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Does God Condemn People?
By Gary F. Zeolla
"God is love; He doesn't condemn anyone."
"God doesn't judge anyone; He loves everyone just as they are."
I've heard and read statements like the above many times over the years. Usually, they come from non-Christians responding to Christians who are declaring a particular behavior to be wrong. Recently, for instance, I was reading a thread debating homosexual marriage on Facebook. And it was the pro-homosexuals who were making such claims. But also one of my Christian friends posted a message along these lines as well.
But is it true that God does not condemn or judge anyone? First, what does "condemn" mean? It has several definitions, but the most pertinent here are the following two: 1. "to make a judicial pronouncement stating what punishment has been imposed on a person found guilty of a crime." 2. "to state that somebody or something is in some way wrong or unacceptable."
And the definition of the word "judge" that is most pertinent to this discussion is, "to criticize or condemn somebody on moral grounds" (Encarta Dictionary).
So does God ever impose punishment on a person for a "crime" (or a "sin" to use the Biblical term)? Does God ever declare a behavior to be wrong? Does God ever criticize someone on moral grounds?
The only way to answer these questions is to consult the Scriptures. And since I've been working on a translation of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) for the last few months, I will concentrate this first part of this two-part article on those books (see Project Announcement: ALT: Old Testament).
Note: All of the following Scriptures are quoted from my forthcoming "Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old Testament: Volume I: The Torah" (ALT). Copyright 2012, by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sin against God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Does God just ignore their behavior and accept and love them? No, He strongly condemns them for what they did.
16And to the woman He said, "Multiplying I will multiply [fig., I will greatly multiply] your pains and your groaning; in pain you will give birth to children. And your turning [fig., submission] [will be] to your husband, and he will lord over you."
17Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and ate from the tree which I commanded to you, this only not to eat from it, cursed [is] the ground in your works, in pain you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18Thorns and thistles will it rise [fig., grow] to you, and you will eat the vegetation of the field. 19In sweat of your face will you eat your bread until you return to the earth out of which you were taken; for earth you are and to earth you will depart [or, return]."
In Genesis 4, Cain kills his brother Abel. God responds by declaring to Cain:
10And God said, "What did you do? [The] voice of [the] blood of your brother cries out to Me out of the ground. 11And now you [are] cursed from the earth which has opened its mouth to receive the blood of your brother from your hand. 12For you will work [or, till] the ground, and it will not add to its strength [fig., continue] to give to you; groaning and trembling you will be upon the earth."
Then in Genesis 6, the LORD declares:
5But the LORD God, having seen that the wicked [actions] of people were multiplied upon the earth, and that everyone in his heart was intently pondering evil all the days [fig., continually], 6then God considered that He had made humanity upon the earth, and He intently pondered [it]. 7And GOD said, "I will blot out humanity whom I have made from [the] face of the earth, from humanity to animals, and from creeping things until the birds [or, flying creatures] of heaven [or, the sky] [are destroyed], for I am enraged that I made them." 8But Noah found grace before the LORD God.
So the reason for "Noah's Flood" was that the LORD "judged" the behavior of the people of the pre-flood world and found their actions unacceptable. Thus the entire world, except for Noah and His family, were condemned for their sins.
Then after the flood, in Genesis 9, God declares what should happen to a person who kills another person, "6The one shedding [the] blood of a person, in place of that blood will his be shed, for in [the] image of God I made humanity." So God "judges" murder to be wrong and condemns it.
In Genesis 11, the post-flood people begin to build a city and a tower "whose top will be as far as the heaven, and let us make to ourselves a name, before we are scattered upon [the] face of all the earth" (v. 4). This displeased God as the people were supposed to "fill the earth" not stay in one place (Gen 9:7). So God confuses their language, "And the LORD scattered them from there over [the] face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city and the tower" (v.8).
In Genesis 12, Abram goes into Egypt because of a famine. He tells the people that Sarai is his sister and not his wife. As a result, Pharaoh takes her to himself, thus committing adultery. This so displeased God, that, "17And GOD tested [Heb., plagued] Pharaoh with great and painful afflictions, and his house, because of Sarai, the wife of Abram."
In Genesis 18, "20So the LORD said, "[The] outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has been multiplied, and their sins are exceedingly great." As a result, "24And the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. 25And He overthrew these cities, and all the surrounding country, and all the ones dwelling in the cities, and all the [plants] rising out of the ground."
By Genesis 20, Abram is now called Abraham and his wife is called Sarah. But Abraham once again and says Sarah is his sister. Abimelech takes her. "And God came to Abimelech by night in sleep, and said, "Behold, you die for the woman whom you took, but she has lived with a husband" (v.3). But God had kept Abimelech from touching her, so he is not killed. But still, while Sarah was in his house, God had condemned it, "17Now Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his female-servants, and they gave birth. 18Because shutting the LORD shut [fig., the LORD securely shut] from without every womb in the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah the wife of Abraham."
In Genesis 38 is the following disturbing scene:
6And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name [was] Tamar [LXX, Thamar]. 7But Er, firstborn of Judah, became wicked before the LORD; and GOD killed him. 8Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to the wife of your brother, and marry her as her brother-in-law, and raise up seed to your brother. [cp. Deut 25:5,6] 9But Onan, having known that the seed will not be his, it happened when he went in to the wife of his brother, he spilled out upon the ground, [so as] not to give seed to his brother. 10But [this] appeared evil before GOD that he did this; and He killed this one also.
So God killed both Er and Onan for being "wicked." We're not told what Er's wickedness was, but it was serious enough for God to condemn him with death. Now Onon's wickedness seems strange to us today, but as the cross reference in the ALT indicates, he disobeyed a command of the LORD.
As the Book of Exodus opens, "Now there arose up a different king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." (1:8). This king, or Pharaoh, enslaves the Israelites, "And he set over them masters of the work [or, taskmasters], that they should afflict them in their works; and they built strong cities for Pharaoh" (1:11). So Pharaoh and other Egyptians are guilty of enslavement and "afflicting" the Israelites. For this God "judges" Pharaoh and the Egyptians with the ten plagues.
I won't chronicle these here. But anyone has ever read Exodus or watched the movie, "The Ten Commandments" knows what they are. But what's important to note is that each of these plagues was actually directed towards a god the Egyptians worshipped. The plague of darkness, for instance, was directed towards the Egyptians' sun god (10:21-23). So the one true God condemns people for worshipping false gods.
In the most famous scene in Exodus and "The Ten Commandments" is when Moses parts the Red Sea, and the Israelites cross safely over on dry land (14:21-22). But when Pharaoh and the Egyptian army pursue them, "the water returned and covered the chariots and the riders, and all the force [fig., army] of Pharaoh, the ones having entered after them into the sea; and there was not left of them even one" (14:28). So the LORD judges Pharaoh and his army.
In Exodus 20, the LORD gives the Ten Commandments. I won't list these here. But the important point is these commandments are just that, commandments. God expects them to be followed. And in the rest of the Torah, the LORD prescribes very specific punishments for anyone who breaks any one of the Ten Commandments.
We've already seen that God declares that murders should be put to death. That prescribed punishment is part of the Noahic Covenant, but it is also part of the Mosaic Law. "Now if anyone should strike another and he should die, by death let him be put to death [fig., let him certainly be put to death]" (21:12). Another "crime" that is punishable by death is breaking the first commandment, "The one sacrificing to gods besides the LORD alone, shall be destroyed by death." (22:20).
Another example of punishment for breaking one of the Ten Commandments is, "if anyone steal a calf [Heb., an ox] or a sheep, and kill it or sell [it], he shall pay five calves for the calf, and four sheep for the sheep" (22:1). So for stealing, God requires multifold restitution for thievery. As such, God most definitely does "make a judicial pronouncement stating what punishment has been imposed on a person found guilty of a crime."
Then as the Book of Exodus proceeds, God adds many more commandments to the "Big Ten." And for each of these, a punishment is prescribed. For instance, in Exodus 22:18,19, God declares, "You* will not save the lives of sorcerers. 19Everyone sleeping with an animal you* will kill them with death [fig., he shall surely be put to death]."
While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving all of these commandments, the people grow impatient and have Aaron make a golden calf for them to worship (32:1-4). When God informs Moses of what the people have done, He says to him "And now let Me alone, and I having been enraged with wrath with them, I will consume them, and I will make you into a great nation" (32:10). It is only the intervention of Moses that keeps the LORD from carrying out His threat to wipe all the people out (32:11-14).
But what does happen is:
26then Moses stood at the gate of the camp, and said, "Who [is] to the LORD [fig., on the LORD's side]? Let him come to me." Then all the sons of Levi came together to him. 27And he says to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put each his sword on his thigh, and go through and return from gate to gate through the camp, and kill each his brother, and each his neighbor, and each the one near to him." 28And the sons of Levi did just as Moses spoke to them, and there fell from the people in that day three thousand men (32:26-28).
The Book of Leviticus is mostly concerned with the Levitical sacrifices. These included the sacrifices which a person must bring to the tabernacle to if he or she sins (e.g., Lev 4). But it also includes more commandments for the Israelites to follow. Foremost among these are the sexual laws listed in Leviticus 18. In this chapter, God condemns incest, adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality (i.e., "sexual activity between a human being and an animal" – Encarta Dictionary). In Leviticus 20, the LORD takes these sexual laws even further by prescribing the death penalty for anyone who breaks them.
I address the sexual laws in these chapters and many others in my book The Bible and Sexual Relationships Issues. So I won't discuss them in detail here. But I will say that in that book I explain why we today should not execute people for sexual sins, or for most of the other capital offenses listed in the Torah, but the fact that at one time God did require the execution of people for breaking these commandments shows how very much He condemns them.
But back in Leviticus 10 is another disturbing scene:
1And the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu [LXX, Abiud], each having taken his censer, and put fire upon it, and put incense upon it, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which the LORD did not command them. 2And fire came forth from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3And Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD spoke, saying, ‘I will be consecrated [or, regarded as holy] by the ones coming near to Me, and I will be glorified in the whole congregation." And Aaron was pierced [in his heart]. [Heb., kept silent.]
We're not exactly sure what the "strange fire" was. But what we do know is it was something God did not command. And approaching God in a way other than how He directs is something He condemns.
The Book of Numbers is largely concerned with, well, numbers. It begins and ends with a census of the tribes of Israel. But it also includes some instructive episodes.
In Numbers 12, "Mariam and Aaron spoke against Moses" (v.1). As a result, "And [the] anger of wrath [fig., the great anger] of the LORD [was] upon them, and He departed. 10And the cloud departed from the tabernacle; and, behold, Mariam [was] leprous, [white] as snow; and Aaron looked upon Mariam, and, behold, [she was] leprous!" (v.9).
So God inflicts Mariam with leprosy just for speaking against His servant Moses. God heals her, but still, I'm sure it was a harrowing experience for her.
In Numbers 13, Moses send 12 spies, one from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, to spy out the Promised Land. They reported that it indeed is "a land flowing [with] milk and honey" (v.27) as the LORD had promised. But they scare off the Israelites from going up to possess the land by describing the inhabitants of the land as "giants" and the cites as being greatly fortified (verses 28-33). They thus show a lack of faith in God to give the land to them.
In Numbers 14 the LORD reacts to their lack of faith. First, He threatens to destroy the whole nation of Israel.
11And the LORD said to Moses, "Until when [or, How long] does this people provoke Me? And until when [fig., how long] do they not believe Me for all the signs which I did among them? 12I will strike them with death, and destroy them; and I will make you and your father's house into a great nation, and much greater than this [one]."
But once again, Moses intercedes for the people and turns God from destroying all of the people. However:
26And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27"Until when [fig., How long] [shall I endure] this wicked congregation? I have heard their complaining against Me, the complaint[s] of the sons [and daughters] of Israel, which they have complained concerning you*. 28Say to them, ‘[As] I live, says the LORD, surely [in] which manner you* spoke into My ears, so will I do to you*. 29Your* carcasses will fall in this wilderness; and all the numbered of you*, and the ones having been numbered of you* from twenty years old and upward, as many as complained against Me, 30surely you* will [not] enter into the land over which I stretched out My hand to establish you* upon it; but [or, except] only Caleb son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the [son] of Nun.
