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The Bible’s questions, answered—part 2: Answers to questions in “the law”

The Bible contains a lot of questions, and it doesn’t always provide satisfactory answers. So now I’m answering some of the Bible’s questions myself. I’ve already answered the ones in Genesis. Now for the rest of the Pentateuch…

Pharaoh asks the Hebrew midwives, who he had told to kill all the new baby Hebrew boys: Why have you let the boys live? Answer: They were just scared of what their God would think. Otherwise they would have been happy to murder all their relatives’ baby boys, apparently.

Moses’s sister asks Pharaoh’s daughter: Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you? Answer: I wouldn’t call it “for her”, no. Since it’s going to be the baby’s own mother doing it.

Pharaoh asks: Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? Answer: He’s a lunatic who isn’t going to let you obey him even if you want to.

Pharaoh asks Moses: Why are you taking the people away from their labor? Answer: Because they never agreed to do that labor?

Pharaoh’s officials ask: How long will this man be a snare to us? Answer: Until God gets tired of fighting against himself.

Pharaoh’s officials ask him: Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined? Answer: Yes, he already tried to surrender, but God wouldn’t let him.

Pharaoh asks: What have we done? Answer: You’ve obeyed God and freed his people from slavery… And God is not going to let you get away with obeying him and freeing his people from slavery.

Jethro asks Moses: What’s this you are doing for the people? Answer: Serving as their judge.

Aaron asks: Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today? Answer: Not likely. He’s always punishing people for obeying him.

Aaron and Miriam ask: Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Answer: No.

Then they ask: Hasn’t he also spoken through us? Answer: I don’t think the Bible mentions any specific cases of God speaking through Miriam. But it does say she was a prophet.

Balaam’s donkey asks him: What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times? And an angel also asks Balaam: Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? Answer: The donkey tried to prevent him from doing what God told him to do.

Balak asks Balaam: Did I not send you an urgent summons? Answer: Not as far as I know.

Balak asks him: Why didn’t you come to me? Answer: Because God forgot he wanted him to.

Then Balak asks him: Am I really not able to reward you? Answer: No, you are not really not able to reward him.

Balaam asks: How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced? Answer: Same way you can teach them to sin and turn God away from them?

Balaam asks: Who can count even a fourth of Israel? Answer: Moses and Aaron and the leaders of the tribes can count (almost) all of them.

Balaam asks: Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth? Answer: That and a lot of other things, apparently.

After Balaam goes to find out what God wants him to say, Balak asks him: What did the Lord say? Answer: He said “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

Balaam asks: Does God speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Answer: Yes.

Balaam asks Balak: Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says? Answer: No, you told him you had to say whatever the Lord said.

Balaam asks Balak: Did I not tell the messengers you sent me that I can’t do anything of my own accord to go beyond the command of the Lord, and I must say only what the Lord says? Answer: No, you told Balak, but I don’t think you told his messengers that.

Balaam asks: Who can live when God does this? Answer: People who aren’t from Cyprus or Ashur or Eber?

Some unspecified people ask: Who can stand up against the Anakites? Answer: Joshua and Caleb.

The Israelites’ questions

A Hebrew man asks Moses: Who made you ruler and judge over us? Answer: Well, the princess did adopt him, so I guess that makes him your prince…

He also asks: Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian? Answer: It’s possible. Moses doesn’t mind killing Israelites.

The Israelite overseers ask Pharaoh: Why have you given us such unreasonable work requirements? Answer: So you’ll be too busy to listen to Moses.

The Israelites ask Moses: Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? Answer: Letting them die in the desert wasn’t Moses’s intention… But, incidentally, God is going to let them die in the desert. (Because they like the land flowing with milk and honey that they came from better than the one he chose for them.)

The Israelites ask Moses: What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Answer: Tried to rescue you from your hardship. Not that that will do much good, since the real cause of your trouble is still with you

The Israelites ask Moses: Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? Answer: Not exactly.

The Israelites ask Moses: Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst? Answer: Because God told him to, because God wants you to die in the desert.

The Israelites ask: Is the Lord among us or not? Answer: No, God won’t dwell among the people until after the world ends.

Some Israelites ask: We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time? Answer: Because you have become unclean because of a dead body.

The Israelites ask: Why did we ever leave Egypt? Answer: Because the Egyptians didn’t want you there anymore.

They ask: Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Answer: Could it have something to do with the fact that Moses insisted on God going with them after God made it clear that he couldn’t do that without killing them all?

Then they ask: Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? Answer: I doubt you’d be welcome there either.

Some Israelites ask Moses: Why do you set yourself above the Lord’s assembly? Answer: Because God refused to admit that such an ineloquent man wasn’t a good choice.

Those Israelites ask Moses: Isn’t it enough that you have brought us out of Egypt to kill us in the wilderness? Do you want to treat these men like slaves? Answer: Do you want to be slaves or not? Make up your minds.

The Israelites ask: Are we all going to die? Answer: Of course. Who isn’t?

The Israelites ask Moses: Why did you bring us into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? Answer: Because God chose not to teleport them straight into the promised land, because he thought that wouldn’t be as impressive.

The Israelites ask him again: Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? Answer: Because God’s plan is flawed.

The daughters of Zelophehad ask: Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Answer: Because he had no son.

The Israelites ask: Why should we die now? Answer: Because no one can see God’s face and live.

They ask: What mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire and survived? Answer: Moses.

