“The Life of Man”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
God is routinely accused of undervaluing life. Sometimes this is because of the untold number of people killed in the flood in Genesis 7. Of course, since the chief reason given was that “the earth was filled with violence” (Ge 6.11) and God wished to put a stop to it, it’s clear that between mankind and God, he was the one to value life more highly, and he was willing to take an extreme course in order to salvage it before it destroyed itself. A less extreme gripe with God’s rules is that he tolerated slavery under the Law of Moses, which pretty much everyone today recognizes as an affront to human life and dignity. Of course, they won’t mention that God imposed tight restrictions on treatment of slaves, or that they were to use it mostly as a social safety net for those who couldn’t otherwise provide for themselves. He commanded,
“he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you...” (Deuteronomy 15.12-15)
Who cares more: God, or the person who, with the benefit of centuries of historical hindsight and nothing to lose, proclaims, “I would definitely have been an abolitionist, if I’d lived during the time of slavery”?
Those who pass judgment on God in this way are deeply confused. They understand that life is precious, but they don’t realize how they came to know this. They didn’t reach that conclusion on their own; it was told to them, indirectly of course, by God.
Many examples demonstrate that this idea did not come from man. One is Herod’s massacre of the innocents. The wise men, whom he’d sent to find the baby they predicted would be king of the Jews, were warned not to report back to Herod, so they skipped Jerusalem and went back home.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2.16)
The truthfulness of this account is questioned, or outright denied by many, who are happy to assert that it never happened, mostly on the grounds that no other contemporary source mentions it. So? It would hardly be the only historical event for which we have only one witness. Why, then, have they decided it isn’t true? Because it’s just too awful! Surely no one would actually commit such a horrible act, and if they did, the public outcry would be enormous, and some trace of that would survive! Since it doesn’t (so the reasoning goes) it must be made up.
However, it’s not that simple. It’s true that no obvious archaeological evidence has been found to corroborate Matthew’s account. It’s also true that no other contemporary author whose work survives mentioned this heinous crime. To conclude from this that it didn’t happen, however, is laughably naïve. To begin with, the numbers involved here are tiny. The population of Bethlehem at the time was about 1,000 at the most. Based on typical population distributions, we’d expect about 2.5% of the population to be under the age of 2, about 25 kids. Of these, about half would be male, so our very rough estimate is 12 or 13 boys who fit the criteria. Considering that more than a quarter of all babies died before reaching a year old, and a further 20% or so died before the age of 15, it’s not as if a dozen small bodies, not necessarily buried together or with any tell-tale signs of their cause or time of death, would stand out among the archaeological excavations, even if any of them were located. At the risk of sounding callous, it’s a drop in the bucket.
Then there’s Herod’s moral character, or lack thereof. Just for starters, he had his favorite wife and three of his favorite sons executed for dubious reasons. This guy was not nice. Does that mean his soldiers would have carried out the order, if he gave it? Well, this leads into the most important fact to recognize: infants were killed fairly often in the ancient world. Reading through the works of Josephus, about these very same people during the very same time period, in the very same region, one notices the nauseating regularity with which armed men slaughtered women and children—including infants—after a successful siege.
In the modern world, and even without straying into the topic of abortion, the massacre of innocents is not unheard of. The most glaring example would be the roughly 1.5 million Jewish children murdered in the holocaust, but because “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” (Ge 8.21), that’s just one instance among many.
Mankind does not value life so highly, after all. God, through his law, his judgments, and his Son, has taught us that we should. Let’s accept his instruction, and then show him some respect, rather than finding fault in his own application of the principles he’s taught us. He told man long ago, in Genesis 9.5,
“And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.”