Then in Numbers 16 is the rebellion of Korah. 250 men rise up against Moses and Aaron. God judges them in a unique fashion, "32And the ground was opened, and swallowed them, and their houses, and all the people, the ones being with Korah, and their livestock. 33And they went down and as many things as are to them [fig., all that they had] living into the realm of the dead [Gr., hades]; and the ground covered them, and they perished from the midst of the congregation."
Then, "41And the sons [and daughters] of Israel complained the next day against Moses and Aaron, saying, "You* have killed the people of the LORD!" Because of this complaining, the LORD sent a plague among the people. "49And it was, the ones having died in the destruction [were] fourteen thousand and seven hundred [i.e., 14,700], besides the ones having died on account of Korah."
Then in Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron themselves sin against God. The people complain because there is no water to drink. God tells Moses to speak to a rock and water will come forth. But instead:
9And Moses took the staff, the [one] before the LORD, just as the LORD instructed. 10And Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation before the rock, and said to them, "Hear me, the disobedient [ones]! We will bring out of this rock water for you*, will we not?" 11And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice; and much water came forth, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you* have not believed to sanctify Me before [the] sons [and daughters] of Israel, because of this you* will not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them."
Moses strikes the rock rather than just speaking to it. And for that, God condemns him. There was probably also his attitude. Moses declares to the people, "We will bring out of this rock water for you*." The "We" was inappropriate. It was God who brought water out of the rock. But still dying, and not being able to see the Promised Land are rather harsh punishments.
In Numbers 21:5, "the people spoke towards God and against Moses, saying, ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to kill us in the wilderness? For there is not bread nor water; and our soul loathes this hollow bread [i.e., the manna].'" For this insolence, "the LORD sent into the people serpents, the ones having danger of death [fig., deadly serpents], and they bit the people, and many people of the sons [and daughters] of Israel died" (v.6).
One last episode from Numbers is worth looking at. It occurs in chapter 25:
1And Israel lodged in Sattin, and the people were desecrated, indulging in gross immorality by [or, with] the daughters of Moab. 2And they called them to the sacrifices of their idols; and the people ate of their sacrifices, and prostrated themselves in worship to their idols. 3And Israel were consecrated to Beel-phegor [Heb., Baal of Peor]; and the LORD was angry with wrath [fig., very angry] with Israel. [cp. Rev 2:14]
4And the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people, and make them examples [Heb., hang them] for the LORD before the sun [fig., in broad daylight], and [the] angry wrath of the LORD will be turned away from Israel." 5And Moses said to the tribes of Israel, "Kill each [of you*] members of his household, the ones having been consecrated to Beel-phegor."
Deuteronomy means "second law" or "repetition of the law." It basically repeats information found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. But one chapter I didn't cover from Leviticus was chapter 26. That is because Deuteronomy 28 expands on it, so I will cover it here.
The first 14 verses describe the blessings that will come upon the nation of Israel if it obeys the commandments of the LORD. But then verse 15 declares, ""But it will be, if you shall not listen to the voice of the LORD your God, to be observing and to be doing all His commandments, as many as I command you this day, then all these curses will come on you, and overtake you."
What follows is 55 verses describing various curses that will come upon Israel for not obeying the LORD. These curses are very graphic and scary. They show how strongly God judges not just individuals but nations that deviate from His commands.
Conclusion to the Torah
I have covered the Torah in detail since, as mentioned, I've been working on a translation of it. But it should be clear from it that God most definitely does condemn and judge people. He gives us laws and commands to follow, and He metes out punishment upon those who break His commandments.
Much more could be taken from the Old Testament along these lines. There are many examples of God meting out punishment upon people for their sins in the historical books (Joshua to Esther). And the prophetic books (Isaiah to Malachi) are filled with declarations of God's judgments upon Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations for their sins.
But I know what many will say, "This is the Old Testament. It is not the way God deals with us today." So Part Two of this article will look at the New Testament and what it has to say about God's attitude towards sin, and if He still condemns and judges people for it.
But here, it will just be said, that for those who have sinned, you can avoid God's punishment by admitting your sin and turning from it. That is repentance. Then to be forgiven of your sin, you need to trust in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for your sins.
Part Two of this article continues this discussion.
Does God Condemn People? - Part One Copyright © 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
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The above article was posted on this Web site August 25, 2012.
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