Moses imagines the Israelites asking: How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord? Moses’s answer: Wait and see if the prediction comes true. If it doesn’t, then you know it wasn’t from God. Real answer: You can’t, generally, because Moses’s false prophecy test ignores the fact that most prophecies have no deadline, and are therefore unfalsifiable.

God imagines future Israelites asking: Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us? Answer: That doesn’t seem like a very good way to describe disasters that were caused by your God, no.

Continue reading The Bible’s questions, answered—part 2: Answers to questions in “the law”
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Can sin exist without the law?


According to Paul, the law produces sin, and without the law, there is no sin. Sin only comes to life when there are commandments to give it an opportunity. He says the only reason we have any desire to sin is that the law makes us feel that way. Where there is no law, there can be no transgression. And 1 John says if someone sins, then there must be a law that they’re breaking, because that’s what sin is.


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The Story of the Witch of Endor
The Fall of Tall Saul

The Philistines came to attack Israel, and King Saul was afraid. Despite what had happened the last time he had sought God’s help, he asked God for advice, but God wouldn’t answer him. (Maybe God was deep in thought, or busy, or traveling, or sleeping…)

Saul wanted to ask God’s prophet Samuel for advice, but by this time Samuel was dead. Saul decided to ask Samuel for advice anyway. So he found a witch and got her to resurrect the spirit of Samuel. He promised her that she would not be punished for what she was doing, which was against God’s law.

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The Fall of Tall Saul
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Was Paul under the law?

Paul told his Corinthian followers that in order to persuade people who were under the law, he would sometimes act as if he was under the law. But he said he wasn’t actually under the law.

Then he said in order to persuade people who weren’t under the law, he would sometimes act as if he was not under the law. But he said he actually was under God’s law, and not free from it. Which is just the opposite of what he just said in the previous verse.

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Do Gentiles have to obey the Law?

The Bible says God requires his chosen people, the Jews, to obey the laws he gave them. But what about people who aren’t Jewish? Do Gentiles need to obey God’s laws too?


When the kingdom of Israel was overthrown, the Israelites were deported to Assyria. Then people from other nations came to live in their land. But God didn’t like how those foreigners didn’t do what he required. So he started sending in lions to kill them. Then the king of Assyria had to send an Israelite priest back there to teach the new inhabitants what God required them to do.

Ezra praised God for giving the king of Persia the idea to severely punish (sometimes with death) anyone in his kingdom (not just Jews) who didn’t obey God’s Law.

Paul required Timothy, who had a Gentile father, to be circumcised before he could go anywhere with him. Paul said Jesus wanted him to call all the Gentiles to obedience. He said God judges and punishes everyone the same way, regardless of whether they’re Jews or Gentiles. And the way he judges them upholds the Law, rather than nullifying it. Paul told his Gentile followers to put someone to death for breaking one of the Jewish sex laws. He did not think it was okay for Gentile Christians to do whatever they wanted.


God’s Law itself says Jews can give Gentiles things to eat that would be forbidden for the Jews themselves to eat.

The apostles declared that Gentile Christians should not be required to keep the law of Moses, which even the Jews had been unable to fully obey. They rejected the idea that people could only be saved if they were circumcised. They said anyone could be saved by the grace of God.

Paul took this further and said that all believers, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles, could be saved by grace and by faith apart from the Law. He said no one can be justified or saved by keeping the Law, since everyone inevitably sins. Paul didn’t think Gentiles should be forced to follow Jewish customs. And he didn’t require his Gentile companions to be circumcised.

Paul said anyone who relied on the Law was cursed, and could not be justified before God. He taught his Gentile followers that they were not under the law, because Jesus had set aside the Law and set them free from that curse. Paul’s followers tried to follow the law anyway, which he thought was foolish. He said there would have been no point in Jesus dying if following the Law was what people needed to do to be saved.

According to Paul, even if the Gentiles were under the Law, it would kill them, and then dying would release them from the Law. If Paul’s claims are true, it’s impossible for anyone to remain under the Law!

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Did Jesus want people to obey the law?


Some people claimed that followers of Jesus were speaking against the law and saying that Jesus was going to change the customs given by Moses. But those were false witnesses. Paul didn’t believe Christ promoted sin. Jesus himself said he had not come to abolish the law. He said as long as the world exists, not even the smallest bit of the law will disappear. After he healed a leper, Jesus told him to go through with the rituals that the law of Moses requires.

According to Jesus, the law is still very important. Keeping the commandments is how you get eternal life! So you must be careful to do everything the teachers of the law tell you. You can’t get into the kingdom of heaven unless you’re even better at obeying the law than law-obsessed people like the Pharisees. (Even they didn’t keep the law thoroughly enough to satisfy Jesus.) And even after you make it into the kingdom of heaven, he says your status there will be determined by how strictly you keep the law.


A lot of the things Jesus taught were in contrast to the Jewish law given by Moses. Jesus would specifically mention one of Moses’s laws,1 and then contrast that with how he thought people should behave. Sometimes he was just adding to what Moses taught, but other times he was telling people not to do what Moses had told them to do.

For instance, Jesus thought the command to love your neighbor also said you should hate your enemy. It doesn’t actually say that, but that’s what Jesus seemed to think the law was. And he said you should do the opposite. Then there’s the “eye for an eye” rule, which actually is in the Old Testament law. Jesus told people to disregard that law, and to instead encourage people who mistreat you to mistreat you even more.

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