most prominent “hard sayings” in Scripture.