“The atheist has it almost right: humans regularly do make gods in their image. Yet the biblical God isn’t the kind we make up. He refuses to be manipulated by human schemes. He makes us all—including his true devotees—uncomfortable, which in the end is what we truly need to overcome our self-centeredness. ‘Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’ Matt. 16:25)” (Copan p 193).
Many today find fault with the God of the Old Testament (OT) because they read of the violence He commanded, or they read other’s (perhaps unlearned and biased) commentary about it. Yet they ignore all that God presents about Himself, the contexts of the situations, and the hugely over-riding context of God’s benevolent plan for mankind. If they did this with their family and friends, they would have no relationships! Their assertions and arguments are unscholarly and simple, stemming from an ideology that seeks to eliminate God.
Is God mysterious and some of His ways unknowable? Yes. But is God compassionate? Can we see that He is compassionate by what is presented in the OT (since God’s compassion is very clear in the New Testament, we are focusing on the OT here), and not via wishful thinking? Yes, and not just towards the Israelites. Perhaps the most obvious example involves the Ninevites, since a whole book—Jonah—provides the evidence. (This book also foreshadows Jesus and His work.)
Now, Jonah is a fun book, especially if you take the time to imagine what is going on, and maybe do some research in commentaries. The gist of the story is that Jonah is called by the Lord to go and convey to the Ninevites—a cruel people and bitter enemies of Israel—that God has seen their evil and it has gone on long enough. Judgment is coming. Jonah, realizing that God might be compassionate towards them (instead of destroying Israel’s enemy), ran from the Lord’s calling; “you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2b). Indeed, after Jonah finally gave the Ninevites the message of God, the Ninevites repented and God did not harm them. Jonah was so upset about this that he told God that he wanted to die. This is man’s view. But God answered with His view: “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11).
To be continued with other examples of God’s compassion; here is the next, on the Canaanites.
Sources: The Bible NIV 1984); Copan, Paul, Is God a Moral Monster?; Dunn, James and Rogerson, John, editors, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible.